China Business Expansion: WFOE or Employee Outsourcing – Decide Wisely

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When you’re thinking about expanding your business into a foreign country, you’ll generally have two primary choices to think about: either establishing a Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise (WFOE) or opting to outsource employees. Creating a WFOE means making your own business in a foreign country, giving you full ownership and control over what you do. However, it can be complicated and might need a lot of money at the beginning.  

On the other hand, outsourcing employees is like teaming up with a local company to get the people you need. It’s often faster and cheaper to find local experts, this way, but you might not have as much say in how they work. The choice between these two options depends on what your business goals are, how much money you have, and how much control you want in the foreign market. Each way has its good and bad points, so it’s important to think carefully about what works best for your business. 

As you delve into the information provided in this article, please keep in mind that we are here to offer expert support and address any questions or concerns you may have about your business expansion, so feel free to reach out to us for assistance. 


What is a wholly foreign-owned enterprise (WFOE)?

A Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise (WFOE), as the name suggests, is an enterprise in China that is 100% owned by a foreign company or companies. It’s like having your own separate legal entity that can do business and take on responsibilities independently. 

WFOEs are the go-to choice for foreign investors exploring opportunities in China because they provide great flexibility for entering the market. Essentially, it’s your way to establish a business in China entirely on your own terms. 

Different types of Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprises (WFOEs) exist, each with its recommended minimum registered capital:

Type of WFOEMinimum Registered Capital (RMB)
Consulting & Services500,000 to 1 million
Manufacturing1 million
Trading WFOE & FICE( trading, wholesale, retail, or franchise)1 million

The WFOE’s Advantages

In the early days, Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprises (WFOEs) were introduced to China with the goal of promoting manufacturing and export activities. Fast forward to recent years, and WFOEs have emerged as the preferred choice for setting up companies in China. However, the process comes with regulations and restrictions, as some industries may not allow WFOEs. Let’s break down the advantages of a WFOE:

1. Full Control: Foreign investors have complete control over the WFOE’s equity, eliminating the need for local business partnerships. This control extends to HR decisions, managing operations, and shaping growth strategies.

2. Versatile Business Activities: WFOEs can participate in a wide range of business activities, including trading, servicing, and manufacturing, provided they adhere to Chinese government regulations and stay within their approved business scope.

3. Local Currency Operations: WFOEs can conduct business transactions in Chinese currency (RMB), allowing for flexibility in financial operations, including issuing official invoices and collecting sales revenues.

4. Flexible Hiring: There are no restrictions on the number of foreign or local Chinese employees that a WFOE can hire directly, offering flexibility in building the workforce.

5. Profit Repatriation: After meeting specific thresholds, all profits earned in China can be repatriated as dividends to the company’s investors.

employee outsourcing

What is Outsourcing?  

Outsourcing is a common business practice where a company decides to let external workers handle certain tasks and job functions. It’s like hiring experts from outside the company to do work that could be done by its own employees. The main goal is usually to save money and use resources more effectively in other parts of the company.

Imagine a company hiring a tech company to handle its IT needs instead of having its own IT team. That’s outsourcing in action. 

But here’s the catch: outsourcing is a bit of a hot topic. Some people argue it leads to job losses at home, especially in industries like manufacturing. Others say it helps businesses use their resources wisely and keeps the global economy running smoothly. So, it’s a bit of a debate in the business world. 

How does Outsourcing work in China?

Outsourcing in China involves a process similar to that in other countries, but it comes with specific considerations due to China’s unique business environment. Companies first identify their needs, determining which tasks can be outsourced efficiently. They then select service providers, which can be local Chinese firms or international companies operating in China, based on capabilities and alignment with their goals. Negotiating detailed agreements is a critical step, defining tasks, responsibilities, pricing, and legal compliance. Ensuring adherence to local regulations, labor laws, and intellectual property protection is essential.

