Hong Kong is the perfect combination of East and West. Within one block you can find the most modern dance clubs, as well as a temple filled with the aroma of incense.
As a city obsessed with food, you will always find a delicious bite to eat. Explore local meals like dim sum and attempt the dreaded stinky tofu. Thus, one of the best ways to survive in this extremely expensive and competitive city is to teach English.
Since Hong Kong is such an international hub, a former British territory, there is always a need for English teachers. Keep in mind that since this was a British territory, you will be expected to know how to modify your American spelling and grammar to British standards.
Government-sponsored Program and Public Schools:
If you have an English degree, teaching experience, or a TEFL/TESOL Certificate, then you are eligible to apply through the Native English Teacher Scheme (NET). This program is affiliated with a variety of public schools and you can apply to teach either elementary and middle school or high school. These typically ask for a two-year contract, which begin and end in August. In order to apply for these positions, make sure to send in your application during the winter or early spring before the year you want to teach. There are many outside programs, accredited by the government, which allow you teach as a NET teacher. Please look at the Hong Kong Education Bureau for more information.
Private Education Centers:
Hong Kong is riddled with private English education centers. These are primarily after-school programs; your role will be part English tutor and part actual teacher. There are some centers willing to hire you even without a TEFL/TESOL certificate, let alone an education degree. Note: you need to make sure that the centers that you apply to will offer sponsorship for a work visa. There are some smaller centers that do not have the capacity to fill out the necessary paperwork.
There are a ton of international schools all over Hong Kong. The most famous is the Hong Kong International School, which follows an American curriculum. However, you can also find Australian, Canadian, and British schools. International schools will require a degree in the area or subject you will teach. If you have extensive teaching experience, then they may make an exception. Another option is to apply for tutoring positions offered through the schools, as well as positions as teaching assistants.
The unofficial channel in which to make money as a teacher is to hold private lessons. Some teachers have found success by posting ads in newspapers or flyers in popular neighborhoods. Be wary of this option since it does not come with a work visa and you would only be able to do this if you already have a Hong Kong Residency Permit.
When and Where to Look for Jobs:
Depending on the type of position, you can find a job all year-round. There are always openings at private education centers and this is the same for private lessons. For international schools and the NET Scheme (and public schools), you would apply in the winter and spring before the fall that you would begin teaching.
If you apply for the NET Scheme, go to the official HK government education website. You can also find a few government-approved programs, which will place you in a school. If you want to apply for international schools, then go to the schools’ websites and search the openings listed. You can also go to recruitment fairs that are hosted around the world, though there is no guarantee that you will find a job in Hong Kong. For private education centers, look in newspapers, like the South China Morning Post, for the jobs section.
For the NET Scheme (and public schools) as well as international schools, you need to have a degree in English or the subject that you will teach. The NET Scheme requires TEFL and TESOL certificates from an accredited program. Private education centers sometimes don’t require any certification, although there are others that will accept an online TEFL/TESOL certificate. At the minimum, you should hold a bachelor’s degree in any subject.
There is a wide range for what you can expect as a teacher in Hong Kong. The salary ranges from $1,900 to $6000 per month depending on your level of experience and your place of employment. Contrary to the standard in many other countries, public school teachers are paid fairly well in Hong Kong and can expect a high range of $2,300-$6000 per month through the NET Scheme. Expect a starting salary of $1,800/month during a probationary period in private education centers. If you have a higher level of experience your salary will typically be around $2,300 and up.
As a teacher in an international school you will make a higher salary than in education centers. The Hong Kong International School starts their teachers around $3,000-$3,700/month. You can expect raises the longer you remain at the school or if you take on administrative tasks. As a private tutor you can charge anywhere from $20 to $100 per hour depending on your skill level and abilities.
Hong Kong has one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world. Rent prices on Hong Kong Island range from $1,300 to hundreds of thousands of dollars a month. If you want to live on Hong Kong Island, search for areas on the far ends of the island. Sheung Wan, Tin Hau, Fortress Hill, and North Point are relatively centered and are more reasonably priced than Admiralty, Central, and Causeway Bay.
If you really want to save money on housing, then head over to Kowloon side or the New Territories, or even Lantau Island (although this location is contingent on ferries and is comparatively inconveniently-located due to the commute).
Expect to find single-bedroom or studio apartments for the lowest prices. There are also serviced apartments, although these are usually for short-term stays. It is rare to get a decently priced two bedroom apartment. Try to find an English-speaking real estate agent to help you sort through this confusion.
Rent takes the largest chunk out of your salary every month. Water and electricity will be around $80-$100 per month. If you choose to cook, make sure to get local produce. There are wet markets with fish, poultry, and vegetables and these will cost less than the big grocery stores. You will be able to find plenty of high-end supermarkets that have imported goods but they are more expensive.
Eating out ranges from cheap (but unhealthy) at $3 to very expensive. For a few dollars you can get a bowl of noodle soup with some wontons or a bowl of congee (rice porridge), or even roast duck with rice. Mid-range food tends to be good dim sum and burgers and other western fare. These will run you around $8 and up. While Hong Kong can seem frighteningly expensive, there are plenty of shortcuts to help you save a few dollars. It is advisable is to live with a roommate to help split living costs.
Classroom & Work Culture:
Hong Kong has a very intense work culture. Employees are expected to work twelve-hour days at times. Teachers are no exception, since some teachers will need to oversee after-school activities and even put time in on the weekends. This is especially the case for private education centers, as the busiest workday is Saturday.
Students are very respectful of teachers, especially foreigners. Most students will likely be shy at first and very silent. Local students sometimes have trouble speaking up and it will require a bit of gentle cajoling reach a level of comfort. However, once they become comfortable, they will laugh and joke. When you enter the classroom, the whole class will say, “Good morning/afternoon Miss/Mister,” and it is expected that you greet them in return.
Dress is typical work wear. Don’t wear anything revealing and dress professionally. Some of the older students may respect you if you dress more stylishly. If you are unsure about your clothing, ask your school or center about their dress code policy.
When greeting a new coworker or boss, shake hands. Hong Kong-ers will expect teacher to show up prompt and prepared. The administrators of your school will be very respectful towards you and will likely lead you on a couple of tours when you start teaching.