How Much Will I Make Working in China?


One of the most common questions asked to us at SmartIntern is this:

"How much money can I expect to make?" 

The question is a bit like asking, "how long is a piece of string?" (answer: it depends), but we will do are best to cover it here by looking at a few different expat profiles and their corresponding salaries.

It's important to note that unfortunately there isn't much publicly available data about how much expats or returning Chinese earn in China, so these numbers are based off our years of experience living in and working in the country and asking other expats in our network.

How much do interns in China make?

The first thing to know about internships in China is that it is actually illegal for a company to pay you a working wage for an internship. This is done to prevent abuse of the system.

Up until a change in visa laws in 2013, it was common for expats in China to work for years at a time on "internships" while receiving full-time salaries. The Chinese government is understandably focused on ensuring employment of Chinese citizens, and moved to curb this abuse.

So while you won't be able to receive a salary for an internship in China unless you are a Chinese (including Taiwan, who can work on a Mainland Travel Permit, or MTP) many companies will offer meal reimbursements, housing or transport stipends, or cash under the table to their interns.

Of course, many of you reading this would probably rather work a full-time job than an internship. We get it. Unfortunately, China now requires that foreign employees have at least 2 years of post-university work experience before a company can sponsor them for a Z-visa and corresponding residence permit. Note that this is not necessarily the case when it comes to English teachers in China.

So if you have less than two years of work experience, you are basically looking at three options: work illegally (not recommended), take an internship, or teach English. 

Verdict: Interns in China can earn anywhere from 0-4K a month, depending on their work experience and the amount of time they can devote to an internship.

How much do halfpats in China make?

If you are reading this, there is a good chance you are a halfpat. People sometimes get get confused by such terminology (halfpat, expat, etc.) so it's worth clarifying how we use the following terms in this article:

Expat: We use expat to refer to any foreigner who is living in China. This is different from a salaried expat who is....

Salaried Expat: A salaried expat is somebody, generally a senior executive at an MNC (Multi-National Company), who has been sent to China by their company. They usually make beacoup bucks (covered below).

Returning Overseas Chinese: Returning Overseas Chinese are ethnic Chinese who have spent an extended time outside of China. They might be ethnically Chinese born and raised outside of China, or they might be a sea turtle (haigui), a Chinese national who attended university overseas and is now returning home to China to work. Their bilingual skills and international backgrounds will generally put their pay range somewhere in the same range as halfpats, which is to say, higher than the average wage of a locally educated Chinese.

Halfpat can be defined as someone, typically a recent graduate, who has moved to China on their own to either gain experience or develop their career here from scratch. Their pay grade is somewhere in between that of a local hire and a full-fledged expat. Halfpats often start by finding employment in an entry level position where they may earn 8,000RMB/month ($1,280). [Note that this is less than a typical English teacher makes in Shanghai; one of the main reasons many young Americans get stuck in teaching English is because the salary cut to move into another industry can be intimidating.]  

While 8,000 RMB a month isn't high, pay increases and rapid promotion are common for high performers. Within a year or two it's possible to double, or even triple salary.

Half-pats grind it out, and many possess very entrepreneurial spirits. This lifestyle generally isn't a great fit for those who value stability and predictability above all else. Rapid learning on the job, "visa runs", and extended time navigating unfamiliar grey spaces are often part of the growth experience.

As noted above, starting pay usually begins around at 8,000 RMB a month, which can afford a decent lifestyle. Pulling in 10,000-15,000 RMB monthly can provide opportunities for great vacations, eating at high-end restaurants, and living in a more expensive apartment. 

Some level of international insurance is usually included once you have obtained a full-time, salaried position. Some companies provide travel expenses (e.g. daily commute reimbursement), and may split part of your salary into housing reimbursement. 

So is it worth it to be a halfpat? YES. In most cases, it's the only way to develop a China career, and the quickest way up the career ladder. 

  • "Western Salary"- No
  • Traveling Expenses- Usually not included
  • Living Expenses- Not included
  • Insurance- Maybe, depending on the company
  • Additional Benefits- Bonus included, Visa sponsorship

Can you try and get a job in your home country that will send you to China? Of course. Some people successfully go this route, and one of its benefits is a higher salary if you can pull it off. But it is definitely harder to do this than it is to find a job from within China.

Verdict: Most halfpats in China make between 10 and 20,000 RMB a month, with many finding an upper limit at 30,000 RMB monthly.

How much do salaried expats in China make?

A salaried expat is typically defined as someone who is sent from their home country by their company to work in China. Not only does their company contract carry forward, but they are assigned additional packages (the "Expat package") which may include a pay increase (sometimes called "hardship pay"), a housing and travel allowance, relocation assistance, and of course great international insurance.

The Expat level of living is something many strive to achieve, as it provides the most comfortable lifestyle in China and allows one to retain connections back to their home country via frequent trips home that they might otherwise lose. While many half-pats get by pretty well on 10,000-15,000RMB/month ($1,600-$2,400), a top-level expat may receive up to 40,000RMB/month in living stipend alone, personal driver, plus a US salary.

  • "Western Salary"- Yes
  • Traveling Expenses- Yes
  • Living Expenses- Yes
  • Insurance- Yes
  • Additional Benefits- Bonus included, Visa sponsorship, car & driver, etc.

Verdict: Most salaried expats in China earn at least 6 figures USD annually, with many earning A LOT more than that.

How much do teachers in China make?

If you are a qualified teacher with past work experience who gets hired at an international school in China, you might get paid as much as 30,000 RMB monthly. 

If you are receiving an hourly wage while working at a private language center, expect to earn at least 150 RMB an hour. The catch here is that most language centers will try to bump you up to a salaried position if you are working more than 15 hours a week, as they would rather pay you a flat 13K RMB a month than pay for 160 teaching hours a month at a rate of 150 RMB an hour (which would come out to 24,000 RMB). 

If you are working for a public school in China, there is a good chance that you will earn less than 10K RMB a month.

As always, if you have any questions about working in China email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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About the Author
Author: Brandon

Hi, I'm Brandon! I'm SmartIntern's co-founder and a native of California. I'm interested in all things tech, emerging markets, and writing. When I'm not working on SmartIntern, I like to skateboard through the streets of Shanghai and uncover the city's best hole-in-the-wall noodle joints.

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