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Is it Safe to Teach in China in 2021?

Is it safe to teach in china in 2021?

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

Is China safe, you’re wondering? 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. This 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 and you won’t have anything to worry about.

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

First up: only come to China to teach legally. Teach in China the right way, by accepting a job from a reputable school and ensuring you apply for a Z-Visa – the only visa type that allows you to actually work in China – and you’ll be avoiding all sorts of problems.

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

Read on to discover the real story behind every major safety concern in China that we’re often asked about and find out what you can do to mitigate risks.

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 and 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 drastic measures was having the borders closed to the outside world for several months.

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 on strict regulations being placed on teachers, students, and parents. So far, these measures have been very effective.

Teaching and living in China in-COVID times is no more stressful than doing the same at home. Most Chinese provinces were not locked down completely and life has returned to a resemblance of what it was pre-COVID.

There are still some of the extreme measure 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.

At time of writing, China is 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 a mere 21 cases in the coastal city of Qingdao, 9 million residents are expected to be 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 distance. Most Chinese locals do the same.

2. Petty Crime

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 and 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 so you’ll find pickpockets doing the rounds in crowded markets and public transport during peak hour.

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: 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

Crossing a major road in China is perhaps the biggest threat to your safety – where crime laws 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 a pedestrian. You will need to have eyes on the back of your head and anticipate anyone pulling out of any lane so pay particular care when crossing at intersections.

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 at work

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.

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. Then, once they have you hooked on an illegal work contract, they have you well and truly trapped. 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.

The solution is to never find yourself in this predicament in the first place.

Remember that a good school with a good reputation will have no issues with you chatting to past or previous teachers and is only interested in sponsoring you for 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 sign with an agency. 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.

China By Teaching only works with schools who will honour contracts and treat their employees responsibly.

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 teaching 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

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.

Teaching in China Safety – The Golden Rules

Don’t Teach Illegally

Maybe you arrived in China with the proper visa and nabbed a job with a reputable school but a new friend suggested 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 most 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.


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 and tell us why you’d love to teach in China and we’ll do our best to find the best teaching position for your skills and experience, with one of China’s most 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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