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Living and Working in China: What You Need to Know

Updated on November 1, 2015
InspiringWriter profile image

Originally from Birmingham, England, Ava has been living in Shenzhen on South China's tropical South East coast since 2013.

Live and work in China, feel appreciated

Teachers are highly thought of in China
Teachers are highly thought of in China | Source

One day a year dedicated to us

Teacher's Day occurs on September 10 and is widely regarded by Chinese children and their parents as an opportunity to bestow gifts on favoured teachers. This is to show appreciation and is also perhaps a subtle incentive to keep up the good work.

Presents range from the ostentatious to the humble although the former are discouraged. Thus flowers and / or chocolates are most likely to land in your arms or on your desk at this time.

It's a lovely feeling, to be recognised for doing a good job, and one of the many reasons westerners come here to teach and to live.

Are you ready for a life-enhancing change and seriously considering making a move? Here's steps you can take and things to be aware of to make the transition smoother and more successful.

Is teaching in China right for you?

Chinese students are eager to learn English
Chinese students are eager to learn English | Source

China is a vast country which combines ancient and modern in unexpected ways. It is mystical yet clearly understood. Fascinating and enigmatic yet amazingly straight forward.

In short, if you're considering making a move here you'll need to be adaptable as China is a place of ever changing variables sometimes with no apparent rhyme or reason.

Your work schedule can change at a moment's notice and the luxurious hour you thought you had for lesson preparation is suddenly reduced to 10 minutes. Could you cope with that?

Your accomodation may be significantly less amenable than in your home country, but this will be your personal haven for at least the next 12 months. Could you handle it?

The food is vastly different. The culture is overwhelming and sometimes even small, simple things become complex giants that you have to deal with.

If you are tenacious, flexible, willing to face and overcome challenges, polite yet assertive, able to thrive among strangers and looking for an opportunity to make a positive change in the lives of your students then I would say yes, you'll do. You'll definitely do.

In fact, when can you get here?

I can't speak Chinese

You can learn when you get here!
You can learn when you get here! | Source

When living and working in China as an English teacher the less Chinese you know the better as you'll be expected to host a totally English speaking classroom.

Of course you might want to know a few words of Mandarin for everyday tasks such as shopping or getting around which can be picked up quite quickly.

Becoming an ESL teacher is possible

Encourage and nurture young minds by living and   working in China as a TEFL teacher
Encourage and nurture young minds by living and working in China as a TEFL teacher | Source

Common questions about living and working in China

Such a big life decision requires clear direction.

Here are answers to some of the more frequently asked questions posed by people wanting to teach in China.

Follow these steps to working in China

Luohu Port, Guangdong, China
Luohu Port, Guangdong, China | Source

What are the basic requirements for teaching TEFL in China?

These are the most important points

  • To qualify for a work visa which is issued by your employers you'll need a Bachelor's Degree in any subject, two years related work experience and a clean police report.
  • You'll probably have a Skype interview
  • Sometimes schools and TEFL centres will offer you work based on your CV.
  • You should be aged between 22 and 55
  • Contracts last either one or two years
  • Employers prefer native speakers

Typical Chinese Apartment

Accomodation will often be provided by your employer
Accomodation will often be provided by your employer

What can I expect as a TEFL teacher?

Firstly and perhaps most importantly you'll gain a new perspective on life, people and everything inbetween, but in practical terms you'll benefit from the points outlined below.

  • Depending on your preference you can choose to work with children in schools and kindergartens, or with young people and adults in training centres and Universities. This is covered in my depth in my other article '7 Ways to Teach English in China.'
  • You'll be given a monthly salary which will be enough to live off, within reason, but may not be enough to allow you to save. You'll also usually be given air fare home at the end of your contract although this may be negotiable.
  • Your establishment will provide an apartment which may or may not be shared.Rent is free but you will pay utility bills.
  • If you secure your job through a reputable organisation or agency they may arrange all inclusive travel opportunities around China and neighbouring countries such as Singapore or Thailand.
  • In addition they may also arrange for several hours of Mandarin classes each week.

Enjoy delicious Chinese food

Savoury gourmet dishes
Savoury gourmet dishes

Anything else I should know about TEFL teaching?

