Working in Shanghai

View of a business district in ShanghaiA city of more than 24 million people, it comes as no surprise that expats working in Shanghai work in a diverse array of industries. As the country shifts its focus from heavy industries such as manufacturing to the service sector, growth in China is expected to continue, albeit at more moderate levels than the past two decades.

Shanghai has largely spearheaded China’s impact on global economics, with a formidable financial sector that includes the Shanghai Stock Exchange. Service industries such as retail and real estate also play an important role in the country’s economy.

The importance of trade and manufacturing in Shanghai should not be underestimated, however. The city’s bustling harbour is still the largest cargo port in the world, while heavy industries such as steel making, shipbuilding and car manufacturing play an integral role in the city’s economy.

In line with national developments, significant investment has gone into the city’s high tech industries such as electronics and biomedicine.

Shanghai has a reputation for being one of the best places for expats to find a job in China. At the same time, however, competition for positions has increased dramatically. Companies are increasingly looking to workers from China and elsewhere in Asia to fill positions at lower wages than Western expats.

One result is that salaries and relocation packages are perhaps not as lucrative as they used to be. In this environment, contract negotiation becomes especially important for expatriates while a knowledge of Mandarin and local experience are good ways to get ahead of the competition.

More expats are taking lower paying jobs in Shanghai, trading immediate income for the longer-term benefits of experience.  

Depending on their jobs, however, expatriates still have reason to expect a higher salary than in their home countries. According to the HSBC Expat Explorer Survey for 2013, 59 percent of expats earn more in China than they did in their respective home countries.

While there are still  business opportunities for expats wanting to move to Shanghai, working in the city has its challenges. For instance, there are cultural differences to navigate.

The Chinese business community is fairly insular and business people prefer to work with people they know, meaning that a lot of effort will have to go into building relationships. Business meetings and negotiations are also often long, formal and drawn-out processes.


China only has seven national holidays each year and while there are vacation days, the working hours and workload tend to be more demanding than many expats are used to –  the average work week is frequently between 40 and 60 hours each week. 

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