The Guide to Teach English in China: 2017 Edition

teach english china

If you have read one of our popular post, The Ten Best Places to Teach English in 2017, or had a look at other TEFL blogs, you have probably gotten the idea that China is by far and away the number one destination to teach English abroad. The purpose of this article or blog is not to sell you on the idea of teaching in China. There are lots of great places to teach English abroad, including volunteer opportunities. As a native English speaker, being able to venture off to another land and support yourself while doing so is truly a privilege. If you are like the majority of those that want to teach abroad, you likely perfer to teach in a country where there are plenty of English teaching jobs, the ability to financially support yourself, maybe even save a little, have a great time and experience a culture that is uniquely different than your own. If that is you, then China is definitely a place to consider. China has teaching positions available for those fresh out of university, the middle-aged and those still young at heart. You can find yourself in the jaw dropping mega cities like Shanghai or in the tranquility of the countryside. Pay, positions and situations to teach English vary throughout the country.

It really just depends on where, how and why you want to teach, live and exist in China. Remember, this is not a marketing blog. I’m not going to tell you that you will have an amazing experience in China, pay down your students and land a killer job when you decide to head back home. How you live and fair in China or anywhere abroad is entirely dependent on you. If you are person that can make the most of any situation, then you likely thrive in China. It is an enormous country with over 1.2 billion people and easily the world’s largest economy after the United States. It is economically, ethically, political and culturally more diverse then you realize. For you, it may just be a place to teach for one year, for another 5 years and yet others may decide to stay a lifetime or as they say, “go native”.

China has undergone an unprecedented “march to modernity” in only three or four decades. As a whole, Chinese culture has without a doubt been influenced by Western ideas for better or worse. But keep in mind that beneath that superficial layer of modernity, concrete, convenience and technological innovation, China is still China. I learned something similar when I first moved to Japan in 2007. Don’t be fooled by materialism. Under the surface is an ancient, complex and complicated culture. There is no doubt that you will offend, be misunderstood, understand and then feel completely clueless all in the same day. But hey, that is part of the adventure, isn’t it? If that is something you cannot handle, then I would advise not teaching abroad. Like I said before, I’m not selling you on the idea of teaching abroad. It is important to always keep in mind that the TEFL industry is a competitive business. So keep your expectations low and learn to navigate the business to your advantage.

I will admit that I do affiliate marketing and place advertisements throughout this site for TEFL related companies , but I do my best to make sure that these are all legitimate organizations that abide by the rules most of time and treat teachers fairly. Is it a perfect system? Absolutely not, but what industry is? I do make a profit from blog, but so do you from teaching English or someone selling their home for a higher price that they bought it for. So if you are truly interesteding in venturing to China, learn to get off your high horse of criticism and focus on what type of situation you envision yourself there. With that being said, I personally know I would have a great time teaching English in China if I could back in time. But that is me and my own character. With that being said, if you are in that situation and point in life where you are seriously considering to make the move, here is what you need to know about teaching English in China in 2017.

What are the Qualifications to Teach English in China?

If you want to legally teach English in China, you need to take the necessary steps to get aZ visa. This is the visa that will allow you to legitimately work as an English teacher in China. If you are unable to obtain a Z visa and manage to find another route to teach and work in China, then I wish you all the best and I am not here to judge or hate on anyone for trying. While I was legal most of the time I lived and and taught in Japan, there were a few months in between that definitely ventured upon the gray area of the law. You should keep in mind that the Chinese government has gotten stricter in the past two or years in issuing Z visas as well as cracking down on those working illegally without one. Remember that China is a giant country and each province may have slightly different laws and thus process visas slightly differently than the other. But in general, if you meet the following criteria, you should be able to get a Z visa and if you can qualify for a Z visa, it very likely that you will be able to land a teaching job somewhere. To qualify for a Z visa you will need a passport from an English-speaking country, an accredited four-year degree, be between the ages of 22 to 55. You will also need a minimum 100-hour TEFL, TESOL or CELTA certificate. However, most provinces in China now require a 120-hour certificate. It is also being reported that immigration offices are also rejecting certificates with the word ‘online’ written on it.

With that being said, you can still use an online TEFL, TESOL or CELTA certificate, but just make sure that the word ‘online’ is not written on it. I am also not just writing and telling you that you need a certificate to make a profit myself. While it wasn’t necessary to a have a certificate even five years ago and definitely not 10 years, things have changed in 2017. Not only in China, but throughout the world. For the moment, I am promoting the University of Toronto’s 120-hour online TEFL Course. This is a solid program and they they do not write the word ‘online’ anywhere on the certificate. This is important as some provinces in China may reject your visa application if they see that your TEFL course was taken online. Keep in mind that the whole process from first applying for a job, getting the proper documents, getting a Z-visa and finally arriving in China to start working usually takes anywhere from 4 to 6 months.

