Is 10,000RMB/Month a Ridiculous Offer?

Aims, who lives in London, was surprised to get an offer of 10,000 RMB per month before tax in Shanghai.


I’ve been offered a marketing position with a foreign company in shanghai, but was shocked to hear that the salary is only 10,000RMB before tax, plus a 1000RMB monthly accommodation allowance.

To me this seems ridiculous, and something not worth even considering, as it’s less than I earn working part-time, just 10hours per week, here in London.

What are your thoughts? Would I be able to live comfortably on this? Would there be enough money to have a social life outside of work? What kind of accommodation would I find for 1000RMB/month? Would it be nice?

Any comments will be HUGELY appreciated! I only have a limited amount of time before I have to make a decision and sign a contract!

Thank you,


Here is my answer.

Aims, to me, it is not a surprise. The average salary for newly graduated student (from not so famous university) drops to 3000 – 4000 RMB per month (before tax) this year. It was much higher before (6000 RMB?), but it is not rare for some university students to get offer of only 2000 RMB. The top students from computer science from top university (Jiaotong or Fudan) can expect higher, but 6000 RMB is already high. Don’t get me wrong. I do know some friends who get 300,000 – 500,000 RMB annual salary immediately after graduating from university, but it is just the exception.

I am not sure about what the level of the position you mentioned. You should expect more than fresh graduate, but that is the range. 10,000 RMB is a reasonable salary in Shanghai. The fact is, labor is cheap in China. Don’t expect to get as much as you get in London.

There are always exceptions though. Many foreign companies relocate senior managers to Shanghai to start the business. This person is so unique that it is impossible for the company to find a replacement in local job market. In this case, his/her salary should be the U.S. or European salary + a percentage of increase to compensate the relation. So the life is nice, really nice. There are many expats here so correct me if I am wrong.

It seems in your case, the marketing position is not that unique and the company can easily find someone more than happy to take the job in local market. You cannot expect big advantage over the local candidate just because you are coming from abroad.

I can understand it seems ridiculous for you to make the move, but it is reality. When people enjoy the cheap China goods, they should have the expectation for lower salary here.

The other side of the coin is, though, the food is cheap and most daily stuff is of 1/4 price of that in Seattle – this is just my guess and there is always exceptions. House is not cheap. You cannot rent any place with only 1000 RMB. I guess 1500 RMB for a place far from downtown Shanghai but with subway is possible.

So consider twice. I believe you may already make the choice not to take the offer. But do think twice. I believe the experience in Shanghai will help you a lot in your career in the long run – if you want to seek for future opportunities in Asia. It is interesting experience. The conclusion is, you can leave pretty well in Shanghai with the salary, if you won’t expect the absolutely same kind of life you have in London.

68 thoughts on “Is 10,000RMB/Month a Ridiculous Offer?

  1. Jian Shuo, are u kidding me?? First, for any expats to make RMB 120,000 is ridiculous, especially if the company is offering to send him (as evident from the housing allowance). I know young college students earning RMB 100,000 working as english teachers in China.

    And please, do not compare the local chinese students, they are not leaving a higher pay at home, going to a new country and staying away from home and family for extended period of times.

    Second, who says Marketing is not unique? I would say it is more unique than computers, as you could see, every other Indian or chinese works in IT field these days.

    My friend who is Japanese, is earning US$100k after tax and he is only a junior doing financial analysis in a chinese market! Now I dont see anything unique, neither is he in senior management.

  2. -to the upper:

    First, spending more doesn’t necessarily means you have to be paid more. It only depends on what you can offer, not where you come from.

    Second, ‘unique’ means someone can achieve sth while others can’t. If one is ‘unique’, he will get a decent pay. Again, people gets higher or lower pay NOT because he works in marketing or engineering.

    Then, what’s the logic under the Jap example? Could any Jap expect earning $100k only as a junior in China? If not, forget it. Or, I will suggest Aims change his nationality to Jap.

    Last, I agree with Jian Shuo.

  3. It rather depends on what line of work you are in. If you hold professional qualifications – legal, financial, or accounting – then you can expect to be paid a London salary for uplift (for reference, I am a lawyer and I believe that all of the top-10 London law firms follow this model). This reflects the scarcity of people who are London-qualified (which usually involves several years’ training) AND have both the skills and the inclination to work in China – which usually means longer hours and less holidays than if one were based in London.

    On the other hand for any job which does not specifically require one to hold individual qualifications, there is a much weaker argument for paying very high salaries. I do not know whether or not you have China-specific skills (i.e. can speak mandarin [and/or Shanghainese I suppose although that’s not so vital] and are literate in Chinese), but obviously those will affect your salary. Also the desirability of the destination has an impact – less Britons wish to go to Beijing than to Shanghai, and therefore there are generally more incentives offered to us to go to Beijing.

    I guess you should do a bit of research (coming here’s good, of course!) into Marketing in China. I remember a china consultancy – who did, amongst other things, marketing – who recruited at my university offering what I thought was a pretty low salary for working in Shanghai, so it could be that there’s too many good people around and that’s depressing prices.

    In response to dd’s post, the thing about ‘where you come from’ is relevant insofar as your work means working with other expats. A native English speaker may be more useful than a local IF most of the marketing company’s clients are foreign firms looking to sell to the Chinese market, as those clients may feel that someone from the same background as them understands their concerns better. I note that most professional firms who want Chinese clients make damn sure that they’ve got a lot of high level locals, because Chinese clients often feel that a local will understand their concerns better than an expat – and so it goes on….

  4. well dd, i didnt say any japanese could make $100k, but thats the very first thing that popped up. Now, I dont see any reason why they would pay a junior financial analyst $100k when a very good chinese uni graduate can do it just as well at a much lower salary. Reason being? coz its a japanese company and maybe they are preparing him to be a manager there. That would usually be the same reason why a company would hire a person in London for a marketing position in china. Now, to answer little monkey, why is finance different than marketing? I dont see any advantage of an expat working in China in this field. And trust me most of the expats working in China arent “unique”, otherwise they wouldnt be in China, but in the company’s HQ. Sure companies would send good employees ‘temporarily’ to start a project, but I highly doubts most expats in China are for these purposes.

