China is undoubtedly the TEFL powerhouse of the world. Whether you want to teach Chinese students online or get a TEFL job somewhere in that vast country, the industry is massive, and still growing. Some people speculate about when the TEFL boom in China is going to slow down, but there seems to be no indication that this will happen any time soon, with ever more Chinese people signing up for English lessons to boost their education and career prospects.

In years gone by, any backpacker could turn up in China and find teaching work, even without qualifications or a degree. In the last decade or so, regulations have steadily been tightened, and now to get a visa for teaching in China you need to have both a degree and a TEFL qualification. With such a huge population of English language learners in China, new schools and employment opportunities are always popping up, but it’s worth doing your research. From giant chains to independent language schools, your experience in China will very much depend on the exact branch you work at, what the DoS (Director of Studies) is like, and what level of quality and professionalism is required of the teachers.

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Key Facts

  • Popular locations for TEFL jobs: Beijing, Shanghai, Ningbo, Chengdu, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Dalian, Yangzhou, Nanjing
  • Average salary for EFL teachers: The basic monthly salary for full-time positions is likely to be in the region of 9,000 – 18,000 RMB (£1,000 – £2,000 / $1,300 – $2,575) per month, with the usual salary at about 13,000 RMB (£1,450 / $1,860) per month. At an International school, you could be earning 30,000 RMB (£3,330 / $4,300) per month. Many schools offer flight reimbursement, performance bonuses and other perks such as accommodation
  • TEFL qualification requirements: A 120-hour TEFL qualification is a minimum requirement.
  • Prerequisite university degree: You must have a BA degree (in any discipline) to get your Foreign Expert Certificate for your Z visa
  • Term times: September to July
  • Currency: Chinese Yuan Renminibi (RMB)
  • Language: Mandarin Chinese
  • Teaching programmes: Private Language Schools, Public Primary and Secondary Schools, Universities, Kindergartens, Volunteering, Freelance, Online, Business English, Summer Camp
  • Age restrictions: Maximum 55
  • Previous teaching experience: Not required for many positions

There are so many varied positions available for TEFL teachers in China (from kindergartens to universities, business language schools to fun summer camps), it would be hard to sum up what the experience is like in general. Most teachers in China work for private language schools where they predominantly teach children, and sometimes have teen or adult classes, too. Most of these schools operate as extra-curricular clubs where wealthy parents sent their children to get ahead. The job might be geared more towards fun and games, with plenty of singing, dancing and craft, or you might be somewhere that provides professional lesson plans and materials and has structured goals for students.

However, whatever the educational emphasis, these private language schools are ultimately run as businesses rather than educational facilities. Class prices are high and only wealthy families can send their kids there. As such, they expect results, something you’ll discover if you try and give a student a negative grade or comment on their report – parents don’t pay thousands of RMB and expect this sort of service. If you’re dedicated to academic excellence, you’ll find plenty of challenges working in China, from fake grades to keep parents happy, to squeezing extra kids into overcapacity classes to make sure friends can sit together. It can be very hard to turn a blind eye to this sort of thing, but if you accept the experience for what it is, private teaching roles can be fulfilling, fun, and provide you with a firm grounding in your TEFL career.

Chinese students are great fun to teach. Young learners can have a cheeky or naughty streak, but they’re chatty, enthusiastic, hardworking, and competitive. Teens can be quiet and reserved, and in general you’ll find that older students are less opinionated, preferring activities where there are right and wrong answers. Most full-time positions are for 20 – 28 teaching hours a week. The job is what you put into it. You can work hard, develop as a teacher, and make some great connections. There are also plenty of ‘gap year’ teachers who just do the minimum and enjoy their time off.

Requirements for teaching English in China

Country Avg. monthly salary Degree required Start of term Teaching experience Housing & flights included Suitable for non-native English speakers Age restrictions
Teach in China £1,000 – £2,000
($1,300 – $2,575)
Yes September No Yes Yes, if degree obtained from an English-speaking country Under 55

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Living Costs

How much it costs you to live in China depends very much on where you’re based, and also the lifestyle you choose. For example, an expat who dines out in foreign restaurants and visits Starbucks on the weekend will very quickly burn through their wages, even if they’re on 15,000 RMB per month. On the other hand, a teacher earning just 11,000 RMB per month can both live like a king and put money in the bank if they avoid imported products and eat like a local, choosing fried rice over beef burgers. Just look at the cost of a cup of coffee (imported product) over a basic dinner for two (eating local produce). If you live in a city like Shanghai, it will be hard to have much left over at the end of the month, even if you’re frugal. However, live in a moderately sized city like Hangzhou (population of 10 million), and if you embrace the local lifestyle and share a flat with another teacher, you can expect to be saving a few thousand RMB of your pay packet every single month. Don’t write off smaller locations, either – plenty of teachers have found much appeal in small towns and far flung places over the cosmopolitan metropolis of Shanghai. Wherever you’re drawn to, do your research and try to speak to other expats who live in that area.

China is a traveller’s wonderland. Cheap travel in-country, from express trainlines to domestic flights, make it easy to see the country during your holidays. Be warned that crowds can be a huge issue during public holidays, and many people choose to take a foreign holiday during those crazy seasons, such as Spring Festival, rather than face the largest human migration in the world. Even in your locality on a modest budget you can still afford to indulge in entertainment every weekend – scenic parks and gardens, traditional old towns to visit, sprawling museums, quirky hutong backstreets, modern art and theatre, mountains to climb… the opportunities are endless. One important consideration about how you spend your time in China will come down to where you are and what the weather’s like! China is vast, with freezing winters in some places and tropical weather in others. Be sure to do your research.

  • Accommodation: £606 – £813 / $775 – $1,040
  • Utilities: £47 / $60
  • Health insurance: Cost of typical visit to a GP: £39 / $50
  • Monthly transport pass: £18 / $23
  • Basic dinner out for two: £21 / $27
  • Cappuccino in expat area: £3.61 / $4.62
  • A beer in a pub: £3.19 / $4.08
  • 1 litre of milk: £1.55 / $1.99
  • 2 litres of Coca-Cola: £0.87 / $1.12

(living costs sourced from Expatistan)

Teacher Story

“I arrived here with no Chinese, not much money and no sense of direction. I was placed at a campus in the south of Beijing, which is now like my second home. I have been teaching at the same campus for my whole time here, which is quite unusual for many foreigners who flit between jobs depending on which way the wind is blowing, but the company I work for is solid, legitimate and has a serious amount of关系 (GuanXi). GuanXi means connections of significance and translates to the western world somewhat as ‘Friends in high places’; so working here is really a fantastic, fulfilling and interesting experience.

I really enjoy working for a government company, although it can sometimes be culturally challenging, I work with so many local Beijing people but also far away provinces. One of my best friends in Beijing is my TA (Teaching assistant) called Flora, who I’ve known since I arrived. She is from a small province in the south west of Beijing, and she has helped me engage with Chinese culture in a really personal way. I know we will always be friends, which is really something special. My colleagues are extremely helpful, kind and respectful of my culture and experiences and like to spend time sharing treats from their home provinces or videos of their families who live in faraway cities.”

Sarah, TEFL Org graduate teaching in China

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