Guide to TEFL in China
Have you ever dreamed of immersing yourself in a different culture, really getting to know life in a foreign land? Teaching in China offers an opportunity to live abroad, not as a tourist, but to partake of the fascinating culture and bustling daily life of one of the world’s oldest civilizations. English teachers are in high demand in the mainland, so you can live your dream while earning a salary that will allow you to travel, save, and enjoy a good standard of living, all while building your resume.
Abundant job opportunities
Studies published by Cambridge University Press estimate that there are between 250 million and 350 million English learners in China. While many Chinese study English, often their proficiency level is not high. Teaching is a respected profession in China, and Chinese parents are eager to have their children take classes with fluent English speakers.
Do I need to speak Chinese to teach in China?
Most schools have English-speaking management or staff prepared to help you get adjusted and settled in your new life. Some workplaces offer foreign teachers basic Chinese lessons as part of the perks of the job. While it will definitely help make daily life smoother and more enjoyable if you pick up some of the local language, you can easily make use of free phone apps to help you translate everyday spoken conversations and written text. In the classroom, students expect to be immersed in the language, and part of the fun of the job is finding creative ways to communicate with your students. Also, many schools for very young children provide English-speaking classroom assistants.
What kind of salary and benefits can I earn as a teacher in China?
Teacher salaries in China can be competitive, depending on teacher qualification and experience. Also, as expenses are much lower than in western countries, you should be able to save significantly.
Chinese cities are divided by tiers, with the most developed first-tier cities offering the highest pay scale between RMB 18,000 (US $2800) and 28,000 (US $4300) per month or higher, depending on the type of school, as well as teacher experience. While the lesser-developed, lower- tier cities pay less, they can offer other advantages, such as a slower pace of life, much lower living expenses, a more traditional cultural experience, and, at times, more flexible visa requirements. Lower-tier cities generally offer salaries between RMB 8000 (US $1300) and 14,000 (US $2200).
In addition to salary, some schools and training centers offer the following perks: free housing or housing allowance; completion of contract bonus; health or accident insurance; reimbursement of airfare; paid vacation; sick leave; sponsored trips. These types of benefits should be negotiated individually with each school, as they can differ substantially from place to place.
What types of teaching jobs are there in China?
The demand for English language learning in China means that there is something for everyone:
If you love young children, private kindergartens usually pay well and offer good opportunities for newer ESL teachers. Classes often stress speaking, games, and working together with students on art or drama projects, while exposing them to English.
Public Primary and Middle Schools
English is a required subject in Chinese schools, so if you prefer working with children above kindergarten age, public schools offer systematic programs with a set curriculum. Though public schools do not usually pay as well as private schools and kindergartens, the daytime hours and weekends off suit those who like a consistent schedule.
Children’s After-school Training Centers
Teachers with outgoing personalities who enjoy fast-moving classes and working with a variety of different ages will find after-school centers appealing. Depending on the center, some classes may enroll children as young as 2 or 3 years, while others focus primarily on elementary through middle school students. Children learn English through games, songs and speaking practice, often with interactive courseware, all made to supplement the more rote public school curriculum. While training centers generally pay more competitively than public schools, they often require more flexible hours, such as working evenings or weekends, with time off taken during the week.
If you are licensed to teach in your home country, you will receive the highest salary and benefits at international schools, which offer top-notch working environments and benefits. If you don’t have licensure however, teaching English to non-native speakers in international schools usually only requires a degree and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certification, along with prior teaching experience.
Adult Training Centers
These centers cater to adults hoping to hone their speaking and writing skills for work or travel, or to students hoping to study in universities abroad, who must pass the required IELTS or TOEFL exam. If you enjoy helping people achieve career and life goals, working at these centers may suit you. Classes are usually held in the evenings or on weekends.
