If you’ve landed yourself a job of teaching English China, congratulations! It’s a profitable and rewarding — in many ways — job that is going to be as fulfilling for you as it is for your students. However, before you actually teach China, there are some details that you are going to want to know to make it as seamless as possible.
Here are some of the key facts that you’ll want to know before teaching in China for the very first time.
1. Teaching English in China: What are the Requirements?
There are some requirements that you’ll want to have in place to make sure that you are qualified to teach in China. Knowing these ahead of time also helps to make sure that you aren’t disappointed if you find your application is denied due to one of these important facts.
In order to teach in formal and dependable jobs in China, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve got a Bachelor degree. The major doesn’t much matter for most programs, though having successfully graduated from a Bachelor’s program is required in order to qualify for a work visa.
The good news is that you don’t need to have any formal teaching experience to teach English in China. While having some sort of experience is always helpful, it’s not going to make a difference in your chances. That being said, having an interest in teaching is important (for obvious reasons)!
Originally you had to have English as your native language before you taught in China. Now, however, you must have a passport from a country where English is the native language (Canada, New Zealand, UK, etc).
It’s always a good idea to make sure that you are fluent or very close to it, however, to provide the best learning and immersion experience to your students.
You’ll have to pass a background check and also have a valid passport as well as work visa during your entire stay in China. These give you proper permission and legal ability to work in China itself. Also, you’ll want to have an updated curriculum vitae (CV) so that the application process is smooth and complete.
2. What Types of Job Opportunities are Available?
There are many jobs where teaching in China is available. The kind and specificity of each of those jobs is going to vary depending on your requirements as well as your educational background and your interests, too. There is a teaching position for everyone’s preferences, though!
Public School Teaching
This kind of teaching is in classic 30+ student classrooms and these classrooms are often well organized and ran. You can teach about a variety of topics and the entire purpose is to help kids of all ages learn ESL.
Private School Teaching
While more high-end as far as the students that you’ll find there, financially speaking, ESL classes will often focus on the same general focus. However, your classes will often be smaller and you may even experience more control over what, specially, you want to teach.
These school systems often are harder for you to get, depending on your qualifications, but they can be really exciting for those that love different cultures. In these school systems, you’ll have both well-off Chinese and non-Chinese students in the same setting, allowing you to teach ESL to people of many different language backgrounds. These can be really challenging (in a good way)!
If you’ve got a passion for teaching kids, there are plenty of nursery school and kindergarten positions available where you can really get hands-on with activities and games. While the class sizes tend to be bigger, it can be a lot of fun for kid lovers.
These are more high level English speakers where students are focused on refining vocabulary and writing skills to a higher level. If you’ve got a passion for helping further English skills and techniques, these are great positions that pay well, too.
Specialized English Classes
You can also take a look at teaching specialized English classes within school districts, depending on your education and experience. For example, you could teach ESL Chemistry or Physics. These can be especially exciting positions if you are passionate about a specific niche and category of teaching. They also are higher paying due to their specificity.
3. How Much Can You Make as an ESL Teacher in China?
Of course, one of the reasons that you are considering teaching in China is because you’re looking to make some good money. When you are looking at the salaries as they compare to each other, it may even compel you to go with something a little different from what you thought in order to get the pay that you’re looking for.
10, 000 RMB / $1, 584 USD
This is considered to be your average salary in a public school if you have no experience in teaching. Some may be lower and some may be higher, but it’s a good consideration for an average monthly salary.
16, 000 RMB / $2, 535 USD
If you’re looking at teaching in a private school, you can expect a bit of a higher rate of pay. These are intended to be more intense than public schools, as the criteria for teaching and learning are both higher. That being said, the rate of pay is also great.
25, 000 RMB / $3, 941 USD
This is for international schools and Universities where your education is a lot more specific to the higher levels of specificity and knowledge, but also still enjoying ESL teaching. The price makes this appealing.
On top of these expected salaries, you’ll also want to keep in mind that the rate of pay to each in China will vary a lot depending on what tier of city you are teaching in. For example, Tier 1 cities often have more resources and financing available to them rather than Tier 3 cities.
