The Ultimate Guide to teaching English in China

You may have studied abroad yourself, heard stories from others who have taught overseas, or just fancy doing something different for a while. So, why should you consider teaching abroad and being one of the thousands who take the chance every year?

❤️ You get paid to travel, live and work

In many Western countries these days, it might be challenging to find a fulfilling job with a decent salary. However, when you teach abroad, your skills are in demand, so you’re paid reasonably well for your skills. You can make money whilst often receiving benefits such as housing allowance or airfare reimbursement, and when teaching in a country such as China you can often save around 40 – 50% of your income. This makes it a great choice for those looking to pay off student loans or simply save a bit of money.

Of course, your travel possibilities depend on where you live. For example, if you live in the US, it can be harder to find a low-cost flight out of there. However, when you’re based in an Asian country such as China, you can take the train, bus or even a bargain Air Asia flight to many wonderful places. Transportation to neighboring countries such as Vietnam or Laos is common and very easy to find, so take the opportunity to visit as many places as you can.

🤟 You’re in demand

Foreign teachers are very well respected in most countries, especially in areas of China rarely visited by the Westerners. In your home country, the job market may be tough, but there are thousands of overseas job opportunities opening up every month, which makes it much easier to find a job that you love. You could be waiting a long while at your current job for a vacancy to come up or a promotion to come your way, but by teaching abroad you give yourself the opportunity to progress and gain experience in a fast-growing industry. Who knows where it will take you?

🗺️ You can learn a lot about yourself and the world

Teaching abroad enriches the lives of everyone who is lucky enough to do it. Not only can you learn a new language, new culture and try a new cuisine, but you can learn more about yourself, and maybe even what the concept of "home" really means. You might be hundreds of miles from where you’re from, but people will welcome you with open arms, and in return you’ll gain an open mind. It will boost your confidence, stretch your creativity and put your communication skills to the test. You’ll learn about yourself professionally as a teacher and find new avenues within English language teaching that you probably didn’t know about before, from academic coordinating to teaching other subjects in English (CLIL).

Seize every opportunity that comes your way: dumpling-making with your students, homemade noodle making, traditional Chinese medicine... the list is endless!

🏆 You can make a difference

When you teach abroad, you provide access to the language that many students may not have had before. You’re most likely a native speaker, or a very high-leveled English speaker, who knows the nuances and colloquialisms of the language. You understand how English speakers use their intonation and tone to express an underlying emotion, and you know how gesticulation adds to the language we speak.

When teaching abroad, you’re not only teaching the vocabulary and grammar, you’re teaching the culture that goes hand in hand with the language. It gives you the opportunity to show a side of English that students may not know if they’ve been learning it from a local teacher. You get to show the language that many students may only have seen through a screen, and allow them to enjoy learning English using a new and dynamic method.

Why China is a top teaching destination?

So, you’ve made the decision to move abroad, and now you’re wondering where to go. You may have seen endless job postings online about China and wondered why everyone is going there, but there are many reasons why China is a top ESL teaching destination.

  • You can earn, save, and still have money left over to live a comfortable life
  • China has one of the fastest-growing economies and therefore offers a variety of job positions in a range of locations – more than 120,000 job postings in China alone appear online every month!
  • You’ll receive benefits in your work that you wouldn’t at home - from flight reimbursement to accommodation to language lessons.
  • You’ll open your mind to new experiences, cuisine, and ways of living, and become more confident in yourself and your teaching abilities.
  • It looks great on your CV and will forever be an excellent talking point when - or if - you go back to your home country.

Before you go

When you’ve decided to teach in China, you’ll probably have lots of questions that need answering before you go and also when you get there.

🎓📋 What are the requirements to teach in China?

You’ll need a valid passport with more than six months before expiration. Work permits, or Z visas, are given to those that hold a passport from the UK, Ireland, Canada, the US, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. However, there is some flexibility in this as the demand for foreign teachers is so high. You’ll also need your company-sponsored visa, and two health checks – one before you leave and one upon your arrival in the country. Check a full list of requirements to teach legally in China, requirements for non-native English speakers teaching in China and learn if you can teach in China without a degree.

👔 👨‍💻 What type of teaching jobs are available in China?

