The Complete Guide to Teaching ESL in China

teaching esl in China

Introduction to teaching English as a second language in China

I didn’t train to become a teacher, or to teach English as a secondary language. But here I am years later in China teaching English after also teaching ESL in South Korea. In this guide I am aiming to show you why China is currently the best country to Teach ESL abroad, and why it could be one of the best decisions you ever make. As it seems to be one of the top decisions I’ve made for myself.

I am able to save TENS OF THOUSANDS of dollars per year, travel 2-3 MONTHS a year and live comfortably abroad, experiencing new languages and cultures around the world.

Since I have started teaching, I have networked and built connections with many reliable recruiters, schools and companies.  I am now able to confidently help place new and aspiring teachers into quality schools.  This guide will help you determining if teaching ESL in China is for you.

How can this guide on teaching English in China help you?

I am going to cover what it is like to teach English; the day-to-day responsibilities, benefits such as salary and vacation, and also the necessary prerequisites to becoming a teacher. There are many different options for teaching English out here; whether it’s in a training center, public school, university or private lessons. I will discuss the pro’s and con’s of each. And how you can get started – You don’t need to have experience or a teaching degree!

I will also provide an overview of what China is like, and what living here is like. No, you don’t need to speak Chinese to live in Chinathough it helps and I recommend anyone trying to pick up the language!

This guide is for anyone who is yearning for a little adventure in their life, looking to try something new, and potentially get into an extremely lucrative field that has endless opportunity for those ambitious enough. Current teachers, or someone who’s never taught before but has a university degree, are both eligible for these positions.

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What it’s like to teach ESL abroad

First off, this is a real job. Despite what you may have read online. You have responsibilities and are held accountable. But don’t get it twisted, this is also one of the funniest and most laid back jobs I’ve ever held. With the right mindset, a little preparation and self learning, basically what this job comes down to is playing with kids all day. There are so many free resources that current teachers have created that you can incorporate into your class that makes the classes enjoyable for students and teacher. Show videos, play games, organize role playing, just get the kids speaking, dancing and laughing.

Who can become an English teacher in China?

The prerequisites to start teaching English in China are much less than most countries in North America, but there are a few requirements you must meet:

  1. Hold a passport from a native speaking country ( USA, CANADA, UK, SOUTH AFRICA, etc). Non natives can get hired but they must hold a teaching degree and have a few years of experience – they will be hired as subject teachers (MATH, MUSIC, GYM, etc)
  2. Hold a bachelor’s degree. Any degree will do, but it must be a degree from an accredited university. College diploma’s don’t fly.
  3. 2 or more years teaching experience, or a 120 hour TEFL certification.
  4. A clean criminal record.

These are requirements to get the Z-VISA and RESIDENCY PERMIT to work legally in China. Any company that does not require this to hire you is doing so illegally, and you can be detained/deported if you are discovered. Don’t risk it.

What’s the salary of an ESL teacher in China?

Salaries for public school are between 8,000-12,000RMB plus housing or housing allowance.

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Training center salaries are between 10,000-18,000RMB, sometimes housing is included, sometimes it’s not.

Salaries for international schoolswhich require +2 years of experience – start at around 15,000RMB and can go upwards of 25,000 or more.

Yes, that’s right! In most cases your living expenses are covered! Imagine the extra disposable income you will have not needing to worry about paying rent.

Public schools and training centers are modest salaries. But the real money is in the private lessons or online teaching that you can supplement your incomes with while out here. Demand for English lessons goes far past just daily school lessons. Chinese families are spending enormous amounts of private lessons. Which for those ambitious enough, can cash in on! I make much, much more in my evening and weekend lessons than I do with my public school salary.

What is the work week like teaching ESL abroad?

How often your work, what days a week and what times a week all differ depending what type of company you work for. There are benefits and drawbacks to all, but in my opinion public schools are the absolute best to work for as they offer competitive salaries, low working hours and massive amounts of holidays. Let’s discuss each.

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Training centers typically work in the afternoons and evenings, or early mornings and afternoons. Depending on whether your students are early learners such as 3-6 years of age, or teenagers and adults. You will absolutely work weekends at training centers because that is when people are off work and school, and can take private lessons.  Normally you will have 2 week days off, sometimes together – such as Monday and Tuesday – or two random days during the week. You will probably need to be there for a normal 40 hours a week, and will teach anywhere from 25-35 hours per week.

