Ten things to know before working in China in 2020


Updated January 16, 2020

  • Who can teach English in China?
  • What are the requirements to teach English in China?
  • What kind of TEFL certificate do I need to teach in China?
  • How can I find a job teaching English in China?
  • What kind of English teaching jobs can I do in China?
  • What’s the average salary for teaching English in China?
  • What is the cost of living in China?
  • What are the top locations to teach English in China?
  • What is the lifestyle like in China like for English teachers?
  • How much time off can I expect when working in China?
If you’re thinking about moving abroad in 2020, you need to think about working in China.
Not only does China have the second largest economy in the world, it also has a huge population of expat workers. And with the Chinese economy set to keep growing in 2020 there are plenty of jobs in China for foreigners in many industries.
Whether you want to teach English abroad or not, working in China will kickstart your international career and help you learn key skills for the future. You’ll come out of your experience working in China with a full resume, and able to demonstrate you have some of the most in-demand professional skills in the modern workplace. Few other experiences prove your communication skills, culture awareness, emotional intelligence and a growth mindset like living and working abroad.
Many jobs for English speakers in China offer generous salaries for new graduates and experienced professionals, especially in finance, sales and marketing, the tech industry and teaching English. This means that, while you build professional experience, you’ll also be able to save money and travel in China and beyond. So, whether you want to advance your business career or are considering teaching English as a new graduate, let’s take a look at how you can work in China in 2020.

Is the job market in China open to English speakers?

In a word, yes! As China’s role in the global economy grows, more international firms are based in China and new markets, such as an appetite for luxury goods and a booming art market, are emerging. One effect of China’s growing role in the global economy is a huge desire among all age groups to learn English. China is the world’s biggest employer of English teachers, and demand is still growing!!

However, there is demand for English speakers in other sectors too. Current gaps in the Chinese market are environmental expertise and technological expertise in data, AI and digitisation. Looking at long-term trends changing business in China, experts predict that AI will be increasingly important in light of China’s aging workforce, consumption will become more ethical as the environment becomes a bigger focus and China’s freelance workforce will grow.

Expats with business experience often find jobs in foreign-invested enterprises roles that require specialised qualifications, professional experience and some knowledge of Mandarin. Without these skills applicants may lose out to bilingual local candidates, or Chinese candidates who have international experience. Of course, this is not the case for English teachers. Native English speakers are the top candidates for English speaking positions, and no knowledge of Mandarin is required.

Most English language jobs in China are based in major cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Tianjin but English teaching roles are available throughout China.

China is the world’s largest employer of English teachers!

What are the most popular sectors for English speakers in China in 2020?


China has the biggest TEFL industry of any country in the world with English teachers in demand in the classroom and online, teaching kids, teens and adults. Teaching roles are available all over China, and salaries are consistently generous. English teaching contracts in China normally last 12 months, but can be extended if the teacher and school desire.

Marketing and Sales

Marketing and sales is a strong sector in China, and there are opportunities for international workers in Chinese major cities. The luxury industry and e-commerce industries are growing meaning plenty of jobs in retail management and digital marketing. There are also roles available in cosmetics, food and beverage, and consumer goods. The latest marketing and sales salary guides for China show that salaries are rising, especially in senior roles.

Banking and Financial Services

One of the biggest sectors for English speakers in China is banking and financial services. Particularly in-demand skills include cost control, risk management, budget analysis skills, IPO knowledge and industry expertise. The latest financial services salary guides for China show that China’s financial sector is stable, and salaries have recently remained consistent from year to year. Most roles in banking and finance are based in major cities.


Competition for tech roles in China can be fierce, and many vacancies ask for at least five-year’s industry experience. In-demand skills include infrastructure development, machine learning, cloud computing, information security and data development. The latest technology salary guides for China show that expat salaries are among the most generous in this sector. Most tech roles in China are based in major cities.

Technical Operations

Technical operations is a growing sector in China and many roles are currently available in automation, Internet of Things and environmental health and safety. Specific expertise is required in process improvement, statistical analysis, design software and IT languages. Most roles in technical operations are in East and South China. The latest technical operations salary guides for China show that there are a range of salaries and growth opportunities available in this sector.

