China remains one of the most popular places to teach English abroad and plenty of teachers who’ve worked there can tell you what a great adventure teaching in China really is. Not to mention that it’s a top TEFL destination for saving money, which you can spend on whatever you want – like traveling the world!
Unfortunately, teaching English in China seems to have gotten a bad rep lately, but don’t let that make you miss out on everything this top TEFL destination has to offer. If you’re dreaming of teaching English in China, but are worried about safety – don’t be! You just have to be smart and know how to go about it the right way.
So even though Chinese political tensions have been making headlines lately – and there are stories out there about foreigners in China having bad experiences – it’s important to look at things in perspective. Chances are that you are only hearing about the negative stories because they’re more likely to make the news. On the flip side, positive stories just don’t get as much media attention and aren’t written nearly as often online.
In saying that, as with any teach abroad destination, it’s essential to do your research before you accept a teaching job in China. A little knowledge about local laws, customs and TEFL best practices will help you ensure that your overseas experience is a positive one. The most important thing to remember is to always be flexible and open to other cultures.
To get you started, we’ve rounded up our top safety advice to keep in mind as an English teacher living in China. Let’s look at some tips at a glance and then dive in deeper.
How can you ensure your safety while teaching English in China?
- Work at a reputable school.
- Have the proper work visa.
- Don’t teach on the side.
- Follow local laws (especially regarding drugs).
- Stay up to date on government advisories.
Find a job at a reputable school in China.
When doing your research about teaching English in China, one of the biggest fears you may have is the possibility of not being paid. That’s why it’s important to find credible schools and job opportunities from a trusted source like the Teach Away job board. As with anything: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. So trust your gut. And if anyone reaches out to you through social media (especially Facebook) regarding a job opportunity teaching in China, it could be a red flag that you shouldn’t ignore.
It’s no secret that some teachers have had negative experiences with schools in China in the past. And that’s why applying to the Explore Program is such a great option. You can feel confident that the program’s recruitment experts will smoothly guide you through the application and visa process of finding a teaching job in China.
But the best way to really ensure you secure a job with a trustworthy employer is by asking the right questions during your interview and reading your employment contract very carefully before signing it.
What are some smart questions you should ask during an interview for a teaching job abroad in China (or really any other country for that matter)?
- Could I get in touch with a current teacher? (Most reputable schools will provide an email contact.)
- Could I see some photos or (ideally) a video of the accommodations? (This one only applies if housing is included in your contract, which is often the case.)
Get a work visa for China in advance.
One thing is for sure: you need to get the right visa before landing in China! You’ll need a work visa to teach in China. Any school that states otherwise, or suggests you travel to China before you have a valid work visa, should set off alarm bells ringing in your head.
Despite the rumors you might find on online forums, it’s currently illegal to work in China with a tourist visa (officially known as the “L visa”) and doing so could leave you vulnerable to fines, deportation or even jail time.
Any reputable school, which is the only kind of school you should work for, will only hire you if you’re eligible for a work visa (known as the “Z visa”).
What do you need to get a Z visa to teach English in China?
- A bachelor’s degree (in any subject)
- Native English speaking proficiency
- A teaching qualification (usually a TEFL Certificate) OR 2 years of teaching experience
The process for applying for a Z visa starts once you’ve been offered a job and your employer, who will sponsor your visa, will walk you through it. Don’t worry, the process is fairly straightforward, especially if you’re recruited through the Explore Program.
Don’t teach English on the side in China.
On the subject of work visas, once you have one, it’s your legal responsibility to stick to the employment terms you sign up to. For English teachers, this generally means working exclusively for the school that sponsored your visa and no one else.
If you look around on forums, you’ll probably find plenty of posts from teachers who claim that they work for multiple employers and private clients anyway, but bear in mind this is something the Chinese authorities are increasingly keen to crack down on. So while it might be tempting to pick up private classes on the side, or even a few lessons with other schools, remember that doing so counts as working illegally and may lead to deportation or other legal troubles.
