Preparing to teach in China

You met all the job requirements; the Skype interview with the school went really well and you’ve just been notified that you have a TEFL position waiting for you in China. Now WHAT?! Preparing to teach English in China can seem overwhelming, at first. We totally get it. Not only are you wondering what on earth to expect from the job but you also have a few (more like an endless list) of questions about the city you want to move to. Where will you live? What do you need to pack and what should you leave behind? Will you find your favourite brand of (insert much-loved items like coffee, shampoo, beer, breakfast spread etc) in town? How much cash should you bring along, at first?! Hold up just a minute! First things, first…

Photo: Preparing to teach in China

Preparing to teach in China

Get your Z Visa!

You probably cannot imagine how many times we’ve fielded all the above-mentioned questions from enthusiastic teachers who’ve just landed their dream teaching job in China….and haven’t even applied for the right visa yet! So, whilst we share in their excitement, we do have to remind them that the offered job abroad does, in fact, only get you half-way to China.

Getting the right visa to work in China is not all that difficult but it is time-consuming and, given you can’t actually apply until you have a job already lined up, it should be the very first thing you do.

The Z Visa is one of many visa-types China offers and the only one that allows you to work and teach in the country. You’ll need a bunch of documentation to apply, including a Work Permit that your future employer will help you secure. The order of events for a Z Visa application is very precise and must be adhered to, so head on over to our How to Get a Visa for China Page to get the process started, pronto.

And don’t forget: it’s not over until you have your Residency Permit

Yes, it’s mentioned in the Z Visa Page linked above but we’ll say it again: once you arrive in China, you’ll have 30 days to convert your Z Visa into a Temporary Residency Permit. Keep in mind that you’ll need to show up in person at various appointments so, for the love of whichever god you believe in, DO NOT PLAN A VACATION IN THE FIRST 30 DAYS of your stay. People do that?! Oh yes…oh yes they do! So don’t: stay put and get this last bit of bureaucratic ordeal over and done with. Just kidding, it won’t be the last, but it will be the last for some time.

Sort out your apartment

Many teaching jobs abroad and in China, particularly, will come in a bundle which include either an apartment or a rental subsidy paid on top of your salary. The ideal situation, of course, is that your employer will offer an apartment as part of the deal – this is an absolute lifesaver BUT you need to know all the included conditions. You’ll never be asked to share a room, for example, but you may be asked to share an apartment with several other teachers – and only one bathroom. Some teachers won’t mind, others will, so simply set your limits of ‘compromise’ when accepting your job contract.

When it comes to finding an apartment of your own accord, do know this can be a colossal headache but there are plenty of resources out there that’ll help you navigate this maze of uncertainty – and plenty of agencies that’ll be more than happy to help you find the right place, usually for a fee equivalent to two weeks’ rent.

Save up if you don’t have ‘starter’ funds

Many teaching jobs come with reimbursement of flight ticket and, in many cases, apartment bond (usually one months’ rent) and initial relocation expenses. Note that ‘reimbursement’ does mean you need to fork out the cash initially, so don’t confuse the ‘we will pay for your ticket to China’ clause in your job contract to mean they’ll be wiring money to your account in the next few days. Because they won’t. It can take up to two months to see that money paid back, money you’ll need to fly over and set yourself up in your new home.

Most flats do come fully-furnished in China but you’ll need new bedding, cooking utensils and, in some cases, even small whitegoods. Moreover, you’ll surely be needing to cover your living costs before your first pay-check arrives so make sure you have a neat little bundle to tide you over. One final thing: don’t be afraid to ask, directly, how much you will receive for included extras and when you can expect to receive them.

Many large cardboard used for moving personal belongings

Make local contacts before you even arrive

Fellow expats living in your city of choice will be your lifeline to surviving a smooth cultural integration into Chinese society. Just do yourself a favour: meet them when you’re still in your home country. Local expat forum and Facebook group pages are filled with lovely people just busting to help out ‘newbies’ and offer an abundance of invaluable advice that pertains to your specific city. That’s the really important point: China is huge and very varied, so make sure you concentrate your research on your destination, first and foremost.

