Teach English in China

| 3 min read

Shanghai - city view

Fast Facts

Here's a glimpse of China.

Capital: Beijing

Major Language: Mandarin

Getting Around:

  1. Subways are the most convenient way to go to different places. It’s fast, cheap and easy to ride with stations in the more popular places/major attractions. Subways have more English signs and there are some English speaking staff.
  2. Bullet trains are available for longer trips to farther places.
  3. Buses are a cheap way to go around but less popular with foreigners considering stops generally written in Chinese. In more touristy cities, there are English signs at the stops. Bus conductors can help you be reminded if it’s your stop already. However, some buses have no conductors.
  4. Taxi can be a challenge with communication so be ready with your address in characters the driver will understand. Taxis have meters but sometimes negotiate with passengers in which case, you can write the amount you are bargaining.
  5. In some areas, pedicabs and motorbikes are available. If taking a motorbike, make sure to wear the helmet, the drivers will provide you with one.

Famous Landmarks:

  • The Great Wall of China is the longest structure built by man, although unknown to some, it is made up of different sections rather than 1 long continuous wall.
  • The Forbidden City (The Palace Museum) was the imperial palace of China for 492 years (1420 - 1912) and is the largest in the world. It was considered as a divine place that ordinary people were forbidden in this place and thus, the name “Forbidden City”.
  • Majority of the adorable giant pandas can be found in Chengdu. In Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, you can watch them closely roaming, eating, napping, or clumsily falling off a branch.


A Z Visa is required to be able to teach in China. This is also commonly known as the Foreign Expert Permit. Certain age restrictions apply where you must be between 18-60 years old to be eligible for a Z Visa. Aside from the basic requirements and Foreigner’s work permit, you must be a native English speaker with a Bachelor’s Degree and 2 years teaching experience/120-hr Certification. There are some reports that certifications done online are not accepted anymore so better if your certificate does not mention anything “online”.

Application and Contracts:

Majority of schools in China hire via recruiters and online as they will be the ones sponsoring your Z Visa. Typical contracts are set for 1 year. There are also some contracts for 10 months so teachers will not be paid during the summer break.

Who can legally teach here:

You may have read accounts of people teaching on a tourist visa but this comes with the risk of being caught and the consequences will range from being fined, jailed or kicked out of the country. Although not advisable, if you are doing this setup, just make sure this is clear between you and the school you are working for.

A lot of teaching jobs in China are processed by recruiters and as such, one of the red flags you should watch out for is the processing of your Z Visa. Take note also that not all employers can get you this visa (e.g. some small English schools) so beware. A Z Visa can only be processed outside of China (including Hong Kong) so if they say they’ll process yours upon arrival in the country, better think again.

Likewise, if you are on the L visa (tourist visa) and planning to get a Z Visa to start teaching, you might need to travel at least to Hong Kong and then fly back to China.

Private teaching/tutoring on the side can be regarded as illegal too since your Z Visa was sponsored by the school / recruiter who hired you full-time (thus, work only for them) and they may not want to deal with problems in case you get caught working for others.

Types of English teaching jobs:

  1. Kindergarten / Pre-schools

    Teaching at a kindergarten school gives teachers a generally lighter teaching load. Classes are flexible and needing less preparation but more active and fun. An average class may have more or less 15 students. These schools are common in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

  2. Public Schools

    Public schools in China are known to be competitive with education even with a class that averages about 50 students. Teaching hours and pay are generally lesser than in private schools.

  3. Private Schools

    Students from private schools are from well-off families so requiring experienced teachers can be expected.

  4. Private Language Schools

    Students at these language schools vary from kids to adults with classes on evenings and weekends. As opposed to public schools, teaching in private language schools means having to teach a smaller class averaging 15 students or less. Hiring is all-year round so it will be easier for foreign teachers to get a position in these schools. Note that this type of school is unregulated in China so expect a range of differences in pay but higher expectations from parents since they pay higher tuition fees for their children.

  5. Universities and Colleges

    Teaching in Universities and Colleges have a wide range of requirements, salary and benefits depending on the location and type of university. Those in the cities and high-ranking ones are quite selective in their hiring process and have better pay compared to smaller universities.

  6. Business

    There are companies who hire to teach business English for their employees. Schedule and pay varies a lot for this type of teaching depending on the specifics of the teaching load.

Hiring season:

Start of semesters in China is in September and February/March so hiring will be 1-3 months before these if you’re opting for public and private schools. Language schools on the other hand are hiring year-round.

Percentages of foreigners:

At the end of 2018, there are more than 900,000 foreigners working in China where the majority, an estimated 23.7% or 215,000, were in Shanghai.

Average salary:

Starting salary ranges from 5,000 RMB to 13,000 RMB ($730 - $1,800) depending on the type of school and teaching experience.

Typical benefits (housing, airfare):

Housing is usually not included in contracts. Same with airfare, although, some schools will reimburse you for the tickets.

Average cost of living:

Monthly cost of living in China can be estimated around $1,000 - 1,500 (USD), without housing.