work and travel china

Work and Travel China: The Ultimate Guide

Did you know that China is the fourth-largest country in the world by area?

From Beijing to Shanghai, the Li River to the Yellow Mountains, giant pandas to some of the world’s spiciest food … there’s a lot to explore in China.

How can you afford to travel around such a large nation?

You work as you travel.

If you secure a job in China, you can experience all these attractions and more. And still have a little extra money to buy a cup of hot tea every now and then!

Here are some of the best tips and jobs if you want to work and travel in China.

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Balancing Work and Travel in China

As you start your endeavor to work and travel, you’ll need to keep several things in mind to have the most beneficial experience possible.

  • Research visas. Make sure you understand the full details of which visa you need to obtain. China has some bizarre rules about visas that won’t make a lot of sense until you take a close look.
  • Plan. Once you get the work part settled, scope out some activities you want to achieve while in China. Make a list of all the places you want to go and things you want to see. Make a rough itinerary and plan your activities in a way that is reasonable and achievable. Download apps to help with translation, navigation and transportation.
  • Learn Chinese. The more Mandarin you know before you arrive in China, the easier both work and travel will be. Plus, you can use you language skills to meet friendly localsTry FluentU free for 15 days to get a jump-start on learning the language and to improve during your time in the country. FluentU takes videos directly from Chinese culture—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized Mandarin language learning lessons.

Having done this basic research, you’ll be able to maximize your time once you hit the ground.

The Working Culture in China

China’s economy is increasing at a rapid pace. It’s already a major player on the world’s stage and is projected to become even more important over the next several years.

And as a major global player, it needs to speak the major global language: English.

English speakers are always a hot commodity in China. As an English speaker, you will be at a distinct advantage when entering the job market.

But English skills alone don’t guarantee success.

You also need to present yourself in a way that is in line with Chinese culture.

  • Be humble. Let your skills and experience do the talking, not your mouth. Don’t brag, and stay humble when talking about yourself. Have your resume or CV available in both English and Chinese, even if you don’t speak Mandarin. This gesture shows you’re willing to engage with the culture.

In China, more than anywhere else, being able to remain humble and maintain a positive relational dynamic is key to ensuring that you get a good job. These characteristics will take you higher and higher up the ladder of success.

But you need to constantly be on your guard when dealing with Chinese employers. Many of them are looking to take advantage of a foreigner’s willingness to obtain a work visa. Always get the full details of your arrangement in a written contract—in both English and Chinese.

Work and Travel in China with These 6 Types of Jobs

Work with Kids

Most Chinese parents want their kids to grow up with some ability to speak English. That’s why working with kids is the easiest way to get a job as an English-speaker in China.

Depending on where you go and whom you work with, ages and skill levels will vary. But the work will always be geared toward achieving that next level of fluency.

If you have an interest in helping kids develop good English habits, this is a perfect opportunity to get a job without any qualifications. Well, other than being able to speak English, of course!

That said, native speakers with a certification in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) usually earn more money.

1. Teach English

There’s no shortage of jobs for English teachers in non-English speaking countries, and China is no exception.

Depending on the job and location, you don’t always need qualifications or experience. Plus, you can be virtually any age!

These jobs are also fairly well-paying, often provide you with a stipend for housing and meals and usually offer flights to and from China. Sometimes they even offer Mandarin language classes.

Teaching jobs are great ways of building up 关系 (guānxì) with Chinese professionals and parents. My English teacher roommate in Beijing landed an insanely high-paying private tutoring job after building up a good relationship with one of his students’ parents. He quit his main teaching job and made more money in one week working two hours per day than he made in one month working full-time as a teacher.

One of the other benefits about teaching jobs is that they are relatively stable and secure in the long-term. Contracts start at six months and can be extended indefinitely.

But be warned: Because this is such an easy job to get, there are a lot of teaching companies that won’t pay you, will make you work more than you signed up for and will threaten to cancel your visa if you don’t meet their ridiculous demands. Always do your research before signing up with any company in China.

