China is the most populous country in the world. It boasts the second largest economy in the world, and its large population combined with economic growth has created a significant demand for ESL teachers.
Overview of China
|Major Cities: Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen|
Capital City: Beijing
Primary Language(s): Modern Standard Mandarin
Official Currency: Renminbi (Yuan)
Primary Religion: No official religion
Working in China
Private Language Schools
These schools (also known as enrichment schools) cater to anyone and everyone who is willing to pay. This means that as a teacher you could potentially have a wide variety of students from young children to business people depending on which school you are working at and what their needs are. The curriculum is usually provided for you and in almost all cases there will be a Chinese teaching assistant there to help you which means you may not have as much freedom to teach what you or how you want. Always thoroughly vet any private language schools for quality and legitimacy before accepting a job and remember that it is illegal to work without a Z visa so any schools or persons advising you otherwise should be avoided.
- Class sizes in language schools can vary greatly depending on the type of school, the time of day, the popularity of the class, and what type of class is being taught. Some classes may have as few as five or six students and some may have 10 to 15 or more.
- Private language schools in China will usually be looking for teachers that have a 120-hour blended learning or full class TEFL course and will require a minimum of a four-year university degree. All teachers in China will be required to hold a Z visa (usually taken care of by the school. Teachers with past experience will take preference over those with none.
- Classes at private language schools will usually be in the evenings and on weekends so you can expect to work full days on the weekends with one or two days off during the week.
- The salary expectations at private language schools can be quite varied depending on the location and the requirements they have of their teachers. Typical salaries range from 6,000 RMB on the lower end to 16,000 RMB on the higher end. Most private language schools in China will take care of your visa and related expenses and many will provide free accommodation as well as flight reimbursement and paid vacation. These benefits and the amounts paid can vary widely between each company and school.
All public schools in China are operated by the Chinese government which means that there is a greater deal of stability working for the public school system that might not be had at a private language school. Unlike private schools, however, class sizes in public schools in China can be as large as 40 students in the class and you will be working with a native Chinese teacher so you will not have as much freedom in how you teach your students.
- Due to the massive population in China, the public school system in many parts of the country is strained. Class sizes are incredibly large when compared to many other parts of the world and it is not uncommon for a typical ESL classroom at a public school to have over 30 students. This will vary depending on the location as rural areas will obviously have less than their urban counterparts. Though it should be noted, even smaller cities in the country usually have populations of over a million.
- Public schools in China will only hire teachers with a minimum of a four-year university degree. Preference will be given to teachers who also hold a teaching certificate and with prior teaching experience. As mentioned you will be required to have a Z visa but since you will be working with the Chinese government this will be taken care of for you.
- You can expect to work anywhere from 15 – 30 hours each week Monday through Friday with all national holidays off.
- Salaries at a public school in China can range from 6,000 RMB to 10,000 RMB or more. The higher salaries are usually in major cities where the cost of living is more. Most public school teaching positions will include accommodation and paid vacation.
Teachers can work for both private and public universities in China which offer a similar experience and level of pay. Unlike private language schools and public schools, you will be teaching by yourself at the university level which allows you a greater deal of freedom in how you work with and instruct your students. Class sizes can vary greatly but will typically be between 12 and 20+ with some classes going as high as 100 students. Some universities have a specific focus such as aviation, engineering, hospitality, etc. along with the traditional universities.
- Both public and private universities in China will require you to hold at the very least a four-year university degree with many also requiring a 120-hour TEFL certificate (blended learning or in class). Preference will be given to teachers with prior experience and especially those who hold a teaching certificate.
- Out of all the jobs for ESL teachers in China working for a university requires the least amount of hours with most teachers working around 25 hours per week including 15 to 20 hours of instruction and around 5 hours or less of preparation each week. Teachers can expect to have national holidays off and will usually work Monday through Friday.
- Salaries for university teachers in China will vary depending on the type of institution you are working at. The typical salary range is between 7,000 RMB and 10,000 or more RMB. Universities will typically provide housing to English teachers as well as reimbursement for airfare and paid holidays and vacation. This coupled with the low working hours and the ability to leave when not teaching.
International schools in China will vary greatly from the other types of schools listed here as they primarily cater to students of expats or Chinese parents who plan to send their children abroad for university. Because of this, all classes are taught in English and teachers at Chinese international schools will be teaching subjects other than just English such as mathematics, chemistry, physics, literature, etc. Teachers may be hired to teach all subjects to whole grade levels.