How much could I save working in China?

Your salary and living expenses in China will depend on where you live and work. Most expat jobs are located in the biggest cities in China such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. These are known as tier one cities. In general the daily cost of living in China is low and salaries for English speaking workers are generous. Most expats save a lot of money living and working in China.

Comparison chart of employment roles vs monthly savings in China
Role Location Salary
Salary USD/month Savings USD max/month
English teacher Beijing 15,000-18,000 $2,150-$2,600 $1,800
Assistant digital marketing manager Guangzhou 16,700-25,000 $2,400-$3,600 $2,800
Assistant accounting manager Beijing 12,500-16,700 $1,800-$2,400 $1,600
System administrator Shanghai 25,000-33,300 $3,600-$4,800 $4,000
Operations Engineer Guangzhou 12,500-16,700 $1,800-$2,400 $1,600

How do I find a job in China?

You can find a job in China through a recruiter or by searching independently.

How do I choose a recruiter?

  • Choose a recruiter that is an expert in their field

    Much like at home, your daily life in China will include time for work, friends, hobbies and relaxation. At the same time, you’ll have to make space for many new and exciting experiences. Daily life in China means finding a happy medium between getting comfortable and being completely outside your comfort zone.

  • Choose a recruiter that works for other clients

    Any good recruiter should be able to put you in touch with previous clients who can give you an honest opinion of how the process worked for them. Make sure you check online reviews and the recruiter’s social media channels to see what previous clients have to say.

  • Choose a recruiter that is trustworthy

    Your first clue will be your recruiter’s website - they should also have a convincing online footprint that gives you a sense of who the company is and where they are based. Beyond this, get in touch with recruiters you are interested in working with to get a better idea of what they are like to work with. They should be responsive and knowledgeable, and you should not have to pay for their services.

Where can I find a job independently?

Start your independent job search online, but don’t forget to use your real-life network too. You may know people who have worked in China who can give you advice and put you in touch with trusted companies.

Business roles in China are advertised on many sites including:

Teaching roles in China are advertised on many sites including:

What are the requirements for business jobs in China?

In order to get a working visa (known as a z visa) you will need to fulfil the requirements for any job you apply for in China.

Roles in sales, marketing, banking, finance or technology often require specialist industry knowledge that you get through advanced study or years of experience. As such, many vacancies state that applicants need Bachelor’s degrees in related subjects or years of experience working in their chosen fields. This is particularly true for more senior positions.

What are the requirements to teach English in China?

To teach in international schools (where the common language is English but you may teach other subjects, such as science) you will normally need a Bachelor’s degree in education and a teaching license.

To teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in China, the requirements are:

  • a Bachelor’s degree in any subject

  • a TEFL certificate from a reputable TEFL course

  • a passport from the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia or New Zealand

This makes teaching TEFL one of the most accessible jobs for English speakers in China.

Find your new teaching job at one of our reputable schools!

Are there short-term job opportunities for English speakers in China?

Online Teaching Jobs in China

If you’re planning to live or travel in China for a few weeks and want to earn money while you’re there, online teaching is a good option. Unlike face-to-face teaching jobs, teaching English online can be done from any location, giving you the freedom to travel around China and work as you go. You’re unlikely to get a working visa as an online teacher, so it is not a long-term employment option. But while you’re traveling, online teaching provides a highly flexible schedule (full-time hours are not a requirement) and a salary that will allow a comfortable lifestyle in China.

There is huge demand for online TEFL teachers and VIPKid, DaDa and the iTutorGroup are always hiring.

Summer Jobs in China

The most common summer job for English speakers in China is working in a summer camp teaching English. Opportunities are available at:

It may also be possible to find seasonal hospitality work in bars, hotels or restaurants in big cities.

