Everything You Need to Start Teaching English in China

Imagine 30 new Houston-sized cities appearing every year.

This is the reality in China.

While China’s large population is no secret, the sheer increase in recent urban populations has been explosive.

In response, the government is working overtime to educate its people into a skilled labor force.

In fact, in the past 20 years, illiteracy has been almost eliminated amongst the 1.3 billion citizens who live there today, making modern China a far cry from the rural and underdeveloped nation of the past.

This boom in education priorities has created an impressive growth in the country’s opportunities for foreign teachers.

Today, China is one of the most popular places for ESL teachers to move to, live and teach. Chinese culture reveres teachers, and there are good salaries available for foreigners who are ready and excited to take the plunge.

So yes, you are well-positioned to become a teacher in China!

However, knowing just how to get to China can be daunting and confusing without some guidance on what to look for, and what to expect.

By doing some preparation and following the guidelines below during your job search, you are sure to end up in a position that will satisfy your thirst for adventure and your pocketbook.

In this post, we are going to look at all the steps it takes to land the teaching job you want in China.


Follow the Silk Road: How to Begin Teaching English in China

Preparing Your Resume and Listing Your Qualifications

Before you begin your search, it is essential to gather all your documents and draw up a list of your qualifications for easy reference. Certain criteria are necessary to acquire a legal working visa in China, but for those who qualify, China can be a lucrative, culturally diverse and life-changing place to teach English.

Here are the types of qualifications and documents you will want to gather together (or think about obtaining if you don’t have them already):

  • Aside from a bachelor’s degree (or higher), make note of any ESL certification you have acquired, such as a TEFL, a CELTA or a TESOL. It is important to note that these certifications are not essential to getting a job in China, but they may make a difference in your salary and range of job opportunities you receive across this vast country. (Later in the post, we will look at different programs for getting an ESL certification.)
  • A copy of your passport.

Make sure these are all available as digital copies.

  • Next, put together your resume, making sure it is updated and ready to be viewed by professionals.
  • At this point, there is no need to write out an entire cover letter, but your application process can be streamlined by drawing up an outline for your cover letters, or even a template with designated parts to be adapted to each unique school and position that you will apply to.

So, to summarize, gather the following documents as digital images:

1. College or university degree
2. ESL certification
3. Personal headshot
4. Passport
5. Resume
6. Cover letter template (optional)

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Knowing Your Ideal Job Opportunity in China

Once you start looking through the job boards, it will quickly become apparent that the sheer number and variety of opportunities to work in China can become overwhelming. The teachers who end up in the best job positions benefit from making a few key decisions beforehand. So before heading over to those job listings, let’s look at what factors you should consider.

Are you interested in a public school, private school or an after-school English program?

For new teachers who are looking to gain experience, after-school programs are most likely the best choice. While they typically offer lower pay and require the teacher to work on weekends, they will train you and assist in housing. Some programs even work to ensure teachers get their TEFL or other teaching certification during their contracted stay (more on this below).

Public schools are somewhere in the middle between after-school programs and private schools. Because they are run by the Chinese government, they usually look for some qualifications. They may offer the same or slightly more pay than an after-school program, but the pay will definitely be lower than a private school, and there are sure to be fewer in-classroom resources for the teacher. However, many teachers choose this option because the students there may tend to be more dedicated to learning English when compared to the wealthier students who attend private schools.

Most experienced teachers will seek out employment with a private school, as these schools typically offer the highest pay and extensive resources for the classroom. Many of these schools include on-campus housing for the teachers, which means there is an inherent foreign teacher community built into work.

Your goals and experiences will determine which of these school types is right for you.

Consider various locations and relevant costs of living.

China is known for having one of the highest populations in the world, and that means that most major cities through the immense nation are actively seeking native English teachers for their schools. In short, if you go into a job hunt in China without an idea of where you want to go ahead of time, you could end up literally anywhere!

There are well-paid jobs to be had in the northern province of Liaoning, for example, but the unwary traveler may not realize before they arrive that winter in this region includes very cold temperatures for several months at a time. While some travelers dig the winter chill, if you are not ready for an extreme experience like this, you could end up quite unhappy when you could have easily accepted a position in a climate that is more to your liking.

Major cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, have an impressive array of international amenities. Foreign expats often live extremely well here, with a standard of living that is similar to that of other major cities around the world. However, these cities also tend to be exponentially more expensive than others. Due to their desirability, it can also be much harder to find a good job in these locations.

