Becoming an ESL teacher in China – What You Need to Know

A lot of us dream about doing what’s called an ‘overseas experience’ – and whilst many of us actually go and do it, some people still think it’s either too difficult or even impossible. The truth is, it’s never been easier to get a job overseas – all you need is some research and patience (you’ll need a lot of that).

Today I’ll talk about getting a job in China – the world’s most populous country, with over 1.38 billion people, and the second-largest country by land area. China is a booming cultural and economic centre of the Asian world; no wonder so many expats choose it as their new home these days.


So, you decided to find a job in China. What happens next?

First of all, you need to think about what kind of job you might be interested in. No matter what your background is, there are always opportunities out there – hospitality, banking, finance, logistics, teaching, fitness etc. Now, with the most of those industries, however, you’ll need to speak some Chinese – ranging from ‘basic conversational’ to ‘advanced or native level’. It varies on a case to case basis – employers in Shanghai, for example, are more loyal – with Shanghai being mostly an expatriate city. It is different, however, in the rest of China – some level of Chinese will be required and it will be specified in the job description. So if you’re thinking about getting a job in China, you might start looking at taking some Chinese beginners classes -always be prepared – that’s my advice.


The largest subdivision of foreigners coming to live and work in China these days are English language teachers. These are people coming from different backgrounds & industries; some of them are teachers by trade, with many years of experience in teaching, some of them are newbies with fresh TEFL/TESOL certificates.

In this article, I will focus mainly on teaching jobs. I will try to cover jobs in other industries in my subsequent posts.


What are the main requirements to be an ESL teacher in China?

There are a few:

  • Have a Bachelor’s Degree
  • Be a Native English speaker
  • Hold a TEFL/TESOL certificate
  • Have at least 2 years of teaching experience

Now, these are the main requirements you would normally see in a job ad. In practice, you can become an ESL teacher even if you are not a native speaker or don’t have a TEFL/TESOL certificate. You will be paid less than somebody who meets all 4 requirements, but you’ll still be able to get a job. I would say that the Bachelor’s degree is the only requirement that can’t be avoided, the rest of them can be skipped – it all depends on the city and school you are going to. If you are a non-native speaker, having a diploma from an English-speaking country would be a big bonus; in saying that, though, you can still get a job with a diploma from your home country, but in this case the TEFL/TESOL certificate will be required. Teaching experience can be replaced by normal working experience – after all, you are coming to China as a ‘foreign expert’ so it doesn’t really matter what field your expertise is in. I recommend looking for jobs online and replying to job ads with your current CV, so that the employers can contact your directly and discuss your situation with you personally.

Where to Look for Jobs

There are a few websites I can personally recommend: – teaching jobs only – Shanghai jobs only

Perks of Being an ESL Teacher in China


There are a lot of those! They can vary from school to school – native speakers usually get more bonuses than their non-native colleagues; also, your chances to get a more attractive package are much higher in a small city than in a top-tier city like Shanghai, Shenzhen or Guangzhou.

Depending on the school and the city, your package might include:

  • Z visa assistance/sponsorship
  • Free pick-up at the airport
  • Free accommodation
  • Free meals
  • Medical insurance
  • Paid vacation
  • Airfare reimbursement
  • One month salary bonus upon successful completion of the contract

This is the full package and it doesn’t mean that every ESL teacher in China gets it, like I mentioned before. In cities like Shanghai, for example, Z visa assistance is sometimes all you can hope for. Plus, the salary will be less attractive than in a smaller city.

How Much Will I Get Paid?


As with the other benefits, pay varies from school to school and from city to city, and also depends on your qualifications and experience. You can expect anything from 3,000RMB (non-native speaker, minimum experience) to 15,000RMB (native English speaker with teaching experience). Salaries advertised in the job ads are usually not a good indicator of what you might expect – please respond to the ad with your CV and the potential employer will contact you and tell you how much you can expect, based on your personal circumstances.

