U.S. Citizen Services
Teaching English in China
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing has prepared this informal guide to provide persons planning to teach English in China with some basic information. The sources for the information provided in this guide are listed at the end of the guide. This is a non-official advisory document and the information may not apply to every school and situation. The U.S. Embassy is not responsible for any individual’s reliance on this document in negotiating employment. Every school and province in China has its own regulations and interested persons should contact the local authorities for more detailed information.
While many Americans have enjoyed their teaching experience in China, others have encountered significant problems. Some teachers travel to China under a contract with promises of a good salary, bonuses, and other amenities, only to find themselves in tenuous situations, often lacking funds to return to the United States. You should verify the conditions and terms of employment with your school before accepting a teaching position in China. The U.S. Embassy cannot act as a legal advisor or negotiate business or personal grievances on behalf of individual citizens. We can neither investigate nor certify employers. It is up to each individual to evaluate potential employers before signing a contract.
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. Please do not contact the Embassy for help in finding employment or verifying the legitimacy of a school.
American Citizen Services
U.S. Embassy Beijing
The key to successful employment as an English language instructor in China is to be employed by a reputable school or company and negotiate a well-written contract before leaving the U.S. We advise anyone considering accepting an English teaching job in China to carefully review the terms of the contract regarding working and living conditions. It would also be useful to ask for references from persons familiar with the institution, especially former and current American employees.
This guide addresses types of positions available in China, visa matters, contract considerations, sources of information, cultural pitfalls to consider, tips on adapting to China, and how the Embassy can help.
TYPES OF ESL POSTIONS AVAILABLE IN CHINA
English teachers in China are employed in a wide variety of institutions. A brief description of the different options available follows. Please keep in mind that regardless of the type of institution in which you teach, the institution must have a license to hire foreign teachers in order for you to teach legally. You will need to verify the credentials of the school, university or institute that you are considering before entering into any type of agreement.
The pay for teaching English in kindergartens in a large city such as Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou is a minimum of RMB 150 (about $18) per hour and usually more, with little preparation or outside work. This can be the highest paying teaching job available, but generally does not include rent or a plane ticket, and may require more than 20 teaching hours a week.
Boarding schools are fairly common in China, and spread throughout the countryside surrounding large cities. These jobs pay anywhere from RMB 4,000 to 9,000 (about $480 to $1,090) per month, including apartment and reimbursement for an international flight upon completion of the contract. They often also allow for travel, with one month vacation for spring festival, two months for summer, and two weeks’ paid vacation. The age range of the children varies.
Summer and Winter Camps
Lasting from one week to one month, one can make RMB 5,000 (about $600) for two weeks. Although these are intense work environments, they often provide the opportunity to interact with Chinese teachers and college students in addition to the children. Also, this can be a good option for those interested in teaching in China, but unwilling to make a long-term commitment.
Business English Teaching
Teaching English for a private business program usually requires a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. It may also require prior experience teaching adult English, a degree in ESL, or prior business experience. These jobs generally comprise a heavy workload—often over 20 hours a week with evening and weekend hours. However, the students in this setting are very eager to learn and work hard. The company may provide lesson plans and may provide a housing allowance in addition to the base salary of approximately RMB 8,000 (about $970) a month.
Private Language Institutions
Private language institutes abound in China; some are well-established, while others can be small and short-lived. Instructors in these institutes typically teach conversation oriented classes, and occasionally teach writing as well. Pupils range from grade school students to business people, consequently student skill levels vary widely. Also, these institutions generally have a very high student turnover rate. Pay rates are dependent upon the individual institution and the number of hours worked (typically 20-30 hours per week, often including early mornings, evenings, and weekends, to accommodate pupils’ schedules).
Many universities in China have a foreign language or English department. Requirements for teachers vary depending on the university and the level of classes taught; however, a master’s degree or a doctorate may qualify you to work as a ‘Foreign Expert’ in a university and to teach more advanced courses for much more pay than a ‘Foreign Teacher’ receives. Undergraduate classes will be larger, while graduate classes tend to be smaller and offer more personal contact with students. Salaries also vary from university to university, though most include housing on or near the university campus.
Advanced Degree Programs
If you have a master’s degree, particularly an MBA, you can make a good salary working as a professor for a master’s degree program at a university. The teaching load is light, but you will have to hold office hours and do significant preparation for lectures, paper assignments, and exams.
If you are a career teacher you can make up to 40,000 USD per year, paid in foreign currency. Options for career teachers include private college preparatory programs for Chinese students, international schools teaching children of expatriates, and universities teaching higher-level students; however, these jobs are often extremely competitive.
