Considering moving to China to teach English as a foreign language? You’re not alone! Figures from recent years show that up to 400,000 foreign nationals were working in China as English teachers. With great job opportunities for those with or without experience, competitive salaries, amazing job perks and the chance to experience an entirely different culture, it’s easy to see why when people are choosing to move into teaching English abroad, they’re choosing China!

Whether you’re just starting your TEFL journey or you’re already applying for jobs, find out everything you need to know with our Guide to Teaching English in China. 

China: A World of Opportunity (and Teaching Jobs!)

China is undoubtedly the TEFL powerhouse of the world. Home to more than 1.4 billion people, it’s no wonder that the demand for English teachers is so high. With English lessons compulsory for school children aged nine and above, the market for teaching to young learners in China is huge, as is the adult Business English sector. For those choosing to teach abroad, China represents a fantastic opportunity for any ESL teacher.

Jobs in Chinese schools are plentiful in a country where intrepid TEFL teachers can have a real adventure and experience a unique culture. It makes sense that China is one of the most popular destinations in the world for newly qualified teachers to find a teaching job.

Here’s are a quick glance at a few of the essential things to know if you’re thinking about teaching English in China:

  • The most popular locations for TEFL jobs include Beijing, Shanghai, Ningbo, Chengdu, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Dalian, Yangzhou and Nanjing.
  • A competitive salary for EFL teachers varies greatly depending on location, type of school and your experience. But, as a guide, an English teacher in China can expect to make a typical salary of 9,000 – 18,000 RMB (£1,000 – £2,000 / $1,300 – $2,575) per month, with an average teacher salary of about 13,000 RMB (£1,450 / $1,860) per month.
  • As part of your salary package, many schools will also offer flight reimbursement, performance bonuses and other perks such as accommodation.
  • English teachers in China must have a bachelor’s degree (in any discipline) and a 120-hour TEFL qualification to receive a Foreign Expert Certificate and a Z visa (the only legal way to work as an English teacher in China)
  • Previous experience isn’t necessary.
  • The maximum age for teaching in China is 55.
  • Term times run from September to July, with public school teaching semesters running from September to January and March to July.
  • Teaching options range from Private Language Schools to Public Primary and Secondary Schools, Universities, Kindergartens, Internships, Business English and Summer Camps. 
  • You’ll be paid in Chinese Renminbi (RMB) – China’s national currency. You will also hear it called Yuan (CNY)
  • The official language of China is Mandarin Chinese, spoken by more than 80% of the population. While new English teachers won’t be expected to speak Mandarin, it’s worth trying to learning Mandarin at a rudimentary level! 

Requirements for Teaching English in China

Want to teach English as a foreign language in China but not sure you have the right qualifications?

In years gone by, any backpacker could turn up at a school in China and find a job as an English language teacher, even without a qualification, bachelor’s degree or any experience. However, over the last decade or so, regulations have steadily been tightened.

Today, anyone hoping to teach English in China – whether it’s at a public school, business English centre or International language school – will have to meet certain criteria first. 

To legally find a job working in China, English teachers require a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certification with a minimum of 120-hours or two years of teaching experience. It is impossible to obtain a Z Visa, which is the only visa English teachers can legitimately work on in China, without these qualifications. Being a certified teacher matters.

To get a job teaching English in China, you must also be under 55 years old when applying, and pass a criminal background check. It is advantageous to hold a passport from one of the following seven countries: the United Kingdom, Ireland, America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia or South Africa.

While native English speakers are preferred, non-native level speakers can still find work in education institutes in China. However, since 2019, it has become harder for non-native speakers from countries not listed above to get a visa to teach English in China. Non-native level English teachers had previously been able to obtain a working visa for China with a bachelor’s degree (preferably from a native English country), a TEFL qualification, and two years of teaching experience.

It may prove more difficult now because of the recent crackdowns on foreign English teachers and foreign language training centres. To increase their chances of getting a job and a working visa, non-native level English teachers may want to consider teaching positions in lower Tier cities and at smaller, rural schools and language centres.

To round up, here’s a quick checklist of what you’ll need to teach English in China:

As a native English speaker:

  • A bachelor’s degree (in any subject)
  • A TEFL certificate (120 hours minimum) or two years of teaching experience
  • A passport from the United Kingdom, Ireland, America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia or South Africa.
  • Maximum age of 55
  •  A clean criminal background check

As a non-native level English speaker:

  • A bachelor’s degree, preferably from a native English-speaking country (United Kingdom, Ireland, America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia or South Africa.
  • A TEFL certification (120 hours minimum)
  •  Two years of teaching experience
  •  Maximum age of 55
  •  A clean criminal background check 

Teaching English in China without a degree

Ever wondered if you can teach English in China without a degree? The short answer is – unfortunately not. As we mentioned earlier, the requirements for becoming an English teacher in China mean that you must have a degree to obtain a Z visa. This is the only legal way to get a job in China teaching English. 