    There is a huge flaw in the argument here anyways. The expat above is already getting paid more in salary as well as in housing allowance. So its moot to argue about how expat working in marketing is worse than hiring locals. Obviously the company sees some advantage, hence higher pay.

    Marketing isnt a job that sounds very technical but it sure is as complicated as any other job, I know coz I work in this industy. So any company that hires expats (not chinese students living abroad) to work in China, will ALWAYS pay at the least equivalent salary that the expat would expect to make in their home country. I know this for a fact because I work in marketing and whoever is sent to work abroad from our company, in fact gets paid about 20% more than what they had been making in the USA. Look at it this way, would I want to leave New york to work in China for the same salary? I have friends, family, nice apartment etc. Even though Shanghai is very nice (i was there just recently on business), I wouldnt leave everything here unless i get a much better incentive. whew long post.

  5. There is a global labor arbitrage going on between developed and devloping countries. I am not only talking about call centers being outsourced by western firms to places like India and back office operations to China. Increasingly “skilled” labor such as R&D and health care, e.g. Indian radiologists are now reading the films of Americans being sent to them electronically, are being outsourced to developing countries at a much cheaper costs.

    Do you realized that McDonalds has now found that it’s cheaper to have a call center in India or the Bahamas (or anywhere for that matter) take the orders from McDonalds’ drive through lanes at their restaurants in the USA — then zap the food orders back to that same restaurant onto a computer screen for the cooks to fill.

    The fact of the matter is as people in places like China gets more experienced and skilled, their salary is going to go up whereas salaries in the west are going to come down. Witness the weak growth in US employment and real wage growth in the past 2 years.

    So 10,000RMB per month may seem ridiculously low to someone in the west, but in the future it may not be an unreasonable salary on an international scale (unless you have highly specialized skills). You can look at it both ways – people in developing countries are underpaid while those in developed countries are overpaid. They are now starting to converge – the rubber meets the road. This may be hard to swallowed for a lot of people, especially those in the west.

  6. Just to add to what I said, all of you guy’s and Jianshuo’s point would be perfectly valid had that guy got this job while looking for it in China, but for companies to go to hire expats in their home country and pay chinese salary is really a joke… no offense obviously, because for Chinese 120,000/yr is great, because they will eventually retire in their home country, not so for the expat. Companies do/should take all these into consideration when hiring expats.

  7. A lot of very interesting points here. I should like to address a couple, very briefly.

    Chinese ~ you say that people will rarely leave one place for another on the same salary – I agree. If one is 18 years old, single, and adventurous, it’s still not easy to up sticks and leave; if one is 35, married, and has children in school, it’s very difficult. That’s the main reason expats get paid more – it’s difficult to convince people to move a long distance.

    On your second point, I wouldn’t have thought that expatriates are any more (or for that matter less) “unique” than the stay-at-homes – and I’m inclined to think that it does not necessarily follow that the most unique people will remain in their home country, wherever that may be. I’m no expat myself, although I suspect I’ll be sent to China whether I want to go or not since I speak the language, but I remember from last time in Beijing there are quite a few intelligent and impressive expatrates there. Mind you, most Chinese friends of mine are very cynical about expats (as are quite a few western friends!), and there’s certainly plenty of people who do provide ammunition for critics.

    Finally, yes marketing is a very technical and difficult job, and it’s probably more difficult in absolute terms than a financial job in that it requires more creativity than, say, working in the corporate finance division of Merrill Lynch or Goldman Sachs whilst still needing the same level of mathematical and analytical skill. On the other hands banks are wealthier and pay better than pretty much any other job full stop. Also, US$100k isn’t that much by London standards (given the weak dollar it’s only around £50-55k). A newly qualified lawyer in a London firm would make that, and a junior analyst in a bank in London would make around US$20k more. Marketing doesn’t pay quite so well in London, usually around £30-35k at the same level. So the difference is probably just that banks have more money, especially the Japanese banks which are crazily big. Even if they are chock-full of bad debt ^_^

    If you’re interested to say, which field of marketing do you work in? It’s always seemed an interesting sort of a job.

  8. Well I am Business Manager and I started as a Marketing research analyst. And you are right, it is a very interesting and creative industry. I have to say though, when you mention marketing, people assume sales and hence low base salary, thats a misconception.

    It maybe true that banks pay more, but only to Investment Bankers and Money Managers. Thats because people working in IBanking work crazy hours and they are ‘selling’. Junior Analysts make just average professional starting salary around 35k-40k (if not in big cities like NYC) which is similar what marketing analysts make. IBanker sells the company that they represent to the investors and whenever u sell something, u make more money. On the other hand lawyers always make more starting salary than the rest. But still, 100k apparently is a lot in this case because my friend is also a ‘new’ analyst who is making the same salary in China as a ‘new’ lawyer in london.

    All of this aside, it would make perfect sense if that guy was hired in China but companies are always expected to pay the market salary or more when hiring expats in their home country. I already gave the reasons above, but once again, say Kijiji hires Jianshuo in China for somewhere in Africa and pay him much lower than the salary in China but much higher than the local salary, would it make sense for him? Thats why I took a little exception to what JianShuo said, because I feel its a little misleading and doing expats a little bit of injustice.

  9. Some good points have been made (chinese, Little Monkey). Maybe if aims is looking for something different, the pay might suite him. But yes it is a very low starting salary. There are other non-obvious expenses that will come up…traveling home is a big one and paying local taxes. Personally if the salary was a bit more I would consider it (I’m still young and single ;).

    To me it wouldnt be about the money (unless it was a dead end position), but instead as a stepping stone for something better….but thats just me. I’ve always loved Shanghai so I wouldn’t need much encourgement to go.

    Good luck to aims with his decision.

  10. @chinese,

    I like to seperate the two concepts: expats vs. foreigner.

    In Aims’s case, he is just a foreinger, not expats. Though being a british, he is hired as a local staff. The reason may be that he is just moderate competitive and could be replaced by a local guy, for example, me. That’s why the company could not pay him by UK standard, just by PRC standard.

    That’s all about a deal. If the company could find someone to fill the position with 120,000 CNY per year, the company won’t pay unnecessary more.

    Per the same reason, Aims might be able to get a 30,000 pound per year offer in London (equals to 400,000 CNY). But that doesn’t mean he deserve 400,000 CNY per year if he is working for China branch of the company.

    That’s the reality about the life.

