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CHINA MEGATHREAD: SUMMER 2019 EDITION

ATTENTION, JUNE 2019: Work visas now appear to be centrally processed in Beijing rather than provincially, and criminal records in third countries might get your application rejected (!). It seems safe to say that the glory days of converting to a Z-Visa in Hong Kong are probably imminently over. Also, if you were not born in your country of citizenship and China doesn't like your birthplace, you may get rejected for that reason.
Summer is nearly here, school’s nearly out, and you know what that means: hiring season is in full swing.
Like Japan in the ‘80s and Korea in the ‘90s and early naughts, China is where bright young Anglosphone things go right now to make oodles of money. Salaries are higher than they are anywhere on earth except the Gulf states, and let’s be honest--who wants to make four thousand bucks a month in Saudi when you can’t buy any beer with it?
However, the process of getting to China is more complicated than it has ever been. The time to be interviewing with schools and getting docs together is now. This thread (possibly a series of threads) will discuss the kinds of jobs that are available, how to get them, and what to expect. But first:
Who is eligible to work in China?
Back in the good old days of the late 2000s, anybody (native English-speaker or not) could roll into the Middle Kingdom with a degree from the University of Photoshop, get a work visa in Hong Kong, and supplement their relatively meager salary with lucrative side gigs--all without anybody giving a fuck.
Those days are gone--and the available evidence suggests they ain’t coming back. To teach English in China, you must have the following items:
a) An Anglophone passport from the US, the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia or New Zealand. South Africans are a bit up in the air at the moment. If you’re South African and looking to teach in China, your best bet is to apply broadly, and only agree to a job if they will sponsor a Z-visa before you depart. If you do not have a passport from one of these countries, you are unfortunately not supposed to be eligible to teach English in China--but see below.
BIG EDIT. South Africa seems to belong to a weird grey area, also including much of the West Indies, where the school has to convince the local PSB that it counts as native English-speaking under the law. awanderingwill has met one Jamaican teaching legally under this loophole. If you are from an Anglophone country that isn't one of those six, make sure your contract says "English Teacher"--your contract defines what you do on the job in the eyes of the law, and you can be deported for doing things outside of that--find a third-party Chinese speaker to read the Chinese version of the contract to make sure it says "English Teacher"--and make very, very sure you have a Z-Visa in your passport before you so much as book a plane ticket.
ANOTHER EDIT:
From khed: "This is not true. A school I used to do HR for in rural Jilin province has legally hired English teachers from both the Philippines and Russia. Legit Z-visas. The Russian teacher went through the process last summer--degree from a Russian university. Various Filippinos with degrees from the Philippines have gone through the process in the past few months.
My understanding is that in shit-tier locations the list of nationalities is not as restrictive as elsewhere...According to some sources, it may be possible for qualified teachers from the Philippines and other countries to legally teach in a limited number of locations in China. Beware that unscrupulous recruiters may exploit this fact by promising visas that they cannot actually deliver."
BUT, from ronnydelta:
"I'm in a shit tier and there's 0 chance a non-native gets a legal Z visa here. It may depend on location but generally in 90% of cases it holds true. What might have been easy 2 years ago is now hard to do. We used to have Filipino and Russian teachers here also, 3 years ago but there was a purge. Now this city still has a lot but they are all illegal.
The local government has a website in which they issue a notification of resident permit or visa revocation and a lot of them are in regards to illegal, Russians, Cambodians and Filipinos working as teachers. They even have their passport number up on it."
NON-NATIVES: ONLY LOOK INTO WORKING IN CHINA IF YOU ARE VERY RISK-TOLERANT, HAVE A LANDING CUSHION AT HOME, AND WOULDN'T MIND GETTING TWO WEEKS IN A JAIL CELL AND A COUNTRYWIDE TEN-YEAR BAN. Just because it's possible for some non-natives to work legally doesn't mean you can find a way to pull it off--and the loopholes are getting tighter every year.
b) The original diploma from a completed bachelor’s degree done at an accredited Anglophone university. This might mean you start your job six to eight months after a spring graduation, depending on how long your diploma takes to be issued. Unfortunately, a note of completion from your university isn’t sufficient.
c) Either a 120-hour TEFL certificate or two years’ experience working as an English teacher. There is at least one municipality we know of that only accepts the latter, but almost everywhere else will take the certificates. This is the weakest link in the chain and it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s tightened up in a few years--but for now, a 120-hour TEFL certificate is just fine.
What is a 120-hour TEFL certificate, you ask? Why, it’s a TEFL certificate that says “120 hours” on it. You can buy them on Groupon for about thirty or forty bucks, complete some multiple-choice quizzes in an afternoon, and finish the course up in a weekend and have something just as good as a CELTA for visa purposes. There is no accrediting body for TEFL certifications, and China does not distinguish between providers. Remember, information you get from TEFL providers should be treated as a sales pitch; they want to sell you their services, so they may try to convince you that their certificate is better to others in some way. In the end, though, it's just a piece of paper used to secure a Chinese visa.
If you have two years’ experience, this can be proven with a letter from your former boss written on company letterhead attesting to your experience. This does not need to be authenticated, but it does need to be signed by your boss. You can get the visa with either the letter or the certificate, so if getting the certificate is a pain in the neck then you may want to just bite the bullet and get the certificate. Make sure you know where the certificate was issued for authentication purposes, and try and get one issued in the jurisdiction of your consulate.
BIG BIG EDIT: There is now apparently a SAFEA-approved course that is half online and half in China. Complete the online portion and receive a China-issued (thus, no need for authentication) certificate you can use to apply for the Z-Visa, then do the in-class portion over a week in the Guo before your job starts. The cost is 3000 yuan, or a bit under $500. Link. A big thanks to pdx_beyond for this one.
d) A clean background check from home, dated from no more than six months before you apply for the visa. Americans: sometimes this means an FBI check, sometimes state-level. Check with your recruiter.
Nota bene: if you are currently working abroad, you are almost certainly going to have to apply from home for the visa. It is sometimes possible to apply from abroad with a background check from abroad, but you shouldn’t count on it. Don’t assume you could just do everything by visa agency either, too, because you may need to come into the embassy/consulate at home to get fingerprinted. It's probably better to just go home for summer vacation then try to figure out the logistics abroad.
