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Ask HN: Is it difficult for non-Chinese to work in China?
104 points by ap22213 on July 21, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 106 comments
What should an American (or other English-speaking) software engineer expect if they wished to work in China?

Is there xenophobia? Are Americans looked down upon or treated differently?

How difficult is it to find a job? How about a visa?

Culturally, what are some things to avoid, things to expect, etc?


Im a Swedish Sofware engineer and I have been working in Beijing for the last ~4 years. As others have pointed out, China is huge, and I have no experience from working in Hongkong or Shanghai where the vibe is more international, or so they say.

So what to expect? Smooth sailing, as long as you can deliver. There is a lot of companies that value English speakers in general, so dont be surprised if you get pampered.

There is no xenophobia to speak of, just cute curiosity. Its easy to find work if you have the skills (coughwe are hiring: hr@p1.comcough). Visas are a hassle, and rules change regularly. But if you are working here for a serious company and have the proper age/education/pazazz its usually just a bunch of paper work.

Culturally, its all up to where you are. But for the big cities its a very modern, interesting living.

I would never recommend going for the big 3(Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu) unless you love going to a place with 15k employees. There is a lot of options.

Its a very hungry tech scene in general, for everything from classic websites to apps. Almost nothing works here made by Google and Facebook, and boy its easy to take that for granted, so alternatives needs to be build and localized versions of everything is spawned.

For me personally I choose to work in China rather than to seek higher education back in Sweden and I have been in on a startup that now have more users that Scandinavia combined. Some crazy things I feel would never have been possible outside of China. We are still considered a small startup in China.

I could elaborate on this, but I think my best tip is just: Go, its easy to fly home.

What's the deal with the pollution? Are you worried about your long-term health?

China sounds great and all (well, except for that whole "totalitarian government" thing) but I'd never trade my well-being for money.

Well, simply put. Its bad. But it was muuuuch worse before. This goes for Beijing specifically due to historic and geographic reasons.

When I came here the PM 2.5 (particle density yadayada) was 400 on normal days and 200 was a "good" day. Something that would cause riots back home in EU. After that it just got worse and worse until we peaked 1k, which we nicknamed the Airpocalyps.

After that the gov started to do a lot of things and magically around the time Beijing hosted the APAC 2014 meeting, the skies cleared and we remembered the smell of nature, I also could not stop looking at the moon at night, since I didn't realize that I hadn't been able to see if for a long time.

After that the 75 year military parade to celebrate the Victory over Japan came along and made the sky magically blue again, and we have not really gone back after that.

Its still bad (~150 PM 2.5) at the moment, but its not stable bad. When the humidity is high particles stick around longer, when it rains it clears up the pollution too. (Where does it go? I dont want to know.)

But, we have 20+ expensive air cleaners at work, I have one at home and I always put on a M3 mask on days when its above 200.

We also awesome people here who tackels these problems in great ways. http://smartairfilters.com/ I bought their products for my home.

If you want to eat healthy there is alternatives but might require some research and a little knowhow.

As for the totalitarian thing, don't rock the boat.

I think if I had to live there I would wear a hazmat suit daily.

The pollution situation is also different in different parts of China as well. http://aqicn.org/map/#@g/27.2404/110.7692/4z

If you around Shenzhen/Guangzhou area the air quality is quite OK

I've never experienced any real xenophobic in the biggest cities in China, such as Beijing or Shanghai, but it has happened to me and my family in smaller cities such as Nanjing

Not OP, but I am also very interested in CS jobs in China (might apply too :3). (BTW, your site's job page seems to be down: http://jobs.p1.com/tech).

How do you find the cost of living is, given that Beijing is such a large city. Are you able to save money for retirement, etc?

Some figures to help you budget:

Rent: US$800/month for a room in a shared apartment; $1600/month for an OK 2-bedroom apartment

Food: $4 for a McDonald's meal. $10-$15 for an American breakfast. $5-$7 for a beef ramen dish. $2.50 for a Subway sandwich. Western foodstuffs (like cheese) can be expensive compared with the same brand in the US. Meat and vegetables (if you cook yourself) are decently priced. Obviously expensive for things that are imported (an avocado is ~$2), but locally-grown stuff is cheap.

Transport: less than US$1 per subway ride. US$7 for a typical taxi ride within central-ish parts of Shanghai or Beijing.

Entertainment: Eating/drinking in Western restaurants and bars/pubs is cheaper than in London or San Francisco. A beer and a nice burger in a western pub in Shanghai or Beijing will run about US$16.

The above prices include sales taxes, which are included in quoted prices. There is no tipping.

Yeah, that page might be a bit out of date. I think we are mostly using some big recruitment agency these days.

Our current app that is developed is Tantan http://tantanapp.com/jobs No big support for that page in English but its a fun Google Translate moment.

Emails sent to my previously mentioned email will be reviewed by our hr dept.

