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Teach English in China: Requirements, Salary, Jobs

Teach English in China

Has teaching English in China been something on your mind lately? Well, we’ve written an informative guide just for you. Here we will discuss the requirements needed to teach in China as well as the salary and benefits you will earn as an English teacher. We’ve also added a list of the latest jobs and best TEFL courses in China that could be helpful to you. After reading through the article you will know how and where to find an English teaching job in China.

China is a huge country in Eastern Asia that borders 14 countries. China is about the same size as the United States of America and has the world’s largest population of around 1.4 billion people. English teachers pick China because of the sheer energy the population creates. That might be because one fifth of the world's population lives in China or the speed of growth seen in the big cities. Cities are filled with skyscrapers that reach high into the sky and right besides them you can find many traditional Chinese buildings. The contrast gives Chinese cities a very exciting vibe. When you are not teaching, you will definitely want to see some renowned attractions such as the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, and the Terracotta Warriors.

The weather in China differs in the North and South. The north has a subarctic climate and the south has a tropical climate. Northern China has four distinct seasons, with hot summers and cold winters. Southern China has milder weather and is more humid and wet. In China English Teachers have an abundance of options when it comes to locations they can teach from. Beijing is the capital and cultural centre of China, Shanghai is a large economic city known for the Bund and riverside views, Shenzhen is the technology capital of China where you will find most high tech companies are based, Suzhou is located just west of Shanghai and is famous for its beautiful canals and gardens, Guangzhou is a modern and liberal city near Shenzhen and Hong Kong, Chengdu is known for having giant white Pandas, and who doesn’t love Pandas? Above we only covered a fraction of the locations you can teach in China. In China you have the option of teaching in one of the modern marvels filled with skyscrapers or in one of the smaller cities where you will see beautiful rice paddies, mountains and UNESCO protected rivers and parks.

If you have just graduated from university and have never taught English before, there are many TEFL programs to help you learn about becoming an English Teacher. If you are currently working as a teacher in any subject or have many years of experience, you can already start looking for a teaching job.

Requirements to teach English in China

Now maybe you would like to teach in China, but don’t know what is required to be an English teacher. Some teachers worry that they are not experienced enough or come from an industry completely different so wouldn’t be able to get a job teaching in China. This is completely wrong as teachers come from many backgrounds. Some might include, doctors, lawyers, baby sitters, writers, models, and others have never had a job in their life. There is no requirement to have any experience as long as you are a team player and eager to learn. Experience is definitely a plus though and will help you stand out. There might be some exceptions to the rule, but here are the general requirements to teach English in China:

  • You will need a Bachelor's Degree (In any subject)
  • You need to be a native English speaker and a passport holder of either The United Kingdom, The United States, Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand or South Africa
  • In order to receive a work permit you will need a TEFL certificate (You can get this after you have secured your job and your employer might support you)
  • Teaching experience is always preferred, but not required at all
  • You will need to pass a health check-up
  • You will need to get a criminal background check
  • You should be under the Chinese retirement age (55 for woman and 60 for men)
  • You should have an interest in China and Chinese culture
  • You should have a passion for the English language

Salary for teaching English in China

Would you like to know how much you can earn working as an English teacher in China? With the Chinese economy growing and more and more people needing English to improve their chances of succeeding at work, there is a huge demand for English teachers. The salary English teachers earn in China is usually more than enough to have a good quality of life.

The salary you earn will be dependent on a few factors. Firstly, your qualifications and experience. The more qualified and experienced you are, the more you can earn. Secondly, the type of institution. You might teach at a public school, private school, or international school. And thirdly, the location you teach at. If you teach in a first tier city you will earn more than teaching in a second or third tier city. Bear in mind that the cost of living will be much higher in a first tier city than a third tier city. Here are some average salaries English teachers are earning in China:

School Salary
Public Schools 10,000 – 20,000 RMB per month
Private Language Schools 12,000 – 18,000 RMB per month
Kindergartens 12, 000 - 28,000 RMB per month
International Schools 15,000 – 30,000 RMB per month
Universities 7,000 - 30,000 RMB per month
Private English Lessons 80 - 210 RMB per hour

Public school jobs

Public schools in China often have a lower workload than other options and also offer relatively good salaries and benefits such as housing on or near campus, school cafeteria lunches and paid vacation days. Public schooling is competitive and students are quite smart and diligent but classes are also quite large. Some might have up to 50/60 students per class. Teachers at public schools like to get fully involved by helping out with sports and cultural or talent events. Here teachers need to create their own lesson plans are are given a lot of freedom in how you want to conduct your lessons. Here English teachers typically work weekdays during the daytime and earn 10,000 to 20,000 RMB per month.

