Guide to teaching English in China
China is the most populous country in the world and has one of the fastest-growing economies. China's landscape is vast and diverse, ranging from the Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts in the arid north to subtropical forests in the wetter south. As one of the world’s oldest civilizations, China has no shortage of amazing landmarks and historical sites to experience alongside a range of culinary, cultural, and linguistic traditions.
Interested in teaching English in China? We’ve got you covered! Keep reading to learn more about the types of teaching jobs, average salaries and benefits, and how to get a teaching job in China!
Types of teaching jobs in China
China is one of the most popular destinations for English teachers. The large availability of great jobs makes it a great option for first-time teachers and seasoned educators alike.
Private language academies
Different from both international schools and public schools are the ever-growing private (English language learning) ELL companies. Among these companies are Wall Street English, EF (Education First), Longman Schools, and many more. Note that the age of your students will vary depending on where you choose to work – some organizations teach only adults, while others teach only young children.
Private ESL schools in China tend to pay more than public schools; however, you will also work more hours. You will teach smaller classes from about 5-20 students, mainly in the evenings and on the weekend. Working for an ESL school is the easiest way to get a job teaching English in China, and most companies have many options from China’s largest cities, to smaller, less cosmopolitan areas. As a teacher, you will have your pick of locations, and many companies will even let you move to a new city after a few months if you would like to be in a different location.
Public schools in China may pay less than private language academies, but English teachers also work fewer hours and have longer and more frequent holidays. Most teachers will live on campus or in an apartment near the school, eat lunch in the school cafeteria, and involve themselves in school events like talent shows and sports day. Class sizes will be much larger, reaching up to 50 students per class. You will also have to create your own lesson plans and may be given a lot of leeway in topics and teaching methods.
Many teachers also find side jobs working as private tutors for wealthy families or businesses. There is a high demand for one-on-one oral English tutoring, especially for adults and high school students. Private tutoring requires little planning and can be a great way to make extra money while living in China. The easiest way to obtain a tutoring position is through connections after you have arrived in China.
Average salary and benefits for teaching English in China
Salaries can vary greatly in China depending on the type of school and teacher experience. The typical salary for a first-year ESL school teacher is $1,200 a month with free housing. If your salary is above $1,600 as a first-time teacher, housing is unlikely to be included. If you land a job teaching English in a private and international school, your salary will be about $2,800 - $4,300 per month.
Common benefits for teachers
Many jobs offer free perks like flight reimbursement, housing, TEFL certification, visa fees, and Chinese lessons. Some schools may also offer a completion bonus or a one-time payment for successfully renewing your contract. These benefits are included alongside your monthly salary so your expenses will typically only consist of food, entertainment, and clothing and personal items.
Read more: How Much Money Can You Save Teaching Abroad?
Cost of living in China
By Western standards, China is an affordable country. Larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai are pricier but with the perks available to English teachers, living a comfortable lifestyle while saving a bit of cash is within your reach. The following costs are just estimates and actual numbers will depend wholly on your lifestyle while in China.
- Food: $150-$250 USD per month
- Transportation: $10-$50 USD per month
- Entertainment: $50-$100 USD per month
- Housing: $200-$650 USD for a room in shared accommodation depending on city
- Utilities: $15-$60 USD per month
Where and how to find housing
The majority of teaching jobs in China provide teachers with furnished accommodation. This could be a studio or one-bedroom apartment or housing shared with other teachers. The upside to this is that you will have everything arranged for you upon your arrival. However, it also means you will have less choice in where you live. Some housing may be located in an area that requires a commute to your school, while others will be within walking distance.
Where to teach English in China
As with starting a job in any new country, it's important to do your research before coming to China. Start by exploring these major teaching cities in China:
China’s vibrant capital Beijing is not only chock full of jobs for English teachers but it’s rich in culture and things to do. Teachers can enjoy the many historic sites such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City while simultaneously taking in modern Chinese culture and heritage.
As China’s largest city and one of the overall largest in the world, you’ll be surrounded by beautiful chaos in Shanghai. Shanghai is a cosmopolitan and international city steeped in technological advances. It’s also extremely well-connected by subway so you’ll never have to worry about how to get around.
Located in southeast China near Hong Kong, Guangzhou is an industrial city with a high number of jobs available for English teachers. It’s smaller than Beijing and Shanghai making it a more intimate, and affordable, destination for future teachers.
How to get a job teaching English in China
Teachers hoping to get hired in a private language academy or public school will need to follow several steps before starting their teaching journey in China. Learn about what it takes to land your dream job.
Where to find jobs
When searching online for teaching jobs in China, it can be difficult to find an employer or school you can trust; it’s even more complicated when half the websites you come across are written in Chinese. Recruiting agencies like Reach To Teach, Teaching Nomad and Set in China can help by custom-searching for a job you’re interested in and following up with more information or tips as you're narrowing down your job search.
Of course, the school in which you choose to teach is going to give you a different experience from the others. International schools in China usually offer higher salaries than most, but they are highly-competitive positions. Since most Chinese international schools have their own websites, you can easily find which schools have available English teaching jobs.
When to apply
Although schools in China hire English teachers year-round, the peak hiring season is the month of November with a start date in February. However, it's possible to be hired and start your teaching job within a month! Begin your search on the Go Overseas job board.
