Many countries across the world value speaking English as an important skill. It’s a window of opportunity into higher paid jobs for lots of people. In China this is no exception.
This means that there are private companies, public schools and even individuals willing to employ native English speakers to teach their mother tongue.
There are so many great reasons to teach English abroad, you’d be crazy not to give it a go. There are plenty of countries in high demand of English teachers, but there is conflicting information all over the internet about teaching in China. We’ve been teaching English here for a year now, and we’ve got all of the basics covered to help you.
From finding a job to dealing with your new seven-year old best friends, you’ll have no problem!
Before you can start working as a foreign language teacher, you’ll need to be able to prove that you have a basic understanding of English! You might think this sounds daft as you’re confident enough to be thinking about getting a job teaching English. But since you left school you have probably forgotten a lot!
I didn’t slack off at school but completing the TEFL was definitely an eye opener!
We used tefl.org to take our course and it took us around two months to complete. We’d do a section or two after work so it wasn’t a hard slog. There are a few assignments to complete as well as short quizzes, which aren’t hard. There’s a lot of guidance though plus a personal tutor ready to answer your email questions.
There are plenty of different companies offering to guide you through the course but make sure that it is legit!
We interviewed in April and left for China in August. That gave us plenty of time to prepare everything that we needed. You’ll need a copy of the following documents for the company to start processing your ‘Z’ visa*:
- Degree certificate
- TEFL certificate
- Health check certificate – (China stamps EVERYTHING official so make sure you get your doctor to stamp their address on it)
- Original non-criminal record check
*Make sure this is an original, not a copy!
*Some recruiters/employers try to get you to come to China on a tourist visa so you can start teaching English quickly – this is illegal! And you don’t want the police coming after you here! Any company who asks you to do this is not reputable. People are more likely to take you for a ride so please don’t try ‘the easy way’. The ‘Z’ visa is the correct one to look for.
You have to send all of these documents to China. The company will then start the visa process of getting you an invitation letter and Foreign Expert Certificate. Once they send you everything, you’ll be able to apply for the ‘Z’ visa. You’ll have 30 days after you arrive to transfer that to a residence permit. They should also help you out with this too!
Finding a job teaching English
This is the exciting part, right!? You have to be prepared before you apply for a job teaching English in any random city in China. Think about the following:
- Do you want to work in a big city or a small town?
Often, people want to minimise living costs so choose somewhere a bit further out into the countryside. It might isolate you a little bit though.
- Do you want to work for a privately run company/education centre or a public school?
For us, working in a public school was important as we had heard of people being scammed by private ones. The hours tend to be more flexible with private schools though.
- How many hours are you willing to work?
This mostly depends on the type of school you choose to work for. On average an English teacher will work 20 lessons a week in a public school. It’s up to you if you want the bare minimum of around 16, or if you want to work that overtime and push to 28 (which is still not equivalent to a full working week back home!)
- Look for the perks!
In our contract, our flights to and from China are reimbursed, as long as we stay the whole year. Some companies offer a housing allowance instead (good for couples), or maybe there’s a bonus after completion. You should pick which one benefits you the most – rarely will you be offered ALL of these!
We worked with a recruiting agency at first to help us find the job. Then we worked directly with the company to finalise details and sign everything. Be aware that you should NEVER have to pay the recruiter – they get their fee from the company. A great place to start looking is Dave’s ESL Café. Not only are there lots of job adverts, but people contribute great resources too that you can use once you’re teaching.
We actually work for the Chaoyang Education Centre. They’re responsible for the placement of foreign teachers in the eastern side of Beijing, Chaoyang District.
Interviews are always scary, but they are just weird when the only chance you have to impress is via Skype! In all honesty, it actually felt like more of an informal chat. We had our interview together which was strange for us but made it a bit more relaxing. Around five minutes after the call ended, we got an email from the lady who interviewed us with a copy of the contract and lots more information so it was a pretty simple and quick!
Arriving in China
Our company arranged a free hotel stay for us for a week so that we could get settled and find an apartment (here’s ours!). Most companies will offer some sort of housing assistance, so your first few days will be sorted. We had to have the full medical check-up at a special hospital in Beijing soon after we arrived. There will be ones in all cities but your company will have to help you arrange this as you can’t just walk into a hospital or doctor’s surgery and ask for a check-up.
Once you have sorted your accommodation, you have to go to the local police office and register yourself at your new address. You’ll need all the basics too like a bank account and a phone. Again your company/school should sort this for you.
Settling into school should be pretty easy as it’s fun, the work isn’t difficult and MOST of the kids want to learn from you! We say ‘most’ because we don’t want you stepping into a classroom with those rose-tinted glasses on. We had the impression before starting that every single Chinese kid is scared of the teacher, it would be really difficult to get them to participate in lessons and they always listen to you as you’re the authoritative figure.
How naïve! Yes, there are kids who are shy, but there are also kids who won’t stop talking to their friend in Chinese and couldn’t care less about learning English. At the end of the day, they’re children. You’ll also probably have to get used to some cultural differences. But if you prepare your lessons well and don’t take things too personally, then it will be fine. And if you do have a bad lesson, remember that everyone has them and try to laugh about your optimism just before the class started…
You might be the only foreign teacher in your school, or there might be a big group of you teaching English who all train together. Maybe you might work with older students, or you might be singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ fifteen times a day. It’s difficult at times, but it is also exciting.
Teaching English in China is a great way to experience different cultures, save up to travel to nearby exotic destinations and maybe even learn some Mandarin whilst you’re there!
We’d highly recommend coming over! Drop us a line if you’re ever in Beijing and we’ll show you what it’s like to live in this wonderful city! Check out our post on a typical day as an ESL teacher in China too!
Have you thought about teaching in China? Let us know if you any have any questions!
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