Being an English teacher is a great way to see the world and teaching English in China is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have. There are a lot of resources online but first you need to answer some basic questions.
Can I teach English in China without a degree? Can I choose where to teach? How do you find a reputable school? Which areas of China are the best to teach in? How many students will I teach? Do I need TEFL or CELTA to teach English in China? How do I get a work visa?
These are all questions that we asked before moving to China and are now here to answer in this article, and in the articles to follow.
Can I teach English in China without a university degree?
This question often comes up on forums all over the internet and the replies are often vehemently defended by opposing parties. The real answer is yes! Teaching English in China without a degree is more common than you may think.
You must have a degree to teach English in China, this is now the law. Given the fact that the degree doesn’t need to be in an education related field, we think this is a bit bizarre, but, it’s the law.
There are many different forms of these certificates all with different acronyms.
TEFL stands for “Teaching English as a Foreign Language”,
TESOL stands for “Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages“,
CELTA stands for “Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults.” Basically they are all the same. They give you the credentials to teach English as a second language.
CELTA is definitely the most recognized as it is a Cambridge university administered course. But all of these certificates are internationally accepted. It is recommended that you have such a certificate to teach English because the course will teach you the basics of classroom management, lesson planning and new language introduction.
By law, you need to have one of these certificates in order to teach. It will also help your odds of getting a job.
How do I find a job teaching English in China?
If not, you can check out Dave’s ESL Cafe, GoAbroad, or TransitionsAbroad.com. Here you will find hundreds of job postings for places all over the world, but because you are looking for a job teaching English in China, you will want to click on the appropriate job board.
Have your resume ready (preferably with some kind of previous teaching experience) and send it off to as many schools you wish. Keep in mind that there are a lot of bad contracts out there, so be diligent in choosing your employer.
What is a recruiter? Are they free? Should I use one?
A recruiter is an agent hired by the school to help them hire new teachers. Because the demand for foreign teachers is so high (and constantly rising) schools have had to resort to employing recruiters to help bring teachers in from abroad.
The recruiter will be paid 100% by the school and this will in no way be reflected in your contract (If the recruiter expects payment by you, look elsewhere).
There is no harm in using a recruiter and if you find your job on ESL Dave, then you will likely be in contact with many.
How do I make sure that the school is reputable and legitimate?
The biggest concern for teachers finding jobs in China is the reputation of their school. The web is full of horror stories about teachers signing horrible contracts that inevitably have them working too much for too little.
Despite the gory details of such claims, keep in mind that you are signing a legal document that requires you to teach, you are not signing away your soul.
The best way to check the legitimacy of a school and its contract is to ask for the contact details of other foreign teachers who work there. Send them an email or give them a call, chances are they will be very honest with you and they can help you with your decisions (this is common practice).
Remember, if you don’t like the job, you can always quit and find another. You will have to forfeit any bonuses, but there are so many jobs in China that once you move here, you will probably be offered new jobs on a monthly basis.
How do I get a working visa to teach English in China?
Getting a working visa in China is not as straight forward as you may think. You first need a Z-VISA. This visa is transferable into a Foreign Expert’s Certificate (Working Visa) once you arrive in China.
To obtain the Z-Visa you will need to complete a series of medical tests in your home country (see below for details) or a country besides China (they can be done in Hong Kong).
You will need to present the filled out medical forms, visa application forms, signed invitation letter (sent by your school), 2 passport photos, your passport and the appropriate funds to the Chinese embassy at which you apply.
Once you have obtained the Z-visa, you will be able to enter China for 30 days.
During these 30 days you should head to the school that has employed you and they will help you complete another series of medical tests with a Chinese doctor (mandatory), as well apply for your Foreign Experts Certificate.
This can all be completed within a week with help from the Chinese staff at your school. After that, you’re ready to work in China!
What sort of medical tests do I need to complete to teach English in China?
Everyone needs to complete 2 sets of medical exams in order to obtain a working visa for China. The first MUST be done in your home country or in another country besides China. The second series of exams will have to be completed once you are in China.
You will need these forms completed by your doctor at home. The tests include: ECG, chest X-rays, blood tests, urine samples, HIV and hepatitis tests and a few others. Blood test results can take a long time so if your start date is sudden, get on these right away and tell your doctor you need them back ASAP.
Many doctors will simply sign off on the forms without questions, while others will insist you complete all of the tests and pay a fee before they return the signed document to you. The medical forms can be a bit of a hassle to complete but they ARE required.
How do I know if I’ve been offered a good teaching contract in China?
