How to Choose a Job Teaching English in China

So you’ve decided to move to China to teach English?

Congratulations!

The initial decision is always the hardest bit!

We are not kidding when we say we literally looked through hundreds of avenues for teaching positions in China. There are SO many decisions to make, you might currently be asking yourself some of the following questions…
What qualifications do I need?
Do I want to teach 3 year olds or university students?
Do I want to teach in a language centre, an international school or a state school?
How do I choose a city to live in?
What will my living costs be?
What type of salary should I be asking for?

In this post, we have complied all of the advice we felt we needed when selecting an English Teaching job in China and, as always, we will provide our personal experience alongside.

Where do I start?!
The very first thing you need to do is figure out why you are moving to China. The question sounds simple but it actually took us weeks of roundabout thinking to discover our core expectations of life in China.

You need to decide what you want to get out of your experience by identifying your main aim, is it to make as much money as possible? To experience a new culture? To get some teaching experience?

You will likely have a lot of offers on the table and you need to be careful which one you choose. By identifying this main aim, your decision will be much easier to make. And let us tell you, agencies want those answers pronto! You may only have a couple of days to accept or reject an offer, so try to can avoid this added pressure by being absolutely certain about what you want before you dive in!

Personally, we always thought our main goal was to earn as much money as possible in a year so that we could travel as far and wide as possible afterwards. However, after being offered a contract which would offer us 22,000 RMB (£2,444) per month each after tax, we actually ended up selecting a contract which offered a little less 20,000 RMB (£2,222) per month each after tax.

Why? You might ask…

Well, we looked closely into the two contracts and they were not so different from one another. They both offered a free apartment, flight reimbursement, medical coverage and the legal Z visa.*

Then we reached out to the potential employers to ask for more specifics about the actual job roles. This is where you will find massive differences and where you core values will really come into play in making a decision that’s right for you.

The contract with the higher salary wanted an English teacher for a language centre (students aged 3-16, working during weekends and after school hours) whilst the lower salary involved working in a kindergarten (students aged 1.5-6, normal Mon – Fri working week). We both absolutely love working with young children and we were surprised that we valued it so much that we knew instantly which offer we’d prefer to accept! In the end, a desire to fully enjoy the job and to keep our weekends free far outweighed the offer of a higher salary.

*Please note, the Z Visa is the legal working visa in China. There will be agencies which will try to get you to China with the offer of sorting your visa AFTER arrival. This is illegal and we would advise that you turn down any such offers immediately, otherwise you will risk trouble in China.

What are the legal job requirements of a teaching English position in China?
You will need the following:
A bachelor’s degree in any subject
A TEFL certificate
Be a native English speaker
Hold a passport from one of the approved countries: UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa.

These minimal requirements will be checked before you obtain your Z visa. This visa is the final requirement of being allowed to teach English legally in China.

China is so big…how do I choose a location?
China has a really helpful system for categorising their cities. It is called a tier system (UK readers – this has nothing to do with COVID). Tier 1 cities such as Beijing and Shanghai will have the most foreign expats and attract the highest wages. However, they also cost a lot more to live in. Then you have tier 2 and 3 cities which are respectfully smaller and have less western influence.

We decided pretty quickly that tier 3 was out of the question for us because we don’t know any Mandarin and would find it pretty difficult to get by day-to-day. However, if you are looking for language immersion, it is likely that you will pick up Mandarin much more quickly in tier 3 cities where you have to rely on it to get by.

The only other certainty that we had was that we wanted to avoid Beijing due to the pollution problem. As you can see, this was more of an elimination process rather than a clear-cut ‘that’s where we want to go’ decision.

We would recommend doing a lot of research on the different places and encourage you to stay open minded.

In the end, our perfect job offer ended up being in a city called Shenyang – a place we hadn’t even considered. We looked into it and decided to go ahead with the offer after checking the essentials such as: inner city transport, national and international travel opportunities, and climate.

