Teach Abroad

10 Insider Tips for Teaching English in China

If you're preparing to teach English in China, here are some must-know tips to set you up for success.

Neon signs reflect on puddle on street in China.

China is a great place to embark on your teaching journey abroad. It's a vibrant country full of bustling cities and serene river towns, plus an enthusiasm for the English language, making it both a rewarding and popular place to teach abroad.

With a high demand for English teachers, you should have no problem finding a job -- but there are some tips and tricks you simply won't learn from Google searches. Which is why after teaching English in China for several years now, I want to share with you nine insider tips to help you make the most of your time teaching abroad in China.

1. Get TEFL certified

To work as a legal full-time teacher in China and attain a work visa and residence permit, you must have a university diploma and either a TEFL certificate or two years of professional teaching experience. While many teachers circumvent this law by teaching as a side job, you’ll need to go the legal route if you want a work visa and residence permit.

Many companies will also pay for your TEFL, which can potentially help save you money. However, if you arrive in China with a TEFL certificate already in hand, you'll find a much higher paying job. In a way, the “free TEFL” isn't really free, because you’re "paying" for it by receiving a lower salary. You may make more money in the long run getting your TEFL on your own before you go.

Looking to get TEFL certified? Explore TEFL Courses in China.

2. For the best jobs, use a recruiter

The two main types of teaching jobs in China are through ESL academies and public schools. It's much easier to get a job at an ESL academy, mainly because you can find these jobs online before you arrive in China.

If you're looking at working for a large company like Disney English or English First, you can easily find reviews online (right here at Go Overseas, in fact!) and get a good impression of your salary, benefits, and working conditions before you go.

However, public schools can be more of a hit or miss, and the best way to find a job teaching at a public school in China is to use a recruiter.

While there are a few great schools that advertise online, you won’t know what kind of school you’re applying to until after you arrive -- which may be too late. You don’t want to arrive in China only to find your school is in the middle of nowhere, or doesn’t have the facilities it promised you.

Save yourself the hassle and gamble by using a recruiter, or finding a job independently once you're already in China. Besides, the salary will be higher if you work with a recruiter.

Explore some of these top-reviewed recruiters

3. Professional teachers: consider teaching at a private school

A river flows beside houses in a village in China.

Do you have a bit of experience or a teaching certification from home? You may be qualified to teach at a private or international school. Many of these schools have listings online, and you'll be able to apply for them from your home country.

Generally speaking, these schools also have higher salaries and good conditions for teachers, but they demand higher qualifications as a result.

4. Know the difference between ESL academy and public school jobs

At an ESL academy, you’ll be teaching many classes to small numbers of students. A typical schedule includes five classes a day, starting in the mid afternoon and ending well after dinnertime. ESL teachers also tend to work on the weekends, since this is when most students have time off.

At an ESL school, you may teach students anywhere from three years old to adults taking business English classes. You'll also be paid a bit more at these jobs than you would at a public school.

At a public school, a typical schedule is 7:30am-4:00pm. You’ll teach classes of 30 to 50 students, and each class should last around 40 minutes. You’ll typically be teaching an oral English class to a large portion of the school.

Many foreign public school English teachers teach upwards of 500 students. Some even teach as many as 1,000 students because they'll teach each class once every two weeks. You can expect to teach about 20 to 25 classes a week, while spending your spare time in the office lesson planning.

For the full low down on conditions and compensation, read our guide to salary expectations for teaching English in China.

5. You can still manage without speaking Chinese right away

Even though learning a new language will help you immensely with integrating and getting around while living anywhere abroad, it's easier said than done to completely learn a new language. In my experience, I've learned it is possible to survive in China your first few weeks without speaking Chinese.

Mandarin Chinese is a skill you’ll want to bring back home, and there are plenty of Chinese language schools in every major city in China. However, the Chinese language is very difficult to learn, and arriving in China without speaking any Chinese can be intimidating. Even if you choose to learn Chinese, you may still be intimidated about those first few weeks or months.

Tips to survive your first few weeks

  • Research all of your destinations and the history of them ahead of time.
  • Download an offline translator app like Pleco.
  • Carry a business card with your home address in Chinese characters.
  • Eat at restaurants that use picture menus.

