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Is it Safe to Teach in China in 2021?

Is it safe to teach in china in 2021?

‘Is China is Safe to teach in’ is a common question we hear from teachers thinking about coming to China. This question has never had more meaning than in 2020.

Teaching in China is a rewarding and culturally-enlightening experience. It can also be a scary proposition for anyone who’s planning a teaching stint abroad for the very first time. 

So is China safe? Well, the short answer is ‘YES, absolutely’. Although the long answer is ‘as long as you do it right, China is one of the safest teaching destinations out there.

Teaching in China – How Safe Will You Be?

China is now home to over half a million foreign teachers. Having said that, almost two-thirds are employed illegally. Most of these teachers are not native English speakers and according to Chinese employment law, they cannot teach in China legally.  

If you are one of those, it means the chances of you coming up against some kind of problem is increased. If this is potentially a deportation problem, it can translate into a very big problem. Get your legal visa (if you can) and you won’t have anything to worry about.

If you can get your Z visa, the make sure you teach in China the right way. Accept a job from a reputable school and ensure you apply for a Z-Visa. The Z visa is the only Visa that allows you to work legally.  

Safety is a huge priority for just about everyone who comes to China to teach. There’s a ton of very good decisions you can make, ensuring your time in China is trouble-free.

Yet job security isn’t the only safety issue people worry about. When it comes to teaching in China, here are some issues we get asked about the most:

  1. COVID (because 2020)
  2. Petty crime
  3. Road Hazards
  4. Exploitation at Work
  5. Air pollution
  6. Even food safety
  7. Part time Jobs

Read on to discover the real story behind every major safety concern in China that we’re often asked about.

1. China is a Safe Place During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As most will know, China was the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Its was the one country to take the most drastic measures within its own borders. The situation right now is stable and even optimistic. The downside to these measures was having the borders closed to the outside world.  

This was good news if you decided to stay in China. Schools returned after an extended lockdown and salaries soared due the shortage of teachers. Bad news if you were one of thousands of teachers wanting to get back or come to China for the first time. During this time, China was closed to almost everyone except Chinese nationals. 

Since July 2020, the borders opened slowly, flights increased and visas were issued. However in November, due to increased  imported COVID-19 cases, Chinese authorities reversed their decision. While the borders have not closed entirely, the obstacles getting to China have mounted. 

This is very frustrating if you are caught in the middle, however there is method with the madness. While COVID-19 has not eradicated, it’s at a level that allows people to live normally. 

When it comes to COVID, China doesn’t pull any punches. Returning teachers are placed in centralized quarantine for 14 days (here’s a Guide to Returning to China and Surviving Quarantine) and some schools are also enforcing a further 7-14 ‘keep away’ rule. Teachers are reporting  strict regulations being placed on teachers, students, and parents. So far, these measures have been effective.

Teaching and living in COVID – China is no more stressful than doing the same at home. In fact, it’s arguably a less stressful due to the lack of COVID cases.

Even with these restrictions, it would be fair to say life has returned to a resemblance of what it was pre-COVID.

China Gets Tough with COVID

At time of writing, China is vastly safer than Europe and North America because the government took drastic action early on in the pandemic. Bearing that in mind, the Chinese authorities can change regulations at a moment’s notice. Something most western countries are simply unable (and unwilling) to do.  

For instance, with an outbreak of  21 cases in the coastal city of Qingdao, 9 million residents were tested. The Chinese authorities are leaving no stone unturned it seems.

Moreover, the local culture is respectful and overwhelmingly abiding, so you’ll find that you don’t have to justify your desire to wear a mask, not shake hands or keeping your distance. Most Chinese locals do the same.There are still some measures in place in the school workplace around social distancing rules and masks…. and having to disinfect your hands 135 times a day, but your day to day will remain mostly unaffected.

Due to the super-harsh penalties dished out for serious crime, China is one of the safest countries you could ever live in. Even large cities feel incredibly safe. You’d be safer walking the streets after dark on your own in China, then you’d be almost anywhere else. The abundance of cameras through the cities are also undoubtedly a big crime preventing measure. 

Petty theft, however, isn’t too uncommon in larger and more populated cities. Unfortunately you’ll find pickpockets doing the rounds in crowded markets and public transport during peak hour. Also Keep an eye out for tea houses scams if you are new to China. 

One of the most common crimes committed against foreigners is the theft of scooter or eBike batteries. It’s not the worst thing that can happen to you, but it’s a real pain.

Avoiding this kind of annoyance is not difficult. If possible keep your bike at your home or inside you apartment complex in a conspicuous place. If you have a lithium battery, which is lighter (and more expensive), keep it with you and bring it when you park up at night. Litium batteries are very sought after by thieves as they are expensive and easily concealed. 

 In general, be vigilant of your belongings in large crowds and you’ll be just fine. This kind of safety warning is international and not only relevant to China.

Is china safe to teach in for 2021

3. Road Hazards in China

Crossing a major road in China is perhaps the biggest threat to your safety. While laws in general are stringently followed, road laws are not. The mayhem that is Chinese traffic is something you’ll simply get used to as a driver, passenger and/or a pedestrian. You will need to have eyes on the back of your head and anticipate anyone pulling out of any lane. 

 Whatever your mode of transport, pay particular care when crossing at intersections and Zebra crossings / cross walks. In the western world road etiquette, cross walks are almost considered sacred. In China this is not the case. It’s common for motorists to drive through cross walks when pedestrians are using it. 