    The “Equal labor get equal pay” rule (“同工同酬”) only applies for guys within the same country/city, absolutely not for cross boundary situation.

  11. I like to point out that the subject of compensation to a senior point man in a foreign operation is still being made by HR people in HQ applying ambiguous rules and perhaps double-standard. I am a senior business professional (corporate VP of major company) with years of successful track record developing markets and capital projects in Asia Pacific countries, including China. I am fluent in Mandarin and several key dialects. I am disturbed by the idea that some companies, while valued my experience and considered me a better candidate than a local because I can communicate well with senior management to support company objectives while spearheading the business development, asked if I would live in China under local terms. Hello! Don’t I have to face expenses in my U.S. home like a white American? It’s incredible that they think that a Chinese American would die to go to work in China but a white American needs to be paid differently because they have ‘real domestic needs’.

  12. This is probably the beginning of an attempt to wrangle foreign labor for low cost in third world nations. Whether it’s worth it is really up to the person involved. Moving to Shanghai for 10kRMB is obviously not worth it, if money is all one is looking for. The company involved in hiring is probably assuming that the experience one gets working in China might be tempting enough on its own, and so they’re lowballing on salary. 1kRMB is a laughably low housing allowance, as well.

    There was an article in The Economist a few weeks ago about Indian call centers luring British expats into moving to India for a year, and working for Indian wages. The companies got expat personnel for a low cost, and the expats got to experience a year working abroad. I think that’s what the company mentioned in this post is probably hoping for.


  13. I’m not sure about the field of marketing, but I can speak from experience as to the field of law. It is insane for an offer of $10,000 RMB a month for a foreigner, but then, you must understand the field. In the legal field, more and more foreigners who want to work in China are forced to accept “local” salaries. This is because more and more Chinese are going abroad to study law and returning to China. These Chinese graduates of foreign law schools obviously have excellent Chinese skills, probably know and understand Chinese law, understand foreign law, probably have experience working overseas, and speak English well (or another foreign language) PLUS, and this is the HUGE difference, they are willing to accept a “local” salary, because they choose to spend their life in China. An American law student graduate sees his classmates getting 6 figure offers from big American firms, but if he wants to go to China (at some of those same firms that are offering 6 figures in the US), he’ll probably have to expect a mid 5 figure salary. To them, it may not seem high, but to a Chinese, they will more than jump at that offer.

  14. boran, pardon me, may be confusing some key issues:

    1. Foreign lawyers who work in China work with foreign clients doing business in China. I can’t believe Baker & McKenzie or White & Case lawyers in China taking local pay.

    2. A foreign education without foreign work experience cannot expect to command a large premium in pay. Even in China a senior manager with 15-20 years experience is paid differently than a new college grad. Foreign companies are skeptical about the loyalty of young employees, and would not like to be used as steppingstone for the new employee to be sent back to China so he can jump at the next higher offer.

    3. Acceptance of a lower pay (than the foreign country from which he is recruited) in China probably works for a young grad, whose options at finding work in the country he studied may be limited because of legal status. Experience worker expects a premium to work overseas because his foreign assignment may disrupt his career track with the same company and chance for advancement whenever that comes up at HQ. The 10,000 RMB offer probably reflects the valuation of experience and incomplete understanding of the cost of living in a rapidly rising economy in Shanghai.

    4. When a company fills a senior position abroad, that person has the trust of senior management that he will perform as expected, and will do everything to help him focus on his work, so he is not unduely distracted by living expenses, housing, children education, etc. Asking him to accept local terms is unfair, and the results are rarely satisfactory for the company nor the employee. Aims should gather some relevant data to negotiate for a better offer.

  15. I think you all missed one important factor, that is why expats are pay higher than the local talent.

    In the beginning, when China was ready to open her door to the foreign companies to “do” business, Shanghai was so primitive in both social and commerce. Companies were not allowed to hire local staff (not even ayi), all staff must be assigned by the authority, the office often was the place you sleep, finding a decent meal in the street was a daunting task. Lack of social life forced the foreign staff to work long hours. My company paid our staff all expenses in China plus hardship allowance and monthly home passage on top of salary, still people were reluntant to station there.

    Today, things are different, expats do not possess special skill cannot and should not receive extra remuneration as the local talent. From the company point of view, I would prefer to hire the local staff at 10,000/mn rather than import an expats who may have language barrier.


  16. Possibly it is straying somewhat from the initial point and rather too specifically toward the legal field, but I feel I have to back up Business Guy. Mostly out of self-interest.

    None of what I would consider the top, say, 20 non-Chinese law firms in China (mostly London and New York firms) offer Chinese salaries to expatriates. They all offer local-salary-plus-top-up. If they did not, New York, London, Los Angeles, or other foreign staff simply would not travel to China. Good grief, *I* wouldn’t go, much though I love the country – I’d stay in London, collect my London salary, and take very long holidays in Beijing!

    So the question is, do we (i.e foreign professionals) offer anything the locals don’t? If not, one presumes there’s no business case for us in China. If so, we justify the relatively high salaries. For lawyers it’s easier – we have overseas qualifications and are therefore allowed to advise on English or New York law. Locals, however good their English, usually are not.

    This links to Stephen’s point. I would say that generally, there is a second reason to use expats, which is laid out below.

    I think the business case is this (Others may disagree, in which case please do say so): we have links to the mainstream of our own country and culture that mainland Chinese who travel abroad rarely have.(NOT never, just very, very rarely – our firm has one chap who is mainland Chinese by birth but as English as anything – and he can come across as ‘English’ in a way that BBCs almost never do. He’s part of the mainstream, same as me and the other thousand or so lawyers in our firm in London). It is therefore much more sensible to use us when dealing with people who aren’t China specialists (for which read “non-Chinese clients”) than to use a local Chinese.

    The same applies in reverse – any firm looking to expand in China has to have local Chinese who have grown up and attended university alongside future clients. Please note I’m not referring to corruption in either case – it’s just that people from the same background are much more likely to get along well without too much effort.

    It follows that the most successful firms will be those who can attract both foreign and Chinese clients – and in real terms that means hiring both locals and expats. The problem of salary is that expats are usually paid more because they’re currently harder to employ than locals, and this can lead to unhappiness. That’s not just true of China, it’s true everywhere. In New York, British expats are paid more than the local lawyers, as their salary usually receives special uplifts, inflation protection, exchange-rate protection and so on. In London, it’s the Americans who are paid more. C’est la vie! If nothing else, it’s an encouragement to us to travel and to learn more about other places than our own home.

