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It used to be very easy to get work in China and the government requirements for overseas teachers were very low. However, recently the government has made much stricter regulations about working here and in the last years the Chinese government has started to clamp down on illegal and improper workers.

We have heard of at least 30 or 40 cases of people being fined, deported, etc. for various reasons and that is just the few cases we have heard of. So, here are some things you should beware of before you come and work in China. Even if you don’t want to come and work with us I hope they are of some help.

Many people are not aware that under Chinese law you are personally responsible for any illegal working, even if the company you work for arranged all your paperwork and you were unwittingly illegal.
(Personally, I have heard a number of stories of people thinking they are working legally then being fined because they were not and it almost happened to me once at another school).
Always make sure the company you work for can employ you as a Foreign Expert. Ask to see a copy of their permit to employ foreign experts and make sure the name on the permit matches the name of the school you are going to. Here are some points to beware about documentation.

a) You can only work at the company named on your documents. If a company employs you using their credentials then sends you to work at another private school you can be fined for working illegally. We have heard of a few cases where the fine was up to 5,000 Yuan (600 USD)


Legally speaking you can only be a teacher with a foreign expert’s license, no other permit is legal. Some companies employ people using a different form of document called a work permit which is used for unskilled workers. Although you are permitted to work, IT IS STILL ILLEGAL TO WORK AS A TEACHER USING A WORK PERMIT and you can be fined for doing so. If you want to change jobs later it is also much more difficult and you may have to leave the country first or maybe considered to be working illegally and put on a blacklist. Most companies will say don’t worry, nobody checks up, but every time I put this advert I get new letters from people it has happened to and have been fined some unearthly sums.

c) Extended Tourist/Business Visas. Some companies work round the system by extending tourist or business visas to keep you in the country legally. However, it is very illegal to work on a tourist visa and they government has recently been quite hard on those they catch doing so, even if you didn’t know you were working illegally.

d) Working on a Student Visa. Some companies may get you a student visa for one year then send you to work on that. However, this is just the same as working illegally on a tourist visa and if you get caught you will not be able to study Chinese here if you decide later you want to.

e) Working though an Agency. Strictly speaking any agency that gets you a Foreign Expert's License then sends you off to some school not named on the license is sending you to work illegally. However, this is rarely checked and you are not really likely to be fined. Saying that, this may change.

Many people who have worked in China, but haven’t done so recently, may tell you how little the regulations are enforced, not to worry about documentation processes etc. This was very true until 2007 when the State Council passed an edict that new policies must be strictly enforced. The only places that may let you get away in bending the rules now are little backwater townships and counties that are in the middle of nowhere. Do not pay any attention to messages on the Internet from people who did their documentation before 2007.

It also used to be true that recent graduates from university could come and work as teachers. This is no longer true, most decent cities insist on 3 years work experience following graduation while some insist on just 2 years. (although some companies may be able to get round this rule)

Changing your Visa In-Country
It used to be possible to change a tourist or business visa into a work visa in country, which made it a lot less complicated to become employed here. However, this is NO LONGER POSSIBLE and work visas MUST be processed before arriving in China. Do not listen to any offer that tells you to come on a tourist visa and they will change it here, they are either: 1) getting you to work on an illegal visa; or 2) do not know the new policies and you are the person who will end up paying for it.(saying that, it may also be possible in some cases just be very careful)

The Hong Kong Connection
It used to be possible to get a 6 or 12 month business visa in Hong Kong then people would work illegally in China using that and keep hopping to Hk every few months. As of 2010, this route is no longer viable. Do not listen to anyone who tells you to go to HK and get a business visa.

