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Dec 9th, 2020 by David O Connor

How to Avoid the Most Common ‘Teach English in China’ Scams

Avoid Teaching English in China Scams

If you were to scour forums on teach English in China scams you may soon give up on your dreams of being an ESL teacher abroad. But alas, not all is doom and gloom. Whilst there are plenty of dodgy folks and even dodgier scams out there in the China teaching sphere. Avoiding potential trouble is not all that difficult.

First, though, you need to know what to look out for.

With this guide, we aim to share some of the most common scams related to the recruitment of ESL teachers in China. Not everyone has a sharp BS-detector but, with time and practice, this is a skill that you can master.

This 2-part guide will cover:

  • The most common teaching scams in China and how to avoid them
  • The red flags you ought to know about BEFORE signing your teaching contract

PART ONE – All You Need to Know About Teaching in China Scams

What’s the purpose of teaching in China scams?

Having a Western teacher can translate into a huge boost in income for schools in China. This is especially true in less-prominent areas that don’t see a lot of foreign teachers. Teaching scams in China all basically revolve around recruiting foreign teachers – sometimes, they’ll just do everything they can to lock a foreigner into a teaching contract they can’t get out of.

Here’s how they do that:

The dodgy school employer

For desperate/unscrupulous employers, the pull can be too hard to resist. So they’ll start cutting corners, making empty promises and doing all sorts of (oftentimes) illegal stuff. Like telling you to travel to China on a tourist visa knowing well that it’s illegal for foreigners to work on such a visa. Some schools will ask to do this because it’s easier for them to do it in China rather than anywhere else.

Or they’ll promise you an astronomical salary that you know is well above your skills, qualifications and experience. Basically, you get a teaching job offer that sounds too good to be true. Sure, sometimes you can get lucky but the chance is higher that it’s a teaching scam. Best do your research and, if you aren’t sure you can trust them, then don’t!

How can you tell the genuine schools from the disingenuous ones? Well, it can be extremely difficult, especially if you don’t have experience.

Bottom line: get your Z visa in your home country or country of current residence

What can happen: anything from having your pay withheld to threatening to turn you into immigration. Or being carted off to teach in some obscure location you never agreed to. The apartment you were offered will turn out to be a dive. You’ll work twice as many hours as promised and, basically, you’ll suffer the pits of teaching hell. The worst part? If you signed their contract, there’s (almost) nothing you can do about it. Be VERY diligent in your research and only work for reputable employers with good reputations.

In other instances, it’s the recruiter that’s the scam artist.

The dodgy recruiter

Unprofessional scam-artist recruiters will promise you the best teaching job in China and, half-way through the process, will ask for just a little down-payment for their services. Hand over money to a teaching recruiter and we can guarantee you’ll never hear from them again. This is the most common kind of teaching scam in China and the sad part is that it always targets new and inexperience teachers. It targets young people who are just looking into the possibility of teaching abroad for the very first. What a travesty! How heartbreaking to know that some have been turned off the prospect of teaching abroad because they simply ran into an unsavoury recruiter.

What can happen: Aside from being scammed out of some money (bad enough) a dodgy recruiter can work in co-hoots with a dodgy school so you get hammered on both sides. You lose money AND, when you get in China, you’re at the mercy of an unethical employer (see above).

This is a general overview of the scamming situation and, as you can see, it can be pretty broad and also quite bleak. It’s not always about money and it’s not always about putting you in terrible working conditions that you can’t get out of. Sometimes, it’s both. But there is one thing to remember:

The overwhelming majority who teach in China LEGALLY with a REPUTABLE school will encounter very few problems.

Here’s how to avoid falling victim to one (or several) teaching in China scams:

Avoid Teaching Scams in China

1. Make sure your recruiter is legitimate – the most common teaching in China scam!

Yes, it’s true, there are many dodgy recruiters out there. You know what’s also true? They can be easy to spot.

  • Make sure whoever you deal with is a legitimate, registered company. China by Teaching, for example, is a registered business in Ireland with a subsidiary in China. It’s not that hard to find out this info and it shouldn’t be a mammoth task to check the background of any recruiter you deal with.
  • Hit reply on that recruiting email and if the recruiter’s address looks something like this ([email protected]) just delete, block and move on. If you’ve ever received a spam PayPal email, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about.

2. Find independent reviews and testimonials

Legitimate recruiters go to a lot of trouble to build a solid reputation and they can only do this by offering stellar service. They offer suitable teaching jobs with reputable schools that treat their foreign teachers well. They pay their salaries on time, don’t short-change their staff and honour everything their promise in their contracts.

  • Find reviews and testimonials on independent websites, like Trustpilot. Ok, every company published reviews on their own websites (we do too, of course, and we’re proud of them!) yet alarm bells should be ringing if you find none, anywhere If you check us out on Trust Pilot you’ll see that we are legit: we actually exist and we have great testimonials.
  • Does the website look professional? That’s a tell-tale sign! Believe it or not, there are recruiters and agencies that work through their Facebook pages and just have a random email for contacts. This is a seemingly innocuous teaching in China scam because, in fact, they may just get you a real teaching job. 

