China Business

Young, Educated and Bilingual, and Making Less Than $20,000 a Year: This is China….

International dispute resolution

The always interesting BizCult is in the midst of a decidedly unscientific expat salary survey. In its post, The Real Slim, Shady Expat Wages Stand Up, [link no longer exists] BizCult reveals that of “15 respondents so far, the majority are 26-30 year old professionals from North America making US$10,000-$19,000 a year.”

I find these numbers both fascinating and highly believable.

There are countless young and talented foreigners working legally and illegally in China at what in the United States (and most of the EU) would be absurdly low wages. BizCult correctly notes that Starbucks in China costs about the same as in the US, but fails to mention that one can rent a decent apartment in Shanghai or Beijing for around $300 a month (or less, depending on the definition of the word decent) and that many expat (or perhaps more properly, half-pats) are taking jobs with Chinese companies these days.

China’s second tier cities cost less and salaries there are presumably also less.

I know a well-qualified American corporate lawyer who works for a Chinese law firm for $2,000 a month and another very experienced employment lawyer who makes $30,000 a year.

BizCult’s post proves that though there is money to be made in China, there is also a lot of competition for jobs there as well, even for foreigners, particularly those without a great deal of applicable experience.

I would love to hear from readers regarding salaries in China. Please mention the city and how your salary (or those of others) impacts your standard of living. Anonymous is fine.

UPDATE: Modern Lei Feng did an excellent post on this, entitled, The Dwindling Expat Package, positing that true fluency in Chinese creates salary distance from those with lesser fluency. I can say that for my law firm, the difference between someone who can read Chinese and someone who cannot is simply huge. Huge to the point of being determinative.

37 responses to “Young, Educated and Bilingual, and Making Less Than $20,000 a Year: This is China….”

  1. My guess is most respondents in that survey are striking on their own in China, instead of parachuting in from some Fortune 500 headquarter. So yeah, $10,000-$20,000 is a reasonable market price. Also, most of potential employers for such expatriates are small or medium sized private business in China, which tend to be penny pinched and are highly cost sensitive. And if you believe in chorus western media that RMB is 30%-50% undervalued, your (converted) $20,000 annual income is actually $30,000. Given median household income in the U.S. is about $55,000, well, you are not doing too bad after all!

  2. When I was in China, most of the foreigners I knew were English teachers – all between 4000 to 10000 RMB per month. That works out between $17,500 and $7,000 per year. 4000 RMB per month was standard for universities, and 10000 RMB per month was for private English schools aimed at business people.
    The foreigners I met who weren’t teachers or students fell into two categories – those sent out from their home country, and those not. Foreigners who’d found their jobs inside China earnt close to 10,000 RMB per month. Those sent out by their company earned much much more.
    This was in one 3rd tier and one 2nd tier city – Dandong and Dalian. In both cities, 10,000 RMB was enough to live a very good life – unless you had hospital bills to pay, or children to put through school.

  3. No one has mentioned the fact that more than a few of those low paid expats (all foreigners are foreign in China) are on some sort of trust fund or other family money. Some older yuppies made their money and are taking time off. They may not blow their money on nice apartments, cars, a-yis, etc (at least not the ones who earned it). Few are actually living purely on those local salaries.
    As I found living over there ($12,000/yr), selective spending can take care of the psychological needs (Element Fresh’s “Big American” plate every sunday) and use savings strictly for travel. Colds, flus, local crud can be weathered, or a trip to the pharmacy and drug yourself out of it. But any “major medical” issues are serious business and that is when people learn to re-love their western homelands.

  4. You need to adjust for purchasing power parity. According to this year’s Big Mac Index, the Economist says that the RMB is undervalued by 49%. Therefore, the salary you earn in China in US dollars should be doubled to more closely reflect economic reality.

  5. I used to work as a translator for a news and information website in Nanjing for 5,000 RMB a month, and would make another 1,000/month giving private English lessons a couple nights a week, I lived decently enough, and could even save a bit (I had the place I work pay 2000 RMB of my salary in USD, so I generally spend 3000-4000 RMB a month and saved the rest).
    I’d gladly head back to China to work, but as I’m in law school, I’m facing the prospect of 1,500 USD or more in student loan repayments per month after I graduate, so even a higher salary of 10,000RMB/month would be woefully inadequate.

