How to prepare for moving to China - your China checklist
You’ve decided to take the leap and teach in a new, exotic and faraway destination. Time passes, the days draw nearer to departure, and it suddenly dawns on you are moving to China in the next few weeks – there’s so much to think about!
China is wildly different to anywhere else on the planet - which can bring its own issues - but it can open your eyes to a world full of opportunities, and a determination and passion to take with you on your future TEFL career path.
Things to consider
Firstly, moving to China is inevitably going to be a daunting experience. A country with a completely different language that you can’t even try to guess and culture most likely so far removed from anything you’ve come across before. China can, at times, be the noisiest, most chaotic and frustrating place you will have ever been and go, but that is part of its charm that will leave you wanting to explore so much more of this vast and diverse country.
Before you travel, there are many things to take into account and prepare accordingly for.
🤷 Learn a handful of basic phrases
As most people know, Chinese is a notoriously difficult language. With an almost unlimited amount of characters to learn and many tones to master, it would be almost impossible to become fluent in the language, no matter how long you are there for. That said, learning a few simple phrases will help you enormously, particularly if you’re living in a rural village or on the outskirts of a city. Learn everyday greetings, simple directions, and even some food vocabulary. Often, English is very limited in many areas of the country, so a little language is bound to get you a long way.
💸 Take money
Many cards in western societies are run by Visa or Mastercard, which will be accepted in China in the big shops. Most of the people tend to use WechatPay or Alipay (when you pay with your phone by scanning a QR-code). When you first get hired, your company may offer you many benefits including flight reimbursement, however, this will most likely not be paid until after your first month of teaching, or much later. Have enough money to last you at least for the first 4 – 6 weeks. The cost of living is significantly lower than that in the US, UK or Australia, so you won’t need as much, just ensure you have easy access to cash if you need it.
🌏 Download a VPN
In China, there are often internet restrictions that affect your usual searches or the functionality of your most commonly used apps. For example, Google, Youtube, and Instagram cannot be accessed. A VPN allows you to access your usual sites by filtering your internet location. Some work better than others, so often it’s better to do your research first and purchase a paid one. During the past few years,🛡️ Express VPN became our top choice.
Interested to know more about accommodations, salary and workplace relationships? - take a look at things to know before moving to China.
🚅 Don’t be afraid to explore – at the right time!
In China, there are many extended holidays that your school will give you time off for. The mid-autumn festival and Chinese New Year are both excellent times to explore as they are generally week-long holidays, however, millions of others will almost certainly also choose to travel at this time, making it the most difficult period to go anywhere! Queues for buses may take up to 5 or 6 hours, and train tickets sell out months in advance. Be sure to plan where you want to go, and when it might be the quietest times.
Living abroad is a different experience for everyone; both positive and negative. Once you’ve lived away, you’ll more than likely come back a more open-minded, compassionate and well-rounded person, but your experience may not have been as you had expected or imagined before you went. You’ll have made memories to last a lifetime and experienced things you cannot even express in words, but may have faced insurmountable challenges that forced you to reassess your decisions.
👽 Being different
Being a foreign teacher in China definitely has its advantages. Generally speaking, you’ll be treated like royalty. People will bring you gifts, invite you to their house to make Chinese food, and want to socialize with you to find out about your life, your background, and your country. Your school may offer you separate benefits to what your company initially proposed; they may give you free school meals, take you out to fancy dinners, or even offer you bottles of Baiju (A strong Chinese alcoholic drink)!
Of course, standing out in a crowd does have its drawbacks. Nearly everywhere you go, people will be taking photos of you, staring at you, or whispering and giggling about you. Whether it's eating in a restaurant, clothes shopping, walking down the street or simply minding your own business sitting in the park, you are sure to be disturbed by a mass of locals – either from afar or right up close. Usually, even the ‘secret’ photos are extremely obvious!
Be prepared to feel like a celebrity – for better or for worse. Imagine if you were in their shoes and try to understand how exciting it must be to see a Westerner in your tiny Chinese village. Most of the time it can be blamed on curiosity, so allow yourself to be open to the craziness and try to enjoy it while it lasts – it won’t be forever!
To learn more, take a look at the foreigner's guide to being foreign in China.
