China is one of the world’s most diverse and fascinating countries. With demand for English lessons at an all time high, there has never been a better time to teach in China.
Chinese schoolchildren enter the public primary school system aged six or seven, although many attend kindergarten before this. Secondary schools are often divided into junior (for 12-14 year olds) and senior (for 15-17 year olds) middle schools. Academic achievement is a pathway to social mobility in China, so parents and teachers set high expectations for students.
English teachers in Chinese public schools work Monday to Friday. They normally lead four 45-minute classes per day, with office hours on top for lesson planning, meetings and English clubs. Classes can include up to 60 students (with a teaching assistant) and the focus is normally on spoken English. Public school ESL teachers take 11 days’ national holiday throughout the year, plus two longer holidays in summer and winter. Public schools in China often only have one or two international teachers making working in them an immersive cultural experience.
Check out Kimmie and Rachel chat about the benefits Working at a Training School in China Video.
Many kindergartens in China are beginning to teach English to help prepare students for primary school. With students as young as two and a half, lessons are focused on teaching English through games, songs and activities, and students might learn just one or two words each lesson.
Teachers in kindergartens can expect to work 20 hours a week or more, including hours at weekends. Class sizes will depend on the individual kindergarten.
International schools and boarding schools are generally found in large cities in China. Students are aged from three to 17 years old and tend to be children of foreign workers or wealthy Chinese families. Class sizes and teaching salaries will vary from school to school. Term times will normally align with the public school sector.
As all classes at international schools are normally taught in English, foreign teachers may have to teach subjects other than English language. Students often hope to study at international universities so the curriculum normally follows international programs such as the International Baccalaureat or the Cambridge International Examinations.
Education is a big focus in China and many students and adults study English as an extracurricular activity, outside of work and school hours.
In private language schools (also known as training centres) English teachers usually work evenings and weekends, when students have finished work or school, and will often teach more hours than in public schools. Classes in private language schools are usually around 12 students. Private language school teachers often get 11 days of public holiday, plus two or three weeks vacation to take at a time of their choosing. Private language schools such as First Leap, ABIE and Scholastic English employ many international teachers meaning there is sure to be a large English language community. Check out our video on teaching adults vs children for more information.
Some private language schools also offer contracts for English teachers to teach online in China. Jobs are normally based in big cities, but could entail teaching students from all over China individually or in small groups. Some companies such as VIPKid and DaDa offer lessons exclusively online, and others such as EF also offer face-to-face English lessons.
There are public and private universities in China. Students that get the best results in their end of high school exams are enrolled into public, government run institutions and others who still want to pursue higher education pay to go private. There is often the opportunity to teach large undergraduate classes and smaller graduate ones.
English teachers are normally contracted to teach around 20 hours a week, plus preparation time.
Like most countries, your immigration status defines the work you can legally do in China. In many cases private tutoring is considered illegal in China as it means working outside of the contract specified by the school or organisation that sponsored your Z visa. However, contracts are negotiable and many English teachers in China make agreements with their visa sponsors allowing them to teach private students. This agreement will normally be written into your contract with terms and conditions, such as not tutoring students from the school.
If you can tutor, classes will usually be one-on-one or in small groups and very well paid.
Check out our blog on Types of English Schools in China for more information
As well as a monthly salary, most jobs for English teachers in China include generous benefits packages. Here are some benefits that may be included in your teaching contract.
Most employers will pay for your Z visa to be processed and offer administrative support to guide teachers through the process before they arrive in China (like Career China). Career China
Contracts for English teachers in China are typically one-year long and include full or partial payment for return or one-way flights to China. Employers may offer to pay for flights, reimburse flights or offer a set flight allowance.
Some schools and organisations initial and ongoing support for English teachers in China such as airport pick up on arrival, orientation packages, initial housing or hotel stays, in-country staff support and school social events.
Depending on your teaching contract TEFL training and/or Mandarin lessons may be included in your contract.
Most employers will provide English teachers in China with health and dental coverage. Depending on your employer, your contract may include paid sick-days, or a percentage of payment with a doctors note. Some organisations even provide in-house health clinics for foreign teachers.
Many contracts provide teachers with free meals on workdays either in the school cafeteria or in the form of coupons or a food allowance. It is also common in China (and many Asian cultures) for students and their families to show appreciation for their teachers by taking them out for meals or giving them small gifts.
There are seven national holidays in China, which amount to 11 days of public holiday each year. Depending on your contract, these may be taken as paid, unpaid or half-paid leave. Additionally, most employers will offer at least two weeks vacation time on top of this, and significantly more for ESL teachers working in the public school system.
