Teach English in China
If you’re thinking of teaching English in China, your timing is great! China is the biggest growth area in worldwide ESL instruction and there is a huge amount of opportunity for foreign teachers. It’s also quite a place to be – a bustling mega country with a rich 7000-year-old culture that’s at the forefront of modernization and the global economy. In the past, teaching salaries in China were lower than elsewhere in Asia, but the country’s recent rapid growth and spiking demand for teachers have led to teacher pay quickly catching up to nearby Korea (where there aren’t nearly as many teaching jobs as there used to be). You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the cost of living in China which is quite a bit lower than Korea and USA. Take a look at how favorably it compares to the United States or even Korea. Living costs get even more affordable if you choose to live outside of the main cities like Beijing/Shanghai/Guangzhou/Shenzhen, so consider some of the other locations mentioned below. This page covers a lot of info – but for a quick visual overview, you should also check out our infographic on Teaching in China!
Salaries/Benefits & Types of Jobs Available
When you go to China, you can expect your teaching salary to provide a comfortable life for you. The norm for salaries now is $1,500-$2,500 a month. We have even seen some positions paying $3,000 and above. Your return airfare, housing, and health insurance are all covered by your school, so you’ll also be able to save up for the future (or for travel). Contract completion bonuses and travel allowances are becoming common as well. Most teaching jobs in China are with a private school – either a large chain like Disney English and English First, or individual private schools. Student ages range from preschool up to adults and good job descriptions detail the makeup of the student body. As a foreign teacher, you will be teaching English – other subjects are rare, with the exception of some university-level and international school positions for experienced professional educators. Teaching hours are very reasonable and are frequently capped at 20-25 a week. Your contract will be for 1 or 2 years, with definite prospects of renewal and raises. It’s rare to come teach in China for 6 months or less, as just about every school requires at least a 12-month commitment due to the paperwork and logistics required to host a teacher.
Teaching work is predominantly concentrated in urban areas, but that doesn’t mean your choices are limited to Shanghai and Beijing. Did you know China now has over 160 cities with a population of a million or more? There’s an opportunity to live and work in virtually any corner of the country and to see its regional and ethnic diversity for yourself. We have had recent jobs in over 30 cities in China – from megapolises like Chongqing, Tianjin, Guangzhou and Chengdu to smaller, more exotic locations such as Sanya (an island beach town in the South), Wuhai in beautiful Yunnan province, and European-influenced Dalian in the north with its ski resorts and hot springs. With such a breadth of possible choices, it’s best to do some research on provinces and cities to find the best balance of cost of living, salary, and quality of life. Reports from other expats, cost of living comparisons, and even air quality indexes are available online and can help you decide among cities. Hong Kong and Macau also have frequent openings for teachers – both maintain close ties and easy access to mainland China.
Prospective teachers should know that the ESL industry in China is growing very quickly, with little in the way of regulation. This means school quality varies and it can feel a bit like the Wild West when trying to choose a reputable school. That’s where a good recruiter becomes your best partner. Here at Footprints Recruiting, we do a solid screening of every school before we work with it or recommend it to our teachers. That process includes speaking to past teachers about their experiences to make sure there are no red flags. We look out for our teachers and want you to know that it’s easy to get burned when trying to go your own route. It also puts you in a gray zone legally (see visa info section below).
China has a lower barrier for entry for teaching jobs than many other countries we work with. Typically, if you have a BA degree and are a citizen of a native English speaking country, we can find you a good job. Having TEFL certification helps your job prospects tremendously and it makes you a much better teacher. A 120+ hour certificate is now basically required for all positions (even if not stated as a requirement). Having an in class component as part of your TEFL course is quickly becoming essential for the better jobs. You need to complete a reputable course before you begin teaching and this is often done between the time you first apply for a job online and your departure for China. There is a lot of flexibility with hours of instruction that allows you to get your certificate even while working full-time. In some cases, your school will help pay for your TEFL certificate and some larger school chains have their own in-house certification programs they’ll pay for you to take. Previous teaching experience is a tremendous asset and will help you land a higher paying job. A public school teaching license from your home country is normally not required, but check the job description as it’s beginning to pop up (especially for some government teaching jobs in Hong Kong).
Living in China
You will constantly be surprised by the way people in China live a mix of a traditional Asian lifestyle with 21st century modernity. It goes without saying that this country’s history, its epic sights, and the food are all awe-inspiring. You will also find the Chinese people friendly, quick to laughter, willing to help, and endlessly curious about foreigners. Expats get treated a bit like celebrities in much of China and you’ll often be asked to pose for a photo with strangers. You can expect something new to happen to you every day and will need to expand your horizons accordingly, adjust to cultural differences, and keep in mind that living standards may not match everything available back home. Keeping an open mind and being flexible will take you a long way in China, as will making some local friends and learning a bit of the language. Even a few common courtesies from a good phrase book like Lonely Planet Mandarin will help open so many doors for you. Working here will give you a tremendous opportunity to become conversational in Mandarin, a language that will become more useful as China’s global influence continues growing. Some schools even provide free Mandarin instruction for their foreign English teachers. These days, the expat community is also well established and you will have little trouble finding other English speakers if you branch out. Many have already blazed the same path so you won’t be left to figure everything out on your own. There is so much to see and experience in China beyond the Great Wall and Forbidden Palace. You’ll have plenty of time to explore the country on weekends and holidays – inexpensive high-speed rail is ubiquitous and flights between major cities are relatively cheap. Getting out of China for a break is also easy – many teachers head to Vietnam and Thailand for their vacations.
One big relief about working in China is that the school arranges your visa for you. You will still have to provide the requisite paperwork and stay on top of the process together with your recruiters, but it’s a far smaller hassle than securing a visa for another country on your own. In the past, some foreigners arrived on a tourist or student visa and found teaching work locally. The government has been cracking down on this practice and it’s definitely a lot safer to get the correct “Z” working visa along with your signed contract before you arrive to avoid getting in trouble and having to leave the country. Of course, the advance knowledge of a guaranteed flight ticket, job, and apartment waiting for you in a specific spot in China also makes planning your big move much easier.