China - FAQ's

We have compiled a list of the most common questions and concerns we hear from teachers planning to teach in China. This list is always growing and being updated and we hope you'll find what you're looking for. If there's anything we missed, please email us at and let us know how we can help you.

Z Visa Process

I have a criminal record. Can I still get a Z visa?

Some minor charges may be overlooked by immigration, especially those related to minor traffic infractions. Charges related to drinking or drug use, as well as other serious offences will disqualify you from being able to get a Z visa. Teachers heading to China can use a State or local criminal record check rather than an FBI check, so it's possible for a charge not to show up.

How long is a criminal record check valid for?

A criminal record check (CRC) is valid for 6 months from the date it was issued. It must be submitted for your visa paperwork before its expiry date.

Do I have to undergo a full medical exam in my home country and then another exam when I arrive in China?

For the Z visa, applicants need to get a medical check form filled in by a physician, declaring that they are physically and mentally healthy. Once applicants arrive in China, they are required to undergo a full medical exam at a local hospital.

I only have an Associate's Degree. Do I qualify for a Z visa?

In order to teach English or ESL in China, you must be a passport holder and have completed at least a Bachelor Degree from one of the 7 approved English-speaking countries - Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, or New Zealand.

I have a Bachelor Degree and a passport from an approved country. Do I qualify for a Z visa?

To qualify for a Z visa in China, applicants must hold either a 120 hour TEFL certificate or provide a formal letter of employement, stating they have completed 2 years of full-time teaching experience. To qualify for a subject or international school teaching position, applicants must hold a passport from a native English speaking country, a BA degree and proof of 2 years full-time teaching experience.

My passport expires in 8 months. Do I have to order a new passport before applying for a visa?

You must have at least 6 months remaining validity on your passport in order to apply for your Z visa. However, please double check with your local consulate or visa processing centre to verify this with them.

I have a Bachelor degree from an approved English-speaking country, but my passport is not. Do I qualify for a Z visa?

Your Bachelor degree and your passport must both be from one of the approved English-speaking countries in order to qualify.

Will the school reimburse me for expenses incured by the visa process?

Public schools in China do not reimburse teachers for visa related expenses, though some private schools may do so. The reimbursements should be laid out in the contract you sign with the school.

I take medication for managed depression or mild anxiety. Will I pass the medical exam?

Since some medications can cause false positives for illegal drugs on the medical exam, it is important to check with your physician to make sure the medication you are taking will not cause you to fail. Teachers who fail the medical exam can have their contract cancelled by the school, since they won't be approved for the residence permit.

I don't have a teaching certificate. Can I still teach in China?

You do not have to be a certified teacher in order to teach in China. You must have: 1) A Bachelor degree or higher from one of the approved countries 2) A Passport from one of the approved countries 3) a) A 120 Hour TEFL certificate OR b) 2 years of full time teaching experience

Contract and Job search

How long is the contract? Can I get a contract shorter than 1 year?

In China, contracts are generally 10-11 months long for public schools and 12 months for private schools. In some cases, it is possible to negotiate a shorter (1 semester) contract for public schools or contracts slightly shorter than a full year in private schools.

What are the start dates? Can I start between semesters?

Public schools in China strongly prefer that all teachers arrive about 5-7 days before the start of the semesters, which are March 1st or September 1st. There are some teachers who arrive late, though in this case, teachers are encouraged to arrive no later than October/November. Private school in China can be more flexible with the start dates, so it is possible to start throughout the year and complete a 12 month contract.

I have a dog or cat. Can I bring it with me to China?

Teachers are officially allowed to bring 1 small pet, but it is their responsibility to research the rules, pay all related expenses, and to make arrangments for the pet's transportation. This process can be quite involved, so it's important to do the research and make sure your pet meets all of the guidelines.

Can my partner or close friend accompany me to China? Can we teach at the same school and/or share an apartment?

Both public and private schools in China are very open to hiring couples (both married and unmarried) and friends. Since the majority of teachers in China rent their own apartment, it can be advantageus to share this cost. If you combine the housing allowance provided by the schoool, it can be easy to rent a modern and more spacious apartment in a desirable area of the city, while still managing to cover any other rent related charges, such as utilities.

A smaller number of school in China provide dorm-style housing, which is available to couples as well.

Public school teachers in China will not be promised to teach at the same school, but will be placed within reasonable distance to each other.

Can I teach older students (middle school, highschool, etc.) rather than kindergarten or elementary students?

Yes, there are a few options to teach older students, who are at least at a middle school age. Public schools: While most public school jobs involve teaching elementary or kindergarten students, there are some positions at middle or high schools available. Since there are fewer openings for teaching older students, it is best to apply well in advance, before these positions are filled. Private schools: Private language centers in China have both younger and older students. It is possible to teach older students (middle and high school) as well as adults. Private language centers tend to have smaller classes and students are motivated to improve their English to qualify for studies in a native English-speaking country or their international business. Students in private schools are motivated and are eager to learn. Teaching hours can be: 9:00am-5:00pm or 1:00pm-9:00pm. Teachers are also expected to teach Saturday and Sunday, but will get two consecutive days off during the week instead.

