What You Need to Know About Teaching English In China As A Foreign Teacher


The key to successful employment as an English language instructor in China is to be employed by a reputable school or company and negotiate a well-written contract. It is highly important that anyone considers accepting an English teaching job in China to carefully review the terms of the contract regarding working and living conditions.  It would also be useful to ask for references from people familiar with the institution, especially former and current employees.

This guide addresses types of positions available in China, visa matters, contract considerations, sources of information, cultural pitfalls to consider, tips on adapting to China.


English teachers in China are employed in a wide variety of institutions.  A brief description of the different options available follows.  Please keep in mind that regardless of the type of institution in which you teach, the institution must have a license to hire foreign teachers in order for you to teach legally.  You will need to verify the credentials of the school, university, or institute you are considering before entering into any type of agreement.


Teaching English in kindergartens in a large city such as Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou can require little preparation or outside work. This can be the highest paying teaching job available, but generally does not include rent or a plane ticket, and may require more than 20 teaching hours per week.

Schools (Boarding/non-boarding)

Boarding schools are fairly common in China, and spread throughout the countryside surrounding large cities. These jobs often include an apartment and reimbursement for an international flight upon completion of the contract. They often also allow for travel, with a one month vacation for spring festival, two months for summer, and two weeks of paid vacation. The age range of the children varies.

Summer and Winter Camps

These camps often last from one week to one month and can be intense work environments.  This can be a good option for those interested in teaching in China, but unwilling to make a long-term commitment.

Corporate Training (Business English Teaching)

Teaching English for a private business program usually requires a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. It may also require prior experience teaching adult English, a degree in ESL, or prior business experience.  These jobs generally comprise a heavy workload, often exceeding 20 hours a week with evening and weekend hours. However, the students in this setting are very eager to learn and work hard. The company may provide lesson plans and may provide a housing allowance in addition to the base salary.

Training Centers (Private Language Institutions)

Private language institutes abound in China.  Some are well-established, while others can be small and short-lived.  Instructors in these institutes typically teach conversation oriented classes, and occasionally teach writing as well.  Pupils range from grade school students to business people.  Consequently, student skill levels vary widely.  Also, these institutions generally have a very high student turnover rate.  Pay rates are dependent upon the individual institution and the number of hours worked (typically 20-30 hours per week, often including early mornings, evenings, and weekends, to accommodate pupils’ schedules).


Many universities in China have a foreign language or English department. Requirements for teachers vary depending on the university and the level of classes taught; however, a master’s degree or a doctorate may qualify you to work as a ‘Foreign Expert’ in a university and to teach more advanced courses for much more pay than a ‘Foreign Teacher’ receives. Undergraduate classes will be larger, while graduate classes tend to be smaller and offer more personal contact with students.  Salaries also vary from university to university, though most include housing on or near the university campus.

Advanced Degree Programs

If you have a master’s degree, particularly an MBA, you can make a good salary working as a professor for a master’s degree program at a university. The teaching load is light, but you will have to hold office hours and do significant preparation for lectures, paper assignments, and exams.

Career Teaching

Options for career teachers include private college preparatory programs for Chinese students, international schools teaching children of expatriates, and universities teaching higher-level students; however, these jobs are often extremely competitive.

Private Teaching and Tutoring

Private teaching and tutoring are very common in China, and there is great demand for native English speakers, particularly in the larger cities.  However, in order to do so legally, written consent from your full-time employer is required. If you are interested in giving private language lessons, include a stipulation in your contract allowing you to devote a certain number of hours per week to private teaching.

Other Options

Opportunities outside of the traditional English teaching sphere are plentiful in China, though not always easy to obtain.  Native English speakers have found work in a variety of industries, such as media (editing or writing for state run foreign-language media companies or private companies), freelance writing, educational services (recording English dialogues, working for study abroad  enterprises, arranging language camps, etc.), and sales positions with companies with large expatriate client bases.


