How to find a legitimate teaching job in China - a teacher’s journey to avoiding scam employers
You’ve decided to take the leap and to make the journey halfway across the world to teach in China. Where to start? First things first, find a job.
As China has long been one of the fastest-growing economies, the demand for EFL teachers hasn’t waned. As you begin to search the internet, you realise there are hundreds of job postings and recruitment sites, and thousands of ads popping up everywhere just begging you to work for them! So, how to know who to trust and who to avoid? How do I find the right job for me?
Where to find a teaching job in China
Are you planning to start a new teaching adventure in China? I am using the word “adventure” because it is more than just an adventure if you don’t know what you are doing. If you jump on the first offer you find, you might soon discover that the job is very different from your expectations. If you're not careful enough, you might end up having a complete disaster.
This article will help you avoid making mistakes and will show you where and how to find a legitimate job.
There are many places that advertise jobs in China:
💻 Recruitment sites
Not to say all recruiters are untrustworthy, but you may have to do some serious research to find reviews from past employees and even current teachers who are in China, who found a job through that particular recruitment site. Remember – recruiters always gain from your hiring, so make sure you check the fine details of any contract or terms and conditions on a recruitment website.
More than 90% of the recruiters are recruitment agents. It is really hard, if not impossible, to contact the schools directly. The good thing about agencies is they cooperate with a lot of schools which gives them the opportunity to recommend many schools to the candidates.
If you are in contact with agencies, I recommend you not to stick with only one agency. You can contact as many of them as you want! While applying for new positions, teachers are mostly asked to send their passport page with their picture. It sounds cheesy to send private information to a person you have no idea about, but unfortunately, the majority of the recruiters do not take the next step without getting it. Best agents and agencies will never ask you to send passport details prior to the interview and keep Western-oriented business etiquette.
📰 Job boards
Most of the ESL job boards take any job postings without doing any background checks or research, such as Dave's ESLcafe. Generally, they have a very outdated and spammy look. That’s not to say that all the jobs on there are scams, but it may take a bit more filtering through the rough ones to find a hidden gem.
📑 Pop-up ads
These could be on Facebook, Instagram, or even on the side of any webpage you’re visiting. The competition between Chinese employers is high, so these companies have clearly paid a very high cost to be in the right place at the right time. Although not all are bad, try to avoid clicking on these sites for jobs as they seem to come across as more… desperate?! And offering conditions that are too good to be true.
🐼 Chinese agencies
Often, public and private schools in China have a contract with a Chinese agency that hires foreign teachers, provides them with the documentation they need, and brings them over to China. Good agencies have experience within the country itself but often provide you with jobs that are "easy to sell" or desperate to find a candidate for. This is because there is a lot of competition in the foreign teacher market. So, they generally prefer to maintain good relations with schools that they have already provided teachers to, and care less about the teacher.
👨💻 WeChat Groups
If you still do not use WeChat, I recommend you to get a WeChat account. At teach.fm we require teachers to put their Skype or WeChat account details prior to the interview, as WeChat became the major tool recruiters use to find the most suitable teachers for their schools. Most of the interviews are held on WeChat.
It is not very convenient to contact the recruiters on WeChat on a 1-on-1 basis cause all recruiters usually ask the same questions, but I don’t recommend anyone to join ESL Job groups, there are many scams and traps there, including illegal part-time jobs that can be easily tracked by police.
Rather than joining the groups, it's better to add recruiters’ WeChat and follow their posts on their WeChat moments. Once they have a new job opening, they will definitely share it with everyone.
📝 Teaching blogs
Many TEFL certification academies or TEFL blogs are now advertising jobs abroad. They may even advertise jobs on sites that offer materials or printable activities for teachers. In some circumstances, these may be trusted as they may have been vetted.
At the beginning of my job search, I have seen that many Chinese schools require TEFL certificate. I stopped job hunting for a while and signed up for a 120-hour certificate course. Now, it’s one of the most important documents required by the Chinese Embassy in order to issue a work visa. Teachers with less than two years of experience must have a 120-hour TEFL certificate now. Experienced teachers do not need to have this certificate if they can bring relevant documents from their schools.
When I decided to start my teaching career in China, I had no idea where I could start. I remember seeing some websites with hundreds of jobs where they were adding hundreds of new jobs every single day. Recent research has shown that there’s more than a staggering 120,000 "Teach in China" job postings added online every other month. It was like a job pool which made me think finding a job in China was easier than not finding. I was wrong! I realized finding a good job is as stressful as anywhere else in the world. This means that you may have to do some serious digging to find the one that’s right for you.
teach.fm brings a new level of interaction and makes schools compete for your talents. After sign-up, you receive interview invites from schools and can pick the best offer. Check our note on how to use teach.fm to secure a high-paying teaching job in China?
How to know if the teaching job is legitimate?
Before you move to China, you will need to obtain the correct visa. This can only be done by working for a Ministry-approved company or organization. How do you know that the company you want to work for is legitimate?
- Invitation letter
Upon an offer of employment, the company you work for should send you a confirmed invitation letter, which you will need to obtain your working visa.
Any individual who takes up employment in China should have a Z visa. This is an "employment permit" which legally allows you to work. They usually take around 3 – 7 days to be issued, and to get one you’ll need your invitation letter, your passport, a passport-sized photo, and a completed visa application form. Some companies may offer to do this for you through a third-party company, or it may be something you have to do yourself by traveling up to the nearest embassy in person.
