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Teaching English in China: In High Demand

As China takes its seat in the 21st century, learning English is becoming increasinly essential. For this reason jobs teaching English in China are becoming popular, available and lucrative. And you get to live in China.

As is the case in many countries, English teaching jobs in China aren't too difficult to come by - yet they're not easy, either.

Chinese authorities appreciate certificates, so if you have your TESOL or other certification, you'll get a better job than without one. But it's not absolutely essential.

How do you get a job teaching English in China?

There are two main ways: either show up where English is taught, or find a job on the Internet.

The easiest place to find a job is in an English language school. They're popping up everywhere, even in the country's remotest corners. But beware: not all employers are created equal.

Make sure you're dealing with a reputable company. There are plenty of 'fly by night' schools in China. For example, companies themselves may be unregistered and just keeping their heads below the line so they won't be caught. They may give you a job teaching English in China, but you won't necessarily have the right papers, which could spell trouble.

Some schools pay your airfare but if they're not reputable, they could find a reason to let you go just before the end of your contract - and no ticket home, so good research is essential.

Living in China comes with teaching, an opportunity to experience a fascinating culture (Thomas Depenbusch via Flickr CC)

One long-time teacher of English in China said the Internet is the way to go. "Sure you can show up, but you won't know what you're getting into."

One of the most comprehensive resources on the web is the China job board at Dave's ESL Cafe, but you'll find plenty of other sites for teaching English in China.

If you'd rather work for a university - they pay well and are all above board - just choose your province and look for a university website. Type in the city or province name plus the word university, and you'll get plenty of listings. Most have either a contact form or an email address. Just write to them and ask for a job - you'd be surprised how many people have found jobs teaching English in China this way!

And if you don't know where you want to teach, this list of Chinese universities should help you narrow your choices. At university you can expect to teach 16-18 hours a week, which leaves you plenty of time for private lessons.

Finally, you could simply find other English-speaking travelers and ask them - they're probably there for the same reason you are!

What is teaching English in China like?

The money isn't bad if all you want to do is make a decent wage and live normally. If you're looking for major wages, you'll have to head for the Middle East - or at least Japan or South Korea.

If you decide to teach English in China you can expect to earn around 5000 RMB a month, plus accommodation. If you're in Shanghai or Beijing, make that 6500 RMB. Conversely, if you're in Yunan - where English-speaking backpackers are a dime a dozen - you'll be lucky to make 3500 RMB a month.

As is the case in any country, you'll want to be - or at least try to be - legal, and that means getting a visa. China has three types of visa:

  • L or tourist visa: this one is unequivocal - you can't work. Of course, China is a huge country and plenty of travelers work with an L visa 'under the radar'.
  • Business visa: the advantage is that there is little paperwork involved (just go to the Cosmic Guesthouse in Hong Kong and they'll set you up with one in no time). About half of all those teaching English in China work on this type of visa although it's not meant for this purpose.
  • Z or teaching visa: this is the one you want. It's easy to get but your employer applies for it, not you, hence the importance of making sure your employer's company is properly registered as an employer of foreign teachers. If it isn't, you may find yourself in peculiar situations, like having to pretend you're teaching in another province if questioned by the authorities, as happened to one English teacher.
Suzhou: China may be in the 21st century but some more traditional corners survive (Photo Russ Bowling via Flickr CC)

Here are a few more useful facts for those who plan to teach English in China:

  • The typical teaching contract lasts 6 or 12 months.
  • It's easier to find a job along the East coast. The further inland you go, the harder it gets. There is a huge disparity in wealth between East and West, so there is more money to spend on other pursuits along the Eastern seaboard.
  • You don't need to know a word of Chinese. In fact, many schools prefer that - they're worried you might make it too easy on students otherwise.
  • Chinese students tend to be disciplined and studious, especially if they're paying for their own classes. Those who are placed there by their parents may be less than cooperative if they'd rather be somewhere else... as is the case with students worldwide. China's 'one child policy' has generated children who are used to getting their way and can be extremely spoiled.
  • Girls tend to be more willing to try out their linguistic skills than boys - who may be more concerned with losing face.
  • Accommodation is usually included and can range from a room to an apartment, but usually has at least one bedroom, hot water shower, and Western toilet. If no accommodation is offered, you should be compensated and a rental subsidy provided by your employer.
  • Try to stay away from expatriate enclaves or prices will skyrocket. Live with and like the Chinese and you'll do more than well. The cost of a meal in a Chinese restaurant is about a quarter that of an 'international' restaurant.
  • Chairman Mao drew an imaginary line across the center of China, with places above it considered cold and below it hot. Anhui Province for example is just South of the line in the 'hot' zone but with winter temperatures well below zero - and unheated lodgings.
  • Most classes have a Public Security Bureau officer to keep an eye on things - they're usually easy to spot, and are there to report back on what you say. China may be opening, but it's not wide open yet!
  • News travels fast in China so keep your personal life strictly separate from your students.
  • When you start teaching you'll be warned to stay away from sex, politics and religion as topics. Given the curiosity of students, it's highly likely these topics will come up. Just use your common sense and be respectful about a culture that may well be centuries older than your own.
  • You may also find these tips on travel in China helpful during your search!

Finding a job teaching English in China will be easier if you do things in sequence. First, decide where you want to live. Second, choose whom you want to teach - kindergarten, primary, secondary, university, private, corporate. Third, check out your potential employer on web forums, blogs and discussion groups.

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