A Guide to Teaching English in China

Undoubtedly one of the best ways to see China properly is to live there – work wise, teaching English is a great opportunity for any traveller to China. Check out our expert guide to teaching English in China, from Agness and Cez.

Why China?
If you are an adventurous traveller who has ever thought about working in a foreign country as an English teacher, you should definitely visit China. The Land of Dragons is a great place to start off your first teaching adventure. Firstly, it’s easy to find a well-paid job without having a previous experience which will allow you to save up to $18,000 a year, while still travelling inside and outside the country. Secondly, you will be provided great with a free apartment and meals, working Z-visa and free ticket back home. Finally, your job will be absolutely stress –free, you will be surrounded by friendly co-workers who you can always rely on, you will be able to learn some Chinese, experience different food and see places you have never seen in your life.

SONY DSCHonestly, there is nothing better and more exciting than breaking out of your comfort zone and starting to explore the world out there while earning some money in the meantime.

Who is China for?
China can be a home to anyone who is not afraid of a cultural shock and wants to discover Chinese culture, cuisine and traditions in a different way – not as a regular tourist, but as an expat. It does not matter whether you are a native speaker or a near-native speaker as anyone with a good grasp of English can find a job without any problems.
Nowadays, foreign teachers are in high demand in China so it doesn’t really matter if you are a long-term or gap-year traveller looking to refill your wallets for further adventures or recent graduates of any discipline who is looking to broaden your horizons, get teaching experience or escape the depressing news of graduate unemployment at home, as long as you are Caucasian.

Schools would not get many foreign teachers to come and work for them with a low salary and therefore they have to offer a higher one, much higher than the salary of Chinese teachers. Salaries for foreign teachers in China can range from RMB6000- RMB14000 a month depending on location, experience, type of school and hours worked. End of contract bonuses may also be available, as well as packages to pay for return flights and even your entire visa in some cases. Inexperienced teachers working 5 days a week (16 teaching hours + 14 office hours) are usually paid RMB7000- RMB9000 a month whereas experienced ones can get between RMB9500 – RMB14000.

Living Conditions
As you can probably guess, living conditions vary from school to school and city to city. Most of them will provide you with a free furnished apartment whereas others may help you find an apartment and may even give you an apartment allowance on top of your salary if they don’t offer accommodation. There are also schools that offer free accommodation where you only pay the bills, which is a great help when you don’t have to think about rent coming out of your salary every month.

My students (11)Contract
A standard contract in China is usually a year in length for private English training schools, although shorter 6 month contracts are also available. For public schools, contracts are from September to June. Schools may also offer bonuses to teachers who sign on again for a new contract, as well as offering bonuses for finishing contracts. The reason for the year-long contracts is that schools like to be guaranteed a foreign teacher for an extended period of time. In private English training schools, a year contract will cover 2 semesters of teaching. It’s often the case in China that parents complain when teachers are changed too frequently, but with a year contract the school can be upfront with the parents and promise them one teacher for a certain period of time.

My studentsYour working hours will be written down in your contract. Most foreign teachers work between 16-40 hours a week although most will often have “office hours” written into their contracts too. You should always read your contract carefully as you may be asked to work overtimes or do weekends as well. It all depends on the school you are going to work for.

Job requirements
Every job position in the world has its requirements. When applying for a teaching job in China these rules still apply. The more teaching experience you have, the better job you can apply for with much better living and working conditions and it will be quicker and more trouble-free to get your working visa.

SONY DSCHere are some of the requirements you may come across when applying for a teaching position in China:

  • Being a native speaker of English (most preferably from England, USA, Canada and Australia).
  • Having at least 2 year experience in teaching (though admittedly this is not always required).
  • Being a TESOL or TEFL certified teacher.
  • Having a minimum of a bachelor degree in any subject, but a degree in education is preferred.
  • Age 24-60.

Can you still get employed without fulfilling all of these requirements? Of course you can! As I mentioned before, due to the high demand of foreign teachers in China, some or all of these requirements are often omitted and the only thing which is compulsory is that you need to be a foreigner.

Me with my kindergarten students in Dongguan, China
Some schools advertise jobs requiring a minimum of two years of teaching experience, however as long as you are foreign and you have either a TEFL qualification or university degree, you should not worry about it. Why is it usually 2 years? Because one of the requirements for the work visa is 2 years experience after graduating. If you have such experience in government-run school, then you do not need a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certificate to apply for the work visa. If you don’t have such experience, you simply need to pass the course. So long as you can bring about your enthusiasm and passion for this opportunity in your application and any subsequent interview, this is all that is important for some schools. Some schools can even turn a blind eye to a lack of degree, your age or gender. The first and the most important requirement is to be a foreigner, preferably with a light complexion aged 24-60. Once you get to China, you will notice that it is much harder for dark-skinned Asians to find a job.