  6. When I sold ads in Beijing, I made approximately USD 1000-3000 per month, depending on how I did in a particular month.
    My rent was about USD 275 per month for a one-bedroom in a new-ish but basic Chinese building. My expenses were never more than USD 1000 in a month so I was able to save a bit as well.

  7. I live in Beijing and work for an international PR agency doing English copy writing for roughly 16000rmb a month. Rent costs me around 3000rmb a month including utilities, and despite not being that thrifty with my money, am still able to save more than enough money to pay off student loans back in the US. I think I have a reasonably good chance of saving 10k USD next year to put toward student loans, barring any major necessary expenses.

  8. There comes a point in every low-paid expat’s life when they realise that the thrills of living in low-cost accomodation (my own favourite was washing your clothes in a bucket) and eating in the backstreet restaurants are wearing thin. At which point you head back to the motherland, impress some company with your China experience and get sent back out here on three or four times the salary.

  9. I am an expat lawyer working in China for $17,800 a year at an American firm. It is quite tough actually to live off this salary and also pay dollar sized student loans back home. Yes rent is cheaper and food is cheaper, but the standard of living is also much much lower, therefore you get what you pay for – additionally food items (such as cereals, cheese, i.e., things that were a normal part of my diet at home) and entertainment can cost as much as it does in my home country, and most times even more. So why continue to stay here on what is seemingly and in reality a petty cash salary? Perhaps the adventure, the excitement, discovery of a new culture, the latitude to expand professionally in a manner of your own choosing – but this type of lifestyle can only be sustained for so long before the realities of life and the bills really kick in.

  10. I was once a “local hire American” for a U.S. Consulate here in China on a contract program that paid me in USD (to a US bank account directly) about $40k a year. Naturally I was taxed like I was living in the U.S. as well.
    After a year, the government changed the worldwide structure of “local hires” and made it so that one had to be on basically the same scale as an FSN (locally hired local national), so I was immediately, almost without warning, dropped to 11k RMB a month. Still very much livable, but you can imagine the morale buster. Would have been great had I been in London, though!

  11. I worked as an English teacher in Beijing with no prior teaching experience. Small classes of young adults 17-30 yrs old. Managed to pull in 15,000 RMB a month and could have made 20,000 RMB if I wasn’t doing my own bit of studying Chinese at the same time. Then went back to intern for a summer at a Chinese law firm for 4,000 RMB a month. Yeah, I don’t really see how anyone could live off that (latter salary) in Beijing… even with swearing off Starbucks…

  12. The salaries in China for young expats vary immensely. Obviously the ones who benefit the most are those whose company sends them out here. I know one person who even makes more money than his salary back in the US, because he “did his company a favor” by moving to Beijing. For those young and educated professionals who find jobs after already living in China, I would say MAX 20,000 RMB/mo MIN 8,000RMB/mo(based on previous offers and my friends experiences), but these figures of course vary on the type of position.

  13. I make about US$2000 a month as an entry-level consultant. True, that goes a long way in China, even in Shanghai and even with US-sized college loans to pay off, a dollar-denominated retirement account to pay into, and US$1000-a-pop plane tickets for trips back. Plus I’m thrilled to see that I’m making more than a lot of lawyers.
    And yet I have to say there’s a certain anti-climax to finally entering the labor market–after years of studying Chinese and studying IN Chinese, and of being told by the folks back home that I was going to “write my own ticket” and bring honor to our family–and making less than my brother the philosophy major pulls in as a part-time waiter.

  14. Interesting article, I will give my share:
    I am working in Zhuhai, hired from Taiwan in the manufacturing field. I am paid RMB17K a month. It is considered average in Taiwan, considering the living expenses are comparable to HK and many cities in the U.S. I would have a hard time saving a lot money living in Taiwan.
    The living standards are a bit lower in Zhuhai, compared to some of the places I’ve been to, but considerably better than most of the 2nd tier areas in China. I personally have been adapted to the lifestyle in Zhuhai…one thought that helped me cope with the ‘shock’ in the beginning was that if 1+ billion people can live in China happily with less than I have, I shouldn’t complain too much….

