Sunday, April 26, 2015

5 Things You Should Know if you Want to Teach English in China

Teaching ESL in China

This is a guest post from Terence Stamp over at Teach English Overseas. He teaches English in Beijing and I really appreciate him taking the time to give us this useful information since teaching in China is truly something that I know very little about. Thanks Terence and without further ado, here are the top 5 things you need to know about teaching ESL in China:

Pollution in China

You likely heard stories about the air quality already before you have even come to China. Everything you have heard is true...and worse. It's not uncommon to see people with surgical masks walking around. Some people have weather apps on their phone to know what the tem is going to be like, or whether if it will rain that day. In China, people commonly have apps that tell them the air pollution index for any given day.

I wish I could stop there. You see, China still uses coal for most of its energy needs. China doesn't have an EPA the way the United States does. So many large industries don't care about the environment the way the west does. Nor do they have the experience and technology to regulate it. The other day we had a serious sandstorm in Beijing, and we don't even have deserts nearby. Combine that with the fact that Beijing is surrounded by mountains that trap the pollution and smog for days at a time.

You should never drink the tap water here. Doing so is an open invitation to become ill. Many residences and businesses here use water machines with the large upside down water containers on them. I'm not trying to scare you from coming here, but you should know that it can be alarming for a newcomer.

Finding ESL Work  in China

Now for some great news. Need a job in China? Well, it doesn't take long before you'll be put to work. The simple fact of the matter is that there are more jobs available than there are teachers to work those jobs. Two of my favorite sites to look are on Craigslist (look in the jobs>education category) and ESL Cafe (click jobs at the top and click on China jobs board).

The most common types of work consist of three choices. The first is the language mill which consists of night and weekend work. No apartment or insurance will typically be provided, but the pay is nice enough to offset those issues. The next option is working in a government school, such as a university or even public or high school. You will get housing and insurance here, but it's offset by low pay and a large amount of students per class. The last option, my own favorite by a country mile, is working in a kindergarten. You only work weekdays, with no nights and weekends. The pay is pretty good, the amount of students is low, and you spend all day with a single class. Unlike the first two options, you will have many classes, and so it makes it hard to get to know all your students. With a kindergarten it's not like that, but perhaps working with young children is a negative for you.
English Teaching Visas for China

Ahh visas. That perennial issue and thorn in the side. I was under the completely mistaken assumption that work visas were not necessary or required to teach here. But let me clarify. Yes, technically, you are required to have a visa to be legally employed as an English teacher in China. However, many teachers are in China teaching in any case. If all the teachers who were here illegally were to leave, you would notice a significant population decrease for sure.

So what's it take to get a work visa? Well, you need an offer of employment from a school that is set up with the government to offer them. Also, when I first got here 4 years ago, an FBI police report was not a requirement. Now it is. An FBI police report is gotten by supplying your fingerprints and waiting a month or more to get the results back. Also, you are required to have a university diploma, BA or higher, just like most everywhere else in Asia.

Holidays for ESL Teachers

I love this aspect of teaching in China. There are so many holidays, and the best part is that they are all paid. A complete list can be found at but the big two are Spring Festival (also known as the Chinese New Year) which typically happens in the first month or two of a year and lasts 1 week. The other is National Day which is always October 1-7. April, May and June also have holidays, but they are shorter.

Depending on where you decide to teach, you may end up getting up to a month or more off for Spring Festival as well as the summer months when no school is in session. Some schools will even pay you a bonus for the month to travel with. And speaking of travel, there is a lot to see and do in China. The history is amazing, and many of the sights are extremely beautiful. There is the Great Wall, Tiananmen, and the Forbidden City in Beijing. Xi'an has the terracotta warriors and not too distant is the famed Shaolin Temple near Dengfeng. You will not be lacking for places to see.

Finances for ESL Teachers in China

More specifically, I want to talk about something you will hardly see discussed anywhere else online. You see, China has imposed money transfer limits on foreigners. This is not a good thing. Years ago, I was able to send effectively any amount. Then one day I went to the bank and suddenly learned that the new limit was now $500. Then even more recently, I tried to send a Western Union, and was declined. Thankfully, my Chinese wife has no such limits (they can send up to about $50,000 per year) and so she helped me.

But if you have student loans you are paying every month, then these transfer limits can pose a significant burden to your economics. Even if all you are doing is sending the occasional savings home for when you return, then you will be met with obstacles. Also, never forget that as a US citizen, you are compelled to file a tax return every year, even if you do not reside in the US. However, the Foerign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) allows you to earn just over $100,000 every year tax free. So as an English teacher, you will never have to worry about hitting that limit.

I have tried to my best to discuss important topics with you if you are considering coming to the middle kingdom to teach. I think it can be rewarding to spend time in China, and doing so will never hurt your resume. Especially if you take the time to learn Chinese, which I do not consider exceptionally difficult to do if you apply yourself. You will want to order VPN service as well, since the "great firewall" will block access to everyone's favorite Facebook and YouTube. I am open to any questions that you might have, so feel free to contact me. 

About Terence Stamp

 I grew up in Iowa and spent most of my life there. I got the travel bug in 2008 and by 2011 I was ready to live overseas full time. Since I am not independently wealthy and still needed to work, I decided to begin teaching English. Little did I know how the industry would suck me in. Now 4 years later, I am still teaching and interested in helping others to learn how to teach. Because of this I started Teach English Overseas where I provide information for those interested in becoming English teachers abroad. You may contact me at

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