It’s easy to find teaching jobs in China, but not all the opportunities that come your way will be legal. To avoid landing an illegal job, check out some of the best online English teaching resources.

  • Gold Star TEFL Recruitment. This agency can connect you with multiple types of teaching jobs. Land a gig at a public school, private school, international school or university, just to name a few. A case manager is assigned to help you with all your questions and issues while you’re in China.
  • English First. This is one of the most professional companies for English teachers in Asia. They offer good salaries, solid work schedules, free flights to and from China, Chinese lessons and health insurance. They also help you earn teaching certifications.
  • First Leap. First Leap is a reputable English as a Second Language (ESL) company with lots of great reviews from past teachers. They have jobs available all over China, give you a good salary and offer you a ton of support. They also seem to genuinely care about their employees—something that is rare in the Chinese ESL world.
  • Dave’s ESL Cafe. Dave Sperling is an ESL teacher and runs a job board/resource website for other ESL teachers in Asia. It’s chock-full of helpful information, including job postings from recruiters in China. But keep in mind, you should always do thorough research on any company you see advertised. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Most of the postings on this website are reliable, but every once in a while a stinker sneaks in there.
  • Teach Away. This job board isn’t just for English teachers. It’s for teachers of all subjects! If you can teach subjects such as science or music, there are lots of employers looking for people who can lead these classes in English. And again, do your research!

2. Become an Au Pair

Au pair is French for “nanny.” If you love working with kids, this could be your ideal position.

You’ll work with a family as the kids’ caretaker. Most of the time, you’ll play with them and help them with homework or chores. You might also be asked to provide English lessons.

Basically, your job is to be an English-speaking role model.

If you love kids, being an au pair is fun and easy. For about 30 hours of work every week, you’ll receive a free place to live, meals, a small stipend and kids to play with!

But this job is only for the younger crowd. Each country has their own au pair age restrictions, and China’s au pair age range is from 18 to 29.

For more information about being an au pair in China, here are a few companies to check out.

  • Smaller Earth. Offering a small stipend, round-trip flight reimbursement, Chinese culture courses and 60 hours of Mandarin language training, Smaller Earth is a great way to start on the Chinese au pair journey.
  • LoPair. LoPair provides a healthy living stipend, Mandarin courses, cultural training and top-notch support to its au pairs. They promise employees plenty of time off to explore the country.
  • Aupairia. Based in Beijing, AuPairia takes you on a cultural excursion around town every two weeks. After six months, they take you on a trip to Xi’an. They also offer free university Mandarin classes, a monthly living stipend and free round-trip airfare to Beijing.
  • Au Pair Shanghai. This company places au pairs all over China, not just Shanghai. They match au pairs with families through a comprehensive interview process to make sure each partnership is perfect for both the employee and the family.

Unpaid Work

Strangely enough, unpaid doesn’t necessarily mean “not paid.” You just won’t earn a full salary.

Many unpaid jobs still offer living stipends and/or housing allowances. But the stipend usually isn’t enough to live comfortably. You’ll still need to secure some other kind of funding.

If you can’t commit to a long-term contract, taking unpaid work is a great way to be employed short-term so you can travel with your remaining time in China.

3. Volunteer

If you want to explore Chinese culture while making a difference, volunteering abroad is for you. Volunteering is not only helpful for others, it also helps us build confidence and self-esteem.

Volunteering is usually best for people looking to do short-term work, but opportunities also exist for long-term projects.

When looking for volunteer work in China, you’re likely to find a lot of short-term TEFL positions. But there are other opportunities out there with various non-profits that range from working with pandas to working with orphans.

These opportunities typically come at a cost to the volunteer, but the companies you work for usually provide housing, transportation, meals and various other amenities. Some long-term projects even include a small living stipend.

When entering China to volunteer, make sure you understand all the specifications of the project, the length of the contract and the details of the visa. The company you choose should be able to provide you with all of this necessary information. If they can’t, don’t volunteer with them.