  17. Fair and unfair is really difficult to say… different people could feel exactly opposite on one same thing. If something did happen in reality, there is certainly some fairness in it. Maybe not fair for everyone, but surely fair for someone.

    We are all adults… and we know every decision is about a tradeoff.

    Naturally we weigh the pros and cons when trying to make a decision. What’s important is what is my priority, what cards do I have in hands, and how far am I ready to compromise to get what I really want…

    For Aims, I would say if the qualification is sound, definitely there is better jobs in China. If it’s not the case and Aims still want to be in China… we all know the answer…

    There is always a chance for anyone to say ‘no, I can’t accept that offer, and I choose not to work for you’.

    Therefore, it’s a bit difficult for me to share Business Guy’s anger: You don’t need to get upset, just say ‘no’ if you feel it’s unfair for you to accept the local terms. If you feel the situation is ridiculous to you, you hardly need to get upset. If you were upset, maybe because there was something stilling jumping in your tradeoff basket, which did catch your attention? Or if it’s not the real case for you, maybe for someone else?

  18. I think Aim should stop whinning. It’s China and he should accept that. Who does he think he is? If he was highly educated from a top tier school with experience at top firms, then maybe he could start negotiating, I don’t his background. Otherwise, there’s no need to complain.

    This is not the 80s or 90s anymore, they don’t need to hire foreigners with ridiculous expat packages. They can hire a local nowadays with better education background for less. Just be lucky you got an offer and leave it at that. And please don’t think a local cant do what you can offer to this company because they definately can.

    11000RMB is plenty. stop whinning and being greedy. if you don’t like it, don’t accept it and dont come to China. simple as that. maybe you’ll be lucky and find a better job with better pay in shanghai, maybe not. who knows but the chances are slim nowadays.

  19. Hmm, I’m an expat, and I have A LOT RMB a year for teaching a new chinese company how to do, and I don’t complain. The company pays all my expenses too.

    I’m not a CEO or anything like that, just come here with my knowledge which is so much sought for here to develop the country.

    Anyhow, I think that I give away the whole experience of my company’s future, when I’m doing this ! And that doesn’t feel well.

    And I have to abandone my family, as they can not be with me. Only a few days a year, and phone calls. Not satisfying, but everything has it’s price.

    So far China has contributed a little to increase my knowledge.

    Not by the technical knowledge, but in a human way.

    I’m now driving a car in Shanghai, but despite that, I’m more relaxed and understanding to others. But high-nosed people still triggers me off, and always will !

    Considering Aims (the person initiating these comments) – I still think 10.000 RMB is a ridiculous salary if Aims has a western university/engineering degree.

    But if Aims is un-educated, then it’s of course ok. But the text don’t say anything about that, only a “marketing position”, and that can be anything from street sales to department manager.

  20. Long post here:

    Obviously if a company feels they can hire a local for less salary then they would have already done so and would not feel the need to pay higher salary plus living expenses for aims. So now, the point being if they are looking for employees IN London, and are willing to pay more to an expat (yes he is an expat, foreigner would be if he was hired in china and ‘foreigners’ don’t get paid living expenses) then obviously they see some advantage of hiring aims instead of a local Chinese. Its not for us to decide, but for the company.

    MVM you are confused, read below about all the expenses for an expat, not just food and living expenses in china or for beautiful girls or higher social class (which is just ridiculous, perhaps jealousy or pettiness on your part) that you mentioned in your website.

    Of course I never said anyone deserves like 400-500% more for a job that a Chinese could do equally well. But that’s the reality of life, expats get paid more because they communicate well with the HQs, they have expenses to pay in their home country, and when they retire they go back to home country to live etc. Its simple, if companies want to pay local salary, hire locally. But if they want to hire an expat, they better be ready to pay the home country salary or more, otherwise its just plain asinine.

    I am very emotional about this because I feel Jianshuo is letting his personal feelings affect the integrity of his opinion, which is what this website is based on. That feeling would be as you can read from all these posts by local chinese, that most Chinese just can’t accept the fact that expats will always and should always get paid a lot more. I don’t get it why JianShuo always bring up the living expenses in China etc whenever an expat ask about a salary question. This is the second time he made this stance if I recall correctly. One time he even replied to a user that 300,000 yuan or so was very good for expat working in project management with 5 years of experience! Come on…… That created bit of a ruckus and many people also commented on it. I expect a lot from this website and this is all very misleading and plain wrong.

    Some of the comments by Jianshuo, just really disappointed me, “I am not surprised at all” “You should expect little more than fresh graduates” seriously, are you kidding me? For someone to be hired IN London (if he is British and not Chinese student in Britain) its a joke.

    “When people enjoy the cheap China goods, they should have the expectation for lower salary here.” What? He isn’t in China looking for work, he is being sent here to work by a foreign company, so what about all the inconveniences aims has to experience as compared to Britain? What about all the expenses you are still paying back home? What about the retirement savings? What about staying away from home and family?

    Finally, “It seems in your case, the marketing position is not that unique and the company can easily find someone more than happy to take the job in local market. You cannot expect big advantage over the local candidate just because you are coming from abroad.”

    For god’s sakes, once more, it’s not him that aimed to work in China, but a company who is sending him here. Why is marketing different from any other job, there are tons of Chinese in every field who are very much qualified and more than willing to do any job for lot less. In fact it is much easier for foreign companies to tell Chinese to do programming than to do Marketing. It’s not easy to convey marketing ideas or vision from the HQ to a local candidate.

    The simple answer is, you should be paid at least YOUR local salary if a company is hiring you in your home country. ONCE AGAIN, it’s completely different if you were hired in China. Why is it so hard for everyone to understand and accept this? Except for teaching English by some american college students, which still pays as much as what aims is being offered, I don’t see any other job that would hire expats in their home country and pay such a low salary. This is no sales job or some low level job, otherwise no company would be stupid enough to hire aims from London, pay hirer salary (than local) and also pay for living expenses in China. Do your research Jianshuo before you give ridiculous advices and hurt people who look upto you for advices.



