Teach Abroad

10 Things to Do Before You Teach English in China

Are you preparing to teach English in China? Read these 10 insider tips to make sure you're ready to go, and the entire process will be smooth sailing and stress-free.

A man sits on a cliff overlooking jagged mountains in China.

You've decided you want to embark on the adventure of a lifetime: teaching English in China!

...Now what?

Making the decision to teach abroad is just the first step, and there are many things you need to do to make sure you can turn your dream into a reality. While it can seem a bit overwhelming at first, this simple checklist guide will give you everything you the 10 steps you need to take before leaving for China!

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Teaching English in China

1. Get a TEFL certificate

In order to legally work as an English teacher in China, you'll need a 4-year college degree and a 120-hour TEFL certificate. As of the rules now, these TEFL courses can be completed in-person or online. There are pros and cons to both so do your research to find what fits your schedule and budget best.

Even if you are a native speaker, TEFL certificates will teach you how to teach grammar and best practices for introducing reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. Outside of the material itself, you'll learn invaluable things such as classroom management and lesson planning.

The world of TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certificates can be confusing so here are some great resources to help guide you:

2. Find a job

An empty Chinese classroom shows desks stacked with books and bags.

Once you have your TEFL certificate, you'll be free to start looking for jobs online. Go Overseas has a great list of job postings for you to choose from, or you may want to look at working with a recruiter.

Many teaching jobs in China will include great benefits in addition to a good salary. Be sure to check into things like free accommodation, flight reimbursement, and completion bonuses.

Read more: How to Completely Understand Your Teaching Abroad Contract

3. Start saving

In the months before you leave, you'll want to start saving money. Even though your plane ticket and housing will likely be paid for by your employer, you might not be paid for these things upfront. Many companies want you to purchase your own plane ticket, which they will eventually reimburse.

If you're living in an apartment provided by the school, you won't have many costs upfront, but if you have a housing stipend you will still most likely need to pay for the deposit, which is usually 1-month's rent, along with an agency fee, which is typically half a month's rent. This can be a HUGE shock, especially if you have a high housing stipend. I had to pay over $1,000 for all of those things!

Most Chinese apartments come furnished, but not every apartment has all of the supplies you need; bedding, kitchenware, and other homey items for your apartment can add up. Don't forget about feeding yourself and surviving for the first month or two depending on when your first paycheck goes through!

The best way to combat any money surprises is to ask your school upfront what will be paid for or included. Will you be paying the deposit? What kind of items are included in your apartment? How long will it take to be reimbursed for your flight? While it might seem awkward, you don't want to be blindsided like I was.

Read more: What Salary Will You Earn Teaching English Abroad in China?

4. Get your visa

An empty street with buildings with red lanterns.

When seeking to teach legally in China, the first step is to get a Z Work Visa (NOT a Business Visa), in your home country or Hong Kong. Your company should provide an invitation letter and other relevant documents like a foreign expert permit. Then you'll need to go online and fill out all of the appropriate visa forms.

Once you have all of your paperwork, grab some passport photos and head to your local consulate to get your visa, which should only take a few days. Some consulates will let you expedite your visa for an extra fee, which can be economical if you're staying in a hotel. However, do your research first, because some consulates don't allow this.

If you don't have a consulate in your city, you can always use a visa service company. They will double-check that all of your paperwork is in order, and you can mail them your passport and paperwork so that they can go stand in line for you. This is a lot cheaper than a plane ticket!

5. Sign up for a VPN

Many popular sites in China are not accessible over the standard internet service provided in places like your apartment, cafes, or at school. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, Gmail, Google, Google Docs, Google Maps, basically anything with the word Google...

Can you survive without all of those sites for a week or two? Maybe. Can you survive without all of them for a year? Probably not.

It is possible to access these sites with a virtual private network (VPN), though, which is a service that hides your IP address and keeps your internet browsing encrypted. There are several VPN providers out there so you can shop around. Be sure to sign up for a VPN before you get to China as most provider sites are also blocked.

6. Do some shopping

Things to do Before Teaching in China: Go Shopping

Rather than waiting to buy new work clothes in China, you should get most of what you need before you leave. Unfortunately, clothes and shoes are actually more expensive in China than they are in the US. While some items may be more affordable in China, you'll find a wider selection of sizes and prices Stateside. If you really need to buy something though you can find it at H&M or Taobao.

Certain toiletries and personal items are also pricier in China. Deodorant, sunscreen, moisturizer, makeup, and feminine hygiene products tend to be more expensive than what you can buy at the local Walmart or Target. If you have favorite products, it would be worth it to stock up before you go.

7. Visit your doctor

You'll need two medical checks before getting to China, one of which is required for your visa. While you're there, you can make sure your other bases are covered.

Check with your doctor before you leave and see if you can get a year's worth of any prescriptions you may need. While you can get medicine in China, it's probably best to stock up on anything you need before you go so you're never without necessary medication. If for some reason you can't get what you need, China does have very good hospitals that will be able to help you once you're there.

You'll also want to check and see if you need any vaccines. Your doctor or local traveler's health clinic are good resources to find out what's recommended.

8. Start a blog

Two cups of coffee and two laptops sit on a wooden table.

You're going to be having the adventure of your life for the next year. Why not share your stories with all of your friends and family back home? Who knows, you could be writing for travel sites like Go Overseas a few years from now! You can always start a free blog online on Wordpress.

Don't want to write? Social media apps like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram are also great platforms to share your journey with everyone back home. Just be sure to get a VPN since these sites are blocked in China.

9. Download helpful Chinese apps

Before you head to China there are a few apps you'll want to download. Firstly, WeChat will become your life in China. Not only does everyone use WeChat to text, but it's also the most prominent social media platform. You can join expat groups, and group chats with your coworkers, share documents, transfer money, find a taxi, read blog posts, book plane and train tickets, and much more!

Next you'll want to download Pleco, a Chinese dictionary app, as well as Baidu Translate (iPhone). While you can manage to get around China without speaking Chinese, it will be much easier if you can learn a few survival phrases and translate things on the go.

Tip: Be sure you unlock your phone before you leave for China. Everyone in China uses WeChat to communicate, so you'll need to pick up a SIM card to be able to access local cell service. If for some reason you can't unlock your phone, pick up a cheap basic smartphone for about $100 once you get to China.

10. Pack your bags

When you've got all of the aforementioned 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

Get ready for adventure!

A sign with Chinese characters sits in the foreground with mountains and clouds in the background.

Once you've done all of the above, you're ready for your adventure in China! While it might seem like a lot of steps, you'll be fully prepared to step off that plane and enjoy an incredible year.

More helpful resources for your teach abroad journey in China:

New Jobs in China