Follow all local laws in China (especially regarding drugs).
Living in China, you are sure to experience a few culture shocks, and you are equally sure to cause a few cultural shock waves yourself as you adapt to a new way of life. But, cultural don’ts aside, it’s important to be aware that some behavior you might consider a simple cultural preference could actually be illegal in your host country. That’s why it’s essential to properly educate yourself on China’s local laws and customs before you move there.
For instance, drug use (including recreational and medicinal marijuana) is forbidden in China and carries extremely severe penalties, especially since the Chinese government’s crackdown on drugs. So if you want to steer clear of the Chinese legal system: DON’T DO DRUGS IN CHINA. I really can’t stress this enough.
In fact, you shouldn’t even do any drugs shortly before landing in China because Chinese authorities have been known to do random drug tests on foreigners entering the country. Regardless of where or when the drugs were consumed, if you test positive, you can face severe penalties under Chinese law.
And if you haven’t heard of the “Great Firewall of China” yet, let me fill you in: Don’t be surprised, when you open your Internet browser in China, that you won’t be able to access some of your favorite websites. Not only are international social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube permanently banned in China, but the country has now blocked a long list of US tech companies – including Google. Not to mention that there are plenty of other banned websites – most notably those that address politically sensitive issues, such as human rights and criticisms of the Chinese government.
Many Chinese residents have been going around these online restrictions by using a virtual private network (VPN) to access blocked websites. However, I strongly discourage doing this now that Chinese authorities have recently started cracking down on this illegal practice and issuing fines for VPN use.
While this might all sound a bit heavy, don’t let it scare you away. There are plenty of ways to stay connected with family and friends while teaching in China. Plus, you’ll make plenty of new connections while teaching abroad.
Not to mention that there are plenty of fun and exciting offline things you can do while teaching in China! You can treat this as a (possibly once-in-a-lifetime) opportunity to ditch that tech addiction and replace your screen time with a rich social life and plenty of exciting experiences.
China’s rich culture makes it a top destination for eating out, shopping, attending festivals, and visiting historical landmarks. It’s also a vast and beautiful country to explore during your days off. Don’t forget: one of the perks of being a teacher is having lots of vacation time, which means you’ll have plenty of free time to explore everything China has to offer. Plus, you’ll have the rest of Asia at your doorstep with exotic travel destinations like Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia only a short cheap flight away.
Stay up to date on government travel advisories for China.
Local laws and international relations between countries can change frequently. Staying up to date on the latest information from your government is the best way to know what your rights and responsibilities are while you’re in China, as well as who to turn to for help should you need to.
Letting your home government know that you’re living abroad is a simple way to make sure you’re protected while you live in China. Canadians, Kiwis, and Irish citizens can register their status with their government, while Americans can enroll with a local embassy and UK citizens can inform their local council.
Many governments also provide specific up-to-date advisories for citizens who are traveling to or living in China:
🇦🇺 Advice for Australian citizens
🇨🇦 Advice for Canadian citizens
🇮🇪 Advice for Irish citizens
🇳🇿 Advice for New Zealand citizens
🇬🇧 Advice for UK citizens
🇺🇸 Advice for US citizens
To sum up: be smart!
With tens of thousands of native speakers working in China at any one time, it’s safe to say the vast majority of English teachers find living in China to be safe and enjoyable.
So to recap, how can you make sure you have a positive experience teaching English in China?
- Choose an employer with a track record you can trust.
- Make sure your visa paperwork is all in order.
- Always respect the local laws and culture.
- Be flexible and open-minded.
- Bonus pro tip: bring some extra cash with you (min. $500 USD) to get you by until your first pay cheque arrives!
Still need to do a TEFL Certification? The University of Toronto OISE TEFL Certification is a perfect fit for anyone interested in teaching in China because it includes an optional Specialization in Teaching English to Mandarin Speakers.