So you want to work in China… – A guide for those looking to teach English in the Middle Kingdom

I’ve already received a handful of emails from blog readers asking for advice on finding work in China, and my wife received 2 from friends just in the last week. As teaching in China becomes more popular, so does tricking foreigners into working at awful schools. Today I’d like to give job hunters a few tips for finding a reputable school in China.

Why do you want to teach?

Before we get started in finding a school, it’s important that you have a clear reason for wanting to teach in China. In my experience, the people who most enjoy their work here are the ones who specifically set out to teach English in China, while the least satisfied say “It’s an easy job,” or “I wanted to do something different.”

This is in no way a surprising revelation that people who enjoy teaching, enjoy teaching in China, but I’ve met dozens of expats who don’t enjoy teaching, and let it affect their entire China experience.

I’ve also met a number of people looking to “save money” while they are here. It is possible, but you have to live very cheaply to come out better than a McDonald’s employee in your home country. I haven’t met many who have managed to come out much ahead as English teachers working in China’s more comfortable cities.

While it is still possible for almost anyone with a pulse to get a job in an English training school, that doesn’t mean China is the right place for you. It is a very different culture, and it isn’t necessarily easy to make friends or adapt.  Also remember that as a teacher you are shaping children’s lives, if you take that lightly please stop reading here.

To teach in a Chinese university you need:

  • a Bachelor’s degree in something
  • A TEFL certificate
  • 2 years of applicable work experience
  • Clean bill of health
  • Younger than 65

That being said, it is also worth remembering that there are exceptions to every rule, just don’t be surprised if ignoring these qualifications leads to later headaches. Standards for training schools and middle schools vary wildly. A good TEFL program will give you a lot more confidence in the classroom and make work more stimulating.

Working in a Chinese university you should get:

  • A good salary compared to Chinese teachers (read more below)
  • An apartment (often much nicer than what Chinese teachers get)
  • A very basic form of health insurance
  • A plane ticket home after completing a year of teaching (usually with a limit around 6,000rmb)
  • 3-6 weeks off for Spring Festival, and 6-8 weeks off for summer holiday

The salary will depend mostly on where you live, and will be comparable to the cost of living. Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen tend to be the highest paying cities, and the pay will drop off steeply as you get to smaller cities. The lowest I have heard a University pay is 3,500rmb/month (feel free to correct me in the comments section). Training schools pay more, but require more hours and often don’t include housing.

Bear in mind though, cost of living goes up much faster than the pay. When I lived in rural Guangxi (working with a charity), I earned 2,500rmb/month, but managed to save 14,000rmb in 9 months by living simply. I also know people earning 10,000rmb+/month in Shanghai who haven’t managed to save a dime. Another thing, food prices rose nearly 10% this year, so it is difficult to compare a current salary to what someone made 2 or 3 years ago.

Training schools often do not have the same lengthy holidays as universities and middle schools, an important thing to consider if you plan on traveling.

What is expected of you:

Most universities will want you to…

  • Teach up to 16 hours per week
  • Give 1-2 lectures per semester, open to other students
  • Participate in English corner, or some other English activity
  • Occasionally judge a speech or song competition
  • Show up to important banquets and smile politely

Some of these things don’t show up in your contract, but they are still expected. Yes, you can opt out of them, but life will be much more enjoyable if you don’t. We’ve talked about the importance of Guanxi before, well, this is how you earn it.

If you decide to work in a training school, expect your contract to be 20+ hours, and many of those will be evenings and weekends. The schedule will also be more likely to change.

Before you agree

  • Use Google maps to actually see where in a city a school is located. Chinese cities function more like US counties (but bigger).  You can technically be “in” a city, but it could still take you over an hour to reach the city center.
  • If the school is asking you to come on a tourist visa, remember that it is illegal to work without a proper work visa. While the chances of being caught are small, remember that you are the one who will be held accountable, not the school. Don’t be an illegal immigrant. Except in cases of extremely good guanxi, it will not be possible to change your visa once you are in China.
  • Ask about class size, age of students, what subjects you might be teaching, and whether or not you will be teaching at any other campuses (this is becoming very common). These are important factors to consider when comparing two schools.
  • Keep in mind that most Chinese universities do not plan very far ahead. This will effect everything from when you get your class schedule (sometimes just a day or two before the semester begins), to hiring new teachers, to announcing holidays. Do not expect quick replies to your emails, or to be able to plan your life months in advance.
  • Brace for the reality that some schools want a foreign teacher just to look good. They don’t necessarily care about your classes or your ideas on how to improve the school. Don’t let this get you down or effect how you approach your classes, students are still aware of the difference between a lousy foreign teacher and an amazing one.
  • Online job boards, will have dozens of “opportunities,” but the vast majority of these are placed by agents who only receive payment upon your arrival at a school. They will promise you almost anything to get to China, knowing that it’s very hard to back out at that point. You can counter this by asking if they have any foreign teachers at the school who would talk with you about their work (watch for spelling errors and Chinglish).