For the cost of living. Its really nice. You have the full spectrum of super mega fancy stuff down to a bed in a concrete room for 100 CNY a night. The beauty is that a beer costs around 3 CNY (1 U.S. dollar = 6.6712921 Chinese yuan), you can have a feast with your friend and pay 30 CNY each including drinks. Dont buy the vodka drinks for 10 CNY each if you value your brain. Bus is 1 CNY and Subway is 2 CNY. Taxi almost anywhere is 30 CNY.

Living can also be cheap if you only want a normal apartment in a tall apartment building suburb, ~10-20min subway from downtown. Ranging from modern 4-6k/m apartments down to 2k/m old-styled-no-elevator prefab Chinese apartment blocks. Floor space in some places are very cheap too so living with 3 other roomates could also make it very cheap.

For salary, I get paid almost what I would in Sweden, but the tax in China is very low compared to Sweden, around 10-15% in China, so I get a lot more disposable cash. But since there is a lot of fun stuff to do, I don't really hold on to it long. But my friends who don't really party a lot and don't mind eating street food for less than 10CNY save a lot of money.

That's awesome, thanks for the reply.

So I'm assuming you guys do custom app development? Do you also handle the backend server stuff too?

Yepp, its all in house.

I left home when the whole "just toss it into AWS push the scale button and go for IPO" started in the West, and got behind the gfw when if you want it to be good it needs to be inside the gfw even if the server outside are reachable.

There is alternatives now like the aliyun from alibaba, but for us that was not an alternative since they have not really reached the same level as AWS.

So its kinda fun to do the basic stuff since its usually easier for us to build everything ourself than to outsource.

I had beers with the P1 team in Beijing about 3-4 years ago, so I probably met you too :) Seemed like a cool little company at the time. I'm surprised that you were able to get a Z visa (?) as I thought that required a degree?

OP: I can recommend living in China for the experience alone. You'll be treated differently, but xenophobia is not the word I'd use. I'm white and my experience was pretty great, though I'm not sure what it would be like for a non-white person.

I imagine a software engineer would make less than in some Western markets, but the cost of living is also substantially lower. Learning basic Chinese is helpful, but in the biggest cities you can typically get by with English and gestures.

"Learning basic Chinese is helpful, but in the biggest cities you can typically get by with English and gestures."

Sure, you can 'get by' in the sense that you'll be able to buy food and get around. But if you plan to spend more than 6 months in China, studying Chinese will pay off in a better overall experience.

Nice to meet again :). 3-4 years ago in our company history was a fun time for sure.

For the Z visa, I brought the Pazazz. Or rather I could rattle together 5 years of work experience combined with my age. In my opinion, as long as you are serious to work, and not do the old classic Student/English teacher gig, and the company has good people handling it, there is always a way. For me there was a lot of going to South Korea for one week and get a new Visa there to be able to come back in etc.

For the Chinese language part, yes, learn it, its awesome and opens 5000 doors for you. But I have not mastered it to any degree but have survived very well. Nothing Im proud of, but a lack of it does not mean isolation, usually Chinese people are good at picking my vocabulary and find key words we can combine with gestures.

Pijiu? Dui Bing da ma Dui. Hao!

Done :)

I don't agree. English in Beijing is not so common, but Hong Kong its very common.

Not common at all in Hong Kong either... except in hotels and written on restaurant menus and official documents. It's supposed to be a bilingual city... but not in practice. You want English? Go to Singapore or Malaysia.

That wasn't my experience when I was there. While it's true that the average citizen may/will not speak English, it's more common than just in the high end areas that you mentioned.

I was in HK in 2013 for Chinese New Year. Lots of foreigners working there, especially Indians and Australians, but the local population struggled with English. I was in Singapore in 2010. Everyone there spoke fluent English.

My point is not that you will have enlightening discussions in English with the average Beijinger, but that there are lots of people who live in expat areas and mostly hang out with expats and Chinese people who speak decent English. Some spend years in China without knowing a lick of Chinese.

True. You aren't going to be talking about deep politics with a Beijing taxi driver without a good command of Chinese, but you'll totally be able to order a mocha frapiccino in English at Starbucks.

> You aren't going to be talking about deep politics with a Beijing taxi driver without a good command of Chinese

Do people talk politics there? Accidentally let slip the wrong sentence when the wrong pair of ears is around and bam , your life as you know it is over.

Yes, and no, China is not that totalitarian. Chinese will complain about the government all the time, just they don't appreciate foreigners, even residents, doing the same. That would be like a Chinese complaining about the USA while living there....

Hm, I'm curious: How much has the Chinese web blocking impacted on your usage of the web compared to Sweden?

A lot.

When the company proxy is down, development grinds to halt.

Google Twitter, Facebook Dropbox Github Every site that uses Google Fonts will not load without fiddling etc etc etc. VPN or a good proxy is a must. Or you just space out and stop reading the news, use a simple ssh tunnel for Git and live in happy non social media bliss.

