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ESL Teaching Isn't The Only Expat Job in China

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.


China is a musical place

TV competition, The Voice of China, is one of a plethora of singing shows on Chinese media, all of them extremely popular.

Music resonates across many Chinese cities. It's normal for children to play at least one instrument, Chinese or western. Adults and young people are practiced singers with KTV clubs (a kind of personalized Karaoke) situated on almost every corner, some with 24 hour opening.

Famous Chinese musicians include pianist Lang Lang whose story of overcoming hardship to become a world leader in his field is nothing short of inspirational.

This penchant for melody is supplemented by a constant demand for foreign musical talent.

Large hotels and bars employ Western and Filipino bands while cocktail lounges hire soloists and quartets to add a refined air.

Contracts range from 3 months to one year with room to extend. If you're a professional musician with more than two years experience, a good agent should be able to secure you work in China which usually comes with pay, hotel accommodation and a decent per diem.

You can also jam at open nights on a non-professional basis if you want to keep your day job as an ESL teacher.

Martial Arts Master

Jamaican, Canadian and Chinese Judo Masters in Shenzhen, South China
Jamaican, Canadian and Chinese Judo Masters in Shenzhen, South China

The practice of Judo, Karate, Kung Fu and MMA (mixed martial arts) abounds here just as you'd expect with this region being the home of these ancient sports.

However, what's probably unexpected is the big welcome foreign practitioners receive from the dojo. Parents, children and Masters are happy to have visiting teachers from the west although the contracts aren't very long.

Obviously the higher your belt and the more proficient you are, combined with up to date skills, the more desirable you'll be.

Contacts are made through international sister clubs or by word of mouth.


Admiring the fantastic work of French artist  Michel Saja, exhibiting in China
Admiring the fantastic work of French artist Michel Saja, exhibiting in China | Source

Being able to interpret images from the mind via ink, oils or watercolours is a skill which has always eluded me but has never stopped me from admiring those who can.

Talented, professional expat artists can arrange to have their work mounted and shown in China's many galleries or hotel art spaces providing valuable exposure as well as a wonderful experience.

On top of this is the prestige that comes when an eager patron wants to take your work home or another gallery asks you to exhibit with them.

Teach French, Spanish, German, Biology, Chemistry, Maths

ESL teaching to one side there are numerous other subjects in China where western educators are in demand.

If your first language is French, German, Italian, Spanish or Russian and you have experience of teaching beginners, there could be work waiting for you.

Also consider being a teacher trainer. Chinese teachers are keen to know about western classroom methodology, so if you're comfortable running a training programme this could be a good way to share your skills.


Chinese film set
Chinese film set | Source

Although this work is fun it can't be considered a source of full time employment as directors are always looking for fresh faces.

The good news is that you don't need to speak Chinese or learn a script as directions are usually given just before the cameras roll. Many parts don't require any speaking but if they do, your part will be in English. As long as you can follow direction (which may be given in Chinese accompanied by lots of hand gestures and facial expressions), you won't need any acting experience.

You could be asked to do TV adverts or have a minor role in a film consequently you could be filming anywhere from a day to a week or more.

Restrictions such as height, weight, age and sex sometimes apply.

This activity is as much fun as it sounds however bear in mind that acting jobs don't come up very often. Once you are in China keep an eye on the English language papers for calls for Western actors.

Work in Sales, IT and Engineering

IT engineers relaxing after a hard day's work
IT engineers relaxing after a hard day's work | Source

Chinese IT and sales companies are increasingly adding small numbers of western staff members and managers to their ranks.

As usual, they're looking for experience, dedication to the work and commitment to the company.

If you're interested in swapping your everyday office hours for a Chinese style 10-6, in an office where everyone talks in whispers, where you're encouraged to take day time naps and where you're given free accommodation as well as being bused to work to avoid navigating rush hour traffic and, if you don't mind plenty of well-rewarded overtime, this could be right for you.

Check international job boards and agencies for vacancies

Fitness Instructor

Do you love the gym? Do you know the equipment inside out and can tell the difference between a glute and maximus?

Are you partial to a game of badminton, volleyball or soccer? What about enabling others to love it too, significantly impacting their health for the better?

Chinese gyms range from expensive, well equipped and well run clubs to the opposite end of the scale, but as more and more Chinese incorporate fitness into their lives gym membership is on the increase.

Some of the more upscale establishments are actively sourcing western instructors.

This is where your qualifications, enthusiasm, high level of fitness and personal experience could be a definite asset.


The big cities in China are where wealthy citizens reside and consequently where the nanny roles are.

Duties will include light housework and offering standard childcare for one or more children as well as teaching and immersing the child in your native language which could be French, Spanish or English depending on the parent's preference.

You will most likely live-in and have to abide by the household rules. Contracts usually run for one year.


Cook and serve delicious Chinese dishes
Cook and serve delicious Chinese dishes | Source

What a joy to work in ultra modern, exceptionally well stocked kitchens within five star hotel establishments devising, preparing, show-casing and serving delectable cuisine to an appreciative and discerning clientele.

This must be the reason the top Chefs here always look happy. They are paid to do what they love and what could be better than that?

Care to don your whites and join them?


She's got the look
She's got the look

China is a great place for those in this profession, especially women.

The international car shows were the biggest source of work until recently but opportunities still abound in a variety of situations from catwalk shows to billboard and TV work.

Agencies and employers generally prefer Russian and Northern Europe foreign models who conform to the standard look of tall and slim with long hair. Opportunities for models outside of these aspects exist but are infrequent.Models travel extensively throughout the big cities to wherever the work is.

Modelling in China is not a perennial job, rather one which supplements quiet times in the home country.

Neighbourhood street in Shenzhen, South China
Neighbourhood street in Shenzhen, South China | Source

Final Thoughts

So, here's ten options for you to consider if TEFL or ESL teaching doesn't quite do it for you.

Obviously I've only touched the surface otherwise this article would be pretty long! So, please make sure you do your own research thoroughly, do not just get on a plane and come.

I haven't covered running a business in China as it's a complicated and lengthy procedure full of intricate rules and a mountain of paperwork which I'm not qualified to give advice on. Having said that I'm sure that the information is out there, it's up to you to source what you need to know if this is your area of interest.

Thanks for reading my Hub. If you've tried any of these occupations feel free to share your experience.


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    • InspiringWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      Ava Ming 

      3 years ago from Shenzhen, China

      Thanks VirginniaLynne. Yes there are many more things to do here than teach in order to earn a living. You could also check out Living and working in China, what you need to know, for practical tips.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      Much appreciated


    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 

      3 years ago from United States

      Terrific information. My daughter is interesting in spending time in China after graduating with a degree in international studies. I knew she could work in ESL but you've given a number of other ideas.


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