China has long been one of the most popular destinations for teaching English abroad. With a huge population, growing demand for English, and a distinct and exciting culture, China offers both the opportunities and the excitement that English teachers seek.
In most of China, especially in the larger cities, English is the primary second language of most Chinese Nationals. Public schools begin teaching English in the 3rd grade (sometimes as early as 1st), and Chinese students will endure countless exams testing English grammar throughout their middle and high school careers.
Private companies have also opened English Language Learner (ELL) centers and schools in busy areas where young learners are encouraged toward anything educational. In addition to private ELL schools, China features competitive teaching positions at international schools, as well as openings in their public schools around the country.
In order to teach English in China, most teachers will require a bachelor’s degree and TEFL certification, or at least two years of professional teaching experience. (No experience? Try teaching English online) The average salary for teaching in China is $1,400 -$2,200 per month. Some private institutions and international schools offer salaries ranging from $2,800 - $4,300 per month.
Note: Many jobs offer free perks like flight reimbursement, housing, TEFL certification, visa fees and Chinese lessons. If you are getting paid on the lower end of the spectrum, be sure you have at least some of these benefits.
Private Language Academies/Schools
Different from both international schools and public schools are the ever-growing private ELL companies. They compete with each other for profits and are always hiring new English teachers. Among these companies are Wall Street English, EF (Education First), Longman Schools, and many more. Note that the age of your students will vary depending on where you choose to work – some organizations teach only adults, while others teach only young children.
The upside to taking a teaching job with a private company in China is that you’ll be provided with a network of support, a set curriculum, and guidelines for how to manage your classroom. If you have little or no experience teaching English abroad, working for a private company may ease your stress a bit because you’ll have help along the way. On the other hand, private schools are interested in expanding and earning money, so you will be considered not only a teacher but a part of a business. If you don’t mind adhering to corporate guidelines, working at a private ELL school can be beneficial, as there is usually room for growth within the company.
Private ESL schools in China tend to pay more than public schools; however, you will also work more hours. You will teach smaller classes from about 5-20 students, mainly in the evenings and on the weekend. These ESL companies are for-profit and will put a lot of pressure on teachers to make the paying parents happy. Working for an ESL school is the easiest way to get a job teaching English in China, and most companies have many options from China’s largest cities, to smaller, less cosmopolitan areas. As a teacher, you will have your pick of locations, and many companies will even let you move to a new city after a few months if you would like to be in a different location.
Public schools in China may pay less than private language academies, but English teachers also work fewer hours and have longer and more frequent holidays. Most teachers will live on campus or in an apartment near the school, eat lunch in the school cafeteria, and involve themselves in school events like talent shows and sports day. Class sizes will be much larger, reaching up to 50 students per class. Most schools will hire foreign teachers as a supplemental oral English teacher, so you may teach a large percentage of the school very infrequently. You will also have to create your own lesson plans and may be given a lot of leeway in topics and teaching methods.
Getting a job with a public school can be a bit harder and less reliable than working with an ESL company because many schools are not versed in visa paperwork. Many English teachers rely on an agent to help them find jobs and negotiate with schools in China. Working for a public school can be a very rewarding experience, but there is also much less of a safety net if the school tries to take advantage of you as a foreigner.
If you apply to a public school through a direct advertisement, know that if for some reason your experience is less than desired, it may be hard to leave your placement legally. Many teachers that work directly for schools find recruiters while already in China, this gives you a chance to visit the school and meet the administration before signing a contract.
In short, public schools usually offer less support and assistance through the application process, but if you have a lot of experience teaching internationally, or if you speak Chinese, taking a job in a public school may be a good option for you.
Many teachers also find side jobs working as private tutors for wealthy families or businesses. There is a high demand for one-on-one oral English tutoring, especially for adults and high school students. Private tutoring requires little planning and can be a great way to make extra money while living in China. The easiest way to obtain a tutoring position is through connections after you have arrived in China.
When and Where to Look for Jobs in China
Unless you've traveled in Asia before, taking a job in China is a big enough adventure for most people. The first thing you’ll need to decide is how much of a challenge you’re willing to accept.
Living in metropolitan areas like Shanghai, Beijing, or Hong Kong will give you plenty of excitement and episodes of culture-shock, but you’re likely to find your favorite foreign comforts wherever you go – imported toiletries, fast-food chains, international cuisine, and translation assistance in case you have trouble finding your way.
If you’re looking for a lifestyle with more of a challenge, try branching out to the other provinces where you’ll find lush landscapes, less traffic, and welcoming locals who are ecstatic to invite travelers into their town.
For more ideas on where to live, take a look at our list of the best cities in China to teach abroad.
When searching online for teaching jobs in China, it can be difficult to find an employer or school you can trust; it’s even more complicated when half the websites you come across are written in Chinese. Recruiting agencies like Reach To Teach, CIEE and Set in China can help by custom-searching for a job you’re interested in and following up with more information or tips as you're narrowing down your job search.
Of course, the school in which you choose to teach is going to give you a different experience from the others. International schools in China usually offer higher salaries than most, but they are highly-competitive positions. Since most Chinese international schools have their own websites, you can easily find which schools have available English teaching jobs.
Although schools in China hire English teachers year-round, the peak hiring season is the month of November with a start date in February. However, it's possible to be hired and start your teaching job within a month! Begin your search on the Go Overseas job board.
To legally work in China you will need a bachelor’s degree, a TEFL certificate, a valid passport from a native English speaking country, and a criminal background check. If you don't have a teaching certificate yet, many programs offer free TEFL certification as part of the benefits package.
