Where to Teach in China

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Where to Teach in China


⋯ By David Buckley ⋯

Teaching and living in China is a very popular choice for ESL teachers.

First, the rates of pay can be quite high compared to many other countries — but also because there are so many choices available.

If you are thinking of going to China to live and teach, I have written the following guide to help you.

Let’s get into it…

Are You Qualified?

Before you buy your ticket and jump on a plane to Shanghai, you need to check if you are qualified. In the past, China’s regulations for ESL teachers were slack, to say the least. Now the standards are much higher than before.

To get a work visa and teach in China, you will need the following:

  • a university degree
  • a TEFL certificate
  • two years work experience

These are the absolute minimum requirements to live and work in China.

You might encounter an agent or school trying to convince you that you can come to China on a tourist visa and work on that. Do not believe them. This is a scam and they are just trying to get you to come to China and work illegally.

Also, if you are applying to an international school, they will require you to have a teaching certificate to teach in your own country.

If you have all the above, then applying for your work visa should be a relatively painless process. Without the above, you cannot teach legally in China.


Teaching in China - Temples

Where You Can Work

And by this, I mean what kind of establishments.

You can work at the following educational institutions in China:

  • training centers
  • public schools
  • universities
  • kindergartens
  • private or international schools

All the places above can provide you with a vast array of choices of where to work in China.

Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Training Centers

This is by far the most popular choice for ESL teachers in China.

What Are They?

These are the after-school private establishments. They can be found near any commercial hub or center. Go to any major city hub or town center and you will find dozens of these places.

Shopping malls are usually teeming with — often on the upper floors.

Back in the old days, the training centers were geared towards teens studying IELTS to study abroad or young working professionals trying to improve their English for work purposes.

Now they cater mostly to a younger demographic. Kids from 3 to 12 years old.

The training centers provide a lot of jobs for foreign ESL teachers.

What You Will Teach

You will teach English to kids aged from kindergarten age to 12 years old. This means teaching very young children basic vocabulary and sentence structure and teaching older kids grammar, reading and writing as well as speaking.

What Training Centers Are Looking For

Most training centers are looking for people with some experience in teaching kids. Ideally, you should have a degree certificate, a TEFL certificate and have two years of working experience. (This is for visa purposes).

The school may also need to see proof of a clean criminal record.

And they may insist on the teacher being from the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. This is also for visa purposes).

What Training Centers Provide

Time was when they provided only a class full of students and a marker pen that worked if you were lucky.

Times have changed…

Now, most training centers provide a full curriculum and detailed lesson plans for every class. You go into the class and you should have a very clear idea of what you are teaching and what activities and exercises you will be doing.

They should also provide a smartboard in the classroom where you can show slides, pics, videos and so on.

Training centers these days often have TA’s — teaching assistants — these are local teachers who provide assistance to the foreign teachers. Often, female, these young women are worth their weight in gold. Treat them well!

Working Hours

Your working hours will be in the evening Monday to Friday — from around 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm. And the weekends all day Saturday and Sunday — this could be from 9:00 am to 8:30 pm.

The evenings go by pretty quickly, you may only have two one-hour lessons. But the weekends are busy as can be. This is where you will have the main bulk of your lessons.

Some schools may ask you to start work around 2 pm on the weekdays. You are expected to perform some office duties during this time. But most schools will only ask you to come if you have a lesson.

As long as you turn up for class on time and are fully prepared, you are all good.

You should have two full days off per week. But these days are often Monday and Tuesday.


You will get all the usual Chinese holidays off every year — and you will be given around 15 days vacation time every year too.


Many training centers pay around 25,000 RMB a month at the time of writing.

Why You Should Work There

If you want to work somewhere that has a very busy, energetic feel to it, then training centers could be the place for you. There are often a handful of other foreign teachers to associate with — great for getting some feedback, mutual support or socializing after work.