But over the years I learned a lot of corner cases with proxy settings in almost everything. Like if you set a http proxy in Ubuntu, apt-get dont give a fuck, you have to set that separately, but if you want to use a password or different port you end up in config hell. Or if you want to use http proxy on your phone, there is settings for it in Android for both Wifi and 3g, but if you put a password into the password field, your phone goes "well thats nice, lets not use it".

You can pre cache google maps on your phone. But if you use a app that displays a google map, that app will not use the google maps cache.

But since almost everything is blocked or slow, there is Chinese alternatives to everything. And we mostly use Wechat here for everything so there there is not that many convenience missing for me.

The hardest part for me was playing Ingress since the GPS location is shifted in China, and the login requires Google servers, and running a VPN drains batteries. But I would not really see that as a major concern :)

I guess if you are working professionally in the tech space, you'd just spring for the 5-15 bucks a month to have a vpn.

There was some noise about the GFW doing clever stuff(tm) to identify VPN traffic and punish the local IP for that. Was that real or hype?

That's definitely real. Normal, unobfuscated VPN will result in packet drops after a couple of minutes. Even obfuscated VPN will trigger packet drops if you send too much traffic.

It depends on the protocol. Unobfuscated OpenVPN definitely behaves in the way you describe. But I very rarely have problems with PPTP, which is unobfuscated.

Thanks for that - it's great to have a confirmation. Obfuscated/unobfuscated VPN traffic, what is the actual difference at protocol level?

Put simply, AFAIU, it's the pattern of TCP packet sizes. OpenVPN, for example, has a very recognizable handshake that makes it prone to detection. This post goes into some of the network-level details (not OpenVPN-specific): http://blog.zorinaq.com/my-experience-with-the-great-firewal...

Try shadowsocks it designed and made by China :-)


I agree, shadowsocks is much more powerful open source solution in crossing the GFW. But I’m hardly find a quick reliable service provider. And the primary developer (a young woman) quitted under the stress of administration. So the future of this project is unclear.

But its a game of cat and mouse with which VPN providers are currently blocked.

How does this work with the language? Do you speak Mandarin or Cantonese? My experience was that English didn't go very far in Beijing.

Contrast that with Sweden where the office language at a tech start up in Stockholm is most likely English.

Do you speak e.g. Mandarin? If not, how does cooperation with a team that is probably 90-98% Chinese work?

I'm an American researcher, going into almost 9 years working for Microsoft China in Beijing. This will be my last month in the guo, I'm almost out (yeh!) and will go work in the states for a company with a "Y" in its name.

First, you should specify if you are in a tier 1 city (BJ, SH, SZ, ...) or a lesser tier city. For the former, you will be treated pretty "equally" in your daily life. Americans don't get any special treatment, good or bad, anyways.

I found my job before going to China. I don't know how you could luck into one, but it shouldn't be impossible. It depends on your skill and experience, it might be challenging if you have nothing special to offer. Once you get the job the visa is cake, though I've always relied on the company to do it for me.

China is a great place for someone just getting started (though that makes it harder to get a job), the nightlife is great, rent is relatively cheap even in tier 1's (used to be much better), can get anywhere by taxi. Great firewall is a PITA even with a VPN, pollution will wear you down overtime, the lack of permanent acceptance (China is not an immigrant country) will make even the most hardcore of us leave eventually. It can be a great way to spend 2-3 years of your life, more is probably a bit too much, 9 years is definitely so.

English is the working language of my company, I've done ok with Chinese but it hasn't improved in 9 years anyways. But most of your coworkers will be Chinese, and will speak Chinese around you. You might not get invited to meetings, or even be uninvited, because they'll want to do something in Chinese even though they shouldn't. This is an American company mind you, though my Chinese wife's experience at SAP and Nokia has been quite different from my own (more foreigners, more English than Microsoft China).

> Is there xenophobia? Are Americans looked down upon or treated differently?

Having these sorts of questions means you should definitely visit for at least a week or two before jumping into finding a job there. Head over and travel around a bit, see if you feel comfortable. Visit some coworking spaces, talk to people. If you have more questions on stuff like this, hit up some of the Digital Nomad / Expat groups.

I worked in Shanghai, China for 3 years for Ubisoft (game developer).

Senior-level experienced talent is still hard to find, so it's relatively easy to get a job and work visa (which will be sponsored by your company once you accept a offer) compared to first-world countries. This is doubly true if you have a well known tech company on your resume (Google, FB, etc)

I'd recommend working for a multinational company (or at least a large well-known Chinese corporation like Baidu, Tencent, Alibaba); as others have said, they're used to foreigners and will make sure their written communications are in English and make sure their employees have a minimum standard of English proficiency. Any Mandarin Chinese you learn will give you brownie points (unless you're ethnically Chinese; then they'll criticize your slightest mistake ;) ).

Salary wise, you will make significantly more than locals. In absolute terms you will likely make less than you would in the West, but due to the MUCH cheaper cost of living, you can almost always lead a better "life". (I had a ~1200 square foot 3 bedroom apartment in one of the most prestigious districts of Shanghai for $800 US/month (covered by my company). That was ~10 years ago but I'd still expect the same relative price differential.) You will get a good health insurance/benefits package that covers treatment at international standard hospitals.

