Teaching in China: The Basics

Why teach in China?

China has become a promising destination for TEFL teachers. There are many reasons why TEFL teachers are attracted to this country for employment; there is very strong and growing TEFL demand. It is estimated that there are 100,000 vacancies for TEFL teachers at any given time in China. It is a teachers’ market, meaning that when in China, as a teacher, there are many jobs that await you and you can be reasonably picky. This new trend is driven by the development of the Chinese education system. As China develops, the demand for “international” style education is on the rise. There are around 850 international schools in China, up 250 in just 5 years. There is a very strong growth in TEFL in China, and this trend is expected to continue. As this trend continues, it may be nearly impossible for schools to fill all the positions with qualified teachers. Therefore, not all agencies require you to have a degree, yet it seems a TEFL certificate is the minimum qualification depending on the school. So, let’s go over some of the basics. 

What kind of institutions can I teach at?

Here are the most common:

Private English Language Training Centers for Kids and Adults

These are the most common type of teaching institution for native English speakers. They include western chain schools like English First and Wall Street English. Classes are usually busiest on weekends and afternoons. All ages usually study at these centers. In my experience, these jobs offer the most flexibility, yet salaries may not be as high as some international schools. You are expected to teach anywhere between 25-30 hours a week and class sizes are small, making them easier to manage. If you really don’t like the 9 to 5 job, this may be a good choice for you, as classes are scattered throughout the week and schedules are flexible. Often, you won’t need teaching experience for this job, although it would be helpful. Salaries are around the 1500-2000 USD on average, but it all depends on your experience and the contract you sign. In many cases, there are housing allowances as well.

Kindergartens

These are Monday to Friday jobs, you will be teaching toddlers up to 6 years old. Basically, it is a kindergarten. It’s a stable job: the demand is high for kindergarten teachers and there are many opportunities for this type of job. You would be working during the week, and you get weekends off. You do need a lot of energy for these schools; be prepared to practice songs, dances and hands-on activities with the kids just like in any kindergarten. Because the kids are at such a young age, the activities are often lighthearted and fun. But! Ensure you like kids and have a lot of patience and energy. On the plus side, the kids are very cute and the job is not a very demanding one regarding paper work. Also, not much teaching experience is necessary, and you can usually jump right in. Salaries for these jobs are at about par or just a bit under the salaries of language centers. 

Public schools

Public schools can be primary, middle or high school. It is a Monday to Friday job and they usually require between 20-25 hours of teaching per week but there may be extra demands placed on teachers, such as leading after-school activities or preparing exams for the students. Chinese classes are quite large: there may be up to 60 students per class. Students in Chinese schools are very eager to learn and it is a great opportunity for a more experienced teacher to develop their teaching career as it can be slightly more challenging, especially at the high school level where grammar lessons may be at a more advanced level. It isn’t necessary, but I would suggest that teachers have at least 1 year of teaching experience at either a kindergarten or private institution before taking on a job at a high school. The salaries are around 1400-1700 USD plus housing allowances.

International schools

These are the most lucrative and arguably the best jobs with the most benefits and highest salaries. However, these are not really TEFL jobs. They are jobs teaching a subject, such as Math, Technology, Science or History, and these jobs will usually require a teaching license from one’s home country as the schools follow an international curriculum. The salaries are much higher for these jobs, at around 3000-4000 USD range per month, depending on experience. The benefits of these jobs are many, with plenty of holiday time and perks. 

Universities

There are also many universities that employ TEFL teachers in China. Some are very good jobs, and others are not so great. Universities in the countryside are not as prestigious and the salaries are usually quite low. However, it looks great on a resume and many teachers do it for the experience. University jobs in the city are much better, they usually pay much higher and the infrastructure at such facilities is also better compared to universities in rural areas. To teach at a reputable university both experience and (usually) a master’s degree are required. It is a Monday to Friday job and typically fewer teaching hours per week compared to public schools at around 15 to 18 hours or so. Office hours are required and you really should be well-prepared for your lectures. The classes can be quite long, usually 2 to 3 hours for each class, and many students attend. The salaries range from 1200 USD to a very high amount if teaching at a prestigious university. There really is no standard. 

What are the visa processes to work in China?

Not all teachers have a visa to work there legally, but it is very advisable that you do. The type of visa required for you to come to teach in China is called the Z visa. To obtain a Z visa as a teacher three things are required; a bachelors degree, two years of work experience, and being a native English speaker. Employers will submit the necessary documents for you to obtain the visa. These documents from your side are a scanned copy of passport, degree, teaching certificate, and proof of work history if it applies. The school will then apply for an invitation letter and supporting documents, this may take 1 to 4 weeks. After that, they will mail you all the documents needed and you will proceed to apply for a work permit at a Chinese embassy in your home country. When you arrive in China you have 24 hours to register at the nearest police station and 30 days to turn your Z visa into a residency visa. Once you obtain a residency visa, you can legally work and stay in China. Schools usually assist you with the process. Again, it is not advisable to work in China without these documents, although some teachers do take that risk.

Should I select a school in a big city or rural area in China?

Social isolation can be an issue in a very small town and also the salaries are much better in larger cities. For these reasons, most teachers are looking for work in larger cities. Although they can be quite noisy and hectic, there are more opportunities; and big cities also offer more entertainment. Smaller cities are interesting if you would like to learn more about Chinese culture and the habits of local people, but if you are an extroverted and social kind of person, it would be wise to stay in a larger city where you have more variety of things to do.

Please feel free to message me below regarding any questions you may have about teaching in China.

Written by Armando Pannacci for TEFL.net July 2019
Arm is an ESL teacher with over ten years of experience teaching English in Thailand, Korea and Canada. He has a bachelor's of social work degree and received his certificate in TESOL from TESOL Canada.

6 Comments

  • Armando says:

    Thanks for the feedback everyone, I’ve heard of the age restrictions,I’ll look into that.

  • Kim Dammers says:

    You should mention age restrictions. It varies from province to province and school to school, but for people over (I think it’s) 65, the national policy is not to give visas.

  • Odonchimeg (Odnoo) says:

    Hello,

    I really like this article and given information. I am a non-native English speaker, however I like teaching English abroad especially in China.
    What TEFL or TESOL course would like to offer me? I am Mongolian.
    Do you have any experience in Japan?

  • Armando Pannacci says:

    I think that you do need to be from a native speaking country to process the z visa.

  • Thobelani Brian Mkhize says:

    Wow, thank you so much for information, I am the process of attaining TEFL certificate and I have signed the contract with international school to start soon. I am a qualified Social worker by the way.

  • Beulah says:

    I am a non native English speaker and I would like to teach English in China. I already have a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate, would it be difficult for me to be granted a Z visa since I don’t hold a passport of any native country?

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