With all of that being said, my wife and I have spent five years working as teachers in China, and have enjoyed almost all of it. Take the time to fully research a school before you commit.

And finally, take time to read Casey’s cautionary tale.

If you have your own tips please add them in the comment section below.

51 responses to “So you want to work in China… – A guide for those looking to teach English in the Middle Kingdom”

  1. sinostand says:

    I think if they ask you to come over on a tourist visa that’s an immediate red flag. I worked at a university and private English mill and there’s literally nothing positive I can say about the latter. Keep in mind you tend to have a lot of free time at university jobs which gives you plenty of time to explore any of the plethora of well-paying odd jobs foreigners can get part-time. I think that pretty much cancels out any advantage the ever-sketchy English mills have over public schools.

    This is the agency I came over with that I’ll go ahead and plug, as they were fantastic.

  2. me says:

    Even if you’re a student over here, there are plenty of opportunities to tutor on the side for a little extra cash. Plenty of families are willing to hire foreigners to “house teach” (家教). One friend of mine was at one point taking Chinese classes during the week and tutoring for 8 hours every Saturday. Some of those students were middle/high school students and some were older and well into their careers. I’m not sure what the going rate is for home tutoring anymore. My friend was tutoring in a second tier city 3-4 years ago and making about 100 RMB/hr. While also living frugally, that more than paid for the cost of his year studying abroad (not including plane tickets). Does anyone have any idea what the going rate is nowadays?

    • Casey says:

      I’ve seen a range from 125 RMB to 200 RMB per hour in a city like Nanjing and heard tales of higher wages.

      • Sameer says:

        Hi Dear if you need good package contact me I have best offer for ESL teachers in beijing.

    • L D says:

      No offense, but a) earning money on a student visa is the same as b) working on a tourist visa – not legal. Not giving a sermon, just pointing this out since b) is stressed in the article.

      • David says:

        Teaching while on a student visa sounds tantalizing, but is extremely dangerous. If you are discovered, you would have your student visa revoked and would be asked to leave the country, perhaps even fined. Once this is on your record, it would be almost impossible to reenter the country. This has happened in recent years to a number of students from the US, the UK and elsewhere. Be cautious and clever. Know the rules of the country in which you are staying.

  3. M says:

    “While it is still possible for almost anyone with a pulse to get a job in an English training school” – very truth

    “To teach in a Chinese university you need:” – somehow you forgot to put there word “officially”, in real world you need none of those, in China anything is possible

    I understand that this article is written from point of idealist with phrases as “Also remember that as a teacher you are shaping children’s lives, if you take that lightly please stop reading here.” but reality it’s anyone with basic english can teach english in China, your most important qualification is that you are foreigner and more pale your skin is better teacher you are (by chinese merits)

    “If the school is asking you to come on a tourist visa, remember that it is illegal to work without a proper work visa.”
    …as in ANY country in world, of course you can’t officially work with tourist visa, I would point out word officially, when you will be caught (very small chance) you will be just fined, but anything can be solved by money

    “Except in cases of extremely good guanxi, it will not be possible to change your visa once you are in China.” COMPLETE BS, it’s almost impossible to not get changed your tourist visa to any kind of visa in China, I don’t know what lame agencies friends of author chosen, but I know dozens of people who came to China on tourist visa and got it changed here in China, same as me, that’s why there are in China visa agencies. the easiest visa for longterm stay are bussiness visa now possible for 6 months with another 6 months extension, no documents needed, reasonable price (around 4000+2000RMB), student visa are also very easy, just sign at some university/school for chinese language course (5000RMB/6-12 months), but of course both of this visa will just help you to stay in China but will not legalize your stay here (not that it would really matter to employers or anyone), official way is change your tourist visa to work Z visa, basically you need to show bachelor degree (if you don’t have it 2300-3500RMB) and work certificate for 2 years of experience (again, about 2000RMB, but it’s just piece of paper with any stamp so only crazy person would pay for this to agency, ask your previous employers or your friends to print any paper with stamp for you) plus of course agency fee for getting you visa without leaving China. I’ve never met anyone whose visa could not be changed while stay in China, one change (L->Z or L->F or L->X) is not problem, if you need second change prepare extra 2-3000RMB