Employment Visas

Working legally in China requires a “Z” Visa from a Chinese embassy or consulate. The Z visa is the only valid work visa and sponsorship from an employer is needed in order to obtain a Z visa.  There have recent restrictions on visa issuance and renewals in China.

Required Documents

If you’re a teacher from the United States for example, you will need to provide the following to apply for a Z visa according to the website of the Chinese Embassy in the United States at

– A valid US Passport with at least 6 months validity before the expiration date;
– A visa notification issued by the authorized Chinese unit (your employer), and a “Work Permit for Aliens” issued by the Chinese Labor Ministry/”Foreign Expert’s License” issued by the Chinese Foreign Expert Bureau;
– One completed Visa Application Form (Q1) with one additional passport photo;
– Locally obtained health check for absence of HIV, TB, and drug use;
– 50 US dollars.

Residence Permits

In addition to a valid passport and visa, all prospective teachers must obtain a Residency Permit within thirty days of their entry into China. One may not legally teach in China without both the Z visa and a valid Resident Permit. This is necessary whether one is classified as a “foreign teacher” or a “foreign expert.” Employers should provide assistance in obtaining this document.

Foreign Teachers

Foreign teachers are all teachers without an “Expert Certificate” from the National Expert Bureau of Foreign Affairs. In order to obtain a Resident Permit they will need to work with their employer to obtain the Foreign Teacher Resident Permit, colloquially known as the “Green Book” from their local Public Security Bureau. They will need the following documents.

– Valid passport and visa;
– Original “Health Certification” submitted by Beijing Exit & Entry Inspection & Quarantine Bureau;
– Two recent, two-inch, bareheaded, full-faced photos (either black and white or in color);
– The official seal of the unit (the employer, known as the “danwei”) on a filled-out “Application Form for Visa, Residence Permit,” along with one recent, two inch, bareheaded, full-faced photo.
* For those working in Beijing whose work will not exceed one year, a temporary residence permit is available, and the “Health Certificate” is waived.

Foreign Experts

Foreign experts are teachers who hold advanced degrees and have received an “Expert Certificate” from the National Expert Bureau of Foreign Affairs.  The Foreign Expert Resident Permit is colloquially known as the “Red Book” and should also be obtained from the teacher’s local Public Security Bureau with the help of the employer.  The Foreign Expert Resident Permit requires the following documents.

– Valid passport and visa;
– Originals and copies of “Expert Certificate” issued by the National Expert Bureau of Foreign Affairs Office of the Municipal Government;
– Original “Health Certification” submitted by Beijing Exit & Entry Inspection & Quarantine Bureau;
-Two recent, two-inch, bareheaded, full-faced photos (either black and white or in color);
– The official seal of the unit (their employer) on a filled-out “Application Form for Visa, Residence Permit,” along with one recent, two inch, bareheaded, full-faced photo.
* For those working in Beijing whose work will not exceed one year, a temporary residence permit is available, and the “Health Certificate” is waived.

Changing Employers

When teaching in China, it is possible to switch employers; however, this can be a difficult process.  In order to switch employers, the Resident Permit (Green or Red Book) needs to be transferred from the old employer to the new employer.  Leaving an employer before a contract is up requires a “Letter of Release” from the employer.  This letter authorizes other schools or institutions to register someone with the government and enables the teacher to transfer the Resident Permit (further information on the “Letter of Release” appears in the Contracts section of this guide).  Please be advised that due to the complex nature of this process, further questions should be addressed to the local Public Security Bureau when in China, or to the Chinese Embassy or Consulates in the United States.

Legal Warning

Some foreign teachers run into serious legal problems with the Chinese government because they either work in China on tourist or other non-Z visas or they accept part-time employment or private classes without obtaining the proper permission.  Violation of Chinese laws can result in severe penalties including imprisonment, fines of up to 500 RMB a day for overstaying a visa, or deportation.  It is the employee’s responsibility to understand local laws and obey them.

* When in China, U.S. citizens are subject to Chinese law.   Disputes are resolved through the local legal system.