Once there, however, you may find yourself working for a real a**hole who’ll mistreat you, underpay you or threaten to call the police and have you arrested if you don’t do what they say. Really, in China, whatareyagonnadoaboutit? Steer clear! Anyone who can’t even be bothered setting up and paying for a professional website is surely not worth your time.

The bottom line: dodgy recruiters and agencies operate with dodgy schools, IF they operate at all

3. Never pay to secure a teaching job in China

Getting a legitimate Z visa, having all your documents authenticated and buying that flight ticket is going to cost you enough as it is. Yes, you’ll probably be reimbursed by your employer, but that’ll happen way after you’ve arrived so you still need to fork out plenty of cash to make the move. 

Never think you need to pay a recruiter to secure a job on top of that. If you do, and let’s even assume you actually get a job, the recruiter will likely disappear into thin air as soon as you’re in China. More than likely leaving you to fend for yourself, no matter what happens.

Reputable recruiters (like China By Teaching) receive their recruiting fee, from the school. And only once you are firmly and safely in China and teaching already. Plus, we’re not going anywhere. 

Of course, you will be dealing with the school directly should any issues arise (we are a recruiter, after all, not an agency) but, by then, you will already know that the school/employer has been vetted and boasts a good reputation. This is how you know you’ll be in good hands.

4. Don’t work with a recruiter who’s NOT interested in understanding your requirements

Whenever we receive a CV and request for a teaching job in China, we go through their requirement like it’s no-one’s business. There’s no point in going forward if their paperwork is not in order and if they can’t authenticate their degree/TEFL certificate or even passport. We won’t work with anyone illegally because:

  • It’s the right thing to do
  • We have a reputation to grow and uphold
  • We could never willingly put anyone in a precarious position in China!

If you come across a recruiter who spends all their time telling you how much you will earn, rather than grilling you about your teaching experience and qualifications, let that ring like a foghorn of a warning-bell.

Don’t work with a recruiter who doesn’t want to know about your requirements OR your personal wishes. A good recruiter will have a Skype call and match you with a suitable job that you are qualified for and you like the sound of, rather than ANY job just to get you to sign a contract.

In the wonderful world of teaching in China, there’s a job for every type of teacher – don’t sell yourself short and don’t make too many compromises.

5. Keep away from ‘middle-man’ agencies (for most teaching jobs in China)

There are essentially two types of teaching employment recruiters.

  • Agencies that act as a middleman between school and teacher
  • Recruiters that match teachers and schools but then let them deal directly with one another.

We are very much the latter.

For some teaching jobs in China (like public schools, for examples) an agency will be the only way to get a job. Public schools don’t often recruit directly so they employ a local agency to handle the process. Luckily, these have been vetted by the government so it’s easy to find out who they are.

At China by Teaching, we do collaborate with two reputable agencies. For all other jobs, we’d link the teaching candidate directly with the school.

6. Understand that employers hold the upper hand

The reason why it’s so important to research your prospective school is that, when it comes to teaching in China, the employer holds the ace. Not only are you heading into their turf, but they are the ones who’ll sponsor your visa (and residency permit). They can make your life very difficult if you go against their wishes. Signing a binding contract is serious stuff.  Doing so in a foreign country, with a foreign system that will likely be alien to you, is a whole other ballgame.

Do your due diligence and know who you’re getting in bed the classroom with. You’ll save yourself a lot of future hassle.

7. When in doubt – go public!

We don’t mean air your woes on social media, we mean work for a public teaching institution in China. Public schools and universities are undoubtedly your safest bet if you’re worried about teaching scams in China. You may be paid less and enjoy fewer perks but you will be protected by government mandates and that can give you peace of mind. When push comes to shove, this is still the safest option of all.

Moreover, keep in mind that public schools and universities were the only teaching institutions in China that consistently continued to pay their teachers throughout the whole COVID-19 pandemic. Many teachers in private schools were forced to work remotely with a colossal pay cut. Of course the good schoosl with deeper pockets and who valued keeping their teachers, continued to pay them

Avoid Fraud and teaching scams in China

PART TWO – Teaching English in China Contract Scams - the Red Flags to Avoid

Trying not to get totally scammed by an unscrupulous recruiter is hard enough. Keeping up that effort throughout the whole recruitment process is the real feat. In this 2nd part of the guide, we take you on a journey of red-flag recognition.

Ready to sign a contract with a prospective employer who has said and done all the right things, so far?

You’re not done yet! It’s at this critical point that you need to be more astute than ever.

Here are some things you should watch out for:

1. Details on the contract don’t match what was promised on your video interview

English teaching in China contracts are usually sent after you’ve held a detailed Skype/video interview with your prospective employer. Hopefully, you will have asked a bunch of questions during your interview and will have a clear idea of what to expect. Like how many hours you will have to work? what you will be paid? Among a host of other important details. Then comes the teaching contract and, lo and behold, the details don’t match what was agreed over the phone.

So what do you do?