The pay is considered very good compared to other kinds of places in China. But the weekends are busy and you will have little to no time for partying on Friday or Saturday night.

If you like teaching young kids, training centers are definitely the place to be.


Teaching in China - Temple

Public Schools

What Are They?

These are the state-run middle schools and high schools.

Chinese kids must attend middle school and many go on to high school if they have plans to go to university. Competition to get into key middle schools or high schools can be tough and the test standards are very high.

What You Will Teach

If you work in a middle school or high school, you will mostly teach English Speaking. The Chinese teachers will teach English grammar, reading and writing.

Often you are left to your own devices. The school may give you free rein to do whatever you want in class. This means creating all your own lesson plans and activities for the classes. But other schools may tell you to follow the same curriculum that the Chinese teachers teach in their classes.

So, for example, if the students are learning a set question-and-answer phrase with their Chinese teacher — Where are you going? I am going to school/the supermarket/the post office for example — you should teach this in your own classes.

You just have to make your own activities or exercises to let the kids practice.

The foreign teacher usually only teaches one English lesson per class — so you only get to see the kids once a week in each class. This means that you can prepare one lesson that you can use again and again several times. One lesson plan for Grade 6, one lesson plan for Grade 7, and so on.

What Public Schools Are Looking For

They are looking for someone who is self-reliant to a degree. Someone who can plan their own lessons and take care of themselves.

The Chinese teachers will give you some support, but largely you are on your own.

You will need all the usual certificates and whatnot for visa purposes.

What Public Schools Provide

You might be lucky and teach in a school that has all the latest technology in the classroom. But often it is still a blackboard and very little else.

They will give you your own desk in the teacher’s room. And they will assign at least one Chinese teacher to help you with anything you might need. Remember though that the Chinese teacher also has her own classes and will only be able to help you to a degree.

Working Hours

The working hours are usually 7:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday to Friday. You may have to do around 25 classes a week and each class is around 45 minutes.

There will be times when the school has special events where they will expect you to attend. Sports days, art shows or a performance of some kind. These may take place after school hours or at the weekend and the school will ask you to turn up. But these are not very common.

Also, the kids have to do a lot of tests. During these times, your schedule may change completely. You may find you have no regular lessons at all, but you might have to help out with the tests.


You will get all the usual Chinese holidays off every year, plus long summer and winter holidays too. But there are make-up days where you have to work — usually on the weekends.


In recent years, the pay has gone up dramatically. Some of the public schools are now paying over 20,000 RMB a month.

Why You Should Work There

If you must have the weekends off, then this is the place for you. You could very well be the only foreign person working in the school, so if this suits you, then consider a public school.

And often the location of the school is way out in the boondocks. You could be way out in the outskirts of the city or town where you live.

If you like to work largely alone and be self-sufficient, then this could be ideal for you.


Teaching in China - City


What Are They?

These are universities. Students go there to get a degree. Just like in your own country.

What You Will Teach

You will teach English to college students. The classes could be mostly conversation or speaking classes.

There are some opportunities to teach maths or science subjects in English too.

What Universities Are Looking For

All the usual requirements as for the public schools. They may require you to assist students in their grading and other general academic support.

What Universities Provide

They often provide a classroom, maybe some office space that you can use and that is it.

Everything else you are expected to bring in.

But the colleges often provide some really picturesque campus environments. Some of these places can be really outstanding. Along with libraries and sports facilities too.

Working Hours

Monday to Friday, 8 am to 4:00 pm.

And the class times could be 90 minutes to two hours.

The actual working hours can be very low — sometimes as little as 12 hours a week.


All the usual Chinese holidays plus the summer and winter breaks.


The salary for university jobs can be anywhere between 15,000—22,000 RMB a month.

And many of these university teaching positions offer an end-of-contract bonus. This might include a flight back to your home country or cash.

You could also receive housing benefits.

Why You Should Work There

If you want to work largely alone, this could be for you.

