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So you want to know how to teach English in China? This guide will show you how to become an english teacher in China – and it’s easier than you might think!
Do you want to travel the world whilst earning along the way?
I was drawn to TEFL (teach English as a foreign language), also known as ESL/EFL, as it will let you travel the world! There are many reasons to teach English in China but also many reasons not too you should know. However, teaching English did allow me to save money and see the world at the same time.
Before you read further: if you are not a native English speaker and did not complete your university degree in a native English speaking country, unfortunately, you are not eligible to teach English in China due to the work visa requirements. It is also not possible to become an English teacher in China without a degree.
Want to know more about China?
Pick up a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide for China. Be prepared with this Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrasebook.
Why teach English in China?
I chose China as it offers one of the highest salaries in Asia, compared with living costs. This allows me to save around £1000 per month. English teachers’ wages range from 10,000-20,000 RMB a month. Normally, accommodation is included on top and food in some cases! Meaning you are able to easily save at least half of your wage.
As an example of living costs in Chengdu – I spend a maximum of 5000-6000 RMB a month, including all living costs and two weekend trips to nearby places.
The food in Chengdu where I lived was amazing and the locals are always friendly and super helpful. China has surprised me. The landscapes are so diverse in China. There are mega cities, deserts, mountains, beaches and even ski resorts to explore. Life in China was good!
I don’t think I could ask for more!
Want to take the best photos possible?
Get the Panasonic TZ100 Camera – a high-end compact camera. Take them photos you’ve always been dreaming about.
Getting qualified to teach English in China
Becoming an English teacher in China is easier than you think!
You can do three different type of TEFL courses:
- Classroom based course
- Online course (This is what I did!)
- Combined classroom and online course
Cost-wise, prices range substantially from less than £100 for an online course to £1000 for a classroom course!
I completed my online TEFL course with TEFL UK. It was 150-hours long and cost £50 (from Groupon).
If you would like some classroom practice I recommend a combined course.
I chose a course that involved online multiple choice quizzes at the end of each module. Some TEFL courses will require you to sit an exam in person at the end. I recommend avoiding this..
If arranging your own qualification and job sounds too complicated, you can consider an ‘internship’. These positions provide your TEFL qualification, often onsite, as part of the job package. However, some internships require payment upfront, and the salary is normally significantly lower.
Furthermore, most internships last for less than a year – and they will normally put you on a tourist or business visa. This is illegal – you must have a Z visa – even if you are teaching for only 3 months.
Check out I-to-I TEFL for good internships.
How to teach English in China – Requirements
To teach English in China you need a Z-visa (work visa). It is still common practice for schools to employ you on a tourist visa; this is illegal! If caught teaching, you will be deported. Police regularly enter schools unannounced.
China Z visa requirements to teach English.
- TEFL certificate (at least 120 hours) or 2 years post-graduate teaching experience,
- a clean criminal record check
- a degree certificate. The degree does not have to be related to teaching (mine’s in Biology!).
- Some jobs will require teaching experience, however, most won’t – I didn’t have any when I applied to China.
Be prepared for every country!
This universal travel adaptor is perfect for those trips abroad. Avoid taking multiple adaptors for different countries. One plug and 4 USB ports.
Applying to teach English in China
You can check out a few different websites. I suggest Dave’s ESL Cafe. Alternatively, you can use a recruiter: check out Gold Star TEFL recruitment. They helped me get my current job in Chengdu.
Make a list of cities and the age groups you’d be happy to teach. My boyfriend and I chose to teach English in China to children, as we liked the fun aspect of it.
Our preferred cities were Nanjing, Beijing, Suzhou, Chengdu and Chongqing. We eliminated Beijing and Shanghai partly due to the size, the higher costs and pollution levels.
Remember, if you choose a smaller city or town, it is likely that nobody will speak English and there won’t be many foreigners around.
Choosing a big city to teach English in China will give you a good expat scene.
Choosing a school
Choosing a school can be difficult and a bit overwhelming. There are a lot of ‘dodgy’ TEFL companies out there. It’s important you find a legit school to teach English in China for. It’s also important you know the different type of schools that will try to employ you. These are:
|Type||Typical work schedule||Salary (RMB)||Paid holiday|
|Kindergarten||Monday – Friday 8:00 – 17:00||12,000 – 19,000||1 week + national holidays|
|Training School||Wednesday – Friday 16:00 – 21:00; |
Saturday – Sunday 08:00 – 20:00
|12,000 – 19,000||1 week + national holidays|
|University||Monday – Friday 8:00 – 17:00||10,000 – 15,000||2 months + national holidays|
|International School*||Monday – Friday 8:00 – 17:00||20,000 +||1 month + national holidays|
Here are the questions which I wish somebody had told me to ask any potential employer:
- What type of school are you?
