The demand for English teachers in China is high, with some estimates showing 300 million of the 1.4 billion strong population currently studying the language. Because of this widespread desire to learn English, there are lots of opportunities to teach it. Salaries for English teachers is usually between $1,200 and $2,100 per month, with added extras like free accommodation, insurance, language classes, flights to and from China, bonuses, and lunches on top of this. In a country where the cost of living is significantly lower than in the U.S., a teacher’s salary can buy you a high standard of living. (See related: 15 Ways to Make Money While You Travel)
Teaching English can be a great way to earn money abroad and learn about a new culture. Maybe you’re a student looking for an exciting and fulfilling way to spend your gap year. Perhaps you’re searching for a great job that can enable you to save money while you’re traveling the world. Or you might even be seeking a new career that will allow you to permanently relocate to a completely different location.
Whatever your motivations, teaching in China is an incredible experience, and in many instances it can also be financially rewarding. If you’re ready to jump in, here’s how to land a good paying job teaching in China. (See related: The 3 Best Jobs for Expats and Travelers)
Many institutions across China prefer candidates who have a university degree and will also look for some form of teaching qualification. The most widely recognized certificates are the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) and Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate. Though you may be able to find jobs without any qualifications, it will be harder and the salary is likely to be far lower.
A TEFL course will provide you with basic understanding of the techniques and knowledge you’ll need to teach abroad, as well as a much better chance of landing a good-paying role. It’s quick and easy to obtain via an online course or a classroom setting, that range in price between $190 and $2,500.
When I taught English in China, the school paid for my TEFL training on-site, so I didn’t have to have the certification before landing the job, but this isn’t always the case.
Research in which area in China you’d like to live
China is a vast country, and everything including the culture, weather, salaries, living costs, and infrastructure vary from region to region. Because of this, it’s important to do some research on China before you start applying for jobs. Keep in mind that most teaching positions come with a minimum of a one-year contract so it’s important that you’re happy with the location you choose.
There are lots of big cities to pick from, with more than 100 cities that contain populations of more than 1 million residents, and these are where the majority of job opportunities lie. The bigger cities also tend to have the best-paying positions whereas more rural areas generally offer lower salaries. The very best tend to be in cities like Shanghai and Beijing, though these places also have a higher cost of living than the rural locations.
I taught English in the small(er) city of Yangzhou in the Jiangsu Province and my salary wasn’t as high as some jobs in Beijing and Shanghai, but the cost of living was so much lower that I was able to save more money than my friends teaching in the more popular cities.
Find positions to apply for
There are lots of different ways to go about searching for jobs, but your number one tool is going to be the internet. Your online TEFL certification provider will likely have a section on their site where they list available jobs, and sites like eslcafe.com and jobs.echinacities.com are popular starting places. Another great way is to look for blogs written by people who have experience teaching in China and may be able to refer you to schools they worked in.
There are also lots of recruitment agencies that act as third parties in the process by connecting you with schools that have open positions. Though many of them are trustworthy, bear in mind that they make money by successfully filling roles. Because of this, they may be tempted to bend the truth from time to time and possibly even promise things that won’t actually materialize, so it’s best to tread with caution.
To minimize the chance of getting “ripped off” by spammy postings or bad recruiters, try to find contacts through sources that you can trust, and do your own research on the school and surrounding area.
Make sure you’re applying to reputable schools
When you start researching teaching in China, you’re likely to come across lots of horror stories. I’ve certainly read plenty of blog posts and articles written by people who have tried it, and for various reasons ended up in positions that they’ve hated. But you shouldn’t necessarily let this put you off doing it altogether. Use it as inspiration to ensure you find a reputable school where you’ll be treated well.
Searching online is where you’ll be able to gauge whether a school is reputable by reading detailed reviews by teachers. You’ll start to get a picture of whether it’s somewhere suitable or not. Though reviews are not foolproof, they’re a starting point, and unless you get a word of mouth referral from someone you know, they’re the best option available to you.
I personally taught for Shane English School and there are many reasons why I’m happy to recommend them. They paid on time, offered bonuses, and truly valued all of the teachers that worked at the school.
Whatever school you go with, it should offer return flights to your home country, health insurance, monthly salary, a proper working visa, and continued on-the-job training. You’ll likely do a Skype interview with the school before accepting any teaching position, so guage their professionalism over the phone and go with your gut.
As an added security measure, ask your contact at the school if they can request a chat with other foreign teachers working at the school. I did this with a couple of schools that I applied for and received some very constructive feedback (both positive and negative), which helped me to choose the right school for myself.
Make some extra money tutoring
It’s worth noting that once you’re in China, you’ll find that many parents (often the parents of your own students) are looking for their child to have some extra one-on-one time with an English teacher.
Tutoring jobs can pay very well and are a great supplement to your regular pay. In my experience, you can often land tutoring work for around $30/hour per student. Because many teaching contracts in China only require you to teach for 20 hours per week, there’s generally plenty of time for teachers to pick up work on the side.
If you want to find tutoring jobs, just look around at bulletin boards at different schools to see if there are any postings and ask other teachers and parents at your school.
Apply for your Chinese working visa
It’s extremely important that you don’t consider teaching English in China with anything other than the correct working visa. It’s called a “Z” Visa and is the only one which will entitle you to work legally, despite what some unscrupulous people may tell you. Working without one can land you in serious trouble as you’ll essentially be working illegally and may even be classed as an illegal immigrant. If you’re caught, you’ll face a fine and could potentially be deported.
Once you have your job offer, your chosen school should help you work your way through the process, but there are a number of basic steps you’ll have to follow. You need to send your school copies of your passport, university degree, TEFL certificate, and sometimes a criminal record and medical check as well. Upon approval, the school will then supply you with an invitation letter and work permit, which you take to a Chinese embassy or consulate to obtain the Z Visa.