- Class sizes at international schools in China are usually significantly less than in the public school system. The average class size is usually anywhere between 18 and 25 students depending on the location and popularity of the school.
- Teachers for international schools in China will be required to hold a teaching certificate along with a university degree. Strong preference will be given to teachers with prior experience. As with all other schools, a Z visa will be required to work which will be taken care of by the school you are hired at.
- International schools in China will require teachers to spend the most hours working. Most teachers at international schools will be putting in full 40-hour weeks. Classes are held Monday through Friday with weekends and major holidays off.
- The salary at international schools in China is the highest with the average salary starting at 10,000 RMB and the higher end going all the way up to 30,000 RMB per month. Typically, the higher salaries will be for international schools in major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing and will come with a higher cost of living as well as a higher barrier for entry with these schools looking for the most qualified of candidates. The benefits will vary by the school with some schools providing accommodation or a per-diem for living expenses as well as reimbursement for flights. Most schools will provide paid vacation as well as paid holidays.
Increasing Your Chances of Securing a Job
Many schools in China are going to be looking for teachers that have past experience at the level they are applying to teach. While this isn’t true everywhere, especially when it comes to private language schools, it is going to hold true for the public school system as well as universities. Aside from past experience having a teaching certificate is going to go a long way in helping you to secure a more desirable position. One of the best things you can do to ensure you have an edge over the competition is to become TEFL certified. But, you will need to make sure you get the right certification. For most jobs in China, an online TEFL certification isn’t going to cut it. Most schools, and especially the higher paying schools, will be looking for you to have at the very least a 120-hour blended learning or on site TEFL certification from a reputable institution. Some schools will require a certification but the ones that don’t will certainly look more favorably on you if you do have one. Lastly, you want to make sure that you have everything in order in terms of reference letters, crafting a solid resume, and proper presentation. Remember that appearance is extremely important in China so appearing at your interview wearing a t-shirt and jeans, whether it is in person or through video conference, will almost certainly guarantee you will not have a successful outcome. Also, be aware that reference letters go a long way in China so make sure if you have any past experience teaching that is applicable to what you want to do that you request reference letters from those schools. If you make sure all of these things are in order then you will most certainly have a leg up over the competition assuming they have not made the same preparations.
The visa which all ESL teachers seeking employment in China will need to be on is the Z Visa or employment visa. Teachers for public schools and most universities will have help from their employers in acquiring this visa. Private language schools will also usually provide visa assistance, though, these are also going to be the types of schools that are more likely to hire teachers illegally. Teachers wishing to work in China will need to secure the proper visa and work permits in order to be in compliance with the countries laws. Some schools may try and hire teachers illegally and may even tell teachers that there is nothing to worry about working without a work permit or Z Visa. This couldn’t be further from the truth and could lead to a teacher being arrested and detained for a period of a few days to a few months before being levied a fine and being banned from entering the country again. It is a common story in recent years of sting operations being conducted in order to net teachers who are working illegally or even attempting to apply to work illegally in the country. Fake job postings have been set up to snare teachers who do not possess the required qualifications or who possess fake degrees and TEFL certifications which they are trying to use to secure a visa. The chances of being caught working illegally in China have increased significantly as the authorities have invested considerable resources in recent years to catch teachers working illegally. No matter what other websites may claim or shady employers may lead you to believe, do not attempt to work illegally in China unless you are prepared to face the consequences. Find out more about acquiring a work permit and a Z visa.
Standard of Living
The quality of life in China varies greatly depending on whether you are in a rural or urban area but overall is quite high and comparable to most developed nations. Over the past few decades, various areas such as public safety, food safety, health standards, and infrastructure had improved greatly. Due to the size of the country, there are still many rural areas which could be considered underdeveloped with respect to the main cities and surrounding areas of China. Teachers in this area may find themselves lacking many of the amenities that are available in cities and which they may be used to in their home countries.
