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What to Do Before You Enter the Chinese Job Market

The growth in China may be tempting, but be prepared and understand what a move halfway around the world will require. By Emily Co, Guest Columnist

Editor's note: Our regular KipTips columnist Cameron Huddleston is taking a deserved vacation, but has solicited the help of her favorite personal-finance bloggers to guide KipTip readers in her absence.

With job prospects looking dim in the States, many American job hunters are casting their eyes toward greener pastures -- more specifically, China. The communist country's burgeoning growth is alluring, but you should know what you're getting into before you jump on the China bandwagon.

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Learn Chinese. Expats are becoming a dime a dozen, and bilingual ones are no longer a rarity. To stay competitive, it’s important to have a good grasp of the language, which is difficult to pick up.

“It’s not a must, but it helps a ton. Speaking the language definitely opens doors in China. I had an internship at eBay in Shanghai and although many of the projects were presented in English and everyone in the office could speak English well, when ideas were conveyed in Mandarin, brainstorming became a lot easier for the team,” says Ananth Devarajan, a nuclear energy consultant at Nicobar. “In the past, Mandarin wasn't a prerequisite for most multinational corporations but as local talent in China grows, speaking Mandarin will become the standard prerequisite to find a good job.”

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Target a specific industry. Kai Lukoff, the editor-in-chief at iChinaStock.com, says that it was helpful to narrow down his interests. Lukoff says, he didn’t know what he “wanted to do beyond ‘business in China.’ In the U.S. that sounds specific, but when you get to China it sounds laughably vague . . . [A] strategy that worked was to target a specific industry: tech, in which I had a strong interest, though no actual experience. I went to an open conference and found my future boss.”

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Prepare a budget. You need to have a bit of savings to tide you over during your job hunt in China. Prepare for a one-way plane ticket, which costs around $600, and if you’re not crashing on someone’s couch, make estimates on how much you will need for rent, which will be your biggest expense. Duncan Leung -- the International Marketing and Partnerships Manager of the Great Wall Club, a networking organization for tech industry leaders -- lives in a student area with two roommates, and his rent is $230 per person per month. Calvin Smith, Leung’s colleague and the International PR manager at GWC, pays around $200 for his apartment that he shares with two other people. Leung says that the rent he pays is on the cheaper end. The higher-end apartments in prime locations are priced similarly to the ones in the U.S.

Understand the rental market. You can either initially crash on a friend’s or stranger’s couch via couchsurfing.com. As for renting, be aware that it’s standard in China to pay three months’ rent up front, sometimes six. Sienna Paulis-Cook, a Beijing-based editor and writer, says you should hire an agent and ask a lot questions about things such as a finder’s fee and if you have to pay for central heating, management and maintenance.

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“You can also make demands of the landlords. For instance, ask that they provide a microwave, a TV etc.,” says Paulis-Cook. “If they don't provide these things, you can negotiate the rent using these things as bargaining chips.” Paying six months’ or a year’s worth of rent at a time can also get you a better deal. It’s also highly advisable to go with a friend who can speak Chinese if you’re not able to -- bilingual agents and landlords are pricier.

Don’t get stuck in an English-teaching rut. Many expats start teaching English as it is one of the best-paying jobs, but Devarajan calls it a “slippery slope,” and says that “three months of teaching English [can easily] become three years.” Always remember that you came to China to do more than teach English, so make sure to stick to your game plan. Devarajan says his roommates supplement their unpaid internships during the week with high-paying teaching jobs on the weekend to build up their résumés for a better chance at good full-time jobs.

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Open a Chinese bank account. Having a Chinese bank account makes it easier for companies to deposit your salary because there are limitations with a foreign bank account.

Get a work visa. Although many work on a tourist visa, it’s advisable to seek out a work visa because there is a chance you may get caught and sent away. Try your best to find a reputable company that will sponsor a work visa. Alternatively, Leung, for example, chose to enter China through Abroad China, which places foreigners in internships with Chinese firms for a fee and handles visas for customers.

Know the health care system. The international hospitals can be quite pricey, but for minor ailments, head to the more affordable local Chinese clinics. However, you won’t get treated if you don’t pay upfront. Mandarin is also needed, so bring along a Chinese-speaking friend. It’s not common for expats to get health insurance from their firm so you might want to consider sticking with your U.S. plan. The Chinese paperwork required for Chinese insurance companies may be tedious if you’re not fluent, which is why Leung applied for insurance in Hong Kong.

Emily Co is the associate editor of the PopSugar Network's SavvySugar, a career and personal finance Web site for savvy women. You can also find her blogging about quirky news from Asia and culture on AbsolutelyFobulous.com. Find her on LinkedIn or email her at eco@sugarinc.com.

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