    I don’t know outside Beijing, but in Beijing you can give private lessons as native speaker for 200-250RMB+ per hour, standard should be 2 hours per session, non native speaker without UK/US passport can ask for 100-200RMB and still can find other jobs as teaching small kids in kindergarten (my colleague is doing it 2hrs twice a week for 140RMB/hour)

    anyway if you speak ANY english you can find job as english teacher in China and you don’t need anything, no documents at all, just bring some money to manage to get your visa, but really think first if class full of children is something what fits you, for me it would be last resort and I’m satisfied with my office job without children (if we don’t count chinese coworkers)

    • Tom says:

      While this might be possible, it is terrible as “advice”. A work visa is nowhere near 6,000rmb if you apply for it correctly in the first place. And you save yourself the terror of having a visa issue after arriving in China. Do it right the first time, save yourself the trouble. (or as calculated adventurist points out, if for some strange reason the consulate recommends it).

      Also the fines for working without a proper visa, can be more than what the teacher is earning. Sure, it’s “just a fine,” but again, encouraging people to break the law can hardly be called “advice.”

      • L D says:

        Yes, exactly, and don’t be so confident that every city’s PSB would really be so helpful as to change your visa. The rules in China are VERY local.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      Now, I’m not one to invalidate your experience, @M. It’s true what you say. Anyone with no moral compass can do anything they want in China and even do a poor job and still be quite satisfied. Of course this doesn’t apply to you. Also, clearly you and your dozens of friends experience in Beijing is not universally applicable, as the anecdotes presented by Tom and others verify. This has nothing to do with idealism. The truth is that China is not the top down bureaucracy you might imagine it to be. In other locales the local PS bureau infrastructure is not quite so developed and/or capable as it might be in Beijing. If you take note of Tom’s quite sensible advice, he is saying the following: the law is this and it’s best to follow it; it’s possible to change your visa, but not always and it’s not wise to come without the proper papers/qualifications. He’s also very correctly pointing out that you are paying an outrageous fee to get your visa processed. If you are going to a reputable job, these fees (which do not in any case amount to 6000rmb are usually paid by the hiring school.

      Finally, you are missing something very important that Tom hasn’t by saying “but reality it’s anyone with basic english can teach english in China, your most important qualification is that you are foreigner and more pale your skin is better teacher you are (by chinese merits).” This is only true if you can accept the disrespect and disdain of your local teacher colleagues doesn’t matter to you. Frankly, and again I don’t want to invalidate your experience, but your pale skin might get you in the door. But your poor English teaching will, in many cases, get you shown the exit.

  4. Sara says:

    Tom, After reading this post I thought if it could be possible to have a blog post of other kinds of jobs foreigners can do in China. Especially to foreigners who do a Chinese language undergraduate degree and then want’s to stay in China. I’m sure you can guess who I’m talking about here. I would really appreciate your thoughts in this if you happen to have the interest and time.

  5. David says:

    I think the focus should be to check the school to verify their bona fides. This can be easily done by logging onto the many reputable we sites that advertise for foreign teachers.(Oftentimes, teachers who have had horrible experiences will post their comments and name the particular school).
    Many schools are Chinese-owned or are a joint venture between a Chinese entity and a foreign partner. Despite the “excellent’ reputation many schools have, a great number don’t pay their teachers on time, always manage to find “extra” work for them to do to fulfil their contractual “obligation.”, and many suddenly close their doors after many years of so-called success on the mainland leaving many unpaid teachers without recourse. I could cite four or five, but don’t wish to tempt a law suit. Above all, the teacher should be wary of high-sounding promises.

    As far as the visa situation is concerned, there are many agents who can do the required work, changing an L (tourist) visa to an F (business) visa, as mentioned in an earlier post. These agents abound in the first tier cities.

    Happy teaching !!!

    Regards from Beijing…14 years experience on the mainland and enoying every second.

  6. Anonymous says:

    YEP! Do your homework, bring your sense of humor and adaptability and you too can fall in love with/be flabbergasted by/frustrated with/and delight in living in China…

  7. My husband got a job at a university in beijing and even though we had an invitation letter, the consulate in SF had us go on a tourist visa and then switch to a Z while in China. My husband made 8000rmb /month and we saved 1/2 because we didn’t have tp pay rent or utilities. We lived in a teacher apt. on campus. This is all great info and very accurate.

  8. Sarah says:

    I think that all this advice is great – if you are going to teach in a Chinese university. You probably want a work visa, some sort of teaching qualification is required, and the pay isn’t that great. You might not get that far on the color of your skin, and if your classes are horrible the university won’t keep you around. But there are different types of teaching that can be done in China, and the advice differs for each. You can easily find work in a training school (one-on-one tutoring) or in a local primary/kindergarten school (as a native English teacher doing once a week classes) or in a holiday camp (several weeks with a large group of children/teenagers).

