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How You Can Teach English in Hong Kong

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Scarlett Vogle
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Hong Kong is a bustling city with never ending options of things to do, foods to try, and culture to experience.

Even though I live on a busy market street, I never get used to it and find myself snapping photos like a tourist every day. With endless islands, markets, hiking, temples, and city life to explore, Hong Kong is truly an expat dream, even on an English teacher’s salary. I'm so glad I decided to teach English abroad here and I think you will, too.

Requirements to Teach English in Hong Kong

*These can change as you consider different types of schools, but the basic requirements remain the same to teach in Hong Kong*  

  • Native English Speaker or fluent in English
  • Experience with kids
  • Teaching degree or TEFL/ CELTA (or similar Teaching English Certification)
  • A Bachelor’s degree

Still in need of a TEFL/TESOL certificate? I got my TEFL certification with ITTT and it's been a fantastic investment.

4 Places You Can Teach in Hong Kong

This varies significantly over what type of work you get into. I see ages 3-12 for classes from phonics and play group to formal and creative writing classes. It’s best to ask exactly what you’ll be teaching, no matter what type of school you apply to.

International schools:

International schools are quite competitive.

The pay is excellent, working hours are good, and there’s no shortage of schools to work for. However, you do need to be a qualified teacher in your home country (teaching license/ teaching degree) and many positions require a masters’ degree. These positions are much more competitive, and a few years of experience are often necessary to give your CV a boost.

If you qualify to be a teacher at an international school, you will not be a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Teacher. Instead, you'll teach subjects just as you would back in your home country. International schools are private schools for students from all over the world. In general, these schools teach in English to students who already have a native or high level of the language, although there are schools based on different languages, based on the hub of foreigners in the area.

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Local schools:

Through the NET scheme and searching local job boards, you can land yourself a job at public schools.

These offer a bit better pay and working hours compared to kindergartens and learning centers. Typically, you will work hand in hand with a local teacher, and they will give their opinion on what to do, even if you’re already pretty comfortable with the teaching thing.

Going through the NET scheme is also a long and tedious process when applying through the government. The applications close December 31st for the fall school year and it takes several months to go through the application process before you would receive a job offer.

There are many schools that post NET jobs and don’t require applicants to go through the full government application process. It’s a bit of a gamble with these positions though as some can be fantastic, and some can be a ton of work.

Asking questions like if there’s anything you’re expected to do after school hours – parent/teacher conferences, teachers meetings, etc. – can be quite useful, especially as much of these meetings will be run in Cantonese.

Be sure to ask your school plenty of questions in the interview to determine if it’s a position you will like. Don’t forget, you’re interviewing them too!

Learning Centers:

If you choose to teach English at a learning Center in Hong Kong, you’ll almost certainly be working Saturdays, but you will still get two days off each week. Not all the time are these 2 days in a row either.

Most people I know, myself included, have Sunday plus one weekday off at private language schools. The pay really ranges over different learning centers, and I have heard some stories of employer cheating teachers out of the paychecks and asking them to start working before their visas have been approved. Also note that teaching contract lengths differ for each office as well.

Be careful, and read plenty of Glassdoor and Indeed reviews before signing anything. Do yourself a favor and just skip interviewing with Monkey Tree.

On the positive side of things, many learning centers supply course material so there isn’t much prep for class which can be a huge draw. Teaching time and admin work (lesson prep, giving feedback to parents, meetings, etc.) can vary from center to center, so it’s best to ask questions about what you will be doing on a daily basis to have a clear picture of what you’ve signed up for before you arrive.

Personally, my boss is great, and I would happily pass on how to apply for anyone interested teaching at a learning center.

Enjoying the mix of urban and natural in the city

Kindergartens:

Teaching at a kindergarten can be a lot of work.

One of my closest friends in Hong Kong spent a year teaching at a local kindergarten and my biggest takeaway from what she’s said about it is how exhausted she always was. In addition to the day to day teaching, kindergartens compile portfolios for each student and give these to the parents a few times a year. Without much prep time to get these done, it can be very stressful around portfolio time.

You work closely with local Hong Kong staff to coordinate lessons and activities for the kids and spend a lot of time with these tiny tots on a daily basis. It can be a very rewarding job as the kids are super adorable and you spend a large amount of tie with them, but it is in general, a very taxing job.