Before asking any more questions about these four items, please read this thread on Chinese visas to see if it is answered there. It’s a confusing process and some questions do not always have black-and-white answers. Play it by ear, but don’t be a sucker--there are plenty of recruiters who will happily get you over on a tourist visa. We will talk about them more in a bit.
Where can I work in China?
Basically any city over a million people will have some jobs available. Xinjiang, Tibet and some other majority-minority regions (like western Sichuan) are completely off-limits--no foreigners allowed.
The question is, where do you want to work in China? A city of two million people is nothing special by Chinese standards, and will not be comparable to a Western city of similar size like Pittsburgh, Adelaide or Lisbon. China-watchers talk about city “tiers”, from 1 (Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou) to 6 (some random municipal capital in Guizhou). A slightly modified list of tiers for TEFL would look about like this (nota bene: approximate, definitely not cut-and-dried. Cities given are examples and are not exhaustive):
Tier 0: Beijing and Shanghai. The leviathans. Highest cost of living; high salaries, but not in full proportion to CoL. Lots of foreigners, so competition for the good jobs. You can get basically any Western luxury or dish you’d like here, so long as you’re willing to pay for it.
Expect living expenses after housing to be about 9-11K yuan a month if you’re neither particularly frugal nor particularly spendthrift.
Tier 1: Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Kunming, Chengdu, Suzhou/Changzhou/Hangzhou. Metropoles (>10 million people) with a fair number of foreigners and lots of money flowing around, but not as much competition. Salaries tend to be fairly high (a bit lower out west in Chengdu and Chongqing). Most Western luxuries are available, if you want to go out for good pizza. Kunming is here competition-wise because of its near-flawless climate and low air pollution.
Living expenses: 7-10K.
Tier 2: Xiamen, Dongguan, Foshan, Fuzhou, Harbin, Shenyang, Qingdao, Wuhan, Changsha, Dalian, Xi’an, Ningbo. Major cities (>5 million), usually provincial capitals on the coast or so. There will be a reasonably-large foreigner community, but it starts to contract/get smaller at this point. Salaries are still good and the cost of living is low, but Western luxuries will start to get scarcer.
Living expenses: 6-8K...maybe lower. Vaeal reports s/he spends 3K in an average month, and you can certainly pull that off if you rarely go to nice restaurants or bars. For budgeting/debt-servicing purchases, assume 6-8K. The worst-case scenario is that you'll spend less than you thought and have extra cash.
Tier 3: Hefei, Zhengzhou, Taiyuan, Hohhot, Guiyang. These are usually large-ish (>3 mill) cities in rich provinces or large cities/capitals of poor provinces. Salaries can be good if you find the right job, but there won’t that be many foreigners and many of the ones you do find will be weird. (There are weird foreigners everywhere in China, but Tier 0-2 also have a fair number of semi-normal people). You will have a hard time finding Western luxuries, though there will at least be a Carrefour. Pollution is often quite bad (Taiyuan, Hefei). On the other hand precisely because there aren’t that many foreigners you may find all sorts of doors opened if you know your way around and speak some Mandarin.
Living expenses: 5-8K.
Tier 4: Leshan, Weihai, Mianyang, Changde… These cities are well over a couple million people, but they’re usually factory towns and not all that wealthy. Expect a small number of often quite strange foreigners to talk to, nowhere to get a good pizza, and not too much to do if you don't speak Chinese--except drink, the favored pastime of many weird foreigners.
Living expenses: 5-8K.
Tier 5 and below (aka Tier 88): Bengbu, Mengzhou, Suzhou-in-Anhui, Loudi. Basically, just don’t--unless you have an extremely competitive offer (unlikely), experience with dealing with isolation and something else to occupy your time. Definitely don’t if it’s your first time in China.
Living expenses: I dunno, how much do you drink? (You can always economize with the thirty-kuai five-liter jugs of baijiu at the corner shop, if you don't mind going blind).
Notice that a lot of the lower-tier cities are in the Chinese Midwest, in provinces like Shanxi, Anhui and Henan that are just west of the coastal provinces. This isn’t coincidental, as these areas are significantly poorer and suffer brain drain to the much richer east coast.
If it’s your first time in China, you should probably pick a Tier 1 or a Tier 2. Tier 3 for the adventurous or those with a semester or two of Mandarin under their belts. Don’t do Tier 4 or Tier 5 for a first job.
What kinds of jobs are there in China?
You need to have a job in hand before you can apply for a work visa, so make sure you pick a good one. The good news is that there are far more jobs then there are foreigners. They all pay pretty well by world TEFL standards, but there is a lot of salary variation.
Most jobs fall into one of six categories: training centers, kindergartens, public schools, private schools, universities, and real international schools. There are also summer camps, which are a special and somewhat risky case.
Below, all salary figures are after tax, per month, in yuan. You can usually also negotiate housing included, or a housing allowance that will cover all or most of rent.
Training Centers. Yep, everybody’s favorite Happy Giraffe. Every Chinese city above about a million people has a few of these, and they’re always looking for more teachers. Unlike in many countries, these tend to cater more to kids then adults--though there are training centers that focus on adults as well (like Meten).
Salary: Salary will range from about 13K for first-timers in poorer areas to 18-20K for those with experience in richer areas.
Hours a week: About 20-25 teaching hours in the classroom (“teaching hour” is often shorter than a clock hour). This is often combined with mandatory office time for lesson prep or just lounging around, up to 40 hours a week. Many centers open in the afternoon around 1.
Schedule: Expect to work longer hours on weekends and get two weekdays (often Monday and Tuesday) off.
Who’s qualified? Anybody who can get the visa is qualified for most training centers. They’re not too picky.
Age range: Often small kids; that’s where the money is. If you’re experienced and interviewing in a major city, you may be able to negotiate respite from kindergartners. Some training centers specialize in adults, and these are usually more competitive to get jobs at.
Pros: Decent money; materials usually provided (check on this); sometimes Chinese classes (of varying quality). Lots of “handholding” (at the major centers, at least).
