Teaching English in China

The Ultimate guide to teaching English in China

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live in China, home to the world’s oldest civilization? The country is as big as the United States, with over 1.3 billion people (almost 4 times the population of the US). China’s economy has been growing exponentially. The world’s starting to hear more about the success of Alibaba, Xiaomi, or the technology innovation growth of Shenzen.

China offers not only delicious food but also diverse landscapes and plenty of beautiful cultural heritage sites. The number of Chinese people looking to learn English to do more business with the rest of the world continues to increase and shows no sign of slowing down. All in all, it’s a great destination for ESL teachers!

What Are The Job Requirements?

Here’s a short list of requirements for teaching English in China, taking into account the new regulations announced by the Chinese Ministry of Education for all online and in-class ESL teachers in China:

  • A Bachelor’s degree or above
  • A 120-hour TEFL Certificate from an accredited institution
  • Completed federal background check and medical check
  • A valid passport from an English-speaking country (U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa)
    • For non-native teachers, you can teach subjects other than English if you have proven 2 years of experience.
Job requirements for esl in China

Types of ESL Teaching Jobs in China

There are various types of ESL teaching jobs in China:

  • Private Language Centers (English Training Schools): They could be a large chain or family owned. You’re most likely teaching children or junior high and high school students, typically for 25+ teaching hours and maybe some office hours per week. The class size tends to be smaller, and you’ll have to work odd hours such as evenings and weekends.

  • Public Schools: They tend to offer more PTOs and better benefits. You’d generally be treated with more respect here, yet it’s also expected of you to prepare your own curriculum and lessons. The class size is often large. And the schedule will be normal business hours, from around 7:30 am to 4 pm or 4:30 pm.

  • Colleges and Universities: They offer a great teaching environment, don’t require as many hours, and provide lots of vacation time, yet the pay isn’t so great. You’ll need at least a master’s degree, sometimes even a Ph.D. Thus, this type of position is usually better for the long-term or permanent residents.

How to Get a Job in China?

First of all, nail the minimum job requirements: an undergraduate degree and TEFL/TESOL certificate! Then, use a recruiting agency to help you navigate through the enormous sea of job opportunities in China. You can find ESL jobs online on your own as well, but it’s hard to communicate with the schools to get all the exact details and know which one best suits you, especially with the language barrier. Save yourself the hassle and maybe even get a higher salary by using a recruiter. We can also help you find English teaching jobs in China >

Not all recruiters are trustworthy, so you should thoroughly check out any school or agency before signing a contract. Ask for contact information of the school’s past teachers so you can get reliable reviews. Join our Teach English Abroad Facebook group to see daily job postings and connect with fellow ESL teachers in China!

How Much Do I Get Paid As an ESL Teacher in China?

The salary and cost of living in China vary tremendously among regions. Obviously, what you get paid will depend on the number of hours you teach, the school, and your qualifications. Generally speaking, an ESL teacher’s salary in China ranges from $1,000 to $3,000. If you’re an experienced teacher with a specialty, you may get up to $5,000 teaching full-time at an international school in China. On the other hand, for around 20 hours of teaching a week at a university in China, you may earn up to $1,600 a month.

As mentioned above, these figures vary upon regions in China. For example, if you’re looking at big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzen, the average English teaching salary will be:

  • Language centers: $1,800 – $2,900
  • Public schools: $1,500 – $2,500
  • International schools: $2,500 – $4,700
  • Universities: $1,200 – $1,600

If you’re staying in smaller cities like Nanjing, Chengdu, Kunming, Wuhan or Xiamen, the average English teaching salary will be:

  • Language centers: $1,500 – $1,850
  • Public schools: $1,400 – $2,300
  • International schools: $2,000 – $3,500
  • Universities: $1,000 – $1,300

And for even smaller cities in rural areas such as Yangzhou, Zhongshan, Guilin or Foshan, the typical ESL teacher’s salary will average around $1,000 to $1,500.

Cost of living in China

The Cost of living in China

Most foreign ESL teachers in China could make a decent saving while working in China since the cost of living is relatively lower than most Western countries. This isn’t true for the fast-growing cities such as Shanghai or Beijing however, since the prices there are similar to in Tokyo or even in New York City.

Here are sample prices for living in a larger urban area of China:

    • Rent: 2,000 – 4,000 RMB. The number highly depending on the location, size of the space, and whether you’re staying in major metropolitan or 2nd tier city, etc. In the majority of the cases, you’ll need to find your own accommodation but assistance from the local agency or by the school, but occasionally you might able to find ones with allowance.

    • Utilities: 200 – 400 RMB per month

    • Phone & Internet: ~ $30 or less (data is cheap in China!)

