“You’re going to China? How brave of you! But aren’t you going to miss all the comforts of home?”

For anyone to have made the so-called brave and daring decision to live in Asia, this may sound like an all-too-familiar refrain. There’s no doubt that Asia is a different world from the States, but the popular American perception of life abroad in Asia could not be further from the truth. Cities across Asia like Seoul, Hong Kong, Shanghai and nowadays even Beijing put their western counterparts to shame. Far from “going without”, the meteoric economic rise of such cities has cultivated a culture of “indulging in”. If you think you’d be leaving behind the “comforts of home” in Middle America, think again – China’s new class of nouveau riche demand super cities to meet their expensive tastes and lifestyle choices. In fact, coming back to the States, you may find you’ve been spoiled abroad – in Asia, life is easier, and luxury is all around you.

For doing business, this could not be happier news. China, the most populous country in the world, is also home to an emergent market of consumers anxious to spend their newfound wealth. This class of super rich in China is now also the world’s largest consumer of luxury goods – even though luxury taxes in mainland China are as high as 20%. For older Chinese who still remember the China of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the availability of wealth and opportunity is a welcome departure from tougher times, and so grandparents and parents are anxious to provide their children with the good things in life – things that they themselves grew up without. (For a rough comparison, think post-Great Depression 1950s housewives and breadwinners raising privileged Baby Boomers – and then give them even more money to spend.)

It’s time to change your mind about China – it’s anything but a backwater for shiftless English teachers or directionless recent grads – it’s an entrepreneur’s gold mine, and here are the best ways to prepare yourself for international business.

Education

Don’t misunderstand, teaching English is still a fine way to get started making steady money and secure a visa. But it just doesn’t offer the long-term earning power that other facets of the education industry do. Somewhat ironically, as we can practically hear the sound of former American wealth and economic influence draining across the Pacific to China, the Chinese still look to America as a model of success and dream of a better life there. So it’s no surprise that this new class of super wealthy Chinese want to send their children to study abroad in the West. College consulting is the primary new frontier of entrepreneurship in China, and it includes everything from SAT, TOEFL, and AP/IB prep companies, private (read: expensive) tutoring, essay and application assistance, and even starting children as young as infants on their long journey to fulfilling their parents’ demanding expectations of them. (“Infant” is no exaggeration, either – while you might see many American or European expats hiring local Chinese nannies to help with childcare for their own children, you’ll also find more and more elite Chinese families looking to hire native English-speaking au pairs for their own children.)

If you still remember the days of memorizing SAT vocab, reviewing for History or Literature APs, and writing and re-writing your personal statement, then you’ll have no trouble parlaying such skills into a lucrative career.

E-Commerce

It’s no secret that e-commerce is a great industry to break into – for its earning power, certainly, but also for its flexibility. Need to get some work done today? No problem – bring your computer with you to the pool while you enjoy a piña colada. Okay, maybe it’s not going to be quite so easy to start and run your own successful e-commerce site, but China is indeed the largest market of online consumers – e-commerce sites like Taobao (like eBay but much bigger) have yearly revenues that exceed 159 million dollars. Between 2009 and 2012, China’s e-commerce industry grew at an average of 71% – compared with America’s measly 13%. China’s top e-commerce sites offer services like travel booking, ebooks, clothing – so with just a little technical know-how and a good idea, don’t hesitate to jump into the fray of other expats also leaping into China’s e-commerce industry.

Berlin Startup Tour

Green

…and you could follow “green” with just about any kind of industry you could think of. You can’t check out any major news outlet’s website without catching a headline about China’s environmental issues, and it’s an issue that Chinese citizens are gravely concerned with as well. The government has responded by announcing an investment of 294 billion dollars in green technologies in its last Five Year Plan, and the Chinese market has responded with a flood of “green” goods and services, whether that be sustainably and locally raised produce and meat, handmade, chemical-free cleaning products or cosmetics, and even handbags made of recycled materials. For more green entrepreneurial ideas, check out the program from last year’s Shanghai Eco Design Fair. Make your money and leave your mark – or rather, reduce your carbon mark – with a “green” idea of your own.

Fashion, Design & Art

Let’s be honest – even if they were supportive, your parents probably weren’t thrilled when you chose “Fine Arts” or “Art History” for your college major. And for good reason to – we all know breaking into the art world isn’t easy (they don’t call them “starving” for nothing), but in China’s top cities like Shanghai and Beijing you’ll sure have an easier go of it. Looking for a paid gallery job in New York City? Good luck. Want to start your own gallery and price your own work? Come to China. Creative opportunities in cities like Shanghai are abundant – thanks to all the money going around, there are nearly constant events and companies that require the work of different kinds of artists for contract – and as a foreign artist, you also offer the “novelty” and “Western” factor. It helps that those nouveau riche are also looking to spend money on status symbols – and Western-style and inspired art hold plenty of social value.

Food & Drink

Eating and drinking Western-style food also appeals to the sensibilities of China’s nouveau riche searching for luxury. The amount of Italian, French, American, and Mexican style restaurants and bars in China’s top tier cities has multiplied at break-neck pace in the past few years – and as well as their prices. It’s not just expats searching for familiar foods from home that frequent these establishments – perhaps even more often, it’s those rich Chinese who can afford Western prices! Competition among Western-style eateries is growing, but there’s still plenty of open market share, especially outside of top-tier cities. While a city like Beijing might have two or three Mexican-style restaurants, Chengdu has only one.

So what are you waiting for? China’s newest class of wealthy are looking to spend their money – get there, start-up, and take it!


  • enjoyed the article. good point about second and third-tier cities – way less saturated.

  • JTK

    i did the whole SAT/ACT/AP/College consulting shindig in Korea and Hong Kong. Good money, but not worth the stress. it was similar hours, stress, and pay to the ibanking gig i used to work. only diff is that you get a lotta downtime from feb to june when your kids are just waiting to hear back from colleges.