A Guide to Teaching English in China

Do you speak fluent English & have a passion for teaching? If so, you can teach English in China as an ESL trainer.

Do you want to explore the unique Chinese culture, vacation in China, find reasons to learn Mandarin, and make friends? And in all that, get a rewarding experience and earn some good money in the end?

If so, you can teach English in China. For many reasons, China is a perfect destination for ESL (English as a second language) teachers.

You can find everything you need with this ultimate step-by-step guide to getting a job teaching English in China!

Let’s get started!


The popularity of English in China

ESL teaching in China

Rapid globalization and massive volumes of information flow between countries, companies, and governments have been witnessed worldwide.

This has caused extensive use of the English language. As a result, it is now regarded as the lingua franca, business, and universal language.

These days, any form of international transaction requires English. Thus, many countries and people worldwide are attempting to learn and improve their English skills.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is no exception!

The English language has gained popularity in recent years in mainland China. But, despite the focus on English education in China, English is not widely spoken in the villages and small towns.

There are thousands of private and public schools and colleges in China for different age groups with English education.

As an ESL teacher, China is a suitable country to work in for both freshers and experienced English teachers.

To sum up, English is everywhere in this region. And the scopes are endless!

Why teach English in China?

There are several advantages and drawbacks associated with teaching English in China.

The following are a few things to look forward to when it is time for you to embark on your new career as an English tutor.

The Top 5 Benefits

Let’s begin with some obvious benefits!

1. A lifetime opportunity to visit China

China is an enormous and diverse country with hundreds of attractive places to see.

The Great Wall of China and the Imperial Palace to Cruising the Li River and Classical Gardens of Suzhou to Leshan Giant Buddha and Hangzhou’s Historic West Lake are some infinite tourist destinations.

If you go as a tourist to China, you have a limited time and budget to enjoy countless stunning places.

It is unrealistic to see 30 different sites on a 7-day trip. You will focus on visiting well-known and not less-talked yet exciting locations. It leaves a lot to be desired.

But, as an English teacher in mainland China, you are in for a treat.

Aside from weekends, you’ll have plenty of time to appreciate every aspect of China.

You can visit neighboring countries and regions like Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, to name a few. And for that, take a trip during long vacations, local holidays, or extended weekends.

China isn’t just about the most significant manufacturing powerhouse on earth.

English teachers in China

The delicious food, folklore customs, magnetic culture, entertaining nightlife, colorful festivals, gorgeous spring blossoms. And the list is unlimited.

You will have a splendid time and enough on your plate as an English trainer during your stay.

2. High demand for English teachers

China is much in consonance with the international trend of globalization and the spread of Western culture. Thus, being able to speak English is a valuable ability in China.

It is a mandatory part of the curriculum in most Chinese public schools. Plus, many students need a high English score to perform in the exam for college admission in China, which holds high stakes for the people in China.

The Chinese people would find it difficult to self-learn English. That is because the grammatical intricacies and pronunciations differ from their native tongues.

Over 300 million people (or over one-fourth of the Chinese population) take English classes.

This means English teachers are in high demand throughout China’s major cities. But, ESL teachers are often in short supply.

3. The chance to make and save good money

Travel and unique Chinese experiences are appealing. Still, money is one of the biggest motivations for teaching English in China.

The good thing about it is you can earn a good paycheck and some extra bonuses and privileges.

In most parts of China, the cost of living is still relatively low. So, you’re likely to live comfortably on your salary and still have left with enough money to travel and save.

Living costs are relatively high in big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou, but salaries are also higher. So no matter where you stay, you can save money with careful planning.

China is known for its generous remuneration schemes and a wide range of benefits. It also offers many places to choose from. As a result, it has become one of the most sought-after teaching destinations.

It is regarded as a high-paying country for foreign teachers in China. Still, where you teach determines how much you will be paid. This is true for both the city and the organization.

Pay packages in China range between 1,500 USD and 4,000 USD per month. Your position along that salary scale will be determined by your experience, qualifications, and ability to overwhelm at job interviews.

4. A unique personal and professional experience

Teaching in China, in particular, is seen as a great plus. Because ESL teaching in a new culture displays initiative, flexibility, cultural awareness, and ambition.

It also confirms to employers how comfortable you are teaching and living outside your comfort zone. Finally, it shows your adaptability and ability to transcend cultural barriers.

Also, teaching in such a fascinating and ever-changing country means you’ll make many new friends.

