How to Get a Job in China Teaching English

So you’re thinking of packing up your things and moving overseas to teach English, are ya?

If you were to google “Jobs in China,” you’ll find there are 362 million results, any of which could be a scam or the genuine article. How to make heads or tails of it?

Well, if you’re anything like me, you’d probably rather have people chasing you than having to go through the slow, unenjoyable process of researching each result that pops up on your search result. How? Easy!

The Café

Just hop on over to Dave’s ESL Cafe. It looks like it’s been thrown together without an eye for design, there’s lots of stuff all over the place, and who trusts this “Dave” character?

The answer is you. You should. I have no connection with Dave whatsoever, but this is the best first step in getting jobs. It really cuts down the leg work. Just click HERE or go to and click the link on the left, “Post Resume.” If you live in North America, you can upload your resume, specify the countries you’re interested in, and go to bed.


Boom, you'll wake up to find somewhere between 5 and 20 e-mails all fighting for you as an English teacher. It should be stated that schools usually want the following qualifications:
  • Experience teaching kids
  • North American Accents
  • A Bachelors (or greater) degree
  • A TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA teaching certificate
  • A formal teaching degree
DO NOT GET DISCOURAGED if you are lacking any/all of the above! Having all of them just means you can be more choosy, and will be more likely to end up with a better job. The only real requirement is the easiest to get: The ESL (english as a second language) teaching certificate.

Take note that speaking mandarin is not a requirement.

Back to those e-mails: Some schools will ask you to create a lesson plan for them, some want you to perform over Skype as if you were teaching a class, and some will just be a straight-up interview. If teaching adults as if they were children isn’t your idea of fun, you don’t actually have to do it. “Why?” you may ask? Well, that’s because…

Your Odds Are Phenomenal

Just to put it into perspective: If every single Canadian - man, woman, and child - were to decide to leave the country and teach English in China, and every Chinese person were to be students, each class would have 38 people. But, given that a very small percentage of adventurous, open people are even going to consider leaving their home country for the chance, the odds are still stacked heavily in your favor. You will be…

The Prettiest Girl at the Dance

This means if someone approaches you and wants you to jump through hoops that you don’t actually want to… Don’t. Recruiters are like busses: another one will be along in 15 minutes. There is an ebb and flow for recruiters throughout the year, with most places trying to get new teachers to start in either February or September. These are the typical breaks for schools, so don’t get discouraged if you’re applying at those times and getting lower-than-predicted numbers. You’re still pretty to me.


Be skeptical of their promises. Unless you have something in writing, don’t trust everything they are saying they’ll give you. Hell, even in writing, it may not necessarily stick. I had one recruiter imply that she would sleep with me in an attempt to close the deal of bringing me to their school - that’s just how bad they want you. Private mandarin lessons on weekends, my foot!

Some of the deals will be quite real, though. Like I described in my last post, the situation can be amazing! But how can you know who is real and who isn’t? Well, that’s where finding an agent might be useful.

Agents and Teaching Nomad

Inevitably, among the throngs of recruiters, you will also be contacted by agents. Personally, I was picky, and sifted through my suitors until I found one that I felt I could read well enough to know if they were trustworthy. I don’t know Chinese customs, and I don’t know how to read someone who doesn’t speak my language. That’s why I ended up getting a recruiter who was originally from the United States.

Teaching Nomad was the agency that I went through, and my agent was Sophia. She helped me vet the jobs coming my way, and sought out jobs where I wanted, with the details I wanted. What did I want? I wanted daytime working hours, Monday to Friday, optimally part-time so that I could have more time to write and learn the language. Again, I have no connection to Teaching Nomad other than them finding me a job. No kickbacks here!

When deciding what you want, remember that the less convenient it is, the more it will pay. So, evenings, weekends, and split days off (not having both days beside each other) will net you higher pay.

I then interviewed with all of the schools she filtered my way, and chose from among them. But what do they do in these interviews?

The Interview

As briefly mentioned above, some will make you jump through plenty of hoops like performing for them over Skype, submitting a lesson plan, and examples of teaching materials. None of this is required, and some of the schools do it just to seem like they’re a premium option. Don’t buy it. Often, it could just be posturing.

I didn’t perform for any of them, and wasn’t interested in doing that. Remember, prettiest girl, that leverage is in your favor. So, what was my standard interview?