ESL Teacher Salaries
|Monthly Salary (RMB)||Monthly Salary (USD)|
|Cosmopolitan Cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen)||6000 - 18,000||1000 - 2800|
|Major Cities (Tianjin, Wuhan, Chongqing, Nanjing)||6000 - 12,000||1000 - 1800|
|Small or Remote Cities (Lanzhou, Daqing, Weifang, Changzhou)||4000 - 8000||600 - 1200|
Typical Cost of Living (1 Person)
|Monthly Expense (RMB)||Monthly Expense (USD)|
|Tier 1 (Moderate Lifestyle)||8000 - 10,000||1100 - 1600|
|Tier 2 (Moderate Lifestyle)||6000 - 8000||1000 - 1600|
|Tier 3 (Moderate Lifestyle)||3000 - 5000||500 - 800|
Living in China
Things to Do
Expat teachers in China will seldom find themselves with nothing to do. No matter what your interests may be there is something for everyone in this massive country. Especially if you find yourself in one of the major cities such as Shanghai or Beijing. Outside the cities, there are a plethora of activities available for teachers who enjoy the outdoors and extreme sports such as surfing and rock climbing.
Hiking and Camping There are quite possibly hundreds of different prime destinations around China for hiking and camping. That is one of the massive benefits of being a country as big as China. The one problem that many new teachers may have when trying to find a good spot is that the truly off the beaten path locations are going to be hard to find just on google. Instead, it is recommended that you use Baidu (the primary search engine of China), and talk to local hiking enthusiasts in the country who will know the places that haven’t been overrun with five-star hotels and restaurants and concrete pathways.
China may not be your first thought for world-class surfing destinations, but, if you are an ESL teacher in the country and looking to find some waves without a super long flight then you can easily find one along the countries extensive coastline. Dozens of different spots have become popular over the past few decades with most concentrated around Hainan and Hong Kong Islands. The number one destination in the country is Riyue Bay in Hainan, China. The bay is known for top-level breaks that can challenge even an experienced surfer on the right day. The island is accessible by a quick flight from the mainland and the surfing season lasts all year round with the most consistent seasons being during the autumn and winter months.
As mentioned above, the countries extensive coastline provides the perfect setting for numerous different watersports, and scuba diving is most certainly on that list. Numerous freshwater and saltwater dive spots can be found in China. One of the more famous spots is in the freshwater Qiandao Lake located in the Zhejiang Province. The lake is known for the submerged ancient city of Shi Cheng which dates to around 25 – 200 AD. For saltwater diving, there are numerous spots throughout the Yellow and East China Seas as well as around Hainan Island and the Islands which comprise the Hong Kong SAR.
Rock Climbing Another attraction for more adventurous ESL teachers residing in China is rock climbing. The sport has been gaining in popularity in the country since the International Olympic Committee announced that it would become an official event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The hub for this is the Guanxi province of China which is known for its many natural rock formations. Rock climbing is expected to grow greatly over the next few years in China as the government has plans to develop over one thousand towns into destinations for climbing and has taken steps to better regulate the industry and create more stringent safety standards when it comes to licensing instructors.
The Great Wall of China One of the most recognizable man-made structures on the planet and one of the new seven wonders of the world. The Great Wall of China is most likely at the top of any list for expats to visit during their time living the in the country. The wall itself stretches over 3,800 miles and runs from Dandong in Eastern China to Lop Lake in Western China. Visitors can access the wall from quite literally hundreds of different locations.
Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor The tomb of the first emperor of China is recognized for the hundreds of terracotta soldiers which are lined up ready to serve their emperor in his afterlife. However, this is just a small portion of what is a larger area that became the final resting place of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. The site has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987 and is in the Lintong district of Shaanxi.
Longmen Grottoes Another UNESCO World Heritage site, the Longmen Grottoes are some of the oldest and most well-preserved examples of Buddhist art and sculpture in China. Over 100,000 statues and carvings are spread out among 2,000 plus caves to create one of the largest collections of Buddhist history in the country. The grottoes are located near the city of Luoyang and can be easily reached by bus or taxi from the city.
Jiuzhai Valley National Park If you’re looking to get away from the cities and out into nature Jiuzhai National Park is about as far away as you can get from the pollution and traffic. Located in Southwestern China and accessible with an easy flight from your local airport and a bus or taxi ride to the national park. The park itself is a valley with hiking trails, crystal clear lakes, scenic mountain views, and anything else a nature lover needs to get away for a weekend.
The Bund in Shanghai A bit different than the other top places on this list is the Bund in Shanghai China. This scenic area in the center of the city is one of the top destinations for tourists and locals alike for unparalleled views of Shanghai. You can capture views of the riverfront as well as skyscrapers and other urban scenery. Many of the buildings which line the Bund also have historical context and can be accessed easily by foot. The total length of the Bund is around 1 mile (1.5 kilometers).