  15. was shocked at the numbers Above the Law listed for salaries in China, can’t open it right now, but something like $25,000-60,000 for biglaw?!? For me, a young, single expat would need a minimum of RMB15,000 (and even that is low) a month in Beijing or Shanghai to get by comfortably, go out from time to time, and save a little.

  16. The numbers found here are what I expected. However they don’t represent the upper class – I don’t know their exact salaries but I can tell you that their basic monthly expenses are USD$5k USD$10k for a family of 2-4, excluding travel and insurance (this is Shanghai, very comparable to Beijing).
    Comparing US to Chinese salaries is basically comparing two very different packages of goods though. Here is how I compare for myself:
    First what is your return on savings overtime (that is how much money do you accumulate in savings)? USD$33k/US will beat USD$20k/China in the long-term *unless* you seriously adjust your savings rate. Subjective value aside, if you have something like a law degree working for USD$30k in China, you are using comparative advantage against yourself.
    Second, what you are your long-term needs for credit? I find that I will need to rely upon *access* to US credit (yes there is still credit) for healthcare insurance (the plan I want), children’s education, retirement options, etc.
    The most significant factor here is gains over time, not purchasing power at a given moment (think like an immigrant, not a tourist). The biggest advantage of the U.S. market is that the longterm return for my labor – factoring in major costs/risks/credit options – is very competitive.
    Working off school debt in China is often fiscally stupid, to be frank (there are of course other rewards, but they aren’t fiscal). The only real cost advantage to living in China is if your income is astoundingly higher than the average Chinese person (in this thread we are talking about +130% as a baseline for foreigners). Then you can manage the different gains in purchasing power, much like a business can. For lower incomes the perceived advantages from purchasing power apply most for people who don’t save and least to those who do save.
    I discounted “startup” costs (such as time studying language), but it is strange that foreigners consider themselves having a comparative advantage in China if they speak Chinese. That fallacy will come to everyone in time. Another hard knock is that Mandarin skills are not in high demand in any major Western market (demand? yes, high? no).

  17. They should be grateful someone is paying them for on the job training. Most of us have been there and are better for the experience.

  18. Hi Dan,
    I think Duncan’s comment above brings the survey results into excellent focus.
    Duncan is exactly the kind of person the survey reveals is oddly salary suffering.
    He’s an expat lawyer, making $17,800 a year, and notes that while stuff is cheaper in China, “you get what you pay for.”
    Sure, tier two cities are there. The novelty will wear off. Street food abounds. But even that great sweet potato won’t put a smile on your face like Chilis for lunch.
    Duncan likely has enough crazy China stories to chat his way into a buttoned-up Washington law firm by now. He’d probably make partner quickly if he taped any of it for youtube.

  19. I think there is something even more important than the numbers, and that is the experience. And by experience, I don’t mean the experience of “working in the fastest growing economy in the world”. Work is work, wherever you go.
    The big thing about being “young, educated and bi-lingual” in China is that people will think you are way more qualified than you actually are, which opens up a lot of opportunities you may not have had back in the USA. People tend to assume that if you are speaking English fluently, you must be some kind of taipan.
    I went to a big US/China government sponsored conference last week with a colleague who was much more senior than me. And whenever we talked to people, they all thought she was my secretary.
    Also, many of the senior managers at multinationals are foreigners (don’t forget that there are SGA, TW, HK, SK folks blending in) and they will be a lot more open to fellow foreigners and willing to mentor you because of that abroad connection.
    Finally, I’ve found that when trying to make sales pitches, speaking fluent English can be very helpful. Speaking regular Chinese to a secretary will get you nowhere. But if you speak English really fast, they will think you MUST have important business and direct your call to the General Manager.
    So what ends up happening is that such folks who are bilingual and educated CAN have very meaningful experiences that would not have been within their scope back home. I think there still remains a bias that fluency in English implies importance which can be used to your advantage.
    It is a double bottom line. You do have the value of your compensation which is not that great. However, there is an additional X factor and that can vary quite greatly depending on what you are willing to do and what doors you are prepared to knock on. For foreigners who are young, educated and bilingual, the variance of that X factor can be quite large, so I believe it really is up to you what you get out of the China experience.
    I believe there is a cynicism in the argument that it is better to be expatriated from the home country than making it on your own here. Coming to China is not ultimately about taking advantage of a lower cost of living. Rather, especially for the 20-30 somethings, it should be about “Going West” and finding opportunity to stretch and grow. This is the frontier for people of my generation.

