If you’re seriously considering taking up a career teaching abroad you’ve no doubt thought about or at least heard of teaching English in China.
China is an amazing country with a blend of incredible mega-cities, rural villages, and varied landscapes (did you know there’s even a desert in China?!).
With such a large population, this country has a huge demand for English teachers, making it a great option for those just starting out or seasoned teachers looking for something new. English is compulsory for all kids over the age of nine, but their growing economy means adults of all ages are wanting to learn or develop their skills in order to help with their businesses.
Sadly, there were regulations regarding teaching English in China enforced in July 2020, where foreign teachers can no longer tutor kids younger than 6 (in-person or online). In the past, China was known for being the easiest nation to teach English abroad as it had a lot of language centers (and therefore job opportunities) that catered to young children. Parents are also no longer allowed to enroll their children (elementary to high-school age) in extracurricular courses during national holidays, or summer and winter breaks.
While this makes teaching in China more competitive, there are still opportunities available, so fear not readers, as this EPIC guide will help you to learn how to beat the competition and hopefully score yourself a baller English teaching job in China!
Why Teach English in China?
A HUGE reason why many English teachers choose China as their new home is that having teaching experience in China is really a fantastic gateway to scoring jobs teaching English abroad in other countries. Not only does it add to your CV, but it also gives you a tonne of experience (I mean if you can handle a classroom of 70 kids you can handle anything!).
So if you’re looking to make a career out of teaching English abroad, this could really help you on your way.
Here are some other reasons why teaching English in China is very attractive:
Pros | Why you NEED to Teach in China
- Low Cost of Living: Unlike teaching in Japan, China has a relatively low cost of living. It is easy to live a good and comfortable life and still be well within your teacher’s salary. This IS city-dependent, and living in Beijing or Shanghai is more expensive than the rest of the country, but still cheaper than many western countries.
- Range of Teaching Jobs: As I mentioned earlier, there are a wide range of age groups to teach in China, and a few different avenues to take. For more experienced teachers there are private and international schools, and for newbie teachers, there are public schools and kindergartens. Something for everyone!
- Year-round Hiring: Schools in China hire year-round (peak hiring season is in November for a February start), so it is possible to find a job and start within a month.
- Recruiting Agencies: For many people moving to China is a big and possibly scary adventure. Luckily, several great recruiting agencies can help streamline the process for you and be a go-between you and your employer before you arrive.
- Added Benefits: In China, it isn’t unusual for your employer to provide you with housing and reimburse your airfare. Some will even help with visa fees, provide Chinese lessons, and help you get a TEFL certification if you don’t have one already!
- Culture and History: China has a whopping 55 UNESCO heritage sites, including the world-famous Great Wall, Forbidden City, and the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries. So on your weekends and holidays, there’s plenty of places to go backpacking around China.
Cons | What to Consider before Teaching in China
- Culture Shock: This is a little subjective but China can be worlds away from the familiarity of home. Even that delicious-looking slice of pizza or hearty “English” breakfast won’t quite taste the same. You COULD try to recreate your mom’s famous mac and cheese but expect to pay top dollar for anything imported.
- Degree/Experience Needed: You will need to have either a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate OR have at least two years of professional teaching experience to get a job.
- Competitiveness: Because of the 2020 restrictions, there are fewer jobs available, especially in language centers. This means that more jobs are becoming competitive and some positions may not offer as many perks as they once did a few years ago.
Language Barrier in Rural Areas: This falls under pros AND cons. On the one hand, English isn’t wide-spoken in rural areas, on the other hand, a lot of jobs recognize this and will set you up with Mandarin lessons. This means you could end up speaking some Mandarin! How awesome would that be?
How Much can Teachers Expect to Make?
Salaries vary between the different types of teaching jobs, but on average, an English teaching job in China will bring in between 1,400 and 2,200 USD a month (8,900 – 14,000 RMB). If you really make it big and score a job at a private or international school expect a whopping 2,200 to 4,300 USD a month (14,000 – 27,300 RMB).
If this doesn’t already seem like the jackpot, English teachers in international schools in Beijing and Shanghai are reported to earn even more! Plus, it is common for international schools to provide accommodation or housing allowance, and you can even enjoy meals at the school, so you get to keep what you earn!
