Teach Abroad

How to Become an Online ESL Teacher in China

Anna Pedersen

Anna is a freelance writer and editor, currently based in Portland, Oregon. She has traveled to 40+ countries, lived on four continents, and called the United Arab Emirates home for over two years.

If you’ve been thinking about starting a career teaching English online, you are certainly not alone. Online tutoring and teaching is one of the fastest growing education-related industries, as distance learning tools become more accessible and globally we are more interconnected than ever.

In fact, according to FlexJobs, a US based job search site that specializes in remote and freelance work, online tutoring is one of the most common professions for people to pursue remotely. In a three year period between 2015-2018, the number of remote job postings in education increased by an astounding 37%!

Read more: Tips for Becoming an Online English Teacher

This increase in job availability is due to a number of factors such as increased access to technology and growth in the gig economy. But one of the main factors in the soaring demand for online English teachers comes from the growing international interest in learning English.

Governments everywhere are placing an emphasis on English language education to give students a leg up in the global job market.

In particular, China has historically made an effort to hire English teachers from all over the globe to teach ESL classes, both in-person and online. VIPKid, a major online English teacher recruiter, employs at least 70,000 online ESL teachers from the US and Canada teaching over 600,000 Chinese students. And this is just one of many job placement providers!

So the stats are in and teaching English online in China is a growing industry for folks interested in gaining teaching experience while connecting with a global community from the comfort of their own home (or anywhere, really). Here’s what you need to know about how to become an online ESL teacher in China.

Why Teach ESL Online in China

As mentioned above, English teaching continues to be a growing industry in China, and online teaching is no exception. In fact, towards the end of 2018, China’s Ministry of Education announced an audit of online and in-person after-school programs for Chinese students which included a growing number of ESL programs.

The national campaign examined a whopping 401,050 after-school education programs! We’ll get more into the findings of this examination a bit later, but suffice it to say that China is home to hundreds of thousands of organizations that provide ESL support to students all over the country, so for new English teachers, it’s a great place to look for work.

In addition to the abundance of available jobs, China is an enticing online teaching destination for a number of reasons. Whether you’re intrigued by the culture and language, you’ve heard good things about the general student work ethic, or you’re drawn in by the salary and benefits, there are a plethora of reasons why teaching online in China could be right for you.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Teaching English in China

What Are the Qualifications

Remember that audit conducted in 2018 of after-school programs I mentioned? Well here’s where that comes into play. Since there is such an abundance of after-school educational programs that Chinese students and their parents take advantage of, the Chinese Ministry of Education decided to put some regulations in place to ensure that the programs offered are high quality and meet certain standards. There’s no doubt that this is a good thing, since it means that students are guaranteed to be taught by qualified teachers from reputable companies.

But the reality is that these new regulations could affect you, depending on what your background is. While prior to this policy there was quite a bit of grey area around who could legally teach in China, there now are guidelines that have been set in stone that all online recruiting companies must follow. Here are the minimum requirements that you must meet to be hired as an online English teacher by a company based in China:

  • 120-hour TEFL certificate
  • Clean criminal background check
  • Bachelor’s degree

Now, it’s important to note that these requirements were put in place to hold Chinese organizations accountable, but they don’t necessarily apply to companies based elsewhere. While most organizations will have similar requirements, it still is important to carefully read the qualifications listed on each job posting to ensure you are an eligible candidate.

The latter two requirements listed here--a clean criminal background check and a bachelor’s degree--are rather self explanatory since the government wants to make sure you are both qualified and responsible. But let’s take a moment to look at the first requirement: a 120-hour TEFL certificate.

What is a TEFL certificate and how do you get one

If you’re new to the ESL space, TEFL may be a new acronym for you; it stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and often is used interchangeably with other certification acronyms such as TESOL and CELTA (though there are differences you can read about here and here).

Most TEFL programs are based around a 120-hour curriculum that is designed to give you a foundation in teaching English to non-native English speakers. You’ll learn tools and tips for crafting lesson plans, hear from experienced teachers, and often even get some experience teaching hands-on in a practicum. While these courses are a bit of a financial investment, they often pay off in dividends if you plan on teaching English online or overseas professionally.

There are TEFL certification courses both online and in-person and Go Overseas has curated lists of some of our favorite programs. Here are a few that we think are a good starting point if you’re thinking about becoming TEFL certified:

What is a Typical Salary

Ok, but now you’re thinking: what’s in it for me? There are a lot of non-quantifiable perks that come with teaching online, such as flexible hours, zero transportation costs, and schedules that let you work other jobs simultaneously. But let’s talk about money.

As an online English teacher in China you’ll most likely be paid hourly. There are pros and cons to working hourly, but one of the major advantages is that you can take on as many or as few students as you’d like. If you’re looking for online teaching to be a side hustle, then maybe you pick up about 10 hours a week to add a nice, supplemental income. Or maybe you want this to be full time work, in which case you pack in 30-40 hours a week of online tutorials. As an hourly employee you won’t get paid overtime, but you will have a lot of say in exactly how much you work.

These hourly pay rates will vary depending on a number of factors, including: your experience (how many years have you taught? Have you taught ESL before? Have you taught in China before?), your qualifications (what is your degree in? Do you have a master’s in education? What TEFL certificate do you hold?), and the school or organization (are you being hired directly by a school or language institute? Are you applying through a recruiter?).

If you plan on applying through a recruiter (a very common route) you can plan on your base pay being anywhere from $14-$22 an hour, depending on those factors listed above. But your base pay is just the first element in a pay package. You may also be eligible for certain incentives or bonuses.

For instance, an organization might offer an attendance incentive of $2/hour, meaning if you don’t miss any of your weekly sessions, your base pay gets bumped up. You may also be eligible for bonuses if you get consistent positive feedback from parents and students. If these types of financial incentives are included in the pay structure, make sure you read reviews of the organization to see what people are saying. Sometimes companies may list incentives that are actually very hard to achieve, so it’s important to get the perspective of folks who have experience.

If you’re applying directly for a job through a school or language institute, it’s also important to read reviews and ask questions about the benefit package, as these will vary greatly from institution to institution.

How to Find an Online ESL Job in China

When it comes to English teaching jobs online, there is no dearth of options. It’s important to research programs and recruiters with a critical eye so that you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Think about asking:

  • How many students will I be expected to work with in each session (will it be one-on-one, small groups, or large classes)?
  • Will I set my own schedule?
  • What does the pay structure look like for raises and bonuses?
  • Will there be any opportunities to shadow more experienced teachers?
  • Will I receive feedback on my teaching, and if so, how will I be evaluated?

When you start your search, reviews will be your best friend as they’ll give you insight into the workload, what support from the organization looks like, and whether or not expectations were met. Here are a couple of programs we’d recommend starting your search with:

And don't forget to check out Go Overseas' online job board, where you'll find an up-to-date list of current remote job postings!

Final Thoughts

There are a number of reasons to teach English online in China, but for me, the one that stands out as a great selling point is the accessibility. Online teaching has opened a whole new world of possibilities for cultural exchange and immersion, as borders no longer have to be a determining factor of who you interact with and the community you are involved with. Visa restrictions affect the lives of so many travelers, and while teaching ESL online in China is not the same as physically being in China, it’s a very good alternative that sets the stage for future travel.