    Thats the link, I was wrong, JianShuo said RMB 30k-40k/yr is about right for an Technical Manager expat with 7 years of experience! But to be fair, he didnt know if that guy was an expat or a foreigner looking for job in China. Still 30k-40k/yr for IT Manager with 7 years of experience with a foreign firm is way too low even for a chinese. I guess sometimes you can never separate personal feelings with correct advice…

  22. My original comments were meant to discuss the situation of a recent graduate and not somebody with anything more than 3-5 years of experience, obviously the situation is very different for those at the top. Further, while my experience and information relates only to the legal industry, it is also applicable to many other professional jobs (a la marketing, investment banking, etc).

    As far as I know, very few of the top foreign law firms in Beijing and Shanghai offer the same salaries they offer in NYC, London, Paris, etc to new associates. As I said, in the legal industry (and again, this is applicable in most other professional industries), the young expat, for better or worse, is going to be more or less extinct in 5 years. These are the words I heard from top partners at 3 out of the 5 largest firms in the world…Here’s why:

    1. More and more Chinese are going abroad after completing their university studies in China, some go to the US already having studied Chinese law for 4 years.

    2. In the US, more and more are passing on LLMs for a full JD or an sJD and not going back to China in the summer but getting summer clerkships in US law firms.

    3. After graduation, when these Chinese go back to China, they expect high salaries for Chinese big cities, but they don’t expect the $130,000 salaries they’d be getting if they were working at those top firms in the US.

    Therefore, to these firms, they are the total package. They have strong Chinese and English skills, they have work experience in the US (or London, or Australia), they have a good knowledge of both Chinese and foreign law, plus they probably have good connections within China. MOST OF ALL, their salary demands are typically half of what most young, expat associates (less than 3-5 years experience) are asking for.

    Executives (or in the legal world, partners/managing partners) are mostly going to be foreigners and they won’t be paid a “local” salary, but instead be receiving something comparable to what they’d get in their home country. However, the trend I talked about before means that even for executives, while they have more time than young associates, will be more or less extinct in 25 years or so.

    Just look at the law firms to see how this is playing out. When these firms opened their offices, they were dominated by foreigners, many who had no understanding of China, the Chinese language, and Chinese law. Today, the picture is very different, even at the top firms, most of the lawyers are 70% or more Chinese, a figure that will only rise in the years to come.

    Again, I know this gets us off subject a bit, but even from looking at the large number of Chinese MBAs and talking with some friends, I know that the legal profession doesn’t exist in a vacuum and that the picture I drew above is true of other professional jobs.

  23. I totally understand that point, my point being if a company is planning to hire an expat in his/her country they must pay the standard salary in the expat’s country. That only makes sense, otherwise go to china and look for a local or a foreigner looking for jobs in China.

  24. Firstly, I read the situation differently than most of you. The original poster, Aims, never said that he is being sent to Shanghai by his London employer. Also, he says that he is a part-time worker and only works 10 hours per week, so it doesn’t seem to me that he is a very experienced professional worker.

    Secondly, if you’re trying to compare the standard of living in two different countries, you can’t just look at the face value of the compensation because the cost of living and purchasing power varies greatly from place to place. A better comparison is how much money you can save after your living costs and entertainment expenses are covered. London is one of the most expensive cities in the world so of course 10,000 RMB per month is a mere pittance. But with China being one of the cheapest countries in the world, 10,000 RMB a month is alot.

    Although in China, the average per capita income is only something like $7,000 USD per year, the savings rate is also roughly 40% — meaning that locals can put almost $3,000 USD per year in the bank. Since the average savings rate in the US is less than 10%, most Americans would need to earn more than $30,000 USD per year in order to bank as much money as your average local Chinese.

    So my advice to Aims is to think about how much money he can save instead of what he earns. Also, take a look at the tax rate — it’s quite low in China but I’m not sure how that compares with London.

  25. Which company is it that you will be working for? How many years experience do you have in marketing?

  26. Well. Thanks for the long explaination and discussion. In short, what a company’s offer is depends on the COMPANY’s requirements, not your skill. What you can earn depends on your skill, not the company. Sometimes, these two does not match, so not all offer get a response. Don’t complain if the company just want someone at 10,000 RMB. If you feel not good, there is one term to describe the situation: you are OVER-Qualified.

  27. X’s conversation with foreign company is called “negotiation” and 10000 RMB is called “first offer.” The fact that X is seriously considering this ridiculous offer means that the potential employer has correctly identified X as an easy mark who will be grateful for, say, 30000 RMB

  28. The last post by Elmer Fudd is the best so far. You can’t find anything negative in he post. He is truly providing someone advise based on real-life experience. Salary is always negotiable.

    Ridicule someone isn’t nice. Am I right, host?

  29. I think the matter is simple. With a 10KRMB/month pay, few people who already got a professional jobs in UK/USA would relocate to China. And maybe China doesn’t really need those marketing people anyway, so they are paid less. Ultimately, the market supply/demand will determine the fair salary.

  30. well Mr Chinese,

    u can invest in China with ur pay in UK. then u r boss in china but employee in UK. actually China is lack of further investment except real estimate. u can travel here whenever u’ve got vocation.

    is it good for u?

  31. So how negotiatible will the salary be? I mean starting from 10K….do you think he will be able to double that?

  32. As I know,the reality is worse.

    “The average salary for newly graduated student (from not so famous university) drops to 3000 – 4000 RMB per month (before tax) this year. It was much higher before (6000 RMB?)”

    I will say”Thank godness”,if I can sign a contract with a salary over 3000/mouth next year when I gradute from Univ.

    China,even in its most developed city,Shanghai,The human resource cost is still too low to believe in the West view.Shall we take it as a advantage?or We should feel pity about this.

  33. I have read thorugh all the comments above and I wish to share the followings:

    – I don’t see anyone being absolutely right in this discussion cause many people have their opinions and thoughts based on their knowledge and experiences they acquired. Through discussion we may get more and more confused, but usually one who is clear headed shall avoid it, especially pouring your grivences or personnel feelings and ended up changing the gradient of a discussion.

    – Its quite true and fair to say that if the company is in need of a foreigner to fill in that post, then it should be the justified package that will attract the candidate to come over. However, has any body thought about it that the company has already budgeted 10KRMB for a foreigner + 1KRMB allowence, perhaps this post is only 4KRMB for a local? Thus only the company who is hiring Aim will know,right?