Kindergarten jobs

Kindergarten or preschools are for kids aged 18 months to 6 years. Depending on your personality, this can either be a really fun or have you begging for a vacation. Since you will be working with young kids your classes will focus on fun learning activities. Games, dancing, singing and flashcards. These are all provided by the school and you will have plenty of help from your Chinese teaching assistants. These classes are not too big and have around 4 to 20 students so they are very manageable. So if you love kids, this one is for you. Here English teachers work during the daytime on weekdays and earn a salary of 12,000 to 20,000 RMB per month.

Private language school (training centre) jobs

This is the school that most English teachers work at in China. Because of the high demand for English language learning in China, there are many centres in every city, making it easy to secure a job. Here students can range from kindergarten, school kids, university students as well as adults and business professionals. The classes are mainly given in the evenings on weekdays and also on the weekends. One great thing about these jobs are that the centres usually have all your lessons prepared for you so you can focus on teaching and they will provide you with anything needed. Since these schools are privately owned they rely on technology like computer programs and whiteboards, which also make teaching a lot easier. Here teachers usually teach 20 to 25 hours a week (plus your office hours) and earn a salary of 12,000 to 18,000 RMB per month depending on hours taught and the location of the school.

International school jobs

These are the most sought after schools in China. The facilities are world class and the standard of education is second to none. Students at these schools are either from wealthy locals or expats. The fees are high and the entry requirements are much higher than other schooling options. Because of this these jobs usually require well qualified and experienced teachers (usually with a teaching license or Master's degree). The class sizes are also smaller than average and you will work during the daytime on weekdays.

International schools are pretty much like the schools in your home country, except that they are in China. They usually follow a British or American syllabus and give preference to teachers who have experience with these. In most cases English teachers receive free housing on campus, great benefits and a very good salary of around 15,000 to 30,000 RMB per month.

University jobs

If you work at one of the top Universities in a tier one city you will need to have an advanced degree and experience but you will also get a great salary and benefits. For all other universities, the pay is usually lower than other options, but so are the work hours (never more than 20 hours a week). You will also have a lot of freedom when it comes to planning and teaching your lessons. So if you want a little more creative freedom and older, mature and more focused students, this a job for you. University jobs are also liked by teachers for the long and fully paid summer and winter holidays. Because of the lower salary, these jobs mostly offer on campus accommodation and a salary of 7,000 - 30,000 RMB per month.

Cost of living in China

In China, the cost of living hugely depends on the cities you live in as well as the lifestyle you choose to live. It's possible to live very well for under 6,000 RMB (1,000 USD) per month but then again it's also possible to spend that amount on just rent, if you choose to live in a luxury condominium in the city centres of Shanghai or Shenzhen. China has great public services so things like transport are very convenient and affordable. Food can easily be very cheap if you eat locally, but you can also eat at Michelin star restaurants or buy imported foods and the cost will be much higher. A single persons estimated monthly costs are 3,594.01 ¥ per month without rent. The currency used in China is RMB or ¥ (Yuan or CNY, which is the basic unit of Renminbi or RMB) and according to Numbeo here are some basic costs to consider in China:

Item Cost
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre 3,201.08 RMB
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre 1,916.11 RMB
Monthly basic utilities (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage) 370.58 RMB
Internet (60 Mbps or More, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL) 94.29 RMB
Water (1.5 liter bottle) 4.32 RMB
Chicken Fillets (1kg) 27.50 RMB
Potato (1kg) 5.67 RMB
Rice (white), (1kg) 6.77 RMB
Banana (1kg) 8.74 RMB
Local Transport (One-way Ticket) 2.00 RMB
Fitness Club, Monthly Fee for 1 Adult 250.95 RMB

Things to know about China and Chinese culture

Having the largest population in the world, China is bound to be one of the most diverse places on the planet. If you are new to China or even Asia, diversity could mean a whole lot of weirdness. One thing you should definitely not bring along, is your comfort zone. Some things might shock you and others will amaze you, but either way let's look at a few things that will help you understand China better.