*Prospective teachers should also be aware that working in China on any type of visa other than the Z visa, such as a tourist “L” visa or student “F” or “X” visa, is illegal and can result in large fines, detention, and even deportation.


Foreign instructors in China occasionally have contract disputes with their employers. Employees should be sure to get everything put into writing and not to rely on verbal promises. If possible, one should receive an official copy of the contract before arriving in China, including a copy in Chinese.  Even so, American teachers may find that Chinese contracts are not considered as binding as contracts in the United States. These contracts will sometimes contain unexpected alterations when the prospective teacher arrives, during their employment, or at the end of the period specified by the contract.  Taking an employer to court over breach of contract is far less common in China than it is in the United States, and is a particularly difficult process for foreigners.  Culturally, oral negotiation and a solid relationship with the employer are of paramount importance.  A good working relationship with your school, institution, or business is vital to reaching an agreement over contractual difficulties.

Basic Features of Most Teaching Contracts

Contracts for teaching positions typically last for one year and should include provisions for salary, housing, working hours, class size, medical insurance, taxes, early termination, and in some cases, a plane ticket home. Any bonuses, such as travel bonuses or contract termination bonuses, should be clearly spelled out in the contract.  Further information on these topics is below.

– Salary
The majority of English teaching jobs in China pay monthly salaries.  Nevertheless, one should make sure the salary is clearly defined in terms of hours per month and compensation per hour.  Also, in the interest of clarity, numeric figures as well as written amounts should be included on the contract.  Payment dates, methods, and currency should be specified in advance.  Chinese bank accounts are not generally accessible overseas, and many schools place a limit on the amount of RMB you can convert into U.S. dollars. If possible, specify this number or percentage in your contract.

Foreign teachers should bring sufficient funds to cover at least a month of room and board, as the institution might not be willing to forward any part of the salary upon arrival.

– Hours
Full-time teaching is generally considered to be between 12-20 teaching hours per week in China.   However, this number varies according to the type of school or institute.  Most teachers end up with approximately 15 hours of class per week, supplemented with additional hours running conversational groups or participating in cultural activities.  Those teaching younger children will generally find the hours to be greater, but will not be required to do as much outside of the specified teaching hours.  Conversely, teaching at a higher level, such as at a university, will generally require office hours.  Additional hours should be specified in the contract, preferably with a confirmed hourly rate.  Prospective teachers should make sure that contracts specify the maximum number of classroom hours per day and per week, as well as the maximum number of workdays per week, and any vacation periods. Teachers generally receive vacation time for Chinese New Year; however, this is not always paid vacation.

– Housing
Many schools offer, or even require, on-campus housing. This can take the form of a dormitory or an apartment.  Other institutions will occasionally offer a housing allowance. If housing is included in the contract, it should specify details. If the accommodation is classified as “furnished” one may want to ask for a basic inventory of the dormitory or apartment and its attendant facilities.  Another issue to address is whether the housing has heating and/or air-conditioning, telephone, and internet, and, if these are provided, who pays for them.  Also, be sure to verify if the accommodation is single or shared.  Other items which one may want to verify include whether the bathroom is private or shared, and if there is access to a kitchen.  Some Chinese universities, particularly in the provinces, have been known to establish curfews for their foreign teachers living on campus.

– Plane Tickets
Many contracts include a return plane ticket upon completion of the contract, and some even provide round-trip airfare.  While this is a very common practice, previous foreign teachers have occasionally run into difficulties when their employers refused to provide the promised plane ticket upon the completion of the contract.  Therefore, it is best to keep enough money aside for a return plane ticket in case of emergencies, regardless of what is specified in your contract. Also, many schools and institutions will reimburse the teacher for the cost of the airfare, rather than provide them with a pre-paid ticket.

– Bonuses
A standard feature of English-teaching contracts in China is the “Contract Completion Bonus.” This may comprise a sizeable portion of monthly salary, and will be paid upon completion of the contract.  Another common feature, though by no means universal, is the “Travel Bonus” which provides funds to travel occasionally during the contract.