Although it is possible to live and travel in China without speaking the language, it's still highly encouraged to try and learn the languages of the countries you visit and live in. Learning a few basic phrases will make your life easier, and it will bring a smile to the face of Chinese locals.

6. Smaller cities offer a more immersive experience

9 Insider Tips for Teaching English in China: Smaller Cities

There are so many cities in China to choose from, so it can be hard to decide which cities are the best for teaching English. Beijing and Shanghai are popular teaching destinations, but there's other lesser-known cities that are also worth exploring.

The cheapest way to get around China is by long-distance train. You can get just about anywhere in China with $70 USD and 24 hours.

Places like Hangzhou, Nanjing, Xi’an and Chengdu are great places to teach English abroad. Living in a second-tier city, you’ll be able to fully immerse yourself in Chinese culture, while also staying connected to a vibrant expatriate community. You'll also find less competition for jobs, which is a major plus!

7. Know how to travel around China on a budget

As a teacher you’ll want to travel around China during your breaks. You can hike the Great Wall, watch the sunset over the Bund, or hold a panda in Chengdu. But what is the best way to travel around China without spending all of your hard earned salary?

The cheapest way to get around China is by long-distance train. You can get just about anywhere in China with $70 USD and 24 hours. Chinese long-distance trains have sleeper berths, making the long journey comfortable. Be sure to book a “hard-sleeper”, which is a three-bunk bed.

Pressed for time? Check out Chinese budget flights. Carriers Elong and Ctrip routinely offer affordable flights around China, and you can check both these budget sites by using Skyscanner. You may even find a flight that’s the same price as the train! In addition, Chinese flights always let you check a bag for free, and usually provide a meal.

8. Pack the right personal items

A drone shot of boats sailing down a river beside tall buildings.

When moving to China for a year or more, it’s hard to know what to pack. Will you be able to find your favorite brand of moisturizer? Does it even matter if you have to go with another brand for awhile? While your packing list for teaching abroad will be unique to you, here are some broad do's and don'ts for packing for a year (or more!) in China.

Definitely DO Pack:

  • Enough casual clothing for a year
  • Anti-perspirant deodorant
  • Sunscreen
  • Hand-sanitizer
  • A warm coat (even the South gets chilly without heat in the winter!)
  • A laptop and flash drive (an essential for your lesson plans!)
  • A good camera
  • An unlocked smartphone
  • Items such as tampons and beauty products, since they're more expensive in China

Definitely DON'T Pack:

  • Basic toiletries, like shampoo and conditioner (It'll be easier to buy them in China!)
  • Formal clothing
  • Home goods (like pots, pans, etc.)
  • Stationary, books, and pens
  • Toilet paper (you can buy cheap tissues in China)
  • Expensive clothing or jewelry

9. Pack the right classroom items

When you've got all of the aforementioned personal items covered, don't forget to leave some room in your bag for some teaching supplies and little trinkets from home. Some ideas for things to take to use in your future classroom include:

  • Stickers and/or pencils with English words on them
  • Books in English
  • Pennies to give out as rewards
  • A map of the US and/or your home state
  • Letters to decorate a bulletin board
  • Items related to US holidays

While songs, pictures, and digital storybooks will be easier to come by, having some actual props will make a fun and interesting addition to your lessons.

Read more: 10 Fun ESL Games and Activities for Teaching Kids English Abroad

10. Prepare for a different work culture

China has a much different workplace culture than most Western countries.

While moving across the world can be a bit of an adjustment, a year teaching in China will be an experience you'll never forget!

You may have to be more flexible with your work schedule than you're used to. Your classes may experience frequent schedule changes with little warning, or you could be expected to participate in activities that are new and unfamiliar to you.

While this can be frustrating at times, it's important to remember that we're guests in their country and a major part of teaching overseas is learning to adapt quickly.

My biggest advice? Learn to relax, go with the flow, and never make plans too far in advance.


Teaching in China is an unforgettable experience!

A night market in China with neon signs.

Overall, China is a great place to live abroad and teach. Take this time to connect with excited and passionate students, explore a vastly different culture, and learn the world’s most in-demand language all while supporting yourself with a great job.

While moving across the world can be a bit of an adjustment, a year teaching in China will be an experience you'll never forget!

New teaching jobs in China