Also, if you want a quiet life. You may find you are working in the middle of nowhere in one of the ‘university towns’ on the outskirts of a city or large town.

And if you like teaching older students and having real conversations.


Teaching in China - Shanghai


What Are They?

They are schools for very young kids — aged between 3 and 6.

What You Will Teach

You will teach young kids very basic English. You will probably have to teach phonics too.

What Kindergartens Are Looking For

They are looking for a teacher with a lot of energy who loves working with young kids.

They are looking for a teacher who knows a lot of games, activities and songs to use in the classroom.

What Kindergartens Provide

They don’t really provide much… Whatever you need to use in the classroom, you may be expected to buy or find yourself.

Luckily, in China there is Taobao and you can buy all the things you need for class online dirt cheap.

The kindergartens provide local teachers and they say these teachers are your assistants but do not expect too much help from them.

Working Hours

Monday to Friday, 7:30 am to 11:30 am and then 2:00 pm to around 4:00 pm or a little later. You might have to do the occasional weekend for special events — Children’s Day parties, etc.

For actual teaching times, you will probably have to do around 20 classes a week. Each class is around 30 to 45 minutes.


All the usual Chinese holidays plus the summer and winter holidays.


The salary in kindergartens can be very high. Many kindergartens pay up to 25,000 or even 30,000 RMB a month.

If the school likes you and you do a good job, they will not want to let you go.

Why You Should Work There

If you absolutely love working with young kids, then this is a dream job for you. You may be the only foreign teacher in the whole school though and you could be fairly isolated. So if you like working alone, this is for you.

Private Schools and International Schools

What Are They?

These are the expensive private schools for expatriate kids or the sons and daughters of wealthy Chinese people. They are usually in the more exclusive neighbourhoods of the city.

What You Will Teach

You could be brought in as an English teacher, but teaching multiple levels of English. But if you are qualified to do so, you could also teach maths, physics or any other subject.

You will very likely have to teach IB programs, IGCE and A Levels to the students. This may be the test they are going to do in the school.

What Private Schools Are Looking For

Experienced and qualified teachers. They are looking for teachers who can teach in their own countries.

What Private Schools Provide

You may be lucky and find they provide a full curriculum. Or you may be on your own and writing the whole system yourself.

You will have to write your own lesson plans, but that is expected anyway.

Working Hours

Monday to Friday. But the actual teaching hours vary from school to school. You could find you are doing your first class at 7:30 am. Or kick off at 9:00 am.

As with the public schools, there will be extra-curricular duties where you will be expected to attend — sports days, music performances, drama shows, etc.


All the usual Chinese holidays — plus you may get some of the holidays of the country with which the school is associated. So for example, if the school is American, you might get some American national holidays too.

International schools often have a break for Christmas and New Year.

And all the usual summer and winter breaks.


The pay is better than in other establishments in China. But getting a job in a private school or international school may be a little tricky.

Salaries are going around at the time of writing of 30,000 RMB a month plus housing benefit.

Why You Should Work There

If you have studied to be a teacher, and this is your career path, then you should pursue this. If you prefer teaching a cross-section of different cultures, then this is the job for you.

If you prefer to teach students with more advanced English.


Teaching in China - Lake


This is by no means a fully comprehensive guide to teaching in China.

But I hope I have given you an idea of what to expect in each kind of school or education institute. You should do as much research as you can when thinking about teaching and living in China.

There are many forums and websites where you can read people’s accounts of teaching in China.

But if you do decide to go, you will have enough stories to write a book.

Good luck!

About David Buckley

My name is David and I run my own website for English teachers and learners.

You can find it here – www.manwrites.com

I write articles about how to speak English on certain subjects and I also write lesson plans and short stories.

Check out my Talking Points series and my Short Stories for reading and speaking.


Are you interested in teaching English in China?

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Read more stories about teaching English abroad on the blog.

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