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The Truth About Teaching English In China

There are a lot of rumors that fly around about teaching English in China. Scams, exploitation, possible deportation, etc. It gets scary fast! But how can you be sure it’s all true? As someone who was nearly deported in February, I’ve seen it all! The good, the bad, and the downright illegal; but I’m still here. Chipping away at China. Happy as a clam.

So here’s 6 things you need to know about teaching in China.

1. ANYONE can teach English in China.

China is incredibly thirsty for western languages and customs because they’re thinking long-term. What could make China even more unstoppable? A second language of course! For that reason, schools and parents will shell out hundreds of thousands of DOLLARS for language courses that are taught by God-only-knows-who. Seriously. You don’t need ANY credentials to teach English in China, you just need to look foreign and be a native speaker. However, people with better credentials will be paid more. So will people with blonde hair and blue eyes. That’s just China. If you’re a proper teacher, don’t settle for anything less than 20k-30k RMB a month PLUS housing when dealing with international schools. Normal English teachers at various Chinese schools will be bringing home 6k-12k RMB plus housing. If no housing is included, don’t settle for anything less than 10k RMB.

2. Nearly everything is a scam, but how much of a scam is it?

Everything in China is a scam. There are foreigners working without proper visas, businesses withhold pay and vacation time for no reason, and taxes are laughable-at best. When shopping for English teaching programs in China, you should be able to speak with a foreigner at all times. This will help when you hit roadblocks with the Visa process or when you inevitably start to struggle with adjusting. You’re going to need that friendly foreign face, regardless of your Chinese level or former student China experience. Trust me. You’re also less likely to be ripped off by foreigners, but there’s always an exception. Don’t EVER pay someone to “match you” with a program or school. They’re getting a cut of the profit already from the school so that should cover their scouting fees.

3. You will experience racism in China.

But this is the case in nearly every western country as well.  My Asian-American friends are always struggling to find work because families/schools often only want to hire “foreign looking” teachers… because they’re racist and want to impress the people by being able to afford a foreign-looking teacher. Welcome to China. If you are of African decent, or if your skin tone is of a darker nature, you will also struggle to find work. Many of the African immigrants in China have the reputation of being criminals/drug dealers so that’s what Chinese people hold onto. If you are a white male, your resume will be pushed to the front of the pile AND you could work part-time as a “model.” I have a friend who’s in Korea at the moment acting as the “foreign face” for a Chinese company and he’s getting 1000 USD do to it. As a Mexican-American, my skin-tone is often an issue for potential employers (and Chinese boyfriends), but they let that slide because I’m “beautiful” according to their cultural standards: big eyes, small waist, American-accent. Forget my BA from Boston College in ENGLISH and history of teaching around the world. Life isn’t fair; accept it and you’ll do fine in China.

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4. You NEED a Z-Work Visa.

Companies will try to give you a F Visa (temporary working visa) and you need to walk away. F Visa’s are only good for 60-90 days and you’ll have to leave the country each time to avoid a 500RMB fine (per-day). This makes saving money difficult. If they’re planning on giving you a Z-Visa once you’re inside China, you need to have a guarantee of some sort that you will receive a Z Visa within 90 days, otherwise you could potentially be deported and charged with tax evasion.

Scary stuff. With that being said, nearly no one has a Z visa because they’re insanely difficult to get due to recent government crackdowns. Unless you have some serious guanxi (connections) don’t bother picking up your entire life without a Z Visa; it gets expensive quickly and more often than not, China newbies don’t have enough China experience to get a Z Visa on their own.

5. The best teaching jobs are freelance jobs.

Private English classes will commonly pay 120RMB to 200RMB a class. If you do 10 hours of private tutoring a week, you’ll cash out at 8,000 RMB at the end of the month (at 200 RMB an hour.) The average corporate wage for Chinese nationals in a 1st tier city is 3k-5k RMB and for foreigners on a local salary, 8k-12k RMB. But teaching ANYWHERE in China will easily rack up 8k-12k RMB a month; it’s kind of ridiculous. So why should you work for a Chinese school on a private contract when you could be making SO MUCH MORE just doing freelance? Because the school will provide a Z Visa. These Z Visa’s are basically GOLD in China so don’t screw it up!

6. Being an English teacher will impact your social standing.

But keep your head up! Because of the severe difference in wages, teachers are often scoffed at within the foreign community due to jealousy. Teachers are able to take more time off, have better benefits, and are nearly the only people in China who are LEGALLY allowed to work here. Don’t let it get you down. This is your adventure; own it. You have plenty of time for that corporate crap. Trust me. Now I work typical 9-5 office job and nap-time is always on my mind.  Do you and don’t look back.