Effective communication, performance monitoring, data security, cultural understanding, and payment handling are key aspects. Companies should also have clear exit strategies in place. Success in outsourcing in China relies on choosing the right partners, maintaining robust relationships, and navigating local regulations adeptly. As with any outsourcing arrangement, choosing the right service provider and managing the relationship effectively is key to successful outsourcing in China.

What are the disadvantages of choosing to establish a WFOE over outsourcing?

Outsourcing to China presents a range of advantages for businesses:

1. Cost Efficiency: China often offers cost-effective labor and production, leading to substantial savings for companies outsourcing their operations.

2. Skilled Workforce: China boasts a large and skilled labor force across various industries, making it an appealing outsourcing destination.

3. Access to  Market: Establishing a presence in China through outsourcing provides access to one of the world’s largest consumer markets, offering growth opportunities and expanded market share.

4. Efficient Manufacturing: China’s advanced manufacturing capabilities and infrastructure enable efficient production, meeting high demand while reducing lead times.

5. Technological Prowess: China has made significant strides in technology and innovation, making it a hub for tech-related outsourcing like software development and IT services.

6. Scale and Capacity: China’s extensive manufacturing capabilities cater to large-scale production, resulting in economies of scale for businesses.

7. Global Supply Chain Integration: Outsourcing to China helps integrate global supply chains, leveraging its status as a manufacturing and logistics hub.

8. Administrative Relief: Outsourcing tasks such as customer support and back-office operations to China can alleviate administrative burdens, allowing companies to concentrate on core competencies.

9. Time Zone Advantage: Depending on the location of the outsourcing partner in China, companies can benefit from time zone advantages, enabling 24/7 customer support or continuous project development.

10. Diverse Industries: China’s outsourcing capabilities span numerous industries, offering solutions for businesses in various sectors.

While these advantages are compelling, it’s essential to acknowledge that outsourcing to China also comes with challenges such as language barriers, cultural nuances, and legal compliance. A thorough evaluation and the selection of reputable partners are crucial to maximizing the benefits of outsourcing to China.

What are the disadvantages of choosing the establish a WFOE over outsourcing?

1. Establishment of a WFOE is complex and time-consuming (3 ‘ 10 months), with approvals required by multiple authorities.
2. Need to hire an in-house HR & payroll specialist who needs to be well-updated about the latest policy requirements in China with respect to employee benefits and social insurance/housing fund contributions.
3. Needs to comply with the latest regulations in China about individual income tax, employment contracts, employment laws, employee benefits, VISA regulations, etc.

4. The company needs to take the full employer liability. In China, the labor policies are more employee-friendly, and therefore the ‘risk factor’ of hiring an employee is very high for a company, especially in China. The employer’s liability increases with each year of the employee’s association with the company.
5. RMB 100,000-RMB 500,000 is advisable as minimum investment capital for establishing a WFOE in China.
6. Annual audits and other issues need to be done on a yearly basis.

What are the limitations of PEO/ employee leasing?

1. In this arrangement, the employment contract must be for a minimum of two years (although the lawful termination of employees is allowed.)
2. Resistance from employees – The employees might be reluctant to join and might prefer being hired by their main employer. Right communication is very vital in this arrangement between all parties.
3. An outside company’s influence on your culture. It is vital to find an established service provider for your company as you’re delegating a very sensitive and important area of your business.

How HROne can help you?

HROne’s offers employment outsourcing services in China for Representative Offices and to companies not having a legal entity in China. HROne fulfills all legal responsibilities right from directly signing employment contracts with the employee, onboarding, addressing VISA/Hukou issues, payment of salaries, and contributing the mandatory insurance and housing fund to providing legal support. More importantly, HROne can provide bilingual services to its clients both in English and Chinese. We understand that every business is unique, and you may have specific requirements or uncertainties.

If you ever feel the need for further assistance, insights, or a personalized consultation regarding your expansion plans, please know that our experienced team is here to help. 

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