Working Girl?

I was asked recently by a reader whether or not expat wives can work in Beijing. The answer is “yes, but”…Let me explain.

If you speak to women who’ve been trailing spouses in China for a while, some of them will tell you they were given an automatic work visa along with their husbands upon entry into China.  That’s certainly what I was told but alas it has proved untrue.

The combination of the 60th anniversary (which raised feelings of invincibility to a whole new level here) and the recession have meant the Chinese government sees less and less need for foreign workers. I’ve been told anecdotally that work visas generally are now much harder to come by, with companies having to provide a lot more detailed evidence of why they want to hire a foreign worker over a Chinese one. Information from the Chinese government on this point is often conflicting and unclear.

If you want to find work here it is possible. Many expat wives set up their own businesses to ensure a portable career. Others decide to start a family. Others find companies willing to take them on under the table (albeit for a token wage – think around EUROs 150-300 a month), and others trawl around for freelance work, the favourites being writing/editing and teaching English. A very good place to start and to seek up-to-the-minute advice is the excellent VIVA network which holds monthly networking meetings and is run by seasoned expat business women. I’d also recommend the national chambers of commerce, specialist Beijing-based groups on LinkedIn and alumni associations.

All of this brings me to the bigger topic of what happens when working women become expat wives. I know from personal experience it is not at all an easy transition to make. Whatever the benefits of taking time out, don’t let anyone tell you there is no loss of identity involved in becoming a tai-tai. Speaking personally, loss of financial independence is a big part of this. I’ve seen firsthand how it can make expat women here in Beijing incredibly lonely, depressed and angry, and take a huge toll on marriages.

There have been a couple of very interesting stories in the media here about this phenomenon over the last few weeks. I’m linking them here so those who are new to this odd trailing spouse life know they are not alone, and more importantly, that there is help out there. Get thee to an expat coffee morning!

One response

  1. I have a Google alert set up for the words Portable Career and it is shamefully seldom that anything appears. Until today .. and then I found you! As a trailing spouse who has been utterly determined to work despite 5 country moves in 22 years I am delighted to report that I have succeeded. Maybe you know my book A Career in Your Suitcase, now in its 3rd edition, which is designed to inspire people like us to find a career that is mobile and is based on their passion. You can find out more about my book at and pick up lots of free stuff. But my main site is Well done for writing about such an incredibly important subject.

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