    – Thus if Aims feels that 10K RMB is too low for himself, be it what ever reasons he has in mind. I would reckon that he would take up the offer because he is in the end the one who is paying all the bills, be it in ShangHai or London. Note here, I did not say he should not, I merely guess that he would or would not.

    – My personal experience to share here is that : because I do have bills to pay back at my home where I came from, I do expect at least the same salary package. Moreover, if I were to leave my country, home, family, culture and all things familiar to me to work in a foreign country, and I am needed by the company abroad because of my capability/ies, then I shall be rewarded more then what I get back home.

    – Last but not least, not all foreigners will stay in China upon retirement though some might. But the truth is that as a foreigner one should plan as if you are returning back to your home grown country or someplace more expensive than PRC, be it that you are retired or your work contract is not renewed, possibly in 1-2 years time?? Every penny counts during then right??

    – I am offered a job in Shanghai for a salary thats lower than what I get now. I also know that I still have to pay bills back here when I am there, should I just turn it down? On the very first instance I should – based on my own arguement, but thinking more indepth makes me ponder, cause I manage to work out a way to makesure that after paying more bills from both sides, I am still able to save more than if I stay back home. This is the monetary aspect being resolved. However , the emotional aspect sets in, how should I be compensated in that sense. So here I am, still in a think-tank, but I know that I will have a decision somehow at the end. Like I said above: people have their opinions and thoughts based on their knowledge and experiences they acquired.

    -I am still doing that…..Happy discussion : )

  34. Listen, 10k RMB a month is a very high salary in China, for most Chinese. For a foreign person coming to live in China, it is considered a low-middle salary (low being 5000/month). Cost of Living in Shanghai has risen so much in the last 5 years that 10k is hard to get by on, especially if you want a life similar to what you had abroad. In other cities in China, like Qingdao, Dalian, and Xiamen, you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck with 10k. To live comfortably in Shanghai, consider 16k as a minimum.

    As far as the salaries of most foreigners go, the vast majority are on some kind of local or what we call a “hong kong” package. Local is quite cheap, in the 8k-20k range. When you think about the top end of that, 20k is around $2500 USD. If you aren’t an incrediably seasoned and skilled professional, you may just be making that same amount back in London or L.A.

    A “Hong Kong” package is different. That is when you get into the 300,000 – 700,000/year range. But you don’t really get anything else, just this flat salary. Hong Kong companies have to entice their people to come to the mainland, so they keep their salaries at what the person would be making in Hong Kong. The only downside to that is that PRC taxes are very high. In HK, personal taxes are at 15.5%. In PRC, when you get close to 600k/year, taxes are in the 40 to 45% range. Regardless, this is still a decent salary.

    Expat salaries, the big fat packages, are very rare. With over 400,000 registered foreigners living in China, only around 2-3% are making that kind of bank. Don’t count on this unless you are a senior employee at your org.

    Would I personally take an offer for 10k/month in PRC? No way! 8 years ago, I did accept a job in Shanghai at 13k/month. I really needed the money and was happy to accept the offer. Durning the first 3 years of that job, my salary steadily rose to 35k/month. I was able to pay off a USD $40,000 debt and $6000 in credit card debt. Then I got an offer at a large multinational and the salaries were even higher.

    Now I have 11 years experience and am in a MUCH higher bracket – I would probably accept an offer above 100k-120k/month, with benefits and tax equalization to Hong Kong.

  35. Hello,

    I have a 4 year college degree and am currently working in New York as an full-time employee. I would like to find a job in Shanghai as an overseas full-time employee (who is assigned to work in shanghai with a US salary equivalent). Do you have any helpful information about this kind of job hunting? If you have any website dedicate to this job search would also be great. Thank you very much.



  36. Hi,

    I am an Indian.I was recently interviewed for a US based manufacturing firm operating from Shanghai.I am a mechanical engineer with about 10 yrs. experience in India & the position I was interviewed was for manager of QA.SO ….the big question…what salary should I expect???

    I personally presume that about 35000USD/year should be fine.Any comments?

  37. Do anyone know how to translate a job search phrase “cold calling” in Chinese? Like “blog”, like “menu”? Many thanks and happy new year!


  38. Let’s put it this way:

    If you were shopping at a Shanghai departmental store, and decided to purchase a certain commodity which is being sold for say, RMB 50. At the cashier, are you expected to pay RMB 50, or the price of the commodity sold at your country back home? Needless to say, you pay the price of RMB 50, which is what it’s been locally sold for. If the UK retail price is say, £10, will they ask you to pay £10 just because you are British?

    Likewise, keeping this scenario in mind, if you are offered a job in Shanghai, you will be paid a local Shanghai salary. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are British, therefore you are entitled to a higher pay (that sounds pretty snobbish). No, it does not equate to that. Your salary range will be based on your educational background, work experience and other merits. Prove to your new boss of your capabilities.

    What I suggest is, stick to the company you are with currently, and express your interest, if any, to relocate overseas. That way, not only will you get to stay with your company (a familiar surrounding in a new country), you will also be paid the equivalent of your local pay, or even higher if you are performing, as well as addtional perks and incentives to work abroad. Remember, performance is key.

    Doesn’t mean you are British, Filipino, or even if you are from Timbuktu, you will be treated as a ‘Little Emperor’ when you work abroad. As the saying goes; ”When in Rome, do what the Romans do.”

  39. Hi Tracy – well put… however I probably wouldn’t have considered my overseas assignment if the salary wasn’t better than my local salary back home… I do however get paid out of Singapore payroll (not expat) so am not afforded the luxuries associated with such (accommodation, etc)…. BUT the big incentive is that not only has my salary increased dramatically, I pay almost half as much tax as I did back home by removing myself from being an australian tax resident (this is an absolutely huge advantage), and the cost of living here is much less… this means more opportunity for savings and investments… by Australian standards, I’m in the ‘high’ income group, by Singapore standards, my salary would probably be regarded almost as obsene… I guess it’s all relative… also by not being expat I can get my Singapore PR and invest in property here… :)

  40. @AussiePB, are you one of the “foreign talents” who have displaced Singaporeans out of their jobs? Sigh, this is the way it is now, for the whole world. Now the entire globe is the marketplace, and everyone is competing with counterparts from all over the world for a job. Sad but true. Being a technical writer myself, I can feel this all too well. I know that some (many?) American technical writers have lost their jobs to counterparts from other countries, including Singapore. Meanwhile, people like me compete with mostly Indian nationals (there are also Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Indonesians, Malaysians etc) for a job. Good thing my job requires me to be bilingual in English and Chinese. So that kinda gave me an edge over them (for now). In future, the Chinese will also rise in their command of English, and then where would I go? Hmm…..!!!

