When seeking an internship in China, it's important to make certain that your employer and/or provider is submitting you for the correct visa and work permit. Foreign interns in China need to have a "special business F visa" that specifically prohibits compensation. Be wary of any provider promising paid internships in China. For more information, check out these resources: R&P Lawyers & China Briefing.
Shanghai is China’s most dynamic and vibrant city combining business, globalization, classic culture, sophistication and endless opportunity – and it’s setting the pace for China and the rest of the world. Shanghai is not only advancing as an economic power, but a cultural one as well boasting an efficient metro system, exquisite restaurants, endless nightlife, stunning parks and world class tourist attractions.
A Mecca for the avid shopper, the city has everything from eccentric antique, fabric, and tea markets to malls with 6 floors full of the world’s most famous designers and, Nanjing Road- one of the world’s longest and busiest shopping streets, spanning 3.4 miles long. The question isn’t why intern in Shanghai, it’s why not.
With a population of over 23 million, Shanghai is one of China’s (and the world’s) largest cities, symbolizing the country’s rapid growth toward globalization and securing it as an economic powerhouse. When it comes to business and the global economic platform, Shanghai has earned its respect and has no plans of slowing down. With limitless opportunities, internships can be found in almost any area of study from business to engineering to fashion to photography. It’s common for Fortune 500 companies and global agencies to have a Shanghai office, so if there is a specific company you’re interested in pursuing for an internship, check their China locations.
Accounting Internship: Income and expenses analysis, review accounting materials from clients, perform book-keeping services using accounting software, assist in audit work such as preparing papers.
Engineering Internship: Intern as an analyst, developer, electronic or computer science programmer, or web designer in a wide range of organization from automotive to online gaming.
Advertising/Marketing Internship: Market research, analysis and reporting, storyboard creation, branding, consumer promotions.
Public Relations Internship: Draft press releases, research, social media assistance, assisting in the development of campaigns, pitching, event planning assistance, blogging.
Law Internships: Work side by side with clients and attorneys in various fields of law from corporate mergers and acquisitions to international investment.
These are just a few of the industries booming in Shanghai, if a particular area you are interested in is not listed, don’t worry – with the extensive amount of opportunity in Shanghai, there are internship prospects for almost every area of study.
When and Where to Look for an Internship
Internships in Shanghai are available year-round, and can range in length depending on your availability and schedule. It’s recommended to begin researching internship opportunities at least six months in advance to give yourself plenty of time to secure a position, arrange travel and housing plans, and obtain a visa.
Visas for Interning in Shanghai
A visa is likely required to visit or intern anywhere in Mainland China. Typically, a business F visa is mandatory for an internship, which allows interns to stay up to 6 months. There are several different types of visas so be sure to check with the organization or agency where you are accepted to intern. Visitors who need a visa to enter China must apply for it before departing, no visas will be granted at the port of entry. Passport holders from several countries including Japan, Singapore, and Brunei, are exempt for tourism or business purposes if their length of stay is less than 15 days.
To apply for an F Visa, several documents will be required including (but not limited to):
- A passport with at least 6 months validity from expiration date (make sure to have a least a few blank pages for a visa)
- A letter of invitation from your employer in China
- A color, passport sized photo for your visa application
- Depending on the circumstances, proof of housing or airline tickets and/or a bank statement may be necessary
Be sure to request a full list of visa requirements from your university or internship employer in China.
It’s best to apply for a visa approximately one month before departure at either the Chinese Embassy or Consulate General. If you plan to travel outside of Mainland China during your stay, apply for a multiple entry visa. Overstaying a visa in China is a violation of Chinese laws and regulations, so be sure to be sensitive to visa validity dates.
Cost of Living in Shanghai
China’s currency is the Yuan Renminbi (RMB) and is the only currency throughout the mainland. The cost of living is comparable to the US and UK, but will vary depending on housing, transportation, food and entertainment costs.
The average price for an apartment in Shanghai can range from 3,500 RMB and up. Factors affecting the price housing include location, size of the apartment, whether or not the apartment is shared, etc. Keep in mind this cost may be higher, especially if you go through an internship placement company or a university.
The cost of food, transportation, entertainment and travel can vary depending preference and budget, but with a budget of about 9,000- 14,000 RMB per month (including housing), interns will be able to live comfortably, but not extravagantly.
Examples of costs in Shanghai:
- Metro Ticket (one way): 3 -5 RMB
- Taxi: 10 RMB for the first 4 KM and 2 RMB for each subsequent kilometer
- Meals: approximately 40-70 RMB per day
- Beer: 25-60 RMB at a bar or restaurant
Work Culture in Shanghai
Like your home country, the culture and expectations of every organization in Shanghai will vary. Some companies will allow flexible work hours and business causal attire while others will require specific hours and a business formal dress code.
In China, it’s not appropriate to be late for work and Chinese nationals don’t tend to question their bosses or upper management.
The official language of Shanghai is Mandarin, but English is commonly spoken in regards to business. For an internship, fluency in either English or Mandarin will mostly like be required.
In China, it’s common for employees to work long hours and over the weekend. As an intern, you may be expected to work the same hours as full time employees, but make sure to set and stick to boundaries on your hourly and weekly commitment.
To be successful, have cultural sensitivity, a sense of humor, patience and a strong work ethic!
Networking: Using an internship placement program, either one from your university or a professional internship service, will provide great networking opportunities from student meet ups to industry specific networking events. To find out what’s happening in the city both professionally and socially, check out one of Shanghai’s many city guides, including Timeout Shanghai or visit these useful expat websites:
Work and Labor Laws in Shanghai
Interns with an F-business visa for 6 months or less cannot legally accept payment. To be legally eligible to accept payment for working in China, a person needs a Z employment visa, which has much stricter prerequisites. Accepting payment for an internship under an F visa is terms for expulsion from the country.
Things to Remember
- Drink bottled water (never from the tap).
- Always carry a name card with the Chinese address of where you live and where you are going.
- Download a translation app on your smartphone if possible.
- The weather will vary drastically from season to season. Expect freezing temperatures during mid winter and temperatures as high as over one hundred degrees in the summer months.
- Take a tour when you first arrive to familiarize yourself with the different sections of the city.
- It's usually good practice to steer clear of political and religious discussions, especially with strangers.
- Pick up a few guidebooks, Lonely Planet, Frommer’s or Rough Guides, and read through them before you depart.
- Keep an open mind and smile - chances are Shanghai will be much different than your home country, so enjoy!