Public schools and kindergartens are the lowest paying jobs starting from about 1,200 USD to 1,800 USD for public schools and 2,000 USD for kindergartens. For the lower end of the salary, make sure your employer is giving you benefits of housing and airfare to sweeten the deal.
Language centers are another popular option for teaching English in China. They have flexible work hours, give you the ability to teach adults, and you’ll get two days off a week. The downsides are that you will be working weekends (their busiest period) and lots of evenings. Their salary is typically around 1500 USD a month but with plenty of free time during the day.
Working part-time in a university is also a more flexible work option with the possibility of earning extra money through private tutoring. This kind of job pays up to 1,500 USD a month and candidates with an educational bachelor’s degree are preferred.
You can also teach English as a private tutor, this kind of teaching typically earns you around 20-25 USD an hour. It should be noted that private tutoring outside of your visa is illegal, but there are private tutoring centers you can work for. However, as I said earlier, increasing regulations are making private tutoring harder, and for those who want to tutor privately online, many websites in China are blocked and having a travel VPN is often needed.
Requirements for Teaching in China
- Fluent English Speaker: You do not need to be a Native-English speaker, but you will need to be able to prove fluency in English, but being a native English-speaker (from the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa) will give you an edge, especially if you’re applying to work for an international school.
- Bachelor’s Degree: You will need a bachelor’s degree, subject or length not specified. This is a requirement for getting your Z work visa which is the only way to teach English in China legally.
- TEFL Certificate: You will need to have a 120+ hour TEFL certificate, if you do not have one, many employers will help you to arrange to study for one online or on arrival!
- Z Work Visa: In most cases, your work placement will provide/help you to obtain a Z work visa, otherwise the process can be expensive and stressful. You will need to provide the following:
- Valid passport
- Recent photo
- Completed application
- Bachelor’s degree
- Be over 18 years old
- Medical examination (stating you don’t have TB, HIV, or any drugs in your system)
- Criminal background check
- Invitation/work offer from employer (sent via post)
- Start-up Money: If your employer isn’t providing you with housing, you’ll need to arrive in China with a substantial amount of start-up money. Even if your school is subsidizing your housing or providing a housing allowance each month, you may expect to pay up to three months’ rent up-front when renting a new place! So you’ll need that, your visa costs, flights (this may be paid for or reimbursed later), PLUS sufficient funds to live in your new home before your paycheck arrives. I’d suggest 3-4000 USD to cover all of this (just to be on the safe side).
This isn’t a requirement, but for those wishing to score big and get a job in a private or international school, having at least 2 years of teaching experience is the norm as their standards are higher (to match the salary) and they are extremely competitive job-wise, so candidates are expected to be better qualified.
Where to Get TEFL Certified
So clearly having a TEFL certification is kinda important in China. While you may be feeling disheartened at the thought of spending your hard-earned cash on a course, having a TEFL is so worth the money AND time. Trust me. It will not only open doors for you to teach English in China, but having this certification makes it easier for you to get English teaching jobs all over the world. Seems like a good investment to me!
Online TEFL Certificates
There are tons of places to get TEFL certificates online. Some of them are phoney. These are usually video-only courses where you don’t talk to someone or lesson prep on your own and they won’t help you teach English on the ground.
Whatever you do, do NOT buy a TEFL certification without having completed a course. These companies are well-known by employers and you will not only damage your reputation but may end up blacklisted from many teaching jobs in China.
Aside from that, you will go into the classroom with no skills and have no idea what to do. It is standard that classrooms in China can have up to 70 students, so if you don’t know what you’re doing, it will be chaos. Teaching ESL is not just about being able to travel the world, it’s the livelihoods of others, so it’s best to invest in a TEFL course if you’re serious about teaching.
Here are some of our faves:
The MyTEFL 140-hour course is the gold standard of TEFL certificates. It is accepted by any country and prepares you for a career of teaching abroad. This is an ideal course for those wanting to teach English online as it comes with an additional 20 hours dedicated to purely online teaching.