Possibly the worst thing that can happen is the company tells you one thing about the work you will do and conditions you will have, but when you arrive the situation is not what they claimed. ALWAYS insist on being sent the email addresses of teachers who have worked at the school in the past and, if possible, some who are working there at present.
If the company refuses to send you any or umms and ahhs about sending you them, it is possible their teachers were unsatisfied with the working conditions and left disgruntled. They may even send you email addresses of people they know will not reply or false email addresses of Chinese people who work at the school who will tell you how great everything is.
Below are some of the work subjects you should ask about and the worst situations that can occur.

a) How many students in a class?
Most schools will have between 10 and 40 in a class. Some terrible schools may lump together as many as 200-300 at a time and you just stand there and shout (Not a joke and happens more than you think especially in remoter areas and has happened to me).

b) How many working hours a week?
Working hours are not the same as teaching hours. Most schools will have working hours for class preparation, extracurricular activities, time to meet students and parents, time between classes etc. At these times you will be at the school or travelling but not at home relaxing. Your time at school or travelling should be no more than 4 or 5 hours per week more than your teaching hours, i.e. if you have 16 teaching hours you should have no more than 20 or 21 working hours but it is very common for 16 teaching hours to turn into a full time 8am to 4/5 pm job.
In the worst cases schools will give you just two one hour classes per day one being in the early morning and one in the evening and the remaining time you must spend at the school so you may be actually working 40 to 50 hours per week but only paid for 15 or 16 teaching hours.

c) How many days per week, what days and what times?
You may only want to work Monday to Friday, during the mornings, afternoons or evenings or you may simply have religious objections to working on some days. Make sure you know what days of the week you will be working on and at what time of the day. However, at least be a bit lenient when the school feels it necessary to change the hours a little, it is hard to run a successful school if your teachers will not at least bend a little.

) How much travelling will I do and will I be paid for it?
The majority of schools will not need you to travel anywhere and a minority will possibly ask you to hop between 2 or 3 schools (actually illegal if they are not owned by the same company). However, some schools are travelling schools which will take you around remote towns once per 2 months; you spend Monday to Friday on the road performing and only come home at weekends. Of course, most of these travelling jobs will not pay you for travelling time.

e) Where EXACTLY is the school I am working at?
Most schools will say they are in a big city such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Chengdu etc. However, big cities are often municipal, which means they include many little satellite townships within the city borough limits. The long and the short of this means that a school that says it is in Beijing may be as much as 70 or 80 kilometers from the city center in a satellite county township.
Always ask to know exactly where the school is in relation to the city center and what the transport is like to get there. Note: in most big cities, outside the fourth ring road is usually already a long way from the city center.

f) What are the conditions like in this area of the city?
Like in the West, conditions in a city can vary a lot from one district to another. Some districts may be very poor and relatively isolated and some reasonably prosperous. Schools often like to place themselves in cheaper areas to reduce costs, especially if they are boarding schools. Find out what part of the city they are in and what the surrounding area has to offer.

g) Is the school I am going to a satellite campus?
Some of the more well-known universities and schools have satellite campuses in remote areas or even in different provinces. You may see an advert for a famous school or a school that has the name of a city or province you want to go to, but actually end up somewhere completely different.

h) How often do I teach the same classes?
Most schools will vary between once a day and once a week teaching the same classes. In some places you may only see a class once a month and the very worst situation you may only ever see a class once (especially traveling teachers in remoter areas).

i) What extracurricular activities are there?
Most schools will have some unpaid extracurricular activities, such as Xmas, Halloween or even promotional activities; however, these will usually take no more than a few hours a month. Beware that some schools may pile on hours of extracurricular activities such as obligatory lunches with local officials or even singing in McDonalds or KFC for which you do not get paid.

j) What is the accommodation like, where is it and what does it include?
Most schools cannot afford to give fantastic accommodation, but will at least guarantee it is clean and give the essential items such as bedding, TV, washing machine etc. We have heard of worst case scenarios of people being put up in ‘literally’ rat infested hotels or dingy apartments next to noisy all-night Mah Jong parlors or whorehouses, sometimes miles away from work. Always make sure you know exactly where you will live and in what conditions.

k) Do you offer Training?
Only a small minority of schools offer any sort of training, mostly because they are not experienced enough to do so. If you are inexperienced, that includes having just completed a TEFL or TESOL course, try to go to a school that offers further training.

l) What is the curriculum/course?
You would be surprised just how many schools do not use a course book or even set a curriculum and you end up having to write it yourself or just go into class blind. We have even heard of teachers who were blamed because the curriculum they wrote was very poor quality, even though they had no experience writing it and were not offered any help.
All the above things can and do happen, make sure the conditions being offered are clear and concise.
Keep your emails and copies of the advertisement stating the conditions just in case you need to terminate the contract you have with the school for not giving you what they said.