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Don’t forget about my upcoming South-East Asia Tour!! Have a recommendation about where I should go? Then tag @wanderonwards on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter in an explanation about where this place is, what you did there, and why I should go.  The destinations I end up choosing will be announced one by one as I negotiate my way into exclusive locations/accommodation.  If I choose your destination, I’ll give you a shout-out on my social media platforms and future blog posts. Also, as a special way to say THANKS, I’ll be shipping gifts (purchased along the adventure) to those who have helped me with their recommendations!  After all these trips around the world, I happen to be an expert smuggler of legal things (kinda).

Love Wander Onwards? Please donate to my GoFundMe project NOW and help me show the world South-East Asia the right way! There will be shark diving, hiking, and tons of other ultimate activities.  Help me continue to inspire women to be their own champion!

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About Vanessa Elizabeth

Vanessa Elizabeth is a cultural chameleon currently based in London. She enjoys sports (such as CrossFit and dating), cooking, and demolishing her savings account. When she's not busy blogging about her feelings, she works full-time and practices Chinese with her English/German friends.

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  • Cameron Dunlop

    Great article Vanessa, it was very informative and helpful! In reference to the freelance teaching, could you recommend the best way of doing this, is there any good websites that you can advertise your english tutoring on? I hope to teach in Shenzhen so any way of doing it in Shenzhen would be really helpful!

    Thanks a lot,
    Cameron

  • Jack Mills

    That’s a fantastic article, thanks for sharing. You’re absolutely right about housing having to be covered by your salary, also specify with your employer what you are going to pay for your phone, wifi, electricity, etc – make sure they have that all covered. Some organizations are good to work with some are bad, personally I’ve worked with MEF and can’t recommend it enough. http://www.mefcn.com/

  • Reilly

    You said “Scary stuff. With that being said, nearly no one has a Z visa because they’re insanely difficult to get due to recent government crackdowns”
    This is a flat out lie. They are NOT insanely difficult to get. You need 1) To be a native speaker from one of the approved seven countries 2) A B.A or B.S 3) Two years working experience (doesn’t have to be as a teacher.
    Yes if you don’t have one or more of the above Z-visas can be insanely difficult to get…but then you are working illegally anyway so you shouldn’t be able to get one anyway

    • Reilly

      Oh and one more thing.

      “You don’t need ANY credentials to teach English in China, you just need to look foreign and be a native speaker”
      Please stop giving bad advise. Firstly you can NOT work in China without a Z visa. Not legally anyway. To get a Z visa you must (as I said above (1) be a native speaker. 2) Have an university degree 3) have at least 2 years (5 years in Beijing or Shanghai) of working experience after university.
      This are NON-negotiable requirements as of July 2013. The only way around them is to work illegally. Full stop.

  • You are a remarkable young lady and I’m glad I discovered you. I have traveled through China (love the food!) so I can visualize you in Beijing! 🙂 You also have a personable writing style. Keep up the good work and don’t get married 🙂 Children can be rented.

  • Hi, firstly great article. I have been living in China for the last 3 years and can completely identify with your points on teaching English. I’ve found that doing private lessons one to one definitely can be the better way to go, as schools can be a pain to work for. Plus you can make more money ahah. Always important!

  • peter

    If getting a teaching job is so easy, are you sure that teacher’s are scoffed in the foreign community because of jealousy?

    • kenm

      Getting a teaching job in China is easy if you are white. What he forgets to say is that in exchange for this you burn your future. As nobody in their right mind will hire somebody who has taught in China for a long period of time. There is no oversight no quality control, observations are unheard of it is easy. They get de-skilled and one day have to return and are basically unemployable.

      • Reilly

        B.S. Maybe that is YOUR experience. I personally know seven people myself included who spent multiple years in China and were able to get decent jobs (40 k and upwards to list just one thing) when we returned to our countries. How? Well one way is to upgrade your skills by taking online courses/attending conferences in your free time.

  • Aimee

    Re: racism in China — sad to know that Western ideals have permeated into the east.

  • You’re a badass. But you already knew this. Sounds like quite the adventure/scare teaching English there. Doing the same thing in Spain has been a cakewalk because it’s sooooo freakin common and the country is so chill. I’ve always wanted to visit China. Contemplated living, but this helped me keep it in the “visit” category. Lol