In many teaching positions, especially tier 2 or tier 3 cities, they’ll include rent and flight adjustments on top of the rate of pay, too, so that what you earn is entirely your own and can be used freely without worrying cost of living.
4. Where to Teach: Pick a Place that Suits You
A key part to making sure that your time is successful in China is making sure that you are picking the right place to teach. Not only does this refer to the school and system that you are using, but also the actual city and its general atmosphere. When choosing between the hotspots such as Shanghai and Beijing, for instance, you’ll want to keep general comforts in mind, too.
While you’ll find most cities large in China, especially if you aren’t used to city life itself, you’ll want to make sure that you pick a city that is not too big. The larger cities will, of course, offer you a higher rate of pay. That being said, you’ll find the cost of living expenses to be a bit higher, so you’ll want to keep this in mind.
When you focus on a larger city, you’ll have more options for travelling, access to public transportation and lots of facilities at your beck and call. If you are someone who wants the full catered experience and access to just about anything, a larger city will probably be the way to go.
If you want something more focused on the actual teaching role, a smaller city may be something to think about instead. While it may be harder getting a teaching position than a bitter city, they may offer slightly cheaper living expenses and give you a more authentic feel.
A huge factor that many teachers forget to factor-in is the climate. It’s important that you choose your location in China based on climate, too! For example, those who love warmth will want to go with Southeast China where temperatures go from 10-30 degrees Celsius. If you want cold and hot extremes, go for Northeast China where it reaches as cold as -20 degrees Celsius contrasted with hot, dry summers. For the goldilocks option, Central China offers humidity, rain and mild winters that hover around the 0 degree Celsius mark.
Travel Experience and Comfort
If you’re used to smaller cities and rural living, you may find that smaller cities offer the comfort you need. You’ll also like the more Chinese, non-Western experience so that you can experience the whole “living in China” element. If you want to be able to travel widely and experience all sorts of new things while you’re teaching, a city will be the best chance for that.
Don’t forget to choose based on your own preferences and not those that are oriented around money and other specifics — your comfort is a priority that you should always keep in mind!
5. What Living in China is Like?
While confusing to those who haven’t done much working abroad, the entire situation of living in China, financially speaking, is pretty much up to you! From cost of living to saving money to the actual apartments that you choose, there is control and access to whatever you want, really, when living in China. It all depends on your goals.
Cost of Living
One of the biggest aspects of living in China is the cost of living. It can vary drastically and fluctuate between being high end living with low end saving, or more savings with medium quality living. Between rent, food, transportation and utilities, you can expect to pay somewhere between $380 – $1, 000 a month.
Since you are earning anywhere from $1, 500 and up for most ESL teaching positions, you can still put away a decent amount of money even when enjoying high end apartments and other details like that.
How much money you save really depends on what kind of lifestyle you want to live while enjoying your time in China. For instance, do you want to come out of these with an impressive $15, 000 in savings? If so, live frugally and be cautious with your travelling (while still enjoying your time).
This gives you the potential to put almost 80% of your income into savings! If you just want to enjoy it for itself, you can spend more of it in going out and entertainment.
Apartments and Living Expenses
Rent can be as little as $200 a month in China, and it doesn’t get you a slum. Sure, it won’t exactly be a 5-star establishment, but it will be comfortable for your time to stay. However, if you want to be in the heart of Shanghai in a nice spot, you may be looking at more $1, 000 a month instead. If that’s your comfort, you can really decide how much money you spend on your lifestyle.
6. What to Expect on the Job
Depending on your perspective, actually teaching in China may be made easier or harder if you have past experience in teaching in the Western world.
No matter where you teach in China, no matter what ages or tiers or expectations, you’ll find that you will never be bored. Unlike in some Western cultures, school in China is taken very seriously and teachers are held in high respect and regard.
It’s not uncommon for students to bring gifts to their sparkly new ESL teacher as they get to know them, for instance. With the exception of age-related ones, you won’t need to deal with tantrums or fights or anything like that.
You’ll find that when you teach English in China, you’ll need to prepare well. Students will show up ready to learn and they’ll be expecting you to be prepared to teach them. Focus on bright colours, creative games that get students moving and engaging with you as well as each other. Don’t be afraid to really put in some technological games, too, as computers and other electronic devices are widely available in Chinese classrooms.