    Working in a training school is entirely different to university teaching. Usually classes are one-to-one, and students generally want nothing more than speaking practice – basically they want someone who is chatty, cheery and who will talk to them for an hour or more. As you might expect, this tends to be the more casual type of part-time work, and is much more informal. A centre – once you have sent off your CV and they have taken you on as a teacher – will call you up, ask you to come in, and have you meet students so they/you can decide if you want to teach them – it is all a bit like a set of blind dates. You aren’t expected to plan lessons or use a book, and while teaching qualifications are great, being nice and personable is just as good. Students vary – you might get a small toddler that you have to entertain for an hour, an adult just learning English, or a teenager who needs exam help. In Beijing pay varies from 120-300 per hour, depending on how great the centre is and how well you bargain when you first sit down for an interview with the school. I worked for three different training schools on a student visa and I was never once asked to get a work visa, and I never heard anything about anyone – and I met 40+ teachers all on tourist/student visas – getting fined.

    The positives: it is casual. You say you only want to work on the weekends, and the centre will find you students on the weekends. You might have one student who comes every day for a month and then stops, you might get a student who wants to come in at 9pm on a Saturday, you might luck out and get one student for a year. It also pays pretty well (for what it is) and most people tend to do tutoring part-time alongside other work for spare cash, or on the weekends.
    Cautions: be CLEAR with the school about what students you want, and when you want to teach. If you do not want to teach small children or on Sundays, make it very, very clear that you do not want to teach small children and that you do not want to come in on Sundays – centres can be very pushy. You’ll also earn less than if you were to put up an add online and find students by yourself, but at least this way you won’t have to deal with parents. It is also MOST LIKELY that the training centre will blatantly lie to parents about your 1) age 2) qualifications 3) experience 4) nationality. I had a centre that tried to convince me that I should pretend to be British – and I have a very strong American accent.

    Working in a local primary school/kindergartens is a little bit different. Schools generally try to get foreign teachers in to teach English classes, maybe once a week for half an hour, or even three times a week for an hour an a half each time. If you work for a kindergarten, it will most likely be you and 25+ three-year olds. Schools vary and you might be given a book, but in my experience you will most likely have to come up with things to do all on your own, with limited/no resources. In order to get this type of job, you will probably have to go into the kindergarten and do a ‘demo’ – a short 10-20 minute trial class. You will most likely have to do this demo even if you have a teaching qualification, and for this reason I’d say that having a teaching qualification isn’t that big of a deal here either – although teaching experience helps. If you freak out and are unable to keep your students entertained/in line during your demo, you probably won’t get the job. In Beijing pay was solidly around the 150 RMB mark.

    The positives: Discipline is rarely an issue with these kinds of classes. Twenty-five toddlers is scary, but their own teachers will be around/in the next room/sitting next to you and will usually interject and terrify the children into sitting still if they get rowdy. These are also often the most fun, provided that you have a good imagination and are willing to sing or be silly.
    Cautions: Unless you are very lucky, you will probably get students with a very low level of English, or at least a very mixed level of English. Having some knowledge of Chinese is good here – even if you don’t speak it to your students, knowing what they are saying is incredibly helpful, and being able to deal with the staff is a bonus as well. Resources can also be a problem, and if you want to make your life easier you should invest a bit. I had literally NONE at the kindergartens that I worked at in Beijing, and ended up bringing in my own paper, glue and scissors when I made Christmas cards with my classes.

    The seasonal holiday camps are the last major group of teaching opportunities in China, with Chinese New Year camps and summer camps being the two big money-earners. These tend to vary in terms of what is expected from you and what you can expect from them, so be cautious. You will probably be asked to dedicate a solid set of two weeks or more either in the city that you are in, or possibly in another location, such as in a hotel near a ski-slope (a winter camp), in a hotel in a major city (a camp that includes touring monuments) or in a school. Your expenses will most likely be paid, and pay tends to start at 200 RMB a day. As I said, what you will have to do will vary, but you will most likely have to help out with a group of 30+ students as they go on excursions and trips – usually alongside other foreign teachers and local Chinese teachers – and run English classes in between. Being friendly, good with kids and full of ideas for activities/games will help you out here, as will thinking on your feet.

