Here’s a guide for you all on my experience teaching English in Hong Kong. I spent a total of 3 years out in the Kong teaching English to all levels of students, some private, some public. This should give you a detailed overview of the process.
What is Hong Kong?
Hong Kong has its own currency, its own visa regulations, its own border points and its own flag. In essence this is a country in its own right, however it is also proudly Chinese, and both Cantonese and Mandarin are spoken here. The third language is English. Hong Kong’s official title is Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region of China).
Hong Kong consists of 4 main parts:
1. Hong Kong Island (the skyscraping commercial hub, very modern)
2. Kowloon (a mix of commercial and residential skyscraping buildings, where modern meets old)
3. New Territories (the area that borders China and contains a lot of remote villages)
4. Outlying Islands (small island parts of Hong Kong all connected by ferry). This mini-country houses a vast 7 million people. Hong Kong’s tourist board use the motto “Hong Kong – Asia’s World City”, and it certainly the Kong competes well with Seoul, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai for that label. Hong Kong’s residents come from all over the world, it is a global city.
Tell me about Hong Kong’s British history?
Indeed, another interesting phenomenon is that until 1997, Hong Kong was a British Overseas territory. The British came, used it for trade, invaded and owned the place for a while, in 1898 they signed a 99 year lease, with the agreement it would go back to China. OK so that means the standard of English in Hong Kong must be good, right?
Wrong – not so, Hong Kong is still lagging behind Singapore in terms of fluency of English speakers in Asia, and there is a constant need for English teachers all over Hong Kong, more so than China and you are paid a much better rate in Hong Kong, for the same job. The Don’t Stop Living travel blog has a few of the reasons why Hong Kong needs English teachers.
So is it easy to get a job as a Native English Teacher in Hong Kong?
Yes it is and in many different fields of teaching as well. One of the main reasons that there are always teaching jobs going is the turnover of staff here. Teachers come and go in Hong Kong – linger for a while and move on – some people come for a year or two to earn their money and then move on to another part of the world or another job. Teaching English in the Kong is perfect for pursuing a lifestyle of travel in fact, as through teaching in Hong Kong you can get really good wages and decent holidays so you can travel around the world. Also one of my favourite aspects to living in Hong Kong is that it sits on the China border. I love going backpacking to random remote parts of China to explore on my days and weekends off!
What about Visas?
To cut out any complications here or misconceptions, Hong Kong is totally separate from China for Visa applications and this makes your chances of moving here for work a lot easier and higher. Basically to visit China you need a separate Visa. BUT to visit Hong Kong, most countries don’t (I’m talking about countries such as Australia, Ireland, Germany, France, UK etc.). If you arrive in Hong Kong as a tourist from the UK for example you will get 180 days on your passport on arrival as a tourist visa! This gives you plenty of time to find a job and lengthen your visa! Please note that some countries can also get a Hong Kong Working Holiday Visa and a Hong Kong Working Visa is also easily attained once you have a job in Hong Kong. Once you settle here a valid Working Visa is easily negotiated (I got one after about a year – having spent time on a tourist visa and a working holiday visa).
Is it easy to find a teaching job in Hong Kong?
From my personal experience yes! But I have a highly motivated work ethic to the point where I haven’t been out of work except through my own choice for over 15 years, so I found it fairly easy to get a job as an English teacher in the Kong. Basically if you show enthusiasm for the job, hunt around and be flexible you’ll be fine. You might have to do a bit of travelling to work, but public transport here is fantastic so that’s not an issue. In short, if you get to Hong Kong and want a job as an English teacher, you will probably get one, assuming you are proactively looking for one, confident and a happy person!
What types of English Teaching Jobs are there in Hong Kong?