While it will definitely take effort, you’ll find that teaching ESL to students is going to keep you learning, too, and getting some invaluable teaching experience so that you can take it with you on your next adventure.
7. Expect the cultural shocks
You can’t travel halfway around the world and expect that there won’t be some sort of culture shock! Here are some of the biggest shocks you’ll be able to expect regardless of where in China you decide to go.
Food is an important part of Chinese culture and you’re going to be expected to try new foods that you’ve never seen before, as well as eat your fair share of food! This is why China is such a great spot for those who love food.
However, it won’t taste like the Chinese food you’re used to enjoying at home! You’ll find that Chinese food — the authentic stuff, that is — is going to be invigorating, satisfying and so much better than you originally thought.
While it’s always good to find some good that you are familiar with, don’t be afraid to try something entirely new.
As you can probably imagine, not everyone speaks English in China — that’s why you’re there after all! — while there are many English services in the bigger cities, not just everyone you pass on the street will be able to communicate with you.
Be prepared for a language barrier and even comprehension barrier at times, even if they do speak English. It’s a great idea to have some basic phrases and questions in Chinese for the best results.
Keep in mind that there are different customs in China for conversation. While Western cultures generally will discuss governmental issues and their opinions, as well as politics and religion, Chinese culture is very different from this and won’t welcome these kinds of questions or even you ranting and talking freely. Be respectful of this!
Even if you are in the larger cities where tourists are normal, it’s possible that you’ll get a lot of interest from those around you. This is especially so if you are hanging out with others and speaking English. You’ll also find your students will be very fascinated by you as well, particularly if you have a classic English accent.
8. How Important is Chinese?
You’ll be happy to know that you don’t need to speak Chinese at all in order to teach English in China. However, learning Chinese isn’t as hard as you’ve been taught to believe and it’s a great idea to always have some understanding of the basic words and phrases that are important for comfort, safety and clarity where it’s needed.
You should also carry around a dictionary or a phrasebook (or equivalent on your phone) so that you can at least access the language if and when you were to need it! Understanding even the slightest bit of Chinese will help make your experience a whole lot more fun and it will even give you something to bring home with you!
9. The New Tech Stack You’ll Need (Wechat, Didi, Taobao, Alipay, VPN)
While you’re used to having all sorts of great apps and social networks to play around with, most of those don’t exist in China! Due to the firewall between the Western world and China itself, you’ll need to download Chinese apps to make sure that you’ve got all of the tech pieces to help you out! Here are some of the leaders:
This is similar to What’sApp for Western users, but it does a whole lot more than just allow you to chat with other people within the app. You can also pay for services and purchases right from the app itself, In fact, it’s one of the coolest apps simply because you can do everything from ordering a taxi to paying your utilities bill right from the free, safe app.
This is an app that is specifically designed to get you a cab to help you get to where you want to go. This is similar to Use and you can rank your drivers and more. You can even choose what kind of car that you want! You can pay them through WeChat or AliPay amongst others.
This is basically an online mall. You’ll be able to use keyword search to find what you’re looking for and pay with all of the big name cards — including WeChat — for your purchases. Online shopping is popular in China and you’ll absolutely love how fast they’ll be able to get your purchases to you!
Alipay is thought to be more popular than WeChat when it comes to POS transactions, so it’s a good idea to consider having both options on your phone to give you the most control over your cashless payment options!
THis is like a protection aspect for you to make sure that you can still access the networks you’re used to such as Youtube or Facebook. Even though these are blocked in China, you can get access to VPN apps that will help you access them.
Also, these keep your information safe and encrypted so that no one is able to steal from you!
10. It Can Be Really Fun and Convenient!
From cheap apartments to easily accessible public transportation to easy, trustworthy cashless transactions, there are so many reasons to love China for its functionalities.
Then, there’s the welcoming attitudes of Chinese nationals and all of the options for entertainment. If you want a good time in all of the ways that matter, teaching English in China is a great experience from start to finish.
Realistically, you’ll be stepping out of your comfort zone in a big way by going to China to teach English. But, you’ll experience a whole lot more than you think right now and it’ll be chock-a-block full of memories and mind-blowing experiences that you never could have expected!