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My Experience Becoming an English Teacher in China

Robert is a British citizen and research graduate. He has been a qualified teacher for more than two years. He lives and works in China.

Read on to learn about my experience looking for and applying for jobs and moving to China.

Read on to learn about my experience looking for and applying for jobs and moving to China.

Why Teach ESL Abroad?

Are you in your early twenties looking for an opportunity to travel? Do you desire to provide enhanced professional and educational opportunities for children and adults in comparatively deprived areas of the world? Are you a dab-hand at language learning, with the yearning to improve on or learn another language anew? Do you hope to gain international work experience to prove your ability to move out of your comfort zone, use initiative and adapt to a new environment? Or perhaps, more simply, you yearn for something new, different, engaging; unlike the job opportunities that offer themselves at home? Whatever your reasoning, deciding to teach English abroad can offer faultless prospects for personal development, and if you work for it and look in the right places, professional growth too.


A Warning...

Before your start reading this description—this personal advice and experience if you will—do be aware of the many scams on the line purporting to offer too-good-to-be true job offers. If it seems too good to be true, it probably (albeit most definitely) is, too good to be true. If you read nothing more, read this now: Do not go to China on a tourist visa to work. Moreover, do not work in China on a tourist visa. The Chinese government has recently begun to crack down most sincerely on illegal workers. Indeed, it is simply not worth the drama of doing things illegally whatever you’re being told.

I repeat:

  • Do not go to China on a tourist visa to work with the promise of being tranferred to a work visa.
  • Do not work in China on a tourist visa.

Reasons Not to Go to China

The Process of Finding a Job

With the above warning settled, you’ll want to know the answer to the following: What are the steps leading to legal work as an English teacher in China? To break it down in simple terms, the broad steps are as trails:

  1. Find a job—either through an English teaching agency or by going directly to an English institution (whether it be an independent training agency or private/public school/university).
  2. Receive the offer of employment from the institution.
  3. Apply for necessary documents in your country of origin.
  4. Be sent necessary documents from the institution.
  5. Go to the Chinese embassy/consulate in your country of origin to apply for your work visa.
  6. Move to China using the work visa and only the work Visa (see above warning).
  7. With the aid of your institution apply for the Temporary Residence Permit within 30 days of arrival.
  8. Last but not least, enjoy your time in China working, travelling, learning etc. etc.

Where to Look

The most obvious, and easiest, institutions in which to acquire an English teaching position in China are the many English language training schools. For example; Wall Street English; English First; Web International English; RISE; Disney English; and METEN to name but a few. The value of the English training market, as has been written in many places across the internet, now exceeds $4.5 billion USD. What’s more, the market is set to expand in excess of 10% per annum in the coming years.

These companies logically, then, require an ever-flowing stream of native English-speaking staff. Of course, the main reason for this is that job retention, that is, contract renewal, is extremely low as most teachers chose only to stay for a year, at most two. Hence, if you wish to find a job, you won’t do horribly researching one of the companies mentioned above, or even a simple Google search will yield handy information.

On the other hand, one may wish to avoid the English training institutes above, if not because of the horror stories ever increasing online, but because of the long working hours. Indeed, most require a working week of 5 days and 40 hours.

In a school, however, the working hours tend to be shorter and include winter and summer holidays, though, the salary would be much lower. To find a job in such an environment, a search on Google (again) for a teach-English-in-China agency provides many results, and is much easier than contacting the schools oneself.

Getting the Offer

OK. Great. Super! You have obtained yourself a job offer after at least two online interviews. The company will send you an initial offer stating the details of employment such as work hours, flight reimbursement, bonuses, holidays and, of course, salary. As for salary, it's difficult to say exactly what you should expect but I wouldn’t settle for less than five numbers RMB per month.

Once you have made your decision, sign the offer and send the scanned copy back to your institution.

Where Are the Big Cities?

Documents You Will Need

If you are dealing with a reputable company (that is, the said company is not asking you to travel to China on a tourist visa) they will require you to provide certain documents in order for the institution to apply for the documents you need to gain the work visa. You will need:

  • To be from an English speaking country with a degree from a university within an English speaking country – that means USA, UK, SA, AUZ, NZ, CA, IRE. If your possible employer tells you anything different, end communication with them.
  • To have this degree notarized in the country the degree originates from, confirmed by the Foreign Office, and further authorised by the Chinese embassy/consulate (again, your prospective employer, if genuine, will inform you about this and guide you through it).
  • To have some form of TEFL/TESOL qualification
  • Finally, without saying, a valid passport.
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To emphasise the point, your soon-to-be employer, whether an English training institution or state school, will require the above documents in order to apply for documents they require in China to authorise your employment.

Degree Notarization and TEFL Certificate Example


Documents You Should Get From Your Employer

This stage is quite simple. Once you provide all the necessary documents to the employer, they will work hard behind the scenes to acquire certain other documents. They will send these to your home address upon completion.

They should include:

  • Letter of Invitation
  • Confirmation Letter of Invitation
  • Work Permit
  • No Criminal Record Commitment
  • A Contract describing the company's responsibilities to you

Visiting the Embassy or Consulate

Next, you must take all of the aforementioned documents sent to you from China to the Chinese embassy or consulate. This stage could involve certain pains if your home is far from the Chinese embassy or consulate. It may be possible to do this process via the postal system.

The ever so charming bilingual workers (cough, cough, ahem) will look at said documents, take your passport, bark orders to return in three days and finally, inform you the meeting is over. You leave. Three days later one returns to the embassy to collect the passport finding a Z-Visa inside. This will be valid for three months from issue. I warn you again, do not move to China to work with any visa but a Z-Visa.

Z-Visa Example



Wow! Exhilarating! Dreams! Imagination! You’re moving to China. Go go go. Not much to say here, be as you will; do your goodbyes, pack your case, take your favourite movies… install a vpn.

Paperwork in China

Now you have arrived in China. Your employer should ask you to sign another contract, much more of a formal affair than the aforementioned one. A foreign affairs employee from the HR department should then escort you to the local Citizens Home to apply for your Residence Permit. Temporary as it is, this permit must be applied for within thirty (30) days of arrival in China.

Temporary Residence Permit Example


Fill in the Blank

I reserve this space for your experiences.


A Final Word

The process is complicated. The process is bureaucratic. The process is a rollercoaster. Come on, you’re moving to another country, you’re going to live in a distinctive culture. Perhaps reading this article, you feel that the process is clearer, somewhat smoother. At the very least that is the hope.

Have yourself a magnificently breath-taking time.

See you.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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