Teach English in China; Get Down With the Red Dragon

The easiest place to find a job teaching English is undoubtedly in China. A robust population and economy equals a sea of English teaching positions. Anyone with a degree from an English-speaking country can find a teaching gig in China simply by speaking English. The more difficult task is finding a quality position. There are plenty of fly-by-night schools in China, reports of teachers not getting paid on time and fraudulent work visas administered by schools that cannot legally sponsor a visa. However, there are also a great deal of solid teaching positions and opportunities even for those that have little or no teaching experience. Keep in mind that China can also be a great place to launch a career in business or in the financial sector after a year or two of teaching English, networking and learning a bit of the language.

What is the best way to secure a teaching position in China? 

There are two avenues for securing a teaching position in China and I’ve heard teachers argue in favor of both. First, one can land a job through a  recruiting agency or an organization. However, be wary agents that promise the world and tell you that everything will be wonderful. Teaching English in China is an experience in life, so there are going to be some difficult days. Throught it all, teaching English abroad is an opportunity for enlightenment and personal growth. Overall, it will likely become a fun and adventurous part of your life. With that being said, it is best to work with recruiters that are realistic and offer support. You can find advertisements to teach in China all over the Internet, including Craigslist, Indeed and Dave’s ESL. When you find a good recruiter, send in your resume and a smiling head shot photo. They will then pass your information along to schools or agents of schools in China and you will likely be contacted within a few days if you meet the qualifications.

Second, one can simply fly to China on a tourist visa and change  it to a work visa after finding a school that will sponsor a work visa. In this case, one would only need to make a visa run to Hong Kong. If you are the more adventurous type, then flying into a country without a work contract or visa might just be part of the experience for you. However, if you are like most people, you probably want to have things somewhat set up before moving to another country. Keep in mind that you may find yourself teaching in China or another other parts of Asia for two, three or several years even if your original intention is to only stay one year. What most people like to do is get placed by a recruiter the first year, learn how everything works, pick up the language a bit and then find work on their own for their second year teaching abroad. That is the path I took while teaching in Japan between 2007 to 2011. Keep in mind that if you head to China without a job, you will need an additional month or two of funds, money for a visa run and resources to rent out a room or apartment.

What are the requirements for teaching English in China? 

In most cases, you will need at least a university degree to teach in China. It used to be that you could teach without one, but requirements have become more stringent not only in China, but throughout Asia. However, there are some schools and programs that will take an applicant without a degree. You may be able to find a position with a TEFL or TESOL certificate, but in most cases you will need one. If you do not have a university degree, then you will absolutely need a TEFL or TESOL. Keep in mind that reputable schools in China ask for a TEFL or TESOL. It doesn’t have to be high end and it can also be online, but it must be accredited. It is also important to remember that getting a TESOL or TEFL is not just about getting a certification, but it will provide a foundation and starting point before you actually get on that airplane and land in China. You may feel overwhelmed when you begin teaching, but having a basic knowledge and insight will help.

On the flip side, you do not need any prior teaching experience for the most part to land a job in China or in many places abroad. There are some positions that require teaching experience, but those are for teachers who’ve already been in the country for at least a year or have an actual teaching degree from their home country. If you plan on teaching in China for two or more years, you will like move onto a better position after your first or second year. When applying for a job in China, some school will simply ask for a resume and photo while others may ask for a reference or letter of interest. Do your best to smile and look friendly for your resume photo, which can be taken on a smart phone.

How much money can I expect to make teaching English in China?

It really depends on the type of school. Public schools will generally pay between $800 to $1300 per month. This may not seem like a lot of money, but the cost of living is quite low and working for a public school includes generous paid vacation time and plenty of three-day weekends as the result of national holidays that fall on either Friday or Monday. Keep in mind that working for a Chinese public school or university is the most secure, stable and safest way to teach in China. In other words, these schools generally treat the teachers fairly and honestly. In addition to public schools,  it is quite possible to teach English for a Chinese university with a master’s degree in any subject. Naturally, the better the university or college. the more credentials and experience they will require. Having a few years of teaching experience and an advanced degree in TESOL, linguistics, English Literature or something closely related can surely open the door for a cozy teaching position with lots of paid vacation time.

The other and more common route is to teach for a private English institute. While the pay can be higher, teachers can expect to work more hours and have less time off. Depending on your qualifications and the school, expect to make anywhere from $800 to $1500 per month. Generally, a position paying around $800 per month in a private institute during your first year can be expected. However, it depends on the location as the cost of living varies among provinces Private language schools in China or in any country are not equal, so do your homework  and try to find the best deal. Most schools in China are legitimate, but there are always going to be those fly-by-night institutes that have trouble paying on time and seem to always be on the verge of bankruptcy. One option is to go with a trusted and reputable recruiter that can place you in a legitimate school. Keep  in mind that you never have to pay a fee to a recruiter, nor will additional fees be deducted from your salary. English institutes are in such demand in China and in other parts of Asia that they are willing to pay recruiters like myself to find teachers.

What is the cost of living in China and can I save money?

You are not going to save the same amount as you would in South Korea, but one can certainly save a few hundred dollars a month in China  and experience all the thrills of living in an exotic land  and create memories that will last a lifetime. Like all countries, the larger cities are more expensive and one can live quite cheap in the smaller ones. Expect to pay a couple of hundred dollars a month for a flat in the smaller cities and a few hundred dollars a month in larger metropolitan areas, such as Beijing and Shanghai.  A beer in a typical bar will cost about a $1 and a meal of street food between $1 and $2 dollars. A bowl of noodles or a rice dish in a small restaurant will set you back about $3 and expect to shell out around $8 for a decent dinner at a mid-level restaurant. Certainly one can live comfortably in China while making less than $1000 per month. Keep in mind that your housing will be free.

Teaching English in China is sure to be a great experience filled with adventure, fun and opportunities. If you are already teaching in China, have taught in China, or are planning to teach there, please feel free to leave a comment to offer any additional advice that may be useful.

About JT 63 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.