How to Find the Perfect Job Teaching English in China
Why China? There are many reasons why you may decide to teach ESL in China, such as the desire to learn another language, an interest in Chinese culture, or to earn money. Teaching ESL in China is not generally a way to get rich, but you will earn a salary that allows you to live a very comfortable lifestyle and even save as well. If you want to save a reasonable amount of money, you will probably need to work overtime. However, a standard full-time contract in China is usually a maximum of 20-25 hours a week, so this is definitely possible. In the major cities, there is a huge potential to work overtime if desired as there are so many people wanting to learn English. Due to the low cost of living and the customary provision of accommodation, (or at least an allowance to cover this cost), the potential to earn can be almost unlimited.
- Decide on the city you wish to teach in. Narrow down your search to a specific region or city in which to start job-hunting. Your decision may be influenced by factors such as weather, money-earning potential, or personal preference, and a little bit of in-depth research into the area will serve you well. Weather may seem like a minor factor, but when you consider the temperatures in northern China often dip as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius, such factors suddenly become a bit more important!
- Do your research on standard contracts for ESL teachers in China. A typical contract will provide you with a return airfare, accommodation, a minimum salary of 3500 RMB per month, (approximately ₤250-₤300 at the time of writing), and some form of holiday pay in exchange for a one year commitment, (a one-way airfare is usually provided for 6 month contracts.) This salary sounds very low but it is more than enough to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. If money is an important motivating factor, larger cities such as Beijing and Shanghai offer greater potential for extra part-time work. Beware of making the assumption that provincial capitals will offer similar amenities for foreigners as Beijing or Shanghai; in my experience, this is often not the case.
- Send off as many applications and queries possible. Now is the time to start sending off queries. Compose a standard email giving brief details about yourself and what you are looking for from an ESL position. It is worth including a line detailing why you wish to work in their particular city. Many job descriptions will ask you to send photocopies of your degree certificates and passport straightaway if you are interested, but I normally wait until I have received a response from my standard email before taking the time to organise this. You may be asked to email a colour photograph of yourself too, and this is an indication of the importance Chinese people place on appearance. When you start to receive replies, you can assess how trustworthy and suitable each position is and make further contact as you wish.
- Check up on the School. I have found that many Chinese schools and educational companies will simply send you a contract by way of a reply and ask you to sign it and send it back if you are satisfied. One school that I have worked in included a telephone interview as part of the recruitment procedure, but this is fairly rare. If the school does not suggest this, suggest setting this up. This will give you both an opportunity to ask questions and gain a broader understanding of the way in which the school is run. Make sure you ask lots of questions by email to determine exactly what facilities are provided for you, both personally and professionally.
- Negotiate. The Chinese expect you to negotiate, and if you do not do this, then you may not be getting the best deal. More established schools have generally had experience of dealing with foreigners before and may have already implemented some suggestions made by previous foreign teachers. Do not be rushed into signing something you are not happy with; there are always plenty of opportunities in any particular city to choose from. Expect to negotiate about pay and contractual conditions before signing a contract, and compromises can often be reached.
- Do a Summer or Winter program. If you are nervous about making a long-term commitment or simply wish to sample the culture first, consider signing up for a shorter program. This is what I did before signing up for my first ESL job in Beijing, and it gave me the chance to visit the schools interested in offering me a position first. It is worth considering that a summer program will take place only a month or two prior to the start of the academic year, and this may limit your time-frame and choice of positions slightly as many schools begin their hiring process around January or February. However, there will not be a shortage of positions for you to choose from, even at this late stage. This also gives you a chance to leave after the program has finished if you don’t enjoy the experience, and these programs should cover expenses such as airfare, shared or dormitory accommodation and a basic living stipend.
- Read the small print. Find out all the hidden costs, such as who pays the initial visa fees, any costs associated with obtaining a working visa such as the cost of a medical, exactly what is included if the school offers medical insurance and what this is actually worth, and what is classified as “furnished” accommodation. Obtaining a basic inventory of what facilities are provided in the accommodation is a good idea, as this gives you an indication of what may be useful to bring with you and how much money you may need to allocate initially to set-up your accommodation on arrival. Make sure the contract states if it is single accommodation or shared, and if facilities such as Internet and telephone are provided, as these are often considered to be extra. Find out if the accommodation has heating and/or air-conditioning and who pays for this. Make sure this is stipulated in your contract and agreed upon before signing.
- Leaving and Arriving. Before leaving, make sure you have arranged all the correct vaccinations, visas, insurance, documentation, and certificates for your employer. A good idea is to scan copies of your passport, visas, and certificates into a computer at home and store a copy in your email account, so that you always have a copy if you lose the originals. Emailing a copy to a friend or relative before departure is useful too. Make sure that appropriate arrangements have been made with your employer to meet you on arrival and that you have a number for them in case arrangements change. Leave anything important that is not essential at home, such as jewellery and extra bank cards, but make sure that you have a couple of debit and credit cards in case one brand does not work.
- Have fun! The first few weeks in China will blow your mind, but you will have an amazing experience.