Life in China

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1 - Working Life / Choosing a School
2 - Culture
3 - Recruitment Process Overview
4 - Contracts

Working Life / Choosing a School

Your working life depends heavily on the type of institute you are working for. Below are some generalizations to give you a rough idea of what to expect from each type, but obviously it varies from place to place.

Training Centres: These are by far the most common types of employment in China, and usually the first stop for newly qualified teachers. The working hours are usually heavy on evening and weekends and other times when children are not in public school. The pay can be a little bit lower than at public schools and universities, but they have their advantages. The biggest one is training. If you work at one of the larger chain schools (such as EF) you will have lots of training sessions, both as a faculty and an individual which can also lead to internationally recognized qualifications. This training is priceless if you have little to no experience of teaching kids. You will also teach a wider range of ages and levels, which can be great experience to prepare you for future teaching positions.

Management positions are also more frequently available to teachers, as training centers like to promote from within. This can be a great addition to your CV for when you return to your home country. You will also arrive with a friend’s circles already established for you to easily fit into, which makes the adjustment period that whole lot easier.

Public Schools / Universities: The biggest benefit of working for a public school or university is the hours. Usual working hours are Monday to Friday, 8:00am to 16:30pm or thereabouts. The pay is usually constant and you get long summer and winter holidays. You will probably have fewer classes each week and you also get to teach the same students and watch them progress over time.

There are a number of downsides, though. The first one is that you will usually have little to no professional support. The school will expect you to already be able to teach, and will expect you to solve your own problems if they arise. The other downside is that most public schools and universities have a smaller foreign faculty, which means if you don’t like one or two of your co-workers, you are in for a long year.

Kindergartens: If you are a very energetic and child-friendly teacher, then maybe a kindergarten is a good place to start. The pay and hours can be similar to a public school position, and you get to do a lot less academics and more fun activities. The downside is also that you get to do a lot less academics and more fun activities. Teaching the same, very simple language can get incredibly tedious after a while. There are only so many times you can teach the word ‘dog’ before you start to lose the will to live. 


I am not going to go into too much detail about this, as it’s something you should experience firsthand and too many “spoilers” will make the experience less surprising. However, I will generalize a couple of things to give you an idea of what it’s like in China.

It’s quite conservative. Chinese people are quite traditional, and they pay homage to their historical roots quite predominantly in their daily life. Although it is becoming increasingly westernized, it’s still an overtly conservative culture.

Personal Space is different. Chinese people will think nothing of blatantly staring at things (or people), asking really personal questions or being very blunt in what they say. This is very different from most western countries and takes a bit of getting used to. After a while you will find you will become less sensitive to things like this as Chinese people mean absolutely no disrespect, it’s just a very big cultural difference that you will need to overcome.

Gestures are important. If you ever get invited to someone’s home, take some fruit.

Foreigners tend to be exempt from faux pas. Most Chinese people won’t be offended if foreigners do something that is culturally incorrect. They usually have the attitude of “oh, they are foreigners, they don’t know”. Unfortunately, we don’t extend the same courtesy to them when they visit our home countries. Likewise, don’t expect them to adhere to western values and then get angry when they don’t (queuing being a prime example). You are in China; follow Chinese customs as best as you can. Remember, that’s why you went to China in the first place.

Recruitment Process Overview

Below is an overview of the process that most Foreign Teachers (i.e., English teachers who are not Chinese citizens) experience when first coming to work in China. This process varies from province to province, but the fundamentals usually remain the same.

Once you have connected with a potential employer, had a Skype interview etc and accepted a position, the employer will ask for scanned copies of a number of documents. These documents are usually, but not always limited to;

- Degree Certificate (minimum requirement is usually BA/BSc or equivalent and above)
- Teaching Qualification (commonly referred to as a TEFL or Teaching Certificate) 
- CV / Resume 
- Passport 
- A Criminal Record Background Check Document 
- Employment Agreement Form

The employer needs these to get a very specific, very important document from the Chinese Government called a Foreign Expert Certificate, or FEC. In order to be issued a legal working visa, you must have a skill that is needed in China. Purely being an English speaker is not enough; you must be qualified and (usually) experienced in the field of TEFL. To prove that you are an "Expert", you must provide the above documents to your employer so they can show them to the relevant government department and get the FEC. The FEC is usually issued for one year and linked to your employer, who will keep it at all times. You will probably never see this document throughout the duration of your employment. This is normal, as it's more for your employer than it is for you.

Your employer will use the FEC to get a document called a Letter of Invitation. They will post the original to you in your home country. You will need to take this, along with your visa application form and other documents to your closest Chinese visa center to get your Visa.

Let's talk a little bit about Visas. When most teachers and employers use the term 'Visa', they could be talking about one of two very different, but equally important things. This can get a little bit confusing for a new teacher to China but will become second nature after you have been here for a while.

The first one is your Entry Visa. For new teachers, this is usually a Z-Visa, 3 month single entry. This is the document in your passport issued in your home country that allows you to enter into China when you arrive at Chinese immigration. As the single entry name suggests, once you get it stamped on arrival it cannot be used again.

Once you are in China, your school will ask you for your passport and ORIGINAL copies of the documents stated above (so don’t forget to pack them). They will then use these documents to get you a Resident Permit (also referred to as a Residency Permit). This is a sticker in your passport which will allow you to travel around China and leave and re-enter the country without restriction. Confusingly, most people will also refer to this as a 'Visa' but in reality it is a different document.

You will also need to do a medical check as part of this process, which will be arranged by your employer. It's not going to be the highlight of your stay in China, but it is painless if not a little bit impersonal. How long you will be without your passport whilst they process your Resident Permit varies from place to place. It can be anywhere between 10 days and 6 weeks, but the average is between 2 to 3 weeks. In China, you need your passport to buy train tickets and book hotel rooms. Ask your school for a receipt from the government when you give them your passport. This receipt can be used in place of your passport to book train tickets and hotel rooms (but not flights).

PLEASE NOTE: It is illegal to work in China if you enter the country using any visa other than a Z-Visa. Not every school in China has permission to employ foreigners. If a school doesn't have this permission, they may ask you to come on a tourist (L-Visa) or business (M-Visa) and work illegally. If caught, you can be deported and unofficially blacklisted from working in China in the future.

If you meet the requirements to be issued an FEC there is absolutely NO REASON why you should agree to work illegally. Mecha does NOT recruit for any school that does not have the legally required status to employ foreigners or who cannot issue a Z-Visa.


One of the things that make new teachers who are unfamiliar with China nervous is arriving here without a signed contract. Usually for a contract to be valid in China, it must be signed and then stamped by your employer with both of you in the same room. Obviously, when you are in different countries this is not possible. To compensate for this, most employers will ask you to sign an Employment Agreement Form (different companies have different names for this document, but they all serve the same function). This document shows both that you have agreed to come and work for them and that they agree to employ you. Most companies will also send you a copy of the contract you will sign when arriving in China.

Some companies will ask you to sign a copy of the actual contract as a substitute to the Employment Agreement Form, and then sign another copy of the contract again upon arrival in China. This is also quite normal.

Most contracts are for 12 months because that is how long your FEC and Resident Permit is valid for. The vast majority of schools will have the option of extending your contract if you wish to stay longer. Negotiations for this usually start about 2-3 months before your contract expires.