Teaching English in China is a fantastic way to fund your travels around the world. The Middle Kingdom is a country teeming with fascinating culture, beautiful landscapes and delicious food. Not only that, but you can make a heap of cash sharing your knowledge of the English language!
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. China is one of the best countries to teach English due to low working hours, high salary, low living cost and location.
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 (Vietnam is a great example – read more about it here), but there is conflicting information all over the internet about teaching in China. We lived in Beijing for three years, and we’ve got all of the basics covered to help you find the best jobs teaching English in China.
You can settle down and read this guide in full or skip to the parts you want to read. Take a look at the teaching in China advice and FAQs at the end to see if they answer any of your questions too.
The visa process can sound complicated, but any company you work for will do a lot of the work for you. You need to be looking for a job that requires a ‘Z’ visa – this is the proper working visa and anything else is basically illegal.
Documents + requirements for teaching English in China:
- Bachelor Degree Certificate – teaching English in China without a degree isn’t legal so please don’t try and fix the system!
- TEFL Certificate – Simple to get and complete but don’t worry about classroom experience.
- Health Check Certificate – Get your doctor to stamp the form with their name and address.
- Passport & Passport Photos – Make sure your passport has 15 months left on it.
- C.V – Update it and include any experience you have working with children/adults depending on the job you want
- Original Non-Criminal Record Check – this MUST be the original, don’t just send a copy!
It’s important to get this done as soon as you consider teaching in China, or anywhere for that matter. If you’re looking for teaching English jobs in China, schools will require a TEFL certificate – there’s so many potential teachers out there with one that they can afford to be picky.
Don’t worry too much about getting a certificate that offers classroom experience. You should get a course that offers 120 hours of online learning material though. It won’t take you that long, but it’s just a standard that companies stick by.
A good TEFL course provider will give you access to the course for a decent amount of time – 6 months is plenty. They should also offer a personal tutor to help with any questions that you might have. They’ll also be the one marking your work.
We recommend the 120-hour Premier Online TEFL Course by TEFL.org. Our tutors were responsive and helpful, the modules were clear to read and easy understand, and there was plenty of information that helped us feel equipped and ready to teach English.
Remember, just because you speak English (native or not) it doesn’t mean you know everything about the language! I learnt so much about different types of verbs, tenses and conditionals – and that’s the kind of stuff people learning English as a second language need to know!
Doing an hour or two of the course after work means that you could complete this course in around 2 months. That’s around 80 hours in total. Or, you could work on it on the weekends too if you’re in a rush to complete it.
Finding a Job
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. Your salary for teaching English in China is a huge factor of course, but here are some other points to think about:
- Do you want to work in a big city or a small town?
- Do you want to work for a privately run company/education centre or a public school?
- How many hours are you willing to work?
- Look for the perks – flights reimbursements, bonuses, housing allowance, overtime opportunities etc
Many teaching positions in China are advertised by agencies who then put you in touch with a company or a school. Don’t fall for a scam – never pay anyone to find you a job!
This will be on Skype. It will probably be quite informal, but dress nicely and be prepared to answer questions about your experiences. Smile and be friendly! This is the only chance you’ll get of impressing your potential employer and it’s harder to do that in front of a screen.
Don’t forget that you might have to be up early for the interview due to time differences as well. If you’re applying as a couple/friends then you also might have the interview together. Make sure you give each other time to speak.
Arriving in China
Your company should give you lots of help and support in your first week. In some cases, you might be given a hotel to stay in whilst you look for an apartment. It might seem daunting as you probably don’t speak the language and moving countries can be overwhelming, but don’t panic. Make sure that someone from your company takes you to a good estate agency and views some apartments with you. It’s usually a quick process – we viewed 3 places, picked the 3rd and moved in within 2 days!
You’ll need to bring a decent sized chunk of money to rent an apartment in China. The agency will need three month’s rent in advance, as well as one month’s deposit and one month’s agency fee. You’ll get the deposit back and you won’t need to pay rent for three months so they’re not charging you a lot of money. It’s just a high upfront cost you need to be aware of.