Internships in China

Doing an internship in China can be a great way to build up your professional skills and international experience if you’re not yet in a position to apply for a more senior professional role. New graduates make great candidates for internships in China. Internships are available[Career China will be announcing internship programs soon in China in teaching for new grads to come over for 3-6 months. Not sure if that helps with this section. Once that announcement comes, we’lll add more to this section but likely build out a new page too.] in business, language learning, hospitality and more.

Volunteering in China

It is possible to work as a short term volunteer in China. Although you won’t be paid for your work, volunteering is a useful way to try out different fields and experience living in China. Projects Abroad has volunteer programs in China in teaching, business, law and medicine, among others. Summer Camp China has affordable summer camp positions and Go Overseas has a volunteer program working with giant pandas.

How can I get a Chinese work visa and residence permit?

In the past many foreigners have lived and worked in China on tourist visas, rather than working visas. The Chinese government has since taken steps to make sure all foreign workers have the correct legal status and the correct visa. If you intend to work in China you’ll need to make sure you have the correct working visa. It is not possible to enter the country on a study visa (F visa) or a tourist visa (L visa) and then convert it to a work visa.

Visa Type Working visa for Details
Z visa Foreigners who are starting a new job in China The most common type of working visa in China, for foreigners who intend to live and work in China full-time
M visa Foreigners visiting China for business and trade purposes For foreigners on work-related visits to China, for less than six months each year and not employed by a Chinese company
J visa Foreign journalists working in China For foreign journalists in China on a temporary or permanent basis
S visa Relatives of foreigners who are working or studying in China For family of foreigners living in China long term (such as spouses)
R visa Highly qualified individuals whose skills are urgently needed in China Defined as Tier A talent in China’s points based work permit system, for highly educated candidates with specialised professional experience

To work in China you need to apply for a Z visa with an invitation from an employer before you travel to China. This means finding a job in China is the first step of the visa process.

The most common type of work visa by far is the Z visa. English teacher’s working in China will have to apply for a z visa, and the majority of other foreign employees will too.

How do I apply for a z visa to work in China?

As in most countries, the application process for a work visa in China must be followed carefully. Before you start the application process you will need to prepare documents for your Chinese working visa. Then, your recruiter or employer should be able to guide you through the different steps to get your working visa.


    Submit basic documents to your employer in China for a work
    MORE >>

    Receive work permit notification from employer.
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    Apply for Chinese Visa in home country.
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    Receive your work visa for China!
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    Arrive in China and get temporary registration and medical verification.
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    Apply for a Work Certificate.
    MORE >>

    Apply for a Residence Permit.
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    Live and work in China!
    MORE >>

What taxes do I have to pay when I’m working in China?

If you live and work in China for more than 183 days per year you are legally resident in China and will have to pay tax there. Many employers will file employees’ taxes for them, but all workers in China have to file an annual tax return.

The amount of your salary you will pay in taxes in China depends on your income, and can be anything from around 5% (for workers who earn less than 3,000 RMB each year) to 45% (for workers who earn more than 80,000 RMB each year.)

Do I have to pay tax in my home country while working in China?

Whether or not you have to pay tax in your home country while living and working in China depends on the country you come from. Check with your local tax office to be sure you understand the taxes you may be subject to.

What is it like to work in China?

A typical working week in China is normally five days, from Monday to Friday. Legally employees are supposed to work a maximum of eight hours a day or 40 hours a week, but overtime may be required depending on the company you work for.

English teachers in China normally work around 30 hours a week. In public schools they work Monday to Friday during the daytime. In private language schools they normally work evenings and weekends as students take lessons outside normal school or work hours.

How does teaching English in China compare to other countries?

China Japan South Korea Thailand Spain
Typical workday hours 6 6 6 6 6
Class size (public school) 49 33 27 50 25
Work with co-teacher (public school)
No. cities for placement 425 204 48 32 44
Average salary USD/month $2,000 $2,000 $2,200 $1,200 $1,200
Average savings USD/month $2,000 $500 $1,200 $250 $0

What is work culture in China like?

Chinese business culture shares some similarities and some differences with other cultures around the world.