Public schools work Monday to Friday, with normal hours such as 8-5. You can teach primary, middle school or high school.  The great thing about public schools is, despite having to be at the school in most cases for 40 hours a week – though some teachers do not have office hours and may leave school whenever they don’t teach! – you only teach normally 12-15 hours per week. Yes that’s about 2-4 classes a day. That’s it! I personally teach 12 hours a day. During my office hours I do a bit of prep then work on my websites and study the Chinese language.  I have friends who pursue a Masters’ degree online or just Netflix and chill.

I should add we have a 2 hours lunch break everyday, where the second hour the school shuts down to nap.  Every teacher actually has a cot, blanket and pillow and they shut off the lights to sleep.

International schools typically work 8-5 Monday to Friday as well. It seems that you will work a little less than training centers but a bit more than public schools with international schools. About 20 hours per week of actual teaching with office hours as well. International schools are a little more demanding in regards to preparation and teaching, but the pay is there as an incentive.

Can I travel lots teaching ESL in China?  What is the vacation time like?

Glad you asked. Because this aspect is a huge draw of teaching English abroad.

Firstly, China has about 2 weeks a year of national holidays. There’s various 3 day weeks, almost one a month it seems. Plus a few 4 day weekends and then one week long national holiday in October. Then you have Chinese New Years which lasts for a week or two. Most of these holidays you will be paid, aside from Chinese New Years, how much of that time off and is paid depends on the school / company.

Ladies, in China you get either the full day off or afternoon off for International Women’s Day!

On top of that, vacation and holiday time is as follows for the various types of schools.

Training centers by far are the worst option. On top of the national holidays they offer about a week or two of paid holidays. You will need to check with your individual center if Chinese New Years is off and paid.  Less time off, more time making money though, that’s another way to look at it.

Public schools are by far the best for time off. Just like the rest of the world, children have 2 semesters, with about 2 months off for summer and nearly a month off for winter. Semesters for public school run September to mid January. And March to mid July. Between those times you do not work. It amounts to about 6 weeks in both summer and winter. At public schools you will be semi paid during these holidays. Whether that’s half or just a smaller portion of your salary you will need to confirm in your contract!

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International schools normally have a month off for summers and a week or two in the winter for Chinese New Year. Still a lot of time off but not quite the amount of public. To my knowledge many international school teachers in China are paid either half or full salaries during these vacation times. Again, confirm in your contract.

The truth about private lessons and side work teaching ESL in China

One of the best parts of teaching ESL in China is the demand for English teachers. Not only is there a supply shortage and huge demand for full time teaching jobs of all sorts. But there are just as many private lessons, part time work and side jobs for evenings and weekends as well.

You can pick up a secondary job during the week in the morning or afternoon if you find yourself with a free schedule and at a school that doesn’t have office hours. You can also pick up classes at training centers around your chosen city during the evenings and weekends.

Teaching online is also an amazing option that lets you be flexible with when and where you work, all from the comfort of your own home. Also you’re in the time zone of the children you teach which allows you to comfortably teach during the prime hours.

Private lessons range anywhere from $40 per hour up to $150 per hour in some cases. I personally teach a Saturday class where I make just under $200 for 1.5 hours teaching a group of 7 children.

Unlike South Korea, which has very strict government laws against secondary incomes via private lessons which can get your VISA revoked. China is a lot more relaxed with you doing extra work.

Advancement opportunities in the booming economy of China

China is experiencing rapid growth, for someone who takes the time to learn some of the language, and make the right connections. It is possible to transition out of teaching and into a different field – one you may have actually gone to university to pursue. Here is a story of a man who came to China 15 years ago to teach English and now is a millionaire currently living in Shanghai with his family as a regional manager.

The opportunity is literally endless here.

What is the cost of living in China while teaching ESL?

China overall is much more inexpensive to live in compared to North America. Even the top tier cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen are quite affordable and allow you to save a decent chunk of money even if you don’t pick up side work.

I am personally able to save 50% of my salary even after taxes and expenses. Allowing me to save 100% of any side work that I do as well!

Here are some examples of main expenses.