Here are some of the best volunteer companies.

  • Projects Abroad. Originally designed for young adults on a gap year, this worldwide organization now employs volunteers across all age groups. Their China programs range from business internships to wildlife conservation efforts.
  • Global Volunteer Projects. Based in Beijing, Global Volunteer Projects will offer you 10 Mandarin classes with your volunteer tuition. The company also provides a variety of Chinese culture classes, such as Chinese tea and Beijing opera, for an added cost.
  • International Volunteer HQ. This Xi’an-based organization offers projects to work with either general or special needs students for varying lengths of time. They are consistently rated among the best organizations for volunteering in China.
  • Habitat For Humanity. This international organization builds houses for low-income residents in the Asia-Pacific region. You don’t need any special building skills to get started, just the desire to help. Projects typically last for one week, but you can stay longer and to continue helping!

4. Find an Internship

Internships in China are often unpaid. However, a small stipend is sometimes offered to help offset  living costs. That said, these stipends aren’t sufficient to live on, and you’ll need to make sure you have enough funds to survive on your own during the program.

But even though you’ll be unpaid or underpaid, internships are gateways to great jobs in the future. The added benefit of completing an internship in China is that international experience looks amazing on a resume.

This introduction to the business world of China is great for college students on an exchange program or recent graduates looking to gain a worldwide perspective.

While it’s possible to find a Chinese company and contact them about interning, you can also sign up with an internship placement company. These companies will help you secure an internship in your field and often provide you with other things like apartments, food, language learning classes and trips around China.

Here are some of the best internship companies for working in China.

  • Asia Internship Program (AIP). This company is one of the leading internship programs in Asia and has many partners in various business sectors around China. AIP places you at a job, picks you up at the airport, provides you with an apartment, gives you a local SIM card and makes sure you have a fruitful internship in China.
  • China Internship Placements (CIP). CIP has internship programs in four major Chinese cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Nanjing. Their internships are perfect for students on summer semester or study abroad programs. They’re affiliated with over 3,500 companies in China.
  • Go Abroad China. Go Abroad places applicants in highly personalized internships across a huge variety of sectors. Aside from providing you with the internship, Go Abroad genuinely cares about your career growth and wants to see you succeed in your chosen field. They offer all the typical accommodations and reimbursements, as well as great client support.
  • Internships China. When you apply for one of Internships China’s programs, they’ll give you a Skype consultation to ensure they place you in the most appropriate position. They offer Mandarin training classes, cultural trips and social and networking events to help you get the most out of your time in China.

Professional Work

Not everyone wants to work with kids or go unpaid.

There are many highly skilled professionals who want to work and travel in China while still building a career in their chosen field.

Luckily, being an expat has an allure that can give you an edge in the Chinese job market. Especially if you can speak the local language! Make sure to brush up on those Chinese business terms.

Remember that the Chinese business world is based around 关系 (guānxì). Being a foreigner who fluently mingles with the culture shows that you are capable of maintaining positive relationships with all aspects of Chinese society. This is extremely attractive to Chinese employers.

At the same time, it’s a good idea to join networking organizations like Internations. This will help you connect with fellow expats who are also working professionals in China. And building 关系 (guānxì) with other expat professionals will quickly lead to more opportunities.

5. Land a Job Targeting China

China’s economy is booming.

While Chinese culture is unique, if you can give a Chinese company an innovative foreign approach to their business model, your perspective will be highly desirable.

When working directly with China and Chinese people, it definitely helps to be able to speak and understand Mandarin, though in certain sectors you might only need to use English to find employment.

That said, having some Chinese language skills doesn’t hurt.

If you know what company you want to work for, you can always send out some inquiries along with your CV or resume to see if they’re hiring. And if you’re already in China, you might consider stopping by a job fair to see who’s hiring and what type of employees they’re looking for.