Shanghai and Beijing are the most foreigner friendly cities in (mainland) China; huge expat population, many western restaurants, signage in English, etc. Other cities not so much, but nothing a slight sense of adventure can't conquer.

Any specific questions feel free to ask.

Can you give a ball park estimate of compensation for a multinational company / satellite offices of well known US companies?

That depends on experience, but expect around 60-80% of Seattle at a serious western company at the lower levels, reaching parity around the mid senior level, and exceeding that (perhaps with a coveted expat package) in the senior levels. This is my estimate for MS, but of course, it is very diverse.

Rents have gone up a lot in the past 10 years. These days, $1000 will get you an OK 1 bedroom apartment in OK area in Shanghai. $2000 will get you a nice 3 bedroom place 20 mins walk from the financial district.

> Shanghai and Beijing are the most foreigner friendly cities in China; huge expat population, many western restaurants, signage in English, etc. Other cities not so much, but nothing a slight sense of adventure can't conquer.

I thought that would be Hong Kong?

Yeah, technically Hong Kong is part of China but is distinct from the mainland and most HKers don't consider themselves Chinese.

It is indeed much more expat friendly than the mainland due to its British colonial heritage. However, there are far fewer tech jobs in Hong Kong (unless you want to work in the finance industry).

They also pay poorly on general compared to mainland tier 1s, like Shenzhen just over the border.

Hong Kong's tech scene is extremely small compared to Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Hangzhou.

But doesn't it feel wrong when you're treated much better (e.g. have a 2x salary + subsidized apartment) compared to your peers only because you're a [westerner] foreigner?

That was never my experience. My Chinese peers at the same level made similar to what I made...I got a bit more because I didn't have to make contributions into the housing fund. I am/was working with international talent, many of them who would eventually just up and go to the states to work.

Yes, there is xenophobia. One would either have to live in an English-language foreigner bubble or under a rock not to notice it. There is also xenophilia. Many call it a "middle-ority complex".

Also, people are at risk every now and then simply due to news cycles and political issues: http://shanghaiist.com/2016/07/16/nike_patriot_attack.php

If you're not too ambitious and you keep your head down and stay in your foreigner role, it's fine. If you do business or really try to dig in and advance long-term, you'll have tremendous disadvantages. On the other hand, if you're white, especially Nordic-looking, and you speak Chinese well, you'll have a tremendous advantage in networking with powerful people most Chinese would not have access to.

First you have to remember that China itself's population is as large as the entire western world, so things are completely different here. For example, almost nobody in China use credit card for online payment: they use Alipay as an alternative.

1. Perhaps high salary? Non-local employees are rare here.

2. No in tech companies, but yes in small cities and countries. In tech companies and cities like Shanghai, forigners are treated better than locals, seriously.

3. Easier than getting a work in US.

4. Don't send a clock as a gift :)

I googled about the clock gift

>In Chinese, saying ‘giving a clock’ (送钟 sòng zhōng /song jong/) sounds exactly like the Chinese words for 'attending a funeral ritual' (送终 sòng zhōng) and thus it is bad luck to gift clocks or watches. On top of that, clocks and watches also symbolize the running out of time. This is especially true for seniors. Giving a clock or watch as a gift is the biggest no-no in Chinese culture.


or Shoes...

I know the OP asked about an American working in China. However, I am an American, living in the US, working remotely for a company in China, about 3 years now. I thought I might offer a perspective from the opposite way.

The only difficulty I have is language. Sometimes I feel like I am being very clear about something and I still can't convey it. So I take a step back and break it down into a list. This helps. The time difference is manageable. Everyone is really friendly.

The other interesting thing is that everyone in the China office knows about the Americans working on their team. I get so many e-mails and I even won a prize at our company party. I have a certain reputation it seems for not sugar coating anything.

I did have one odd experience. It is common to use the term "Na Ge", pronounced like "Niggaa" in China and and when I first heard it, I thought that they were using the slang word we all should never use. It was weird because the conversation they were having was about a recent crime. I asked later about this because I couldn't shake that it was being used and it turns out the meaning is something like "umm" or "that one" etc.

Hah, when I first heard na ge (more like nay ge in Beijing) my first thought was "I'll bet a lot of American ears prick up when they hear that"

and mine did as it was being used like every other sentence. Younger and older were using it alike. I'm glad I asked for clarification.

Lol, you just create a joke! "Na Ge", good one.

As childhood, some of parents (like mine) forbid us to use the words during our talk/speech because it is kind of make you sounds uncertain.

> Is there xenophobia? Are Americans looked down upon or treated differently?

xenophobia, no. treated differently, definitely. often they won't know where you fit into the social hierarchy, because, you don't. You don't have any family or social history so they may treat you like gods or may somewhat exclude you.