Contract discrepancies aren’t always a sign of an outright scam. Sometimes, they are there to teach you a valuable lesson in the teaching-in-China game. The school may not be unscrupulous, as such, but may simply be trying to determine if they can deliver a little less without you even noticing. This is one red flag you will not want to ignore. 

Whilst you need not walk away immediately, you should let the school know you have noticed discrepancies. Ask for the contract amended. There’s actually a very good chance that it’s been an honest mistake: some schools simply have difficulty writing a detailed contract in English so they do the best they can. Not all are sneaky or unscrupulous!

Our tip? Give them a chance to do right by you and see how they react.

2. The school refuses, for whatever reason, to amend the contract

We’ve heard of schools coming up with a bunch of very creative excuses as to why a contract cannot be amended. If you happen to feel any resistance to changes in writing, take this as the brightest red flag of all. There should be no reason for a school to refuse your insistence to add or amend clauses.  This is especially true when they have to do with working hours, remuneration, living assistance, vacation time, flight reimbursement and so forth.

Just remember: if it isn’t on the contract, you won’t be getting it. So although genuine oversights can happen, be ready to walk away if they are not fixed.

3. The school can’t help you secure a Z Visa and tries to convince you to get another visa

I hope you’ve been paying attention!

You should know by now that a Z Visa is the only legal way to teach English in China. This request should also be throwing all sorts of red flags your way.

Learn all there is to know about Getting a Visa for China

4. The exact school location is suspiciously missing from your teaching contract

In China, teaching institutions and schools often open various branches. Not only within the same city but throughout various provinces. At times, teaching contracts will be purposely vague because it gives employers an out. Without location details, employers feel justified moving you around as needed. something you may not necessarily like.

Schools have also been known to advertise English teaching positions in their most desirable China locations, with the intention of recruiting teachers for less-desirable branches. Be aware of this little trick and make sure the school’s full name and address are included in your contract.

Find out more about the best Teaching Destinations in China

5. The teaching contract is too broad and wishy-washy

You may not be used to having every minute job detail included in a teaching contract but if there’s one thing you’ll want to avoid, is leaving yourself open to ambiguity. Ambiguity is usually there on purpose so protect yourself by scrutinising that contract before signing it.

What should be included, you ask? All details relating to your working schedule:

  • living arrangements,
  • remuneration,
  • holiday time (and if it is paid or nor),
  • the amount of tax you’ll be expected to pay
  • the location of the school

Leave no stone unturned and look out for what may seem to be minor additions. Pay particular attention to details relating to transfers (to other branches) and airfare reimbursement conditions.

6. The school won’t provide contact details of past and present teachers

Real-life reviews should always be taken with a grain of salt. After all, no school can please all teachers, all the time. Having said that, reviews can also give you a great general overview of how the school treats its teachers. And one of the biggest red flags is if the school refuses to share details of present teachers with you. This is especially crucial if you can’t seem to locate reviews (or teachers) independently, online.

You can be forthright in asking to communicate with teachers and most schools should have no problems obliging.

If they do…watch out!

7. The contract states that you’ll face huge penalties for resigning

Your teaching contract should detail your obligations but also your rights, particularly when it comes to quitting. Resigning from your English teaching job in China may be a little more hassle than in your home country. However, it certainly shouldn’t be forbidden or attract heavy financial penalties.

In China, it is illegal to stop you from quitting with reasonable notice (usually one month) and, in some cases, payment of a small (and reasonable) fee.

Know all those details before you even start and keep a clear line of communication with your employer through your teaching tenure. You may want or need to resign for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with the school. No reputable employer should threaten you to stay. Here’s what you should know, if you ever wanted to quit your teaching job early.

It all starts with the contract, so make sure you know your rights before you sign.

8. The school is rushing you to sign the contract

“We are interviewing 25 teachers for one position so you’d better sign the contract quickly” is the oldest trick in the recruiting book.

If at any time you’re made to feel rushed or conned, take this as a big, fat, red flag. Reputable schools and teaching institutions understand what a big deal this is for foreign teachers to take a job in China. So unless you’re feeling valued and your requests respected, don’t get involved. If they’re like this now, when they’re trying to woo you, imagine how dodgy they’ll be once you’re locked into a teaching contract with them?!

Ready to sign that contract?

 Here’s how you should be Preparing to Teach in China

At China by Teaching, we know how daunting the prospect of teaching English in China can be, especially with all the teaching scam forums sprawled across the internet.

We endeavour to help candidates find reputable and trustworthy employers and enjoy an outstanding teaching experience in what is a fantastic country.

So, whilst it’s true that English teaching in China scams do exist, there’s also an abundance of happy teaching stories. An abundance of foreign teachers who are enjoying the experience of a lifetime in China, right now.

Want some help navigating your way to a great teaching position in China

Submit your CV with us today and let us help get you there.

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David O Connor

David O Connor

David is China by Teaching’s chief contributor. When not offering sage advice about teaching in China, David is a headmaster of a Bilingual kindergarten in Beijing. David is a lover of craft beers, book clubs and super long road trips.

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