As in many countries, it is important to act professionally and show respect to others in the workplace in China. Two simple ways to do this are to be punctual for work appointments and to dress appropriately. What counts as appropriate work clothes depends on the company you work with--if you are working with kids, or in a tech company casual dress might be acceptable. As a rule, dress formally when you start at a new company then adjust, if needed, to be in line with your peers.

Building relationships is important in Chinese work culture, and getting to know colleagues by sharing meals together or taking an interest in their lives in encouraged. Hierarchy is also important, so show respect for elders or colleagues who are more senior.

The goal of most work relationships in China is harmony, and the concept of “face” (or “mianzi”) is crucial to this. Face is a marker of how respected a person or company is in Chinese society. Embarrassing or laughing at someone will cause them to lose face, which can be very painful. You give face, and maintain harmony in the workplace, by treating your colleagues with respect.

Start today and Teach English Abroad in China!


What kind of accommodation can I find in China?

There are three main types of accommodation to rent in China, and you can find accommodation in China through an agent or independently.

  • Apartments

    Apartments are normally in modern, high-rise buildings. Typical apartments in China normally come furnished, and have a living room, kitchen, laundry room, and one or two bedrooms. An apartment may also have a balcony with views over the city or suburb where you live.

    If you live in an apartment you’ll often have to pay a maintenance fee. This goes towards building management who take care of communal services such as garbage disposal, elevators and security.

  • Hutongs

    Hutongs are historic, narrow alleyways in cities in China. There are a lot of hutong apartments in Beijing, and many local Chinese people live there. Buildings in hutongs are older than modern apartment buildings and are often smaller inside, but they will still have a kitchen, living room, space for laundry and bedrooms.

    Hutong accommodation for foreigners will also always have a bathroom inside, which should not be taken for granted! Some hutong neighbourhoods are so old you may see communal bathrooms for residents who don’t have them installed in their historic homes.

  • Villas

    Houses in China are known as villas. Villas are the most expensive and luxurious housing option in China. They are often grouped together inside modern, walled housing complexes, and other residents are likely to be foreigners or wealthy Chinese.

    Villa’s are normally spacious and can accommodate individuals, couples or families.

What’s included in furnished accommodation in China?

Most accommodation in China comes furnished, and with a few appliances. In furnished accommodation you can expect to find:

  • Beds
  • Wardrobes
  • A Sofa
  • A Washing Machine
  • A Fridge
  • A Stovetop
  • A Microwave
  • A Heater (depending on the climate)
  • Air Conditioning (depending on the climate)

Dryers are not common in China--most people hang their clothes outside or on a laundry rack inside to dry. However, you can buy a dryer in China if you need one. Ikea and Walmart have stores in larger Chinese cities if you need to buy any extra furniture, appliances or decorations for your home.

When it comes to bathrooms, accommodation shown to foreigners will normally have a western toilet, rather than a squat toilet, and some accommodation will have both. Showers are much more common than bathtubs in China.

How much does it cost to rent accommodation in China?

How much you pay in rent will depend on where you live in China and the kind of accommodation you choose to live in. Monthly rent in smaller cities can be as little as $300, whereas a large apartment in an expensive area in a big city could cost up to $2000. Of course, a larger apartment gives you the option of living with roommates to keep costs down.

Average monthly rent in China (in RMB)

Accommodation size

City in China

  • Beijing
  • Shanghai
  • Guangzhou
  • Shenzhen
  • Souzhou
expensive area normal area
expensive area normal area
  • 13,200 15,100 11,100 11,550 7,950
  • 7,700 8,000 5,200 7,000 3,650
  • 9,350 9,400 6,100 6,350 5,350
  • 5,750 4,650 3,000 4,000 2,900

When you rent accommodation in China landlords will typically ask for a deposit. Your deposit could be from one to three months rent, and your landlord may ask you to pay up to three months rent in advance as well. However, most landlords are willing to negotiate how much the deposit is and whether it is paid in a lump sum or installments. If you use an agent to find your accommodation you will also have to pay a housing agency fee.

Rental contracts in China normally last for 12 months, but six-month contracts may also be available.