    • Food: ~ $250 (if you cook on your own most of the times and eat out occasionally)

    • Insurance: ~ $50

    • Transportation:

    • Metro: as cheap as 30 cents to $1 or $2 per ride (depending on distance)

    • Bus: less than 50 cents/ride

    • Didi (China’s version of Uber and bought Uber) is cheaper than taxis and easy to use

    • The bike sharing program is ubiquitous with tons of bikes lying around everywhere for you to pick up and pay via a mobile app for just 15 cents (1 RMB) per hour!

How are the living standard in China compare to the US, Canada, UK, etc?

The living standard in top major metropolitans like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, etc are very good. They are modern cities with sophisticated infrastructure, transportation network, and health care. However, don’t expect everything to be the same as your home!

Expect to pay high prices at Westerner restaurants and bars! Overall, if you live like a local and cook on your own or eat out at small, local restaurants and street stalls, you’ll be able to save a ton.

Where Should I Live and Teach in China?

CHINA IS HUGE! But you already know that. Even the small cities in China have millions of people. And the demand for English teachers is high everywhere. Thus, you’ve got options where to teach English abroad in China.

If you prefer the big metropolitan areas, Beijing and Shanghai are your best bet! They offer the highest salaries but also fierce competition. And the number of job opportunities available in these two big cities is huge. Beijing is the capital, rich in history and culture, with 21+ million of residents, many world-class restaurants and shopping malls, along with famous attractions like the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Shanghai, on the other hand, is home to an impressive skyline and the financial heart of China. It’s the country’s largest city, beloved by many foreigners.

Smaller cities are nice too, since they are more affordable, and it’s easier to fully immerse yourself in the culture. Some of the “second-tier” cities in China are Hangzhou, Nanjing, Xi’an, and Chengdu – all are great places for foreign ESL teachers. Chengdu is famous for its pandas and spicy food. Xi’an is popular for its historical prominence and low cost of living.

Yunnan Province has many great cities (Kunming) and ancient villages (Lijiang, Dali, Shangri-la, Shaxi). While it’s significantly cheaper to live in Yunnan compared to other parts of China, it’s still very convenient (you can get anything shipped to your door) and is a dream destination for nature lovers. You won’t have to worry about pollution, traffic jam or noises like in Beijing or Shanghai, and will get to experience the lifestyle of different ethnic groups in China.

Wherever you choose to live and teach English in China, each place is unique and offers plenty of things to do and explore. Do take weather into consideration, whether you prefer warmer weather in the south or cold temperature in the north.

What Is Expected of ESL Teachers in China?

Teaching methods in China will be likely different from what you know. Most schools hire a native speaker like you to give the students a chance to interact more with an authentic English speaker. Therefore, come up with engaging songs, games, discussions, and speaking activities to get the students talking. Remember that sites like Facebook, YouTube, or Google are all blocked in China. You will need to ask your employer for alternatives or use a VPN (though that may not be allowed in some schools either).

The work culture is different in China. It may take you a while to get used to things and know how to behave. For example, you may experience frequent schedule changes with very little warning. Overall, if you had prepared your lessons well, you will be okay. Just relax and go with the flow, and don’t take things too personal!

Do I Need To Learn Chinese To Teach English Abroad in China?

Like for most countries, you aren’t required to learn Chinese to qualify as an ESL teacher. You come here to teach English, thus you’re expected to speak English most of the times at work. The schools will likely send somebody who can speak English to get you from the airport, introduce you to the school and show you around initially. But then, you’re on your own.

At school, you should be able to find colleagues who speak English and can show you the ropes. There’s a large number of expats residing in multiple parts of China that you’ll be able to find through local expat networks. And, there’s Google Translate!

However, once you travel to China, you’ll realize how little English is used in many places in China, even in Beijing or Shanghai. Most locals in rural areas don’t know English at all. If you want to eat at local restaurant, take the local bus to explore, ask for directions when you’re lost without the help of Google Maps, you’ll want to learn to speak some basic Chinese!

There are five main language groups in China, and Mandarin is the most widely spoken. Though Chinese can be a difficult language and overwhelming to learn at first, the best way to study Chinese is to make friend with the friendly locals. There are some free mobile apps like Hello Chinese or Duolingo that make studying Chinese more practical and conversational. Or, sign up for a formal course at a local Chinese language school. If you’re up for the challenge, it’ll be extremely rewarding and beneficial for your new adventure in China.

Chinese Culture and Lifestyle

China is a country of 1.3+ billion people, with 50+ ethnic groups. Its culture is unique. The simple fact that popular sites like Google, YouTube, and Facebook are blocked in China is enough to overwhelm many foreigners (Seriously, how do I function without Google?!) Needless to say, it’s another world in China!

