China is a vast country filled with diverse people and amazing food. It’s landscape, climate, and people vary immensely from one corner to another. Chinese culture is layered and ever changing. What you see is not always what you get...but it is definitely always an adventure.
Requirements for a work visa in China
- Native English Speaker (as defined by the Chinese government: passport holders from Canada, USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa)*
- Bachelor’s Degree in any subject (exception: applicants from South Africa must have a degree in Education or English)*
- Minimum of 24 months teaching experience (not needed for smaller cities/rural areas)**
- TEFL or CELTA (120 hour certificate)**
- Criminal Background Check*
- Good health (must pass a medical check both in home country and in China)*
*basic requirements for a legal working visa
**specific requirements may vary slightly depending on which city you are going to
What teaching in China really looks like
Being one of the world’s largest markets for teaching English, there may be many misconceptions about teaching in China. The most important thing to note is that the field is quickly changing and becoming highly regulated. Whereas China used to be a known as a good place for just about anyone to come teach to fund their world travels or as a gap year, the Chinese government is now trying to steer away from that and shift visa requirements towards only accepting qualified career teachers from select countries.
That being said, there are countless opportunities for those who fit what they are looking for. When looking into teaching in China, most jobs will fall under these categories:
Internationals schools typically require licensed teachers (TEFL is not enough) to teach specific subject matters, usually to non-Chinese students. Because of the higher qualifications and income level of students, these schools usually pay really well and provide a comfortable, familiar environment to work under.
Private Training Schools
Private training schools are the most common place to find a job. They cater toward elementary and middle school aged children for evening and weekend English classes. At these schools, you will always have a Chinese co-teacher in the classroom with you. You usually get two days off during the week as the weekends are your busiest workdays.
Private kindergartens claiming to be international, immersion, or Montessori tend to hire foreign teachers. The set up varies, but typically you will work mornings and/or afternoons during the week. The schedule tends to be more sporadic as you bounce from one classroom to another for 30-40 minute segments. Teaching at kindergartens takes more energy and patience. The content is simple and usually filled with songs and games.
Teaching English at a university may require a little more teaching experience than other schools. Usually, its focused on conversation or a specific subject matter like testing, business English, debate, etc. Universities tend to give you more autonomy in the classroom and the opportunity to work with students you can actually converse with. The schedule and pay varies vastly from university to university.
For detailed information on English Centers in China, check out our other post, Gone Working with EF in China.
Finding a job & getting into China
There are a variety of ways to find a job in China. I have worked at four different schools in three different cities and found them all in different ways -networking, personal connections, internet searches, and recruitment agencies.
1. Browse job boards
Some of the easiest places to get started are ESL job boards like Dave’s ESL Cafe or Facebook groups for teaching abroad. If you are interested in an International school or University and know which city or area you want to go to, I would recommend just googling schools in those cities and applying directly through their websites.
It’s important to be vigilant when searching for jobs in China. Networking and research are absolutely essential in avoiding scams or uncomfortable situations. If possible, try to find someone living there (Facebook groups are great for that) and ask about the specific company or school you want to work with.
It’s very easy to find positions once you are in country, but unfortunately very difficult to process a work visa outside of your home country if you didn't already have one.
2. Start applying & interviewing
Once you find a job you’re interested in, the initial application process is usually pretty simple. Most employers want at least a resume and an introduction video, but may ask for copies of your passport, diploma, and teaching qualifications to verify visa eligibility.
If you fit the requirements, they'll likely ask to set up an interview or demo lesson via Skype or WeChat. They mostly want to see that you have the aesthetic and personality they are looking for. You may be asked to prepare a lesson plan or teach a short demo lesson, treating your interviewer like a student.
Honestly, I find that part awkward, but it's pretty standard and usually really easy.
3. Get your visa
The most difficult part of getting a teaching job in China is by far the visa process.
The application and interview are super easy in preparation for this next step.
Working quickly, following instructions to a T, and asking countless questions are essential. The process is always changing, but currently requires a medical check, authenticated documents, a background check, and several trips to your nearest Chinese consulate. It will likely take a few weeks, minimum. Mine took three months...but once it's done, you feel so accomplished and all that more excited to finally head to your new city.
Settling into expat life in China
Getting here...now comes the fun part!
Depending on your specific job offer, your travel expenses may be covered. If that is something you require, be sure to check for it in the job description when your applying. It’s probably half and half.
Same goes for training. There are bigger organizations and franchises that have a large training session in Beijing before sending you to your city, typically for training schools. Smaller training schools and kindergartens offer little to no training. Same goes for most International schools and universities.
Fortunately, most jobs here provide housing and at least some element of help getting settled in. The way Chinese cities are set up, everything you need is usually within walking distance. Expats tend to hang out in all the same spots, so it's pretty easy to meet like minded people and make new friends pretty quickly.
I love working here. There are countless challenges, but just as many amazing experiences. Remember that things are different here, and that's okay. One important key to a successful time working in China is to find the balance between being easy going and vigilant. Ask questions, do your research. Don’t take everything at face value, but also understand that things are different and sometimes you just need to go with it.
China has so much rich history and culture and its people are so proud and happy to share it with you. Random people may take pictures of you or ask too many questions. Sometimes you have to encourage your students to let loose and have fun. Sometimes you have to reign in the classroom chaos.
Some days you're binging on spicy hand-pulled noodles with new friends. Other days you just need to huddle up with a movie and an almost authentic cheeseburger. Living in China is a cultural roller coaster ride...hop on and enjoy it -turns and twists and all.