What kind of teaching salary can I  expect in China?

This really depends on the type of position, your experience and your location. China is quite diverse from a social-economic perspective and so is the cost of living and salaries to maintain that cost of living. Generally speaking, salaries to teach English range from $1,000 to $2,500. You can expect to make upwards to $2,500 if you are living in a large city like Shanghai or Beijing, but you will likely make the lower end in places like Henan and Sichuan provinces, which are smaller locations in the middle of China. You may not make a lot in rural areas, but the cost of living is significantly lower. Most of the money you spend will probably end up being for traveling to larger cities on holiday. It can get boring out in the country, but the autonomy at times can be liberating, not to mention a more affordable and spacious apartment compared to what you will get in Shanghai.

What types are teaching jobs are available in China?

Private Language Schools: 

There are a variety types of teaching positions in China. A large number of positions can be found in private language schools. There are large, chain schools, regional chains and family owned language schools. The larger ones will have a more corporate structure since it is a business. Whether large or small, you will be expected to sell the school to some extent. Since you are the face of the school as the Western teacher, don’t be surprised if you are asked to do a demo class or greet parents of potential new students. Remember that a good smile goes a long way not only in China, but in all of Asia. You may not like this type of “selling” arragement, but it is part of  the game, so it is better to accept it rather than become jaded and use it a an excuse to do half-ass work. The business side of language schools in China and the rest of Asia can be ugly at times, but you still have a responsibility as a teacher to do good work and look after your students. Keep in mind that if you feel like you are getting somewhat screwed by your private language school, the students are in the same boat.

A significant amount of work teaching at Private language schools in China is teaching children, including little children. However, you can also expect a fair amount of classes filled with junior high school and high school aged students. Some kids really enjoy English while others are summoned there by their parents. In general, kids in China are easy to deal with, but you will get a brat from time to time. Your schedule will also consist on one-on-one and group adult classes as well. The percentage of adult versus children classes depends on the school. Teacher turnover rate tends to be higher at private language schools compared to public ones. Be prepared to meet some really cool individuals and others that are jaded, bitter and generally haters. Stay away from the latter if you want to enjoy your life. Remember that those who accuse others of being losers are usually losers themselves. My best advice if you are going to live in China or anywhere abroad is to live and let live.

Public Schools in China

Public teaching jobs in China and the rest of Asia are usually more sought after since they tend to be cozier positions, offering more paid vacation, sometimes better pay and overall better benefits. You will generally be treated with more respect at a public school, which also means that you will be expected in most cases to develop your own curriculum and be a bit more passionate about teaching than say you would at a private language school. Public school jobs can be divided into two categories. The first are jobs in Chinese middle and high schools. In some cases, you may be the only foreign teacher at the school, while there may be one or two others in larger schools. The second category for public teaching jobs is in colleges and universities. These are generally the best English teaching jobs in China simply because you are teaching in a university environment. Turnover rate for university teaching jobs is low, so these types of positions take a lot more effort to acquire.

In many cases, you will also need a master’s degree or even a PHD to teach at a university in China and the same is true for most of Asia. You will find some teachers at this level that have literally ‘married into’ the culture and are in China for the long-run. In general, public teachers in China, whether at the college or middle-school level, tend to be a bit more professional and dedicated to the idea of actually teaching.

What is the cost of living in China and can I make enough to save?

It really comes down to your location. There are parts of Shanghai and Beijing that have a similar cost of living as say a large city in Japan or South Korea, while rural areas are closer to parts of Thailand or Vietnam. If you are in a rural area or a smaller city, you are probably looking at$200 per month in rent. Expect to pay around $500 to $600 per month in center of large metropolitan areas. Below if sample budget for an English teaching living in a larger Urban area of China. You will notice the remaining disposable income at the bottom. What you do with the rest of your money is up to and will ultimately determine whether you save or not. During my first year teaching in Japan, I didn’t save a dime, mostly because I was out every night. But I did manage to save and travel during the second, third and fourth years. Another trick you should remember is the ability to do private lessons as a side hustle in China. Actually you can do private lessons on the side in any country where they will pay you to teach English. You could easily make an extra $100 or $200 per month doing private lessons in China. Even better, you could also find non-teaching side gigs, which would give you a much needed break from the daily grind of teaching.