Politics are extremely complicated and the relationships between countries are always changing. We had one teacher who got sent home to get a visa before the regulations about changing tourist visas to work visas were enforced simply because they were from South Africa and relationships had recently taken a downturn (two weeks later it was OK again).
We have also heard of many teachers from, partially English countries like India, South Africa, Malaysia, Philippines, etc. being refused work visas.
Never take it as read that rules which were applied to someone from another country would be applied to you. It may not even be true that the rules applied to someone from your own country at one time will also be applied to you at a later date. The Chinese government changes/enforces regulations more than you change your clothes.

Aid/Charity Teaching Organizations
If you are interested in coming over with some form of voluntary teaching program be very cautious of which program it is and whether they are reputable. Some of these programs can be a scam to make money off you. I have knownledge of one school which had two teachers who paid 2000 USD to come on a voluntary program and were working for free at a very expensive school, while the same school had two other teacher who were being paid 100 Yuan per hour to teach there (making about 5000 per month). The voluntary organization must have been making heaps from both the school and the volunteers.
Many of these organizations are very trustworthy and reliable but some may take advantage of you. From the letters we have received from people quite a few of them are making a good profit from other's kindheartedness.

Introduction Agencies
Some introduction agencies are reputable but many are not. Be very careful when you choose one and INSIST on them being open about the money they are making from you. Any advert stating 'Hundreds of Jobs' cannot possibly really care about you or your personal circumstances. In the worst case we have heard of people being paid as little as 40 yuan per hour or a low salary of about 2500 yuan per month while the introduction agency was charging 2-300 yuan per hour for their services.
Of course, it is only fair that introduction agencies make money but they should not exploit you at the same time! (10-20% of your salary is a fair amount)
a) NEVER pay anybody to introduce you to a job in China, they are making money already off the school you are going to. Of course, it would be fair to pay an agency who helps you complete and transact all the paperwork, but not if they just introduce you to a job.
b) Beware of some very disreputable agencies who will tell you anything you want to hear just to get you in the country.
c) If someone offers you a job the moment they receive your email/letter, BEWARE, they are not likely to care about what kind of work you want to do, they just want to get your bum into any school that needs a teacher.
d) Many agencies know that it is in their best interests to serve the needs of the School and not your needs, because the school is more likely to use their services again later while they don't really care that much about you (you will be gone after a year). Many agencies will also try to send you to the worst school they can, especially if you are inexperienced, because an experienced teacher would not really need an agency at all and knows what to look out for.

9) Not All Horror Stories are True
To end this section on a slightly positive note; please do not accept that all horror stories you hear originating from teachers, or schools, are true. Every school equally has their own horror stories of AWFUL teachers who were arrogant, lazy, pretended to be sick all the time, turn up late, can't turn up to work on most Mondays because they drank too much at the weekend, teach really terribly but are unprepared to learn and various other scenarios.
Some foreign teachers come here and expect everything to be like in the West and are rude, inflexible, and unprepared to accept that working in China will be far different from working in the West. Possibly the most common excuse ever heard from foreign teachers is “We do not do that in my country!” to which I am sure schools would like (but do not dare) to reply “But this is not your country and that is how we work here!”
Most schools bend over backward to satisfy foreign teachers but many of the horror stories on the Internet are made by people who would be disgruntled wherever they went, so try to sort out the myth from the reality.
Working in China, and especially at our school Golden Apple (just a little ad there), can be a wonderfully rewarding and enjoyable experience but it requires give and take on both sides. As a teacher coming to a different culture you should be prepared to accept some different working standards and ethics than your own country.
Thank you for reading so far. We hope this section has been some help about what to look out for in your search for work in China.