If you have just spent a huge sum of money on your apartment fees then you’ll be cautious about buying anything else for the first few months. Don’t worry though because China is a cheap country to live in – even in the capital. Once you start getting paid, you’ll easily be able to live off 1/4, depending on your spending habits of course!
Once you have sorted your accommodation, you have to go to the local police station and register yourself at your new address.
You’ll need all the basics too, like a bank account and a phone. In China, companies tell you which bank you need to be with, in order for them to pay you. You can’t just choose the best one. However, if you’re planning on sending money home from China, you’ll need a bank that can do that for you.
If your company’s bank is rubbish (like China Merchant’s Bank) then just open another account in a different bank. ICBC are good – that’s who we used – as well as China Construction Bank. You can then just move your money from your original account to the new one every month and send it home easily.
Get WeChat set up on your phone as soon as you can. Ask your company to explain how to link up your new bank account to it, top up your phone balance and pay your bills. It’s the best app for doing pretty much everything in China – you can’t live there without it!
You may have heard about China’s internet censorship, but you probably haven’t heard of all of the great apps that you can actually use in China. A VPN like Astrill is crucial! Download these to help you settle into life in your new country and make the best of your time there!
Fancy getting out and about to explore? Beijing is an awesome city to live in. Here’s a newbie’s itinerary to follow to get you familiar with all of the cool stuff Beijing has to offer. Once you’ve seen the touristy attractions, you can start working your way around the city’s coolest restaurants, rooftop bars, weird museums and even theme parks!
Make sure you’re set up and ready to go with these important things too!
What Is It Like Teaching English in China?
If you’ve never taught before, it can be a daunting thought to imagine 40 eager little faces looking up at you and expecting to learn English. Or, you might be teaching business English in China for the first time and need to improve on your small talk. Teaching methods in China will most likely be different to what you’re used to but you’ll soon find out what works and what doesn’t.
Settling into classes should be pretty easy as it’s fun, the work isn’t difficult and most of your students actually want to learn from you!
I say ‘most’ because I don’t want you stepping into a classroom with rose-tinted glasses on. We had the impression that every single Chinese kid is scared of their teacher. We thought would be really difficult to get them to participate in lessons and they always listen to us as we’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. There will be children who couldn’t care less about learning English. You also might be teaching adults who are required to improve their English as part of their job. They might not be as enthusiastic as you’d hoped either!
You’ll also have to get used to some cultural differences. But if you prepare your lessons well, be ready for ANYTHING to happen, then it will be fine. You can’t take things that happen too personally either! Everyone’s teaching English in China experiences will be different, but you’ll certainly have some fun stories to tell when you go back home!
Lesson Resources For Kids
Here are some of our favourite websites we use to help plan our lessons and give us game ideas.
Go Overseas – Great list of go-to games when you’re stuck for ideas. Can be used for a variety of ages. Most don’t require any pre-planning either so you can stick a game on the end of your class if you find yourself with a bit of extra time.
English 4 Kids – Powerpoints are also a good way to keep the kids engaged with funky clicks and music.
Lesson Resources For Teens/Adult ESL Classes
Fluent U – Plenty of tips and activities for teaching adults.
OneStop English – If you’re working with adults on their Business English, this site has heaps of fantastic resources.
Always be prepared for the classroom computer not to work. Don’t plan your lessons around it, but have some games or activities ready to go just in case you can’t access the computer or the internet.
Teaching ESL in China is a great way to experience a new culture. You can save up to travel to nearby exotic destinations and maybe even learn some Mandarin whilst you’re there!
We do highly recommend teaching in China. Read our teaching English in China blog posts for more tips!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you teach in China without a degree?
