China is by far and away the number one destination to teach English abroad, with job opportunities for everyone.
Since the people and culture in China are entirely different from North America or Australia, many ESL teachers wonder what to expect living in China, whether it’s worth it, and how much effort it takes to get a job there.
This post helps you to break into Chinese TEFL market and start teaching English in China successfully.
|Quick Info: TEFL Jobs in China|
|Available Jobs||Private language centers, public schools (primary, middle and high schools), colleges and universities|
|Visa Requirements||A passport from a native-English-speaking country, an accredited four-year degree, age: 21 to 60, a minimum 120-hour TEFL, TESOL or CELTA certificate, or at least two years of proven teaching experience|
|Monthly Teacher Salary||$1000 to $2500|
|Monthly Living Cost||$500 to $1000|
|Peak Hiring Months||All year, especially in September and February|
Information About China
With over 1.4 billion people, China has the biggest population in the world. The majority of Chinese people are Buddhists. The culture has a big influence on daily lives, especially in rural areas. The people are very opened and kind to each other and especially to tourists.
By area, China is the third-largest country in the world. The big country area also leads to a great diversity in nature. China delights its visitors with beautiful mountains, landscapes and national parks. Of course, China is also well-known for its gigantic cities, like Shenzhen, Shanghai or Beijing.
The climate in China varies a lot. In winter, it can be freezing cold, especially in Northeast China, where the thermometer can drop to -30 degrees centigrade (-22 Fahrenheit). In contrast, the summers can be very hot. In cities in southern China, it can get up to 40 degrees centigrade (104 Fahrenheit). The temperature in Shanghai varies from 0 degrees (32 Fahrenheit) to 32 degrees centigrade (95 Fahrenheit) around the year.
Specific info about teaching English in China
In addition to this comprehensive guide, you could check these posts:
TEFL Courses in the Country
If you haven’t taken a TEFL course yet, consider taking one in China!
Taking a TEFL course on-site is great because it gives you the opportunity to meet new friends. You will get used to your new environment and learn about how to be a good English teacher in China specifically.
We’ve picked out a few great TEFL courses in China, so you can choose the one that’s best for you.
And if you decide to get TEFL certified online instead of on location, have a look at our guide to choosing the best online TEFL course to find the one that fits your needs.
The Best On-Site TEFL Courses in China
International TEFL and TESOL Training (ITTT)
ITTT offers courses in four different locations in China: Beijing, Shanghai, Zhuhai, Chongqing. So, you can choose the course in the location that sounds most appealing to you!
All of ITTT’s courses in China cost around $1000 + $600 deposit, and students can get accommodation through the course or independently.
Shanghai and Zhuhai don’t have dates for courses live currently, but that might change soon, once the country opens up again after COVID-19.
International TEFL Academy
ITA offers courses in almost all regions of China, namely Beijing, Dunhuang, Guangzhou, Guiyang, Hangzhou, Harbin, Hong Kong and many more.
The courses take 4 weeks and can be done throughout the year at the cost of about $1800. Once you completed their course, you get a lifetime job placement assistance, which helps you find TEFL jobs all over the world. You can also do a hybrid course and start online and finish it offline.
Job Opportunities and Salaries
Another thing to think about is, what kind of place you prefer to teach in. There are various types of teaching positions in China.
There are 4 different options to choose from:
- Private language centers
- Public primary schools
- Public middle and high schools
- Public colleges and universities
Private Language Centers
You can find numerous positions in private language centers, sometimes referred to as English training 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 an established 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” arrangement, but it is part of the game, so it is better to accept it rather than become jaded and use it as an excuse to do half-ass work.
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.
The public Chinese education system is not very different from the American K-12 system. Jobs can be done in three different categories of schools.
The first category is teaching jobs in primary schools. They are a good choice if you love children! The kids seem to be treated quite harshly by their Chinese teachers, so it does not take much to earn their affection. All you have to do is to smile at them and keep their attention high through varied lessons by using songs, rhymes, and movies.
Middle and High Schools
The second category is 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.
Colleges and Universities
The third category for public teaching jobs is in colleges and universities. In my opinion, these are generally the best English teaching jobs in China, simply because you are teaching in a university environment.