Smaller cities dot the Chinese landscape, filled with skyscrapers, colossal malls and low-cost housing. These mini metropolises are not only far cheaper places to live, but they can offer better pay than the major cities. Remember that these smaller cities may be filled with department stores and shiny malls, but it can still be difficult to find English speakers, international restaurants and imported goods… so consider whether these are things you will rely upon.

Will you search for your job independently, or sign up for a teaching course and job placement program?

Finally, at this stage it would be wise to make yourself aware of how you will eventually live and work in China. This depends on whether you want to travel with a strong sense of independence by finding your own job, or sign up for an established program that works as a safety net by providing teaching training and guaranteed job placement.

If you choose to seek a job on your own, you have the chance to control your own destiny, which really appeals to some potential teachers in China. If you seek your own job online, the jobs tend to be paid higher and you are able to directly control and negotiate your own contract. However, this process carries a larger risk, as you are responsible for your own situation. It is up to you to ensure your flights, transportation and housing are properly planned.

For teachers who join a placement program, which may cost money, they trade independence and a higher potential for lucrative earnings for training and security while living and working abroad. This security ensures you will have training if needed, housing and job placement. Another thing to consider is that the training experience can create a bond of friendship with other new foreign teachers who have also made the journey abroad.

Both of these options have advantages, but consider your background and personality to determine the right choice for you.

Resources for Potential Teachers: Job Boards and Placement Programs

Now that crucial decisions have been made and you have a better idea of where you want to live and what your ideal position would look like, it is time to start applying. The hottest time to apply for positions is between April and September as schools gear up for the next fall semester. For anyone interested in a training program, the timing of your submitted application is pivotal to being accepted.

However, don’t let this limit you, since many schools find themselves in need of a teacher during the school year and are more willing to negotiate better contracts since they often need teachers immediately.

When seeking a job, you can post an informative and engaging bio and resume on different forums, free of cost. In addition, jobs can be sought out and applied for actively, and using these two techniques in conjunction will fill your inbox with opportunities to interview.

Of course, these steps will not be necessary for anyone joining in the training programs that are available. Some of the best and most extensive resources for finding job postings or teaching programs in China are listed below.

Resources for independent job hunting:

  • Dave’s ESL Cafe: Here, you can post your resume and browse through a fairly large database of jobs, updated daily.
  • ESL Jobs Lounge: When you create a free account, you can apply quickly to multiple jobs on this site.
  • TeachAway: Another website where you can create a free account and apply to a variety of jobs, this website also offers suggestions for ways to develop your career by acquiring training and certification, and it even showcases featured companies around the world.
  • ESL Job Feed: This site has an impressive number of jobs that are updated daily.
  • ESL Teachers Board: Not only can you apply for jobs at this website, but you can also post your resume and have recruiters and schools come directly to your email.

Resources for teaching programs that train you and provide job placement:

  • MyTEFL: This site offers online courses that you can take to earn a TEFL certification, along with the Teach in China program, which requires no previous experience and includes accommodations, job placement and a stipend.
  • i-to-i TEFL: This program offers multiple course options to adapt to your needs, as well as a homestay in China for up to six months, and training and job placement for five months.
  • Premier TEFL: Here you will find another all-in-one TEFL internship that will take care of you, provide TEFL certification and offer future job prospects in the teaching industry.

Decision Time: Choosing a Job That Is Perfect for Your Future

When you are going through interviews, always keep your options open until you make that final decision and sign a contract. There are quite a few schools in China who are looking to hire teachers, so it is important not to accept the first job offer that comes along—unless, of course, this particular position fulfills your criteria.

Compare each job against your checklist and decisions, and keep an acute awareness of exactly what benefits and sacrifices you would be making if you were to accept any one position. By doing all the preparation work and considering the factors we went over above, this deciding process will be streamlined and you can know with confidence what your priorities are and where you want to go.

As a side note, the first time you interview for a job in China, you might find it difficult to speak through the language barrier, but don’t let this get you down or dishearten you. Once you are living in China, this process will become increasingly easier with practice—for now, relax and do your best to communicate with a positive attitude. If you are on Skype, don’t be afraid to use the chat message function to clarify any important points, such as contract negotiations.

Get Ready to Change Your Life!

At this point, you should be giving yourself a well-deserved high five and gearing up for the move that will change everything about your life.

Once you have the best possible teaching job ready, you can look forward to moving abroad being a brand new experience for you in terms of culture, career and connections.


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