However, there are a small number of Teach English internships in China, which might be an option for those without a bachelor’s degree. These positions would fall under the X visa or student visa. You can read more about visas and internship programmes later in this article. 

All that said, if you want to land a position as a full-time English teacher in China on a legal Z visa, you will need to hold a bachelor’s degree. 

Teaching English in China with no experience

While you might need a degree, the good news is that you can teach in China even if you have no teaching experience! Although some schools and positions prefer their teachers to have a minimum of two years of teaching experience, there are plenty of great, no-experience necessary jobs at locations right across China. 

What you will need to teach is a 120-hour TEFL certification (as a minimum) and a bit more determination than those who already have experience. English teachers with no experience might need to work harder to make their CVs stand out, which is why considering an Advanced course on top of your basic TEFL qualification is highly recommended.

Having clear ideas in terms of lesson planning, and showing real initiative in your job search, can also boost your chances.

Z-Visa for teaching jobs in China

Curious about what visa you will need to teach English in China? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! There are two types of visa that will permit you to teach English in China, known as the Z visa and X visa.

The Z visa is the visa most English teachers in China will be on. This is the only visa that allows you to teach English full-time.

To be eligible for the Z visa you will need:

  • A bachelor’s degree (in any subject)
  • A 120-hour TEFL certificate or two years of teaching experience
  • To be under the age of 55
  • A clean criminal background check

The X visa, on the other hand, is a student visa for those who are studying in China part-time or full-time. This is the only legal way to teach English in China without a degree, for example, if you are joining an internship programme.

Some people choose to risk it and teach English illegally in China, others do it unwittingly. We strongly advise against teaching illegally in China for a number of reasons. Firstly, it puts you in a very vulnerable position. If you’re working illegally in a country you have no rights, which means employers can exploit you and there’s very little you can do about it. Secondly, in recent years China has really been cracking down on illegal workers, so if you get caught you can find yourself with a hefty fine and expect to be immediately deported. You may also be banned from entering the country again.

Non-native speakers may be able to obtain a Z visa but it has become increasingly hard over the past few years. To boost your chances, consider applying for teaching positions in smaller, lower-tier cities. 

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Teach English in China: Salary and Cost of Living

Wondering how far a teaching salary will get you in China? The answer will depend largely on your individual circumstances and the decisions you make when you start applying for jobs. Factors for this include the kind of employer you work for, your job location and your lifestyle will play a large role in determining the cost of living in China. 

Working as an English teacher in China’s biggest cities like Shanghai and Beijing will obviously have a higher cost of living than, say, a Tier 3 city or rural location. But, even in more expensive destinations, the majority of English teachers will find themselves earning a high enough salary to live a very comfortable life in China. This is especially true if your teaching contract comes with added job benefits like free housing and flights. Read on to find out more about average job salaries and living costs in China.

How much can you make working in China?

An important question: how well are TEFL jobs rewarded in China? Well, going to China as a foreign teacher can earn you in the region of 9,000 – 18,000 RMB (£1,000 – £2,000 / $1,300 – $2,575) per month, with an average teacher salary of about 13,000 RMB (£1,450 / $1,860) per month.

The salary you make working in China will be based on a number of factors. These include job location, previous work experience and what kind of school/language centre you teach at. For example, a job at an International school, requiring a few years of experience, could see you earn as much as 30,000 RMB (£3,330 / $4,300) per month. Meanwhile, a new foreign English teacher applying for a job at a public school might start at around 10,000 RMB (£1200 / $1600) 

Salary isn’t the only benefit of an English teaching job in China. Many schools offer flight reimbursement, performance bonuses and other job perks such as accommodation, free meals and even free Mandarin lessons to sweeten the deal. Also, China has near-universal health care, however, some employers may contribute to medical insurance and private health care arrangements.

It’s usually possible to negotiate with employers, especially those at international language centres and private schools. Make sure you’re happy with all the job terms and benefits before signing your contract. Don’t forget to check for hidden salary traps like unpaid office hours, overtime or holidays! 

How much does it cost to live in China? 

The cost of living 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 their way to work 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 manage to both live like a king and put money in the bank if they avoid imported products and eat like a local. 

