Friday, April 26, 2013

Working as a foreign language teacher in China: don't be cheated

I have been working as a foreign language teacher in China.
And I want to tell you about a few cheats that you should mind.

First you should look at the school where you will be working.
You have different kind of schools:
  1. Public universities: they are the most reliable and there is less chance that they break their word as written on the working contract
  2. Private universities: they are less reliable than the public universities. Also you should know that students didn't do well on their Gaokao (university entrance exam). It will be tougher to teach in a private university: more students per class, less motivation, less organization...
  3. Private schools: they are the least reliable. Then again you have many different private schools. You can trust a chain more than a small private school. Also if the private school delivers a working visa it is different than working "illegal". Some schools will deliver a working visa others don't have the sufficient size, network, good will... to do so.

Foreign expert of no foreign expert?
Teaching in China you will get some foreign expert certificate. 
This piece of paper matters as universities and even Chinese companies will appreciate this certificate.

Still not all school can deliver the foreign expert certificate...
Both public and private universities will deliver the foreign expert certificate.
Private schools however will seldom deliver this certificate. However a few private school can deliver this certificate.

Beware the certificate will only be handed to you at the end of your contract. And I am not sure why but many universities will "forget" to do so. You must ask them for this certificate before you leave. You should also discuss this forehand and if possible have it written in the contract.

A few cheats in the working contract
If you have a working contract and the school delivers a working visa you should mind a few cheats:
  • You should make sure when the contract will end and until when you will be paid. Sometimes the contract ends in Mai or June. It means you don't get paid June, July, August!
  • You should make sure whether you get a free living place or not. If the school doesn't provide a living place then you can ask for a better salary. Don't forget in China it is all about negotiation  Beware to negotiate only once you are sure the school hires you. Try to understand the school position: if the school as no other choice but to hire you (no other candidate, little time before classes begin), they won't be so picky. It is also how it is done in China: it can happen that a Chinese will commit himself and then stop his work and to renegotiate! He knows you have little choice...
  • You should make sure whether you have some travel allowance. Universities often offer a one way flight ticket. Some universities will offer a two ways flight ticket. If you don't need travel allowance you can always ask for a better salary. Again it is about negotiation.
  • In case you work for a private school, make sure that you get a valid working contract. This can be "unsafe" as the school can often tell you anything they want and once you are in China they won't keep their word. I heard of a school that kept telling its foreign teacher that they were taking care of the visa. But inn fact the teacher had no visa... One day the police came at the teacher place to kick him out of China with a heavy fine.
  • Check how many hours a week you should teach. Universities require 10 to 20 hours teachings per week. Private school ask for more. It can be as much as 40, 50 hours! Still the salary is higher. 5000rmb a month for a university job vs 10000rmb a month for a private school. Most private school would rather recruit a foreign teacher full time. Thus they can pay less per hour. It is also a way to advertise their school as they will use the foreign teacher image to attract customers. Chinese customers want to make sure that the foreign teacher works full time for the school and that the teacher won't change every two weeks

If you work for a private school and the school doesn't provide a working visa then you have no guarantee at all. Here are a few advises:
  • Some private school will sign a contract with you. Even though you should know that it is no more than a piece of paper... The school can fire you and not pay you. There is little you can do. For instance you can not go the police as you are working illegally! 
  • You should make sure when you get paid. Some schools will "forget" to pay you on time.
  • Make sure how many hours teachings you gave as you get paid by the hour and keep tract of all the hours. This helps to avoid any mistakes as you get paid...
  • Make sure where you should teach. Some school will ask you to go very far away just to give one hour teaching. Since you only get paid the hour, you could end up spending 3 hours just to get paid 1 hour teaching!
  • Make sure who you will be teaching and what teaching material will be available for you. Teaching kids is very different than teaching adults. If you have to prepare all it can take many hours. It is much different if the school provides some teaching material. It means less time to prepare.
  • Make sure if the salary the school offers is "before tax or after tax". Once a famous school told me I will get paid 150 rmb after tax it went down to 100rmb. But in fact the school didn't pay any tax since there was no working contract... 
  • Know the market price. As far as I know for an American or a Englishman the salary can vary between 120 to 200rmb per hour depending on the teachings. For instance if you teach Toeffel it can be 200rmb. if you teach young children it is more likely to be 120rmb or less. For a white non native english speaker foreigner who teaches English it will be between 100 to 120rmb. For a non white foreigner it can be less 80 to 120rmb. If you teach other languages such as Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Japanese... the market price should be 100 to 120rmb. Then again t all comes to bargaining in the end and whether the school can pay another teacher less

Beware of go between! 
In China it is common for a university, a private school, a private individual to ask some intermediary to find a foreign teacher. 
This allows the school to keep cover in case of problems and also they don't have to deal with the foreigner!

In fact the intermediary will simply put some ads on the internet. It will ask the school for one month salary to connect the school and the teacher. 
  • Beware intermediaries lie. They will tell you anything to make you sign. Anyway once you sign, it is not their problem anymore
  • Beware some intermediaries take a percentage for each hour teaching you give... real crooks. For instance you will get paid 100rmb, while the customer pays 150rmb 
  • If you deal with an intermediary it is impossible to negotiate: take it or leave


  1. I was looking for crucial information on this subject. The information was important as I am about to launch my own portal. Thanks for providing a missing link in my business.

    Teach in China

    1. You are welcome ;-)
      Feel free to contact me here or via facebook.