They don’t require as many hours and offer a great deal of vacation time. However, they tend to pay the least. So if you want to enjoy your lots of leisure time, go out or travel around the country, you will need some money on the side.
The turnover rate for university teaching jobs is low, so these types of positions take a lot more effort to acquire.
In some cases, you will also need a master’s degree or even a Ph.D. 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.
Salaries in China
Salary depends on where you are located. China is quite diverse from a social-economic perspective, and so is the cost of living and salaries to maintain that cost of living.
Your pay will also depend on the type of school, the number of hours you teach, your degree and years of experience.
If you teach at a University, you will only be teaching around 16 hours a week, but you may start with a salary lower than $1,000. Private schools pay a lot more, around $1,600, but you will have little free time. Also, some expect you to find your own accommodation.
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 there 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 or Beijing.
Apply for a Job and Hiring Process
There are 3 different ways for you to apply for a job in China.
Apply Directly at School or Language Center
Larger schools usually have their own HR department or even recruitment teams. At most Chinese schools you can apply directly to the responsible person on the website or using the online application forms.
Modern schools even have some kind of online chatting to answer your questions and help you through the application process.
Use a Recruiter
You definitely need a recruiter, if you want to find a wider range of schools. Only bigger schools allow direct applications. A recruiter will help you find a fitting school for you.
But what are the costs for a recruiter? Usually, schools pay for the recruiter. That means you can use the service for free. Recruiters get the money, once you have started teaching at the school. That means, that they also help you with visa application, finding accommodation and other problems you are facing.
Use a Teach Abroad Program
Teach abroad programs are a popular choice among ESL teachers. This is mostly due to the easy procedure and management of the application.
Once you applied, the program will propose you to a school. If you are lucky, you will find a fitting job within a few weeks. A disadvantage of this option is that you often can’t decide on the school you are going to. Also, salaries could be a bit lower.
What Kinds of Documents Do You Need?
For China, the application for a teaching job is quite strict. This means that you need lots of documents for the application. But don’t worry. We are here to help you.
What you need to teach in China is a:
- Certificate of your degree
- Teacher Certification (TEFL, TESOL, CELTA, ETC)
- Proof of past teaching experience, if available
- Criminal record report
- Original passport of your country
- Motivation letter (sometimes)
When Is the Best Time to Apply?
Chinese schools and language centers are not hiring throughout the year. There are certain periods when it’s more likely for you to find a job.
The best times are in February and September, when the spring and fall semester starts. During this time, most Chinese schools are actively searching for new teachers.
Make sure to apply on time. This means that you should send your application four months ahead. Since you will be teaching abroad, there might be many documents and organizational stuff to be prepared. Cancelling your accommodation in your country, applying for a visa, finding insurances and so on.
If you apply about four months ahead, you make sure that you can prepare everything smoothly.
Popular Job Boards or Job Agencies
Job agencies might help you find a good teaching job in China. But, are they really worth the money? Or can you find jobs on your own?
I can only recommend to you to first look at job boards like this, on your own. If you really can’t find any fitting jobs in China to teach English, I would consider using a job agency.
They will definitely help you find a job. Job agencies usually work fast and reliable. Additionally, most agencies don’t charge too much, so that you don’t have to be afraid to get scammed. Sometimes, even the schools pay for the job agency.
What Is the Application Process Like?
Should you apply from your home country or better go there first and apply locally? That is an important question to ask yourself before deciding to move to China.
The length of the application process can vary depending on the school, language center, recruiter or job agency. It usually can take anything between one and four months.
Sometimes it can take many weeks to get an answer to your application, or schools don’t have the time to schedule an interview with you. Usually, the application process is built up like this.
- You apply for the job at the school or with your recruiter by sending your motivation letter and further necessary documents.
- If your application persuades them, you get a first job interview with the responsible person.
- If the job interview was successful, you will have a second interview with some detailed questions and discussions.
- After the second job interview, you either get a job offer or a cancellation
- You have to decide on whether you should take the job or not.
This is just a general overview of the procedure of most Chinese schools. Some institutions might have a different approach.