The 140-hour course covers all the areas of the English language you’ll be expected to teach such as reading, speaking, listening, writing, and phonics, as well as going into the fundamental skills you need to be an English teacher.
They also have a jobs board, so you can search for ESL teaching jobs anywhere in the world.
They also offer a 120-hour course for those that don’t think teaching English online is for you.
Let’s TEFL is the next best online TEFL certificate, and is the best for those needing a refresh of English rules themselves before hitting the classroom. If it’s been a long time since you’ve studied English at school, this course will help you brush up on your grammar and language skills.
It also covers classroom management and lesson planning, so you’ll be fully prepared to teach abroad and start your hunt for TEFL jobs.
It is a 120-hour course that will have you ready and raring to share some knowledge!
TEFL Pros isn’t the most hands-on certificate, but their course is usually the cheapest. Plus, they’ve got a free trial so you don’t need to drop money to see what this is all about!
TEFL Pros also offer a 120-hour course that covers the fundamentals of the English language and classroom management techniques. However, it is solely online. This is great for people who are already traveling, but if you want to gain in-classroom experience then this course isn’t for you. However, it will suffice to land you a job teaching English in China.
Getting Your TEFL in China
Like I said earlier, many employers might arrange to have you complete your TEFL online or in China once you arrive, but if you find yourself needing to arrange one on your own and you’d prefer to do in-person training for the hands-on factor and extra teaching experience, this is totally doable and affordable!
If you really want to go a step further and look even more attractive to possible employers, getting a CELTA course is the way to go! CELTA qualifications are the most recognized English teaching certifications in the world and are often requested by employers.
Teaching Nomad – Teaching Nomad has four-week TEFL courses based in Shanghai with prices at 1490 USD plus 300 – 750 USD for housing. The course has 25 teaching days with weekends off to explore the city. Classes are small with 3-8 students meaning you’ll get the most from your teacher. By the end, you will have taken part in a minimum 6-hour teaching session giving you some real experience and getting you ready to launch your career teaching English in China!
TEFL in China – TEFL in China is a great budget and time-friendly way to get your TEFL qualification in China! They use a combination of a 40-hour intensive online course and a final 7-day in-person program to get you certified. You will get to take part in a “micro-teaching” event and have exams before you pass. The in-person course location varies between major cities, so where you are will depend on when you enroll for. The beauty of this course is that it comes to around 470 USD, not including accommodation, so is great for those with tight purse strings.
CELTA in China – If you are interested in getting a CELTA qualification, this authorised center has 4-week courses running in Beijing and Shanghai (at the moment this course is offered online, but this may change). The courses are led by experienced teachers, give you hands-on teaching experience, and include written assignments. Courses cost around 2,100 USD, not including accommodation.
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Where to Teach English in China
China is so full of teaching opportunities, you could have a hard time deciding where to go! The country divides its cities into an ever-evolving tier system based on population, infrastructure, business opportunities, and more. All of these could end up influencing your decision!
Teaching in Tier 1 Cities
Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen are tier 1 cities. They have a population of over 10 million people and plenty of job opportunities. Beijing and Shanghai are a little more competitive due to the large number of foreign teachers, and they also have the highest cost of living. They will however have the biggest availability of “creature comforts” so if you’re missing home, you’ll probably be able to find a nice pack of PG tips to make you feel better!
These larger cities will offer a large number of international, private, and public schools as well as plenty of language training centers! They have large foreign communities, high connectivity via high-speed rail to other major cities, and good public transportation. A drawback to consider is that these mega-cities can have high levels of pollution at certain times of the year, which could be a deal-breaker for some.
Teaching in “New Tier 1” Cities
New tier 1 cities are provincial capitals and major metropolitan areas such as Chengdu, Hangzhou, Kunming, Nanjing, Tianjin, Suzhou, Xi’an. These are attractive options as they have a good balance between the salary, cost of living, sizable foreign communities, and quality work placements!
Expect these kinds of cities to have fewer international schools, but still have a fair number of private and public schools. They are still highly connected with other major cities, most likely via high-speed rail connections or flights. Many people LOVE living in new tier 1 cities, as they offer a more relaxed lifestyle, but with modern conveniences.
