Salaries for expats in China


"Expat salaries in China - how much will I earn?"

 
In recent years, China has emerged as a world economic powerhouse, and as it’s begun to expand the private sector of its economy, more and more expats are jumping at the opportunity to live and work in Shanghai, Beijing and in other thriving metropolises. 
 
Even amidst global recession, the Chinese market has remained buoyant, and thus especially attractive to those foreigners struggling to secure employment or advance their careers in their homeland. What’s more, many multinationals are relocating their Asian headquarters to the country, and many more are still opening shop in China.
 
That said, expats eager to become part of this East Asian economy should realise that positions are primarily available for senior employees and those individuals who possess a specialised skill set. 
 
Furthermore, expats interested in working in China should note that overcoming the language barrier can be a challenge, both in terms of integrating into the local culture, and in terms finding a well-paying job. 
 
Unless you are a top-level candidate, with impressive qualifications, a unique skill-set and plenty of work experience, the simple fact is that it will count hugely in your favour to be able to speak and understand a degree of Mandarin. 
 
The competition for expat jobs in China is stiff, and a level of mastery over the local language is crucial in the hunt for a good mid-level expat job in China.
 

Expat jobs in China

 
The good news for expats is that the global economic downturn has not affected China's hiring of foreign workers. In fact, many Chinese companies have embarked on aggressive expat hiring policies, encouraged by the fact that opportunities are thin on the ground for expats in their respective countries of origin. 
 
That said, the dip in the world markets has affected the standard for lucrative expat packages. Companies are now less likely to offer housing allowances and help with school fees than they were in the past.
 
Healthy employment industries, and expat jobs that are especially in demand in China include:
 
  • Banking & Financial Services (risk and compliance managers, anti-money laundering managers, CEOs in the consumer sector)
  • Accounting & Finance (finance and commercial directors)
  • Sales and marketing (media planners and operation managers) Engineering (project managers, team leaders, civil engineers) Legal (private managing and equity partners, as well as in-house counsel)
  • Human resources (managers, advisors and consultants – note that these roles usually require Mandarin)
  • Teaching (predominately ESL teaching, but also teaching business and marketing classes in English)
  • Advertising and communications (creative directors)
  • Manufacturing and industry (sales managers, strategic marketing managers)
  • Health sciences (research and development roles)
  • IT (project managers, web developers, programmers)
 
Keep in mind that international firms employ a significant percentage of the expat workforce (roughly 85 percent according to the Hudson Recruitment Service), and that of this percentage, the largest number of jobs are in sales and marketing (30%); followed by banking and financial services (25%);  engineering (15%); education (10%); management (10%) ; and finally by IT and telecommunications (5%).
 
Expats are rarely employed by local Chinese companies, and those that are, usually are hired as engineers or as top-level managers in manufacturing firms.
 

Expat Salaries in China

 
When gauging your expat salary expectations for China, bear in the mind the following important considerations:
 
Being hired from within China will dramatically decrease your salary.
Although expat salary packages in China are less attractive these days than in the past, expats who are 'hired in' from outside of China will earn much more than expats who are appointed locally.
 
The more bilingual you are and the more experienced you are, the more you will earn in China.
This simple maxim is true in the overwhelming majority of expat cases. Similarly, the more experience you have working for multi-national companies, and the more unique your skill-set and area of expertise, the greater your salary will be.

The cost of living in China is reasonable.
Even though your expat salary in China might be much lower than you are used to (sometimes a quarter or even a fifth of what you earned back home), the cost of living in China is much lower than in most western countries. Meaning that although you might not save vast amounts of money at the end of every month, you should be able to get by comfortably on what would ordinarily be considered a 'pittance' by your home country's standards. As an illustration of this point, consider that – in terms of spending power – a salary of RMB 5,000 per month (approx. USD 800) is said to allow for the same kind of lifestyle that a salary of USD 2,500 per month could provide within the United States. Do keep in mind, though, that the cost of a lavish lifestyle in one of China's big cities will rival that of most European capitals.
 
