Thursday, May 29, 2008

Surprising expatriate practices in China - Part I

I have been in touch with a multinational company (I prefer not to name the organization) for a job in China. They were interested in hiring me to be the learning and development manager for their new hotel in Beijing. I was given the job offer and was told the package, which included an amount for the housing allowance. When the contract was e-mailed to me, I realized some of the terms were not consistant with my understanding and previous discussion, including the transportation of personal effects, housing allowance and the tax protection. For example, the housing allowance is not a paid-out, instead it is on reimbursement basis. In other words, whatever the amount was promised to me was not part of the income anymore. I only get reimbursed for whatever I use.

I agreed to accept the job offer originally based on the information quoted to me verbally. Well, it could be miscommunication since this job was organized through a headhunter in Hong Kong. The headhunter might have put in her own interpretation when repeating the terms to me. Anyway, since the contract terms were not the same as what I was told verbally, I wrote back and asked for clarification.

The human resources department wrote back with this, " in practice, you can always claim the maximum. You may not understand now how China works but trust me. Receipt in China is something you can “manipulate” and “buy” as well but official, therefore you can claim the maximum but not actually spending the maximum. I’ll teach you more later." This is the exact quote from the company.

"Buying" official receipts has been an unethical, but accepted way of doing business in China for a long time. I am surprised that expatriates nowadays still fall into the trap of the old Chinese way instead of upholding the work ethics. Or are the expatriates taking advantage of and maintaining this system so they can increase their personal gains? Either way, I do not want to get involved in this.

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