There are infinite teaching options in China because of its size. From an international school in big cities to a public school in a rural village to a big college in a suburb, you can gain valuable professional experience.

Regardless of your chosen location, interacting with your students will provide unparalleled insight into modern Chinese society.

Living in a unique nation like China with a distinct language, rituals, practices, and culture is a life-changing experience. You will get special memories that will last forever.

You will meet many experts and professionals from different parts of the world during your stay. Your experience from these exchanges and meetups can play a crucial role in your career path as an ESL instructor.

5. You will learn Mandarin through immersion

The benefits of learning Chinese are many. First, your job allows you to study and improve the Chinese language most authentically.

It is possible to live in China without speaking Chinese. But, the experience would be different if you knew the local language.

By doing so, you will have a more comfortable stay and will engage in more genuine interactions.

It is well established that the best way of learning any foreign language is total immersion.

ESL teacher in China

This is how we all learn our mother tongue through spaced repetition, mimicking, and the loci method.

A teaching position in China allows you to accomplish that without more expense or effort. In addition, you will have the chance to practice native speakers in natural environments.

You can also take HSK, i.e., the Mandarin language test, to earn a recognized certificate that proves your Chinese ability.

In China, the frequency and number of testing centers are much higher than anywhere else.

The Top 3 Disadvantages

Despite some known advantages, there are some drawbacks you should know about before diving deep into it.

This article reflects the view that I’ve heard and read stories from those who worked as ESL teachers in China.

Let’s find out the shortcomings.

1. You cannot survive easily with just English

China is like the USA in this regard. This means China is a monolithic society and monolingual to a large extent.

Many people know some English in big cities, and you will be fine without speaking any variant of Chinese.

But outside that, especially in rural areas, it is difficult to find someone who can speak English. Most locals will know little to no English. And you are pretty much on your own.

The signboards, menus, internet, newspapers, hoardings, and nearly everything are in the local language. So, it would be a challenge to survive and make your stay comfortable without communicating in Chinese.

With no genuine interactions with natives, you won’t be able to immerse yourself in culture.

So, if you intend to work in China, learn Mandarin. You do not need to be fluent, but at least a basic understanding will go a long way.

2. The internet is blocked or restricted

The Chinese government has enforced extensive internet censorship. All Chinese internet-based platforms follow self-censorship mechanisms.

It also monitors internet access and implements a digital firewall for the internet. That is why many foreign websites are blocked in China.

If you wish to open popular sites like Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, Netflix, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Bing, etc. Well, you are out of luck.

As an English teacher who is a foreigner, this can frustrate you. Since you aren’t Chinese, you can’t understand Mandarin, nor can you read or write it.

Using a VPN service for your laptop or mobile phone is the only way to bypass this firewall. Hence, I strongly recommend installing a VPN on your phone before arriving in mainland China.

3. You are at the mercy of school administrations

In China, most foreign teachers have temporary visas. Most employees must sign an extended legal contract with their employer that is usually valid for a few months to 1 year.

What can you do if you don’t like your supervisor’s authoritarian personality or the unpleasant work environment?

It is difficult to disagree with your manager if they make illogical and unnecessary requests.

Take it in stride and move with the wind. Cultural differences and habits also play a crucial role.

The short version is to always say Yes, Sir, and Yes, Madam.

Educators are provided with complimentary housing as part of their contracts. But, if you leave the job or are fired, they will revoke all your privileges.

Getting a new job and housing is challenging in that situation. You need money and time for that. If you don’t speak Mandarin or can’t find reliable references, things will become worse.

How to get English teaching jobs in China?

Employment as an ESL trainer is intriguing. Still, before applying for teaching positions in China, you need to learn many things and do proper research.

It’s time to get started!

Available job opportunities

There are two main options for teaching English in China: public schools or private academies.

Alternatively, you can work at colleges or universities, but fewer openings exist. Every institution has its own hiring process and procedures.

Teaching English in China

(i) Public Schools

Public schools can be a great stepping stone to ESL teaching for those just starting their careers as ESL instructors.

Teaching requirements would be limited to the curriculum set by the school, and teaching hours would range from 10 to 15 hours per week.

Besides, schools also give time off on weekends and during school holidays. ESL teachers are expected to assist and support the Chinese language teachers with different pronunciations or nuances in the classes.

The expectation and responsibility as part of the job depend entirely on the type of school where you are employed.

Most institutions need a native English speaker who can assist students in learning English. They also allow them to hear a native English speaker rather than just grammar and reading.