  • The official language in China is Mandarin Chinese. There are two main categories of Chinese language, Mandarin and Cantonese, and Mandarin is the one that is spoken in China and Taiwan. The language is many different dialects which some being very different from others. Hello China. The first thing teachers learn before going to China is how to say "hello" in Chinese. "Ni Hao" (pronounced nee haow) means "hello", so Ni Hao China.
  • Chinese people can be direct about some things. In most Asian cultures, people are usually reserved, but in China when it comes to discussing or asking certain things they can be quite blunt. For example your students might comment on your weight if you are fat. They don't mean to be rude, they are just used to stating what they see, so don't feel offended by it, it is not an insult. It's also very common for people to ask about your salary and age. Most English teachers might not have discussed these things in their home countries, but in China it isn't taboo at all.
  • Chinese people love tea. Just like you might meet someone at Starbucks, serving tea is an important part of Chinese culture when meeting friends or business partners. But Starbucks is just as important right now in the big cities. Food is equally important. More than just for nutrition, food is about community and art and there are so many unique cuisines to dive into while teaching English in China
  • Saying No doesn't happen in China. Chinese people are taught the importance of being polite from a young age. Because of this they always try their best to to offend others. If you ask them to do something they don't want to do or even cannot do, they will not say no directly. Instead they will say they they will do it, but make up an excuse closer to the time or hope you forget about it. This is important when dealing with your co-workers. Try to see their initial reaction when asking something, and if you notice they are a bit hesitant, try to respect them by not bringing it up again.
  • Some students might not look you in the eyes. In China, people are taught not to make eye contact with their elders. A student will usually look down when speaking to has dad or teacher.
  • Body language is important. Similarly to western culture, in China people use their bodies to express themselves. Holding your thumbs up means excellent and can be used to congratulate students. Winking and whistling are very rude, just don't do it. If you need to call someone over, the polite way to do it is to hold your palm downwards and roll your fingers towards yourself.
  • Chinese people love language, especially English. In China learning a second language is a big deal. They are taught English at school and at training centres after and will be excited to practice their new language skills with foreigners. If you could learn a few Chinese phrases, it will be a great way to gain likeability in China.

Do you need to speak Chinese to teach English in China?

The answer is that you don’t need to speak a word of Chinese. The reason is that schools prefer English teachers to only speak in English to the students so that the students can be fully immersed in the language and culture. However, learning some Chinese will have its benefits in building relationships and getting around.

Can I teach English in China without a degree?

If you want to work legally, you will need to obtain a Z visa. As a requirement for the visa all English teachers need to have a degree. The degree can be in any subject as long as it is a Bachelor's or above. There are many schools and agencies willing to hire teachers illegally on tourist, student or business visa's. Some schools also don't meet the qualifications to hire foreign teachers so they will also try to hire teachers without providing a visa. Please do this at your own risk if you decide to do it as you risk paying fines as well as deportation.

Teaching without a degree in China also has many indirect risks. Since your are not legally allowed to be working in the country, you lose all your worker rights and this makes it easy for your employer to take advantage of you. If they decide to change contractual terms, salaries or even not pay you, there is nothing you can do, so we definitely recommend you do your best to find a way to work legally in China.

Do I need to be a native English speaker?

One of the basic requirements to legally teach English in China is to be a native English speaker. This means you should hold a passport from a country where the national language is English. These countries are the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. This is a requirement to receive a work permit. Exception are made if you have a Bachelor's degree and/or a Master's degree from a native English speaking country listed above, preferably in English, Linguistics or Education.

Now we all know that there are English teachers from non English speaking countries who are qualified and experience teachers. They might have taught for many years and even at a high level like University. So why would a native English speaker be choses over someone like that. It has to do with more than just learning grammar and vocabulary. It has to do with teaching students to sound like English. As talented as non native speakers might be, they will probably have a slight accent. Schools also want the students to learn about English culture from the native English speaking countries.