For those expats brave enough to use electric scooters (and many do), it’s a case of learning fast. It will seem daunting at first, but with some practice you’ll find yourself whizzing through the streets like you’ve been doing it your whole life.

A warning though: just because you have mastered the Chinese road network and driving culture, it doesn’t mean you will be safe. Keep your wits about you as there are plenty of idiots who HAVE been doing it all their lives and still have not mastered it.

4: Exploitation & Safety at work in China

This is perhaps the most important safety aspect many first-time teachers worry about and for good reasons. Yet, as stated above, there’s at least something you can do to avoid it.

If a school have plans for you to teach on another visa other than a Z visa, don’t do it. At any time authorities can check at your school. And you really don’t want to get deported in China. Another tip is to check whether the school has a license to employ foreign teachers. 

It should be noted that even when you do all the right things, you may well be required to work longer hours than you were initially told or to partake in ‘recruiting’ activities you hadn’t anticipated. But there’s a difference between a school that has high expectations of you and one that wants to take you for a ride.

Usually, the latter will try to convince you to work under an illegal visa (like a tourist visa) because those are easier to get. The classic behaviour includes not being paid on time, docking of your pay for ridiculous reasons and threatening to report you if you don’t comply with their demands.

Remember that a good school with a good reputation will have no issues with you chatting to past or previous teachers. Good schools are only interested your teaching abilities and sponsoring a Z-Visa.

Generally speaking, we don’t recommend teachers sign contracts with agencies, however, in the case of public school jobs, you may have to. Public schools in China don’t usually employ foreign teachers directly. At China By Teaching, we work with two agencies and both have been tried and tested.

5: Air pollution

Even though the rest of the world talks about air-pollution being a ‘Chinese’ problem, the fact is that it’s primarily a big-city problem. In China terms, pollution is a major issue in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities in the north. The south, by and large, enjoys much cleaner air outside major cities.

If you suffer from asthma or simply can’t fathom living in a bustling city with dubious air-quality, you should hone in your teaching-job search to smaller and more remote destinations. China is huge and there’s a ton of choice that doesn’t involve Beijing and Shanghai.

With that in mind, Beijing has experienced a dramatic improvement in air quality. In 2019 Beijing exited the world’s top 200 polluted cities and improvements continue. Beijing has become a more popular teaching destination for foreigners in recent years.

Third and Fourth tier cities offer an abundance of pros aside from cleaner air. They’re quieter and more enjoyable, offer a more immersive cultural experience and are less stressful places to work in. If you’re just starting out as an ESL teacher, they also offer better chances of scoring higher calibre teaching jobs that you’ll find in a top tier city.

Air pollution is one of the biggest concerns among teachers already working in China so it’s something you shouldn’t take lightly. Most people will invest in an air-purifier for their apartment and a stack of 3M construction masks, which are the best at keeping your lungs protected when walking the streets on a particularly bad day.

Is china safe to teach in for 2021

6: Food safety in China

Food safety is a big issue for newcomers although in China it mainly relates to street food. Should street food in China be avoided altogether? Absolutely not! Street food here is among the many joys of living in such an exotic country although your stomach may need some time to adjust to new tastes and, if teaching in Sichuan, the incredible spiciness!

All food outlets in China must now display a ‘health and safety’ rating that is either green (good), yellow (passable) or red (big fat fail). Now, the funny thing is that restaurants and eateries that have received a fail are still allowed to operate. So then it’ll be up to you to decide whether or not it’s worth the risk.

When it comes to food safety, it’s always best to choose busy places that are packed with locals and eateries that have been recommended by people you meet. Sure, the food may still play havoc with your belly but that’ll be mostly because your stomach has yet to acclimatize to the culinary delights rather than because the food is actually bad.

General rules and regulations

The most important thing you can do, when moving to live and teach in China, is to be informed. Know what is always legal/illegal and stay within the law.

7: Part Time Jobs

Maybe you arrived in China with the proper visa and nabbed a job with a reputable school. Then a new friend suggests you give some private ESL lessons on the side, even though your work contract strictly forbids it. Nothing wrong with that right? Who would even find out? Your employer, that’s who! Working legally means you are in the best and most protected position you can be although you will probably be contractually bound to only work for your employer.

While we do not advise teachers to take on side jobs without their employers knowing, most teachers do! Side teaching jobs make your teaching experience in China all the more lucrative and a massive selling point for anyone wanting to come to China. If you do take on a side job, be careful and take on a home tutoring gig where you won’t have any…. interruptions.

Stay Safe in China - The Golden Rule

Don’t break any laws, no matter how ridiculous they may seem to you.

China is renowned for its harsh penalties on lawbreakers and foreigners are not exempt.

This is especially important regarding drugs, something for which China has a zero-tolerance policy. Just don’t go there. It’s one thing to get deported for working illegally, it’s another to get a stint in jail because you smoked a joint.

And don’t forget that random drug tests at the workplace are not uncommon (especially for foreigners) and given something as light as marijuana can be detected up to 90 days after exposure. Make sure you take nothing at all for AT LEAST three months before arriving.

Granted, you may never get tested, however, it’s become more prevalent in recent years so take note.

Living and teaching in China are perfectly safe as long as you know all the pitfalls and how to best avoid them.

Want some more advice? Contact us  or read our ultimate guide to teaching in China.

If you work with us, we’ll do our best to find the best teaching position for your skills and experience, with some of China’s reputable schools.


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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