Cons: Profit motive can make your bosses cutthroat or even imbecilically short-sighted. You will be working when the rest of the world has time off (evenings and weekends), which can be hard on your social life. You don't get long, luxurious winter and summer holidays like with universities and schools.
Public Schools. Public primary, middle and high schools in major cities. There are a lot of these jobs, but they can be hard to find. Expect a salary cut offset by lower hours.
Salary: May be as low as 8k or as high as 12-13K...sometimes 15 or 16K in richer cities. I don’t think I’ve ever seen higher than that. Housing is often included but may be on campus with attendent curfew (!)--you might want to ask for a housing allowance instead, if they’ll offer one.
Hours a week: 20 teaching hours is normal. Luckily, you usually don’t have many office hours; if your first class isn’t until noon, you can sleep in, and if your last class ends at 11:30 you can go downtown for lunch. This is not universal, so check.
Schedule: 9-5, Monday to Friday.
Who’s qualified? Outside of the very biggest and richest cities, usually anybody. You may not be able to get a job at the best school in the city, but you can usually find one at a school in the city.
Age range: Sometimes primary school, sometimes middle school, sometimes high school; look for a school that suits your preferences.
Pros: Low hours, usually lowish pressure. Generally have paid winter holidays. Good jumping off point for private schools (and higher salaries).
Cons: Lower salary in comparison to training centers and private schools. Curriculum is often not provided, so bring your own materials and lessons. You might have very large classes (40+ students) and you’ll probably only see each one every week or other week. On-campus housing can be a gilded cage if you like late nights or bringing home attractive locals (or other teachers). 10-month contracts are the norm.
Private Schools. Private primary, middle and high schools in major cities, catering mostly to rich parents. Many will call themselves “international schools,” or “bilingual/foreign language schools,” but don’t be fooled--the students are all Chinese. These schools are often for-profit in practice if not on paper (not that they’ll tell you that) and are often at least theoretically in the business of preparing Chinese students to go to university abroad. Expect an easy job and often a highish salary, but a lot of office hours/deskwarming.
Salary: I worked at one for 11K a month plus housing, which was at least 2K less than I was worth. You can probably do better: 13-16K for relative noobies, up to the 25-26K point for licensed foreign subject teachers (!). Housing should be included, though it may be an on-campus gilded cage as with public schools. (I got lucky; my predecessor behaved so badly all foreign teachers were permanently banned from the on-campus housing).
Hours a week: 17-25 teaching hours (sometimes as low as 40 minutes). Sound easy? You’ll also have to be on campus from 9 to 5--they’ll sometimes let you leave for lunch, but find out about this. You may even have a day scheduled with no classes whatsoever every week--learn to program or work on your Chinese, because it’s not going to be a day off.
Schedule: 9-5, Monday to Friday. Admin may dangle a few hundred kuai in front of your face in return for attending Saturday morning marketing/admissions sessions; often worth taking if you’re not otherwise occupied.
Who’s qualified? For Tier 0 (Beijing/Shanghai): bona fide foreign teachers with licenses and experience. For Tier 1 and 2: regular ESL twerps with a year or so of experience. Below that, you should be able to find one that’ll take a fresh grad (sometimes with a pay cut).
Age range: Sometimes primary, usually middle and high school.
Pros: Respectable salary, low in-class hours. Administration often too incompetent to keep real tabs on you. Often paid winters, 12-month and 2-year contracts are becoming more common (meaning paid summers). Looks good on a résumé. You may also be able to talk your way into teaching another subject like math or history if you can persuade admin to let you do it (do you have a math minor, for example?)
Cons: Lots of deskwarming. You usually won’t be provided with materials. Your class schedule will often change randomly at short notice. On-campus housing can be annoying. Classes usually aren’t as large as at public schools, but you will usually only see each one once a week (and they’ll be of extremely varied skill level, which limits your effectiveness), and students are often quite weak or have undiagnosed learning disabilities or behavioral problems. If you can ignore these obstacles and be the charismatic, preppy face of English teaching, the administration will usually like you. Some schools only offer paid summers with contract renewals.
Private kindergartens. A lucrative business in China--aspiring upper-middle-class parents will pay good money to send their kids to Future Harvard International Kindergarten (the former workplace of an acquaintance of ours; he said most of the teachers drank on the job). Expect good money and lowish class hours with moderate deskwarming--perfect, if you’re the type to teach small kids.
Salary: Lower bound of 16K a month, upper of about 21K or so, plus housing, depending on city and experience. Housing will obviously be off-campus.
Hours a week: Could be fairly low. Kindergarten classes tend to be very short due to the students’ low attention spans; you might be teaching 20-30 half-hour periods a week. You’ll often have some deskwarming, but usually not the full 9-5. Other schools hire “homeroom teachers” -- you may lead a few lessons in the day, and other times monitor group work/activities.
Schedule: Morning and early afternoons, Monday to Friday. You might be able to get bonuses for weekend marketing events.
Who’s qualified? They’ll take basically anybody. The real question is, can you handle the chaos and enforced silliness? Many people can’t. If you can, you have a valuable skill set.
Age range: 3-6. Some of the nuttier ones will try classes with 1-2 year olds.
Pros: Good money, lowish hours, materials provided. Good starting job (if you have zero experience). Lots of opportunities.
Cons: Definitely not for everybody.
Universities. Many university students have to take English, and universities want native speakers to teach them. It is not as hard to get these jobs as you’d think, unless you’re gunning for Tsinghua or some other crazy elite institution, but you will usually want some experience first unless you’re going to a smaller city. Expect low hours but correspondingly low pay.
Salary: Depending on the institution and city, it might be as low as 6K, though these days 8K is the usual floor. More than 11-12K is pushing it for most people (remember, you’re paid out of the public purse). Housing is usually included, but it’s often on campus with a strict visitor policy--see if you can get a housing allowance. (Edit: I saw an ad on Dave's offering 16K (presumably after tax) plus housing. However, it's in a crappy industrial city in Henan, so there you go.)
Hours a week: Low--sometimes as few as 10 hours a week--and usually no office hours. The catch is that you will need to prepare all your materials.