Teaching English in China is a great job … if you sign a great contract. New teachers definitely have to be wary of misleading and poorly written contracts.
The best types of contracts will be written in both Chinese and English on the same pages (so you don’t sign a Chinese version and English version separately). They should be written in proper English and they should clearly outline all hours, bonuses and salary. There should be no points where the contract leaves “possibilities for more hours”.
It should clearly state the maximum required working hours and the minimum salary as well as any bonuses and living allowances you are entitled to. Stay away from contracts that sound vague, require too many hours or leave too much up to the discretion of the employer. (ie: more hours required by teacher if needed).
Typical contracts will be for 1 year minimum, require 15-30 hours/week, offer living allowance, flight reimbursement, completion bonuses, medical insurance, retention bonuses, free Chinese lessons and a competitive salary (see below).
If you have a bad feeling about a contract, or you are unable to contact a foreign teacher associated with the school, look elsewhere. There are plenty other contracts waiting for you to sign.
How many hours will I work when teaching English in China?
Typically, teachers in China are required to work between 15-30 hours per week total. Many schools require minimal teaching hours, while the rest is made up with “office time”. A contract that includes office hours is not a bad option because it often gives teachers time to write lesson plans and mark tests (time usually unpaid in other contracts).
How much do English teachers make in China?
Salaries can vary greatly in China depending on where you work, how many hours you work, which levels you teach and which school employs you. The lower end of the spectrum is around 5000RMB/month. This would be considered a poor salary.
Some teachers make as much as 20,000/month but these types of jobs are often full-time hours and can be very hard to find (as well as being reserved for experienced teachers with degrees).
A good wage that you should expect to find quite easily is around 8,000 – 10,000 RMB / month. Usually, teachers also receive a living allowance (500-2,000 RMB depending on location) on top of their wage.
The taxes in China are very low, so you can expect to take home as much as 98% of this after tax. We were able to save $21,000 after just a year of teaching English!
What are the best cities to live in when teaching English in China?
This of course depends on what sort of experiences you want to have and the type of lifestyle you hope to live.
If you like the city life, then eastern China is definitely for you. You can live in the modern, hectic cosmopolitan cities like Shanghai and Beijing, or you can live in a small Chinese city of 5,000,000 people like Yangzhou or Nanjing. Guangzhou is another popular spot.
Keep in mind that bigger cities usually pay more but this extra wage usually isn’t enough to cover inflated living expenses.
Northern cities can be beautiful but temperatures drop to -30 degrees celsius for months at a time, so if you’re used to tropical weather, beware!
How much do apartments cost in China? How do I find an apartment in China? What are they like?
Finding an apartment is usually pretty easy. The costs will vary greatly depending on where you live. Try to get a contract that includes a living allowance but not one that supplies living quarters (supplied apartments are often small and uncomfortable).
When you arrive in China, you should stay in a hotel for a few nights while looking for apartments. Your school should provide you with a ride and an agent who will help you pick the perfect place for you.
Don’t make the mistake of rushing into a place, find one you like and make sure you will be comfortable for the duration of your stay.
In big cities like Shanghai, small one bedroom places can be as much as 3000 RMB but outside of the major cities you should be able to find a nice apartment (around 80 square meters) for as little as 2000 RMB.
Your apartment should be clean, modern and fully furnished. Try to find one with an en suite washing machine (very common in China) and a comfortable bed (not common in China). Most modern apartments have a wall mounted LCD tv in the living room and A/C / heating units in every room.
Will the school help me get settled in China?
This is an important question that you should ask your potential employer during the interview process. Ensure that there is a good welfare program (foreign teacher help) at the school.
Good schools will have designated welfare officers who are simply people who are employed to help the foreign staff. A school that is proud of their welfare program is often a good school to work for.
Our welfare assistant, Standy, helps us with everything from paying bills to translating menus, he is on call 24/7 and is always willing to drop what he’s doing to help the foreign teachers.
Not all schools will have this type of amazing aid, but ensure that your school offers you some sort of help, at least when you first arrive.
Your assistant will likely become a good friend as well. Standy has been there for us from the start!
You will need help finding a place, setting up utilities, buying a cell phone and getting to know your new city. There should be someone at the school to help you do these things once you arrive.
Ready to Teach English in China?
These were the questions we found ourselves asking before coming to China. Of course there are plenty more that we will think of and we will add them to Part 2 of this post in the weeks to come.
If you have any questions you’d like answered, feel free to comment below and we’ll reply. China is an amazing place and if you have questions before coming, they’ll be answered when you get here and start experiencing your new life.
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