Many contracts for English teachers will include a generous bonus system. Typical arrangements include a six-month performance bonus or a contract completion bonus, normally equivalent to an extra month’s salary after a year of work.
Many contracts include temporary housing during an orientation period, a monthly housing allowance, or free housing for foreign teachers while they are employed in China.
One of the biggest benefits included in most Chinese teaching contracts for foreign teachers is housing and apartments. Whether you get a housing allowance or rent-free housing, having your apartment covered frees up a huge chunk of your teaching salary each month.
Accommodation for foreign teachers in China is normally an apartment or small house. Apartments are often modern, and have centralised services to maintain security and amenities in the building. Small houses are often in hutongs, areas filled with narrow streets where local Chinese people often. Living in a hutong can provide a sense of community and tradition.
Apartments will normally come furnished, with a fridge, stove top, microwave, sofa, TV, bed, air conditioning unit, shower and washing machine. Most Chinese people hang their laundry outside to dry, so dryers aren’t common. The vast majority of apartments shown to westerners will be furnished with a western-style toilet.
Some employers provide rent-free apartments pre-selected for their English teachers. If this is the case, your accommodation will already have been found for you.
Others give English teachers a housing allowance (in addition to a salary) which they can use to rent accommodation of their choosing.
Although finding an apartment in China may sound intimidating, your employer should be able to advise on English-speaking rental agencies, online apartment rental groups and co-workers who are either looking for accommodation or moving out of their apartments.
The cost of renting an apartment will depend on which city you live in, the district in the city, the size of the accommodation and the amenities included--much like renting an apartment anywhere else in the world!
$ The cost of renting an apartment will depend on which city you live in, the district in the city, the size of the accommodation and the amenities included--much like renting an apartment anywhere else in the world!
$ But, in a smaller city or city suburb, you’ll be looking at something closer to an affordable 2,000-2,500 RMB ($290-$360 USD) per month.
$ Housing allowances for English teachers depend on which city you live in but typically range from 3,000-5,000 RMB ($425-$750 USD) per month.
Finding ESL jobs that suit your goals and personality should feel like a much more manageable task once you know:
✓ Finding ESL jobs that suit your goals and personality should feel like a much more manageable task once you know:
✓ how much you want to earn in China.
✓ the kind of school you want to work for in China.
✓ where you want to live in China.
Don’t forget to only apply for roles in SAFEA approved recruiters and schools as well.
You job applications will probably all be done online and require you to send a resume to potential employers. If your application is of interest, you’ll be asked to do an interview.
Whether you apply for a teaching job through a school or a recruiter your interview will normally be conducted by video call online. You may have one or two interviews to do, potentially with the recruiter, a staff member from the school, or both.
Make sure you take some time to prepare for your English teaching interviews. Researching common interview questions so you can prepare answers, and make sure you look professional and presentable for the video call. You’ll need a quiet room and a reliable internet connection and a quiet room to complete.
When you find a great ESL job in China you might be tempted to hop straight on the next plane and start your new life abroad right away! But accepting a teach abroad position is a huge life change, so take time to think through your decision.
● research the school or recruiter thoroughly to make sure they are SAFEA approved, and have positive reviews online. Don’t forget to speak to existing staff if you can.
● read your employment contract carefully and ask the school any questions you have before you sign.
● say yes! Let the employer know in writing that you want to accept their teaching job.
● start the Z visa process through your employer and book flights to China.
The Chinese visa process may seem like a feat of admin, but realistically getting a work visa for China is no more difficult than for any other country. A little organization and an up-to-date checklist will help you through the process.
Also, all of these steps will be completed after you have accepted a job offer in China. SAFEA approved schools and recruiters will guide candidates through the process.
Before you can get a Z visa, you’ll need to apply for a work permit. To do this you’ll need to send the following documents to your school or recruiter.
● copy of your passport information/bio and signature pages.
● medical consent letter and physical examination form.
● reference letter if necessary.
● non-criminal record background check.
● copy of Bachelor degree certificate.
● copy of TEFL/TESOL certificate.
name affidavit if the name on your degree or TEFL does not match your passport.
Your school or recruiter will forward these documents to Chinese officials to be approved, and then return them to you, along with your work permit.
The day has finally come … you’ve just arrived in China! Most schools and recruiters will organize airport pick up for new employees, along with temporary accommodation while you settle in to your new home abroad.
First things first, you’ll probably want to check in with your loved ones back home to let them know you’ve arrived safely. As some foreign websites are not accessible from within China, the most reliable way to keep in touch is to download China’s own social media app We Chat before you arrive in-country, and ask your friends and family back home to do the same.
If your job in China doesn’t include orientation, aim to arrive a week or so before you start teaching so you have time to get over your jet lag and acclimatize to your new environment.