The country has opened up to the world only a few decades ago. Its culture is heavily influenced by Taoism/Daoism and Confucianism religions/philosophies. As opposed to the focus on individualism in Western cultures, China encourages collectivism and harmony over individualism.

Being nurtured within China’s distinct history, culture, context and language characteristics, the Chinese people’s thought process might be vastly different from your own perspective. On the other hand, younger generations in China grow up being more exposed to foreign cultures and arts, thus are definitely different than their parents or grandparents’ generations.

Overall, culture shock is an essential part of any living abroad experiences. You can overcome it by doing your due diligence and keep an open mind while teaching ESL and living in China!

Chinese culture and lifestyle

Visa Requirements To Work in China as An ESL Teacher

With a country known to have strict visa policy like China, you may be wondering, “What are the visa requirements to work in China as a foreign teacher?” You’ll need to obtain Z-Visa – the Chinese working visa, as well as a Work Permit and Residence Permit.

The requirements vary upon your home country. The recruiting agency or your employing school should guide you through this specific process when the time comes. But here’s a typical process of entering China as a foreign ESL teacher:

Before you arrive in China:

  • Accept the teaching position offer
  • Notification of Work Permit (15 business days)
  • Apply for Z Visa (5 business days)


Once you entered China:

  • Apply for a Foreigner Work Permit (10 business days)
  • Apply for a Residence Permit (7 business days)
Besides the requirement that you must be 18+ years old and from an English-speaking country, here’s a list of documents typically required to apply for a Chinese Work Visa:
  • An original or notarized copy of your university diploma
  • A 120+ hr TEFL/ TESOL/ CELTA teaching certificate
  • A color scanned copy of your passport information page (with passport ID and photo)
  • A recent passport photo that meets the Chinese Embassy’s photo requirements
  • A reference letter and Foreigners Employment Permit (obtained from the school or recruiting agency)
  • A good medical examination report from a hospital
  • A clean background check authenticated by the police station and Chinese Embassy
  • A completely filled Chinese visa application form. You must fill it out on a computer then print it out (one-sided). Only the signatures and dates in Part 4 and 5 must be handwritten.

There might be other supporting documents required for non-US citizens and some special cases. To learn more, please visit this detailed article about Chinese Work Visa requirements.

Are you looking for opportunities to teach English abroad in China? Check out our Teach English Abroad Facebook group for daily job listings.

How to Apply?

We work closely with many reputable local registered agencies in China. You can find a list of active hiring local schools in China here or let us find the best matching job by submitting your application to us (the hiring service will be powered by Oakary Inc). 

Phone Number and The Everything App

Majority of the people use a smartphone in China and maintain a cell phone number, because you’ll need that for many account access and verification, including bank account and many other app sign up. However, no one will really call your phone number except food delivery, Didi driver to find your location, tele-salesman, and never ending spammers.

Now you might wonder which app do people use to communicate? WeChat is the one! All communication whether business or personal is done via WeChat. Yes, there’s not much work-personal line here. Beyond serving the purpose of chat, you can also use it to buy things, split a bill with your new friends, pay the meal, water bill, street vendor, or a taxi ride. You will also soon be overwhelmed with group chats with friends and colleagues. You can also use it to send red pockets (the lucky money during Chinese New Year). Furthermore, red pocket money is also an excellent way to obtain a quick response to your group text.

Oh, the Internet

As you probably know about the Great Firewall, this might take some effort for you to adjust. Any website is based outside of China will either be blocked or be relatively slow. Generally speaking, you will able to access the majority of the website as you are outside of China, but anything related to social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or services by Google, will be blocked. Nevertheless, inconvenient, but it’s not the end of the world, you just need to install VPN on your phone to bypass the restriction. However, be sure to install it before you enter the soil of China, because you won’t able to download a legal VPN app as they are removed from the app stores (Apple app store and there’s no Google app store in China, but app store by the phone provider). 

Besides that, the Internet in China is generally very fast. you will find most websites and applications fast within China. You just need to make new friends to understand the alternative apps they use locally.

Local Schools in China

kid castle teaching abroad

Kid Castle

School Info Kid Castle started with a single school back in 1986, and has steadily expanded through Taiwan and across China. We now have over

Seadragon Education (SDE)

Seadragon Education (SDE) is a local recruiting agency located in China helps connecting teachers to teach abroad in China.

Nanjing Studio English Classroom (KZ-English)

School Info Nanjing Studio English Classroom(南京空中英语学校,also know as KZ-English), the official website is http://www.kzenglish.com. Recently, there are three campuses here in Nanjing, LJ campus, HYC


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Oriental Cambridge Education Group

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English First

Teach English anywhere in China with English First. Upfront paid flight. Comprehensive package up to 16,400 RMB with health insurance, travel allowance, training and more.