Private Teaching and Tutoring
Private teaching and tutoring are very common in China, and there is great demand for native English speakers, particularly in the larger cities. However, in order to do so legally, written consent from your full-time employer is required. If you are interested in giving private language lessons, include a stipulation in your contract allowing you to devote a certain number of hours per week to private teaching.
Opportunities outside of the traditional English teaching sphere are plentiful in China, though not always easy to obtain. Native English speakers have found work in a variety of industries, such as media (editing or writing for state run foreign-language media companies or private companies), freelance writing, educational services (recording English dialogues, working for study abroad enterprises, arranging language camps, etc.), and sales positions with companies with large expatriate client bases.
Working legally in China requires a “Z” Visa from a Chinese embassy or consulate. The Z visa is the only valid work visa. Sponsorship from an employer is needed in order to obtain a Z visa. There have recent restrictions on visa issuance and renewals in China. See http://www.bjgaj.gov.cn/eng/ for more information about visa types and what information is required to obtain one.
*Prospective teachers should also be aware that working in China on any type of visa other than the Z visa, such as a tourist “L” visa or student “F” or “X” visa, is illegal and can result in large fines or even detention.
Below is a list of the documents required to obtain a Z visa in the United States. Further information on obtaining a Z visa and a complete listing of the documents required is available on the website of the Chinese Embassy in the United States at http://www.chinaembassy.org/eng/hzqz/zgqz/t84245.htm.
- A valid US Passport with at least 6 months validity before the expiration date;
- A visa notification issued by the authorized Chinese unit (your employer), and a “Work Permit for Aliens” issued by the Chinese Labor Ministry/”Foreign Expert’s License” issued by the Chinese Foreign Expert Bureau;
- One completed Visa Application Form (Q1) with one additional passport photo;
- Locally obtained health check for absence of HIV, TB, and drug use;
- 50 US dollars.
In addition to a valid passport and visa, all prospective teachers must obtain a Residency Permit within thirty days of their entry into China. One may not legally teach in China without both the Z visa and a valid Resident Permit. This is necessary whether one is classified as a “foreign teacher” or a “foreign expert.” Employers should provide assistance in obtaining this document.
Foreign teachers are all teachers without an “Expert Certificate” from the National Expert Bureau of Foreign Affairs. In order to obtain a Resident Permit they will need to work with their employer to obtain the Foreign Teacher Resident Permit, colloquially known as the “Green Book” from their local Public Security Bureau. They will need the following documents.
- Valid passport and visa;
- Original “Health Certification” submitted by Beijing Exit & Entry Inspection & Quarantine Bureau;
- Two recent, two-inch, bareheaded, full-faced photos (either black and white or in color);
- The official seal of the unit (the employer, known as the “danwei”) on a filled-out “Application Form for Visa, Residence Permit,” along with one recent, two inch, bareheaded, full-faced photo.
* For those working in Beijing whose work will not exceed one year, a temporary residence permit is available, and the “Health Certificate” is waived.
Foreign experts are teachers who hold advanced degrees and have received an “Expert Certificate” from the National Expert Bureau of Foreign Affairs. The Foreign Expert Resident Permit is colloquially known as the “Red Book” and should also be obtained from the teacher’s local Public Security Bureau with the help of the employer. The Foreign Expert Resident Permit requires the following documents.
- Valid passport and visa;
- Originals and copies of “Expert Certificate” issued by the National Expert Bureau of Foreign Affairs Office of the Municipal Government;
- Original “Health Certification” submitted by Beijing Exit & Entry Inspection & Quarantine Bureau;
-Two recent, two-inch, bareheaded, full-faced photos (either black and white or in color);
- The official seal of the unit (their employer) on a filled-out “Application Form for Visa, Residence Permit,” along with one recent, two inch, bareheaded, full-faced photo.
* For those working in Beijing whose work will not exceed one year, a temporary residence permit is available, and the “Health Certificate” is waived.
When teaching in China, it is possible to switch employers; however, this can be a difficult process. In order to switch employers, the Resident Permit (Green or Red Book) needs to be transferred from the old employer to the new employer. Leaving an employer before a contract is up requires a “Letter of Release” from the employer. This letter authorizes other schools or institutions to register someone with the government and enables the teacher to transfer the Resident Permit (further information on the “Letter of Release” appears in the Contracts section of this guide). Please be advised that due to the complex nature of this process, further questions should be addressed to the local Public Security Bureau when in China, or to the Chinese Embassy or Consulates in the United States.