  20. I started for 800 RMB a month, a long time back but then you would get free housing, food, money for business trips, a car and driver. All in the Danwei system as a foreign specialist for China Petroleum Corp. That was one year and really not enough to live on to be honest.
    Next I started as a consultant and made about 1000 USD a month, a great increase but having to pay my own housing and transportation not that much actually. In those days (

  21. I think the main thing people need to realize is that you don’t go to China to strike it rich. Notice “striking it rich” and living like a king are not necessarily the same concept. When I taught English in a small town in fujian in ’04-05, I was paid 4000 RMB a month, about $500. This was more money than I ever could have dreamed of spending. I took taxis everywhere, ate at the most expensive restaurants in town (which still cost about as much as a meal at Applebee’s), and did extensive traveling. Generally, I live pretty frugally, but when I was living in Fujian, I spent indiscriminently. Why? For one, everything was so cheap. For another, even if I saved money, it wouldn’t have amounted to much by the time I repatriated.
    Wages always need to be scaled, and there are very few foreigners in China who are legitimately under-paid. (In fact most, like myself, were probably grossly overpaid). Just as a Chinese dishwasher in the US expects to make $8 an hour (far more than could ever be made for manual labor in China), Westerners in China should expect to make less than what they are “worth” back home.

  22. I’ll play… usually I put my name on my comments but not this time!
    I wrote press releases, ads, and conducted exit surveys for a high profile western trade show company in Sh. I also proofread the English copy of any semi-important documents. I know that saying this opens me up to critiques of my spelling in this post; fire away gents!
    They paid me 5K a month… RMB, haha. This was several years ago, and the person who’d held the position before me was one of the contributors to Lonely Planet China. I worked there 8 hours a day, 3 days a week and the rest of the time I was a student in a mid-major Chinese uni.
    Every single ESL Instructor I knew made more than me, at least double. Guys who taught in schools named “Kidcastle” or “Joy English” routinely brought home 10-12K after taxes, and worked less than 5 hours a day singing with the kids about the alphabet, or the colors of the rainbow. Parents befriended them and took them to opulent dinners, mom’s flirted with them… I’ll just say that my office environment was a tad less spirited and leave it at that.
    That’s China’s slick little secret: most of the expats are not high flying execs, product managers or the globalistas… instead, they are ESL Instructors, looking for that big break and emailing out resumes by the dozen. Kind of like the people who just show up in New York, hoping to catch the tail of something exciting.
    There are a lot of talented non-Chinese toiling away for low salaries in China. A lot! I met two Ivy League grads, both of whom had majored in Chinese/East Asian Corridors, whatever they called it. They were teaching ESL and working as “translators”, trying in vain not to default on their student loans. A sharp grad from U of Wisconsin who was working 10 hour days for 4000 RMB because she couldn’t make that kind of money in her home country, a SE Asian nation. A guy from another big ten school with an advanced degree in Chinese Literature.
    In fact, after awhile I got used to meeting well-educated westerners, Africans, and Koreans who were approaching “fluency” in three (or more!) languages. There were also plenty of muppets making the scene too, Tsingtao in one hand and chopsticks in the other, chortling about the good life they had on 10000 RMB a month and wondering how they would ever find a job when they returned home.
    Looking back, it seemed like those were the the dying embers of my salad days. I marvel at how fun it was to be a poor student/worker, able to live a middle class (with Chinese characteristics) life and travel while making wages comparable to those I might get for putting tuna on the shelf in my local Walmart.
    I am on the fence about whether starting for a low salary is silly or not. I tend to feel it is, as the skill sets most of us possessed would have been more than enough for us to join the middle-class in our homelands. The truth is, the expats who make the big bucks come over making the big bucks, they don’t graduate from William and Mary (for example, haha) and then stuff a backpack with khakis and polo shirts and then go make their fortune.
    But! If it were about money, none of us would have ever gone to China, would we? I was able to parlay my time into a nice niche career here in the U.S., but even if I hadn’t, I still would feel oh so fondly about the time I spent in Shanghai. I am not one of those who says he would never change a thing, but I wouldn’t change that.

