Top of main content

Working in mainland China

Your guide to expat life in mainland China

Want to work in mainland China?

One of the world’s largest economies, mainland China offers expats high earning potential. It is a good place for career progression, making it a great choice for expats who want to climb the corporate ladder.

Business in mainland China

Mainland China’s business culture is vastly different from what most expats may be used to. An imposing government, challenging language barrier and increasingly strict visa system can be a lot to cope with, so many invest in cross-cultural training.

Despite the downsides, the number of expats working in mainland China has increased every year since 2000. This is partly because Western companies have become more involved in mainland China’s economy, creating many opportunities for people to move there for work.

Chinese business culture revolves around guanxi (关系). Acting both as a noun and a verb, this refers to the relationships that businesspeople form with one another, as well as the process of establishing and maintaining these connections. Guanxi is maintained by exchanging gifts, making allowances in negotiations or inviting business associates to dinner.

‘Saving face’ is a concept closely associated with guanxi. In Chinese culture the idea of ‘face’ is divided into two concepts – mianzi, which relates to reputation and success, and lian, which concerns integrity and moral character. Take care not to publicly embarrass anyone and conduct yourself in a dignified way that respects Chinese society.

Hierarchy and seniority are key elements of Chinese business culture, so always show respect to elders and senior associates. You can do this by avoiding prolonged eye contact and showing deference at meetings.

Practical details

Mandarin is the official business language, but Cantonese is spoken widely in the south. English isn’t spoken by many people, even in the cities. Business hours are usually from 08:00 to 17:00, Monday to Friday, with a lunch break between 12:00 and 14:00. Business attire is formal, bright colours are inappropriate and modesty is key.

When you greet Chinese businesspeople, use their title and family name. A simple nod will often suffice, and wait for the other person to initiate a handshake. Gift giving is common, but traditions are changing. Official government policy forbids bribery, so gifts may be declined. A good approach is to give a token gift – something small and inexpensive, such as a pen with your company logo on it.

Expat salaries in mainland China

Teachers are at the lower end of the pay scale, while expats working for international companies earn highly competitive salaries. Many large companies also provide benefits such as housing allowances and private health insurance.

Top tips for working in mainland China

See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in mainland China.

Challenging, fast paced, rewarding, sometimes stressful, mainland China has opened up my horizons, increased opportunities available to me, and has helped me to advance personally and professionally.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

You might also be interested in


Opening an offshore account, can be an effective way to save, invest and manage money while abroad.


Steps to build a better financial future abroad.


Read our 10-step guide to moving abroad to make sure you've got everything covered.

Listening to what you have to say about services matters to us. It's easy to share your ideas, stay informed and join the conversation.