Sample Monthly Budget:

  • Gross Income (Salary) : $2,000
  • Rent : $440
  • Utilities (electricity, gas, water) : $30
  • Phone & Internet : $45
  • Food : $220
  • Insurance : $40
  • Remaining Disposable Income : $1.200

Sample of Food Cost:

  • Milk (1L) : $1
  • Eggs (12) : $1
  • Carrots (1kg) : 80 cents
  • Chicken breast (1kg) : $2.20
  • Rice (1kg) : $1.20
  • Bottle of water (1.5L) : 50 cents
  • Bottle of Chinese beer (.5L) : 75 cents

Sample of Transportation Cost:

  • Metro Ride : 50 cents
  • Taxi rate per km :  35 cents (start fare ~ $1.30)
  • 20-min taxi ride across town : $4
  • City bus : 35 cents
  • 3-hour bicycle rental : $1.25
  • Ferry crossing : 25 cents

How do I Rent an apartment In China and how much does it cost?

If you are going to teach English in China or really anywhere in Asia, expect to live in a small apartment. The farther you get out to the sticks, the more spacious your apartment will be while flats large metro city centers tend to be smaller due to higher cost and more people. As far as the price of the apartment, it depends  on  your school. If you are teaching any sort of public school, they will likely cover  your accomodation or provide a stipend that will cover a good portion of the rent. Public schools are also more likely to pay the security deposit. Understanding how the security deposit in China or anywhwere in Eastern Asia works is essential if you plan to live there. In places like China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, most landlords want at least 2 or 3 months up front. So if you really want to save on accomodation, carefully read over that teaching contract before you sign in. Remember that your teaching contract is nothing more than a business contract. As an English teacher, you are a commodity. The English institute needs you in order for their business or program to run, so they are going to look to cut corners most of the time. The TEFL industry can be a little cut-throat at times, but so are most industries. So get off your high horse, stop complaining and learn to hustle. That is how you will be successful in a place like China.

While rent in China is considerably low by Western standards, it has been steadily increasing during the past decade. The reality is that markets grow and inflation inevitably creeps in, coupled with an ever increasing population. You are not going to find any dirt cheap rental price in China nowadays and rent will still eat up a portion of your salary. In larger cities like Beijing or Shanghai, a one-bedroom flat can be as much as $700 to $1000, while you can probably still find a one-bedroom in a rural area for $300 to $400 per month. If you sign up to teach at a private language school in China, they are likely to provide a monthly stipend that covers a good part of the rent. However, some private language schools will cover the entire security deposit, while others may only cover half of it. Although uncommon, you may also find a position that provides no housing assistance at all. In other words, not only do they not pitch in for rent, they don’t even help you find an apartment. In such cases, you are on your own. If you can’t speak Chinese, then learn to smile and be patient. You will have to go through a property rental agency and foot the entire bill. On the flip side, such positions may pay a higher salary and then you can choose an apartment of your liking as opposed to be dictated as to where to live by your school.

Your new Chinese apartment likely will coming with basic furnishing, such as a bed, table, small TV and etc. You will have to buy small items like dishes and extra appliances. Personally, I would buy an Alexa, which is great for a small apartment. Plus if you get lonely, you have someone to talk to. Keep in mind that whether you are teaching for a public or private school, you will stay have to foot the bill for utilities (electric, gas and internet). I would advise against being cheap and not paying for internet service. One of the great advantages of the Internet is that it has made life so much easier for the Westerner living in Asia and vice versa. That extra $35 or $40 a month for a high-speed connection will be a lifesaver.

How difficult is it to learn Chinese?

It is really damn hard to learn Chinese! That is an honest answer. Is it fun? I’m sure it can be, but you will definitely have your ups and downs, experience immense frustration and self-doubt. This is the case with studying any language, but the Asian, Arabic and Slavic Languages tend to give the Westerner fits. If you want to learn the Chinese, then my advice is to befriend some Chinese that don’t speak any, if little English. Another tip is to venture out into the smaller cities and the sticks without a phone or a computer. Just get completely lost in the rural parts of the country and you will definitely by means of survival start to pick up the language. I would also recommend paying for a Chinese course and also looking into any free classes that the local government may have set up for Westerners. It would also help to get a good Chinese dictionary, a book on grammar and find motivation to study. It can be a rewarding experience when you begin to handle a language as difficult as Chinese. It won’t be easy, but that is just part of the adventure of being far away from home.

 

About JT 71 Articles

JT taught English for four years in Japan. He also has extensive experience teaching ESL in the United States. JT has also traveled throughout Asia and South America. He began JimmyESL in 2014 as a way to provide honest information for those interested in teaching English abroad. These days, he spends most of his time building Wordpress sites, blogging and teaching others the nuances of digital marketing.