Language is a huge barrier. If you're in Shenzhen, there will be near-zero english. You'll have to learn mandarin, which will take many years.

> Culturally, what are some things to avoid, things to expect, etc?

If you've never been to China, you likely have never eaten Chinese food before. You may or may not like it a lot. You can find western food so it's not a huge problem in most places.

given the language barrier and the difficulty communicating with the outside world (you'll find ways to work around it, but it's still tough) it can be quite isolating. You'll want to connect with other expats and try to build up relationships with locals where/if possible.

China is less like the US than anywhere else I've been (including places like Nigeria, Bolivia, Fiji, Qatar, etc). You can't be prepared for it, so just be prepared to feel uncomfortable for a while.

I'd highly recommend visiting prior to considering a move.

> You'll have to learn mandarin, which will take many years.

Why would it? Is it really that complex a language?

How different is learning Mandarin than learning German, French, Russian, English or Greek? I understand that the writing system is probably much more complex and requires much more memorization than the other languages mentioned, but other than that, what about grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation?

For me the trickiest thing to wrap my head around is that Mandarin is heavily tonal, and I've never had to deal with that in my life, making it a difficult thing to introduce my brain to.

Some words mean 5 different things depending on how you vary the tone throughout the word; I'm no stranger to simple variation as I had to deal with emphasis and inflection while learning Spanish, but Mandarin is a whole other kettle of fish.

I'm more than happy to accept that maybe I didn't put enough effort in or am generally poor at languages (only speak two), however I struggled to learn a handful of words per month.

It is awesome! I've been in Shenzhen with my startup for a year now and its great.., I want to stay here forever. Apart from the slow internet through the VPN, weird but interesting food and the language barrier, its a very exciting and prosperous country to be in. Foreigners here are treated equally and sometimes treated way better than they deserve!!

Regarding jobs, there are plenty, but it depends which province/city you want to be in. Maybe not as highly paid as the US but there are definitely a lot of cool, innovative, new and weird ideas and concepts that you won't see anywhere in the world! I ask my Chinese friends what's the latest cool things you can do with your phone and they always have these weird apps that maybe in 5 years facebook or youtube will have.

For US citizens its pretty easy to get a visa, apart from the invitation letter crap, you get like a 10 year multi-entry. Us europeans have a harder time to get a 1 year one but not that bad in general :)

It is a bit of a shock the first time you come here and sometimes 2-4 weeks might not be enough to love this place, but after a while you develop a sort of stockholmy syndrome and all is good!

Hope it helps!

US citizens have the same yearly working visa renewal as everyone else. The 10 year visa applies only to tourism and each stay is limited to 90 days or so.

Yes you are right! I've seen many small companies here use the "M" or even the non-business "F" (catch-all) visa and that visa was issued with the full knowledge of the locals here. No idea about other cities, SZ is in the special economic zone so some rules are more "relaxed".

Regarding the entries, yes you need to go in and out every 30-90 days unfortunately.

Very few places in the world pay as much as Silicon Valley, so I'm curious if your comparison with 'the US' is tech jobs in SF/NYC or tech jobs in normal places (i.e. 'not as highly paid' could mean 'only' $100k/yr for a devops position).

Sorry for the vagueness. SF/NYC is indeed the extreme, from what i've seen, a mid-experienced programmer (Backend , embedded C), 3-4 years in industry, might get something like 150K yuan on average, and up to 250K yuan if you are a jedi, per year.. Which is around 20-40k USD. So quite low in general.

What does your startup do, if you don't mind my asking?

We do an agriculture sensor.. We are called Pycno :)

I have friends that are black that visited Guangzhou. They felt like something of a novelty. On one occasion they went for a meal and had a crowd outside the window staring at them, watching them eat. I think they may also have had people trying to sneakily touch their hair on local transport as well.

So if you're a person of colour, your experiences may be different from the other descriptions here.

I'm white, male and have long, blonde hair. I had similar reactions.

I must be in 50 people's photo collections.

Only one person asked me before photographing me. He was about 14, and on a rare school trip to Nanjing from home somewhere in the north. He said he'd not seen a white person before. I think everyone that photographed me was a tourist.

I can relate to this, I have had similar experiences across China (including Nanjing), although much more rarely in Beijing and Shanghai

I would recommend that you look into jobs from the Big Three in China (Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu, in that particular order).

All of them hire many people who do not hold a Chinese passport, so they have mature system in place to handle some of the issues you may be concerned about (visa, healthcare, etc). The culture in those companies would also be more international than most Chinese companies of course.

You could also look into YC companies based in China. I saw a job posting on HN a few days ago from a Shanghai-based YC company (I cannot remember the name at this point).

Good luck! :-)

The YC company based in Shanghai is https://www.strikingly.com.

Why that order?

Take some time browsing the /r/China subreddit. It contains a lot of westerners who live in China. https://www.reddit.com/r/China/

I travelled in China (Beijing, Chengdu and some smaller towns) for three weeks. It was different! Their customs are different but not that hard to get used to. I think that as a (white) American, you will have positive racism applied to you. It's crappy but it's true.