Visa Requirements & Application Process
If you want to work in China, you will need a Z-visa. There is no other visa allowed, if you want to teach in China. To get the visa, you need
- a passport from a native-English-speaking country
- an accredited four-year degree
- to be of an age between 21 and 60
- a minimum 120-hour TEFL, TESOL or CELTA certificate, or at least two years of proven teaching experience.
Before applying for an Z-type visa, make sure to have all these documents. This will save you lots of time on travelling and bureaucracy.
Application Process & Cost
You need to apply at your closest Chinese Visa Application Service Center. If you want to avoid long waiting times, it is possible to schedule an appointment at the local embassy.
I suggest applying for your visa around one month before you enter China. The Z-visa usually allows you to stay in the country for 6 months. Afterwards, you have to extend the visa again.
After your application, you usually have to wait for about a week, or even two, if you sent your documents via post.
I recommend to you to apply for the Z-visa from your home country. The process isn’t too complicated, and you can speak to all persons in your mother tongue. Also, in times of COVID-19, you need the visa before entering the country.
You should never be teaching under the table, with only a tourist visa. The rules in China are very strict, and it could be possible that you get reported. Fines are very high, and you can even end up getting legal problems.
The cost of the Z-visa can vary from $150 to $250 depending on your embassy and home country. If you want to find more official information, you can look at the website of your local Chinese embassy here.
COVID-19 makes the entry to China even more difficult. If you want to enter China, you will need two negative COVID-19 tests (PCR and antigen) and a Health Declaration Certificate, in addition to the above-mentioned documents.
Once you arrived in China, all passengers have to undergo 2 weeks mandatory quarantine in a special Chinese facility for travelers.
If you are going to teach English in China or 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 in 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 in a public school, they will likely cover your accommodation 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 anywhere 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 want to save on accommodation, carefully read over that teaching contract before you sign in.
While rent in China was considerably low by Western standards for a long time, 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 low 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 $1,000, 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 being dictated as to where to live by your school.
Your new Chinese apartment likely will come with basic furnishings, such as a bed, table, small TV, etc. You will have to buy small items like dishes and other appliances. Whether you are teaching for a public or private school, you will have to foot the bill for utilities (electric, gas, and internet).
Living Costs Vs. Salaries – Can You Save Money?
Cost of Living in China As an ESL Teacher
How excessive or frugal you can live on your teacher’s salary 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.
Below is a sample budget and sample prices for an English teacher living in a larger urban area of China:
- Gross Income (Salary) : $1,700
- Rent : $600
- Utilities (electricity, gas, water) : $30
- Phone & Internet : $50
- Food: $220
- Insurance: $50
- Remaining Disposable Income: $750
- 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
- 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
Tip: The postal service from China can take very long. If you send packages to your family in your homeland, use China Post’s Registered Air Mail. It costs you around $4 to $10. You’ll receive a code to track your China Post Package. This is extremely useful, if you send costly items or personal belongings.
Can You Save Money Teaching in China?
You noticed the remaining disposable income at the bottom of the monthly budget. 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 of teaching, 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.
Lifestyle is a big factor in your banking power.
Live like a local, prepare your meals with cheap local foods or take the bus or the subway to travel around, and watch your bank account balance growing gradually. Use all Western amenities as you did in your home country and drink a Starbucks Cappuccino every day, and you’ll very likely break the bank.
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.
But be aware, many contracts ban you from taking on outside work and your school can take legal action against you if you decide to take on a second job or side tutor without consent. Many English teachers, however, do it without telling their primary employer.
The Best Cities to Look for Teaching Jobs
Firstly, be aware that China is big, I mean really big. I know we all know this, but getting a grasp of the vastness is hard, even when you live there, and it is almost impossible to understand this before you arrive. Therefore, it is advisable to get acquainted with the map and the location at least of the main big cities when looking for a job.
There are, of course, many different options available, depending on where you fancy living and what kind of school you want to pick, and honestly, once you start looking at job advertisements, you will be running to Google maps to find where the places are.
