Work in China: A Guide to Foreign Employment

Foreign workers in China usually work in companies with an international market. They are responsible for boosting companies’ overseas image and helping with foreign market strategies. However, both local and foreign companies still face the challenge of hiring foreign workers due to several procedures and visa policies in China.

Read our previous article on Hiring Practices and What Foreign Businesses Should Know

The Chinese government mandates the hiring conditions, processes, and qualifications in hiring a foreign worker. If you are looking into expanding your foreign talents in China, this guide will give you all the necessary information. Just keep reading!

Pre-conditions: First things first

Are you allowed to hire a foreign worker?

Corporate establishments with domestic business status can recruit foreign talents. These companies come in the form of Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprises (WFOE) and Joint ventures (JV).

Read our 10 Steps to Open a Foreign Invested Company in China

WFOE and JV businesses are also allowed to hire local employees. Meanwhile, the third type of business entity which is the Representative Office (RO) can only hire foreign employees through a licensed HR agency in China.

What is required from a foreign applicant?

Eligibility requirement

According to Article 7 of the updated Rules for the Administration of Employment of Foreigners in China, the following are the eligibility requirement for any foreigner seeking employment in China:

  • He or she must be 18 years of age or older and in good health;
  • Has professional skills and job experience required for the work of intended employment;
  • Without criminal record;
  • Has a clearly defined employer; and
  • Holds a valid passport or other international travel documents in place of a passport.


Foreigners who studied and gained work experience in China best suit the option for companies looking to hire. Moreover, they have further advantages in terms of work visa application, relocation, and adaptability to Chinese culture, if they are also currently living in China. But companies have two more options for choosing candidates if these foreigners’ skill sets are lacking or if they do not fit into the company’s core preferences. These options include:

  • Those who have worked in China but already left the country;
  • And those who worked abroad except in China.

These two other options can be quite challenging to hire especially in terms of which class category they fall into.

Class category (A, B, C)

In April 2017, China introduced a new assessment system for foreigners who are hired by companies in China. It is a points-based system where the government classifies a foreigner under A, B, or C skill-related categories. Furthermore, the Chinese immigration authorities highly consider foreign applicants who have earned sufficient points in order to determine their eligibility for visa application and approval. Hence, the following are the classifications for prospective foreign employees:

  • A – High-Level Talents
  • B – Skilled and Professional Workers
  • C – Low Skilled Workers

The Chinese government rewards point to a foreigner who wishes to work in China. Below are the details:

Work in China visa points system

Language requirement

Foreign nationalities who possess an HSK level for the Chinese language will have more advantages when it comes to the points-based assessment. Moreover, Chinese companies are more likely to hire someone who has Chinese language ability.

On the other hand, employers especially foreign or multinational companies also consider fluency in the English language when selecting among the applicants. Some companies also require other languages depending on their target market or sales audience.

Is an internship allowed?

China does not allow companies to hire a foreigner from overseas under an internship or tourist visa. However, the country allows foreign students who have obtained an X-1 long-term student visa to apply for an internship visa. The student can do an internship for up to one year depending on the university permission and the visa processing authorities.

Nevertheless, the foreign candidate can apply for a business or trade visa (M-Visa) which is valid for the employment of 90 days. Employers should guide the applicant in acquiring such a visa because its validity varies depending on the origin country. For example, the United States and Canada are allowed to have a 10-year validity with multiple entries but can only stay in China within 60 days per entry. In this case, the foreign worker has to exit Mainland China after 60 days and then return to the mainland.

Legal and regulatory requirement: Work permit process

For a foreign hire to start working in China, he or she must possess a work visa or a Z-visa. The State Administration of Foreign Expats Affairs or SAFEA is currently responsible for Z visa applicants.

Steps in processing:

  1. The applicant and the employer must lodge an online application at the SAFEA website.
  2. The SAFEA will review the application and confirm the documents via hard copies that the applicant would send out. SAFEA will then submit it to the Public Security Bureau (PSB).
  3. The hired foreigner will apply for Z-visa at the Chinese consulate in his or her home country after receiving the Work Permit Notice. The Work Permit Notice or Employment License is a letter of approval that indicates eligibility to apply for a work visa.
  4. Finally, once the applicant obtains the Z-visa, he or she should prepare all the necessary documents and get ready to leave for China.

The entire application process can take one to two months or more, depending on the authorities and additional required documents.

Before getting on board…

Temporary residence registration and work permit card

The Z-visa is valid within 30 days of arrival in China. Therefore, hiring company entities should get the work permit process going as soon as possible. The work visa applicant will undergo a comprehensive medical examination and the results will be forwarded to the visa bureau in order to complete the work permit application. After that, the foreign recruit can receive the Alien Employment Permit card upon approval.

On one hand, he or she must then register his or her residence to the police bureau within 30 days to avoid any delay or penalty. Recently, Shanghai has started with its online police registration for foreigners coming to China. So, it is now easier for those who got a job offer in Shanghai.

Employee handbook

The company HR should prepare a comprehensive employee handbook for the foreign employee to read through. This is to ensure that he or she understands China’s labor laws and regulations as well as the company’s rules. The employee handbook is important for settling any legal disputes in the future.

Also read, Employee Handbook: An Essential for Businesses in China

Other pointers

  • China’s policies on hiring foreign employees vary from one city to another.
  • Foreigners are entitled to a maximum of a 5-year contract.
  • Foreign employees are only allowed to work in the city or district where they have registered for their work visas.
  • Companies should provide appropriate salary, benefits, and tax incentives to foreign employees, as applicable to China’s labor laws.

Check out our write-up on Salary Package Structure for Employees in China

Contact us

S.J. Grand provides advisory and support on tax and payroll set up for both foreign and Chinese employees. We put our competent team at your service to provide you with HR advice and tax optimization strategy especially for SMEs in China. Contact us to get you started.

Moreover, we have been at the forefront of promoting full automation of business operations, especially for startups and SMEs. We have introduced our Cloud-based advanced solution, Kwikdroid, to make business transactions easier with us, no matter what type or size of the company. Visit our Kwikdroid page to learn more about the services we offer.


You may be interested to read about how to manage your company remotely using the advantages of Kwikdroid. Check it out!

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