Take a look at the table below to get an idea of how much you might spend on bills, food, entertainment and travel while living 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

Restaurants Cost
CNY (¥) USD ($) GBP (£)
Inexpensive restaurant meal 20.00 3.16 2.34
Domestic beer (0.5 litre) 7.70 1.19 0.88
Regular cappuccino 26.18 4.14 3.07
Water (0.33 litre) 2.15 0.34 0.25
Markets Cost
CNY (¥) USD ($) GBP (£)
Regular milk (1 litre) 13.25 2.09 1.55
Loaf of white bread 11.31 1.79 1.33
Regular eggs (1 dozen) 12.38 1.96 1.45
Apples (1 kg) 12.33 1.95 1.45
Transportation Cost
CNY (¥) USD ($) GBP (£)
One-way ticket (local transport) 2.00 0.32 0.23
Monthly pass (regular price) 120.00 18.96 14.07
Taxi start (normal tariff) 10.00 1.58 1.17
Gasoline (1 litre) 7.32 1.16 0.86
Utilities (monthly) Cost
CNY (¥) USD ($) GBP (£)
Electricity, heating, cooling, water, and garbage (for a regular apartment) 363.72 57.47 42.64
Regular prepaid mobile tariff (per minute, local without discounts) 0.18 0.03 0.02
Internet (60 Mbps, unlimited data, cable/ADSL) 92.33 14.59 10.83
Clothing and shoes Cost
CNY (¥) USD ($) GBP (£)
Pair of jeans (Levis 501 or something similar) 407.17 64.34 47.74
Summer dress in a chain store 240.59 38.02 28.21
Nike running shoes (mid-range) 577.40 91.23 67.70
Men’s leather business shoes 587.88 92.89 68.93

If you live in a city like Shanghai and frequent Western bars and restaurants, it will be hard to have much left at the end of the month. However, if you live in a moderately sized city like Hangzhou (with a population of 10 million) and embrace the local lifestyle, you can expect to be saving a few thousand RMB from your pay packet every single month. 

Don’t write off smaller locations, either – plenty of teachers have found much appeal in lower-tier towns and cities. And, with a decent salary in a smaller location, you’ll find yourself able to save even more money! Wherever you’re drawn to, do your research first and try to speak to other expats who live in that area. 

China is a budget traveller’s wonderland, especially if you teach English abroad there and make a good living. Cheap travel in-country, from express train lines to domestic flights, make it easy to explore the country during your holidays.

Even in your local area 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… you’ll never run out of things to do in your free time! 

English Teaching jobs in China

The world’s largest TEFL market can be found in China, where opportunities can be discovered right across this huge country, for boththe first time teacher and those with experience teaching abroad. There are so many varied positions available for TEFL teachers in China – from public schools to private language institutes, kindergartens to universities, business language schools to fun summer camps –  there’s an English teaching job to suit everyone.

Whether you opt for a giant chain or an independent language school, 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.

Read on to find out more about the three main types of teaching jobs in China.

Public schools

Searching for a stable, Monday – Friday teaching job with a lot of holiday time in China? Teaching at a public school might be exactly what you’re looking for! While public schools in China aren’t the highest paying jobs for English teachers, they usually have other benefits.

TEFL teachers can expect set working hours on weekdays only, around 20 hours of teaching time per week and all school holidays off. Teaching semesters run from September to January and March to July. An offer to teach English at one of China’s public schools will also usually include flight reimbursement and either a free apartment or a housing allowance.

There are three age-group options for teaching at public schools in China:

  •  Elementary schools – (5 to 10 years of age)
  •  Middle schools – (11 to 13 years of age)
  • High school – (14 to 18 years of age)

One of the best things about teaching at a public school as a newly qualified TEFL teacher is the set curriculum. Teachers are assigned their own TA (Teaching Assistant) which, along with pre-set coursework, makes teaching at a public school very easy for a new English teacher.

However, it’s worth keeping an eye on class size (some public schools have classes with up to 60 pupils!) and contract length. English teachers at public schools in China have been caught out by 10-month contracts in the past, which would mean your holidays aren’t paid. 

English Teaching Programmes in China

Unlike other countries where teaching English programmes are relatively common (such as the English Programme in Korea (EPIK), which is affiliated with the Korean Ministry of Education or The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme) China has few similar options. And the small number of English teaching programmes that China does offer still usually require teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree. 

One option worth considering if you don’t have a degree is an English teaching internship. Internship programmes can be a good introduction to teaching and will usually include accommodation. But you’ll only be able to teach part-time, your wages will usually be low, and programmes typically can’t last more than 6 months due to visa restrictions.

If you do decide to go down the English teaching programme or internship route, make sure that you sign up to an established language teaching organisation to avoid any problems, including incorrect visas. The X visa is a student visa for those who are studying in China part-time or full-time. This is the visa you’ll be on if you do an internship programme in China, which is the only legal way to teach English in China without a degree. 

Teaching English in Shanghai

Teaching English in Shanghai is an attractive option for any ESL teacher. The Tier 1 City is home to a huge range of teaching opportunities, as well as a large, friendly expat population. And – as a global financial centre and one of the biggest mega-cities in the world – Shanghai offers its residents an incredible blend of Eastern culture and Western luxury.

