Looking for Work in China? Here’s How the Trade War Will Impact You.


The Trade War is definitely leaving its mark on the Chinese economy.  According to the South China Morning Post about half of all businesses in Southern China have already been impacted negatively. Many export companies have given their employees leave as the recently imposed tariffs have impacted their profit margins. Some companies have already moved their operations outside of China to neighboring countries in order to avoid these tariffs.  As a result, the opportunities for employment are being affected for Chinese nationals and foreigners alike. Hopefully, we will see this trend resolve itself as a Trade Agreement is reached between the two economic powerhouses.

Historically, the most conventional way of getting professional employment in China has been with a Foreign-Invested Enterprise or FIE. This is where the majority of expatriates have typically been employed. Getting these positions weren’t easy and quick, as it takes time to build up relationships and contacts within the various companies.  Contacts are key in the employment scene in the Mainland. Knowing how to speak Mandarin Chinese is critical as well. You may not need to be fluent in Mandarin to work in an FIE, basic knowledge of the language is essential. Want to know more about learning Chinese? See our post on ways to learn to speak Mandarin.

In the past Expats who are proficient in Mandarin and highly-qualified professionals have been able to find employment with a Chinese company.  As the Trade War continues there are fewer openings for these types of positions, but they do exist. The best way to find opportunities with a Chinese company, as with an FIE, is to start networking in the industry you are interested in pursuing.  Connections are critical to obtaining employment in China – circulating your resume will typically get you nowhere!

Often expats start out by working with a US company in the US and then being moved overseas, or by working with a Chinese company in the US and then being moved to China.  Expat packages have historically been very attractive, with lots of perks and high wages. However, in these turbulent economic times, Chinese companies are hiring fewer Expats and replacing the positions with “Flexpats.”  These positions are less lucrative and without the added incentive of the past packages. Often Flexpats are professionals who have already moved to China and are interested in staying. These foreigners may have relatives or friends in China and are wanting to move for reasons other than the salary and perks.

“The trade war creates a less welcoming business environment for Chinese companies (in the US),” said Chen Xu, chairman of the China General Chamber of Commerce-USA and president and chief executive of Bank of China USA, in introducing the chamber’s annual business survey, which was released in early June.

In addition, the American Chamber of Commerce in China reports similar findings in US companies operating in China.  US companies are struggling in China today as the economic downturn affects all businesses.

There is no question Trump’s tariffs have had an impact on China’s economy.  It has affected the way China is doing business in the US and the way US companies are doing business in China.  Chinese business in the US was at an all-time peak in 2016 but has declined nearly 90% over the past 2 years.

Trump continues up the ante in the Trade War, threatening to impose tariffs on another $300 billion of imported Chinese goods.   China is answering that it is not afraid of an all-out trade war. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang stated: “If the United States only wants to escalate trade frictions, we will resolutely respond and fight to the end.” (https://www.newsweek.com/china-insists-not-afraid-trade-war-1443352)

China’s Economic slowdown has created some difficulties in the nation’s employment, but there does continue to be opportunities for expats – especially in the business of teaching English.  Teaching English is the easiest way to get a job in China today, and has always been if you didn’t have professional experience in engineering, manufacturing, production or such. To teach English you must be a native English speaker and have an English teaching certificate like the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language).  There are plenty of good programs to allow you to get a certificate, such as International TEFL Academy or  TEFL Online and if you are a native speaker, it is a pretty easy certification process.  

Large language schools in China are also interested in native speakers with a Bachelors degree.   There may even be an opportunity to grow into management roles in an English teaching career. China is the largest market for English education in the world so there seems there will be no shortage of opportunities in this area – regardless of how ugly the Trade War gets!

Ready to get started?  Check out the visa requirements and then start researching jobs.  Here are a few job boards to check out: