TEACH ENGLISH IN CHINA GUIDE (Updated August 2o17)
If you’ve been thinking of teaching overseas, China is one of the hottest destinations on the market right now.
Thousands of teachers are going to teach English in China every year. I taught in China from 2003 to 2006, and I have never once regretted my decision. It was honestly one of the best times of my life, and I wouldn’t change a single thing.
China is great for adventurous souls who are looking for a challenge. It’s not for everyone, though. Chinese culture is simply beautiful, but it’s also really hard to understand. I’ve seen teachers take a few steps off the plane and then turn around and go right back home. I’m not kidding!
Resign yourself to the fact that you’ll food poisoning at least once while you’re there; it’s almost like a rite of passage. You’ll often be asked to do things that don’t make any sense, things more a lot slower in China in general, and you will get stared at – a lot. To teach in China, you have to have a big sense of adventure and be adaptable. China will perplex and confuse you, but it will also make you wonder and dream.
Why Teach English in China?
China is a great country to go to if you want to save money. The cost of living there is quite low compared to Western cities, although you need to be careful of evenings out in first-tier cities like Beijing and Guangzhou. Depending on where you live and your lifestyle, you can count on saving at least $10,000 to $15,000USD each year.
Schools in China offer great perks. Many schools in China offer additional perks, like free housing, flights to and from China, paid holidays, and free Chinese lessons. If you’ve got some teaching qualifications, you might earn all of this and receive a relocation bonus as well. Yes, you read that right. Some schools will pay you to move there.
You can study Chinese. This may not be your primary reason for moving to China, but it’s a great excuse to learn another language, especially a quickly growing global language like Chinese.
Theres’s lots of opportunities to travel in China. One of the things I loved about China was having so many opportunities to see so many parts of it. Many school contracts will only require you to teach 15-25 hours a week, and that means you’ve got plenty of time to explore. Although National Public Holidays are best avoided for travel within China, you can still count on many schools to offer paid leave in your first year or at the end of your contract.
Who Can Teach English in China?
There is a lot of bad information online about teaching English in China. And by bad, I mean wrong.
The Chinese government is constantly updating and implementing new rules for bringing foreign teachers into China. If you want up to date information on the legalities of teaching in China, check the Teach in China page at Reach To Teach Recruiting as it is updated as the laws change.
In a nutshell, if you’re over the age of 24 and under the age of 55, and you have a full BA and at least a 120-hour TEFL that does not have ‘online’ stamped on it, you can teach legally in China. You also need a clean Criminal Background Check (CBC) from your home country and you need to get your degree, TEFL certificate and CBC authenticated at your local Chinese Embassy.
Where you can teach, though, depends on whether you have any teaching experience. It also depends a few other factors, which I’ve outlined below.
What are the Requirements to Teach English in China?
The basic requirements to teach English in China in accordance to obtaining a Z visa and Foreign Expert Certificate are as follows, as of June 2014.
- You must be a native English speaker from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK, or the USA.
- You must have a degree. There aren’t many schools these days in China that can offer you a Z visa without a BA. If you don’t have a BA and you’re being offered a position, make sure you find out what kind of a visa the school is offering. Exceptions, very rarely, are made.
- You must have at least two years of post graduate work experience. Some exceptions can be made for teachers with a year of post graduate work experience if the teacher has taught during that time or earned a degree in Education.
- You should be between 24 and 55 years of age.
- Most schools require teachers to be TEFL certified. If you don’t know what a TEFL is or you don’t have one, visit my TEFL Courses Explained page for more information.
- You also need a clean Criminal Background Check (CBC) from your home country
- You must get your degree, TEFL certificate, and CBC authenticated at your local Chinese Embassy before you go to China
Can you still find a job in China without having all the above requirements? Sure, but again, you might be teaching illegally. If you want to take the risk of being deported, it’s up to you. Before you make the decision to teach illegally in China, read these articles:
The Legalities of Teaching in China
I don’t believe in posting information about illegal jobs on this website.
The truth is that there are plenty of teaching jobs in China, and there are plenty of teachers who are teaching illegally, either knowingly or unknowingly. Almost anyone can find a job in China, but the Chinese government has really cracked down on the hiring of foreign English teachers over the past five years, and more and more laws are being imposed to prevent teachers from being hired illegally.
In short, if you are offered anything else but a Z visa and Foreign Expert Certificate, you are not being offered a legal teaching position.
There are also four other main factors that are taken into consideration when schools are looking for foreign English teachers.
Nationality: Most schools prefer ESL teachers from these countries: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK, and the US. This is because the Chinese government will generally only issue a Z visa and Foreign Expert’s Certificate to teachers of these nationalities. Schools do hire other nationalities as ESL teachers, but whether those teachers are teaching legally or not is a different story.
Education: The government prefers teachers to have a full Bachelor’s Degree. Yes, you can find work with a two year Associate degree, a college degree, or a high school diploma, but schools that are willing to hire teachers without a BA are becoming fewer and farther between, and this is because the Chinese government is making it more and more difficult for schools to offer a Z visa to teachers that do not have a university degree.
Age: The official ages for teaching are between 24 and 55 years of age.
The requirement for being 24 really depends on how long you’ve been out of university. They’re really looking for two years of postgraduate work experience.
Teachers that are 55 years of age or older cannot be issued a Foreign Expert Certificate or Z visa from abroad. I have had friends that have arrived in country and found work at 55 years of age, but they had to be in China to find their position.