    I thought of going to Shanghai before, but being a wife, it’s not as easy for me to move since my husband and I are planning to have a baby next year. The air in Shanghai didn’t seem too good when I was there. There’s like this persistent fog (smog) in the air all the time.

  41. @Ling, I like to think that although I am in Singapore, I have earned my current position through dedication and hardwork. The background is, that I was approached by a head-hunting company while I was working for another multi-national company based out of Melbourne (spending my time split between Australia and Shanghai). I had been working with them for 17-years. The position I was approached for was a global one, and was to also be based out of Melbourne. Part way through the negotiations, the decision was made to base the role out of Singapore, due to the large amount of travel required throughout the region. I was then asked if I was still interested and advised them that I would really need to be ‘incentivised’ to pick up my whole life and move overseas.

    I did not hear anything back for many months, and have later discovered this was due to the company trying to source the role locally with Singapore talent. Due to my experience and knowledge (I would hope), they reapproached me and made me an offer that was too good to refuse.

    So in short, I don’t see my current role and location as displacing Singaporeans, rather I see at as reaping the benefits from years of dedication and hard-work and a skillset that my company would have trouble matching anywhere else on the globe.

    Hope this clarifies things Ling – and I really enjoy living and working here.

    On the subject of local displacement and foreign talent (and forgive me if I’ve got this wrong, as I am certainly no expert on this subject), I have very good friends who are very active in Grassroots here in Singapore. I am led to believe that two major issues facing Singapore over the next decade will be the ‘ageing’ of the population here, as well as negative population growth – I also understand that both of these issues are of major concern in the long-term success of the nation and it’s economy. I have been told that this is why the govt is encouraging young people to marry and have children, as well as a concerted drive to attract foreign talent to ‘fill the gap’ and become PRs and/or citizens. They have even pegged a target to make sure they hit the numbers. Have I understood this govt initiative correctly?

    Thanks Ling… take care :)

  42. I have a question! How about the 10K RMB per month salary for a manager with 8 years experience in foreign company?

  43. Just wondering why isn’t the Philipines attracting as much investments as China. God knows how much they need them.

    Literacy rate is over 90% but over 40% of the population survive on less than USD 3 a day! College grads (with degrees in law, engineering etc) aspire to work in call centres for a ‘high’ wage of USD 250 a month (less then 2000 RMB).

    I think the Philippines is an interesting case study since of all the original 5 ASEAN countries, they are supposedly the most democratic yet now arguably the least developed.

    I know this thread started in 2005 but anybody care to comment still?

  44. I am a Canadian who is considering a permanent move to China. I have a university degree. I have had my own advertising business in Canada in the past. I have done advertising sales at the street level in Canada. My products were very good and I would like to duplicate my business products in China. How might I be able to communicate not knowing any Chinese, could I hire an interpreter to assist me in selling products over there? I understand that Hong Kong uses commercial English but does the same apply to other cities?


  45. phillipines isnt as popular as china could be down to lack of institutional capabilities in fostering growth. ive never been there so cannot directly comment but having studied china for thesis, theres various apparatus that helps the economy to grow and alot of it is to do political will to make teh economy grow. what is surprising, as other well known commentators have noted, is why china isnt growing faster.

    however, theres many reasons for the high levels of investment in china. huge market, low cost, cheap labour, low tariffs, political stability, etc. all makes china attactive for investors. before the late 90s, the chinese diaspora accounted for the majority of investments. even without non chinese investors, overseas chinese investments would still dwarf phillipines considerably. this factor explains alot too of the indian investment levels of teh past.

  46. I am getting hired by a company in HONG KONG but hiring company is asking for my expectation for the salary. Can anyone suggest me what is good living cost to HONG KONG and approx what salary should be for a Computer System administrator. I am very confused what i ask from my company to live there in a better way.


  47. 10,000yuan a month in shanghai is low.

    cheapest cost of a house budget is 3000/- anything lesser means a long walk.

    a weekend at any of the clubs at least costs me 1400/-

    So there you have it.. cheers.

  48. i live in a 3 bed shared apartment costing 2500 exc bills. i catch bus to work taking around 15mins max. the apartment is in a huge popular complex in jingan with all the facilities u need. u cud find somewhere around 2000rmb but those get snapped up easily.

    sujin must drink only champagne if he spends 1400 at clubs. a very popular club i go to have drinks around 50 rmb and no entrance fee. thus, i spend 500 max inc taxi home.

    u cud survive on 10000 no doubt. i cant imagine ur company wud want to pay u more than wat one wud earn doing the same job in hk. with rent in hk, a min salary wud be 15000 but u wont be able to rent in the central districts at that. its hard to advise without knowing wat life u are comfortable with.

  49. This article was posted in 2005, so a lot of numbers have changed since! Regardless of what the current (and acceptable) salary range it is right now (2008), one thing to consider as foreigners is that the cost of living in Shanghai is different for foreigners than for locals. I wrote an article on my blog listing a few things to consider. Locals tend to think foreigners get paid much higher salaries, which might be true for the most part, but they don’t realize how much more foreigners have to pay for basic living expenses.

  50. It all depends on the calibre of foreigners you want to attract! 10,000 RMB per month might be a ‘really high salary’ for a ‘backpacker’ / perpetual student who wants to spend his or her time sitting around watching pirate DVDs, eating noodles from the greasy stall on the corner, drinking local beer, only ever holidaying inside China, never buying any real label clothes, and so on. Living like that, you can get by on very little at all.

    However, for a real expat type, who may want to fly to Thailand in the winter, home in the summer, eat western food (80 RMB for a pizza), drink real beer in bars (70 RMB at times in Shanghai!), go to a cinema a few times a month (I mean a real, Warner Brothers cinema showing films in English) for 40=60 RMB a pop, etc, 10,000 is not adequate at all.

