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Teaching in China
 

A Guide Compiled by the American Citizen Services Office, U.S. Embassy, Beijing

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing receives many inquiries about teaching English in China. We have prepared this informal guide to give potential English teachers some basic information about teaching in China, so that they can be better informed before committing themselves to a particular job.

Overview

Many Americans have enjoyed their teaching experience in China; others have encountered significant problems.  Unfortunately, some American citizens travel to China under a contract with promises of a good salary, bonuses, and other perks, only to find themselves in difficult situations, often lacking funds to return to the United States.  The key to a successful English teaching experience in China is to be employed by a reputable school and to negotiate a well-written contract before leaving the United States.  We advise anyone considering an English teaching job in China to carefully review the terms of the contract in regard to 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.

The Embassy cannot represent U.S. citizens in private employment disputes, conduct investigations or act as a legal representative in legal or contractual mishaps experienced by U.S. citizens, nor can we investigate or certify employers.  Every school and province in China has its own regulations and interested parties should contact the local authorities for more detailed information.  Each individual should evaluate potential employers before signing a contract. 

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 Embassy resources.  We hope you find this information useful. 

TYPES OF ESL POSITIONS AVAILABLE IN CHINA

English teachers in China work in a wide variety of institutions.  A brief description of the different options available follows.  Please keep in mind that all institutions must have a license to hire foreign teachers in order for foreigners to be legally employed.  Prospective teachers should verify the credentials of the school, university or institute before entering into any type of agreement. 

Kindergartens

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

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 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

Camps last from one week to one month and can pay RMB 5,000 (about $600) for two weeks. Although these are intense work environments, they provide an opportunity to interact with Chinese teachers, college students and children and are a good option for those interested in short-term teaching in China

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 have 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/or 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. 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).

University Departments

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 teachers 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, offering 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

Prospective teachers with a master’s degree, particularly an MBA, can receive a good salary working as a professor for a master’s degree program at a university. The teaching load is light, but requires teachers to hold office hours and devote significant preparation time to lectures, paper assignments, and exams.

Career Teaching

Career teachers 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 for children of expatriates, and universities for higher-level students.  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 a full-time employer is required. Teachers interested in giving private language lessons should include a stipulation in their contract allowing a certain number of hours per week for private teaching.    

Other Options

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.

VISA MATTERS

Some Americans encounter 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.

Employment Visas

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.  Z visas are typically valid for one year, and may be renewed in China with appropriate application materials (for further details see www.bjgaj.gov.cn). The Z visa is available in both single-entry and multiple-entry forms.

Some prospective teachers enter China on tourist visas before formally committing to a position.  After finding a position, they then obtain the sponsorship documents necessary to receive a Z visa; however, they may have to leave the country in order to reenter China on a Z visa.  In some cases the potential employer will promise to help the teacher obtain the Z visa in China.  The employer will take the teacher’s passport during this process, leaving the teacher without a passport for a potentially lengthy period.  The length of time it takes to obtain a Z visa in China varies by region.  In Beijing the process generally takes five business days. Prospective teachers should check with the local Public Security Bureau for the normal length of time it takes to process a Z visa application in other locations. Institutions that take passports for a lengthy period may be trying to obtain visas through illegal means and should be avoided.  Until a valid Z visa is issued it is illegal to teach, even though a school or institute might apply pressure to do so during this period. 

Prospective teachers planning to enter China on tourist visas should also be aware that tourist visas are generally valid for only 30-90 days.  If the necessary documents are not obtained before the tourist visa expires, you are required to leave the country   

Further information on obtaining a Z visa and a complete list of required documents is available on the website of the Chinese Embassy in the United States at http://www.chinaembassy.org/eng/hzqz/zgqz/t84245.htm.

Residence Permits

In addition to a valid passport and visa, all prospective teachers must obtain a Residency Permit within thirty days of their entry into China. It is illegal to teach in China without both the Z visa and a valid Resident Permit. This is necessary whether classified as a “foreign teacher” or a “foreign expert.” Employers should provide assistance in obtaining this document.

Foreign Teachers

Foreign teachers are all teachers without an “Expert Certificate” from the National Expert Bureau of Foreign Affairs. In order to obtain a Resident Permit Foreign Workers 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.   The following documents are required:

- 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

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 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.

Changing Employers

When teaching in China, it is possible to change jobs; however this can be a difficult process.  In order to change 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. 