- Examples include: training school, kindergarten, university and international school
- Does your school have a visa licence?
- If not, it means the school will be putting your visa through a neighbouring school or even worse, they have no intentions of giving you one. While this is a somewhat common practice, it is also illegal. Be sure to find a school with a visa licence.
- How many hours will I work and how many of these are teaching hours?
- Are there any school events that will be outside of these hours?
- How many foreign teachers work at your school?
- How many classes will I teach?
- For example, in some kindergartens you may only have two classes, while in others you may teach up to 6 classes a day!
- How many teaching assistants will I have?
- For context, I had 2-3 assistants in each class, for 20-25 children.
- How many students are in each class?
Z visa application process
So you’ve got your job… time for the complicated (and expensive) visa process to become an english teacher in China.
I applied through the UK, and so will outline this process below. It is similar regardless of your country, however costs and some specifics may vary:
- Obtain a criminal record background (CRB) check – Use ACRO (£40 – 10 working days; £80 – three working days).
- Your CRB check, TEFL certificate and university degree certificate now need to be notarised by a notary public. Find one here. Contact multiple as prices vary significantly (£100 for three documents; same day).
- Legalisation of CRB check, TEFL certificate and degree certificate by UK Foreign Office. Register them here (£30 per document + £6.95 return delivery; three working days).
- Legalisation of documents by the Chinese embassy in Manchester, London or Edinburgh (£30 per document; 3-5 working days). Attend in person and pickup in person. More details here.
- Obtain a medical health check – have a doctor fill this form in. This includes a chest X-ray, ECG, bloodwork and health check. The results of these must be attached to the form. Your doctor must sign, date and stamp each page. Visit your local NHS GP Practice (£148) or a private centre (£400). NOTE: some GPs do not offer this service, if not a private centre may be your only option. This does not need to be certified.
- Obtain a reference letter from your most recent employer. This does not need to be certified.
- Now, these 5 documents (reference letter, medical check, CRB check, degree certificate and TEFL certificate) are scanned and emailed to your employer. They will use these documents to apply online for your work permit.
- Once your employer has received approval from the Chinese government, you will need to apply for your visa at the Chinese embassy (London, Edinburgh or Manchester). Appointment required (book 3 weeks in advance here).
- When you visit, take all your documentation, the visa application form, your passport and work permit (your employer will email you this). You also need visa passport photos (to Chinese specifications) and coloured photocopies of everything.
- At the embassy pay the application fee (£151; 4 working day).
- Pick up your passport 4 days later with the visa in it! Easy right…
Keep count of all the countries you’ve visited!
A great present for any traveller. Scratch off all the countries you’ve visited with this Scratch the World Travel Map.
Once you arrive in China
Remember that in China, you need to register at the local police station within 48 hours of your arrival. The visa in your passport is only valid for one entry and will state ‘Duration of Stay: 000 days’.
To convert this to a multiple entry visa, your school will need to apply for your residence permit. You must apply for this within 30 days after entry to China. The government will keep your passport for around 7 days; during this time you cannot leave China. You will, however, be given a piece of paper that allows you to travel (including flights) within China. Your residence permit is added to your passport and is valid for 12-months allowing for multiple entries.Booking.com
Tips for people suffering with mental illness
You will notice on the medical form it says that you should declare any ‘mental illness that will affect public order’. Be aware, mental illness is not well talked about or acknowledged in China. Therefore, if you do decide to tick yes you may meet some prejudice and may even be refused a visa to teach English in China.
I chose to disclose my illness to my manager who was very supportive. I did this as I knew I would have to visit a hospital to get medication while living in China. I believed this would be easier if I had the support of the school.
I hope this step-by-step guide will show you how to become an English teacher in China! If you have any questions please feel free to ask! I’m more than happy to help where I can.
Which recruiter did you use to get your job in chengdu?
Hi Lauren, I applied through Gold star recruitment (https://goldstarteachers.com). They were really helpful, you just need to specify which cities and the age you’d like to teach. We specifically used Jessica – their email is firstname.lastname@example.org . Hope that helps!