Schedule: Weekdays.
Who’s qualified? Newly minted grads getting university gigs is usually restricted to smaller cities. Once you have about a year of experience under your belt, though, your options open up significantly.
Age range: 18+.
Pros: High autonomy and low hours. In the past, it was standard to fill your free time with lucrative side gigs to pad the low salary; this is much riskier these days, so don’t, or at least accept the risk that you may be jailed and deported at any time without warning. Students are often serious, depending on their major, and even those who don’t care as much are usually non-disruptive owing to the fact that they’re adults.
Cons: While you won’t be at risk of starving on a university salary, your ability to save or pay off debt will be limited. On-campus housing might be a gilded cage, you will have to do all your materials from scratch, and classes are often very large--and you don’t get a TA.
A regrettably necessary warning: do not think that you can get away with sleeping with your university students. Find another university across town and prowl at the bars there, if you really must.
International Schools. The shining Potemkin village on the hill of ESL, international school world is the most professional and best-paying sector of the lot. You’ll usually be teaching a mix of expats’ kids and very rich locals. The salaries are good, but the standards are high and competition is relatively fierce. Almost all of them want a master’s and/or a teaching license along with some serious experience.
If you’re a newly minted grad, skip this section: it’s not for you. But if you’re interested in working your way up here, read on.
Salary: High. 20-30K after tax plus housing, and more for subject teachers. Plus a round-trip flight home for Christmas and sometimes a couple of other allowances. Generally paid summers.
Hours a week: 20-25 teaching hours. Plus office hours in which you’ll be prepping with good materials, because you’re a pro who knows how to do that like the back of your hand.
Schedule: 9-5 M-F, plus whatever other events. Because, you know, you’re a professional.
Who’s qualified? If you’re reading this, you ain’t. An Anglosphere teaching license, plus two to three years experience teaching at a school at home, is usually the bare minimum. A master’s can’t hurt, but a license is worth more than a master’s. In Shanghai/Beijing schools often want 3-5 years+ of experience.
Age range: I dunno, what age group are you licensed to teach?
Pros: Good money. Professional development. A Western-style apartment. Bring your spouse over and get your kids educated for free. All that jazz.
Cons: Sometimes surprisingly poorly-managed, according to what I’ve seen of the reviews on internationalschoolreviews.com.
Summer camps. You can’t get a visa for these; they’re side work for a week or two in the summer. Almost never raided by the cops looking for illegal teaching, as far as I know--they’re too ephemeral--but be prepared to live with the consequences if you are raided. Expect about 5K kuai for a week of work; if you’re teaching at a school or university these can help tide your summer savings over and give you something to do if you’re bored out of your tree in your little apartment. Most recruiters have a bunch of summer gigs up their sleeve and will be happy to connect you to one. Even if it turns out to be hell, it’s only for a week or two.
Other gigs: They exist, I presume, but probably 98% of all English-teaching jobs in China fit into one of the above seven categories.
How do I find a job in China?
So you’ve decided where you’d like to teach, and what kind of job you’d like to get. Unfortunately, for a first job, it’s difficult to email the school directly. Because the visa process is so complicated, you’ll probably need to go through a recruiter. (The exception is the really big chain training centers like English First and Wall Street English--those do their recruiting in-house).
Recruiters post on the major ESL job boards. For training center and kindergarten jobs, try Dave’s ESL Café. For university jobs, public school jobs and private school jobs, try EChinaCities or EChinaCareers. Recruiters usually have lots of jobs but focus on a single city or area (so a recruiter might focus on Chengdu or Fujian and have no jobs available in Harbin--but they will often know somebody who does). There are also WeChat job groups; find a city’s expat WeChat group on Google, ask around in it for the jobs group, and advertise yourself. Be prepared to cut through a lot of dreck. (Don’t look for job groups on Facebook; the Chinese can’t use it.)
Recruiters in China usually range from shrewd to outright duplicitous. Read this guide before plunging in. The main takeaway is:
  • Ensure you know what sort of job you want and have your recruiter find it for you. Veto jobs that aren’t up to your standards, but be flexible. No job’s perfect.
  • Ensure you talk one-on-one to another foreign teacher at any job you think you might want to take. This helps ensure you don’t end up at Triangle Shirtwaist English Center.
  • Ensure that everything that was agreed on is in the contract.
  • For the love of God, do not get on a plane to China unless there’s a Z-Visa in your passport. Even if they tell you they’ll send you to Hong Kong to convert a tourist visa to a Z-Visa. Even if they say they have an in with the local PSB. Even if they say nobody cares. Don’t do it. Don’t trust (but don’t be completely paranoid). Verify anyways. There are plenty of recruiters, so feel free to talk to multiple.
Feel free to contact our very own TeachInSuzhou, an American whom we know and trust not to fuck you over. He is a partner in a Suzhou-based registered recruitment agency that is known to vet positions very carefully.
What do I need to do to start the job?
Found a job you want? Congratulations! You have a two-month journey through paperwork ahead of you. This thread, written in February of 2018, is mostly still good--the process has not changed significantly. Read it, understand it, and in particular understand that things can change depending on where you are going and what your situation is (some provinces will take a state-level background check [for Americans], others want FBI; some consulates/embassies need you to come in to be fingerprinted, some don’t…)
Know for certain how you need to get your documents processed before you start. Getting one wrong could knock the process back months. Do not take the linked thread as gospel; contact a visa agency or the consulate. Even the recruiter may be confused.
Good luck! If you have questions, feel free to ask in this thread.
submitted by WilliamYiffBuckley to TEFL [link] [comments]

CHINA 2019 MEGATHREAD

ATTENTION, JANUARY 2020: It is not clear whether the "in-class portion" change will actually take place. It certainly can't hurt to do the SAFEA-approved course, and you'll learn more, but listen to your employer and/or recruiter. (Or don't. They often don't know the first thing about certificates).
For now, you can probably (?) still risk getting a Groupon cert for China--you'll find out the hard way if you can't when your school tries to process your work permit. It can't hurt to get a cert with an in-class portion, however, and you'll actually learn something that way, though it's a bit more expensive. (Again, the salaries are high enough that it should be affordable.)