Skin color: The hard, cold truth is that Chinese parents prefer Caucasian teachers. I’m sad to say that your appearance is really important to parents, and many schools give in to these demands to ensure student enrollment. If you’re of African descent or Asian descent, it’s likely that you’ll be discriminated against, even if you were born in a country like Canada or the US. With that said, more and more schools are starting to base their hiring decisions on the quality of the teacher, and not the teacher’s appearance. Schools in first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai typically hire teachers based on their experience and not on their appearance.
What Kind Of Teaching Jobs Are There in China?
Private schools – Cram schools
These are private schools that students attend after their public school classes are done for the day. Teachers typically teach full days on Saturday and Sunday, and they may have late afternoon/early evening classes during weeknights.
Pros – These positions can be quite cushy. You might teach 18 to 24 hours per week, you generally have a lot of time off, you’ll get paid more than a public school position, and you’ll likely have a Chinese teaching assistant for your classes. Private schools also typically include perks like free flights, free accommodations, and some paid vacation.
Cons – You teach English as a Second Language at these schools, and you’ll have to accept that English is a business at these types of teaching institutions. That means you’ll be pressured to teach a certain way and your students will be expected to perform well. Since parents are paying for their child to attend private school classes, they carry a lot of weight in terms of what does and doesn’t happen in the classroom. It’s not uncommon to have parents sitting in on classes to watch their kids participate, and the pressure for kids to get good grades is pretty intense.
Public school positions are hit and miss in China. Some schools are well organized, but most aren’t. Public schools are also notorious for being the only schools that work with the Chinese government to bring teachers into China on anything but a Z visa. Yes, that’s right. These schools typically bring teachers in on an L or an F visa. Since these positions are sponsored through the local government, this is generally the only way you should even think about teaching on anything other than a Z visa.
Pros – Public school contracts typically offer perks like free housing, flights to and from China, meals, free Chinese lessons, and quite a bit of paid vacation time to offset the low salary. You can expect to earn between RMB5,500 and 9,000RMB per month at a public school position. You’ll also work Monday to Friday through a normal teaching week with evenings and weekends off.
Cons – In some cases, you might not even have a curriculum to follow, and there is certainly no way to keep control of your large classroom if it spins out of control. You can expect really large classes, anywhere from 25-30 four-year-olds in a kindergarten classroom to 60-95 students crammed into one primary/elementary/high school classroom. School administrators are much less strict in public school positions, and being able to motivate your students will be tough. If you’re applying for a public school position, make sure you ask about class size and what kind of measures you can take with the kids to maintain classroom control.
Private kindergartens have been established as a place for kids to go when they aren’t old enough to attend public school classes. They’re generally very expensive. The more lavish the school, the more the tuition. Chinese parents are known for paying a lot of money for their kids to attend private kindergartens, and this is because they want to provide their child with the best possible advantage over future classmates.
Pros – The working schedule is normal. You typically teach Monday to Friday from 7am to 5pm, and there is usually a TA in the classroom to help keep the students in line. This age level is one of the most rewarding levels to teach in terms of personal satisfaction. I’ve watched stern teachers who are incredibly disciplined in their classroom and teachers who like to hang loose and have fun, and there’s no difference in how their students treat them. The best thing about teaching this age group is that they’ll love you, no matter what.
Cons – Teaching kindergarten isn’t for everyone. You’ve really got to love working with little kids, and you’ve got to be willing to deal with kids who are barely potty trained.
What Can I Earn in China?
Average salaries for first-year foreign English teachers in China range from 6,000RMB per month to 14,000RMB per month, and this depends largely on where you live. Teachers that have at least a year of teaching experience abroad or who have been in China for more than a year typically earn upwards of 12,000RMB a month.
When you stop to consider how quickly you can burn through 10,000RMB per month in Beijing or China, it’s easy to see how you might be able to save from a 6,000RMB salary in a third-tier city like Harbin in northeast China. You teaching experience and the guaranteed number of hours are also factors in your salary.
Where Will I Live in China?
Living arrangements vary from city to city and school to school. Public schools and universities tend to provide dorm style apartments, while private schools may take a more lavish approach. Some schools will require you to take shared housing, while others will offer you single, furnished accommodation all for yourself.
Be wary of schools that offer dorm rooms. Make sure you ask for photos of your dorm room and a list of provided furnishings, and don’t forget to ask if the dorm imposes a curfew.
I’m seeing more and more contracts being offered in China with the housing stipend worked into your monthly salary. Your school might provide you with average rent each month, but that leaves you free to choose how much you want to spend on your living space. I’ve seen some teachers living in some pretty posh apartments in China because they were willing to spend a little extra each month.
How Long Are Teaching Contracts in China?
More and more private schools are turning to 12-month contracts in lieu of six-month contracts, and this is because the Chinese government is making it so hard for schools to get teachers a proper visa.
Having teachers come and go every six months is also tough on everyone involved. Most teachers really start to settle into their schools at six months, while students are finally getting used to their strange, new teacher. Not to mention that it’s tough for your Chinese co-workers to really invest much in a relationship when they know you’re out of there in six months. Furthermore, parents are known to complain when teachers switch out to frequently, especially if they like a particular teacher’s style of teaching.
Public school and universities generally offer a 1.5 month contract with paid summer vacation. Public schools hire year-round for teachers, but the main contract date is generally from September to June.
Other articles of interest:
Check out Reach To Teach Recruiting’s Job Board for teaching positions in China