  • Jobs in reputable organisations require you to have a TEFL certificate. Look online for courses which can be taken in person or via the internet. A TEFL qualification isn't vital but it could certainly aid you in getting a better position. Courses vary in price and length.
  • You'll need to know how to get work: Check out ESL job boards and TEFL teaching agencies. You can also try Chinese websites which advertise teaching jobs in English for western applicants. Google, as always, is your best research partner.
  • Don't underestimate how much money you will need initially. Factor in airfare, food, clothes, miscellaneous incidentals and anything else you can think of, then double it. It could be six to seven weeks before you get your first paycheck so its vital to have enough to tide you over.

Do ESL teachers ever have fun?

Yes, of course!
Yes, of course! | Source

Activities for you to try in your spare time

TEFL teachers enjoy a light schedule and a lot of free time. It makes good sense to make the most of it.

  • Travel to neighbouring Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Macau, Hong Kong or Vietnam
  • Exchange experiences with other ESL teachers
  • Try new foods
  • Accept invitations to go to your student's homes
  • Learn to play a Chinese instrument
  • Lose yourself in the beautiful bookshops
  • Climb a mountain or two
  • Sit in a Chinese cafe and blog about your new world
  • Join an expat organisation where you can get support and be supported by others

What do I need to be aware of?

Common sense is usually all that's needed
Common sense is usually all that's needed | Source

In a Nutshell

  • Make sure your paperwork is in order including proof of qualifications, up to date passport, and anything else requested by your Chinese employer in order for them to secure you a work visa.
  • Bear in mind that you're a visitor in China and must abide by the law at all times. Arm yourself with knowledge of relevant Chinese laws beforehand. Just like in the west, ignorance is no defence.
  • Ask your prospective employer to send you pictures of the school or centre and your proposed accomodation as soon as you accept the position and before you arrive in China. That way you can negotiate your preferences into your contract.
  • Special dietary needs are hard to accomodate in China. For example vegetarianism is practised by a tiny minority of people, however halal food is becoming easier to obtain in the bigger cities.
  • Consider where you'd be more comfortable in terms of location. Large cities are more modern and may have a more active expat community. On the other hand smaller towns and some cities may give you a more authentic and immersive Chinese experience.
  • Kindergartens, schools and English training centres hire all year round so you can plan to go and to apply for jobs at any time.
  • Chinese internet is slow and many western sites are banned. If you can't live without Google, YouTube or Facebook, install VPN software onto your laptop before you come.

That's great, anything else?

Waiting for an ESL teacher
Waiting for an ESL teacher | Source

Yes, here are some basic Chinese sentences to get you through your first few weeks

Common Greetings

  • Hello - ni hao (literally means, 'you good?')
  • Goodbye - zai jian, although 'bye bye' is more common
  • How are you? - ni hao ma?
  • Excuse me/I'm sorry - dui bu qi (qi is pronounced chi)
  • I would like - wo yao
  • No thank you - bu yao

Numbers 1-10

1 - yi (pronounced 'ee')

2 - ar

3 - san

4 - si

5 - wu

6 - liu (pronounced leo)

7 - qi

8 - ba

9 - jiu

10 - shi.

Entrance to beautiful Wutong Mountain
Entrance to beautiful Wutong Mountain | Source

Final Thoughts

Making a big move can change your life in totally unexpected ways, however, looking at the big picture before you've even begun can be a little daunting.

Planning is definitely key. Read other's experiences, imagine yourself in their shoes, Do your research, organise your qualifications and when the time is right apply for a job and hop on a plane.

Can you do it? You really won't know until you try, so, give it a go.

For more information on this topic check out; w


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    Post Comment
    • olilynch profile image

      Oli Lynch 

      2 years ago from London

      Great article! Hope you're still living the dream...

    • InspiringWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      Ava Ming 

      3 years ago from Shenzhen, China

      Hi Chezzchazz, thanks for reading and commenting.

      Remember you're only as young as you feel (-:


    • chezchazz profile image


      3 years ago from New York

      Very Interesting and comprehensive...I'd definitely consider doing this if I was younger.


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