Teaching in Tier 2 Cities
Tier 2 cities are also a hugely popular place to live! They usually have less than 5 million people, but still have plenty of English teaching jobs, good salaries, and a relatively lower cost of living compared to tier 1 and new tier 1 cities. You will still also be able to find some western “luxuries” here, although on a much smaller scale than higher tiers.
Foshan, Fuzhou, Harbin, Hefei, Jinan, Kunming, Wuxi, and Xiamen are classified as tier 2 cities. They are still modern, have a decent number of foreigners, and you will be able to get by with basic Mandarin. These cities may still have international schools, though their numbers will be limited. You will most likely find private and public teaching jobs here.
Teaching in Tier 3, 4, and 5 Cities
Tier 3 cities like Qingdao and Dalian are just PERFECT for English teachers who have decided to work in China for the cultural experience. These cities are cultural hubs and are becoming more and more popular with foreigners! They are ideal for people who are a little wary of falling into an “ex-pat bubble” and are great places to practice your mandarin since you’ll find yourself in more situations where you’ll NEED to speak it!
You can still live a great life there with plenty of schools to choose from! Just expect fewer western comforts and attractions, and get ready to live like a local.
Tier 4 and 5 cities are for veteran teachers (and explorers) who don’t mind being completely out of their comfort zone. These are less wealthy and smaller cities, where you’ll struggle to find a good offer, a foreign community, or western comforts. But HEY, if that’s what floats your boat, go for it!!!
Living in China and Teaching Online
Some language centers will offer contacts for English teachers to teach online in China, however, since July 26, 2021, the Chinese government has cracked down on online lessons for kids to reduce their academic pressure. These regulations mean that lessons are limited to 30 minutes, cannot be taken after 9 pm, and aren’t allowed during weekends, holidays, or school breaks, with children under six not being allowed to take online classes altogether.
This really reduces the market and makes living in China and teaching online a more difficult way to make a living as your workable hours and clientele are greatly decreased. That being said, there is a ban on hiring foreign teachers who work overseas, so foreigners living IN China will theoretically have more clients, and these regulations don’t apply to teaching English online to adults.
How to Find a Job in China
As I’ve been saying, finding a teaching job in China is super easy, there are agencies online you can go through, or you can find one yourself through specific search engines. There are options for days when it comes to agencies, so I’ll just recommend a couple, but feel free to do some shopping around! Be wary to read the fine print as I’ve seen some agencies that get you a teaching job as a volunteer with free room and board but no salary!!
ChinaByTeaching is a consulting business set up by foreign teachers living in Beijing. They were you at one point in time, and that gives them the upper hand when it comes to knowing the kinds of questions new teachers will have, the kind of support they will need, and the best way to find them jobs.
The process is straightforward, simply send them your CV and they will match your skill level and experience to a school and area of your choosing! Once that’s done they will arrange Skype interviews with the schools you have chosen.
After you accept an offer your work visa gets processed then you can begin! Best of all, the whole service is completely free and won’t cost you anything! They have jobs available in public, private, and international schools as well as language training centers.
Teach English in China is another agency run by former foreign English teachers. They have a load of different locations in China, so if you’re looking to work outside of tier 1 areas, these guys have PLENTY of options.
This is another super streamlined process (phew) where you just fill out their application form and submit it alongside your absolutely killer CV and cover letter. You will then hopefully get a 30-minute phone interview from a member of their team. If you’re successful you’ll get an email and follow-up instructions about accepting your offer and enrolling in their program.
What sets this agency apart is their members area which has a “lesson plan library” which is easy to navigate by age group and will give you tips, inspiration, and actual lesson plans used by previous teachers. They also have a community where you can ask questions to their alumni or other teachers.
Finding Your Own Job
It’s also possible to find your own job, but I would recommend this more for people who aren’t first-time English teachers or new to living abroad as for newcomers the level of help and support provided by agencies can be invaluable. If you wanna do your own sleuthing, elscafe.com has a load of up-to-date vacancies!
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Living in China
It will come as no surprise to you that living and teaching English in China will give you an experience above and beyond simply living there. You’ll meet and make friends with locals, find the best places to eat, and probably visit some off-the-tourist-trail places too!
