Teaching English as a Foreign Language in the People's Republic of China

Why Teach in China?

Teaching English abroad offers a unique opportunity to experience a different culture and learn Chinese. Chinese is a language that is being more and more sought after in the west by companies wishing to do business in China. China, with its rapidly expanding economy has ambitions to become a major economic player on the world stage. Hence, in recent years, there has been a fervour for learning English in the young Chinese that aspire to work in business and tourism. Thus, there is an abundance of employment opportunities for foreign teachers with good remuneration packages.

Obtaining a Visa

It is theoretically possible to enter China on a tourist visa, find and obtain work and change to a work visa. However, this strategy is risky as you may not find suitable employment and have to return to your home country – thus wasting transportation costs.

A much better approach is to obtain a formal job offer in advance. This will be in the form of a letter, which can then be presented at your country's embassy or consulate to obtain a work visa. Such an approach also provides the advantage of allowing you as much time as you need to carefully research your chosen employer and prepare for your trip.

Finding Employment

The internet is a good place to find employment. Established institutions such as the British Council are a good way of finding employment as all the employers have been vetted to be reputable.

Before signing any employment contract, it is essential to research the following points:

  1. Location?

  2. Start and end dates?

  3. Contracted hours of work, including any overtime?

  4. Salary and overtime payments?

  5. Accommodation – is it included, type, quality and location from the school?

  6. Paid flights to/from your country?

  7. Paid holidays?

  8. Canteen and free meals?

  9. English speaking staff/point of contact?

  10. Number of foreign teachers employed?

  11. Orientation week before starting?

  12. Any language classes provided?

  13. Laundry facilities?

  14. Sports/recreation facilities?

A reputable school will normally offer most if not all of these. In addition, it would be wise to research the following:

  1. Average number of pupils in the classes?

  2. Type of classes you will be teaching in and number of students?

  3. The curriculum and text books used. It may be useful to obtain some example teaching material before deciding.

  4. IT, printing and photocopying facilities?

  5. Teaching resources available (books/games) etc?

Minimum Requirements for Teaching English

Before committing to teaching, it is necessary to have an idea of the are range that you wish to teach. This will form the basis for your job enquiries. The minimum requirement for teaching English in China is generally a bachelors degree in any subject. Generally a teaching certificate and/or experience is not required. However, over the recent years, a teaching certificate has become mandatory in some institutions.

If you don't have any teaching qualifications and experience, it is a good idea to study for an appropriate teaching qualification. The two most widely recognised are the Cambridge University's CELTA and Trinity College's TESOL. Not only will obtaining these qualifications increase your chances of obtaining employment in your chosen institution, it will give you the tools to be an effective teacher. As a native English speaker, I soon found out when studying for the CELTA that my knowledge of English grammar was severely lacking! Teacher training certificates also give an introduction to phonetics. Chinese students like to see the phonetic pronunciation of words and having this skill is a definite plus in the classroom.

Preparing to go

Before you go, it is also worthwhile taking some classes in basic Chinese. This will help your everyday activities such as shopping and eating, and also at work (don't expect the school photocopy or IT representative to speak English!).

Contrary to popular belief, Chinese is not a hard to learn as you might expect. It is certainly true that learning the characters takes a lot of time and patience. However, for basic speaking, Chinese is relatively easy to pick up as it is blessed with a simple grammar structure and there are no verb conjugations and tenses.

Sometimes your host institution will hold a weekly class for foreign teachers. However, a really good way of learning Chinese is a language swap with a fellow student, colleague or friend. The idea is simple: You meet up for a couple of hours. For one hour, you teach your host English and for the other hour, your host teachers you Chinese. Dropping by your local college or university, you will find numerous students anxious to improve their English.

On Arrival

  1. Register with the local police station – this is required for all foreign workers

  2. Introduce yourself to your colleagues, both foreign and Chinese at your earliest opportunity

  3. Orientate yourself with the local area: shops, places to eat, places to visit and places to go out

  4. Arrange your green card – usually your employer will arrange this for you.


Living in China is an unique experience, one that will remain with you for the rest of your life. As with any foreign country, the experience improves as you command of the local language improves. My best advice is to make friends with your fellow foreign teachers, but spend all your free time exclusively with them. Make time to meet Chinese people, for example through recreational activities and going out. This way, your time in China will be extra special and you will have the privilege of making foreign friends and experiencing a deeper understanding of China and its people.