ATTENTION, SEPTEMBER 2019: From June 2020, all new teachers...might...have a TEFL cert that included an in-class portion. The days of getting a nearly-worthless cert on Groupon to check off a box on the visa process are about to end may be about to end. For now, in-country transfers will not be affected.
We recommend doing the SAFEA-approved course with the in-country practicum, linked below--you can use the acceptance letter to get the Z-Visa, and as a bonus it doesn't need to be authenticated. The course costs 3000 kuai (about $450), which is pricier than a Groupon cert but on the low side compared to a CELTA or Trinity TESOL; not sure if it includes lodging.
ATTENTION, JUNE 2019: Work visas now appear to be centrally processed in Beijing rather than provincially, and criminal records in third countries might get your application rejected (!). It seems safe to say that the glory days of converting to a Z-Visa in Hong Kong are probably imminently over. Also, if you were not born in your country of citizenship and China doesn't like your birthplace, you may get rejected for that reason.
Summer is nearly here, school’s nearly out, and you know what that means: hiring season is in full swing.
Like Japan in the ‘80s and Korea in the ‘90s and early naughts, China is where bright young Anglosphone things go right now to make oodles of money. Salaries are higher than they are anywhere on earth except the Gulf states, and let’s be honest--who wants to make four thousand bucks a month in Saudi when you can’t buy any beer with it?
However, the process of getting to China is more complicated than it has ever been. The time to be interviewing with schools and getting docs together is now. This thread (possibly a series of threads) will discuss the kinds of jobs that are available, how to get them, and what to expect. But first:
Who is eligible to work in China?
Back in the good old days of the late 2000s, anybody (native English-speaker or not) could roll into the Middle Kingdom with a degree from the University of Photoshop, get a work visa in Hong Kong, and supplement their relatively meager salary with lucrative side gigs--all without anybody giving a fuck.
Those days are gone--and the available evidence suggests they ain’t coming back. To teach English in China, you must have the following items:
a) An Anglophone passport from the US, the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia or New Zealand. South Africans are a bit up in the air at the moment. If you’re South African and looking to teach in China, your best bet is to apply broadly, and only agree to a job if they will sponsor a Z-visa before you depart. If you do not have a passport from one of these countries, you are unfortunately not supposed to be eligible to teach English in China--but see below.
BIG EDIT. South Africa seems to belong to a weird grey area, also including much of the West Indies, where the school has to convince the local PSB that it counts as native English-speaking under the law. awanderingwill has met one Jamaican teaching legally under this loophole. If you are from an Anglophone country that isn't one of those six, make sure your contract says "English Teacher"--your contract defines what you do on the job in the eyes of the law, and you can be deported for doing things outside of that--find a third-party Chinese speaker to read the Chinese version of the contract to make sure it says "English Teacher"--and make very, very sure you have a Z-Visa in your passport before you so much as book a plane ticket.
ANOTHER EDIT:
From khed: "This is not true. A school I used to do HR for in rural Jilin province has legally hired English teachers from both the Philippines and Russia. Legit Z-visas. The Russian teacher went through the process last summer--degree from a Russian university. Various Filippinos with degrees from the Philippines have gone through the process in the past few months.
My understanding is that in shit-tier locations the list of nationalities is not as restrictive as elsewhere...According to some sources, it may be possible for qualified teachers from the Philippines and other countries to legally teach in a limited number of locations in China. Beware that unscrupulous recruiters may exploit this fact by promising visas that they cannot actually deliver."
BUT, from ronnydelta:
"I'm in a shit tier and there's 0 chance a non-native gets a legal Z visa here. It may depend on location but generally in 90% of cases it holds true. What might have been easy 2 years ago is now hard to do. We used to have Filipino and Russian teachers here also, 3 years ago but there was a purge. Now this city still has a lot but they are all illegal.
The local government has a website in which they issue a notification of resident permit or visa revocation and a lot of them are in regards to illegal, Russians, Cambodians and Filipinos working as teachers. They even have their passport number up on it."
NON-NATIVES: ONLY LOOK INTO WORKING IN CHINA IF YOU ARE VERY RISK-TOLERANT, HAVE A LANDING CUSHION AT HOME, AND WOULDN'T MIND GETTING TWO WEEKS IN A JAIL CELL AND A COUNTRYWIDE TEN-YEAR BAN. Just because it's possible for some non-natives to work legally doesn't mean you can find a way to pull it off--and the loopholes are getting tighter every year.
b) The original diploma from a completed bachelor’s degree done at an accredited Anglophone university. This might mean you start your job six to eight months after a spring graduation, depending on how long your diploma takes to be issued. Unfortunately, a note of completion from your university isn’t sufficient.
c) Either a 120-hour TEFL certificate or two years’ experience working as an English teacher. There is at least one municipality we know of that only accepts the latter, but almost everywhere else will take the certificates. This is the weakest link in the chain and it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s tightened up in a few years--but for now, a 120-hour TEFL certificate is just fine.
What is a 120-hour TEFL certificate, you ask? Why, it’s a TEFL certificate that says “120 hours” on it. You can buy them on Groupon for about thirty or forty bucks, complete some multiple-choice quizzes in an afternoon, and finish the course up in a weekend and have something just as good as a CELTA for visa purposes. There is no accrediting body for TEFL certifications, and China does not distinguish between providers. Remember, information you get from TEFL providers should be treated as a sales pitch; they want to sell you their services, so they may try to convince you that their certificate is better to others in some way. In the end, though, it's just a piece of paper used to secure a Chinese visa.
If you have two years’ experience, this can be proven with a letter from your former boss written on company letterhead attesting to your experience. This does not need to be authenticated, but it does need to be signed by your boss. You can get the visa with either the letter or the certificate, so if getting the certificate is a pain in the neck then you may want to just bite the bullet and get the certificate. Make sure you know where the certificate was issued for authentication purposes, and try and get one issued in the jurisdiction of your consulate.
