Hong Kong may be a Special Administrative Region of China, but it has a totally separate legal system and a distinct culture, as it was a British colony until 1997. While English and Cantonese are the two official languages of Hong Kong, around 98% of the population is Chinese, so there is a steady need for English teachers in Hong Kong, as well as an occasional need for teachers of other languages and subjects. The land area is small, but with a population of around 7.5 million, there are plenty of work (and play) opportunities in this vibrant global city.
In order to teach English in Hong Kong, most teachers will require a bachelor’s degree and either TEFL certification or at least two years prior teaching experience. The average salary for teaching in Hong Kong is $3,000 to $7,400 per month.
Private Language Schools
Most ESL jobs available in Hong Kong are at private language schools. These schools cater to students of all ages, from young kids to seniors, but most students tend to be school students preparing for exams. International chains (such as Berlitz) and local ones are prominent throughout the city.
While the majority of foreign teachers in Hong Kong are English teachers, some private language schools also seek teachers of other languages, such as Spanish and French. As an international city with a strong global business, a range of languages are sought by learners.
Public Schools (Elementary & Secondary)
In Hong Kong public schools, foreign teachers usually work alongside a local teacher in the classroom. The government runs a program for foreign teachers, called the NET (Native English Speakers) Scheme, that employs qualified and experienced foreign teachers for two years. The aim is to assist local teachers and foster a love of English learning in students.
Teaching jobs working with young children are often given to female teachers -- a practice that is not illegal or considered discriminatory in Hong Kong.
As a global financial hub, Hong Kong is full of expatriates, many of whom send their kids to international schools. Teaching jobs in international schools are not just restricted to English as a second language, so if you are a trained math, science, or other subjects, there may be opportunities for teaching these in international schools.
Schools follow different international systems, such as U.S., British, or Australian. Most, but not all, students will be non-Hong Kong citizens. The diversity of teaching in international schools can be one of its biggest advantages..
Universities & Colleges
It may be possible to get a job in a university or college for teachers with extensive experience and qualifications. However, these are quite hard to secure unless you have prepared for an academic career.
Minimum requirements are a master's degree and experience, but more commonly a Ph.D. is needed. It's advisable that only teachers focused on having an academic career seek teaching jobs in Hong Kong universities or colleges.
When to Apply for Jobs in Hong Kong
Due to Hong Kong's popularity as a destination for foreign teachers, you'll have more chance of landing a job there once you have some real-world teaching experience under your belt.
The school year in Hong Kong begins in August. Recruitment occurs in the months leading up to this, particularly in the spring. Contracts are usually for one or two years, with completion bonuses built in to encourage you to stay.
How to Apply for Jobs in Hong Kong
Third-party organizations can help teachers find teaching jobs in Hong Kong, and are a necessary intermediary if you are wanting to join the NET Scheme.
For some jobs, such as with international schools, you can apply for jobs directly with the school, which you will find advertised on various international teaching job websites and newspapers.
Average Salary of Teaching Jobs in Hong Kong
Teaching jobs in Hong Kong are quite well paid, with average monthly salaries being anywhere between $3,000 and $7,400. However, the cost of living is high, so a significant chunk of your salary will simply go towards paying rent.
In addition to the salary, round-trip airfares (including for family members), medical cover, and a housing allowance or even housing itself are provided by many jobs, as well as bonuses for the completion of a contract. Check that the job you're interested in does include some (or all) of these benefits, as a salary that sounds high may not be if you have to pay all of your own living costs from it.
There is strong competition for teaching jobs in Hong Kong. Teachers are usually required to have a degree, a minimum of two years' experience, plus teaching qualifications or TESOL qualifications of some sort. As mentioned above, teaching jobs for younger children are often given to female teachers.
Due to the high level of experience expected, Hong Kong is a destination better suited to career teachers, rather than fresh graduates who want to do a bit of teaching to help them travel the world.
How Does Hong Kong Fit into China?
If you want to teach in Hong Kong, it's important to understand the history and political context. Hong Kong differs from mainland China in a few ways. As mentioned, it's a Special Administration Region and is ruled by The Basic Law as of July 1, 1997, that follows the "one country, two systems" concept. Being ruled by the British for over 150 years has influenced its culture, politics, and government systems. Hong Kong leans pro-democratic and has its own currency, passports, economy, and limited self-government. Border crossings are treated like any independent country, as are legal matters like arrests. However, Hong Kong does not have its own military and is represented by China in most embassies around the world. During recent months (2020), China is redrawing these relationships which are causing pro-democratic protests. As this situation is on-going, it's important to stay informed with news sources, your local embassy, and/or your teaching program.
Popular Destinations to Teach in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a small territory, but there is still some diversity within it, as it is made up of 18 administrative regions. Teachers with the NET Scheme may not have a choice where to go, as the needs of the public school system in different areas will be assessed and teachers assigned accordingly. When deciding to teach in Hong Kong, a sense of adventure and flexibility is required!
Visas & Sponsorship
A work visa is required to work in Hong Kong. When you're offered a job, the school or company will take care of the necessary paperwork -- you will just need to provide them with originals or copies of key documents, like your qualifications certificates.
Teacher Work Culture in Hong Kong
The teaching day in Hong Kong usually begins at 8:00 am and ends at 5:00 pm. Elementary schools are often broken into two sessions, with the morning session running from 7:30 am until 1:00 pm, and the afternoon session from 1:30 pm until 6:30 pm.
Homes (apartments) in Hong Kong tend to be very small. Teachers will usually be assisted in finding suitable accommodation. Single teachers may need to live with roommates.
Hong Kong is a massive city, with lots to see and do so there will be no problem finding ways to spend your time off -- or your salary! Eating and drinking out is a favorite pastime in Hong Kong.
Classroom Etiquette in Hong Kong
Hong Kong children are generally well-behaved and keen to learn English. Teachers will often be expected to help with after-school activities and clubs. Dress codes for teachers are usually quite formal, akin to business dress codes.
Health & Safety
Hong Kong is generally a very safe place, much more so than cities of its size in North America. Petty crime like pick-pocketing on crowded transport is one of the biggest risks. Stick to well-lit areas with lots of people when out at night. Apply usual big-city precautions and you are likely to have a good and safe stay in Hong Kong.
Although Hong Kong's tap water is relatively clean, it's still best to avoid drinking it if you have a sensitive stomach, especially when you first arrive in the country. Make sure that you have all other routine travel vaccinations before traveling to Hong Kong, such as those against hepatitis and typhoid.
How much do English teachers make in Hong Kong?
The average salary for teachers in Hong Kong is $2,300-$3,500 per month.
What qualifications do you need to teach English in Hong Kong?
In general, you will need a bachelor's degree to teach in Hong Kong. You may also need a TEFL certification or at least 2 years prior teaching experience.
Can I teach English in Hong Kong without a degree?
Most schools will require you to have a bachelor's degree and either TEFL certification or prior teaching experience in order to teach in Hong Kong. However, it's possible to gain classroom experience without a degree by working with a volunteer organization.