Expat contacts can help you find a reputable apartment agent (see above), help you figure out which suburb would suit your likes and dislikes, find the best eateries, supermarkets, brand of moisturiser and just about anything else you need. The expat community in China is close-knit and very helpful so take full advantage of it remembering to ‘pay it forward’ once you become old-dog at this living-abroad game.

Know your stuff

From climate and monthly averages to custom and internet restrictions, cultural appropriateness and how to greet new colleagues or speak to your new boss: this is all stuff that you should know before you even arrive in China. Prior research is always essential when planning to teach abroad and, in many ways, even more pivotal when it comes to China because work and cultural ethics may be wildly different to those you’re accustomed to. Once again, hit those social expat forums and pages and start ‘feeling at home’ before you ever get on the plane. Cultural shock is normal when foreign teachers move to China but prior research can alleviate the symptoms quite a bit.

What to pack

Naturally, this will depend on your teaching destination so head on over to our Teaching Destinations page to get a general overview of the climate in your chosen city. NB – In case you’re salivating at the mere thought of all the ‘cheap shopping’ you’ll do in China – so intend to only pack a toothbrush – think again. Why? Because you can’t actually wear an imitation Prada handbag now, can you? Clothing to suit Western figures are expensive in China, probably more so than in your home country. Plus, nothing fits. Seriously. We’re all XXXL in Chinese clothing (yes, utterly brutal for the self-esteem) and that’s when you’re lucky enough to find something that actually fits.

Pack everything you need, for all seasons, and plan on only replenishing your wardrobe on vacation elsewhere.

Do also keep in mind that some formal wear is needed: you’ll be required to dress up in a few situations, such as special events (like Chinese New Year) and even marketing days where you’ll be encouraged to help recruit new students. Moreover, some schools will require more formal attire so it’s worth asking for dress requirements from the get-go.

How much money to bring along

Your teaching liaison officer (more on this later) will help you set up a local bank account where your salary will be paid into. Using an ATM in China is inexpensive and easy, so don’t worry about that. However, given the lack of ‘monetary connectivity’, it means you’ll find it hard to replenish your home account, which the majority of teachers will still want to keep. In all honesty, no country makes it easy to transfer money abroad but, in China’s case, it’s even more troublesome. Once again, do some research on the most popular methods to transfer money abroad and also make a note of how much cash you’re allowed to bring into the country in the first place.

You’ll probably get a liaison officer – be kind!

Given the bureaucratic and logistical marathon that ‘settling into life in China’ can be, schools employing foreign teachers usually assign one staff-member, who speaks English, to help them settle in. More often than not, your liaison officer will not be paid extra for their work (and trust me, they’ll have to do plenty for you) so do feel free to invite them to a lovely banquet meal (that’s the norm in China) to thank them for their help once you’re all settled in. Banquet meals are a huge deal in China and used as a way to reward, welcome and thank employees, friends and even acquaintances. It’s an honour to be invited to a feast and an even bigger honour to host one, so just be thankful for this delicious local etiquette and don’t hold back!

Travel & health insurance

It’s a really good idea to have international health cover when living in China, even if some kind of local health-insurance deal is offered by your employer. First of all, you won’t be covered from the moment you arrive (so it’s a good idea to have your own coverage, at least initially) and, secondly, make sure you are fully aware of all the conditions of a health-cover in China if one is offered. Do your research well, in this case, as policies differ quite a lot.

Should you be reading this as a pre-emptive strike before even applying for a job in China (look at you all organised!) we thought we’d include a few tips on how the whole recruitment process works in the first place.

Teach English in China – How the recruitment process works

First up, you’ll need to fill in an initial application and, once we’ve had a look-see, we’ll come back to you with further questions. If we have a teaching job that suits your requirements, we’ll forward the details on to you and set up a Skype interview with the employment officer of that specific school/institution. We can help guide you along on the process and can offer a variety of services, depending on your needs.

Once the contract is signed, and you have your Z-Visa then, well, start reading from the top of this page again