I worked in China for an American company and know others who have done it. I was based in Shanghai. In that case it was pretty cool. Generally people from US people are very curious about. I have seen a bit of racism toward people from India, Malaysia, Japanese and Koreans. So if you are of that descent and look like you are from one of those countries then people may treat you a little differently.. Also if you don't know any Mandarin it may be pretty difficult to get a job there unless it's for a foreign company. The visa your best bet is to have a company support you to get it.. Basically you end up needing some kind of support letters to do it. You also have to pass a physical that you do in China if I remember correctly. Culturally in China varies a ton across the country. Beijing Shanghai Shenzhen are all different. I would say the simplest method to avoid issues is to just copy what you see the locals do. Business meeting etiquette you can look up online but generally it's not nearly as serious or formal in China compared to Japan. Probably one thing would be not to joke to people about their title.. Like "oh you are CEO? Ha!" That would probably be the most offensive thing..

Lived in Shenzhen, Southern China for a year in tech. Most foreigners I met there were either English teachers or in trading.

I come from Southeast Asia so the treatment is different (white privilege is extremely beneficial). Xenophobia is next to none. I managed to join a Chinese football/soccer team and badminton group.

I didn't apply for the job in China on purpose so can't help you on that. The difficulty of obtaining a visa sits on polar opposites. If your employer is a legit and big organization, you can get a legit one.

Others I met in Shenzhen just went with a business visa good for 30 days. This worked fine in this city since you can simply take a train to Hong Kong and reset your stay. Get a passport with more pages if you plan to do this.

Culture - most Chinese are very tolerant or don't care at all. I've heard other people say that Chinese are rude/impolite. You get used to it or get too tired of it.

> I've heard other people say that Chinese are rude/impolite.

In casual (especially informal) conversation I'd say there's a cultural norm of being more direct than we are in the west. This isn't, I don't think, in an attempt to offend. That swings the other way in business (or so I have heard) where criticism is carefully constructed (at least within a business) to minimise any potential offence given. YMMV.

Do a quick search for "smog in china" you'll probably want to bring a gas mask.

It is also interesting for Japan. E.g. if you leave on time (i.e. don't do overtimes), take 30+ days vacation, etc... what happens? :)

Japanese software engineers are infamously known for working (usually forced) over time (i.e. forced to take out time card). Because software engineers work over time there is a urban legend that Japanese engineers retire at age 35. However I have to say these often apply only to large general contractors.

Corporate cultural is super rigid and is something you would definitely want to avoid, however I believe this is not always true for startups (especially in Tokyo).

As long as you belong in a English speaking team you should be fine.

Also just be careful of the contract type. Some companies who want to fire workers on the go will try to force some form of a temporary contract.

I heard some horror stories about working in Japan. The country is absolutely astonishing when you visit as a tourist but enduring the rigid traditional culture as a worker is a completely different story.

Perhaps not entirely germane, but I worked for the U.S. branch of a Japanese company - it was about %50/50 Japanese expats and Americas. The Japanese worked 50-60 hours a week, Americans worked in the ballpark of 40 or so, and nobody blinked an eye. They were notoriously stingy on vacation time, which led to a pretty dismal retention rate (partly why that was the only job I left in under a year).

Send patio11 an e-mail. He has previous experience with working 60 hour weeks in Japan.

So being a gaijin doesn't help here? (there)

Japan is pretty Xenophobic. The whole article is interesting but if you search for "On Being A Foreigner In Japan" it gets right to the point.


You get fired.

But what would be the formal reason? Aren't they obligated to specify the reason?

I would also be interested whether one takes notice of the oppressiveness of the Chinese government, e.g. the Great Firewall of China.

4 years ago a VPN worked perfectly. When I visited recently multiple VPNs and VPN providers would become blocked as I started using them. Even though the traffic is encrypted they use a heuristic to identify VPN usage. If you're moving a ton of traffic (streaming, torrenting, etc) forget it.

Pretty much every expat uses a VPN. They get blocked but it's a cat and mouse game. If you work for a multinational Western company, corporate VPNs are pretty much solid.

Other than that, nothing much day to day. It's not North Korea. Of course common sense applies (avoid overt political discussions).

This is big. VPNs are no longer a reliable way of getting to Gmail etc.

You don't notice it day to day, but it beats you down over the long run.

the irony being that only Americans care about that

Americans are much more oblivious than Europeans. Most of my foreign colleagues over the years have been from Europe, and would complain about it more than me. Other Asians (korean and Japanese) don't mention it much.

I have been working in Shanghai for about six and a half years now and don't think I would live anywhere else in China except maybe Hong Kong. Shanghai has a very vibrant international community with a fairly comfortable standard of living ( minus the occasional bad pollution ). There is not a significant amount of xenophobia in the first tier cities though outside of these you are generally looked at as an oddity if you count that. You will never be chinese though so some doors will always be closed to you.

