“Surviving China” requires paying attention to contracts and promises. My experience coming here has been generally positive, but I encounter lots of horror stories among other foreigners. Foreigners recruited to work in China will sometimes be promised the moon, but when they show up and are asked to sign the final contract, it may only refer to a mid-sized asteroid. “Oh, those extra items have to be off-record. We aren’t allowed to put the non-standard things in a contract — this would cause trouble with the authorities or violate regulations. We have to keep that as a private matter between you and us.” But if it’s not in writing, it’s not there. At this point most foreigners buckle and sign the contract, hoping that whatever they were promised will be delivered later, often after the person who made the promise has left the company or been transferred to another area, and the person you have to work with tells you, “What? We don’t have such a policy. Where did you get that idea? No, we can’t do that, it’s against regulations.”
Rather than buckle, as most foreigners do, or walk away and lose the job, one thing you can do is simply amend the contract with a few sentences somewhere to preserve what you were promised. It helps if the items you were promised have been confirmed in an email that you have printed out. So BEFORE you come to China, make sure that every important promise to you has been confirmed in an email. HR won’t put their offer in writing usually, but you can summarize the key items of the verbal offer in an email and ask them to confirm if you have understood correctly.
If they won’t stand by the details of the offer, find out what they will stand by because that’s probably what you will get in the end. Only trust what is in writing before you come to China. When you have proof that important items were in your offer, you can insert whatever is missing back into your contract and initial it, and if needed attach a copy of the proof too coax the company into accepting your revision if they hesitate. Insist on having whatever really matters to you in writing because otherwise it may vaporize. Even having it in writing might eliminate trouble, but it gives you a much stronger position.
A friend of mine was promised a title and pay level equal to or better than his previous job, but when he showed up the contract had both pay and title lower. He didn’t realize that the title and rank was lower in the APP hierarchy than he thought until after he signed, and when he went to get that corrected, he was told it was too late and would require a double promotion (two levels) to fix, which is contrary to corporate policy. The person he had worked with, of course, was gone.
One friend had been promised an educational stipend to help pay for his child’s tuition, but two years later when his child was old enough to begin school and the ridiculously high cost of kindergarten in Shanghai looked like it was outside his budget, he went to HR to claim his educational stipend, but HR told him that they had never heard of such a thing. The person who promised him that chunk of the moon was no longer with the company, of course. This is one of the benefits of high turnover in HR. On the other hand, perhaps its the reason for the high turnover: people make promises without authorization, collect their bonus for recruiting someone, and then move on before they have to face painful consequences. You need to be prepared for that and take steps to protect yourself, including modifying contracts as needed.
I have been handed a renewed contract and was told it was exactly the same as what I signed before, but fortunately I read it carefully and found out that important changes I had required in the past were not incorporated in the new contract, and needed to be manually added. Don’t ever just sign something because it is supposedly the same as what you have signed before. Scrutinize. Good faith mistakes happen all the time. But they are often not going to be in your favor. Pay attention!
It also helps to know what risks to worry about and what questions to ask before you come here. Toward that end, it’s valuable to talk with a foreigner who has worked for the company you are joining. They can tell you their own stories and griefs and give you tools for negotiating properly. Sometimes there are surprise rules and requirements, like having to work on weekends, that can really cause a lot of trouble if you don’t know they are there. If you know the risk, you can negotiate to avoid it. But you have to ask the right questions in the first place. Be informed. Talk to people. Network. Learn all you can before you pack up and move to the other side of the world.
For most of us, the experience of working here is wonderful and rewarding. Prepare properly, then come join us!