BIG BIG EDIT: There is now apparently a SAFEA-approved course that is half online and half in China. Complete the online portion and receive a China-issued (thus, no need for authentication) certificate you can use to apply for the Z-Visa, then do the in-class portion over a week in the Guo before your job starts. The cost is 3000 yuan, or a bit under $500. Link. A big thanks to pdx_beyond for this one.
d) A clean background check from home, dated from no more than six months before you apply for the visa. Americans: sometimes this means an FBI check, sometimes state-level. Check with your recruiter.
Nota bene: if you are currently working abroad, you are almost certainly going to have to apply from home for the visa. It is sometimes possible to apply from abroad with a background check from abroad, but you shouldn’t count on it. Don’t assume you could just do everything by visa agency either, too, because you may need to come into the embassy/consulate at home to get fingerprinted. It's probably better to just go home for summer vacation then try to figure out the logistics abroad.
Before asking any more questions about these four items, please read this thread on Chinese visas to see if it is answered there. It’s a confusing process and some questions do not always have black-and-white answers. Play it by ear, but don’t be a sucker--there are plenty of recruiters who will happily get you over on a tourist visa. We will talk about them more in a bit.
Where can I work in China?
Basically any city over a million people will have some jobs available. Xinjiang, Tibet and some other majority-minority regions (like western Sichuan) are completely off-limits--no foreigners allowed.
The question is, where do you want to work in China? A city of two million people is nothing special by Chinese standards, and will not be comparable to a Western city of similar size like Pittsburgh, Adelaide or Lisbon. China-watchers talk about city “tiers”, from 1 (Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou) to 6 (some random municipal capital in Guizhou). A slightly modified list of tiers for TEFL would look about like this (nota bene: approximate, definitely not cut-and-dried. Cities given are examples and are not exhaustive):
Tier 0: Beijing and Shanghai. The leviathans. Highest cost of living; high salaries, but not in full proportion to CoL. Lots of foreigners, so competition for the good jobs. You can get basically any Western luxury or dish you’d like here, so long as you’re willing to pay for it.
Expect living expenses after housing to be about 9-11K yuan a month if you’re neither particularly frugal nor particularly spendthrift.
Tier 1: Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Kunming, Chengdu, Suzhou/Changzhou/Hangzhou. Metropoles (>10 million people) with a fair number of foreigners and lots of money flowing around, but not as much competition. Salaries tend to be fairly high (a bit lower out west in Chengdu and Chongqing). Most Western luxuries are available, if you want to go out for good pizza. Kunming is here competition-wise because of its near-flawless climate and low air pollution.
Living expenses: 7-10K.
Tier 2: Xiamen, Dongguan, Foshan, Fuzhou, Harbin, Shenyang, Qingdao, Wuhan, Changsha, Dalian, Xi’an, Ningbo. Major cities (>5 million), usually provincial capitals on the coast or so. There will be a reasonably-large foreigner community, but it starts to contract/get smaller at this point. Salaries are still good and the cost of living is low, but Western luxuries will start to get scarcer.
Living expenses: 6-8K...maybe lower. Vaeal reports s/he spends 3K in an average month, and you can certainly pull that off if you rarely go to nice restaurants or bars. For budgeting/debt-servicing purchases, assume 6-8K. The worst-case scenario is that you'll spend less than you thought and have extra cash.
Tier 3: Hefei, Zhengzhou, Taiyuan, Hohhot, Guiyang. These are usually large-ish (>3 mill) cities in rich provinces or large cities/capitals of poor provinces. Salaries can be good if you find the right job, but there won’t that be many foreigners and many of the ones you do find will be weird. (There are weird foreigners everywhere in China, but Tier 0-2 also have a fair number of semi-normal people). You will have a hard time finding Western luxuries, though there will at least be a Carrefour. Pollution is often quite bad (Taiyuan, Hefei). On the other hand precisely because there aren’t that many foreigners you may find all sorts of doors opened if you know your way around and speak some Mandarin.
Living expenses: 5-8K.
Tier 4: Leshan, Weihai, Mianyang, Changde… These cities are well over a couple million people, but they’re usually factory towns and not all that wealthy. Expect a small number of often quite strange foreigners to talk to, nowhere to get a good pizza, and not too much to do if you don't speak Chinese--except drink, the favored pastime of many weird foreigners.
Living expenses: 5-8K.
Tier 5 and below (aka Tier 88): Bengbu, Mengzhou, Suzhou-in-Anhui, Loudi. Basically, just don’t--unless you have an extremely competitive offer (unlikely), experience with dealing with isolation and something else to occupy your time. Definitely don’t if it’s your first time in China.
Living expenses: I dunno, how much do you drink? (You can always economize with the thirty-kuai five-liter jugs of baijiu at the corner shop, if you don't mind going blind).
Notice that a lot of the lower-tier cities are in the Chinese Midwest, in provinces like Shanxi, Anhui and Henan that are just west of the coastal provinces. This isn’t coincidental, as these areas are significantly poorer and suffer brain drain to the much richer east coast.
If it’s your first time in China, you should probably pick a Tier 1 or a Tier 2. Tier 3 for the adventurous or those with a semester or two of Mandarin under their belts. Don’t do Tier 4 or Tier 5 for a first job.
What kinds of jobs are there in China?
You need to have a job in hand before you can apply for a work visa, so make sure you pick a good one. The good news is that there are far more jobs then there are foreigners. They all pay pretty well by world TEFL standards, but there is a lot of salary variation.
Most jobs fall into one of six categories: training centers, kindergartens, public schools, private schools, universities, and real international schools. There are also summer camps, which are a special and somewhat risky case.
Below, all salary figures are after tax, per month, in yuan. You can usually also negotiate housing included, or a housing allowance that will cover all or most of rent.
Training Centers. Yep, everybody’s favorite Happy Giraffe. Every Chinese city above about a million people has a few of these, and they’re always looking for more teachers. Unlike in many countries, these tend to cater more to kids then adults--though there are training centers that focus on adults as well (like Meten).
Salary: Salary will range from about 13K for first-timers in poorer areas to 18-20K for those with experience in richer areas.
Hours a week: About 20-25 teaching hours in the classroom (“teaching hour” is often shorter than a clock hour). This is often combined with mandatory office time for lesson prep or just lounging around, up to 40 hours a week. Many centers open in the afternoon around 1.