However, schools do hire non native English speakers legally. They can hire you as a manager or assistant and issue you a work permit. For this schools need to see that you are have a degree and experience and it all depends on how willing the school is to do this.

Do I need a TEFL certificate to teach English in China?

A TEFL, TESOL or CELTA certificate is a certificate that allows you to teach in China. It is a requirement in order to receive a work permit. You can complete this after securing a job. You will only need it once processing your Visa. Although TESOL and TEFL are both accepted, the one schools are most familiar with is TEFL and they also require 120 hours or more.

You can get a TEFL certificate online or in person as long as the TEFL school is accredited and accepted in China. Note that not all schools accept online TEFL certificates so make sure about that before you take the course.

How to get a visa to teach English in China

To work legally in China, you will need a Z visa. You can only apply for a work permit and Z visa once you have a job lined up and your employer sends you the relevant documentation. This is usually done electronically or by courier mail. Before, travelling to China, the first step is to apply for a work permit and once that is finished you can apply for your Z Visa. For the process you will need the following documents from your end:

  • Resume/CV
  • Reference letter from past employers
  • A copy of your passport
  • Authenticated copy of your degree and TEFL certificate
  • 2 passport photos
  • Police background check
  • Health check

Your employer will request copies of the necessary documents and apply for the work permit for you. Once it is ready your employer will send it to you along with an invitation letter. You can then visit your country's Chinese Visa Application Service Centre and complete the Z visa application. You will need the following documents:

  • Passport
  • Passport photo
  • Documents from your employer
  • Completed Visa application form

Then once the visa process is done within 3-10 days, you are ready to travel to China. The Z Visa is actually a temporary visa and once you arrive in China your employer will help you convert it into a Residence Permit.

When to apply for a teaching job

When applying for a teaching job in China you should know that different types of schools have different hiring periods and school dates might differ. For public or government schools, they are split up into two semesters per year. The first semester runs from September to January and the second semester runs from February to May, so most teachers will start working in September and February. Private schools and centres might have different start dates and often starting the middle of the year.

Schools will usually hire teachers 3 or 4 months before the start date to give teachers enough time to process visas and travel. If you are already in China hiring closer to the start date is also fine. Although the start of semesters are the biggest hiring dates, because of the huge demand for English teachers in China, schools will hire all year round so you will be able to find a job any time of the year.

How to apply for a teaching job

Because of the rapid growth of the Chinses economy, there has been a huge increase in the demand for English teachers. Jobs are plentiful so there is a good chance you can easily find a job if you meet the minimum requirements. You can look for jobs on our China job board, Dave's ESL Cafe, or eChinacities. The one thing you need to keep in mind is that there are also many people who would love to live and work in China so there is a ton of competition for the best jobs and schools. These schools or recruiters will receive many applications and the last thing you want is to be is lost in the pile. So here are some tips on how to secure a job at one of the top schools in China:

  • Make sure to look professional because appearance matters, a lot. In China a lot of respect is given to education, so teachers and educators are looked up to highly in society. Because of this there is a certain stigma to the way they look. They are professional and neat. Dress smart and keep your hair looking natural, beards trimmed or shaven and hide tattoos or piercings.
  • When speaking to a school or recruited, make sure to speak clearly. Since you will be speaking to groups of students, them being able to understand what you are saying is very important. Make sure you speak clearly, not too fast, and not too soft. This is a big reason why schools prefer native English speakers - they have an easy to understand accent.
  • Make a teaching CV and keep it up to date. Before sending your CV over to schools and recruiters you should make sure that it's focused on teaching and not for a field you might have worked in before. Attach a recent photo and highlight your education and experience (especially related to teaching or similar fields).
  • Send schools or recruiters an introduction about yourself. You can add a intro section to your CV where you share a bit about yourself and why you want to teach in China. If you can make a short video doing this, you will have a big advantage over those who don't. It doesn't need to be professional, you can just record it with your phone. If you have a demo of you teaching in the past, you can also send that.