It is essential to note that in China, ‘public schools’ refer to government administrated primary, middle, high schools and government-run universities.

Such schools offer low payment rates, although the location and institution can make a difference at the exact salary level.

This would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with many advantages.

Working with schoolchildren would provide an excellent chance to interact with a newer demographic and better understand Chinese culture, history, and lifestyle.

It will also assist you in learning Chinese more quickly than usual because you will interact with other teachers and children of all ages.

Schools are often relaxed and do not put too much pressure on the faculty. Working in this type of environment can be highly gratifying and fulfilling.

On the downside, it could be tough to adapt if you are not yet fluent in Chinese.

Since China has overly restrictive internet access, it would be tough to access translators.

It is also expected that most Chinese are not fluent in English and even refuse to speak sometimes, given their close community. Besides, work could be exhausting, as classes have significant student strengths.

(ii) Colleges and Universities

Teaching roles in universities are more challenging and require higher qualifications, such as a master’s degree in English or related fields.

The number of lessons and working hours differs from university to university. Yet, because Chinese students study so hard at all levels of education. University is a time for them to unwind and enjoy life a little more.

The university’s work ethic reflects this. Pay is lower as the work lasts fewer hours. Regardless, this does not change the level of commitment you would be expected to have towards teaching and the job.

Universities are less stringent for teachers and students, which explains why the remuneration is low.

The older students are more precise in why they want to pursue English education instead of school students who have it mandatory. It could be easier to teach at universities.

ESL teachers can earn between RMB 6500 and RMB 16000 per month on average in public schools.

Despite working roughly 16 hours a week, you could earn as little as RMB 6500 if you teach at a university.

This would change based on multiple factors, such as a university or school-specific conditions or the city and location of the educational institution.

ESL in China

(iii) International schools

Most ESL teachers who travel to China aim to land a job at an international school. This is because international schools offer ESL teachers some of the most well-paid and prominent opportunities.

It is implausible that a person starting in China as an ESL teacher could land a job in such schools. Yet, the opportunity could be very beneficial, as it adds tremendous value to your skills.

The job demands a high level and dedicated work to match the school’s standards. Yet, it pays to check the work done, making it worth the time. The prerequisites at the best international schools are also very stringent.

They usually only take into account the most skilled and experienced candidates.

International schools are known for upholding the best standards and offering classes in English, allowing you to work as a teacher in various areas.

(iv) Private schools

Between public and international schools, private schools are almost like hybrids. Although they frequently follow an international curriculum, students do not always study in English.

Depending on the level of funding and the location, private schools can have vast differences. Still, the most prestigious private schools have excellent and elite features and high standard infrastructure and facilities.

Class sizes could be slightly large; however, remuneration is marginally higher than in public schools.

Parents who send their children to private school often intend to send them to university overseas. This means they focus heavily on their performance and will be quick to give feedback on the satisfaction of teaching standards.

Private schools pay more, with an average monthly income of RMB 10000, but you will have less free time and must find housing.

(v) Language learning centers

There are several openings at private language centers, sometimes known as English training schools.

Students who enroll in such institutes or centers usually attend to prepare for language examinations, such as the IELTS or SAT, or to learn basic English.

These facilities provide a more flexible schedule and smaller class sizes. The institute may also ask you to promote or be a communication medium as their western spokesperson.

For example, you may be requested to greet parents or conduct a class demonstration for prospective students.

The class of students could be diverse, seeing a wide range of ages and abilities, from adults to high school students to preschoolers. Still, children are likely to make up the majority of the students.

One-on-one and group lessons are the usual mode of teaching in these centers. This depends on student requirements and institute policies or methods.

The work hours could be longer than at schools or universities. It can be extended to 25+ hours per week.

It is also not unusual that you will most likely work late afternoon and night hours and weekends. There is a greater demand for teachers when working in a training center at those times.

Basic Requirements to be an ESL

For anyone considering becoming an English teacher in China, the most essential condition would be to have a bachelor’s degree, irrespective of the subject.

It does not have to be a degree in education. Besides a bachelor’s degree, the role requires a TEFL certificate. TEFL is a qualification for teaching English.

It stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language and is necessary for becoming an ESL, i.e., English as a Second Language teacher.

As an alternative to the certificate, two years of work experience in teaching would also suffice. Unfortunately, it is also necessary that you be a native English speaker because of the visa policy in China.

China’s visa policy only recognizes the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, and the USA nationals as native English speakers.