– Class Size
This is typically not addressed in contracts, so be sure to ask. Class size will vary, depending upon the type of institution.  Expect classes to be relatively small in private language institutes (often between 10 and 20 pupils), and large in most schools and universities.

– Medical Insurance
Many Chinese schools provide health insurance to their foreign teachers.  This can cover up to 80% of medical expenses.  Note that employees are usually required to pay a certain percentage of medical expenses, which can grow quickly in event of a serious injury, a hospital stay, or extended medical attention. Chinese hospitals often demand payment in cash in advance before providing service. All foreign teachers traveling to China are strongly encouraged to buy foreign medical care and medical evacuation insurance prior to their arrival.  Please check with your insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas and if it includes a provision for medical evacuation.

– Early Termination
Contracts should always include an acceptable early termination clause.  If a contract is terminated early and the employee wants to work at another school in China, a “Letter of Release” from the previous school will be required.  This letter allows the next school to officially register the teacher.  Without it, one cannot work legally at a new institution.

– Taxes:
All schools in China that hire foreign teachers must pay taxes on their salaries. Most employers will deduct this tax amount from the employee’s salary. The employer will arrange for this, and you should receive a receipt for any taxes that have been deducted from your salary. Tax amounts vary depending on the province and salary.  Questions should be directed to the local tax office.


In China, English teaching jobs are filled either through advertisements or by word of mouth.  Numerous advertisements for teaching positions can be found online, as well as in China-based English language publications such as That’s Beijing (and That’s Guangzhou and That’s Shanghai), TimeOut Beijing (and TimeOut Shanghai), City Weekend (Beijing), and Red Star (Qingdao), and of course

Recruiting and Placement Services

Most foreign teachers hired do not get jobs directly through the institute where they will work.  Instead, they are recruited by a placement service.  Recruiting services will frequently not accept responsibility for a placement that is contrary to the original terms of the agreement or contract.

Prospective teachers should always demand they receive a contract directly from their employer rather than through an agent or intermediary, and have this contract in hand before departing for China.

Online Resources

There are a great number of placement services and classified ads for teaching positions on the internet. Should you choose to use one of these services, be sure to thoroughly research your proposed employer and, if applicable, the placement service.  Always request references from the company or school, and personally contact foreign teachers who have worked with them before.  You cannot be too careful when committing yourself to an overseas teaching position.


Different Expectations
Many types of people teach English in China, with a variety of different aims.  Some come to China with ESL degrees specifically to teach English. Others see teaching English as a means to experience a new culture.  There are those who teach to support themselves while looking for other jobs in China, or while doing research in other fields.  As a result, English teachers in China arrive with a wide range of expectations.  Each brings their own unique perspective to their job and their own reaction to new circumstances.  While China is developing rapidly and is increasingly open to global markets, it is still very different.  Do not expect to encounter the same standards of living as you may be used to at home, particularly if you plan on working outside of the major cities.  Having realistic expectations and a flexible attitude will help prepare one for the stress that can accompany living and working in a different culture.

Foreign Teachers in China
China’s major cities all host large populations of foreigners, however if you choose to work in a smaller city or in the provinces, foreigners may still be regarded as a curiosity.  Chinese people are generally friendly and interested to learn about Western culture. Wherever you are, you will likely find yourself in a highly visible position given your foreign status, with many watching you with interest.  Remember that in some ways, Chinese society is more conservative than American society, and it is best to abide by local norms.


Culture Shock
When first arriving in a country, one is usually excited and eager for new experiences.  After a while, the newness wears off and homesickness begins.  Do not judge yourself too severely at this point, as it happens to everyone.  Culture shock usually dissipates in a relatively short time.  As you continue to cope with the realities of living here, you begin to take things for granted which used to annoy you. Perhaps most importantly, make the effort to get to know your students and colleagues.  Chinese friends will provide you with valuable insight into the country and culture in a way you will not receive if you interact only with other foreigners.

The above information was compiled from the following websites and publications.

The above information was compiled and edited, from the website of US Embassy China

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