You can also browse Chinese job portals. Check out some of the best portals for people wanting to work in China.

  • eChinaJOBS. They call themselves the “leading job site for foreigners in China,” and they definitely have a lot of openings posted on their site. Many of those openings are for ESL teachers, but there’s a decent number of non-teaching positions ranging from waiters to financial executives.
  • Jobsite China. Here you’ll find many opportunities for different sectors across the entire country. It’s a little unorganized, but the wealth of job opportunities listed here more than makes up for website’s clutter.
  • ChinaJOB. The ChinaJOB website lists a lot of teaching positions. However, you can scroll to the bottom of the page to peruse the professional section, which contains other non-teaching opportunities. ChinaJOB also frequently hosts job fairs.
  • New China Career. New China Career aggregates most of the popular Chinese job searching portals into one admittedly hard-to-navigate website. While it isn’t the most intuitive place to look for jobs, since they compile listings from everywhere, it’s hard to find as many up-to-date Chinese job openings anywhere else.

6. Find a Job Bridging China and the World

To provide a work visa, a Chinese employer needs to demonstrate that a foreigner is more capable of handling the job than a Chinese native.

Being a non-Chinese person, you possess a natural allure of international experience that a Chinese national doesn’t have.

As China increases its dominance on the global stage, job opportunities for foreigners will also continue to increase. Chinese companies need foreigners to act as their liaisons to other countries, and foreign companies need their own representatives in China.

Connecting China to the outside world is one area of Chinese business that will continue to expand in the near future.

Here are a few great websites to help you on your job hunt.

  • AmCham China. This is the website of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. They provide amazing resources for all foreigners who reside and work in China. They also have a great job portal with listings of professional openings across the whole country.
  • SinoJobs. SinoJobs targets Europeans who want to work in China either for European companies or for European-facing Chinese companies. This site is based in Germany, and many of the listings are in German. But there are plenty of English-speaking positions that don’t require you to have any German or Chinese language knowledge.
  • DE Job Market. This is another German-Chinese job portal, but again, neither German nor Chinese skills are necessary for many of the positions listed. The postings here are designed to help bridge the Western and Eastern business worlds.
  • LinkedIn. Don’t underestimate the power of 关系 (guānxì) when it comes to working in China. Build your network, post your resume and let LinkedIn become your best friend. Chinese recruiters scour LinkedIn every day, looking for top-of-their-field foreigners to hire for lucrative positions.

 

With a little bit of determination and the right attitude, working and traveling in China is achievable.

After you’ve found the perfect position, make sure you set aside some time to travel and explore the majesty China has to offer. Make your travel itinerary loose enough so that you can be flexible with your work schedule, and make sure to let your employer know how keen you are on traveling.

Once you set the expectations for your Chinese adventure, you’ll be sure to have a memorable and worthwhile experience.

Now that you know how to work and travel in China, all you need to do is take that leap of faith.

Send out some applications, get that visa, book that ticket and go!

And One More Thing…

If you’re looking for more great ways to prepare for working and traveling China, then you’ll love FluentU.

FluentU lets you learn real Chinese from music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talksIt naturally eases you into learning Chinese language, and you’ll learn Chinese as it’s spoken in real life.

FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos—like dramas, TV shows, commercials and music videos. In fact, below you’ll even see the song “Let It Go” from the hit movie “Frozen”:

FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up. All words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how a word is used. Tap to add words you’d like to review to a vocab list.

From the description page, you can access interactive transcripts under the Dialogue tab, or review words and phrases under Vocab.

FluentU’s Quiz Mode turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.

The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your vocabulary. It suggests content and examples based on the words you’re learning. You have a 100% personalized experience. 

Start using FluentU to make the most of your work life in China. Use the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.

 


Eric Michelson is a nomadic, philosophizing, peace-minded pluralist. He hopes to help bridge the divide between the diverse factions of the world by exploring various perspectives brought on by personal experience. You can follow Perspective Earth to learn more about him and his work.

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