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How to TEFL in China for North American Teachers of Chinese Descent

  • 4 min read
  • China

Finding any TEFL job in China, let alone a good one was not easy for me. I am a Canadian of Chinese descent. I look Chinese. And, you wouldn’t believe how often I was told by Chinese people in China that my English is very good.

In my job search, I stumbled upon a forum that discussed Chinese-looking people wanting to live and work in China. The main message was loud and clear: DON’T DO IT. People reported facing difficulty finding jobs and discrimination. Still, I wanted to live in China to learn more about my roots, and I was determined to go.

I find out much later that the reason for their seemingly out-right discrimination is really culturally and monetarily driven. In Chinese culture, how things look is very important. And parents, who pay premium tuition for their only child to go to a school that advertises foreign teachers, probably do not speak much English themselves. Couple these two factors together and you will get the fury of parents barging into the principal’s door angrily demanding their money back because a “Chinese” teacher is teaching English their child.

Still, I remained resolute, and I began all my cover letters with, “I am a Canadian of Chinese descent”. so that if it was a deal-breaker, then I’m not going to waste time going through the interview with them.


I found my first teaching English job to first-year students at a government-run college in the heart of the city of Guangzhou. The school was great. The salary was pretty good for the number of hours I had to teach, and they offered free accommodation!


One of the reasons people choose to teach English in China is that schools provide foreign teachers with paid accommodation. 

It has been the convention that all teachers (local and foreign) have an apartment to live on campus. With the sprawl of campuses built in more remote areas, many have opted for a place in the city off-campus.

As a foreigner, you might be able to negotiate for a slightly higher salary for choosing to rent your own apartment. And if you do choose to rent your own, do your research and don’t be surprised at possible price gauging.

Negotiating The Salary

The initial offer (or the amount posted on the job ad) is typically low. Most schools expect the foreigner to negotiate. If you get the vibe that this is possible, you can give a reasonable counter-offer and justify it. The school will usually meet you half-way. This process is a very delicate dance. And be very careful, especially if you are not confident in my negotiation skills.

When to Apply for Jobs

The best time of year to apply for jobs starts in April (mostly summer camps for July-August). It peaks in August (right before the start of the semester), and wanes in October. There’s usually another peak right after Chinese New Year, which marks the beginning of the second semester.

How to Get The Best TEFL Job

Other than through the typical recruiter or corporate franchise that you see on the daily TEFL job boards, the best way to get a good job in China while still overseas is through the recommendation of a foreign teacher (your friend) who already works there. It’s safer for you because your friend can vouch for the legitimacy of the school. It’s comfortable for the school, as they prefer to hire teachers based upon references rather than dealing with a stranger who may look great on a resume and not-so-great when he/she arrives.

Avoid TEFL Internships or Cram Schools

A bad teaching experience can really ruin all the beautiful things that China has to offer. There are thousands of amazing jobs that become available every month, so there aren’t any reasons to be crammed in a classroom with 50 students or to pay any organization a fee for a TEFL internship.

Decent entry-level ESL teaching jobs in China pay a starting salary of 10,000 RMB per month, which is twice as much as what a typical TEFL internship or cram school job in China offers.

Get an Accredited TESOL / TEFL Certification

Your TESOL or TEFL certificate must be accredited at the national or provincial level to become eligible for government authentication. Accrediting bodies include TESL Canada or TESL Ontario for Canada and ACCET for the United States. For China, the minimum TESOL / TEFL certification requirement is 120 hours.

Read: How OnTESOL’s Course Improved My Teaching Experience in China

Work Visa

You should not teach English in China without a work visa.  The government is now cracking down on foreigners working illegally in China, and, as a result, the school may ask you to get a work visa prior to your arrival in order to avoid paying hefty fines.

Some people go to China with a tourist visa (L visa). A one-month tourist visa is common, which can be renewed in major cities without too much trouble, at least for a short time (say, a week). However, to convert a tourist visa (L visa) to a work (Z visa) is far more complicated and normally requires a departure from the mainland. For example, a friend had to take a flight to Hong Kong from Shanghai for a day to replace her business visa (F visa) with a work visa.

Most jobs advertised for Native English Speakers from Canada/USA offer assistance and pay for the cost of processing the work visa.

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