If you do not have a passport from a native English speaking country (U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa), you can teach in China if you have two years of teaching experience and are a certified teacher in your home country.
Work Visa & Sponsorships
Keep in mind that obtaining a Chinese work visa (Z visa) can be stressful and slightly expensive, but with the proper documents and an experienced school, obtaining a work visa should be straightforward. The school will provide a letter of acceptance and help you get a work permit. In addition to your work visa in China, you will need a residence permit and a medical clearance stating you are free of TB, HIV, and any drugs. Make sure to read your teaching contract to see if your school will pay for your visa and the associated fees, as each school is different.
Salary and Cost of Living in China
Salaries can vary greatly in China depending on the type of school and teacher experience. The typical salary for a first-year ESL school teacher is $1,200 a month with free housing. If your salary is above $1,600 as a first-time teacher, housing is unlikely to be included. If you land a job teaching English in a private and international school, your salary will be about $2,800 - $4,300 per month. Many schools will also include a free arriving and departing flight from China.
A typical cheap apartment is anywhere from $350-$650 a month plus utilities depending on city, quality, and whether or not you have roommates. Keep in mind that you will have to pay five months of rent upfront. Budget $6-15 a day for meals depending on city, plus more for nice dinners and drinks.
Read our full guide to teacher salaries in China.
Student Teacher Relations
For the most part, students in China view foreign English teachers as a fun departure from their normal classes. They expect you to be more casual, friendly, and interesting than their other teachers. This may result in some students not taking classes seriously, or attempting to do homework during class.
When it comes to children, teachers are allowed to be much more hands-on. Feel free to hug your younger students and play with them. There is a large expectation that foreign teachers will bring “new and creative Western learning methods” to the classroom. This means you are expected to constantly create new games, explore new teaching styles, and add diversity to a test-driven learning environment.
Teacher dress code in China is very casual, especially in the winter when classrooms are freezing. Many teachers wear dressed-up denim to class. For the ladies, when teaching older students, be sure not to show too much skin. While some of the female teachers may wear short skirts and dresses, their shoulders and chests are always covered.
In China, many people will greet with a nod, wave, or handshake. As a foreigner, many Chinese people, men especially, will shake your hand because they know it is a traditional Western greeting. In a business setting, if you really want to stand out, be sure to give and receive all documents and business cards with two hands. While this is not expected, it will surely impress the locals!
In China, everything is last minute. Don’t expect to know your holiday schedule until a few days before, which can make planning travel extremely stressful and expensive. Also, be aware that schedules frequently change with little notice. Don’t be shocked if you receive a text at 8 am telling you to be at school in twenty minutes.
Also, many schools, especially public schools, have poor communication. The school may forget to fill you in on times, dates, and events, leading to missed classes and frustration. Thankfully, most schools are understanding and apologetic if they forget to inform you about your schedule change. This can be extremely frustrating for most teachers who come from a society where schedules are made months in advance.
Tips for Teaching Abroad in China
Once you arrive in China, you’ll become part of the very welcoming ex-pat community and gain valuable connections and first-hand tips about teaching. A lot of English teachers who travel to China begin with one job and then end up trying something different once they learn what works for them.
Be careful with this though: while no job lasts forever, if a company or school provides your employment visa and you are under contract, they might be entitled to keep you on-board, preventing you from finding a new job for a while. Therefore, when searching for a teaching job in China, try to choose a school where you think you’ll be happiest.
More questions? Read our ultimate guide to teaching English in China.
Contributed by Richelle Gamlam
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When is the best hiring season for teaching jobs in China?
China is great because they hire all year round and don't really have as varied hiring seasons as countries like Korea or Japan. For example, if a person applies to China and is accepted they can be in China inside a month any time of the year. Generally, the best hiring month is November for a February start date for teaching in China.
What qualifications do I need to teach English in China?
It's necessary to have a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate or teaching experience (2 years) to teach English in China.
Can you teach English in China without a degree?
You are not legally allowed to teach English as a full-time teacher in China without a bachelor's degree.
What documents do I need to teach in China?
The only visa you are legally allowed to work under in China is the Z visa. To get your visa you will have to provide your passport, a work permit from your employer, and a health document that shows you're clear of HIV, TB, and drugs. In addition to the visa, you will need to apply for a residency permit.
Can you save money teaching English in China?
Yes. A lot of the teach abroad programs in China offer a competitive salary, and pay almost all of your expenses including airfare, medical insurance, and housing.
Do you need to know Chinese to teach English in China?
You don't need to have any knowledge of Chinese to teach English in China. In fact, many of the teaching programs offer free Chinese lessons for teachers.
How much do you make teaching English in China?
Depending on your experience and the institution you work at, you can earn anywhere from 10,000-30,000 RMB (~1,400 - 4,300 USD) per month teaching English in China. Programs often include airfare, housing, and other perks as well.
What’s the normal workload for teachers in China?
The workload will depend on the type of school you're teaching at: Public vs. Private. Usually, working hours at a private language center are higher than a public school (pay accompanies that, meaning the more you work, the more you will get paid!). You should plan to be in the classroom about 16-22 hours per week with a public school, and 20-30 hours per week in a private school, with the remaining hours (to make a 40 hour work week) being dedicated to lesson planning, grading, meeting with students etc. Many public/private schools will want you at your desk from 8-4 if you're not teaching, while other schools don't care too much. Also if you work at an academy, you might have to work nights and weekends.