It is difficult to find a job without being here but on the ground there are opportunities. If you are not here companies see that as a liability. Of foreigners abroad we have hired to work in China there is about a 50% washout rate in the first year. Being here is seen as being a more reliable hire.

Regarding visa a good company will provide a z visa for you. Anyone offering less isn't a good company. Pay is less then the states generally but cost of living is lower. As in the rest of the world there is high demand for good software developers. Check smartshanghai.com, Shanghaiexpat.com, creativehunt.com, and craigslist Shanghai for more expat focused jobs. If you are interested in fintech we are hiring through hr@itr.cn.

Overall the business China is more predatory then the states. More weight is often put on relationships then talent. Coming from the west it takes a few years to really understand this culture.

So I'm half-Chinese, grew up in America, and I don't know Mandarin. Any American-born Chinese with experience working/living in China with stories to share?


I'm a French Software engineer and I've been working in China for 5 years (and now back in France)

As someone who has worker in IT both in the education part (I was teaching CS in a 3 tier small city of 4 million inhabitants) and a startup/webshop in Shanghai I can only recommend you to try the experience.

As other have said life there is extremly different. If you're in Shanghai/Beijing, you can still find places to eat/live that will make you feel like home, but I think it's missing the point.

I would say the more you're ready to try to "mix in", the bigger the opportunity will be. I finished with a near fluent Chinese fluent level (I can perfectly follow business and informal conversation, and get the rough meaning from written contract in Mandarin) and I think that's what definitely helped me to finish CTO of the company I was working in. (~60 employees, 99% Chinese, doing businesses with other Chinese companies)

Chinese is a very easy language once you've stopped trying to relate to English and you see start seing learning chinese as gathering "sentences" and speaking Chinese as "i take this sentence I heard last time and I replace this word by that one" (as there's no conjugation, plural etc.) and it will definitely helped relationship of any kind, especially if you look "foreigner"

On the technical side, speaking chinese will help you enter in the companies were people still do php4 without framework nor testing nor versionning (SVN if you're lucky) because there's no harsh competition. So arriving in this kind of company with your ability to bring them even what you would consider "plain old MVC framework" will increase their efficiency by several times. (and if the company was there, it's that it was profitable, most of the time because of the manager/commercial having a good network, so if you're now able to make technical side profitable too, they will soon ask you to supervise/teach/manage the whole set of developers). And you will be invited to meeting with the customer too as it will give face to the company "hey we're a good company, we can hire laowai foreigners".

There's a lot more to say but I think most of people here have already covered the other aspect of living and working in china

"How difficult is it to find a job? How about a visa?"

If you have a degree and 2 years' post-degree work experience, your employer will have no problem sponsoring your work permit and visa. The process requires multiple steps and is often outsourced, so not every company will be willing to do it. But if they have at least one foreign employee then that's a good sign.

I'm assuming that you don't speak Chinese. For some jobs, this is a show-stopper or major disadvantage. There are other developers just as good as you, but who can read/write/speak/listen to communicate. BUT for software development jobs with many foreign companies (large ones like Amazon, or small game studios) you'll be on a level playing field with someone who speaks Chinese.

"Is there xenophobia? Are Americans looked down upon or treated differently?"

Americans are not looked down upon at all. Most Chinese I've met have respect for America's achievements and are aware of generally higher living standards there. Many white male Americans find more dating options in China than they did back home. (I'm neither white nor American, so have only heard this second hand.)

FYI.If you can tolerate bad air quality and traffic jam,welcome to Beijing.Generally speaking,Beijing is the best place to find a software related job in China.There is almost no xenophobia in big cities like Beijing in China.Instead you will be warmly welcomed by your local colleagues/friends.It should be very easy for you to find a job in Beijing if you are middle or high level experienced software engineer in either startups or big companies.The company that wants to hire you will help you to apply a work visa for you. Basically you can freely say and ask anything you want privately in English. There are two kind of voices here.One voice is from official/government.Another one is from netizen via Weibo/WeChat,etc. I am a native Chinese living in Beijing since 2000 and happened to have had a few months work experience in each of Silicon Valley,CA,USA and Bangalore,India and half a year in Austin,TX,USA and having worked with a lot of colleagues/friends from a dozen of countries. You are welcome to contact me via WeChat if I could be any kind of help to you in Beijing.My WeChat ID is 1832903667.Thanks!

have been in shanghai for 9 years working for a silicon valley company.

there's obviously a cost associated with obtaining a working visa, but i don't know the details or the extent of how much a burden that is going to be on the company.

if you don't speak chinese (or write), i think you'll be limited to working for multinational companies (mnc's) like microsoft, emc, vmware, cisco, etc. google has an office here, but the work being done is not very interesting, localization and local advertising. you should probably forget about local companies like alibaba, baidu, etc.

i would suggest you not think too much about xenophobia, or treatment, or cultural differences, if it's really bothering you that much then i suggest you stick to your country and don't venture abroad. obviously every environment/country/company has its challenges so being adaptable is a must.

the questions you should ask yourself:

1. why do you want to be in china? 2. what do you want in your career? 3. what is it in china that i cannot get from current location?