Do I need to speak Chinese to work in China?

For English teachers no knowledge of Chinese is necessary, but if you are working in a business environment in China being able to speak Chinese will help further your career. Whichever field you work in learning to speak Chinese will definitely enrich your experience of living and working in China.

What Chinese phrases do I need to know?

When you first arrive in China having a few key phrases up your sleeve will help you find your feet in a new culture. You don’t need to know hundreds of vocabulary words, or even be able to speak in full sentences to survive your first week in China without speaking Chinese. But, try learning the numbers from one to ten, as well as a few useful Chinese phrases to help make daily life a little easier.

How can I learn Chinese?

There are plenty of ways to learn Chinese. Before you choose a study method think about what kind of learner you are, and choose whether you want to learn Mandarin or Cantonese. Most people choose to learn Mandarin as it is more widely spoken.

If you want to learn fast, a one-on-one tutor might be your best bet. If you like to learn in a more traditional way, try signing up to join a Chinese class. Or if you prefer to learn little and often, try apps like Duolingo, or youtube channels like Elementary Chinese.

How long does it take to learn Chinese?

Experts estimate that it takes up to 2,200 hours of study to really learn Chinese! Unsurprisingly, Chinese can be a challenging language for English speakers to learn. Unlike English, Chinese is a tonal language which means the tone used when saying a word defines its meaning as much as the pronunciation. Chinese writing is based on individual characters, rather than an alphabet. Each character has its own unique meaning, so the more characters you know the better you’ll be able to express yourself in Chinese.

However, the estimated 2,200 hours of study is to get you to speak Chinese like a native speaker. You don’t need to be able to speak at this level to order food in a restaurant, have a conversation with a friend or even to participate in a business meeting. So, you might be able to reach your language goals in Chinese much faster than you think.

Being immersed in Chinese culture and language while you live and work in China will also fast track your learning. You’ll be amazed how much you can pick up when you have to!

While you’re learning Chines try the Waygo app, for instant Chinese to English text translations while you’re on the move

What benefits can I expect when working in China?

English speakers working in China can have a range of benefits written into their contracts to help them settle in overseas and save money. Make sure all benefits discussed when you are interviewing for a job are put in writing in your contract.

Benefits for English teachers in China

As well as a generous salary, English teachers in China get many extra benefits too. Standard benefits include return airfare to China, accommodation or accommodation allowance, health insurance, vacation days and an end of contract bonus equivalent to one month’s salary.

Your teaching contract may also include a TEFL course, orientation upon arrival in China, and Mandarin lessons.

How do benefits for English teachers in China compare to other countries?

The benefits of offer for English teachers in China are some of the most generous in the world. Combined with the low cost of living they allow English teachers in China to live a comfortable lifestyle and save plenty of money.

  • China Japan South Korea Thailand Spain
  • Return flight
  • Housing sometimes sometimes sometimes
  • Health insurance sometimes sometimes
  • Bonus sometimes sometimes sometimes
  • TEFL course sometimes sometimes sometimes sometimes
  • Orientation sometimes sometimes sometimes sometimes
  • Language lessons sometimes sometimes sometimes sometimes
  • Vacation

Benefits for expats in business roles in China

English speakers working in roles in finance, banking, sales, marketing, technology or others in China will have to negotiate benefits packages with their employers.

Traditionally, companies in China have offered expats generous packages including housing, international school fees for family members and tax incentives. But, increasingly expats are being offered local packages which do not include these benefits.

Many companies in China do offer healthcare packages for foreign workers. Healthcare can be expensive, so if it is included in your contract this could save you a lot of money. However, make sure to check your healthcare coverage carefully. Local healthcare plans can be basic and expatriates may want extras that aren’t included such as repatriation, and international coverage.

The benefits package you can negotiate will depend on your professional experience and suitability for the role on offer.

How much time off can I expect when working in China?

There are typically 11 national holidays each year in China. Most workers will also get paid vacation time on top of this. For teachers this can mean an extra two weeks or more, depending on their school. Employees in other sectors may have to work for 12 months to accrue holiday days before they can take vacation time the following year. Make sure you check the vacation day policy with your employer in China.

