An Insider Guide to Teaching English in China.

Why China? How to get here, and which school to go with. 

Version 2

Do you want to teach English in China, but want the inside scoop before you commit? Well, I was in your shoes not so long ago. I currently teach kids and teens for a large corporation in Guangzhou, China, and let me tell you that the the job definitely has its ups & downs. Just a few of the things I’ve seen are kids pulling their pants down, to kids rolling on the floor and banging their heads on the desk! Now those were some rough lessons and a challenge. Sound like a nightmare? Well, let me put you at ease that its not all like that. There are the star pupils, the hugs and the gifts for ‘teacher’ too. However, you have been warned that it is truly a mix of the ‘good, bad and the outright ugly.’


Choosing where to Teach English?

So, first things first: if you are reading this then you must be considering China. Should you choose China to live & teach?

  • The Pay: Yes, China is reputed to be the best pay for TEFL teachers. This can be the case, and I know of teachers who can earn $3000 a month. However, I sadly do not earn that shining figure, but a measely $ 1500! This all comes into which company you chose, so do your research wisely. The training centres such as EF or Disney are not the best paid out there, but they are a HUGE help in arriving in China.
  •  Benefits & getting to China: As mentioned, the training centres of reputable global corporations are incredibly helpful in the process of relocating. I personally went with one of these, and my flight was paid for, my visa was reimbursed and they pretty much held my hand in getting settled! For a first time relocation I would advise going with one of these offers – bearing in mind that you can always end your contract for a better offer once you are in the country. Cynical yes, but it happens more often than you think.


That briefly touches on moving and settling, but why CHINA?

Well frankly, Why Not?

  • Do you love new cultures? Well, Chinese culture is fascinating, complex and will turn your world upside down….as for the rest, well you will have to come to China to see what I mean.
  • The food. The food is amazing, cheap and the variety is huge. However, if you like “Chinese food” in the West, its a mockery of the real thing.
  • The people are very friendly and welcoming for the most part.
  • Lifestyle. The Expat life is pretty sweet. You can experience it all, embrace the wonderful and float above the terrible.
  • It’s cheap. A meal equates to roughly USD 2-3. So it makes it easy to save your earnings up for travel.


However, teaching English in China is more intense than other areas in Asia. If you want a more laid back vibe, with fewer hours then I would recommend looking into Thailand or Vietnam. The pay is less, but the atmosphere is also more relaxed.


What sort of company/school to go with?

So, what options are there you might be asking:

Government schools.

  • These tend to be very large classes of around 40 students. The schedule is more free, but you can be the only foreigner at your school is some cases so find out beforehand. Also, in a government school you may be required to take part in extra activities, such as leading morning exercises. Bear in mind that these schools mean you have some amazing school holidays off, so lots of travel time. And hey…South East Asia – Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia….

International schools or kindergartens

  • This is another option, but harder to get into a school like this than a government or a training centre. The classes can also be rather large, but there are more expats in these schools, the pay is better and the hours are decent.

Training centres – EF or Disney. 

  • Here we get into the big corporations and they are a fantastic way to arrive in China. I personally went with a training centre. The process is pretty straight forward – you apply, a recruiter contacts you and then the process gets rolling. They help organise the visa, and often offer an incentive such as paying for flights and accommodation. They provide a lot of training that gives you a boost for your CV, and there are multiple opportunities for career advancement and bonuses throughout the career. The classes are usually smaller, and you will have a local assistant in the class (although this is usually the case no matter which school you choose).
  • Down sides? Well, the hours are more anti-social as you will work weekdays evenings and full time on the weekends! Also, the hours are gruelling and the work is a lot more intense and pressurised than in the schools.

Business English

  • This pays really well, but in order to break into this field you usually need at least some prior teaching English experience. Also, you get to teach adults rather than kids.

Private tutoring. 

  • Hey; its exactly what it sounds like. You get your own students, charge your fee and voila! However, I would not recommend this as your starting point in China, but rather as an extra source of income or a transition after you have been teaching within a school or company and made some connections. But that’s just my opinion.

Here is a useful list of  English schools by city. Some handy job search sites are listed here too:

Dave’s ESL cafe


No matter what you choose China is a great country to immerse yourself in a really wonderful culture. I came here rather terrified about my lack of Chinese language skills, and yet for the determined traveller you can pick it up as you go – or engage in multiple humorous games of charades!


As for deciding on a school there will be pros and cons for anything you choose so do your research and choose what will suit you best. Also, the jobs in highest demand are those with Kids & Teens, and these pay the highest too, but if working with adults is your thing then those jobs abound too. Look into companies like Wall Street English, or EF. Furthermore, choose your city and where you want to be. Don’t be limited and rush into the first job offer you get – admittedly I did this and it worked out- but there are so many considerations. Do you mind the pollution? Expat lifestyle vs the village and small town vibe? The weather is another thing – it is much warmer in the south, and easy access to Hong Kong whenever you need a taste of the Western world. Also, your contract is not the make all and break all of your decision! Coming with a corporate training centre can be a great way to arrive in China and settle into the life…from there you are free to find other work that may suit you better. I like the idea that you should be happy in what you do, and don’t feel stuck and waste precious moments at the grindstone because you need that money money money. I came to China with nothing and it worked out ok….go with your gut and screw what society tells you!


Feel free to reach out with questions….


Wishing you happy adventures – sincerely, a zimbo abroad.










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