Legally, no. You need to prove that you have a degree to get your Z visa, which is what allows you to work in the country. There are stories of people without a Bachelor’s degree who enter China on a tourist visa and work behind the scenes. It’s really not a good idea because firstly, the rules are there for a reason and it’s disrespectful to try and get around them. Second, if you get caught you’ll be deported and likely not able to return to the country again. You won’t enjoy the same benefits as legal teachers either because your employer knows you don’t have a choice but to accept their working conditions even if they treat you badly.
Can you teach abroad without TEFL?
You can in some countries, but in China, the same rules apply to TEFL as they do a degree. You need a TEFL certificate to get your visa. It’s also easy to get one, so you should just get it done as quickly as you can so you can start applying for jobs.
How much can you save teaching English in China?
Most English teachers in China are able to save a fair amount of their wages. Teaching in a public school in a city like Beijing should enable you to save at least 70 – 80% of your salary.
What will my salary be?
This obviously varies and depends on your contract, but a typical teaching English in China salary ranges from around 8000RMB (don’t even bother!) to over 20,000RMB per month. You can also increase this by asking your company for overtime. It’s are often paid at a rate of 200RMB per class so it’s a really easy and legal way of earning some extra cash.
Will I be paid on time?
If you go with a reputable, government-affiliated company, then yes. There are many horror stories out there of people waiting weeks and months for their wages, but they tend to be working for private companies. Our advice would be to work for a public school, at least for your first year. You can’t really go wrong and once you’re in the country, you can get a feel for what kind of people you want to be working for.
What is the accommodation like in China?
Some companies offer accommodation in their contract package, and this is completely normal. However, you won’t get to choose where you live so be prepared for something a bit run down. If you choose and pay for your own apartment, you can spend as much or as little as you like. Don’t worry though, you’ll be hard pushed to find somewhere with a squat toilet in the bathroom! The showers tend to be wet rooms. There’ll likely be a small utility room where you wash or hang your clothes. Don’t be surprised if you find a washing machine in the bathroom though!
Will I get any meals paid for?
Usually, schools offer free lunches. It will be typical Chinese canteen food – buffet style, rice, meat & vegetables dishes, breads or dumplings and fruit.
Can I teach privately too?
If you want to make some more money, speak to your company. They might be able to give you some overtime. Many teachers do ask around and get in contact with local students, but it’s cash in hand so make up your own mind.
Will there be other foreign teachers at my school?
It’s likely that you’ll be the only foreigner, teaching every single student in the school. However, there are some great expat communities in the large cities in China so it will be easy to meet people in the same boat as you.
Do I need to speak Chinese to work in China?
Not at all. You are actively encouraged to only speak English in your classes, even if you do know some Mandarin. The point of you being there is to teach English. However, we’d recommend taking some lessons to be able to get around and try to fit into your new country!
How many hours will I be working?
Full-time public school teachers usually work between 16 – 20 hours a week. Lessons are around 40 – 45 minutes each, and there will be plenty of breaks in the day. If you work in a private school, you’ll be expected to work in the evenings and holidays. Make sure you get your hours and days stipulated in your contract before you sign.
Will there be a curriculum to follow?
You will usually be expected to follow the school’s guidelines. That could mean using their lesson plans and textbooks or making it up as you go along. If you’re not given any textbooks, ask for resources or at least an idea of what the children already know. In that scenario, you’ll probably actually have more fun because you can Google a fun topic and just experiment!
Is China the best place to teach English?
In our opinion, China is the best place to teach English. If you are a fully qualified teacher in your home country and want to continue that lifestyle, then there are places like Dubai and Qatar that offer very generous expat packages. However, if you have just got your TEFL certificate and are looking for an easy life, China is the place to be. Of course, there are other places to teach English abroad like Vietnam and Thailand, but we think that China (mainly the bigger cities though) is the perfect place to start your ESL teacher career!
Teaching in China is the perfect way to begin your adventures around the world. It offers you amazing opportunities to meet new people, learn about new cultures and travel to nearby countries easily. If you have any questions, get in touch and we’ll be happy to help you with your new venture!