Working in Beijing

As a whole, China is considered a great economic success story, with the last 30 years seeing the country transform itself from traditional communism to a buoyant market economy. As a result of rapid industrialisation, China’s consumer market has flourished. As a whole, the country is increasingly open to foreign investment, and foreigners who consider it to be a land of opportunity have flocked to China.

Both Hong Kong and Shanghai are better known for being economic centres, while Beijing has traditionally been China’s cultural and political centre. That said, Beijing has asserted itself as a fertile ground for start-up businesses and innovative entrepreneurs. Expats interested in working in this sort of environment, rather than a strictly corporate atmosphere, should consider working in Beijing.

Job market in Beijing

As the local economy continues to develop, the open consumption of consumer and luxury goods is surging, attracting international investment to fill in the gaps left by Chinese businesses.

At the same time, the construction industry continues to boom throughout the country as the Chinese government pushes for continued major improvements to infrastructure, especially in the interior. In addition, agriculture remains the backbone of the country and will be for the foreseeable future. With rapid urbanisation, a manpower shortage has emerged in certain sectors of the economy, meaning that employees with the right skills are in high demand.

Traditionally, a large financial sector has driven much of Beijing's economy, including many foreign banks with offices in the city. However, Beijing also has large electronics and computer industries, as well as retail and tourism industries. 

One indication of China’s desire to do business with the world is the number of English language schools in the country. These institutions employ a large community of expat English teachers, and are among the easiest places to find employment in Beijing. Teaching wages are, however, often lower than salaries for expat jobs in other sectors.

Finding a job in Beijing

The test for whether an expat will be able to find a job in Beijing is to ask whether they have something to offer that Chinese people in Beijing cannot do as well. There are thousands of jobs for language teachers of all languages, although the highest demand is for English teachers, as well as in industries where a foreign language is necessary, such as broadcasting.

Many jobs do, however, require a rudimentary knowledge of Chinese as well. Expats with work visas are often called "Foreign Experts", a phrase which is actually printed on their Alien Registration Card.

In addition, foreigners are allowed to open their own businesses in China, and many do. Most choose to take on a Chinese partner to deal with much of the paperwork, though agencies for setting up businesses are easy to find. There are many foreign-owned restaurants, for instance, but they do face a number of challenges and are encouraged to take on Chinese staff rather than act purely for foreign interests.

There is no problem with job mobility – it is relatively easy to switch jobs while living in Beijing. However, the employee has to have their visa renewed with the support of their new employer – an expat cannot get a job, then resign and still keep their Foreign Expert status.

Teaching English is the easiest kind of work to find, but wages are relatively low. Expats considering this option are, however, advised to do their research carefully as many foreigners find themselves underpaid or working for less than desirable employers.

There are a number of online resources for expats wanting to find a job in Beijing. It is worth remembering that expats hired from overseas often have a higher salary and more relocation benefits than foreigners hired from within the country.

Brian Salter

Brian Salter is a journalist and author who also undertakes presentation, training and voiceover work. Brian has written for numerous magazines and newspapers and has to date written 30 books, some of which have been translated into as many as eight other languages. In July 2011 he moved to Beijing, China, where he works as a journalist and broadcaster, gives lectures, and continues to write books.

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