Chinese food is delicious - It’s as simple as that. The variation in colors and the intense mix of flavors provides something for every palate. Western food such as McDonald’s or KFC is available at a slightly higher-than-usual cost if you get a craving, but the enjoyment usually comes from trying local dishes in the food markets or trying one of the many street cafes dotted along almost every road.
Each province has its own special cuisine, so be sure to travel around and try as much of it as you possibly can. Prices are generally low, and you’ll almost certainly find it cheaper to eat out than cook at home. Be prepared to eat an array of weird and wonderful meats, as the foods you may be used to seeing seem to look completely different in China. It is near on impossible to choose what to eat simply by looking, as you may not actually recognize anything in the dish. Alongside this, be aware of your choice of restaurant; food hygiene standards may differ from what you are accustomed to.
Getting there - teaching jobs in China
China has been one of the fastest-growing economies for the past few years, and with this comes an abundance of job opportunities. It is easy to find a well-paid teaching job that provides many benefits and a good work-life balance. Often, Chinese schools don’t require too much as you are considered ‘a special guest’, so you can be sure to have ample free time and quite often, late morning starts! 😊
However, there are may dishonest employers who may take advantage of foreigners by stating things in your contract that you may not realize.
Make sure you check the fine print upon receiving a job offer. Here's the Checklist for your teaching contract in China. Working in a new job and country can be stressful enough without the added pressure of worrying about something you signed that you didn’t fully understand. Doing thorough research and using a site such as teach.fm can prepare you for what to expect upon being accepted for a job. Find out how to use teach.fm and secure high paying teaching job in China.
Your China Checklist
Before traveling to any country for an extended period of time, knowing what to pack is always a stressful experience. There are many creature comforts we may want to take, but there are some essentials you should definitely consider saving room for (or buy these things when you will arrive).
👏 Hand sanitizer
Often, Public toilets in China are… questionable. From having no doors to squatting on a raised platform for everyone to see, this is a damaging enough experience without then being able to wash your shame away! Not all restaurants offer toilets or a sink to wash your hands, so be sure to take some hand cleanser for those unexpected moments.
Of course, you’re going to Asia, so you should expect to eat with chopsticks. However, if you really cannot use them or don’t have time to practice before you go, take a knife and fork with you. Unless you eat in a Western restaurant, they are far and few between.
A rule to live by in China? Take tissues. Whether it be to the bathroom, out for lunch, or for a walk. Eateries may not provide napkins or tissues on the tables, and bathrooms will most likely not have the facilities you’re used to. Of all the essentials, this should be top of the list.
When it rains in China, it pours. The sudden downpours come completely out of nowhere and may catch you out at the wrong time! Take a foldable raincoat or waterproof clothing – it will come in handy at any time of the year – particularly if you take public transport and have to wait on a wet and dreary roadside for a bus.
🎁 Your country’s ‘souvenirs’
Your presence will be an exciting experience for everyone around the school, you’ll most likely be the talk of the town; locals will want to try and spend as much time with you as they can. If you team this up with giving people some ‘typical’ things from your own country, you’ll be sure to make a lasting impression. Often in China, your school principal will ask you out for a staff dinner to celebrate your arrival. You may be offered tea, ample courses of food, and welcoming gifts. Return the favor by presenting something small; anything which is symbolic of your country.
📝 Lesson materials
Almost no school will provide you with materials. The way English is learned by Chinese teachers differs greatly from how you are likely to teach EFL. You may be asked to focus on functional, oral English, or to bring some fun and dynamism into the classroom. At times you may be asked to teach skills-based lessons, but as the class sizes are often so large, you’ll need to bring materials that can be adapted. There may not always be technology available, so be sure to have a range of minimal prep activities or lessons prepared for whatever situation you may be thrown into - whether in a private school with a small class of 10 students, or a state school with up to 70 pupils per class.
If you have class materials you plan to take, ensure that they are adaptable, and culturally suitable, to your new students. For example, avoid lessons on pop culture, celebrities or religion, and think about ways to teach large groups without having any space to move around the classroom, so you’re prepared if this is the case. Often, when you start any TEFL job in China, you’ll be given a quick briefing of the matters you should probably avoid in lessons, so as not to delve into the depths of discussion on something too lengthy or difficult to explain, or something which may be perceived differently in your country compared to China.