    The positives: These can be fun, and an easy way to make a sizeable chunk of money during the holidays.
    Cautions: Do not expect much from your hotel (if you are staying in one) or the food (if they are feeding you). You will also probably be paid at the end of your time, so if it all goes wrong, you might have to be stuck sticking it out until pay day – and it might go horribly wrong (for example, I had a friend who was on a summer camp in a hotel, and all the students and their local teachers left in the middle of the night because they hated the hotel that the organisers of the camp had picked out. Apparently it was NOT fun). Go on recommendations from friends or other teachers that you know, and make sure that you know exactly what classes you are expected to do and what materials will be provided before you show up. Also ask about what age/level kids you will be dealing with, although this might not mean much – on one camp I was told my students would be 13-15 years old and planned accordingly, and on day one met my class of 7-10 year olds.

    Bit of a rant there.. hope some of it was useful!

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      The image of 25 toddlers terrifying you and a teacher in turn terrifying them made me laugh. I’m wondering about your experience with qualifications, though. As far as I know, a working visa requires on undergrad degree. Also, which organization hosted you as a foreign expert and how was your moving place to place to work handled officially? Long and short, was all of your work legal in the strictest sense of the term?

      • David says:

        To teach in China, you should refer to the following sites: This is highly reputable, with contacts throughout the country,and elsewhere, from teaching centres, to high schools and universities. Every job listed has enough detail to answer your every question. Also Dave’s ESL Cafe is another highly regarded site. You may also search “Teach In China,” for other job opportunities.

        As in any foreign country, be aware of the rules and laws of entering; gather as much information as you can from others who have worked there. Although many have suffered her, as witnessed in previous comments, others such as me, love it here. As mentioned, I’ve been here 14 years and love every second. It’s your attitude that counts, your ability to be resilient in the face of adversity and knowing that you are in culture unlike anything you’ve experienced before.

      • Sarah says:

        My experience is strictly with the part-time casual teaching work. My longest stint was in Beijing for a year, and then I was on a student visa and taught 25+ hours a week. I didn’t run into any problems. It wasn’t legal in the strictest sense of the term, but seemed to be pretty common – I didn’t run into anyone at any of the centres that I worked at who had a full-time visa sponsored by any of the teaching centres. Most were teaching part-time alongside a full-time job, or were teaching one-on-one to supplement a university teaching job.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Thanks for the clarification, Sarah.

  9. Vammo says:

    I taught in china for a few years. I wouldnt recommend it. I’ve met people who made it work for them, and all power, but from own my experience all i can say is, it’s shit, dont do it. You’ll meet some of the awesomest people in your life. Some students and colleagues will leave you with an unpayable debt of gratitude. I’m still haunted by pleasant memories of folk, like the staff at the food joints i frequented or the dude who used to fix my shoes. But all those positives are outweighed by all the c***s i met. And all the idiots. So many idiots. And, youre not allowed to talk about this or that topic, and you cant say this or that about this and that, and its like, walking on eggshells around too many people of malign character. If you really want to do it, give it a year and ask yourself honestly if this is ok. But in my opinion there are plently more countries out there that are WAY more worth the time. Lastly, my best advice for teachers would be, get hold of a chinese colleague and a student rep or two from every class (if possible) and meet regularly to discuss how things are going. You need regular high quality feedback to help you know if youre in the zone and how to adjust. You might be speaking too fast, your activities might be too boring or hard or easy. Certain mannerisms might be perplexing. Etc. And PS, get ready for a dearth of male friends. Chinese dudes under 30 are generally too effeminate to crack a beer and talk about chicks or sports with. There will be some, but very few and far between.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      Some good advice. As to beer with Chinese dudes, I’ve never had problems cracking beer and talking chicks with them, although they do seem to know little about ice hockey. By the way, what are c***s?

    • M says:

      strange, from CN guys I’ve met none of them had problems to talk about chicks, commies, porn or anything or drink with me (but very moderately, for sure not to get wasted), problem was usually lack of experience, they don’t have problems to talk about chicks but they usually have nothing to say because of no experiences, but it’s maybe because I’m hanging with IT guys mostly

      but I guess for teaching would be Thailand bigger fun, lot of my friends teach there, depends on what kind of culture, women and fun you like

    • justice says:

      I wouldnt say it’s that bad, but my university, upon learning I had organized a foreigner vs. chinese basketball game in another city to raise money for a local orphanage, told me I needed to notify them when I left the city!!!! I’m sorry, but I’m a resident of China, I don’t need a babysitter

      oh, and ya, the lowest ive heard of is 3500rmb, my salary last year

  10. Trey says:

    just want to thank everyone for the comments too! really helpful.

    i am planning on heading to china next year at some point to teach. i dont have a uni degree yet though. but am currently doing an online uni degree. i was thinking of heading to china so i had more time to get through the degree, since i’m working full time atm, and its pretty brutal trying to manage work and studying. oh, and add to that an online tesol course.

    so yeah, this article and the comments are extremely helpful. thanks again!