The first half was usually them asking me questions about my qualifications and what my experience was. The main point of this appeared to simply be hearing my accent, as I had little direct experience, and didn’t even have my TEFL at that point. Speaking of…


It seems like the baseline number of hours they want you to have for your certificate is 120 hours. Don’t trust the advertised time it says it’ll take on the certificate. I completed my “150 hour” one in 5 hours - and it didn’t require in-class lessons either. Just hop on Groupon or similar service and get one that says 120+ hours. Mine was 150h for $40 CAD, but seems to have expired at time of writing. (Here)

What is the difference? This is one of the areas that made me freeze up and over analyze, so let me be simple: TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) are basically the same thing. CELTA seems to be the same as well, but for whatever reason it is viewed as the higher-tier of the three. Ultimately, just choose one. There’s little difference in real-world outcomes between them.

Questions for the Interview

Questions you’ll probably want to ask are about job perks. Here are some questions to consider during the interview, and in your selection process:
  • Is housing included? If so, how far is the provided housing from work? What if you don’t like the provided housing? Will they give you a housing allowance to find another? 
  • Do they have a monthly transportation allowance to get to work and back?
  • How long into the job will you have to wait for your first pay-cheque? (This will affect how much money you need to have beforehand, and should be presented as such)
  • Do they have any sort of travel/flight allowance, or relocation bonus?
  • Do they have re-signing bonuses for returning teachers?
  • Is there a contract completion bonus?
  • What are the penalties for breaking your contract? (if it’s a fee, it’s very hard to enforce. Some places will simply hold onto your pay for a month at the beginning, or offer a large contract completion bonus)
  • What health insurance is there, if any?
  • Are mandarin lessons included in the contract?
And most importantly:
  • Will the School provide you with a Z-visa? (The visa to legally work in China as a foreign expert)
  • Will the school help with the process to obtain a work permit and residence permit?
The Z-visa is what will gain you entry into the country, and is used in the process to obtain working and residential permits. Some less legitimate companies will be willing to have you work there under a visitor's visa, which will require you to leave every 60 days in order to renew it. You can literally leave and return the same day. And before you ask, yes, this is actually somewhat common, though I wouldn't recommend it.

Bear in mind that the length of contracts do tend to be anywhere between 9 months and as many as 15. The reason they might go for a shorter contract is so that they won’t have to pay you for the summertime.

What If Things Go Wrong?

I had a friend who came here on the drop of a hat. He was living in Shanghai and working his job, but fell sick. He could have called in sick, but due to the sickness, he slept through his alarm and missed the window to call in. This one mistake resulted in them terminating his position.

Be aware that your visa will be tied to your school, which can make things a little bit sticky if you lose your job. Nightmare situation. What did he do?

Well, that’s the benefit of having an agent. They will be your fallback if anything happens with your school, which will normally your first line of defense. With Teaching Nomad’s help, he was able to get a vacation visa to extend his stay, the find another position within a month.

You’ll hear all sorts of horror stories, some of them true, some of them exaggerated, but all are manageable. Once you’re physically here, you’re here. It will be fairly easy for you to find another position, and resume your plan of teaching in China.

Remember: when push comes to shove, you can always hop over to a neighbouring country, or simply leave.


The odds will ever be in your favor when looking for jobs in Asia as a Westerner. China has a competitive culture where everyone wants to speak English, and this will help you find a job in no time. Give yourself a flexible timeline for departure, allow some wiggle room for potential visa hold-ups, and finding the deal that best suits your interests.

Remember: Foreigners are still somewhat rare, and Chinese people like them. Take a leap of faith. You’ll be glad you did!

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The following helpful comment was from Reddit user Sandwich_Breath:

Talking to foreign teachers at the school is a big one. Though keep in mind some employers monitor their employees' email accounts. Get a feel for the hours, workload, pay, vacation, and location (sometimes they lie about the school's location because many schools are remote and undesirable). Ask about the penalties for canceling a contract and get that in writing. Try to pick schools with many foreign teachers. Working as the lone foreigner is much riskier.

Try to get recent photos of the school and apartment (if they offer one). Employers may send inaccurate or doctored photos of your residence.

Check reviews of the school on and online black lists.

Don't be afraid to turn down job offers. The demand for English teachers is huge in Asia.
Every foreign country has its risks, but China is one of the riskier ones IMO. Shady employers are more common in China than Korea or Japan, and there's less support for foreigners should things go awry. China is very interesting, but it's essential you do your homework before making the plunge.

Take it from me - I took a job at a university and it was definitely not what I thought it was. I was lied to about some basic things. When I tried to leave, they put a guard outside my dorm and prevented me from leaving until I paid them $400. I paid them and eventually found good work at another school, but it was a huge hassle and kind of scary.


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