Schedule: Expect to work longer hours on weekends and get two weekdays (often Monday and Tuesday) off.
Who’s qualified? Anybody who can get the visa is qualified for most training centers. They’re not too picky.
Age range: Often small kids; that’s where the money is. If you’re experienced and interviewing in a major city, you may be able to negotiate respite from kindergartners. Some training centers specialize in adults, and these are usually more competitive to get jobs at.
Pros: Decent money; materials usually provided (check on this); sometimes Chinese classes (of varying quality). Lots of “handholding” (at the major centers, at least).
Cons: Profit motive can make your bosses cutthroat or even imbecilically short-sighted. You will be working when the rest of the world has time off (evenings and weekends), which can be hard on your social life. You don't get long, luxurious winter and summer holidays like with universities and schools.
Public Schools. Public primary, middle and high schools in major cities. There are a lot of these jobs, but they can be hard to find. Expect a salary cut offset by lower hours.
Salary: May be as low as 8k or as high as 12-13K...sometimes 15 or 16K in richer cities. I don’t think I’ve ever seen higher than that. Housing is often included but may be on campus with attendent curfew (!)--you might want to ask for a housing allowance instead, if they’ll offer one.
Hours a week: 20 teaching hours is normal. Luckily, you usually don’t have many office hours; if your first class isn’t until noon, you can sleep in, and if your last class ends at 11:30 you can go downtown for lunch. This is not universal, so check.
Schedule: 9-5, Monday to Friday.
Who’s qualified? Outside of the very biggest and richest cities, usually anybody. You may not be able to get a job at the best school in the city, but you can usually find one at a school in the city.
Age range: Sometimes primary school, sometimes middle school, sometimes high school; look for a school that suits your preferences.
Pros: Low hours, usually lowish pressure. Generally have paid winter holidays. Good jumping off point for private schools (and higher salaries).
Cons: Lower salary in comparison to training centers and private schools. Curriculum is often not provided, so bring your own materials and lessons. You might have very large classes (40+ students) and you’ll probably only see each one every week or other week. On-campus housing can be a gilded cage if you like late nights or bringing home attractive locals (or other teachers). 10-month contracts are the norm.
Private Schools. Private primary, middle and high schools in major cities, catering mostly to rich parents. Many will call themselves “international schools,” or “bilingual/foreign language schools,” but don’t be fooled--the students are all Chinese. These schools are often for-profit in practice if not on paper (not that they’ll tell you that) and are often at least theoretically in the business of preparing Chinese students to go to university abroad. Expect an easy job and often a highish salary, but a lot of office hours/deskwarming.
Salary: I worked at one for 11K a month plus housing, which was at least 2K less than I was worth. You can probably do better: 13-16K for relative noobies, up to the 25-26K point for licensed foreign subject teachers (!). Housing should be included, though it may be an on-campus gilded cage as with public schools. (I got lucky; my predecessor behaved so badly all foreign teachers were permanently banned from the on-campus housing).
Hours a week: 17-25 teaching hours (sometimes as low as 40 minutes). Sound easy? You’ll also have to be on campus from 9 to 5--they’ll sometimes let you leave for lunch, but find out about this. You may even have a day scheduled with no classes whatsoever every week--learn to program or work on your Chinese, because it’s not going to be a day off.
Schedule: 9-5, Monday to Friday. Admin may dangle a few hundred kuai in front of your face in return for attending Saturday morning marketing/admissions sessions; often worth taking if you’re not otherwise occupied.
Who’s qualified? For Tier 0 (Beijing/Shanghai): bona fide foreign teachers with licenses and experience. For Tier 1 and 2: regular ESL twerps with a year or so of experience. Below that, you should be able to find one that’ll take a fresh grad (sometimes with a pay cut).
Age range: Sometimes primary, usually middle and high school.
Pros: Respectable salary, low in-class hours. Administration often too incompetent to keep real tabs on you. Often paid winters, 12-month and 2-year contracts are becoming more common (meaning paid summers). Looks good on a résumé. You may also be able to talk your way into teaching another subject like math or history if you can persuade admin to let you do it (do you have a math minor, for example?)
Cons: Lots of deskwarming. You usually won’t be provided with materials. Your class schedule will often change randomly at short notice. On-campus housing can be annoying. Classes usually aren’t as large as at public schools, but you will usually only see each one once a week (and they’ll be of extremely varied skill level, which limits your effectiveness), and students are often quite weak or have undiagnosed learning disabilities or behavioral problems. If you can ignore these obstacles and be the charismatic, preppy face of English teaching, the administration will usually like you. Some schools only offer paid summers with contract renewals.
Private kindergartens. A lucrative business in China--aspiring upper-middle-class parents will pay good money to send their kids to Future Harvard International Kindergarten (the former workplace of an acquaintance of ours; he said most of the teachers drank on the job). Expect good money and lowish class hours with moderate deskwarming--perfect, if you’re the type to teach small kids.
Salary: Lower bound of 16K a month, upper of about 21K or so, plus housing, depending on city and experience. Housing will obviously be off-campus.
Hours a week: Could be fairly low. Kindergarten classes tend to be very short due to the students’ low attention spans; you might be teaching 20-30 half-hour periods a week. You’ll often have some deskwarming, but usually not the full 9-5. Other schools hire “homeroom teachers” -- you may lead a few lessons in the day, and other times monitor group work/activities.
Schedule: Morning and early afternoons, Monday to Friday. You might be able to get bonuses for weekend marketing events.
Who’s qualified? They’ll take basically anybody. The real question is, can you handle the chaos and enforced silliness? Many people can’t. If you can, you have a valuable skill set.
Age range: 3-6. Some of the nuttier ones will try classes with 1-2 year olds.
Pros: Good money, lowish hours, materials provided. Good starting job (if you have zero experience). Lots of opportunities.
Cons: Definitely not for everybody.
Universities. Many university students have to take English, and universities want native speakers to teach them. It is not as hard to get these jobs as you’d think, unless you’re gunning for Tsinghua or some other crazy elite institution, but you will usually want some experience first unless you’re going to a smaller city. Expect low hours but correspondingly low pay.