Housing costs teaching English in China

In tier one cities, such as Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen. A one bedroom apartment typically runs between 2,500-5,000 RMB per month. Nearly all schools and companies either provide accommodation – usually shared it appears, with another teacher – or an allowance to find your own place, usually around 2,000-4,000 RMB. You shouldn’t need to spend very much out of pocket, if at all. On housing.

Utilities, Taxes & Insurance costs teaching ESL in China

Taxes are usually a very small percentage of your income. Around 10% up to 15,000 RMB and can get higher depending on your salary.

You will also pay around ~200 RMB per month for health insurance. Which is also matched by your company.

Utilities depend on how much you use the Air Conditioner and power. I, for example ran an A/C day and night in Shenzhen whenever I was home, along with my roommate doing the same. Our highest monthly cost in the middle of summer was 300 RMB each for all of our utilities (power, water, gas) and that was the highest we had ever seen.

Mobile phone and internet costs while teaching English abroad in China

Internet and data plans are extremely affordable in China. I pay 130 RMB for an unlimited 4G data plan, and about 75 RMB for unlimited internet per month. The WiFi and data can become a little strained at times, but usually I have no problem streaming videos, music or surfing the web.

Add 50-100 RMB per month for a quality VPN, I suggest ExpressVPN and BetterNet.

Transportation costs in China

There are loads of metro trains, buses, taxes and Uber-equivalents in China. Taxes usually cost about 40 RMB for a 20 minute ride. Metro is 2-6 RMB depending on distance. Buses are 2-3 RMB, and Didi – the Uber service in China – is even cheaper than Cabs.

Plus China has bike sharing! Literally there are hundreds of bikes lying around everywhere that you can pick up, scan with your phone and use as much as you want. When you are finished just lock the bike up by the lock attached to each bike and leave it where you want. 1 RMB per hour.

Groceries and food in China

I eat quite a bit, but buy all my own groceries and cook at home, maintaining eat a steady diet of meats, vegetables and some nuts. Estimated, I believe I spend about 1,500 RMB per month and you could up that to 2,000 RMB if you wanted to buy more western foods. I am confident I also eat more than the average person.

Eating out at restaurants, I find eating at foreign style restaurants are quite similar to North America, but you don’t have to tip. 150 RMB for a drink and main course meal.

Booze tends to be similarly priced as well. So whatever you spent back in your home country on a night out, budget similarly.

That aside, if you can avoid boozing a lot, and eat more at Chinese restaurants, you can get away with find 10-30 RMB main course meals.

Entertainment, fun and activities in China

Every city in China boasts area’s of parks, tons of shopping malls, and nightlife areas. Whatever you are into you will not be disappointed. There is also always tons of events going on. There are regular cryptocurrency events, concerts and festivals, parties and sports events happening. Some cities also have rich historical parts you can see which can date back to thousands of years ago.

China also has some surprisingly great beaches.  Shenzhen has many beautiful beaches, Shanghai and Hangzhou are very close to Sanya beach!

Pollution, people and safety in China

China is an incredibly safe country compared to many places in North America and other parts of the world. I never worry about walking late at night alone. Despite this, you still need to be smart. Despite the low crime and large police presence there are still unfortunate events, but they are much, much rarer than other parts of the world. Men and women alike confirm China is very safe.

Depending on the city you are in, pollution can differ. There are some days where you definitely notice the pollution. But it has yet to affect me personally and there are many beautiful blue days. Most cities have much more trees and parks than you imagine from China as well.

Obviously China is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. And those subways can get packed during rush hour, but I haven’t found myself very claustrophobic. And in the larger cities people have much better manners than you may expect or have heard about from China. Chinese are usually very friendly and helpful as well. Though they work hard and are quite busy sometimes.

Are you ready to start teaching ESL in China?

If you’ve read this far and think this could be for you. If you think saving tens of thousands of dollars a year and traveling for 2-3 months per year if something for you, then send me a message below to discuss how I can personally help you get in contact with the best public schools, training academies or international schools in China.

I have been teaching for over 2 years myself between China and South Korea and work with top recruiters and schools so that you can get across the world smoothly and safely.

China and myself are ready.. Are you?!

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Author: Charles

Currently located in China, teaching English and working towards Financial Freedom. I write about money, travel, personal development and more!

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