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  12. Charles says:

    Another option people have if they are qualified is to find a position as a subject teacher in an established international program in a Chinese high school. While one will run into the same difficulties trying to assess a legitimate program from the dodgy one as with finding an English job, the best ones almost certainly have these qualities:
    -They pay properly – usually 16-25,000RMB/month upwards of 30,000+ (subject, education, work experience, location are factors).
    -Foreign management and Chinese leadership with overseas education
    -Located in top ranked national high schools
    -Much better students as they are mostly drawn from the host high school.
    -Program fully integrated into the student’s high school education with student’s graduating with either a dual diploma or a foreign high school diploma.
    -Most recruiting done in house, not farmed out to agencies
    -Foreign curriculum and teacher support provided
    -Foreign accreditation and/or Quality Control
    -Monday to Friday class schedule with normal school hours (8AM-4PM)

    It’s a nice mix of having a regular job while still getting the China experience.

    (FULL DISCLOSURE – I work for one of these types of programs)

    • David says:

      Another job board you may wish to try is: ChinaSplash – Jobs in China Jobs

    • James says:

      Hi Charles

      I am interested in finding out more details about these programs in Chinese high schools. Can you post some web links about how I might be able to find these opportunities.


  13. Anonymous says:

    for teaching in China advice, there’s only one site worth looking at, and that is:

  14. rasmushenrikssonRoxy says:

    I like how straight to the point you are talking about the real pitfalls and what to watch out for when looking for jobs. There are tons of job-sites out there, the biggest one is probably, but I recommend Teacher Gig which is clean, without banners or ads, and straight to the point…

  15. China mom says:

    Universities in western China often pay less than 3500 for just a BA. I have a MA and 20 years of teaching experience and I’m only paid 4000 a month. BUT cost of living is much lower.

  16. jomosino says:

    Some clarification re degrees.
    I’ve been teaching in China since 2004 with Z-visas organised by employers. I’ve taught in a middle school (awful!) and most of the big English Centres. Got married to a Chinese lady, sold up in UK and bought a modest apartment in her hometown. All this on a poor quality fake TESOL. Then I committed the sin of passing the age of 60.
    60 is the retirement age for Chinese men, and I got whining responses about being unable to organise a Z-visa, as I was ‘too old’. Far worse, in a blitz off applications this year, more than 50% got no response at all. This includes some ot the ‘top’ agencies and English Centres.
    But actually, you do not strictly speaking need a degree to get a job in a university. You need it to get that visa.
    Unable to hide the fact of my great age (it’s there on the passport page you sent them) I offered to supply my own. OK, it’s an L-visa. Category: ‘Visiting Relatives’ ie my wife. But the local office renew it annually with no quibbling, as I got married, and have residency, here.
    If this happens to anyone else, approach the university (through an agent or directly) in September. They’re getting desperate to fill vacancies once the term starts.
    They absolutely refused to better the meagre Y4000 a month they were offering. I asked for an additional Y500, as I wasn’t about to live in their accommodation – preferring the comfort of my own place, and an hour each way on the bus. So I said forget it. A week later they agreed to pay it (told you they were getting desperate) and after my first week adjusted my schedule from 5 to 3 days a week because of my additional travel time.
    Hang in there. Be tough. You’re going to encounter a lot of bullies.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      Can you tell which province and/or city? If you don’t want to give the city, is it city, county, other?

    • justice says:


      I think this needs to be talked about. I honestly have had so many people try to take advantage of me. Remember, anything ‘free’ or something where you show your face is worth money, always worth money. The sooner foreigners understand that the better.

  17. Jen says:

    Thank you, Tom, for this really good, interesting and down to earth article. I am also planning to work in China as an English teacher. This really helps a lot.