How much money can I save each month or in one year teaching in China?

Wages in China have increased dramatically over the last few years, by 50 to 100%, while living costs only increased by 15 to 20%. You can expect to save around $500 month, working exclusively at your contracted school. It is worth noting that it is much easier to work "on the side" in Korea, which can be very lucrative. Private lessons pay on average 250-300 RMB per hour, in a Tier 1 city such as Shenzhen. It is also possible to work overtime at private learning centers and earn additional pay per hour.

Can I teach for more than 1 year if I enjoy it?

For sure! This is allowed and encouraged and transfering to a new school or extending your visa at your current school is a simple process. Teachers in China, who have at least 2 years formal teaching experience, qualify for Subject Teacher or International School jobs, which generally pay considerably more than entry-level public and private schools.

What can I expect on arrival in China? I.e. Training, apartment search, banking, medical exam, visa and registration?

You will be met at the airport or at an arranged meeting place in Hong Kong or Shenzhen (or another city) by staff from your school or placement company. This designated person will help you over the next few weeks with things such as finding an apartment, phone and bank account set up, medical exam and registration at the government office, etc. They will also help you learn about the daily schedule of your school and help you meet other teachers who work for the same school or company.

Can I teach "on the side" to boost my income?

While your contract may include a clause forbidding work on the side, it is generally overlooked, as long you don't teach at another school or your private lessons interfere with your contracted school. Side work pays around 250-300 RMB per hour, so it can be pretty lucrative. Extra lessons are generally available during the evenings and on weekends, so it's easy to fit them into a public school work schedule.

Will I have a co-teacher?

In public schools in China, you will officially have a co-teacher, but if you are comfortable and capable of teaching on your own, they might not always be in the class with you. In private schools, you will usually teach on your own, but you may have a local teacher who teaches the same class on alternating days, so you can compare lessons and discuss them.

Will I have to plan my own lessons?

In public schools in China, you will be expected to plan your own lesssons. However, once you have a lesson in place, you'll be teaching that lesson more than once. In private schools in China, you will teach lessons from a textbook, though how you teach them is up to you. As long as the main objectives of the lessons are met, it will be fine. Some veteran teachers like to change up the lessons to make them more fun and engaging, but it's perfectly fine to follow the textbook.

What if I don't like my school and I want to leave China or change schools?

As long as you are able to give your school ample notice, you should be able to leave. We also encourage you to try and work out things with the schools as often they are very willing to work to improve things. Let us know as well, so we can help!

Will I know the exact city/location of my school when I sign a contract?

Private Schools: You will know the name of the city and most probably the location of your school as well. Public Schools: You will know the name of the city (since most of our teachers head to Shenzhen on Hangzhou) and the district where your school is located when you receive the job offer. You will find out the name of your school either before or after you arrive in China, depending on how your visa process is moving along.

Can I teach online while I work in China?

Yes, as long as the work takes place outside your normal work schedule and does not affect your performance.

How many holidays will I get? Will they be paid or unpaid?

Private Schools: You will have 10 paid vacation days plus all national holidays. You can request additional unpaid holidays if you require, though it will have to fit into the school's schedule. Public Schools: You will have 3 months vacation time over a 12 month contract. This includes: 1) 1 week during the fall (mid-Autumn) festival 2) 3-5 weeks from the end of January and over most of February 3) Several long weekends (3-5 days) for the Dragon Boat Festival, Spring Festival, etc.

Can I teach subjects rather than ESL?

If you have a specialized degree in subjects like Science, Math, Fine Arts or Physical Education, you may be able to secure a job as a Special Subject Teacher at a public or international school. In most cases, these positions also require 2 years of previous teaching experience, but this can be overlooked sometimes if your resume stands out due to other related experience.

How many hours a week will I teach?

Public Schools: You will teach a maximum of 18 (30-45 minute) classes per week. Private Schools: Contracts can vary, but generally you will teach 22-25 (40-55 minute) classes per week. Both private and public schools will have required office hours, although these can vary by school.

How much will it cost to rent my apartment in China?

The rental cost in a Tier 1 city, such as Shenzhen can vary widely, depending on the district, the age of the apartment and its amentities. A single teacher can expect to pay between 2,500-4,500 RMB per month in rent. While this amount may exceed your monthly housing allowance, spending a bit extra each month can greatly improve your available options and help you enjoy your year more. When you sign a lease in China, you should be prepared to pay 3.5 months worth of rent. It breaks down to 2 months rent deposit, your 1st month's rent, and the agent fee of a 1/2 month's rent. This is a considerable amount, but most placement companies in China can provide a no interest loan to help with this initial expense. Please check with your company at the time of signing a contract if this option is available.