Most Chinese schools prefer female teachers because they are believed to be more patient, better organised and more flexible. Nevertheless, in China there are more male foreign teachers than female ones. Male teachers are of course also desired, but according to Chinese they can be more troublesome, drink more and smoke. All teachers should be in good health as a medical check is needed in order to get a Z-visa.
Overall, there is nothing really stopping you from working in China, as long as you are fit and healthy, have an appetite for a challenge and are foreign.

Useful teaching certificates
Applicants applying for a teaching job in China who have a TESOL, CELTA or TEFL certificate are the preferred choice. Whilst it is not compulsory, you will definitely have more job opportunities than someone who does not have it at all. You can also get paid more and get your Z-visa without any problems. Most schools can employ you without a TEFL certificate, but once you get accepted they will likely put pressure on you to study it online whilst being in China. TESOL, CELTA and TEFL certifications will enable you travel overseas and take up paid teaching jobs. Nowadays, they are really passports to the world and you can easily do them online within one, two or three months.
TESOL stands for Teaching English to/for Speakers of Other Languages which means you can teach English to students who are not native speakers, but they currently live in an English speaking country. CELTA stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults and this is an actual qualification (not a general industry acronym) that belongs to the University of Cambridge.

TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. This means your students do not plan to live in an English speaking country and they will use English in their home country (non English speaking country), for example Chinese people in China. For China and Asia in general, we think this is the most practical solution. There are many different TEFL courses offered online, as well as actual classes too. Some English school companies may even offer their own TEFL certificate version, which will even give you a discount on completion if you end up in one of their schools[2].

Job hunting
There are many different ways of China job hunt. You can apply online before your arrival or leave your CV with cover letter attached in some schools in China when you are already here. With the availability of various search engines nowadays, finding a job in China isn’t too difficult.


When should you apply?
Before you start your job hunt though, you need to decide whether to do so before coming to China or right after your arrival.
Applying before arrival will definitely make you feel more comfortable and less stressed out. You will not have to spend money on accommodation while looking for a job in China and your employer may purchase your inbound flight ticket in advance if that’s one of your contract benefits. Moreover, you can plan your budget in advance knowing how much you will be earning and what is included free in your contract.
If you decide to apply after arrival, you can visit the place you intend to stay in and see if that’s really where you want to live, you may get a job through referral or go to interviews in person, meet the staff, see the working conditions and because of this stand a much better chance of securing the job than people who merely applied online.

Where to work: private schools vs. public schools
When you want to work in China, there are a few different school options out there for you, all of which offer different challenges.

#1 Private training centres.
These are schools that teach only English, usually over the weekend and you may also have classes during the week in the evenings. Different schools will have different schedules and time requirements. Parents pay extra for their children to be schooled there, so the pressure to perform and teach the students to a standard the parents are happy with can sometimes be a little greater. Nevertheless, you generally get paid a little more than teachers in public schools and you will probably have a Chinese teaching assistant by your side during each class.

#2 Public schools.
These require you to teach during the week, but most of the time you are teaching well under 20 hours a week. Apart from the teaching days, the major difference between public schools and private language schools are the class sizes. In public schools these can be from 30 in kindergarten, up to 95 students in primary/middle/high school, depending on how good the school is. When discussing a job with a potential employer, class size may be one question you want to ask. The public schools are definitely less strict with the teaching plan than private schools as they know how hard it is to teach so many students at once. The staff are very understanding and caring so most of the time you can get some help from the Chinese English teacher.

#3 Kindergartens.
Kindergartens differ from other public schools in regards to the working schedules. The hours are predominantly 7am to 5pm, with many breaks in between (a minimum of 2 hours over lunchtime, while the students nap). It’s a challenging, but rewarding job – after all, the students will love you for playing with them. Most kindergartens are very well equipped and colourful, as parents want the best for their children while they are at work. Also, most of the time you will have more than one assistant with you in the classroom, who will ensure discipline while you teach and play with them.

Working (Z) Visa
All info on how to apply for working (Z) visa when teaching in China you will find in our China Visa Requirements post.

Check out Agness’s “Add Your Brick to the Great Wall: Experience-based Advice for China from Expats” e-book if you want to read more about teaching English in China. It contains valuable tips and in-depth information on how to apply for a job and your working visa, how to adapt to a new environment after your arrival and where to travel.

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