Big Cities vs. Rural Areas
But more importantly, you might do well to ask yourself if you want to live in a rural place, which means few foreigners, more isolated, fewer “Western comforts” and more “authentic Chinese experience” – or whether you prefer to be in a big city where you can get Pizza Hut and Häagen-Dazs ice cream.
If you teach in an isolated town or rural area, you may not find many other international expats to hang out with. Some people manage with this just fine, whereas others may find themselves going stir crazy after a few weeks or months. Can you survive in an environment where you most likely can’t speak to people or even read a road sign? Do you need familiar foods, or are you fine eating whatever the locals eat?
Many expats choose to head for the big Chinese cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen or Guangzhou, so that there will be after-work entertainment, bars, clubs and places where they can be with other foreigners. There are also “middle-sized” cities (and I am talking about 6-10 million people) like Hangzhou or Nanjing, which also have plenty of shopping malls and other “Western” features.
In the following, you will learn more about the cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and the smaller city of Hangzhou.
Shanghai is one of the biggest cities in the world. It is a great place to live, work and enjoy your free time. Many expats are living in this city. Therefore, it might be easy for you to connect with new people. The summers in Shanghai are pretty hot, whereas winters can be cold. The climate is humid, but in winter, there is mostly no snowfall.
Beijing is China’s capital city and located in the northern part of the country. The city is popular, because of its many rivers and mountains that are close to the city. With over 21 million people, Beijing is a huge city. Just like in Shanghai, summers can get very hot, and the winter months can even be under 0 degrees Celsius (32 Fahrenheit). The climate is rather dry, with only 40 rainy days on average.
Shenzhen is one of newer Chinese metropolis. It is located in Southern China, near Hong Kong. The weather is way hotter than in Shanghai and Beijing, since the thermometer usually does not go below 15 degrees Celsius (60 Fahrenheit). The weather is quite humid, especially in summer.
Expats in Shenzhen love the relatively high salary, cheaper living costs and great infrastructure that the city is providing.
Hangzhou is located in Eastern China, near Shanghai. In 2020, there are just over 10 million people living there. This number sounds impressive, but for China, this is just a medium-sized city. This fact also makes the city very popular among expats.
The living costs there are neither high nor low. But there is just so much to do there, so you will never get bored. The weather in Hangzhou is similar to Shanghai, which means that summers are quite hot and winters cold.
Classroom & Work Culture
The Chinese have been taught to respect their elders. So as a teacher, you will enjoy a high level of respect from your students. This also means that you need to dress rather formally and have to be aware that you dress accordingly. Usually, teachers in China wear business-casual.
At good schools, Chinese students are well-behaved, hard-working and a pleasure to teach. According to this, you have to be well-prepared for class and teach to students in an effective way. Parents expect their children to learn English fast and properly. It is your job to make them do so.
The expectations will, of course, depend a lot on the type of school you have chosen. But what almost all the schools want, is someone to help students to speak and to give them a chance to hear an authentic native speaker, which in many cases they have never had before.
Usually, they have another Chinese English teacher to do grammar, reading, etc., and your job is just to get them talking.
You can use songs, games, discussions, anything you like, and they will (hopefully) love you just because you are a foreigner. Most classrooms will have computers and overhead projectors, so you can show short video clips and PowerPoints to get them talking. Just remember that in China there is no access to Websites like Facebook, YouTube, or Slideshare, so you may have to look for alternatives or use a VPN (Ask your employer first, as VPNs are somewhat controversial in China).
Some private language schools, especially those catering for young learners, will provide you with the teaching materials and tell you how to teach. There are some chain schools across China, such as Aston, Meten, Shane, English First and others that don’t expect you to have experience and offer training on-the-job. As a novice, they can be a good jumping-off point.
There is a reason why China is the most popular destination for ESL teachers. You have a relatively good income, great leisure activities, a fulfilling job and can choose between different school types.
If you are an adventurous soul who is not looking forward to a 9-5 job in a cubicle, this may be the job for you. Now you know the essentials about teaching English in China. It’s up to you now, to take action and make your dream come true. We’d love to hear some of your experiences, so leave a comment below.
Find the answers to the most-asked questions about teaching English in China.