  18. Mitchell says:

    For those who are intent on teaching in China, my advice will not be of much use to you. I strongly recommend that anybody with TEFL or CELTA certification can find a higher standard of living and better working conditions in many other countries. The standards in China are so variable and generally low that it ought to be considered a career killer. If this is where somebody wants to retire, it can be fine.
    There is a strong hint of professionalism hinted at in this essay, which I want to follow up on. As a foreign teacher in mainland China, you will always be regarded as a foreigner by most faculty foremost. This means that you are either a curiosity or a white monkey whose main function is to help market a school or to entertain the youth.
    I can only speak about my experiences so I am certain that there are apologists who will insist that I qualify my remarks as anecdotal; nonetheless, I think it is more valid to point out just how bad the working conditions in China can be. Yours, in fact, might be worse than mine own.
    The schools will impress upon every foreign teacher to obey the ‘norms’ of China and professional teaching standards. They won’t tell you, of course, what the norms are other than perhaps telling you to not discuss the three Ts: Taiwan, Tibet, and Tiananmen, but they reserve the right to complain about any other topics that might come up as you depserately try to excite classrooms of passive students.
    On the other hand, the schools feel no obligation to treat a foreigner with anything approaching professionalism. Some of this is, as mentioned, due to what other teachers consider normal. Changes in the work schedule are indeed managed in an ad hoc manner, or at the last possible moment. Since you are the foreigner, they might even make it a point to tell you at the very, very last moment. You should not be surprised being informed in the following manner. As you prepare to leave the classroom on a friday evening, somebody might approach you with a question: “Did you know that we must begin our monday’s classes tomorrow?” I still don’t know the proper way to respond to this genre of question.
    There are other manners of conduct that will feel like deliberate insults to any of your best efforts to teach. I, myself, have never been given an official list of students in my classrooms. I was told that I needed to ask the classroom monitors for such information. It should be pointed out that in spite of the school officials’ insistence that all the paperwork, yes, even the paperwork that you get from the classroom monitors, be completed on time and flawlessly, the marks that you give your students will likely be ignored by the school, or altered by the school officials to meet their expectations for the students’ performance. The students all understand this perfectly well. They will be more concerned about their marks in their P.E. courses than in yours. So when they laugh or snicker at you when you threaten to fail them or give them poor marks, you will understand why they find it so drole.
    You can also ask to get copies of the textbooks in advance so that you can prepare, but you ought to expect not to know what materials you have been given to teach with, if any, until you walk into the classroom for the first time. You should also not complain about the many mistakes in such textbooks. In fact, your students have become so familar with such errors that they accept them as normal.
    The schools will on average want you to teach 16 hours per week. They might offer a minimum salary but if they don’t, they will reduce the salary if they also decide to reduce the teaching hours. They might hint that you can work more hours for more pay, but this is highly unlikely. You might be tempted to work outside the school, and in doing so the school will consider this in violation of the residency visa and grounds for dismissal. They can decide at their discretion whether to dismiss you for this or to use it as a basis for not renewing a contract. You will never be given the real reason for dsimissal so this illegal work will be their facesaving ace-in-the-hole. It is important to remember that your presence on the campus is more important to them as a marketing tool than as a teacher. If they can get you to walk around the campus with your white, smiling face at the lowest cost to them, then they will. If you can actually teach, that’s really only of interest to a few students anyway.
    You can also expect to have to fight to get paid. This is considered a normal aspect for the Chinese as well. One hurdle is that they will expect to see cancelled airline tickets in order to get the promised travel compensation. The fact that airlines issue e-tickets is of little concern to them. The school officials will also delay paying final end of contract balances. You can remind them well inadvance of yoru last day, but that will still come as a shock to them as you anxiously wait to get paid before you can move onto your next position. you might be reminded that you earn more than other teachers, so you ought to be happy already with what you have been given. The only person necessary to approve the money transfer will just happen to be on vacation, and then there will be other bureaucratic hurdles while the school where you hope to teach next pressures you to arrive as soon as possible. Some schools proudly announce in classified postings that they always pay on time. They seem to treat this as a special service to employees.
    As much as I do rail about my, and secondhand, frustrating experiences in China, I can also point out just how valuable they are in order to give me a direct insight on mainland Chinese society. It’s the normalcy of these conditions, to some degree applying also to other Chinese professionals, that surely explain some of the frictions that are rising to the top of debates as to how the Chinese themselves want their nation to develop. I worked with a woman who was given a free opportunity to attend an Australian university towards her ESL career coursework. She was denied permission to obtain an exit visa by her head of department on the grounds that it would not contribute to her work as a teacher. She stated that he only did so out of concern for her wellbeing. I suspect that if she had known and been able to pay an obligatory bribe, his concerns would have been abated.

  19. nelson says:

    I can teach maths, english, computer, economics.

  20. Kev says:

    Well done, Mitchell. I’ve been in China for almost 4 years and most of the people here are pretty much the bottom of the Asian barrel. Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam… Take your pick, they’re all better than China.
    When I go for a walk, I have to pretend that it’s open day at the zoo. Chinese people, in the main are as disgusting as goats. They cheat everyone and brag about it to other people as if it’s something to be proud of.
    Don’t teach in CHINA and if you do, and come to work at my training center without a Z visa, expect a visit from the PSB (government office). I’m sick of casual teachers screwing with my job security and, face it, Chinese bosses will screw you over because they can get a warm body from the local university or a casual ‘laowai’.
    If anyone reading this wants to add something stupid like “If you were any good, they couldn’t replace you” or something equally retarded, you should know that Chinese bosses will sacrifice anyone to ensure that everyone knows they are the boss and secondly, who said Chinese bosses knew how to run a business professionally.

