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The Truth About Teaching English In China

This article is for anyone thinking about teaching English and looking for the truth about teaching in China. I taught in China without any teaching experience, I did not have a TEFL certification, and I had never been to China before.

Teaching English in China: 6 Truths About Teaching English in China

There are a lot of rumors that fly around about teaching English in China. Scams, exploitation, possible deportation, etc. It gets scary fast! But how can you be sure it’s all true? As someone who was nearly deported in February, I’ve seen it all! The good, the bad, and the downright illegal; but I’m still here. Chipping away at China. Happy as a clam.

So here are 6 things you need to know about teaching in China.

1. ANYONE can Teach English in China.

China is incredibly thirsty for Western languages and customs because they’re thinking long-term. What could make China even more unstoppable? A second language of course!

For that reason, schools and parents will shell out hundreds of thousands of DOLLARS for language courses that are taught by God-only-knows-who. Seriously. You don’t need ANY credentials to teach English in China, you just need to look foreign and be a native speaker.

a woman teaching English in China

However, people with better credentials will be paid more. So will people with blonde hair and blue eyes.

That’s just China. If you’re a proper teacher, don’t settle for anything less than 20k-30k RMB a month PLUS housing when dealing with international schools.

Normal English teachers at various Chinese schools will be bringing home 6k-12k RMB plus housing. If no housing is included, don’t settle for anything less than 10k RMB.

2. Nearly Everything is a Scam, But How Much of a Scam Is It?

Everything in China is a scam. There are foreigners working without proper visas, businesses withhold pay and vacation time for no reason, and taxes are laughable at best.

When shopping for English teaching programs in China, you should be able to speak with a foreigner at all times. This will help when you hit roadblocks with the Visa process or when you inevitably start to struggle with adjusting.

You’re going to need that friendly foreign face, regardless of your Chinese level or former student China experience. Trust me.

You’re also less likely to be ripped off by foreigners, but there’s always an exception. Don’t EVER pay someone to “match you” with a program or school.

They’re getting a cut of the profit already from the school so that should cover their scouting fees.

I‘ve lived abroad for many years and love helping others find work abroad and figure out their “Move Abroad Plan.” Check out my class below to get you started ASAP!

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3. You will Experience Racism in China.

But this is the case in nearly every Western country as well. My Asian-American friends are always struggling to find work because families/schools often only want to hire “foreign-looking” teachers… because they’re racist and want to impress the people by being able to afford a foreign-looking teacher.

Welcome to China. If you are of African descent, or if your skin tone is of a darker nature, you will also struggle to find work. Many of the African immigrants in China have the reputation of being criminals/drug dealers so that’s what Chinese people hold onto.

a woman teaching English in a city in China

If you are a white male, your resume will be pushed to the front of the pile AND you could work part-time as a “model.” I have a friend who’s in Korea at the moment acting as the “foreign face” for a Chinese company and he’s getting 1000 USD due to it.

As a Mexican-American, my skin tone is often an issue for potential employers (and Chinese boyfriends), but they let that slide because I’m “beautiful” according to their cultural standards: big eyes, a small waist, and an American accent.

Forget my BA from Boston College in ENGLISH and the history of teaching around the world. Life isn’t fair; accept it and you’ll do fine in China.

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4. You NEED a Z-Work Visa.

Companies will try to give you an F Visa (temporary working visa) and you need to walk away. F Visas are only good for 60-90 days and you’ll have to leave the country each time to avoid a 500RMB fine (per day).

This makes saving money difficult. If they’re planning on giving you a Z-Visa once you’re inside China, you need to have a guarantee of some sort that you will receive a Z-Visa within 90 days, otherwise, you could potentially be deported and charged with tax evasion.

Scary stuff. With that being said, nearly no one has a Z visa because they’re insanely difficult to get due to recent government crackdowns.

Unless you have some serious guanxi (connections) don’t bother picking up your entire life without a Z Visa; it gets expensive quickly and more often than not, China newbies don’t have enough China experience to get a Z Visa on their own.

5. The Best Teaching Jobs are Freelance Jobs.

Private English classes will commonly pay 120RMB to 200RMB a class. If you do 10 hours of private tutoring a week, you’ll cash out at 8,000 RMB at the end of the month (at 200 RMB an hour.)

The average corporate wage for Chinese nationals in a 1st tier city is 3k-5k RMB and for foreigners on a local salary, 8k-12k RMB. But teaching ANYWHERE in China will easily rack up 8k-12k RMB a month; it’s kind of ridiculous.

So why should you work for a Chinese school on a private contract when you could be making SO MUCH MORE just doing freelance? Because the school will provide a Z Visa. These Z Visa’s are basically GOLD in China so don’t screw it up!

6. Being an English Teacher will Impact Your Social Standing.

But keep your head up! Because of the severe difference in wages, teachers are often scoffed at within the foreign community due to jealousy.

Teachers are able to take more time off, have better benefits, and are nearly the only people in China who are LEGALLY allowed to work here. Don’t let it get you down. This is your adventure; own it. You have plenty of time for that corporate crap. Trust me.

Now I work a typical 9-5 office job and nap time is always on my mind. Do you and don’t look back.

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Monday 18th of September 2023

I was a teacher in China from 2016 - 2019. I had a hiccup with a couple of employers, but all of those who agreed to hire me provided a Z visa. This is not a rare thing for foreigners who possess at least a bachelor's degree, TEFL certification, and 2 years work experience (in anything).

Cameron Dunlop

Wednesday 1st of March 2017

Great article Vanessa, it was very informative and helpful! In reference to the freelance teaching, could you recommend the best way of doing this, is there any good websites that you can advertise your english tutoring on? I hope to teach in Shenzhen so any way of doing it in Shenzhen would be really helpful!

Thanks a lot, Cameron


Saturday 26th of December 2015

You said "Scary stuff. With that being said, nearly no one has a Z visa because they’re insanely difficult to get due to recent government crackdowns" This is a flat out lie. They are NOT insanely difficult to get. You need 1) To be a native speaker from one of the approved seven countries 2) A B.A or B.S 3) Two years working experience (doesn't have to be as a teacher. Yes if you don't have one or more of the above Z-visas can be insanely difficult to get...but then you are working illegally anyway so you shouldn't be able to get one anyway


Saturday 26th of December 2015

Oh and one more thing.

"You don’t need ANY credentials to teach English in China, you just need to look foreign and be a native speaker" Please stop giving bad advise. Firstly you can NOT work in China without a Z visa. Not legally anyway. To get a Z visa you must (as I said above (1) be a native speaker. 2) Have an university degree 3) have at least 2 years (5 years in Beijing or Shanghai) of working experience after university. This are NON-negotiable requirements as of July 2013. The only way around them is to work illegally. Full stop.

Carolyn V. Hamilton

Monday 29th of December 2014

You are a remarkable young lady and I'm glad I discovered you. I have traveled through China (love the food!) so I can visualize you in Beijing! :) You also have a personable writing style. Keep up the good work and don't get married :) Children can be rented.


Monday 22nd of September 2014

Hi, firstly great article. I have been living in China for the last 3 years and can completely identify with your points on teaching English. I've found that doing private lessons one to one definitely can be the better way to go, as schools can be a pain to work for. Plus you can make more money ahah. Always important!