Can my school in China provide housing?

Most teachers in China rent their own apartment, though some companies may provide other housing options. Free apartments are usually a single dorm style on campus or a shared 2-3 bedroom apartment with 1-2 other teachers. Let us know if this is your perference, so we can try to look at this option for you during your job search.

Everyday Life

I'm nervous about pollution. Is it true that all cities in China have poor air quality all the time?

Since most of our teachers are placed in Shenzhen, which has some of the cleanest air in China and plenty of green space, this does not seem to be an overwhelming issue. In fact, pollution rarely comes up with our teachers in Shenzhen and does not seem to cause problems. For cities like Beijing and Shanghai (as well as other industrial cities), pollution can be an issue at certain times of year and peaks during the winter months. Buildings in China are also equipped with air filtration systems to minimize the health risks involved.

Will I be able to access Facebook, Gmail, YouTube, etc. while in China?

Yes! VPN's make it possible to bypass firewalls put up by the Chinese government. There are several recommended VPN providers, such as ExpressVPN. Some are free and some require a monthly fee, but they are well worth the investment. From time to time, the government will block some VPN services, but usually not for long. This is more common closer to Beijin and Shanghai, but will happen in Shenzhen as well. For the majority of the time however, you'll be able to access all of your websites.

What expenses can I expect on arrival in China?

In China, most teachers will need to rent their own apartment, which can be a significant expense. If you're heading to China, you should be prepared to spend approximately 2 months' rent worth for the deposit, as well as the 1st month's rent and the agent fee (approx. 1/2 month's rent). i.e. 6000 + 3000 + 1500 = 10,500 RMB (If your rent is around 3000 RMB/month). Apartments in China come furnished, though rather sparcely at times. Basic items such as a bed, used TV, A/C unit, table, chairs, gas range, fridge, etc. may be included. You will have to purchase your own bedding, cooking, cleaning and miscellaneous supplies at a local supermarket, such as Carrefour or Walmart.

How do I set up a bank account? Can I pay bills back home? How do I pay my bills in China? Can I do online or phone banking?

You will get assistance with setting up a bank account by a co-worker or someone from your placement company. There are several ways to send money home, though you will be limited to how much you can transfer, especially if you try to send more than what's shown on your paystub. WeChat is an application you can use on your phone and which allows you to pay for almost anything in China. A coworker should be able to give you a crash course in this extremely important app and we recommend downloading it and getting familiarized with it as soon as you start your job search in China. This is also a very common method of communicating with placement companies and staff at your school.

What can I expect my fixed and discretionary expenses to be each month, living in Shenzhen?

Do I have to speak Chinese (Mandarin) to live and teach in China?

No, this is not expected from teachers and in reality, the majority of ESL teachers do not speak the local language. It will be a shock at first, especially if you haven't traveled before, but you will quickly learn to adapt. In Shenzhen, it is not difficult to find someone who speaks English if you need help doing everyday things, so you will not be left to your own devices. With that said, many public schools and some private schools try to offer beginner Chinese lessons and cultural events for their teachers to help them get comfortable. Co-teachers are also often happy to do a language exchange. We encourage you to try, as daunting as it may seem at first!

Application Process

I have already sent my photo and resume with my application. Am I still required to submit an introductory video, even though I can interview over Skype?

In China, the demand for teachers is high and you will often be invited for a general interview even without a video, so it can be optional. However, a video can be your chance to talk about your experience teaching or working with kids, even if it has not been in a formal setting and you're not a veteran teacher. Experience that doesn't jump out from your resume can be highlighted and explained in a video, which makes it valuable and shows your enthusiasm. Schools want to hire capable teachers who meet the requirements, but what they look at beyond that is how you will present infront of a classroom and engage students.

What are schools in China looking for in a teacher?

Schools in China put a lot of value and emphasis on hiring teachers with either formal teaching experience or general work/life experience after they graduate from university. They feel such applicants are more stable and reliable, which helps the company both in the short and the long term. School also offer a higher salary to someone who has at least 1 year teaching experience, a CELTA certificate, or a Masters Degree. This increase can amount to 1,000-2,000 RMB per month, which can add up over time.

My partner/child/parent, etc. would like to go to China with me? Can they live with me and not teach?

Children and spouses can accompany you on a spousal or family visa and you'll be able to receive assistance from your school or company in the form of a invitation letter. Since you'll be paying for your own apartment and taking care of daily expenses, this should be ok with most schools.

Do you charge any fees for your services?

No, we do not charge our applicants any fees for helping them find a job. Teach ESL Korea is paid a recruiting referral fee from schools once a teacher arrives and begins teaching.