China is one of the world’s largest countries and is home to one-sixth of the planet’s population. There are innumerable work and travel opportunities across the country.
With the recent economic boom, China is expanding employment options in all sectors, meaning that there are more opportunities for English teachers than ever before.
With over 4,000 years of cultural history, there are numerous tourist attractions as well as many festivals that celebrate its heritage.
The job market for ESL teachers in China is as varied as its population and natural landscape.
It is always best to thoroughly research the prospective country and culture before accepting a teaching position; this is especially true for China since there are so many opportunities available.
FINDING A JOB
English teachers will find that there are always job opportunities available in China. If you are more interested in teaching English in the school system, there are significantly more job postings between July and September.
The internet will be a valuable tool during your job search. See our ESL Jobs in China section for some of the latest positions available.
It is also possible to find a position if you are already in the country. Many people prefer to arrive in China and apply in person to schools that teach English. This is a common job option for backpackers seeking temporary employment during their travels. If you choose this route, make sure you have enough money to cover food and lodging for at least a month.
Where to Find a Job
Large cities with higher population density such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong will have a higher demand for English teachers. Large cities also usually have better transportation, higher wages, and more entertainment options.
It is important, however, to remember that the cost of living is higher in the city. If noise and crowds pose a problem, it may be best to seek a position in a rural area.
As there are many English teaching jobs available in China, you may find yourself with a little more choice than you would in other countries. And so when searching for a job, it is important to know what you are looking for and ask yourself a few key questions:
- Do I prefer an urban or rural environment? What climate do I prefer?
- What age group do I want to work with?
- How many hours do I want to teach?
- Is travel and vacation an important factor?
- What type of salary and benefits do I need (housing, airfare, insurance)?
TYPES OF POSITIONS and SALARIES
With a country the size of China, there are numerous opportunities to teach English in a variety of settings, depending on your experience and qualifications. Once you arrive and begin teaching, you will also find even more opportunities presenting themselves.
It is very important that you read the terms of your contract to ensure that you understand exactly what is expected and what inclusions are being offered. The average contract ranges from six months to one year, but most language schools will offer a 10% increase for those who sign for a second year.
Average Salary for English Teachers in China
The average salary for TEFL teachers in China ranges from 4,500 – 8,000 RMB ($730 -1,300 USD) depending on the region and institution. Many schools also offer a combination of additional benefits such as airfare, housing, meals, paid holidays, health insurance, work visa/residence permit, and performance bonuses. Many schools also offer professional development and support in addition to free Mandarin lessons.
Public and Private Schools
Every child is required to attend nine years of compulsory education with standards determined by the Chinese National Education Council’s national curriculum. Public schools deliver instruction in Chinese only. Classes are typically more crowded than those in most western countries with an average of 45 children per classroom.
Students are more likely to learn English in a private school and the class sizes are generally smaller to facilitate more one-on-one contact with the students.
Universities offer the highest salaries and best benefits for English teachers. As might be expected, applicants with graduate degrees and foreign language skills often receive preference for these positions.
For beginning teachers, a position with an international chain of English schools is a great way to gain experience and acclimate to your surroundings. Smaller, private schools generally have fewer qualifications for hiring teachers, usually requiring that you are a native English speaker and sometimes requiring that you hold a TEFL certificate.
Many agencies and schools located throughout China also actively recruit English teachers.
In addition to the large number of jobs available in schools, many students also seek to hire English teachers for private lessons. ESL teachers who have lived in China for some time have greater success finding students and understanding the cultural norms. Teachers with some understanding of the Chinese language also earn higher salaries than those with no foreign language skills.
ESL teachers in China must hold citizenship in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa. In addition, applicants *should* hold TESOL/TESL/TEFL certification and a Bachelor’s degree.
If you do not have a TEFL certificate of some kind, it may be more difficult for schools to get you a working visa. And a Bachelor’s degree would be even more important in that regard. If you search around, you will probably come across people who have taught in China without either of these two credentials; however, having them will make things much easier.
Certain schools and regions of China hold minimum requirements of a Bachelor’s degree, teaching experience, and a reference from previous employers.
WORKING LEGALLY IN CHINA
There are a variety of visas utilized by ESL teachers, including the Z Visa (Employment/Work Permit), F Visa (Business), L Visa (Tourist), and D Visa (Permanent Residency).
It is best to have the Z Work Visa processed prior to arriving in China. Some applicants that enter on a tourist visa are later denied work due to missing documentation or lack of the necessary qualifications. Visas are only granted to applicants with sufficient time remaining (about 6 months) on their passports.
In addition to obtaining a visa, you will also need to purchase an entry permit. It is best to contact the school or recruiter to determine if a single entry permit is sufficient, or if you will need to purchase a multiple-entry permit.
Once you have secured a contract from a legitimate school or agency, they will apply for the work permit on your behalf. Once you receive confirmation of a work permit, you will then apply for the Employment/Work Visa at the nearest Chinese embassy or consulate.
The embassy and consulates retain the right to ask for additional documentation during the application process, so it is best to contact them directly to clarify what documents you will need to complete your application.
Typically, you will need to apply in person with the following documentation:
- Completed visa application
- Valid passport with at least 6 months remaining and one blank page
- Recent passport photos
- Copy of contract
- Visa Notification Form issued by Chinese government department or government agency
- Proof of legitimate status in country of residence
- Foreign Expert Work Permit issued by Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, or Alien Employment License issued by the Chinese Ministry of Human Resources
- Q2 Physical Examination Record for Foreigners for health certification
COST OF LIVING
The renminbi (RMB) is the official currency of China. The yuan (¥) is the basic unit of the renminbi. And so you may see either when talking about money, e.g. 1000 RMB or 1000¥. You may even see CNY (for Chinese Yuan). Also, to confuse matters even more, the ¥ symbol is the same as for the Japanese Yen.