The following table shows typical expat salaries in China, for a variety of jobs and roles. Note that these figures are based on employment statistics from major Chinese cities – if you work in a more rural area, you should expect to earn less than what is quoted below. 

Table of Expat Salaries in China (2011 to 2012)

Industry

Job/Position/Years Experience

Annual Salary (USD)

Annual Salary (RMB)

Accounting/Finance Chief Financial Officer / 15+ Years 240K 1.5M
Accounting/Finance Finance or Accounting Manager / 8+ Years 48K 300K
Accounting/Finance Financial Analyst / 7+ Years 55K 350K
Advertising/Communciations Media Director / 10+ Years 110K 700K
Advertising/Communciations Account Manager / 3+ Years 32K 200K
Advertising/Communciations English Copywriter / 4+ Years 44K 280K
Banking/Financial Services Top-Level Positions / 10+ Years 190K+ 1.2M+
Banking/Financial Services Mid-Level and Junior Positions / 3+ Years 48 to 110K 300 to 700K
Education ESL Teacher / 0 Years 19K 120K
Education ESL Teacher / 3+ Years 28K 180K
Human Resources Manager / 6+ Years 80K 500K
IT/Telecommunications Project Manager / 8+ Years 80 to 140K 500 to 900K
IT/Telecommunications Developer / 7+ Years 95K 600K
Legal International Law Firm / 6+ Years PQE 205K 1.3M
Legal In-House Corporate Lawyer / 6+ Years 95K 600K
Property/Construction Architect / 5+ Years 80K 500K
Property/Construction Project Manager / 8+ Years 110K 700K
Property/Construction Engineer  / 5+ Years 22K 140K
Sales/Marketing Managing Director / 20+ Years 315K+ 2M+
Sales/Marketing Mid-Level Manager / 7+ Years 48 to 110K 300 to 700K
Sales/Marketing Front Office Manager / 5+ Years 36K 230K
*Note further that these are aggregated amounts of an average expat salary in the private sector in China: if you work for a small firm or company, expect to earn a little less; if you work for a large firm or company (or better yet, a foreign company), expect to earn a little more. The amounts quoted also assume a fair amount of relevant work experience – as a foreign worker in China, a minimum of 8 years is preferred. 

Saving potential for expats in China

 
For many expats, the question of whether or not to emigrate to China will depend on their saving potential – i.e. how much money they can 'bank' at the end of every month, after paying tax and  covering accommodation and living expenses. 
 
For highly qualified and skilled expats, this is not so much of a concern, with about 25 percent of expats in China earning in the region of USD 200K a year. For those seeking mid-level employment in China, however, the following factors should be taken into consideration: 
 
  • Although China's cost of living is famously low – with youthful ESL teachers known to live on about RMB 3,500 (USD 500) per month – your expat salary package remains very important. Try to negotiate the best possible deal for yourself, as often the 'perks' of your contract will decide whether a move to China is financially viable for you or not.
  • Although many Chinese employers won't provide an accommodation stipend, some will. You're doing well if they offer you something in the region of RMB 9,000 (USD 1,500) per month.
  • Health insurance for foreign workers in China is quite expensive, and if this is provided in your salary package, it will save you at least RMB 1,300 (USD 200) per month.
  • The issue of whether or not the company will provide for education expenses is often the 'deal-breaker' for expat families planning a move to China. The price of good-quality international education is astronomical – as much as RMB 1.2M (USD 200K) per year in the most extreme cases.
  • Bear in mind, too, that most expats will be taxed around 20% of their monthly salary in China, but that this can rise to 40% for high earners.
  • Note that as a foreign worker in China, you will be expected to work very hard for your money, and that the intensity of the Chinese workplace can be a bit overwhelming for some expats.
  • Remember that although working in China might not be as financially rewarding as working in other expat destinations, such as the Middle East or Russia, there are some wonderful cultural benefits to such an adventure. China is at the forefront of global economic development, and there are many exciting things happening within the country to attract ambitious professionals. Also, the opportunity to learn a bit of Mandarin is widely reported by expats to be one of the most valuable aspects of working in China. 

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