How to teach English in China

Teaching English in China

(c) Thomas Galvez

Blog post sponsored by EF English First

I often get questions on how to teach English in China. To help answer these questions I have recently had the chance to contact EF English First, one of China’s largest English language training schools who has been recruiting in China for over 20 years. The following is almost everything you need to know before you start teaching English in China.

What are the requirements to teach English in China? 

Maybe it is best to start with the second part of the question first. In the past, the term “native speaker” was used as one of the requirements for being an English teacher in China. Some companies still may use this term. However, it’s not 100% correct. EF hires teachers on legal working Z visas. One of the guidelines that we follow is passport status. If you are a passport holder from the USA, UK, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, then you will be eligible to teach English in China. It doesn’t matter if you were born in this country or not, you just need to be a passport holder from one of these countries. For South Africans and people with dual citizenship, this could be subject to change, so it is advisable to contact your hiring company. (But it can vary from province to province)

The other requirements can be as follows:

1.    You will need to have a bachelor’s degree in any field. The degree must have bachelors on the certificate, either in English or the Latin equivalent. Recently it has become common for candidates to be required to provide an original hard copy or a certificate of authentication from a notary.

2.    TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Certificate. TEFL certificates can be found online, but sponsorship is available through EF English First, and the full cost will be covered if you meet visa requirements. If you are taking an online course, make sure that you take the option for 120 hours. A 120 hours TEFL certificate is now the minimum requirement for a legal working Visa. However, in most cases, you can complete the course in much less time than this.

3.    The ability to obtain a clear criminal background check. Your company will provide more information on where you can get your background check, but you need to have no prior criminal offences. If you have any minor infractions, then it’s important to consult your recruiter or company.

4.    Experience. The amount of experience needed often depends on company or province. Some companies offer more training and can help hire less experienced people. However, some provinces have different visa rules which may require a minimum of 2 years teaching experience.

5.    Finally, you must be able to live in China for at least one year. For some internships, this may be less, but many companies will prefer a longer term commitment.

How long is the visa process and what should I expect?

The visa process can seem daunting; especially if you are going through this alone. If you work for a company like EF, full support is often provided. An experienced company can take you through the process step by step, which often makes things smoother. All being well, the visa process takes around 2 to 3 months.

Where in China can I teach English?

Almost anywhere! Many cities and provinces across China are looking for English teachers. You just need to assess your options and do some research on the city. Make sure that you can live there comfortably, and you are eligible for a visa in the city. You will be a long way from home, so make sure you have checked the surrounding area and you think you will be happy there.

What salary and benefits package should I expect?

Salary and benefits can vary depending on company and city. In the smaller cities, it I common to be paid less than in the larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai. However, this doesn’t mean you will have less money in your pocket. You can still live comfortably in China, and most teacher salaries are very comfortable. Your benefits package can influence your salary. It is common for public schools to provide accommodation and pay less. Some companies can offer up front flights or more vacation time. The important thing is, you need to take into account your experience.

Things to Remember

If this is your first time in China, make sure you choose your company wisely. Choose a reputable company like EF who can provide you with a legal working visa. If you teach on the wrong visa or break the rules, this could stop you from getting other visas in the future. Make sure that you will be happy in China and you have chosen your city wisely.

Finally make sure you can meet the following criteria.

•    Have a Bachelor’s degree

•    Have a 120 hour TEFL Certification

•    The ability to obtain a clear background check

•    The ability to live abroad for at least one year

•    Applicants must be citizens/passport holders from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand to meet China’s visa regulations.


My journey of becoming a Chinese teacher

Chinese Corner in Guangzhou

Our weekly free Chinese Corner in Guangzhou

This semester I have started working in a Chinese language center in Guangzhou where my work includes lecturing about teaching Chinese, organizing courses and later also teaching Chinese to foreigners. But how did I end up following the career of a Chinese language teacher?

When I was still back in Finland my major was history and for a brief moment of time, I thought about becoming a history teacher. But then I realized the reality of being a teacher in a local middle school, with lovely teenager pupils, and gave up the idea. I concentrated in getting to the museum career instead and worked in a small museum in Tampere for one year before taking the leap and moving to China.

After 1,5 years in China I finally started my bachelor degree in Chinese as a Second Language at Sun Yat-Sen University. I’ve dreamed about doing my undergrad in China since high school, but was too afraid to make it happen right away. When I applied to the university, the school’s website told me there are too specializations to choose from: Business Chinese and Culture Chinese or something like that. As an old history major who also studied art history and culture history, I of course wanted to go for the culture specialization. Later I found out there weren’t enough students and the culture had been cancelled.