China is generally safe to visit and extreme crimes against foreigners are very rare. Of course, you should always be cautious (like anywhere) and not do anything which could increase your chances of anything happening. This means steering clear of dark alleys, leaving drinks unattended, hiking alone, you get my drift…
If you’re getting taxis, always make sure to avoid unmarked or unmetered taxis, and always make sure the meter is switched on and insist on paying the price on the meter.
Keep hold of your stuff at all times and if you’re super unlucky and anything gets stolen from you, head to the nearest police station or Public Security Bureau to report a robbery.
China is a one-party state and while they’re happy for foreigners to visit and live there, it’s best to avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings against the government as you may risk arrest or deportation.
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Your monthly budget is going to really vary throughout the country. Tier 1 cities like Beijing and Shanghai are considered expensive but more rural areas can be extremely cheap! I’ll give you the low-down on average costs of living in China so adjust accordingly.
|Flying to China (from the US)||$600 – $1200|
|Accommodation||$300 – $850|
|Transport||$150 – $175|
As you have discerned, living in China can be pretty economical! Especially on an English teacher’s salary. In fact, many teachers manage to save 10,000, to as much as 18,000 USD a year by being smart with spending habits and budgeting a little. These handy tips below will help you to squeeze the most out of your monthly salary and have (even MORE) money for all of our favorites past-times – traveling!
Accommodation: This figure really depends on where you’ll be living, but if you wanna save big bucks on your rent, then either opt for tier 2 or 3 cities where you’ll be paying a lot less, or try to get a shared apartment in the more expensive cities like Beijing or Shanghai. Expat.com lists room shares on their website and could be a good start to finding somewhere. If your accommodation is free with your placement then congratulations, you’ve hit the jackpot!
Food: The best way to save on food in China is to eat like a local, which means heading to the market to buy produce and cooking using local ingredients! Eating out in China can be pretty cheap if you go to family-run or hole-in-the-wall places. In bigger cities a budget meal can be as cheap as 5 USD! (35 RMB) or even less than 3 USD (19 RMB) in smaller cities. Another good money-saving tip is to bring your favorite western sauces from home in your luggage. Otherwise, you could be paying top dollar for imported goods.
Transport: Even though taxis SEEM cheap, Chinese cities can be congested, ramping up your taxi bill! Traveling by bus or metro is a lot cheaper and sometimes quicker. Many Chinese cities now have branded street bikes (like Ofo or Mobike) which charge a small fee and can be unlocked using an app on your phone.
Entertainment: This one really depends on you, if you don’t go out, you’ll save money. A great hack is to drink local beer instead of imported beers and spirits, and to visit public parks and temples for some free sightseeing!
Speaking the Language
The good news is you do NOT have to be able to speak mandarin to work in China! Especially in bigger cities, you should have no trouble at all getting around using English. In tier 3 cities and more rural areas, speaking a little mandarin will definitely be useful and most likely essential in small villages to live a good quality of life. Luckily, some jobs offer Mandarin classes, which I would really recommend taking!
FAQs on Teaching English in China
Final Thoughts on Teaching English in China
China is a fantastic place to teach English abroad! Although the regulations in 2020 have made it more competitive, there’s a reason why teaching jobs in China are so popular! They are a great way to gain experience and make the transition to teaching in other countries. There are job opportunities to teach children as well as adults, and the salary is relatively high!
A decent salary coupled with the low cost of living in most areas make living and teaching in China AND exploring the rest of Asia very affordable. As an added incentive, many jobs offer incentives such as housing assistance, reimbursing your airfare, and Mandarin lessons.
Another great thing about being an English teacher in China is that jobs are available in a range of cities, so whether you’re looking for a mega-city experience with a great ex-pat community and access to western luxuries, or for a more rural experience where you’ll be able to practice your Mandarin and really mingle with locals, there’s an opportunity out there!
Hopefully, this helpful guide has told you all you need to know about getting a teaching job in China, and provide you with some handy tips that will give you a competitive edge. That’s all, for now, folks, I wish you all the success in the world!
Bye for now, but not forever!
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