If you're not set on Hong Kong, check out teaching in China to get an idea of teaching options there or look specifically at teaching in China at English First, an international teaching center that's a great option for first time teachers.

How To Find A Teaching Job in Hong Kong

There's quite a few world-wide job boards where you can browse job openings in Hong Kong and in other countries around the world. I'd suggest browsing:

If you're set on teaching English in Hong Kong, I'd highly recommend landing a job before you arrive in Hong Kong. In many countries, you must apply for a work visa from your home country. Even if there are ways around this in Hong Kong, most likely you'll need specific paperwork and a background check from your home country in order to get hired. I'd save the hassle and get a job before you fly out. This will also save you the worry of not being able to find something before your tourist visa expires.

When applying for jobs, do extensive research on each school before you accept any job. Check their social media pages and do some quick Googling, along with checking them on Glassdoor. Another good idea is to ask if you can reach out to any current teachers to hear their perspective. I'd take it as a red flag if the interviewer isn't willing to connect you with anyone at the school.


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Settling into Expat Life in Hong Kong

Finding an Apartment

Living in Hong Kong comes with a lot of excitement. There's tons I love about this city and tons I wish I knew before I moved here, like how tricky it can be to finda flad here. There is a quick turnover as the house market moves rapidly here. It’s also best to imagine how small your flat will be, and then imagine half of that.

These apartments are seriously tiny, especially the closer you want to live to the heart of the city. There’s not much use looking too in depth before you arrive besides to get a general idea of what you’d like and what you can find in your price range.

The best thing to do on first arrival is find a serviced apartment, Urban cube for example, until you get settled in and get a sense of what you’d like.

Serviced apartments are great because they come furnished and there is weekly cleaning, and at least for Urban cube, the deposit was quite low.

28hse and squarefoot are great references for starting the apartment search. It’s common to use agents, just know you’ll likely pay half a month’s rent or more for the agency fee.

Meal-Time Etiquette

Nervous that your chopstick skills aren’t up to par?

Don’t fret, I haven’t gone into a resto yet that didn’t have forks when asked.

Keep in mind that if you have a bite to eat at peak times, likely you’ll be sitting with others and won’t get your own table. Likely your meal-time neighbors will speak English and just as likely, will be friendly and help you with the menu or other questions if you’re up for a chat.

Public Transportation

The metro is often the quickest way to get around, but is very packed at rush hours.

Admirality Station can be quite the adventure if you want get a picture of just how many people do live here.

An Octopus card can be used for all public transportation and at many restaurants as well, so it’s always handy to keep it topped up. Thankfully there are 7elevens at nearly every corner to do so.

A busy street view of Hong Kong and it's pastel apartment buildings
A very typical Hong Kong street view

Don't Skip the Wet Markets

If you’ve got some time after you’ve settled in a bit, explore your local wet market for fruits and veggies that you might be able to get at home, mangosteens for me!

A Wet Market is a typical market yet one that sells fresh food, like meat, seafood, fruit, and veggies. Usually wet markets have shops connected to them for other home goods, dry food, and even clothing and knickknacks.

Wet markets aren’t for easily upset tummies though, as meat and fish are on display, dead or alive in some cases, for shopper to determine the freshness. Don't worry though, if cooking isn't your thing, there are many brunches, happy hours, and sets for the food lovers to take advantage of all over this international city.

Enjoy the Excellent Nature Right Outside of the City

From Causeway Bay, there are several beaches within 20 minutes that are alright, but travel out a bit farther in any direction and you can score yourself a secluded, beautiful piece of sea for the day.

There are Buddhist and Taoist temples tucked all over the city that definitely deserve visits. Respect locals when you enter by observing quietly and don’t take pictures of the statues directly, but other than that, feel free to go in and snap away.

There are all kinds of hiking opportunities for the outdoorsy. Hong Kong Island itself boasts several, but on Kowloon side or a multitude of other islands you can find trails ready to lead you to jaw-dropping views.

Hong Kong also has sports galore. Rugby, football, handball, hockey, tennis, surfing, paddle boarding, dragon boating, rowing, and many others, Hong Kong surely has something for every sports lover.


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