Public Universities, Vocational Schools and Technical Schools
Though teachers in public higher education are generally paid less than those who work with young children, the working hours are much less demanding, and personal expenses on campus are minimal. Public university teachers usually receive free housing and utilities, low-cost meals, health insurance, end-of-contract bonus and flight reimbursement. Additionally, the jobs offer long winter and summer breaks, so you can enjoy traveling and exploring China in between semesters.
During the COVID-19 crisis, online English teaching blossomed in China. Companies such as VIPKid and SayABC, among others, continue to offer good work opportunities. Most teachers work remotely from outside China, though the time difference makes the job more suitable for night owls if you are based in the western hemisphere. Pay rates can vary greatly between companies, but an hourly rate of between US $9 to $22 per hour, or more, is common, along with the possibility of perks and bonuses.
What are the requirements to teach in China?
Teaching in China requires a Z visa and work permit. To qualify you will need the following:
- A Bachelor’s degree or higher, in any subject. Your diploma will be authenticated by the Chinese embassy in your home country when you submit your visa application. It is not possible to work legally in China without a Bachelor’s degree, so if you encounter any recruitment agencies promising you a Z visa without a degree, steer a wide berth.
- Native English fluency and to hold a passport from one of following countries: USA; Canada; United Kingdom; Ireland; Australia; New Zealand; or South Africa. Teachers from the Philippines are also allowed to teach English in China, under certain conditions. Prior to 2018, anyone could teach English if they held a Bachelor’s degree or higher from an English-speaking country. Though this rule has since changed, it is not yet uniformly enforced throughout the country. Much depends on the policies of local authorities, and your recruiting agency should advise you on the matter. Non-native speakers who hold a Master’s degree or higher, or who have majored in education or English, increase their chances of work permit approval in some areas.
- A minimum of two years teaching experience, or a TEFL/TESL certificate. Many areas waive teaching experience if you have certification. Some work places require both experience and a certificate.
- A clean criminal background check issued by your home country.
You are only allowed to legally work at the address of the school or company where your work permit is issued. However, some cities are now allowing teachers to take on additional part-time employment at other locations. Shanghai has recently begun such a program, and while it is not yet common, it is expected to become a growing trend in the country due to teacher shortages.
How do I find teaching work in China?
The majority of job seekers find work by searching:
- Popular job boards such as ESLbase, Dave’s ESL Café
- Online recruitment agencies such as Echo Education, Teachaway, Gold Star Teachers.
- Job sites such as eChinacities, Indeed, Jooble
- Teacher Job groups on the phone app Wechat, which are usually city-specific
- International schools, or public universities, and applying directly by email
Always research thoroughly any school or agency you are thinking of signing up with, and beware of agencies charging teachers a fee for placement – legitimate companies won’t do this.
Where can I work in China? What are the different regional factors to consider?
China is a big country with a variety of climates, cuisines and languages. The south of the country is green year-round, hot and humid, and Cantonese is widely spoken. The north of China has four seasons, snowy winters, and Mandarin is the main language. The east has scenic coastlines and bustling port cities, the southwest has spicy cuisine and breathtaking mountains; there is truly something for everyone here.
China has over a hundred cities with a population of one million or more, so the demand for English teachers is high everywhere.
If salary is a deciding factor, the long-established first-tier cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen offer the highest pay scale, but usually the highest living expenses and the strictest hiring requirements. Newly established first-tier cities, such as Chengdu, Chongqing and Hangzhou, also pay well, have lower living expenses, and are sometimes more flexible in hiring practices.
While many lower-tier cities may be less rigid when it comes to hiring, several provinces have recently introduced stricter policies to ensure schools do not falsely claim a teacher is a native speaker. For instance, Guangxi province (major city: Nanning) now requires schools to publicly display work permit information that parents can verify with a QR code scan. Guangdong province (major cities: Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan, and Foshan) also requires similar information to be publicly displayed.
Wherever you choose to work in China, you are sure to expand your horizons and bring home memories that will last a lifetime.