If your job does include orientation, this will be a great opportunity to get to know your new colleagues, find your way around town and maybe learn some new teaching tricks as well.
During your first few days in China make sure you find out who at your school you can call in an emergency, where you can access healthcare should you need, and how to get around safely on the public transport system.
Then, it’s time for a little more visa admin ...
Within 30 days of your arrival you’ll have to take some steps to verify your Z visa and get a residence permit. A reputable school or recruiter will guide you through the following steps
You’ll need to register at your local police station within 24 hours of your arrival with a passport, housing contract and landlord’s ID and contact details. If you are staying in a hotel you will likely be registered as part of the check-in process - same as when you travel to most countries and they scan your passport.
You may have already given a physical examination form as part of your Z visa application, but you will need to have your health assessed by a local doctor who will complete a Chinese medical report too. You’ll need to take 630 RMB, unless your employer is paying, and a passport photo. Don’t eat or drink on the day of your medical exam.
You’ll need your passport, a passport photo, your police registration form, medical report and other documents from your employer to get a work certificate in China. Work certificates take five days to process.
To get a long-term residence permit you’ll need to go to the local Public Security Bureau with your passport, police registration form, resident permit application form, photo, work certificate, and other documents from your employer.
Once you have all these documents, you’re ready to live and work in China! It might sound like a lot but reputable schools will be well versed in this process and able to guide you through each step.
Your daily life in China will depend on the kind of English teaching you do and where you live. All English teachers should have at least two days off a week, and balanced workdays that allow time for lesson planning, admin, teaching and relaxing. Factoring in the relatively cheap cost of living in China, your salary as an English teacher will give you the freedom to enjoy plenty of restaurants, shops and entertainment activities.
Day in the Life of an ESL Teacher in Beijing, China | Alex
My First Two Months Living in China
Interview with an ESL Teacher in China - Keegan
Interview with an ESL Teacher in China - Thea
Interview with an ESL Teacher in China - Vicky (On Air ESL Teacher)
Tips for Adjusting to Life in China from Current Teachers
Be observant during your first few days at work. Take note of how other teachers interact with students, what time people arrive at work and leave, and how your colleagues behave at work to get an idea of what the work culture is.
Workwear for teachers in China is smart-casual. Avoid revealing clothes. A shirt and pair of smart pants or trousers or knee-length skirt is a good basic outfit. If you’re teaching young learners you may need clothes that are comfortable and easy to move around in.
Most workers get one day off on January first. As in many other countries, it’s typically a day to rest and relax.
China makes a great base for local and international travel. Making China your home will put an exciting new range of holiday destinations within reach.
As well as the cities mentioned above (where a few of your teaching friends might be based) there are plenty of iconic sights to visit in China.
This truly iconic site is a wonder of the world and listed UNESCO heritage site. The Great Wall of China is over 20 kilometers long and accessible from Beijing.
Check out our tips for visiting the Great Wall!
The tomb of China’s first emperor is one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world. Hundreds of life-sized soldiers and horses made from terracotta form an army surrounding the tomb to protect the emperor in the afterlife. Xi’an is the nearest city.
China’s largest river runs from Tibet to Shanghai, passing through jaw-dropping scenery along the way. On a cruise down the Yangzi River you’ll pass majestic mountains, stunning gorges and charming water towns.
Accessible from the city of Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge is an area of stunning natural beauty great for hikers who want to take in some breathtaking mountain views.
Bustling Hong Kong is not only home to one of the world’s most famous skylines, but is also surrounded by lush, tropical islands.
China has a reliable and safe high-speed train network that serves the whole country. Tickets are cheaper than flying and include beds for overnight journeys, along with access to dining cars and restrooms. But, for quick trips, domestic flights are also available and can be bought online.
Living in Asia puts a whole new range of destinations on your doorstep. While you’re teaching China, why not visit some of these destinations.
For a few days of imperial palaces, K-pop and delicious spicy food, check out South Korea. Capital city Seoul the lava caves of jeju island are highlights. Return flights Beijing to Seoul from from $200
There’s nowhere in the world quite like Japan. Get your fix of geishas, ramen, anime, bonsai and high-tech toilets in Tokyo and Kyoto.
Return flights Beijing to Tokyo from $230
Whether you’re looking to backpack off the beaten trail or get a massage in a luxurious resort, Thailand has the dreamy beach, unique festival and delicious pad thai you’re looking for.
Return flights Beijing to Bangkok from $200
Between the hubbub of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, lie miles of tropical beaches and the ace up Vietnam’s sleeve: truly incredible food, from hearty noodle broths to flavour-stuffed baguettes.
Return flights Beijing to Hanoi from $180