  23. I held a number of jobs over the five year period that I spent in China. My first two years I spent in the provincial town of Huai’an, in Jiangsu Province – Zou Enlai’s hometown. I taught for the Huaiyin Institute of Technology, which paid 5,000 RMB per month. This was, and still is, considered a high salary in Huai’an. The Institute also provided me with rent-free accommodation and paid for all of my bills: telephone, internet, electricity, etc. I always ate very well and I travelled all over China on this income, as I was able to save most of it, despite living like a prince.
    My third year in China was spent living in Shanghai, teaching for the Shanghai Finance College. They also paid me 5,000 RMB per month, in addition to providing me with accommodation and covering all of my utility bills. This amount of money didn’t stretch very far in Shanghai though, which depressed me a little at times. A pint of Guinness at O’Malley’s used to set me back 60 RMB if I remember correctly! So drinking was quite expensive. I sometimes even had to resort to living off instant noodles by the end of each month.
    In Shenzhen, where I spent my fourth year in China, I worked for a Chinese owned and managed company that was licensed introduce the delivery of an Australian developed university foundations program at universities throughout China. The company paid me 15,000 RMB per month, plus additional bonuses, and they provided me with a luxury apartment ten minutes walk from the border with Hong Kong. They even paid for all of my utility expenses. I was also given a private office, located on the 34th floor of a brand new highrise – the Jiangsu Building, and I got to travel frequently throughout the country, sometimes to locations as far a way as Jilin. I had a great deal, but an even better one the following year, when I was employed by the NSW Department of Education and Training to deliver Certificate IV English programs to computer science students at Shunde Polytechnic, in Shunde, and in the second half of the year, at the Zheijiang Institute of Technology, in Hangzhou. In both cities, I was provided by the Chinese host institutions with my own office, an apartment, and all utility costs (including internet connection), while my Australian employer paid me exactly what they pay me now: AUS$80,000 a year. My salary, paid fortnightly, I had paid into my Australian bank account, so I had to pay Australian tax on it, although this way I was entitled to received government superannuation contributions of 9 percent. I simply withdrew sifficient funds from my Australian bank account once a month using a Bank of China ATM. I lived like a prince, and yet still was able to save the bulk of my salary. I’m planning a few more years in China working for the NSW Deparmtent of Education and Training, starting in 2010, as Sydney’s high schools have just signed an agreement with the Jiangsu Ministry of Education to set up a sister-school system in Yangzhou – my spouse’s hometown. I have already signed up for the job.
    I have friends who now teach in Shanghai, at a Chinese owned and managed international school. They receive 20,000 RMB per month, in addition to having their accommodation provided. The Singapore International School pays the roughly the same, I’m told.

  24. I taught English in Beijing for a couple years, making about 8000 RMB/month by the time I left in 2003. I am a first year attorney at a law firm in the States now. If I was to lateral over to China, which I plan on doing in the next couple years, I would be making about $300,000 at current market rates. This would be a pay raise due to the expat package.

  25. I too usually post with my name, but not this time…
    I’m working for a boutique consulting firm (WOFE) and I’m based in South China. Our founder/GM is an expat, and has 2 other expats on staff out of about 60 employees. My boss hires smart, young expat managers with limited experience and lots of potential.
    He gives us a break by offering relatively high pay (about US$40k/annum), but shoulders massive amounts of responsibility on us. After 2-3 years, he lets expat management go because he knows that the amount of work experience we have in that time makes us substantially more valuable.
    I handle very complex issues, liaise with clients at the senior management level, and drive business growth–a chance I certainly would not have had in the U.S. at a young age. I work 50-60 hrs per week.
    Btw, our Chinese managers are payed as much or more than our expat management. They work their asses off and are rewarded for it accordingly.