CONTRACTS

When in China, Americans are subject to Chinese law, regardless of American citizenship. Rights as a U.S. citizen do not carry over to other countries and disputes are resolved through the local legal system.

Foreign instructors in China occasionally have contract disputes with their employers. Employees should be sure to have all agreements 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.

- Salary

The majority of English teaching jobs in China pay monthly salaries.  Nevertheless, the salary should be 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 the 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.

- Hours

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 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. 

- Housing

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 you 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, teachers have occasionally run into difficulties when their employers refuse to provide the promised plane ticket upon completion of the contract.  In this situation the Embassy is not authorized to provide citizens with the funds to return to the United States.  While emergency repatriation loans are available to U.S. citizens who become destitute overseas, we recommend that you ensure access to sufficient funds 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. 

- Bonuses

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

Class size is not typically 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://www.usembassy-china.org.cn/us-citizen/medical.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. 

- Taxes

- Chinese

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 carefully with recruiters.  Many of them do not know at which school or institute in which area of China the teacher will be placed. Frequently, recruiting services will not accept responsibility for a placement that is contrary to the original terms of the agreement or contract.  

Prospective teachers should always demand a contract directly from their employer rather than through an agent or intermediary, and should 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.    

Online Resources

There are a great number of placement services and classified ads for teaching positions on the internet. Thoroughly research potential employers and, if applicable, the placement service when considering one of these services.  Always request references from the company or school, and personally contact foreigners who have worked with them before.  Prospective teachers cannot be too careful when committing to an overseas teaching position.

CULTURAL CHALLENGES

Different Expectations

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 individual brings his or her own unique perspective to the job and will have different reactions 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 standard of living, particularly when working outside of the major cities.  Having realistic expectations and a flexible attitude will help prepare you 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. Given their foreign status, American teachers will likely find themselves in highly visible positions no matter where they are employed, and the locals will be watching 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

Culture Shock

When first arriving in a country, visitors are 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 most people.  Culture shock usually dissipates in a relatively short time.  Continuing to cope with the realities of living here will help overcome most culture shock. Perhaps most importantly, make the effort to get to know students and colleagues.  Chinese friends will provide many valuable insights into the country and culture that will not be possible by interacting only with other foreigners.  

Location

China is a very large country, featuring several different climate zones and a sharp urban/rural divide.  Consequently, teaching experiences will vary.  Researching different locales ahead of time via the internet and guide books will help prospective teachers find a job in an area that best suits their 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.  Those interested in teaching English in a business environment, or planning to look for a substantial number of private pupils should consider focusing on these cities.  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, in areas that are far from urban centers, there will be fewer people who speak English.  Non-Chinese speakers may want to find out if someone at the school speaks both Chinese and English and can provide assistance.  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 can be a great option.     

YOUR EMBASSY AS A RESOURCE

The Embassy and U.S. Consulates in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, Chengdu and Hong Kong can assist Americans in a variety of ways.  The Embassy and Consulates offer notary services, renews passports, add additional visa pages into passports, assist with absentee voting registration, and stock basic U.S. Federal Tax Forms. The Embassy’s website provides additional information on marriage, voting, birth registration, and other issues Americans often encounter, at http://beijing.usembassy.gov/service.html

We can often provide phone numbers and addresses of Chinese government agencies you may have to deal with.  If you find yourself in need of legal help, we can provide a list of 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 to you from a source in the U.S., usually much faster than a bank or wire transfer.

Finally, we strongly encourage all Americans traveling to, or living in China to register their trip with the Department of State. Travel registration is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. Registration allows you to record information about your upcoming trip abroad that the Department of State can use to assist you in case of an emergency. Americans residing abroad can also get routine information from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

More information on registration, including the link to register online, is available at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/home.asp

The U.S. Mission China provides services to American citizens throughout China.  More information is available at travel.state.gov and http://beijing.usembassy.gov/

Sources

The above information was compiled from the following websites and publications.

http://www.bjgaj.gov.cn 

http://www.china-embassy.org/eng

http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/hzqz/default.htm

http://www.transitionsabroad.com/publications/magazine/0501/teaching_english_in_china_choose_right_school.shtml

http://www.transitionsabroad.com/publications/magazine/0409/teaching_english_in_china.shtml

http://www.transitionsabroad.com/publications/magazine/0001/walfish.shtml

www.travel.state.gov

www.tealic.com