There are primary schools, secondary schools and higher education institutions that are always on the lookout for teachers. Private schools, public schools, and sometimes even private language schools that require teachers to teach a range of ages - learn more about different types of schools hiring teachers in China.

There are also online schools or classes, allowing the flexibility to work from home or in an office, and even activity teaching jobs, where you get to travel and lead excursions as well as teach in the classroom. Some organizations place you at schools and have an ‘orientation’ period before you begin, but others hire you directly. These are likely to be larger companies such as i2 Education, EF or Giraffe English, for example. Just be prepared for the likelihood of mixed language proficiency levels in one class in any teaching environment!

🛂 📑 What do I need to get a working visa for China?

You’ll need to find a job with a legitimate, Ministry-approved company or organization that can supply you with the correct visa. You’ll need your invitation letter, passport-sized photo and completed application form to be issued with your working visa (Z-visa). When you arrive your Z-visa will be changed to work permit within your first time of employment, which legally allows you to work in the country. We prepared a detailed step-by-step instruction on how to prepare necessary documents and apply for a Z-visa to China.

When you receive an offer

🏫 📢 How do I know my job is legitimate?

Make sure your company has a website, an authentic email address, and make sure to do a Google search to check out any other information such as reviews from past or current teachers. You should never be asked to pay anything upfront (except potentially your flights which are likely to be reimbursed) and you should never be asked for sensitive information that doesn’t pertain to your visa application. For more information, read our article on checking job legitimacy.

💰🧧 How do I get paid?

In most circumstances, your company or organization will open an account for you. These will likely be with one of the three major banks – Bank of China, ICBC, or the Agricultural Bank of China. You will likely be paid monthly, so make sure to ask for details regarding payment dates and amounts from your employer before you sign your contract. When you receive an offer from your employers in China, our Chinese teaching contract checklist will help you understand if your contract contains all the necessary clauses. Here's some info on how much can you save working as a teacher in China.

🏠 🛏️ Where will I stay?

It depends on your contract, but more often than not Chinese companies will pay for your accommodation or provide an allowance. Be sure to check the fine details of your position and its benefits before you accept anything you’re unsure of. Your house or apartment will always be fitted with a kitchen and Western bathroom and will likely be minimally furnished for your comfort. More information about teachers' salary and accommodations (other things to know before moving to China).

📝📚 What should I take for my classes?

Be aware of the class size you may be facing and take any existing materials or online lessons you find to adapt to suit the number of students. For example, in a private school, there may be 10 – 15 students per class, whereas in a public school you may have up to 75 students per class. Be prepared to adapt your lessons to suit accordingly and make use of any resources that can double up for activities, for example, a softball or flashcards. If you haven’t taught before, there is an abundance of ready-made lessons online. Look at our guide to be a foreign teacher in China to find out more.

When you get there

💸🏦 How to pay my student loans while I’m abroad?

Ensure you work out your loans before you leave. You’ll likely earn more than you expect, so you’ll probably be able to save more teaching in China than you would in your home country. Another option would be to defer your loans while you’re away, but this should be agreed with your lender before you go. For more information on repaying loans whilst in China, check out this article.

💳💲 How can I save money?

Everyone has different spending habits, but there are lots of ways to live comfortably yet cheaply in China. You can eat and shop like a local, avoid Western restaurants, and make sure you choose the right company with a level of pay you are happy with, before you go. Be sure to try and negotiate your salary to have the best possible experience whilst saving money. Look at this instruction to know about getting a high paying teaching job using and compare the cost of living in China and your home country.

🐯 🀄 Living in China as a teacher

It’s extremely important to be aware of the cultural differences and general day-to-day things you may need to become accustomed to.

Moving to China is inevitably going to be a daunting experience – a language almost impossible to guess and a culture far, far removed from your own. Try to learn a handful of phrases to get by, particularly when it comes to food or directions, and try to have an open mind to your new environment. Toilets will be different, manners are definitely not the same, and the food (or the cutlery you use - chopsticks) may take a while to get used to.

You’ll go back to your home country a broader-minded and more well-rounded individual who has experienced things many others could only dream about.

Explore as much as you can, take hidden paths in your new area to find local beauties, and speak to as many local people as you can. Immerse yourself fully to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime experience and you’ll never regret your decision to move to the weirdly wonderful and enchanting country that is China.