To legally work in China you will need a bachelor’s degree, a TEFL certificate, a valid passport from a native English-speaking country, and a criminal background check. If you don't have a teaching certificate yet, many programs offer free TEFL certification as part of the benefits package.
If you do not have a passport from a native English-speaking country (US, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa), you can teach in China if you have two years of teaching experience and are a certified teacher in your home country.
Employers in China have a preference for teachers under the age of 40. Despite that, applicants between the ages of 18 and 60 are eligible to apply for the Z visa
Keep in mind that obtaining a Chinese work visa (Z visa) can be stressful and slightly expensive, but with the proper documents and an experienced school, obtaining a work visa should be straightforward. The school will provide a letter of acceptance and help you get a work permit. In addition to your work visa in China, you will need a residence permit and a medical clearance stating you are free of TB, HIV, and any drugs. Make sure to read your teaching contract to see if your school will pay for your visa and the associated fees, as each school is different.
What’s it like to live & teach English in China
As an ESL teacher abroad, it’s essential that you take the time to research the country’s etiquette and classroom culture, as it can be vastly different from what you’re used to at home! ESL teachers should be respectful and understanding while adapting to a new classroom environment.
Classroom & work culture
For the most part, students in China view foreign English teachers as a fun departure from their normal classes. They expect you to be more casual, friendly, and interesting than their other teachers.
When it comes to the approach to teaching, teachers are allowed to be much more hands-on. There is also an expectation that foreign teachers will bring “new and creative Western learning methods” to the classroom. This means you’ll be tasked with creating new games, exploring new teaching styles, and adding diversity to a test-driven learning environment.
In China, things tend to be done last minute. You may encounter some communication issues when it comes to scheduling, although every school is different. Flexibility is key to transitioning seamlessly into your new role.
Culture & etiquette tips
In China, many people will greet with a nod, wave, or handshake. As a foreigner, many Chinese people, men especially, will shake your hand because they know it is a traditional Western greeting. In a business setting, if you really want to stand out, be sure to give and receive all documents and business cards with two hands. While this is not expected, it will surely impress your colleagues!
Some other cultural points to keep in mind include:
- Always remove your shoes when entering a Chinese household. This custom is strictly enforced, and one reason why you may want to quickly buy a pair of slippers to easily take on and off.
- Never write someone's name in red. For obvious reasons, the color is synonymous with blood, and it is considered a bad omen. Many new teachers make this mistake when grading students' homework.
- The number 4 is considered unlucky. This is because the pronunciation of the word "4" (si, pronounced with a sharp falling tone) is very similar to the pronunciation of the word "death" (si, this time pronounced with a rising tone). For this reason, some buildings will omit labeling the fourth floor, preferring to skip from three to five instead!
- Traditional custom holds that it is unhealthy to swallow phlegm. Be prepared to see people spit and spit often.
- Loud conversations, even to the point of yelling at each other, will probably be one of the first things you'll notice in China. Don't assume people are angry or upset, it is just how business is done.
Ready to find your dream teaching program in China?
Start researching and comparing teaching programs here at Go Overseas, in the Teaching Programs in China section below.
Want to read more? Get started with these articles:
Teaching Programs in China
View the latest teaching job postings on our job board.
When is the best hiring season for teaching jobs in China?
China is great because they hire all year round and don't really have as varied hiring seasons as countries like Korea or Japan. For example, if a person applies to China and is accepted they can be in China inside a month any time of the year. Generally, the best hiring month is November for a February start date for teaching in China.
What’s the normal workload for teachers in China?
The workload will depend on the type of school you're teaching at: Public vs. Private. Usually, working hours at a private language center are higher than a public school (pay accompanies that, meaning the more you work, the more you will get paid!). You should plan to be in the classroom about 16-22 hours per week with a public school, and 20-30 hours per week in a private school, with the remaining hours (to make a 40 hour work week) being dedicated to lesson planning, grading, meeting with students etc. Many public/private schools will want you at your desk from 8-4 if you're not teaching, while other schools don't care too much. Also if you work at an academy, you might have to work nights and weekends.Related Content
How much do you make teaching English in China?
Depending on your experience and the institution you work at, you can earn anywhere from 10,000-30,000 RMB (~1,400 - 4,300 USD) per month teaching English in China. Programs often include airfare, housing, and other perks as well.Related Content
Do you need to know Chinese to teach English in China?
You don't need to have any knowledge of Chinese to teach English in China. In fact, many of the teaching programs offer free Chinese lessons for teachers.
Can you save money teaching English in China?
Yes. A lot of the teach abroad programs in China offer a competitive salary, and pay almost all of your expenses including airfare, medical insurance, and housing.
What documents do I need to teach in China?
The only visa you are legally allowed to work under in China is the Z visa. To get your visa you will have to provide your passport, a work permit from your employer, and a health document that shows you're clear of HIV, TB, and drugs. In addition to the visa, you will need to apply for a residency permit.
Can you teach English in China without a degree?
You are not legally allowed to teach English as a full-time teacher in China without a bachelor's degree.Related Content
What qualifications do I need to teach English in China?
It's necessary to have a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate or teaching experience (2 years) to teach English in China.Related Content