  26. Just as there’s no need to slum it washing your clothes in a bucket, surviving on cabbage, noodles and vinegar washed down with the cheapest erguotou through the winter, sending the kids out after school to pick scraps of coal off the streets, there is equally no need to insist on living the exact same lifestyle and eating the exact same diet as in your homeland. You adapt to your circumstances.
    Take my wife and I as an example: If you combine our incomes, benefits and bonuses (hers are much more generous than mine, although her base salary is much lower), we sit in the lower end of the income range quoted. Family responsibilities can and do add to our expenses, but even so we’re living pretty comfortably. Hell, we’re managing to save and we just bought a brand-new Thinkpad- can’t be doing too much wrong financially.
    Actually, that last anon who wrote of being paid pretty good money to shoulder responsibilities s/he would not be offered back home reminds me of medical students I knew in my university days who talked of doing internships in 3rd world countries because they’d get far more hands-on, in the deep end experience than they’d be allowed in New Zealand. In one way, that’s scary, but on the other hand, you’ve got to admire people with the balls to stand up and say, “Yep, that’s my job”.

  27. Everyone’s posting anon, so shall I!
    When I first came here I taught at a university in a second tier city for 4000 CNY/month, 10 month contract (nothing says ‘migrant worker’ than annual employment contracts that don’t last a year). It was fine, a welcome break and nice to be able to work with people, rather than spreadsheets. I did a following year there.
    I came from a situation where I was making a very comfortable salary in a government/finance job – two things on the relocation and relatively low pay – I had a savings nest egg, not huge, but a security blanket that could see me through a couple of years in my home country – and I had a final salary pension scheme pro-rata’d for my whole 4 years’ commitment to the company. Four hundred pounds per month isn’t a lot, but I can start claiming it when I hit 50; if the worst happens I’ll relocate myself to a(nother) developing country and maintain a reasonable quality of life.
    While teaching I picked up Chinese, in my third year here I did a year full-time Chinese study at a university.
    Then I looked for jobs and… well, there weren’t really any. My work experience is a niche which just doesn’t exist anywhere in China other than Hong Kong. I don’t have an engineering or logistics background, nor do I have any clue about garments, or plastic toys. I flirted with the idea of becoming a Business Development Manager for a finance/legal company dealing with foreign companies, but I am not a sales person nor do I have any expertise in the area.
    So… earlier in the year I became an entrepreneur. I’m not quite sure what generalist entrepreneur means other than “have one’s hand in many pies” but I was sure my human capital was worth a bit more than a few thousand CNY each month. And so far it has been.
    Think you’re undervalued? Put your money where your mouth is. It takes planning, but is eminently viable.

  28. I did the same thing – made a real basic local salary, lived in a hovel, had great fun as a bachelor, rode my bike around everwhere, had enough for beer, etc…
    Then I got married, then I had kids! Try raising a kid in China in anything but the most local of conditions on what today is equal to RMB $10,000/month

  29. Just as there’s no need to slum it washing your clothes in a bucket, surviving on cabbage, noodles and vinegar washed down with the cheapest erguotou through the winter, sending the kids out after school to pick scraps of coal off the streets, there is equally no need to insist on living the exact same lifestyle and eating the exact same diet as in your homeland. You adapt to your circumstances.
    Someone included the above in their post and I think it is a wise statement. It is always good to remember that most of the Chinese middle-class makes do – and does it pretty decently, from what I’ve seen – on less than what many English Teachers in Shanghai and BJ make. 15-20 RMB a month is actually a damned good salary anywhere in China, and the laobaixing buy apartments, travel, and happily (but prudently) consume with salaries that are often much less.
    It is times like this that I see the yawning disconnect between foreigners and Chinese, even those of us who are fluent and seemingly well integrated in the culture.

