Shanghai frequently tops the list of the most desirable destinations for expats in China — in no small part thanks to the number of work options available in the city. Shanghai is the largest and most cosmopolitan in China and a world-class harbor of business and career opportunities. With the city's culture being much more western than in other first-tier cities in China, most expats find their work experience and skills easily transferable.
Shanghai is also well-liked by the foreign community for offering an abundance of Western amenities: many international schools, expat societies, western restaurants, and a vibrant nightlife.
Since the COVID-pandemic, traveling to China and applying for the needed visa and work permit has become substantially more complicated. Therefore, remember that even if you secure a job offer in Shanghai, you may need to wait until the situation changes before traveling to the country.
Shanghai is China's most prosperous city. It's the country's number one city for banking, commerce and international trade.
The city's economy is still heavily based on the local industries: steel, machinery, electronics manufacturing, textiles, and more. However, the services sector has been rapidly developing as well as making Shanghai an important financial center and home to country's leading banks, the Shanghai Stock Exchange (SSE), the Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE) and the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE).
The city is also one of China's main tech innovation bases and hosts some of the major annual events like CES Asia (Consumer Electronics Show), the premier event in consumer electronics technology.
Shanghai labor market
Shanghai is the number one choice among expats in China when it comes to working opportunities. This means that you will find a great number of work opportunities in the city, as well as a lot of competition.
One of the best things about Shanghai is that the job options here extend way beyond ESL (English as a Second Language) teaching. Work opportunities In Shanghai exist in media, marketing and advertising, commerce, hospitality, and more.
The services sector remains the most prominent field where expat professionals are involved. As the banking and financial sector opens up to foreign companies, the demand for expat professionals in the industry is also growing.
Those specializing in advertising, marketing, and sales are always in demand, but note that most of these positions also require a knowledge of a second language in addition to English (German, Spanish, French, etc.). Your success in the field will also depend on your country of origin and the prospects of trade between China and the region in question.
Shanghai's popularity with expats has opened up a lot of career doors as well: there are many industries catering specifically to foreigners living in the city, including media outlets, B&R, the hospitality sector, and others.
Typically “foreign” jobs also remain available in Shanghai. These include ESL teaching, modeling and acting, assisting at international exhibitions, and so on. These can often be used by newly arrived expats as a trampoline to other career options in different spheres. There are plenty of international schools, language programs, and training facilities that are always in search of native English speakers. Plus, there are also many big universities in Shanghai offering more advanced positions in the education sector.
The most prominent universities in Shanghai include the University of Jiao Tong, the University of Science and Technology of Eastern China, the University of Shanghai and the University of Donghua.
Read also The Shanghai labor market
How to find a job in Shanghai?
There are two main pathways to landing a position in Shanghai: you can either do it from your home country or look for a job on the spot.
If you are job hunting from outside China, the best place to start your job search is online. There are lots of websites where you can find job postings for expats in Shanghai. Check out available job offers on SmartShanghai, Echinacities, HiredChina,ChinaTeachingJobs, JobsDB and others.
Another useful tool in remote job hunting is social media. Make sure your Linkedin account is fully updated and indicates that you are open to new opportunities. It is also a good idea to change your Linkedin location to Shanghai so that your profile is more visible to employers and headhunters in the city.
If you are an experienced professional, your job search will be more efficient if you go through a hiring agency. You will find a lot of Shanghai recruiters and hiring agencies in Shanghai on Linkedin.
Yet another way to go about your job search is to contact potential employers directly.
A lot of international companies have offices and branches in Shanghai and are often on the lookout for new talent. You can Google companies in your line of work with offices in Shanghai and check their website for potential employment opportunities. You can also reach out to their HR departments and inquire whether there are any openings in the department you want to work in.
You can also check with employers in your home country. Some international companies may have manufacturing facilities in Shanghai or nearby. Finding a job in your home country first and then exploring relocation options may be one of the best ways to have job security in China.
Additionally, international companies typically provide their employees with generous relocation packages that include perks such as moving costs, accommodation, living expenses, education for children, tickets to fly back home for holidays, and more.
Before you set out on your job search in China, make sure to download the WeChat app. It's the number one app in China with over 900 million users and is used for most online communication in the country. WeChat is primarily a messenger app, but you can also use it for work calls, sharing documents, holding online meetings, setting up work group chats, and more. WeChat is also a social media, shopping and contactless payment tool.
If you want to search for work in Shanghai when you are already in the country, you can still do all of the above. However, to work in China legally, you will need to apply for a work permit and residence — and the only way to do that is from outside of China. So, if you secure a job offer, you will need to travel back home and apply for a work visa before starting your employment.
Currently, you can only travel to China if you have a valid residence permit. You will also need to undergo a quarantine on your arrival. Make sure to check the latest entry requirements to the country before making any travel plans.
Networking can go a long way in Shanghai as well as the rest of China. Building up your contacts (the so-called 'guanxi') will be an essential step in advancing your career — this includes attending professional meetups, fairs, etc. There are also a number of expat and professional organizations in Shanghai that would be a good place to start.
Read also Finding work in China
How to apply for a job in Shanghai?
