For decades, the business of Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) has been thriving in China. While it was originally established to empower business professionals with essential English language skills, TEFL in China has gradually expanded to include primary and secondary school-age students. With a population of over 1.4 billion, approximately 400 million of these are English language learners, the demand for TEFL teachers in China continues to grow.
According to analysts, the TEFL trend across China continues to develop, despite the drawbacks caused by the pandemic and the new legislation passed by the Chinese government in 2021, which affected international teachers living outside the country but teaching through Chinese online platforms.
In actual fact, you can still build your own online TEFL business while living and traveling across China.
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Why choose to TEFL in China
With a territory that stretches 5,000 km from east to west and another 5,500 km from north to south, the landscape in China is incredibly varied: from the highest mountains in the world to golden sandy beaches, from rivers and lakes to vast deserts, and from ultra-modern urban areas to dense forests.
The country is steeped in history and culture, with different cultures, dialects, and cuisine for each of the 26 provinces. Here are some ideas of what you might be able to visit and experience during your travels across China:
- The Imperial Palace, located in the heart of Beijing;
- The Great Wall, stretches for over 21,000 km and across 15 provinces;
- The Terracotta Army, erected over 2,200 years old just outside Xi’an.
- A cruise along the ‘Long River’, that crosses 8 provinces and offers a view as breathtaking as that of the Grand Canyon.
Another reason why China is an excellent destination if you want to start your TEFL adventure (online or in-person) is because there are 600 extremely populated cities whose economic success greatly depends on international business. Conducting such business relies on the use of the English language as the common means of communication. As a result, large urban areas in China offer plenty of teaching opportunities.
Like in many countries, there are specific requirements that you must meet if you want to teach English in China face-to-face, which allows you to apply for a Z-visa.
- You should have a passport issued by one of the following countries: the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK, and Ireland.
- If you are a female applicant, the age limit is 55, but it’s 60 if you are male.
- You should pass a medical exam.
- You should either be a native English speaker or be able to prove a high level of proficiency
- You must have a clean background check.
- You should hold at least a bachelor’s degree.
- You must have received a job offer in writing.
- You should hold a 120-hour TEFL certificate – this isn’t required for the visa application, but many employers wouldn’t hire you without it.
Keep in mind that school-life in China might be very different from that in your own country. It varies greatly depending on where you are based: schools in bigger cities are usually better equipped in terms of teaching and IT resources and salaries are higher, but life is more expensive and more hectic there; classes tend to be larger. On the other hand, a smaller city offers a slower pace of life and the cost of living is more affordable, which might be reflected in a lower salary.
Finally, don’t underestimate the effects of culture shock. After the initial excitement of being in a completely new environment, the differences between your and the new culture might clash, causing a negative impact on your everyday life and on your work.
To reduce the risks of culture shock to a minimum, learn about the new culture before you leave your home country. Get in contact with expats through social media and ask questions to your heart’s content – they know what you are going through and chances are they’ll be happy to help.
If you want to be fully in control of your schedule while you travel around China, teaching online is perhaps the ideal option for you. However, there are a few important points that you should consider before diving in.
- Equipment is key for your online teaching role. While spending a lot of money is not necessary, you should do some research on what laptop is more suitable for you and what additional equipment you’re prepared to invest in. A good quality headset is very handy to block out background noise, depending on where you are going to deliver your lessons from. Use a pen drive to store your go-to lessons if your plan A doesn’t go as it should.
- Choose your accommodation wisely, keeping in mind your online business. Ensure that it has a quiet and well-lit space for your on-screen time, and check the speed and reliability of the internet connection.
- Select your teaching platform carefully. Each online teaching platform has different requirements, so do your research before spending time and effort on your application. Setting up your own website can be a creative way to show your teaching experience and knowledge to potential employers and students.
Similarly, think about clever ways to use Chinese social media, like WeChat and Weibo, to build your professional image. Reputation is extremely important in China – make the most of the power of the internet to reach as many potential students as possible.
- WeChat is by far the most popular social media app in China, with over 1 billion monthly active users. It is a combination of WhatsApp, Facebook, Tinder and Uber, while also having other functions like the ‘wallet’. Much like on western LinkedIn, every business has its corporate page on WeChat that can be promoted via a QR code.
- Weibo has more than 650 million registered users and is available in 190 countries, which makes it an asset to your business in China. Be prepared to hone your marketing skills by mastering this app, considered to be the ‘Chinese Twitter’.
One final note
China, with its vast territory and a plethora of landscapes, millennia-old history and a myriad of different cultures, is a country that will keep surprising you. It offers great business TEFL opportunities, either online or face-to-face.
However, it is important to remember that living abroad can be challenging. To make the most of this wonderful adventure, make a plan and do your homework before setting off: learn about the country, connect with expats, check your equipment and get the qualifications you need to have an advantage over other applicants.