National holidays in China

There are many national holidays in China celebrated throughout the year. Although days like Christmas may not be national holidays in China, many expats find ways to celebrate the holidays in China together.

New Year’s Day

As in many English-speaking countries the 1st January is a national holiday in China.

Chinese New Year

Normally celebrated in January or February, Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, one of the biggest national celebrations in China. Each year a different animal from the Chinese zodiac is honoured--2020 is the year of the rat. People celebrate by giving red envelopes, setting off firecrackers and eating large feasts. Workers may get from three days to two weeks off work, depending on your employer.

Quing Ming Jie

Tomb Sweeping Day is a time for Chinese families to pay respect to their ancestors by visiting and tidying their tombs. Most workers get one or two days off for this holiday. Depending on the year Quing Ming Jie can coincide with the beautiful cherry blossom season in China.

May Day

China’s equivalent to Labor Day is 1st May. Most workers get one day off any many use it to go shopping or enjoy the nice weather outside.

Dragon boat festival

Dragon boat festival takes place on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, and workers may get up to three days off to celebrate. Celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival in China means watching boat races and eating sticky rice balls called zongzi.

Mid-autumn day

Mid-Autumn Day is sometimes called the Lantern Festival or the Moon Festival. It’s always celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar and workers get up to three days off. People celebrate Mid-Autumn Day by eating moon cakes, lighting lanterns and sharing a meal with their family and friends.

National day

National Day on 1st October celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Traditional ways to celebrate are shopping, setting off fireworks and going to flag-raising ceremonies. National day is followed by Golden Week in China, a seven-day holiday during which people take vacations to see family members or travel.

2020 Chinese holiday calendar

  • MAY
  • JUNE
  • OCT
  • Wed 1
  • Fri 24
  • Sat 25
  • Mon 26 - Thur 30
  • Sat 4 - Mon 6
  • Fri 1
  • Thur 25 - Sat 27
  • Thurs 1
  • Fri 2 - Thur 8
  • New Year’s Day
  • Spring Festival Eve
  • Chinese New Year
  • Golden Week
  • Quing Ming Jie
  • Labor Day
  • Dragon Boat Festival
  • Mid-Autumn Day / National Day
  • National Day Golden Week

Where can I travel in China when I have time off?

China is a huge and diverse country, with tons of things to see and do. There are plenty of transport options for traveling around China, and visiting different areas will give you a chance to see unique sights and try delicious regional cuisine.

  • Visiting the Yellow Mountains in Anhui

    The beautiful Yellow Mountains are a UNESCO world heritage site, famous for their unique rock formations, just visible through ethereal seas of could. As well as appreciating the area’s outstanding natural beauty, the Yellow Mountains are the perfect place to go hiking, visit waterfalls and relax in natural hot springs. Travel to the Yellow Mountains takes a few hours by bus or train from Hangzhou, which is worth a visit itself.

  • Visiting The Summer Palace in Beijing

    If you go to Beijing you’re sure to want to see the world famous Forbidden City and The Great Wall of China and but make sure you find time for The Summer Palace too. The largest and most well-preserved park in China (and perhaps the world) is made up of seven sections, each with a slightly different character. The gardens are beautiful throughout and filled with bridges, towers and pavillions designed with harmony between nature in mind. Originally used to provided the imperial family with a summer escape from busy, city life The Summer Palace is still a haven of peace and beauty today.

  • Visiting the Giant Panda Research Base near Chengdu

    Where else in the world can you visit a research base dedicated to the giant panda? Visitors to Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding can see giant pandas of all ages up close in an environment that replicates their natural habitat. The base is also home to red pandas, birds and insects. While you’re staying in Chengdu, make sure to look around the city, famous for its teahouse culture and spicy Sichuan cuisine.

  • Travelling beyond China

    As well as domestic travel, many destinations in Asia are easily accessible from China. Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Thailand are just a few destinations you could visit during longer breaks.

Launch your career today and Teach English in China!