  30. I made £30,000 a year working drafting/translating patents – essentially a glorified editing job in which you were supposed to learn the patenting aspect on the job (which I did, somehow, and was actually put on training new recruits in my second year) – at Foxconn. Opening pay was about £19,000 – which right now is about $30,000, but I got a 30% pay raise on my second year’s contract. I read/type/speak Chinese well enough to work in a Chinese office and never resort to English (except when checking a dictionary whilst reading articles, which I do at least once per 300-odd characters – yes, I know this is a big exception). Right now I am flat broke studying in a UK law school paying for it with the last of the money I saved in China. I’m not planning on getting a loan to pay for the LPC after I’ve completed my CPE unless I can get a traineeship – it just seems stupid to get a loan which I’ll have no immediate way of paying back.
    Otherwise I’m hoping on picking up work in Taiwan or the mainland working for a patenting firm for a few years, and saving up enough money to complete the LPC.
    Right now is not a great time to be looking for a job, that much is clear. Nor does knowledge of Chinese automatically guarantee you work – you still need a lot besides that.

  31. I work at the top high school in Beijing as an English teacher, teaching 16 hours a week to Junior II and Sr I students. I teach oral English, Western History, and a Business elective. The school deducts 200 kuai from my monthly paycheck, which is 5300, but that includes my apartment, laundry, utilities, internet, and water cooler. I’m able to travel for five weeks each Spring Festival, as well as receiving Chinese and American holidays off work. The school also provides us with many perks – free toilet paper, shampoo, soap, tissues, sometimes fruit or rice. It’s a great deal 🙂

  32. 12-9-08@7:29 – WTF? An expat lawyer at a US firm and only $17,800 a YEAR??? Sorry, but you can’t be working as a lawyer then. Right? Please come back and say that you meant “month”…

  33. Julie, if you are satisfied with your situation then that’s most important, but I imagine you could get something much better if you poked around.
    I came to Shanghai a few years ago soon after graduation and thought I would teach for a while as I explored other options . . . fast forward and I’m still teaching.
    The general consensus among expats – especially the Glamour Bar Shanghai crowd – is that I’m a failure, and I’ll certainly never attain the rarefied heights they all aspire to – but the situation here for teachers that show a modicum of competence is pretty good.
    Teaching around 20 lessons a week (40 minute classes) I make after taxes around 23,000 rmb a month (the number varies slightly – that’s probably average). Works out to over 40k a year and I get three months of paid vacation.
    It’s not perfect, and I’m sure if I had joined a company four years ago I’d be on a better career and earning trajectory, but then again with the United States and much of the world seemingly about to sink into barbarism I don’t mind banking Maos right now.

  34. I always felt that China’s job market was very much split into two types with very big gap between them. You have the people who turn up and chance it – these are the people earning between Rmb10000 and 20000 a month – and the people sent over by their companies – who earn a good western salary, sometimes with extra perks. Since jobs in the latter category are fairly senior, it is quite hard to jump from the low paying jobs into the well paying jobs, partly because the good jobs require a good amount of relevant experience. The difference with the China career ladder for foreigners is are the middle rungs have been taken out!
    I spent a couple of years earning not much as a writer in Shanghai, and it dawned on me that if I was going to make a jump up career-wise, I would have to leave China, and come back again with the appropriate experience. My work in China was good enough to get me a job at a well-respected magazine, which is training me to a level where if I wanted to work in China again in a couple of years, it wouldn’t be too hard to get a good job (as long as the economy hasn’t completely tanked).
    I suppose what I am trying to say is that in the China job market, a bit of the right experience goes a long way. But China might not necessarily be the best place to get that experience. China is a great place however to get some initial work experience if you haven’t got any already.
    China is also no different to anywhere else – starting work is tough everywhere. But I’d much rather be earning Rmb15,000 in Shanghai than £20,000 a year in London, trying to get into an interesting industry.
    One thing I noticed about HK when I moved here earlier this year is that there a lot of twenty-somethings who just moved there and got genuinely well paying jobs in a wide range of industries. In my experience – I-banks and PR. That’s of course all over now. But it looks like the place to turn up and actually make money over the last few years was definitely HK.
    I’d be interested to here what people think.

  35. Started out as a lawyer some years ago at about 40K USD with a local law firm. After a couple more jobs, ended up in-house counsel at around 100K with housing perks. At that time lived in a 2nd tier southern industrial city, so didn’t really spend a lot money anyways other than making periodic trips to HK for a “reset”. Thankfully, never had any medical expenses in China.

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