Climate, perhaps something you wouldn’t first consider, was a massive deal breaker for us. After moving to Dubai in August 2020 and realising we ABSOLUTELY could not stand the oppressive heat, we needed to make sure we wouldn’t end up in a similar position again.

As China is such a huge place, it has several different climates ranging from places which are dry with freezing winters and boiling summers to other places which are mild all year around with heavy rainfall. You need to think about your preferences and whether some climates may be unbearable for you.

Also consider the following:
Transport links within the city – how will you be getting around?
Transport links to other destinations – if you would like to travel to other parts of the country/ abroad
Medical care centres – not all hospitals will have English speaking doctors, is this important to you?
Pollution – check the pollution index online for advice.

What kind of wage should I be asking for?
This is personal and specific to each individual situation. We have heard of (and been offered) vastly different wages since we began our search.

As we have already disclosed our salary (20,000RMB) please note that our first offer was for 13,000RMB with no free apartment or flight reimbursement. We could have easily accepted that offer had we not done further research and realised that we could earn a lot more.

You will also be able to push for higher salaries if you have teaching experience and teaching or English related qualifications, which luckily we both do.

We have even seen salaries for as high as 30,000 RMB but these were in international schools which have very high standards for applicants and will expect a much higher standard of lesson planning and commitment.

It is important to note that your location will also effect your salary. If you work in a tier 1 city, the wage will be higher than in a tier 3, but your cost of living will also be significantly higher.

Bills are comparatively very cheap in China when compared to our home country – the UK.

What job benefits should I look out for?
We would recommend going for the jobs that offer free accommodation, flight reimbursement and full medical cover on top of your salary. There will be offers out there that don’t offer this package but many do so keep searching for the right one for you.

Many jobs do not offer the payment of flights etc up front but will reimburse you over the period of your contract.

Do I need any teaching experience?
In short – no. `It seems that many schools are happy to have a foreign teacher simply to make their school more desirable to parents of potential students. As long as you have the minimum requirements, no teaching experience is required unless you want to push for the higher salary jobs.

However, we have seen people go to China to find out that they absolutely hate working with children, hate teaching and end up hating their experience as a result.

We would highly recommend being 100% sure that teaching (especially younger children) is something that you are comfortable doing. Everyone had that one teacher who clearly hated their job growing up – don’t be that teacher for someone else.

How much money will I need before I go?
In all honesty, this whole ‘getting started’ process has been pretty expensive. Of course, the overall cost is doubled for us because we are moving out as a couple. Here are some expenses that you might want to consider (things have also been more expensive because of COVID complications as well!):

Before you can apply for your Visa, you need to have your 3 documents (degree, TEFL and criminal check):
Notarised: £60 per document
Legalised: £30 per document
Authenticated: £270 for 3 documents (this is usually significantly cheaper but we had to go via an agency due to limited appointments available within the UK due to COVID.)

Then you need to factor in the cost of your visa which is £150 each.

Obviously, you also have to pay for your flights, currently it’s looking like ours will cost around £1,000 each including extra baggage and seat selection etc. as I absolutely hate flying so need to make it as comfortable for myself as possible.

We are lucky that our job includes an apartment. However, if yours doesn’t you need to be aware that you usually have to fork out around 5 months rent upfront in China. This usually covers 1 months deposit, 1 months agency fees and 3 months rent upfront payment. This is standard in China but remember that their rent is also significantly cheaper than you would pay in the UK.

You’ll also need to cover at least your first month in China before you get your first pay. So we are both taking our last pays from our current jobs to live on for that first month. In your first month in China, besides the obvious such as food, transport and setting up expenses such as buying a new sim card etc,, you will also need to pay for a medical exam which is part of the agreement for your visa.

As we are moving during the COVID pandemic, sadly quarantine is going to be a very real expense for us in China. As it currently stands we will have to pay around £800 each to quarantine for two weeks unless we manage to find a hotel to let us quarantine together. AND if we don’t manage to find a flight that lands in our final destination (Shenyang) we may have to pay to do quarantine all over again in that city too!





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