As I didn’t want to study Business Chinese, I went for Teaching Chinese as Second Language instead. Haven’t regretted that decision even for one day! I believed that by choosing this specialization I could progress further in my Chinese and learn a lot of interesting things. I’ve actually always been interested in learning and study methods. I even had a blog about applying to university in Finland for a few years and it was quite well-known at the time.  I stopped updating it when I came to China, but the interest towards learning have always been there.

Then last summer I was in Hong Kong, aimlessly browsing the Weibo, Chinese Twitter. I found an event flyer about teaching foreigners Chinese. The flyer was well made and funny, so I decided to check out what the event was all about. After I transferred the weibo to my own “fans”, the organization of the event contacted me. They wanted me to say a few words about my Chinese learning at the event. I decided to be brave and agreed (even though I’m quite an introvert).

On that Sunday I arrived to the event almost late, after queuing to the local Pizza Hut for half an hour to eat something. A big room was full of women mostly, all interested in working as a Chinese teacher. As the event proceeded I found out it was organized in order to find more students for the Chinese language center which holds courses on teaching Chinese.

After the event the language center’s teacher came up to me and asked about my studies and my plans for the future. She said they were looking for foreign teachers and if I was interested we could meet up again in a few days. The way she spoke was something totally new to me, something I haven’t seen in any other Chinese person. She speaks with you like anything is possible and if you work hard, you can achieve everything.

Now it’s been a few months since that event and starting this semester, I’m a part of the Chinese language center. From a student’s point of view I lecture in teaching Chinese, giving our Chinese students advice and tips on how to teach foreigners. I’m also planning tutoring and courses for our foreign students. Later I’m going to teach foreigners too.

Right now I’m working on building us an English website to introduce who we are and what we do. It’s still in process, but I’ll be sure to share it with you as soon as it’s ready for public. Can’t wait to hear what you think!

I have learned so much during these months and I continue to learn new things everyday. There are many challenges of course, as most of the things I do now are completely new to me. I’m diving my head first into the deep end and hope I can swim back to the surface. Sounds scary, but at the same time working at the Chinese language center I can combine my passions together. Learning methods, teaching, Chinese language and culture, even social media and website making!

I will share more with you as soon as the website is ready, but if anyone of you is interested in learning Chinese in Guangzhou, just contact me!

And for my Finnish readers: Meidän kielikeskuksessa voit opiskella kiinan kieltä myös suomeksi!


Three Ways to Build a Career in China Faster

Build a Career in ChinaPhoto by Jeremy Lim

Today’s guest post comes from Brandon. He moved to China in 2008 and recently founded SmartIntern China Internships, a company which helps students and recent graduates to secure internships in Shanghai.

Building a career in China isn’t easy, but you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t like a challenge, would you? There is no one approach that can guarantee success, but if you follow these three steps, you will be closer than most to living a dream in China.


Tip #1: Bypass the HR Department


Most people think of HR as the people they need to impress in order to land a job, but the reality is that impressing HR should be your last resort. In fact, your goal should be to avoid making contact with HR completely.

The goal of an employee in any corporation is to make themselves look good to their immediate manager. This is their number one priority. The entry-to-mid level gatekeepers in HR are incentivized to do this, not to take risks. And you, my friend, a foreigner from a foreign country with a foreign sounding name that is hard to pronounce and a less-than-perfect grasp of the Chinese language, are perceived as a risk. Your overseas background is difficult to contextualize, and you will face even bigger challenges if you don’t have a big brand name or two to put on your resume. The truth is that, in China, you are an even more unknown commodity than the average applicant.

That doesn’t mean you can’t provide great value to the company- you can! However, the people who will recognize this are not the HR gatekeepers- they are upper management or the company owner(s) themselves. ‘Stalk’ them on LinkedIn (though perhaps not as aggressively as this company) and find out a way to connect with them in person. This brings me to Tip #2.


Tip #2: Network Offline


The great thing about networking overseas is that expat communities tend to be tighter and more close-knit than communities in your home country. When you go out in your hometown, how often do you befriend a group of friendly strangers at the bar within five minutes? My guess is not very often (unless you live in some incredibly friendly city, in which case- tell me where it is in the comments!). In China, it is very easy to strike up conversations on the street with expats and locals alike. If you get yourself out there, and perhaps participate in a run with the Shanghai Hash House Harriers or volunteer with a group like Bean, you will be surprised at the movers and shakers who you bump up against. And, as they have once been in your situation- new and in very a foreign country- they tend to be sympathetic and willing to help.

Some networking groups to consider are:

  • Internations
  • FC Club
  • Chambers of Commerce- Google ‘{your country name} chamber of commerce china’ or ‘{your country name} board of trade china’ to see what membership options are available. Membership in one of these organizations costs money, but it is well worth it, as most members are senior executives and entrepreneurs with strong local knowledge.