- Email addresses
Any real company should have an authentic email address – firstname.lastname@example.org – for example. Any recruiters or schools using free, disposable email addresses should be avoided. These could be addresses ending with @gmail.com, @hotmail.com, @163.com, @sina.com. The last part of an email (after the @ symbol) is called a domain name, and it should be the same as the company website. Sina & 163 are Chinese social media sites, so @163.com and @sina.com emails are highly unlikely to be authentic email addresses. If you're not sure, you can simply lookup the domain name in google to find out whether it belongs to a real company.
- Company website
This can be harder to decipher than other scams, but generally, if a company is reputable, they will have invested in their website and have up to date testimonials and reviews. They will most likely have teacher names, profiles or photos, and you can then use this to do your own research on the company and potentially contact some of the recent employees. It may not work for many Chinese schools, as they will have a website in Chinese for their clients and maybe a few pages on a separate ".com" domain dedicated to information for teachers and recruitment needs.
There are various ways you can check the legitimacy of a company, but some schools or companies may have better online resources to hide any falsities.
- Upfront costs
NO JOB should ever ask you to pay for anything upfront. These payments may range from placement fees to housing costs – don’t pay for anything unless it’s your flight which will be reimbursed, according to your legally-binding (and thoroughly checked!) employment contract. Look at our checklist for teaching contracts in China to be sure it contains all the important information.
- Asking for sensitive information
Of course, your employer will need some personal information from you for the purpose of your contract and invitation letter, but if it goes as far as asking for your National Insurance number (UK) or Social Security number (US) then it’s a scam. There should be no reason why they would need these details as you will not need them in China in order to pay any tax.
There are some companies which will offer you more than others, so this one may be hard to figure out. However, if a company offers 1000 hours of free Chinese lessons, or $500 worth of… then it’s probably best to avoid these companies. Any organization that puts a value on "free" things probably has a way to catch you out somewhere along the way. That’s not to say all companies offering these deals are unlawful, but there must be a reason why they need to give away so much…
NB: I recommend avoiding agencies who offer you to sign a contract directly with the agency, and not the school itself, despite they assure you that you will find a job as soon as you arrive in China. (The only exception can be made for agencies assigned by the Chinese government to hire teachers for public schools). Never agree to come to China on a tourist visa and convert it to the working visa later. If you have heard something like: “For the first three months, you can work on a tourist visa while we will be working on visa formalities.” - this is definitely a red flag
Who to work for?
Some of the most well-known companies may be a good option for your first job in China. Although they may offer lower salaries, generally they will be easier to find information on and will be more international.
i2 have been around for a long time and offer legitimate jobs at training centers in multiple locations across China. You can be sure that where they are sending you is a safe and positive place to be working. The company upgraded their benefits package this year and offer very good job conditions.
Also known as Education First in Western countries, EF is the biggest educational organization in the world. They have schools in over 50 countries and, although they may not pay the best out of all the institutions, they do offer lots of opportunities to progress and move to other locations within the company. You may explore vacancies offered by different branches, including ones in Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Wuhan.
Giraffe English School is a franchised language school based in Taiwan. Today, there are over 600 branches in China. They offer a market competitive salary and a Chinese teaching assistant, who will help you during the class.
The second biggest educational institute is this Spain-based company, with its Asian headquarters located in Hong Kong. Like EF, they use their own methodology to teach, meaning it’s particularly good for first-time EFL Teachers who would prefer minimal planning.
Whoever you decide to work for, make sure you put time and patience into finding the employment that is right for you. Consider the salary, the location, the potential quality of life and the benefits that are offered. Remember that your profession is in demand in China, so don’t rush into things when there could be a better opportunity just waiting to be found on the next webpage.
There are many after-school institutions that provide classes to both young learners and teenagers, and generally, these pay more. However, you will need to do a lot more research on these as they most likely will not advertise their need for staff online. But be careful – if you are offered an invitation letter through one company, you cannot leave that job to work for someone else and keep the visa. Your employer must be the person who invites you and who you keep working for, during your time in China.
Look at the necessary steps you should go through in order to obtain a legal Chinese working visa.
Of course, there are many more options for who to work for. Some people may prefer to travel to China themselves and to find a job that way, but this may take longer and may eat up resources you have saved. You’ll also have the issue of obtaining a work visa if you’re already in the country as a tourist or visitor.
There are many reputable companies in China, but also many who may take advantage of your goodwill and belief in a life-changing experience abroad. How to make sure you're not applying for a bogus company?
⭐ Research and read online reviews
There will be thousands of reviews about a place or organization, regardless of its size. It’s not very likely that you’ll be employed directly by an independent school, so you’re bound to find at least some information online. Of course, use your judgment – it’s easy to fake reviews nowadays.
💻 Look on respected job sites
There are many recruiters nowadays that may look legitimate but have absolutely zero contact with anyone in China whatsoever. Ensure that the job board you’re looking at understands exactly what is required of you as a foreigner in China and provides some assistance with this. For example, visas, flights, or pre-travel advice. Ensure the site looks like its curated and doesn’t publish any random job posts. You’ll be able to tell this by how often the website updates information, how often they publish blog posts or testimonials.
🤵 Speak to people who have experienced it
Since China is such a huge market for EFL, it's very likely that you can find other teachers who are currently working (or have been working recently) with a particular company. Don’t be afraid to ask your company for other teachers’ names – you can word it as I want to ask someone so I can find out what to pack! I want to find out what gifts to bring to my school! I want to check I’ve applied for the same company as my friend! Even if they refuse to give you names, search some profiles on social media sites for the company, because you can always find teachers who wrote where they work(ed) in their employment history. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people; it could be the difference between a memorable experience and one you wish you’d never had in the first place.