  51. Hi There,

    Just to add my two cents, when I came to China two years ago similar to yourself i was offered 10,000 rmb a month. However, I had my apartment paid for and also phone expenses so the true cost of the package would be about 15K. I think for an expat moving to China they need a certain level of comfort and access to western goods which is admittedly expensive. Its not impossible to live a nice standard on 10,000 it just requires a lot of discipline and effort, however If I were you I would give it at least six months, if it doesnt work out you can always go somewhere else. I would be looking for a raise of 5-10k if you were going to continue on for a second and third year I am living in Shenzhen now on 23,000 a month before tax living in a nice apt and very comfortable. If you need any help feel free to email me.


  52. Simply put…you dont worth as much as what you think you do unless you are in business. You have no network, connection, experience…all you have is a foreign face and your mother tounge. Think of your true value in a firegn country. I bet your IQ are just as average as any human with two legs. White people are no longer treated as more superior as anyone else. Nor do black nor yellow. So wake up and face the real world. Money is color blind. You get paid with how much you could bring back. Business is just about as real as anythng. So wake up while you are still young. You go to work, not a vacation.

  53. this is crazy . DO NOT ACCEPT this offer , this is a insult . 1000 rmb for accomodation ??????????? u kidding me . i have been in shanghia for 10 years

  54. I understand the arguments here, however we are lacking in details from Aim surrounding his contract. He did not mention in his post whether the contract is a local contract or expat contract. It’s the supply n demand rule. As more and more foreigners are willing to work/live in China, it is inevitable that there will be competition for available positions.

    Adding to that, I can safely assume that Aim does not have the required experience to qualify him to be more competitive than a local. Since Aim did mention that he is in England, most probably he is only fluent in English, so are more n more local graduates. As I am saying, we lack details to make a proper assessment of his level of competitiveness in the locality of Shanghai. We cannot make assumptions purely based on Aim being a foreigner.

  55. 10,000 is low but “realistic”

    China doesn’t pay Chinese people in Shanghai to live a real life, unless you want to eat rice everday to pay for your house.

    this is what the world is coming to. we’ll all be slaves of the party

  56. 11k RMB would be fine, if they are going to pay for your food, rent, utilities and transportation expenses. ;)

  57. 10,000 RMB per month is a rip off. It is a little more than a freshman’s salary in China. When the local’s said their salary is low, it is an eyewash. Ask an equal how much his/her salary is, they would mention it as very small,but they still own an apartment which is expensive, drive cars and eat meat regularly.

    So, whats the nonsense people are writing about low salaries in china for locals, that is nonsense, and I am talking about skilled labor. When you have no education and no special skills, you cannot demand much, but this case is different.

    They will take you for a ride, but they will still buy apartments and their audi’s.

  58. It really depends on the “uniqueness” and the skillset that you possess. For example, I am probably one of 5000 people on the planet that does the kind of engineering that I do, and the Chinese company that has me working for them are paying me at a rate of 95000RMB a month.

    I will say that at that rate, the purse strings are very tight. They’ve put me up in the cheapest of hotels, I eat lunch at their cafeteria, where they serve what I imagine they’d serve in an American prison. Getting the materials we need to do our job is a hassle and a fight to get approvals for expenditures, and it’s definitely “safety third” when it comes to personal safety when working in potentially life threatening situations. They do some things around here on a daily basis that would get someone fired back in the US. They seem to have no problem swinging a 3-ton pallet of loose bricks with a crane right over the heads of people on the sidewalk and occupied offices. That would land you in jail where I’m from, but then again it’s China. There’ll be someone to take the place of a fallen worker the next day.

    I spend about 30RMB for dinner in the evenings, and they’ve been generous enough to give us a 200RMB per diem, about 30USD. I use it to go to McDonald’s and buy snacks to supplement the prison food. It’s not awful, and I’ll have a nice chunk of change when I get back to the States in 3 months. I just need to put up with the lax safety, prison food, and dodgy hotel that has rats casually walking up the driveway of the entrance.

  59. Hi,

    I am in discussion for an opening with a major chinese telecom vendor. I am into telecom domain with 11 yrs. of telecom experience and the opening is in global solution marketing role based out of Shanghai for at least 3 yrs. I have wife and 2 kids (girl – 3yrs. and boy-1yr.) who would be relocating with me in case i get through. My daughter is currently in Junior Montessory and i would like to place her in interntional school in Shanghai, also i would like to place my junior in a play school but that would be after an year. Also i would need a 2 bed room appt. (fully furnished) for shelter. I guess food is not a problem as is shelter, education and transportation in any city.

    I would like to have some advice from the experts on the annual salary (post tax) i should expect to stay happily with my family (including good education for my daughter) and some decent savings. If someone can guide me on topics below will be good for my decision making –

    – Annual school fee in a good international school.

    – Per meal (average cost) per person.

    – Monthly avg rent for a 2 bed room appartment (fully furnished) with electricity and water.

    – avg. transportation cost say within 20miles distance (home – office) in metro or bus. (per day)

    – Any inputs appreciated on Tax deduction scheme / Health insurance etc.

    Will appreciate an early response.

    Thanks & Regards


  60. This all depends on the person, their career outlook, and their personality. I can’t see my brother, a highly successful producer in Hollywood, moving to China for work; he would most likely ask for a huge bonus to even consider the prospect. He would not want to have to ‘put up’ with life in China, and would likely dread most of his time there (and he would probably make life somewhat miserable for the persons who had to work for him in China). He’s not the most open and understanding of persons when it comes to cross-cultural issues, and he is at the top of his game in terms of his career here in the US. I can’t see anyone like my brother moving to China for work unless the company provides a HUGE financial incentive. Moving to China would be a huge pain in the ass for him, and thus, the high salary makes sense. It’s the company’s call. But he would most likely act like miserable, arrogant prick the entire time in China.

    On the other hand, for a person who enjoys and pursues travel/culture/whatever over career prospects, 10k RMB wouldnt be too bad at all. And that person would likely be much less of a prick (in China) compared to a person like my brother.

  61. It’s not ridiculous put many ESL teachers are making this much or more, my school pays this much in fact. So I can understand why people might find it ridiculous; it just goes to show how important experience is to employers.

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