If you have got your degree from an English-speaking country, it could be an exception to the policy.

So, if you meet all these requirements, you would be eligible to teach in China after obtaining the Z visa.

Do you need to speak Chinese?

Teaching English in China salary

As your work requires you to teach English, this is not mandatory. You introduce students to a native accent, conversational skills, and western culture as a teacher.

As an ESL teacher, you need some Chinese knowledge to understand their questions if students don’t know English.

Particularly for second-year students or recent graduates, this matters. Understanding Chinese makes classes flow more smoothly.

As most natives don’t speak English outside the classroom, knowing the Chinese language can help converse with them.

You can also learn through the immersion approach of taking no formal courses, which will add more value to your resume.

It would be good to learn the language, at least at the elementary level. But not that hard.

How do you apply?

The English teaching market in China is one of the largest in the world.

There are round-the-year job opportunities, but first, take the interview in advance. Employers conduct online through Skype or other online meeting platforms.

These are some vital points to consider.

Application procedures

Most schools have an HR or a recruitment team to post job postings. Or has a communication platform on their official websites. But, it would be better to approach the school through a recruiter.

This helps you access a broader range of schools and find a school that suits your requirements.

Since the school would pay the recruiter to hire you, their services could be available at almost no cost.

Most times, they also help with the visa process and settle in China. Another option is to opt for a Teach Abroad Program.

These help with the application process and enable smooth processing. 

Plus, the program proposes your application to specific schools that might revert to your application with an offer. However, on the downside, your choice of schools is narrowed.

English teaching job in China

When to apply and contract duration?

The best months to apply are February and September, when the spring and autumn semesters begin. This is because most Chinese schools are actively recruiting new ESL teachers at this time.

Most contracts last for 1 year. But you might get an extension of a few months if you wish to continue and your school likes your performance.

Employment Benefits

Based on what I heard, a 1-year contract is standard, and there is rarely any further extension.

One of the best parts about becoming an ESL teacher in China is the fantastic benefits that most employers give as a part of the employment.

Although the perks differ from institution to institution. But jobs at most foreign institutions come with a package of benefits. Plus, some advantages are standard across most institutions.

About housing, as long as you work full time for a school, you’re likely to be provided either free housing or a monthly housing stipend (1,000 RMB – 3,000 RMB). This should cover your living expenses.

Most private language schools in China will most likely pay a monthly stipend to spend a significant part of your rent.

On the other hand, some private language schools may only cover half of the security deposit. In contrast, others may cover the entire amount.

You might land a job that doesn’t provide any housing help, which is unusual. Usually, not the case.

Such situations would be entirely left to you to handle. Some schools also cover relocation expenses or sometimes a free ticket back to your home nation at the end of the employment contract.

Some top-rated schools also provide comprehensive health insurance and yearly paid holiday expenses.

Bonuses could be performance-based, depending on student enrollment and retention rates. Or the standard end-of-year incentive for finishing your contract, which often corresponds to a month’s extra pay.

Cost of Living

The living costs in China differ based on the city, locality, and lifestyle.

While it is tougher to meet expenses in bigger cities like Beijing or Shanghai. Smaller cities or towns will enable you to get bigger homes and more comfortable living at affordable rates.

China has in-country transport that is economical, ranging from express trains to domestic planes. This makes it simple to visit the country during vacations from school.

Even on a limited budget, you could still get some entertainment every weekend in your neighborhood.

Most places in China have magnificent parks, gardens, traditional old towns to explore, and giant museums. Also, eccentric Hutong backstreets, modern art, theater, and mountain climbing make the possibilities infinite.

Conclusion: Should you teach English in China?

English teaching jobs in China

The demand for English language education in China is pretty high. Your ability and adventure can help you land a profitable job there.

You have an outstanding chance to travel beautiful places, try delicious foods, learn how to speak Mandarin, meet new people, understand their traditions.

And make money and earn experience too. So all around, I think it is worth it.

This is the practical information you need to decide whether to work as an ESL in China.

It’s critical to make an informed decision before embarking on a career as an English teacher in China. I hope this information will assist you in that endeavor.

Are you interested in pursuing a career as an ESL teacher? Do you plan to apply for teaching English in China via different programs? Share your opinions in the comment below!

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Vikash Gupta
Vikash Gupta

I’m a linguist, lifelong learner, blogger, and fun-loving guy. I write at studyfrenchspanish.com, languagenext.com, joyofjapanese.com, joyofchinese.com, and joyofkorean.com.

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