I’d also recommend getting involved on LinkedIn by starting interesting discussions in groups like China Networking Group. Of course, if you are looking for an (here is my plug ;) ) internship in Shanghai I can help you with that here.

While less true in cities like Shanghai and Beijing, an additional advantage you will have is that we foreigners are often perceived as being far more interesting than we actually are. You could be the most boring person ever, but in most of China’s cities, you will be an attraction by virtue of your mere foreignness. This can be unpleasant at times- think back to that cab driver who wouldn’t stop stroking your arm hair- but it’s also a huge asset that you can leverage to your advantage.

You’ll get stressed at times by the traffic and general chaos on China’s streets, but please promise me that you won’t recede into your comfortable apartment with a hundred bootleg DVDs, only emerging once a day for Starbucks. If you get out there, network strategically, and are open to serendipitous encounters, you will eventually meet the people you need to meet.


Tip #3: Adjust your Expectations


This is not your home country, and expectations are different. In China, there is a saying of ‘吃苦’ (chiku), which loosely translated means ‘eating bitterness’. For long-term success in China, you should be prepared to ‘chiku’ in the short-term.

For example, many companies expect 6 day work weeks from employees. I have even seen companies advertise a 5 day work week as a ‘perk’! You might also have to get your own health insurance, and will likely be paid a salary far lower than you would command at home. The truth is that, if you are dead-set on transitioning out of teaching English and into a position that better aligns with your long-term career aspirations, you might need to take an internship at age 25, or work for a local salary for a year while proving your value.

I am not saying everyone will have to do this- cushy expat jobs in China still remain, though they most often go to employees with highly-specialized skills. What I am saying is that you should be prepared, and willing, to work longer hours for less money than you would back home if doing so will provide you with the opportunity to reach your long-term career goals.

This might not sound glamorous, but my five years in China have shown me that this is pretty close to the truth. Easy? No. Worth it for the life lessons and practical experience gained? Yes, absolutely.

What have your experiences working in China been like? Let us know in the comments!


Teaching English In China – Interviewing Monica

chineseclassroom(a) Renato Ganoza

Many foreigners come to China to teach English, some because of passion for the job, some because it’s a nice opportunity to spend a year or two in China. But what is teaching English really like in China? This week we have Monica to share her experiences and to answer your questions.

The views and opinions expressed in the answers of this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Living a Dream in China.


Introducing Monica:


I’m Monica. I’ll be 24 this December and am from Phoenix, Arizona, USA. I’ve been living in China two years as an English teacher and now a director for a business recently started by my boyfriend. [Monica works for New Life ESL and they help foreigners to find teaching jobs in China.]

Why and how did you end up in China? Why to teach English?

I was a member of AmeriCorps, an organization that places young people at non-profit organizations for a 10-month term to give back to their communities. I received a nice, big scholarship upon completion, but decided moving abroad  suited my interest more, as I had never really had time to travel since I was constantly working and going to school in America. Teaching English is a jump-start to move abroad. It wasn’t my “dream job”, but after being a teacher for two years, I have truly fallen in love with all of my students and have been able to watch them grow as young learners.

 What has been the best about teaching English in China?

There are loads of perks when teaching abroad. I really enjoy the relationship I’ve built with my students. I’ve been able to have lots of free time and go to places I couldn’t have dreamt of while living in America. I’ve been to Thailand, Hong Kong, beautiful cities throughout China and have been able to save money and even start an agency for people who want to have a higher quality of life by living and teaching abroad, something that is becoming more unachievable due to poor western economy. That’s honestly a very small fraction on how my life has changed in a positive way since moving to China.

And the worst?

The worst part about living in China is probably the fact that I just don’t have control over some situations. I can sometimes be a control-freak, so this has been an exercise of the brain that has actually benefitted me. Even the worst part of living here has managed to help me grow as a person.

What are your plans for the future?

My future right now just looks like a map. My boyfriend and I constantly talk about where we will go next. As our agency grows rapidly, we have the ability to work from anywhere in the world and always call China our home.


Readers’ questions:


How is teaching in China similar to and different from teaching in the U.S./your home country?

I’ve never been a teacher in America, but it’s clear that the classroom environment is 100% different. These kids go to school seven days a week. They’re in school all day long. The students are not taught creativity or critical thinking. They are taught to remember the answers. We’re basically starting from scratch. Our job isn’t only to teach English, we need to teach them skills on how to use their English casually and confidently, not like robots. Teaching at a training center and teaching at a public school are completely different within themselves. A public school can have as many as 60 students per class with no TA. The students may have never learned English. That’s a challenge. At a training center you may have 10 students in a class who have been studying English for a few years in addition to a TA who you split classroom responsibilities with.