Mind sharing what company? Trying to apply to international companies that wouldn't mind sending people abroad.

I actually just accepted a job offer working remotely for a cryptocurrency related startup. I'm in the US and they're based out of Shanghai. So far it's been pretty nice, but since I'm going to be working remote (though I intend to visit) I don't have any advice to give heh

It's trivial to get a job and a work visa. If you just wanna go work there for a bit and go back home - go for it.

But if want to get legit stock options, start a startup or generally settle down then forget about it. You will be legally discriminated against. Not worth it.

Culturally, I was scared of the streets and the public transportation can be really busy at times. However the people are really nice and curious to talk with you. Anyone with any English skills will say hello to you and are generally extremely nice!

I did an 8months stint doing some data modelling at a Chinese start-up in Beijing.

Visa was difficult but company culture there really respects people who are experienced and innovative. Most the workers there aren't really passionate about what they do (From my understanding, most Chinese startups don't give equity to their employees)

English is a huge advantage as we have access to an awesome global community of people.

Pay is surprisingly good, but living cost in Beijing is deceivingly high as well.

There are plenty of expats in China. You could totally get away with not being able to speak any Chinese and still live comfortably in the big cities.

white is right in china.

I have been in China on and off for 15 years. I have worked for others, started businesses myself, and worked for foreign businesses online.

Overall question first. In terms of 'difficulty' to work, I suppose the key issues are: language, office culture, visa situation, job availability, overheads.

Language is really not a problem if you work for any reasonable company as all young people can speak some English and basic spoken Chinese is not hard to pick up with a little effort once you are in the environment.

Office culture is highly company dependent: I have interviewed at companies with stupid amounts of capital and connections but no idea what they were doing whose upper management were so afraid of a foreigner in their midst (with technical knowledge) that they flat out refused to hire ("threat" alarm), even though it was self-evident we would have taken the company good places together. On the other hand, there are companies where it would be fantastic. In general, it won't be as easy as the west, and it may be difficult or even unworkable. Be careful with this. You can sidestep this by starting something yourself.

Visas became much harder in 2007, before the 2008 Olympics, and never got easier. It is true that Americans can get 10 years repeat-entry visas (60 or 90 days per stay), you are not allowed to work on them, though many, many, many, many people do. I believe Canadians and UK citizens may be able to get these now or soon. In general, it is illegal to 'work' (as in sit in an office every day, receive a Chinese salary) on these visas, but you can definitely 'work' in the sense of consulting on the ground from an international position without legal recourse. It's all about how you structure your alleged situation to authorities, if they come asking, which they basically won't. The safest is to get paid overseas, the next safest is probably to be paid cash. Getting paid in to a local bank account on a non-work visa is asking for problems. You can sidestep this by starting something yourself, which gives you a work visa.

Job availability wise, probably the larger east-coast cities are OK. Outside of those cities, there is almost nothing, unless you want to compete with locals for web development or other piecemeal work, which is a losing bet in my observation. You can sidestep this by starting something yourself.

Overheads wise, you can get by nicely on about the same as in Europe, which is to say hotels + food + transport + visa overheads would be 200-1000元/day (about USD$30-150/day) depending upon what kind of city you are in and how much consumption you can pack in. In second tier cities, I would say 400元 (USD$60) is a fair budget, whereas in the east coast first tier cities perhaps 800元 (USD$120) is more realistic. You can halve this if you have your own house or apartment, which is basically viable if you are staying 6 months or longer. Foreigners often have share houses available in larger cities, if you want to dip a foot in without total commitment to your own space.

What to expect? Surprises, weird cultural adjustments, great food variety, honestly friendly people, less regulation.

Xenophobia? Not usually, it is rare but it does exist.

Culturally, Chinese are pretty straight shooters ... more so than westerners, in my opinion. You can make friends easily, but the depth of a friendship is often defined by how much effort you put in to maintaining it. Mutual favors can make the world go around. Banquets solidify friendships, and are awesome.

What sort of work would you like to do? A good way to start may be identifying companies working in the areas you would like to gain experience in, then simply volunteer to work for them for awhile (say 3 months) possibly for some token cash-in-hand salary with a view towards a full time position. It will not cost you much and you can arrive on your own visa, you are not 'working' (as you are 'not' receiving money) and you maintain total freedom with regards to leaving / changing your situation / looking elsewhere while you clue up and decide on your next move.

City wise, Shenzhen or other Guangdong cities and parts of Zhejiang and Fujian provinces are good for a firmware focus. From a traditional software-focus, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Shanghai, or Beijing are probably the big ones.

Looking back coming to China was the best thing I ever did in life - I'm an Australian who's lived in Europe and America. It's not for everyone, but if you can make it work you'll be richly rewarded in experience.

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