Some Americans run into serious legal problems with the Chinese government because they either work in China on tourist or other non-Z visas or they accept part-time employment or private classes without obtaining the proper permission. Violation of Chinese laws can result in severe penalties including imprisonment, fines of up to 500 RMB a day for overstaying a visa, or deportation. It is the employee’s responsibility to understand local laws and obey them.
* When in China Americans are subject to Chinese law, regardless of your American citizenship. Rights as a U.S. resident do not carry over to other countries; disputes are resolved through the local legal system.
Foreign instructors in China occasionally have contract disputes with their employers. Employees should be sure to get everything put into writing and not to rely on verbal promises. If possible one should receive an official copy of the contract before arriving in China, including a copy in Chinese. Even so, American teachers may find that Chinese contracts are not considered as binding as contracts in the United States. These contracts will sometimes contain unexpected alterations when the prospective teacher arrives, during the duration of their employment, or at the end of the period specified by the contract. Taking an employer to court over breach of contract is far less common in China than it is in the United States, and is a particularly difficult process for foreigners. Culturally, oral negotiation and a solid relationship with the employer are of paramount importance. A good working relationship with your school, institution, or business is vital to reaching an agreement over contractual difficulties.
Basic Features of Most Teaching Contracts
Contracts for teaching positions typically last for one year and should include provisions for salary, housing, working hours, class size, medical insurance, taxes, early termination, and in some cases, a plane ticket home. Any bonuses, such as travel bonuses or contract termination bonuses, should be clearly spelled out in the contract. Further information on these topics is below.
The majority of English teaching jobs in China pay monthly salaries. Nevertheless, one should make sure the salary is clearly defined in terms of hours per month and compensation per hour. Also, in the interest of clarity numeric figures as well as written amounts should be included on the contract. Payment dates, methods, and currency should be specified in advance. Chinese bank accounts are not generally accessible overseas, and many schools place a limit on the amount of RMB you can convert into US dollars. If possible specify this number or percentage in your contract.
Teachers should bring sufficient funds to cover at least a month of room and board, as the institution might not be willing to forward any part of the salary upon arrival.
Full-time teaching is generally considered to be between 12-20 hours per week in China. However, this number varies according to the type of school or institute. Most teachers end up with approximately 15 hours of class per week, supplemented with additional hours running conversational groups or participating in cultural activities. Those teaching younger children will generally find the hours to be greater, but will not be required to do as much outside of the specified teaching hours. Conversely, teaching at a higher level, such as at a university, will generally require office hours. Additional hours should be specified in the contract, preferably with a confirmed hourly rate. Prospective teachers should make sure that contracts specify the maximum number of classroom hours per day and per week, as well as the maximum number of workdays per week, and any vacation periods. Teachers generally receive vacation time for Chinese New Year; however, this is not always paid vacation.
Many schools offer, or even require, on-campus housing. This can take the form of a dormitory or an apartment. Other institutions will occasionally offer a housing allowance. If housing is included in the contract, it should specify details. If the accommodation is classified as “furnished” one may want to ask for a basic inventory of the dormitory or apartment and its attendant facilities. Another issue to address is whether the housing has heating and/or air-conditioning, telephone, and internet, and, if these are provided, who pays for them. Also, be sure to verify if the accommodation is single or shared. Other items which one may want to verify include whether the bathroom is private or shared, and if there is access to a kitchen. Some Chinese universities, particularly in the provinces, have been known to establish curfews for their foreign teachers living on campus.
- Plane Tickets
Many contracts include a return plane ticket to the United States upon completion of the contract, and some even provide round-trip airfare. While this is a very common practice, previous teachers have occasionally run into difficulties when their employers refused to provide the promised plane ticket upon the completion of the contract. In this situation the Embassy is not authorized to provide citizens with the funds to return to the United States. Therefore, we recommend keeping enough money aside for a return plane ticket in case of emergencies, regardless of what is specified in your contract. Also, many schools and institutions will reimburse the teacher for the cost of the airfare, rather than provide them with a pre-paid ticket.
A standard feature of English-teaching contracts in China is the “Contract Completion Bonus.” This may comprise a sizeable portion of monthly salary, and will be paid upon completion of the contract. Another common feature, though by no means universal, is the “Travel Bonus” which provides funds to travel occasionally during the duration of the contract.
- Class Size
This is typically not addressed in contracts, so be sure to ask. Class size will vary, depending upon the type of institution. Expect classes to be relatively small in private language institutes (often between 10 and 20 pupils), and large in most schools and universities.