Documents You’ll Need to Prepare for Your Employer


In most cases, your employer in China will sponsor your work visa and sort out all visa formalities for you. In order for them to do so, you’ll need to prepare some documents in advance. Here is what you’ll need:

  • up-to-date CV
  • current passport (with at least 1 year validity, as most contracts are for 1 year or longer)
  • authenticated degree
  • TEFL/TESOL certificate (if applicable)
  • medical exam (if applicable)

Preparing Your Diplomas for China – Authentication

In order to apply for a work visa in China, you’ll need to get your documents authenticated by the Chinese Embassy or Chinese Consulate-General. There are three steps to this procedure (please keep in mind that all information below is valid for New Zealand only – if you are based somewhere else, you’ll need to visit your local Chinese Embassy’s website to find out more):

Step 1. Notarisation

Documents that are not issued by New Zealand government agency, such as diplomas and academic records, must be notarised by a Notary Public in New Zealand before you send them to the Department of Internal Affairs of New Zealand. Full list of Notary Public in NZ can be found here.

Step 2. Authentication by New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

You will then need to send your documents to the Authentication Unit at the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs. For more details, please contact:

Authentications Unit – Department of Internal Affairs (DIA)

Phone: +64 4 470 2928



Step 3. Authentication by Chinese Embassy or Chinese Consulate-General

After the documents have been notarised and authenticated by the Department of Internal Affairs of New Zealand and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, you will need to submit them to the Chinese Embassy or Chinese Consulate-General for the finial authentication.

You will be required to supply the following documents:

  • Completed and signed Application Form For Document Authentication (can be found here or at the local Chinese Embassy)
  • Original passport of the applicant and 1 set of copies of your passport information page and current valid New Zealand visa page (if applicable)
  • Original documents that have been authenticated by the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade plus 1 set of copies

Your application can be lodged in person at a local Chinese embassy or via post.

It takes 5 working days to process the documents.  Urgent processing (2-3 working days) is available at additional cost.

Authentication fee: $40, per document

Urgency fee: $40, per document

If you are applying by courier or post, you must also include BOTH:

  • a self-addressed prepaid courier package or envelop
  • additional $15 mail handling service fee


These are two main types of certificates you can get to be qualified to teach English as a second language. TEFL stands for ‘Teaching English as a Foreign Language’, and TESOL is ‘Teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages’.

These certificates can be obtained either by completing a face-to-face course or via an online platform. There are a lot of them these days, I can’t really recommend which ones are good – you’ll need to explore it yourself. Face-to-face course would suit you if you need to get some hands-on experience, an online cert would be a good option for those who don’t have a lot of spare time or who prefer to study in the comfort of their own place. Plus, online certificates are generally cheaper than their face-to-face brothers. If you’re on a really tight budget, I would recommend Groupon or GrabOne – they often run some nice deals on online TEFL courses.

Medical Exam for China

Under the old rules, it was essential for everybody coming to China for 1 year or more to get a full medical check-up done; rules have now changed, however, and only those wishing to apply for a Residence Permit for a year or more, will need to complete it. You will need to double-check with your employer if you need to get this done. (As this is a quite costly and time-consuming procedure, you probably won’t want to waste either your time or money)

What You Need to Know:

You will need to see a GP first for a check up to complete the Foreigner Physical Examination Form, they then will refer you to get a Chest X-Ray, blood test and ECG heart scan. The whole process will cost you anywhere from $200 to $500, depending on a country you are getting it done.

Visa Stuff

Once you’ve collected all required documents, it’s time to apply for your Z visa. Z visa is a work category visa for skilled foreigners wishing to come and work in China. Detailed information on how to apply for Chinese work visa in your country and who is responsible for what, can be found in this article here. This official guide will also be helpful if you are applying for a visa in New Zealand. Once the documents have been submitted to the Embassy, it usually takes about 5 working days to get a response (might take longer in some countries though).

OK, I’ve got my visa… What’s next?


Z visa is usually issued for one entry with duration of stay of 000 (means to be determined). It is valid for only 30 days from the date of arrival, during which time you and your employer must seek a Temporary Residence Permit for the duration of your contract, to the minimum of 90 days and the maximum of 5 years.

And… Off to the new chapter of your life. Welcome to China!

I hope article has been helpful. If you have any questions, comment under this post or send me an email – I’m always happy to help 🙂

© Alisha Menshchikova, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Alisha Menshchikova with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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