Applying for a job in China is similar to applying for a job in most other countries. Have your resume and cover letter ready. If you are applying for a job in an international company or seeking a position where knowledge of Chinese isn't required, you can send your application in English. However, if you speak and write Chinese, make sure to mention this in your application. It is also a good idea to send out copies of your resume and cover letter in Chinese. Good knowledge of Chinese will substantially increase your chances of getting the job.
The next step in the application process will be a message or call from the hiring manager or your future employer. As we've mentioned above, make sure you download the WeChat app, as a lot of communication in China — including work communication — happens on the app. In fact, it's a good idea to add your WeChat ID to your application so that your potential employer can get in touch with you quickly.
If the employer is interested in your application, you will next go through a round of interviews. Note that if you are applying for work in a large company, you may need to interview with several department heads at different levels. If you are applying for work in a smaller firm, one or two interviews will probably be enough.
Read also Using phones in China
How to apply for a work visa to China?
The only way to work legally in China is to apply for a work visa. The work visa application process includes three steps:
- Applying for a work permit
- Getting a PU letter
- And, finally, applying for the work visa itself.
Note that all work visas in China are classified into three categories: Class A (high-level talent), Class B (professional personnel) and Class C (non-technical and service workers hired for seasonal/temporary projects). The eligibility requirements, as well as the application process, may differ depending on the class of the working visa you are applying for.
The first thing you will need to start the job application process is to obtain a job offer. Having a valid work contract is essential for applying for a work visa in China. You will also need to make sure that your employer is capable of sponsoring your work visa. There are special requirements for companies in China that want to employ foreigners — and your employer will need to meet these requirements to provide you with a visa.
Once you have secured a work contract, you will need to ask your employer to send you an official invitation (work permit notice). You may also need to obtain a PU letter, an invitation that is issued by the China Foreign Affairs Office. Currently, applicants from the following countries don't require a PU letter: the United States, Austria, Croatia, Czech, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia and South Korea.
Once you've collected the above documents, you can apply for the work visa itself. You can submit your application at your nearest embassy or consulate in China. Note that you will need to make an appointment first.
If your application is approved and you receive your work visa, make sure to check whether all the information on your visa is correct, such as your name's spelling, type of visa, entry date, length of stay, etc.
When you have received your work visa, you will be able to travel to China. But while a work visa grants you entry into the country, it only allows for a limited stay. It is essential that you start your residence permit application process as soon as you arrive in China to make sure you complete your application in time.
Obtaining a work permit is the only way to work legally in China. With that, you may find job offers (especially in English teaching) that won't provide you with the needed documents. While quite a few expats engage in such employment offers, the consequences for working illegally in China are severe. You risk facing heavy fines and deportation and may even be banned from visiting China in the future.
Read also Short-term visas for China
Wages in Shanghai
Salaries in Shanghai vary greatly depending on your line of work, position, experience, and, sometimes, even your country of origin. According to official sources, salaries in the city range from around RMB 6,500 ($900) to RMB 120,000 ($16,777) per month. If you work in English teaching in Shanghai, you can expect to make anywhere from RMB 15,000 ($2100) to RMB 30,000 ($4190). If you work in engineering, product management, or IT, you can expect to make upwards of RMB 25,000 ($3500). Someone in leading positions in manufacturing or industrial design can make around RMB 40,000 ($5600) to RMB 60,000 ($8400). Those working in sales can make anywhere from RMB 8,000 ($1100) to RMB 30,000 ($4,190), depending on their basic package and commissions.
Cost of living in Shanghai
How much you spend in Shanghai depends on your lifestyle and spending habits. However, overall, Shanghai is definitely not a cheap place to live. According to Mercer's Cost of Living Index of 2022, Shanghai is the 12th most expensive city in the world. This means that living here as an expat can be on par with Copenhagen, Tokyo and Seoul.
Your biggest expense will be accommodation rent. This is why the best option for moving to the city would be to have a work contract with an accommodation allowance.
If you are renting accommodation in Shanghai on your own, you should budget for around at least RMB 6,000 for a one-bedroom place. The rent price significantly depends on the district you plan to settle in and the apartment size. The further you travel from the city center, the more economical your stay will get. Shanghai is a very well-connected city with metro lines covering most of its urban territory, including even its remote industrial districts. Thus, if you don't mind commuting during rush hour, staying on the outskirts of the city can be quite budget-friendly. Additionally, if you are willing to compromise the comforts of a western-style apartment in favor of a more traditional interior, you will be able to save even more on rent.
Read also Accommodation in Shanghai
What are the perks of living in Shanghai?
Shanghai is one of the most convenient cities for expats to live in China. Historically, it has also been the city with the highest foreign population. There are lots of work opportunities for expats in almost every field and lots of options for enjoying your time off. From historical sights to active nightlife, Shanghai is always a blur of things you could do. It's a well-connected city with a developed network of high-speed trains that can take you anywhere else in China. All the modern amenities are at your fingertips here, from restaurants to beauty salons and fitness centers. Plus, you always have the comfort of a large expat community you can seek advice from.
Living in Shanghai also comes with several cons. The most notable of these are the city's climate (hot and humid in summer and cold in winter), occasional heavy pollution, and a very high cost of living — especially when it comes to renting.