Salary: Depending on the institution and city, it might be as low as 6K, though these days 8K is the usual floor. More than 11-12K is pushing it for most people (remember, you’re paid out of the public purse). Housing is usually included, but it’s often on campus with a strict visitor policy--see if you can get a housing allowance. (Edit: I saw an ad on Dave's offering 16K (presumably after tax) plus housing. However, it's in a crappy industrial city in Henan, so there you go.)
Hours a week: Low--sometimes as few as 10 hours a week--and usually no office hours. The catch is that you will need to prepare all your materials.
Schedule: Weekdays.
Who’s qualified? Newly minted grads getting university gigs is usually restricted to smaller cities. Once you have about a year of experience under your belt, though, your options open up significantly.
Age range: 18+.
Pros: High autonomy and low hours. In the past, it was standard to fill your free time with lucrative side gigs to pad the low salary; this is much riskier these days, so don’t, or at least accept the risk that you may be jailed and deported at any time without warning. Students are often serious, depending on their major, and even those who don’t care as much are usually non-disruptive owing to the fact that they’re adults.
Cons: While you won’t be at risk of starving on a university salary, your ability to save or pay off debt will be limited. On-campus housing might be a gilded cage, you will have to do all your materials from scratch, and classes are often very large--and you don’t get a TA.
A regrettably necessary warning: do not think that you can get away with sleeping with your university students. Find another university across town and prowl at the bars there, if you really must.
International Schools. The shining Potemkin village on the hill of ESL, international school world is the most professional and best-paying sector of the lot. You’ll usually be teaching a mix of expats’ kids and very rich locals. The salaries are good, but the standards are high and competition is relatively fierce. Almost all of them want a master’s and/or a teaching license along with some serious experience.
If you’re a newly minted grad, skip this section: it’s not for you. But if you’re interested in working your way up here, read on.
Salary: High. 20-30K after tax plus housing, and more for subject teachers. Plus a round-trip flight home for Christmas and sometimes a couple of other allowances. Generally paid summers.
Hours a week: 20-25 teaching hours. Plus office hours in which you’ll be prepping with good materials, because you’re a pro who knows how to do that like the back of your hand.
Schedule: 9-5 M-F, plus whatever other events. Because, you know, you’re a professional.
Who’s qualified? If you’re reading this, you ain’t. An Anglosphere teaching license, plus two to three years experience teaching at a school at home, is usually the bare minimum. A master’s can’t hurt, but a license is worth more than a master’s. In Shanghai/Beijing schools often want 3-5 years+ of experience.
Age range: I dunno, what age group are you licensed to teach?
Pros: Good money. Professional development. A Western-style apartment. Bring your spouse over and get your kids educated for free. All that jazz.
Cons: Sometimes surprisingly poorly-managed, according to what I’ve seen of the reviews on internationalschoolreviews.com.
Summer camps. You can’t get a visa for these; they’re side work for a week or two in the summer. Almost never raided by the cops looking for illegal teaching, as far as I know--they’re too ephemeral--but be prepared to live with the consequences if you are raided. Expect about 5K kuai for a week of work; if you’re teaching at a school or university these can help tide your summer savings over and give you something to do if you’re bored out of your tree in your little apartment. Most recruiters have a bunch of summer gigs up their sleeve and will be happy to connect you to one. Even if it turns out to be hell, it’s only for a week or two.
Other gigs: They exist, I presume, but probably 98% of all English-teaching jobs in China fit into one of the above seven categories.
How do I find a job in China?
So you’ve decided where you’d like to teach, and what kind of job you’d like to get. Unfortunately, for a first job, it’s difficult to email the school directly. Because the visa process is so complicated, you’ll probably need to go through a recruiter. (The exception is the really big chain training centers like English First and Wall Street English--those do their recruiting in-house).
Recruiters post on the major ESL job boards. For training center and kindergarten jobs, try Dave’s ESL Café. For university jobs, public school jobs and private school jobs, try EChinaCities or EChinaCareers. Recruiters usually have lots of jobs but focus on a single city or area (so a recruiter might focus on Chengdu or Fujian and have no jobs available in Harbin--but they will often know somebody who does). There are also WeChat job groups; find a city’s expat WeChat group on Google, ask around in it for the jobs group, and advertise yourself. Be prepared to cut through a lot of dreck. (Don’t look for job groups on Facebook; the Chinese can’t use it.)
Recruiters in China usually range from shrewd to outright duplicitous. Read this guide before plunging in. The main takeaway is:
  • Ensure you know what sort of job you want and have your recruiter find it for you. Veto jobs that aren’t up to your standards, but be flexible. No job’s perfect.
  • Ensure you talk one-on-one to another foreign teacher at any job you think you might want to take. This helps ensure you don’t end up at Triangle Shirtwaist English Center.
  • Ensure that everything that was agreed on is in the contract.
  • For the love of God, do not get on a plane to China unless there’s a Z-Visa in your passport. Even if they tell you they’ll send you to Hong Kong to convert a tourist visa to a Z-Visa. Even if they say they have an in with the local PSB. Even if they say nobody cares. Don’t do it. Don’t trust (but don’t be completely paranoid). Verify anyways. There are plenty of recruiters, so feel free to talk to multiple.
Feel free to contact our very own TeachInSuzhou, an American whom we know and trust not to fuck you over. He is a partner in a Suzhou-based registered recruitment agency that is known to vet positions very carefully.
What do I need to do to start the job?
Found a job you want? Congratulations! You have a two-month journey through paperwork ahead of you. This thread, written in February of 2018, is mostly still good--the process has not changed significantly. Read it, understand it, and in particular understand that things can change depending on where you are going and what your situation is (some provinces will take a state-level background check [for Americans], others want FBI; some consulates/embassies need you to come in to be fingerprinted, some don’t…)
Know for certain how you need to get your documents processed before you start. Getting one wrong could knock the process back months. Do not take the linked thread as gospel; contact a visa agency or the consulate. Even the recruiter may be confused.
Good luck! If you have questions, feel free to ask in this thread.
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