- Medical Insurance
Many Chinese schools provide health insurance to their foreign teachers. This can cover up to 80% of medical expenses. Note that employees are usually required to pay a certain percentage of medical expenses, which can grow quickly in event of a serious injury, a hospital stay, or extended medical attention. Chinese hospitals often demand payment in cash in advance before providing service. The Chinese medical system, particularly in rural areas, often does not meet U.S. standards. For this reason, all Americans traveling to China are strongly encouraged to buy foreign medical care and medical evacuation insurance prior to their arrival. Since U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States, please check with your insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas and if it includes a provision for medical evacuation. Travelers interested in a list of modern medical facilities in China can view a list of hospitals, by province, on the Embassy’s website at http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/acs_health.html
- Early Termination
Contracts should always include an acceptable early termination clause. If a contract is terminated early and the employee wants to work at another school in China, a “Letter of Release” from the previous school will be required. This letter allows the next school to officially register the teacher; without it one cannot work legally at a new institution.
All schools in China that hire foreign teachers must pay taxes on their salaries. Most employers will deduct this tax amount from the employee’s salary. The employer will arrange for this, and you should receive a receipt for any taxes that have been deducted from your salary. Tax amounts vary depending on the province and salary. Questions should be directed to the local tax office.
- United States
Americans residing abroad are not exempt from filing requirements, but are, under certain conditions, entitled to exclusions on foreign-earned income. More information on overseas income and filing is available from the IRS publications “Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens Abroad” and “Overseas Filers of Form 1040”. These and other Federal tax forms may be downloaded at U.S. Federal Tax Forms on the Internal Revenue Service website at http://www.irs.gov/.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION
The Embassy does not keep a comprehensive listing of foreign language institutes nor does it provide assistance in finding employment. In China, English teaching jobs are filled either through advertisements or by word of mouth. Numerous advertisements for teaching positions can be found online, as well as in China-based English language publications such as That’s Beijing (and That’s Guangzhou and That’s Shanghai), TimeOut Beijing (and TimeOut Shanghai), City Weekend (Beijing), and Red Star (Qingdao).
Recruiting and Placement Services
Most English teachers hired in the United States do not get jobs directly through the institute where they will work. Instead, they are recruited by a placement service. These services recruit on U.S. campuses, in U.S. publications, and online. While some offer legitimate services, the Embassy has received complaints in the past about certain recruiting services. Those considering working in China should deal with recruiters carefully. Many of them do not know at which school or institute in which area of China the teacher will be placed. Recruiting services will frequently not accept responsibility for a placement that is contrary to the original terms of the agreement or contract.
Prospective teachers should always demand they receive a contract directly from their employer rather than through an agent or intermediary, and have this contract in hand before departing for China. Agents or intermediaries often receive a large portion of the monthly pay promised to the teacher, leaving the teacher without significant financial resources. These “fees” are sometimes not disclosed until after the prospective teacher arrives in China. To date, courts and police in many jurisdictions have refused to intervene in these cases on behalf of foreign teachers.
There are a great number of placement services and classified ads for teaching positions on the internet. Should you choose to use one of these services, be sure to thoroughly research your proposed employer and, if applicable, the placement service. Always request references from the company or school, and personally contact foreigners who have worked with them before. You cannot be too careful when committing yourself to an overseas teaching position.
Many types of people teach English in China, with a variety of different aims. Some come to China with ESL degrees specifically to teach English. Others see teaching English as a means to experience a new culture. There are those who teach to support themselves while looking for other jobs in China, or while doing research in other fields. As a result, English teachers in China arrive with a wide range of expectations. Each brings their own unique perspective to their job and their own reaction to new circumstances. While China is developing rapidly and is increasingly open to global markets, it is still very different from the United States. Do not expect to encounter the same standards of living as you may be used to at home, particularly if you plan on working outside of the major cities. Having realistic expectations and a flexible attitude will help prepare one for the stress that can accompany living and working in a different culture.
Foreigners in China
China’s major cities all host large populations of foreigners, however if you choose to work in a smaller city or in the provinces, foreigners may still be regarded as a curiosity. While the Chinese media does not always present Americans in a positive light, Chinese people are generally friendly and interested to learn about Western culture. Wherever you are, you will likely find yourself in a highly visible position given your foreign status, with many watching you with interest. Remember that in some ways, Chinese society is more conservative than American society, and it is best to abide by local norms.
ADAPTING TO CHINA
When first arriving in a country, one is usually excited and eager for new experiences. After a while, the newness wears off and homesickness begins. Do not judge yourself too severely at this point, as it happens to everyone. Culture shock usually dissipates in a relatively short time. As you continue to cope with the realities of living here, you begin to take things for granted which used to annoy you. Perhaps most importantly, make the effort to get to know your students and colleagues. Chinese friends will provide you with valuable insight into the country and culture you will not receive if you interact only with other foreigners.