Again, the answer is lots. In 3 years living in Hong Kong I have worked as an English teacher in Primary Schools, Kindergartens, Private Tutoring and at Special Summer Schools and Special Events. There are also a lot of Learning Centres here in Hong Kong – these are up and coming in and are always looking for Native English Teachers. The normal Primary School, Kindergarten and Secondary School jobs usually require you to sign a one year contract and they will also normally help sort out your work visa (as they did with me). You will be surprised at the amount of children living in Hong Kong, it’s got a constantly growing population and believe me they all really want to learn English. Hong Kong aims to be a successful world city and to become that successful world business hub, English and Chinese are taught at almost every school from the age of 3, kindergartens want Native English teachers!
How much money can you earn?
Hong Kong pays well for English teachers, significantly more than mainland China! To give you a rough estimate (as of May 2014), Kindergartens start at around 18,000 HKD per month (That’s $2,300 US Dollars a month), Primary Schools start at around 21,000 HKD per month ($2,700 US Dollars a month) and Secondary Schools considerably higher, depending on work load and experience. You can also pick up a lot of extra work part-time and freelance if you’re up for it, as such I have worked in Summer Schools for 1000 HKD a day ($135 US Dollars). You will also probably receive offers to do Private Tutoring where you can relax and set your own rate, wear your own clothes, teach your own thing etc. All in all the rate of pay is good in Hong Kong and if you don’t live in an expensive pad (as I never do) and eat out all the time, you can save a lot of money in Hong Kong, as I have done over a 3 year period – you can eat out for about $3 US every night if you stay local!
Is there Any Job Stress?
I would have to say that the Job Stress level for Native English Teachers in Hong Kong is low. This is opposite to local teachers and workers however – for some bizarre reason they like to work long hours and often become slaves to their companies and wages. Please note – this is only for those who are easily led and fall into that trap. When the clock strikes 5pm, I leave work every night (as I believe everyone should) and go back to my own lifestyle of travelling and writing, which I love!
As a traveller what is Hong Kong like?
If you haven’t been to the Kong yet, get it on your list. Hong Kong in my opinion is the best example in the world of where old school China meets the new cool modern world. If I had to classify the place, I’d stick it somewhere in between communism, capitalism and commercialism. There are old quarters so traditionally Chinese such as Yuen Long, Tai O, Lam Tin and Sheung Shui and then the contrast with modern hubs of ever growing Mong Kok, bustling Tsim Sha Tsui, remote Ma Wan and manic Central. It’s a vibrant multi-cultured city and there is no end to activities you can do away from working as an English Teacher. Here are a few examples:
Beaches: Hong Kong has a load of immense beaches, the best of which is probably Shek O. There are quiet ones too like Ma Wan.
Hiking Try the Dragon’s Back or the Lion Rock hike. There are lots of mountains to hike up and down!
Views Head to the Peak for an amazing view over the city or try one of the bars in TST.
Other Countries Ferries across to Macao run every 20 minutes, buses and trains to China are constant 24 hour, and don’t forget that Hong Kong International Airport is ranked in the world’s top 5 airports regularly so escaping is EASY.
Relaxing Away from the skyscrapers you can chill out in the Kong! Get out to Sai Kung or Tai O and watch the world go by with a beer and a wee bit of seafood!
Eating One of the best in the world – where do I start, the entire food world is here in Hong Kong, and on every corner. Italian, Greek, Botswanese, Japanese, American, Uruguayan etc. – it’s all here.
Partying/Drinking Hong Kong is a top city to party in. Take your pick from Lan Kwai Fong, Soho, Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui. There are bars on every corner of these parts and a good mix of locals and foreigners make it a great place to party.
Having Second Thoughts?
Well don’t! Hong Kong is an easy place to settle into – you won’t take long to become part of the everyday life in this thriving hub. If you ask me if I’d recommend teaching here, then I’d have to say yes – go for it – you’ll love it! It could, and should change your life.
Jonny (Backpacking in China team)
Jonny Blair has been to 13 Chinese Provinces and every continent and loves keeping his travel website Don’t Stop Livingup to date. Jonny is also readily available on e-mail to answer any questions you may have on Hong Kong, China and its opportunities.