What certificates do you need?

A degree is preferred but not required. A TEFL, TESL, TESOL, or CELTA is also beneficial. I’ve recently written an article  about the meanings of these acronyms and which might be best for you.

 Can you be a teacher in China if you don’t know any Chinese?

Learning Mandarin is in no way a requirement to teach English in China.

 Should English teachers learn Chinese? How?

This is a heated debate. My Mandarin is very, very poor. However, I use it in every lesson. By understanding the grammar of Mandarin, it helps me relay the differences between the two languages to my students. A lot of schools strive for an “English-only” classroom setting. A lot of teachers are all about the English-only rule, but since I’ve seen results with my kids, I’ll continue to use what works for me.

As far as language learning, I’ve never studied Mandarin which makes me a very bad expat, but I’ve picked up enough to hold a 10 to 15 minute conversation. The best way to learn is to spend time with the locals and avoid putting yourself in a “western atmosphere”.

What is it like to teach in a Chinese school?

As mentioned above, you’re not only teaching English. You need to be prepared to come with original and fun ideas. I recently told my friend that these kids just don’t have a good week. Their parents give them so much pressure to study, they don’t have time to play with their friends and by the time they hit middle school, they’re true products of their environment. Be the cool teacher. You may be their only outlet for fun and creative learning.

 Is living in China safe for an English teacher?

There are hundreds of thousand of expats here. Obviously something is keeping them here. If you’re hearing horror stories about how some foreigner got robbed or beat up, then they probably deserved it by disrespecting the culture. Chinese people have been so warm to me. I have been able to join some local families for Chinese New Year and I have even been close to drunken tears at how loved I felt by them. If you only spend time with expats you will never learn how to respect this beautiful country.

What cultural things should one be prepared for?

I don’t think being prepared is nearly as important as accepting the culture. Things are done differently no matter where you’re moving to, you just need to come with an open mind.

How easy is it to find a teaching job in China?

It’s so easy! People think the move abroad is difficult and scary, but honestly, it can be done in just a few steps. Apply, get an interview, sign the contract, get your visa and book your ticket. That’s really it.

Do you have to be a native speaker in order to teach English?

This is a preference but by no means a requirement.

How much is the average pay?

I wouldn’t say there’s an average pay. It’s all based on the cost of living and experience. Some first year teachers can make 6-8,000RMB per month while some seasoned teachers make as much as 30,000RMB per month.

Something else you would like to add, for example advice and tips for people coming to China to teach?

Take everything with a grain of salt. This experience should be fun and new. I am a living testimonial on how exciting it is to live in China. I had a great life back home. Lots of friends and a supportive family. I just wanted a change of pace and a chance to explore the world I live in.


China’s New Visa Rules

Starting last Monday the 1st of July, China has new visa rules for us foreigners. I found that cityweekend.com.cn has a really good article about the changes and new visas:

As you may have heard, there have been rumors floating around regarding the changes to China’s visa system that will take effect July 1st. These changes are apart of the new Exit and Entry Law which was adopted by the National’s People Congress last June. The new regulations are aimed to address the illegal stay and illegal employment of foreigners here in China. The most relevant alterations include…

Read the whole article here: A Breakdown of China’s New Visa Rules

There is also a handy chart for all the old and new visa types over at The World Of Chinese, you should check it out too.


Updated! Other useful news and posts about the new China visa laws:


Easy check list on which kind of visa you have to get: Which is the Most Appropriate Visa Category for your Application?

Check lawandborder.com’s new blog post about Q&A on China’s New Exit-Entry Administration Law and Regulations

China Briefing: China Releases Final Draft of New Visa and Residence Permit Regulations for Foreigners

Chinese-forums.com has a helpful topic about applying for China visa in Hong Kong


About my own visa situation

Currently I’m in China on a student X visa wich will expire in September, then I can have a new student visa for half a year, but that’s it. After graduation I have to start looking for another visa.

As it’s a bit unclear what I’m going to do after graduation, I might have to get a tourist visa from Hong Kong first. Although I learned from the visainchina.com website, that I might be able to get a zero entry tourist L visa without leaving China too.

But of course I can’t be on a tourist visa forever. If I find a job, then the company should help me with the visa, but what if I work as a freelance basis in several different projects? Am I able to get a new M business visa if I open a company? According to my knowledge freelancing isn’t really possible without a company in China, as everyone working needs to have a correct visa.

As you can see, visas are still bit of a foreign land for me, as until now I’ve been able to stay in China on student visas. If you have more information or links to great resources, please let me know in the comments!