Home to a mind-blowing 26.3 million people, it’s no wonder Shanghai has a continuously high demand for new English teachers. Many parents place an extremely high level of importance on their children receiving a quality English education. This means that anyone considering moving to Shanghai to teach English will find job opportunities abound. The city is home to some of the best international schools in the country, as well as dozens of public schools, kindergartens and universities requiring TEFL teachers.

As a foreign language teacher in Shanghai, time off from work will never be boring! Modern architectural marvels sit alongside ancient temples and traditional alleyway homes. Michelin-starred restaurants abound, while street food comes in every flavour and style. Meanwhile, shopping in Shanghai is a serious business, with mega-malls, luxury boutiques and markets serving every kind of budget.

To find an English teaching position in Shanghai, most teachers will need a degree, a TEFL qualification and some previous teaching experience. Many educational institutions in Shanghai also prefer to hire native English language speakers from countries like the UK, US, Canada and South Africa. But, if you don’t have any experience of teaching English as a foreign language or you’re a non-native speaker, don’t give up on your dream of moving to Shanghai just yet! It might be more difficult but it is still possible to find English teaching jobs. Consider giving your CV a boost with a Level 5 or Advanced TEFL course and be aware that you might start on a lower salary than other foreign language teachers. 

English teachers in Shanghai can make anything from 10,000 RMB (£1200/$1600) – 20,000+ RMB (£2350/$3200) depending on experience, qualifications and the location of the school. However, for most English teachers, the average teaching salary in Shanghai usually falls somewhere between 13,000 RMB (£1500/$2000)– 16,000 RMB (£1900/$2500). Teachers often offered a range of extra benefits too, from housing allowance to free flights, meals, bonuses and Chinese language classes.

Of course, private tutoring can bolster your salary wherever you are based, outside of the ESL classroom setting. It’s also a great way to bolster your lesson planning, whether you’re teaching university students or school pupils.

TEFL Org Teacher Story: Sarah, Beijing 

Curious to find out what it’s really like living and working in China? Don’t just take it from us! Here’s what Sarah – one of our TEFL Org graduate teachers – had to say about her experience of teaching in China: 

“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 is 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 southwest 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.”

EFL teacher, Sarah, holding up a teaching award

Find out what our other TEFL graduates have to say by reading more student stories

Frequently Asked Questions

    Teaching abroad, whether to Chinese students or to a range of nationalities from home, can be an intellectually and culturally enriching experience. China, though, has a unique and fascinating history, while it also makes the perfect landing spot for any foreign teacher, with its countless teaching jobs from international schools to teaching University students.

    It’s a huge place, though, with strict entry requirements. Naturally, then, you might have a few questions. Here are the ones that are searched the most online.

  • Q. How much money can you make teaching English in China?

    Teaching jobs are widespread in China, and you’ll be fairly compensated if you choose to work in Chinese international schools, a private school, or even in tutoring.

    Per the section on salary expectations in China, you can expect to make between £1,000-2,000 per month or $1,300–2,575 in US dollars. What’s more, employment incentives can include: flight reimbursement, performance bonuses, private medical insurance, accommodation, free Mandarin lessons and other perks.

    Of course, no ESL teachers have the exact same experience. If your plan is to go China, teach English and become a millionaire, you’ll be lucky.

    However, there’s little argument that English language teachers are fairly rewarded – in the most part – over in China.

  • Q. Is teaching English in China worth it?

    Obviously, whether something is “worth it” or not is entirely subjective.

    However, in terms of salary, as discussed? Yes, it’s “worth it”. ESL teachers can make a decent living in China, especially compared to other foreign countries. As a broader cultural experience, though, it’s hard to beat China in a range of aspects.

    Firstly, China is massive. It’s also a country with a huge economy, and as English is the lingua fraca of business, more and more young people are creating demand for teaching programs.

    It’s also richly diverse, has rich history in every corner, and no two cities are the same. In terms of idiosyncrasy and unique flavour, China boasts major advantages.

    With an enormous population and land mass, the opportunities in China aren’t really like anywhere else in terms of TEFL teaching.

  • Q. Are English teachers in demand in China?

    There are more than 400 million learners of English in China. That’s more than the entire population of the USA.

    Zou Yimin, the founding editor of China Daily, the biggest English-language news source in the country, said in 2020: “China has the biggest English education market in the world“.

    “A large number of quality native-speaking English teachers are needed in China.”

    English is compulsory in Chinese schools, and since 1978, there’s been a real drive to make Chinese school students proficient in the language. So, to answer the original question without labouring the point too much; yes – English teachers are in demand in China.


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