The cost of living is significantly less than that of the western world, especially since many jobs come with benefits such as housing, health insurance, performance bonuses, and free meals. In addition, foreign teachers earn 2-3 times more than native Chinese-speaking English teachers.
Most teachers live very comfortably with disposable income for entertainment and travel. Many teachers are also able to build savings or pay debts/student loans.
The cost of living will vary between regions and is generally higher in large cities; Beijing and Shanghai are about 10-20% higher than other cities.
Currently prices in western China are cheaper than those in eastern China.
If housing accommodations are not provided, rent for a one-bedroom apartment ranges from 1,000-2,000 RMB ($160-315 USD) per month; however, apartments in the city center cost significantly more.
Public transportation is easily accessible via buses, taxis, and subways in major cities and is relatively inexpensive. Prices range from 2-15 RMB ($.30 – 1.50 USD) per ride.
For more information on median market prices, entertainment costs, and other personal expenses, you can visit Numbeo – China.
SAFETY & CRIME
China remains a safe country for most visitors and tourists.
Petty street crimes are the most common concern, so it is best to be aware of your surroundings and to avoid carrying too many valuables. Common sense will be the best way to avoid becoming a victim of such crimes: keep bags and cameras close to your person, don’t flash large wads of cash in public, and avoid wearing too much jewelry.
Scam artists are not uncommon, so be cautious of over-anxious English speakers that approach you. You can expect to pay higher prices in the local markets and you will find some taxi drivers that charge higher fares for foreigners. It is also best not to carry large amounts of cash on your person since pickpockets target tourists near attractions and transportation hubs.
Some regions of the country are restricted for travel and require special permits. It is best to remember that you are a guest in a foreign country where laws from your home country do not apply.
Violent crimes are not common, but confrontational demonstrations can erupt without warning; fatal bombings and explosions have occurred in recent years during such events. The majority of these incidents arise from disputes over land seizures, social issues, employment disputes, environmental problems, and conflicts with ethnic minorities.
There are incidents of criminal activity that result in vandalism and hostages. There have also been reported cases of business disputes between U.S. citizens and Chinese business partners that have resulted in physical conflict and kidnapping. Of course these types of situations are not the norm.
For the most current information on security threats and scams targeting tourists, you can visit the China page from the U.S. State Department.
The majority of TEFL teaching positions are in large cities of about 3 million people or more, so if you accept a position in one of the urban centers, you are likely to encounter other foreign English teachers. The large chain language schools tend to employ numerous foreigners, which can be a great resource for support and advice for new ESL teachers.
With the economic boom that is taking place, many companies are opening headquarters in China. The international business interests draw many foreigners to the larger cities and provincial capitals. Cities like Shanghai have reported almost a 7% increase in their expat population.
China’s rich cultural heritage provides a nearly endless supply of travel destinations and tourist attractions. Chinese modes of transportation range from old-fashioned to ultra-modern, depending are where you live and where you are traveling.
While in the city, you can utilize rickshaws, Pedi-cabs, or taxis to get around; however, it may be more economical to invest in a bicycle or motor bike if you will be living in China long term.
Buses are the most common form of transportation, with extensive networks throughout the country. However buses are often packed full and can be very slow. If you are traveling long distance, it is probably worth your time and money to invest in tickets for the sleeper bus.
The train system is also a great option, offering the quickest transportation at a relatively low cost. Schedules for each city can be found online.
For those with disposable income, a number of international and regional airports service the entire country. There are also many boat and ferry services near coastal areas.
For more information on transportation, one place to start would be the transportation section at ChinaHighlights.com.
There are a vast number of events, markets, festivals, and museums that celebrate Chinese culture across the country. There are also many restaurants, bars, and clubs where you can experience the nightlife; of course larger cities will have more entertainment options for you to explore.
Some of the most visited destinations include the Forbidden City, which sits at the center of Beijing, north of Tiananmen Square. The Forbidden City served as the imperial seat for nearly 500 years and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Many tourists also venture to the Great Wall, spanning 5,500 miles, and also visit the dozens of temples located throughout the country. There are also many national parks for those seeking to enjoy the natural splendor of China.
For local hot-spots and information it is best to visit a travel website such as TripAdvisor – China or LonelyPlanet – China. Also, of course, one of the best ways to experience sites off the beaten path is to ask locals where they recommend you visit.
Chinese is a term that incorporates a group of related language varieties that are spoken among the 56 ethnic groups in China; several of these are not mutually intelligible.
The standardized form of Chinese is based upon the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, which is recognized as the official language of the People’s Republic of China. Cantonese is also widely spoken within China and other countries of Southeast Asia.
There is a vast difference in pronunciation and written language based upon the various regional dialects; it is difficult to gauge the number of dialects, but most can be grouped into one of seven language groups: Putonghua (Mandarin), Gan, Kejia (Hakka), Min, Wu, Xiang and Yue (Cantonese).
Knowing the language is rarely a prerequisite for ESL teachers, but learning common phrases can definitely make life easier. Most schools prefer that you don’t know the language (so as to guarantee the classes are kept in English) and have staff members that are fluent in English. Most students have had some exposure to English, and you may have students that are fluent enough to help translate during lessons if absolutely needed. Some schools also offer the additional benefit for free Mandarin lessons for their teachers.
English teachers from western countries will likely experience some level of culture shock during their time in China. It is a culture which operates on a communal mentality, placing a high value on personal integrity and honor. It is important to be accepting of new customs and adaptive in your new environment. It is not a terrible idea to carry a business card with your address in case you get lost; it is also a good idea to have a travel companion for your first few weeks in China. It may also wise to avoid street food until your body has adjusted to your new diet.
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