China is a very large country, featuring several different climate zones and a sharp urban/rural divide. Consequently, your teaching experience will differ greatly depending upon where you end up. By researching different locales ahead of time via the internet and guide books, you can find a job in an area that best suits your preferences.
China’s major cities, Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, offer a more cosmopolitan experience. While they can be crowded, and pollution is a problem, western food and amenities tend to be easily accessible, there are a number of establishments which cater to foreign clientele, and the health care available in these cities is the best in China. If you are interested in teaching English in a business environment or plan to look for a substantial number of private pupils, these cities are your best option. Many find that the transition for foreigners living abroad is easiest in these cities.
Teaching outside of the major cities, either in a provincial city or in a small town in the provinces, provides a very different experience. In China, a city of one million people can be quite provincial and might not have a modern infrastructure, western food and amenities, or adequate healthcare. Also, the farther you are removed from urban centers, the fewer people speak English. Therefore if you do not speak Chinese, you may want to check that there is someone at your school who speaks both Chinese and English and can assist you. Nevertheless, teaching in these areas provides the teacher with a view of the “real China” that may escape those who remain in the major cities. For those who enjoy challenges and adventure, teaching in these areas is a great option.
HOW THE EMBASSY CAN HELP
The Embassy, by regulation, cannot enter into any case or act as a lawyer for any personal mishap or employment dispute experienced by a U.S. citizen. We cannot investigate, certify, or vouch for employers. It is up to each individual to evaluate an employer before signing a contract.
The Embassy can assist Americans in a variety of ways. The Embassy offers notary services, renews passports, adds additional visa pages into passports, and assists with absentee voting registration. Our website also provides information on marriage, voting, birth registration, and other issues Americans often encounter.
We can often provide phone numbers and addresses of Chinese government agencies, as well as a list of English-speaking attorneys; however, we are unable to recommend any specific lawyer from this list. In case of a financial emergency, we can receive and disburse funds sent from a source in the U.S.
If you live in China or you intend to visit for an extended period of time, we strongly recommend that you register with the consular section. Registration helps us to locate you in case of a family emergency, and helps keep us better informed of the number and location of American citizens in the event of a large-scale emergency. We are required by law to keep any information you give us completely confidential, and will release it only when authorized by you to do so. There are four ways to register:
Go to https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs and follow the directions. Please note that you must also fax or email the Embassy or Consulate a copy of the photopage of your passport in order to complete the registration. The data you provide is secured behind Department of State firewalls, accessed only by cleared personnel in Embassies, Consulates, and the Department of State, and releasable only under the provisions of the Privacy Act.
Via Fax or Email
Download a copy of our registration form from our website and fax it to the Consular Section at (8610) 8531-3300 or email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the Embassy
Come by the Consular Section Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 12:00 noon and 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m., Wednesday, 8:30 a.m.-12:00 (except American and Chinese holidays) and complete a registration form. Be sure to bring your passport so we can verify your identity and citizenship. Consult the other Consulates websites (in Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Shenyang) for office hours and contact information.
During American Citizen Services Outreach trips
You can also register during one of the American Citizen Services outreach trips. Check the ACS website for announcements about upcoming outreach trips.
The consulate that is your primary contact for emergency and routine services depends on your residence:
Consular Districts by Province
Beijing: Beijing, Gansu, Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Inner Mongolia, Jiangxi, Ningxia, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanxi, Tianjin, Xinjiang
Chengdu: Chongqing, Guizhou, Sichuan, Tibet, Yunnan
Guangzhou: Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan
Shanghai: Anhui, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Zhejiang
Shenyang: Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning
No. 4 Lingshiguan Rd.Chengdu, Sichuan Province
1 Souht Shamian Street
Guangzhou, Guangdong Province
1038 Nanjing Xilu
No. 52 14th Wei Road
Shenyang, Liaoning Province
Hong Kong Consulate
26 Garden Road
We hope that this information has been useful. If you have any problems, please contact the American Citizen Services office at the U.S. Embassy, No. 55 An Jia Lou Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100600. Our daytime telephone number is (86-10) 8531-4000 and our after hours emergency number is (86-10) 8531-3000. Our office is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 12:00 noon and 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m., Wednesday, 8:30 a.m.-12:00 (except American and Chinese holidays).
Good luck, and enjoy your stay in China!
The above information was compiled from the following websites and publications.
Pillsbury, Adam, Ed. The Insider’s Guide to Beijing 2009-2010.