  21. David says:

    January 15, 2012…Happy Lunar Spring Festival everyone….Anyone wishing to teach or do other work in China should now be aware that the rules for visas and the various types of visas will be changing this year. Although the Chinese Public Security Bureau (PSB), the department that regulates and issues visas, has announced the changes, they have yet to post the newly revised categories., which incidentally, could change at any time.
    The reasons they offer for the upcoming changes are: too many unqualified people working in China; too many “illegally” obtained visas; people abusing their visa status, for example; foreigners who come to study and then take teaching jobs on the side; people who overstay their visa; and “there are too many foreigners, and there are those foreigners who place a heavy burden on society.” (This is veiled reference to people from certain countries who are known to cause trouble when they arrive and then take up residence and begin illicit activities).
    Be wise. Working here is a pleasure, the country has a rich culture and there a so many activities to participate in, so many places to visit. You should approach your time in China as a rare and once-in-a lifetime experience. Also try to learn the language. It opens so many doors.
    As mentioned in my earlier post, I have been here going on 15 years, and apart from a few unfortunate circumstances, the place is remarkable. As is the food.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      I’m not sure which is harder to believe: that people abuse their visa privileges in China or that they post proudly of doing so on internet forums. 😉 Thanks for the info, @ David. I hope you’ll post again when the new rules become more clear.

      • David says:

        More news on the Visa sisuation. Although this is dated December 26, 2011, it seems this is the direction the PSB will take.
        China to curb illegal employment of foreigners
        Updated: 2011-12-26 21:25

        BEIJING – China aims to curb illegal entry, stay and employment of foreigners, which has developed into a “prominent problem” in the world’s second largest economy.

        The State Council, or the Cabinet, submitted Monday a draft law on exit and entry administration to the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, the top legislature of the country, for its first reading.

        The existing law on exit and entry administration, established 26 years ago when China was far from “the world workshop,” barely mentioned illegal employment of foreigners in China.

        A foreigner shall get work permits and residence certificates for employment before getting employed, according to the draft law.

        Foreigners who work illegally in China will be fined between 5,000 yuan ($792) and 20,000 yuan, and may be detained 5-15 days for serious violations.

        Those who illegally provide job placement services for foreigners or illegally employ foreigners would be also fined.

        “We shall put forth efforts on regularizing foreigners who are working in China, do better in visa issuing, and strengthen residential management of foreigners,” said Yang Huanning, deputy minister of Public Security.

        As a populous country, China would like to introduce more high-end professionals and limit the inflow of low-end workers, Yang said.

        If a foreigner holds a visa allowing a maximum stay of 180 days, he will not need to apply for a residence certificate. If the visa allows a stay longer than 180 days and indicates that a residence certificate is needed, he must apply for it within 30 days after entering the country.

        According to the draft law, the period of validity of a residence certificate will vary from 180 days to five years.

        During their stay in China, foreigners should carry valid identity documents and submit to police inspection, according to the draft law.

        The draft law also stipulates that a foreigner can apply for a permanent residence certificate to the police if the individual makes a significant contribution to China’s economic and social development, or meets relevant requirements of permanent residence.

        According to the draft law, foreigners who apply to stay in China as refugees will be granted a temporary-stay permit during the investigation and receive a refugee identity document for living in China after his application is approved.

        An article about the collection of biological information for the use of border control is in the draft law. It grants police and the Foreign Ministry the right to issue regulations on the collection and storing of biological information, such as fingerprints of travelers entering and exiting China.

        Collecting biological information will help identify travelers, improve the efficiency of border control and protect state security, Yang said.

        According to the government, the number of people entering and exiting China has increased by 10 percent annually since 1990. In 2010, the number reached 382 million, including 52 million foreigners.

        I’ll add more as the news breaks.

  22. […] So you want to work in China… – A guide for those looking to teach English in the Middle… ( 30.500000 121.150000 Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintDiggRedditStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Life behind the wallFind out how life can be for a Black American woman married to a Chinese man behind the Great Wall of China. Follow Blog via Email […]

  23. […] in learning more practical information about being an English teacher in China, check out my guide to teaching in the Middle Kingdom. Rate this: Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailStumbleUponMoreRedditDiggPrintLike this:LikeBe the […]

  24. Reblogged this on iLook China.

  25. Joleen Michaleck says:

    Excellent piece , I was enlightened by the details , Does someone know where my assistant would be able to access a blank a form copy to edit ?

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