Working as an EFL teacher in China

The People’s Republic of China is an enormous country, with a land area of approximately 9.6 million square kilometres and an estimated 1.4 billion people. There are 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four direct-controlled municipalities (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chonqqing), and two special administrative regions (Hong Kong and Macau).

Mandarin is the main language, with 301 other living ones, according to Ethnologue: “Of these, 276 are indigenous and 26 are non-indigenous. Furthermore, 15 are institutional, 24 are developing, 93 are vigorous, 139 are in trouble, and 31 are dying.”

With such a huge population that is opening up to the rest of the world, the demand for English is increasing. Some children start learning English as early as kindergarten and many online English tutors teach even these young children. There has also been an explosion in the number of international schools offering an English education.

At university level, a huge number of Chinese students are now continuing their education by attending universities in English-speaking countries, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level. Nearly half a million were registered in 2018-2019 in the United Kingdom and these figures increased by 30% in 2019. Many British universities are represented in China, having agreements with their Chinese counterparts. Students can either complete their degrees there or continue to the UK after they have graduated with a higher national diploma.

In this article, I will share information about living and working in Zhuhai, Beijing, and the north of China, near Dalian and the Russian border. My experiences were different in each city, but I can heartily recommend all of them. Two of the contracts were short-term ones with universities that teach English for Academic Purposes (EAP), before bringing the students to the UK to finish their studies. The third contract was with an international school in Zhuhai, which is affiliated with a sixth-form college in the south of England.

I do not intend to describe working in these institutions but will give more information about how to survive a contract in the country. When I first arrived in Zhuhai, I did not read, write or speak Chinese, and after being picked up at the port that serves high-speed boats from Hong Kong, I was taken to the school and left to my own devices.

Tips for living and working abroad in China

1. If you do go to China, the main tips are to make sure you have the correct work visa [link:], otherwise you may have to go on visa runs to Hong Kong, Macau or foreign countries, and will run the risk of being imprisoned, fined or deported if you do not have the right one.

2. Make sure you bring enough shoes and clothes if you are above a British size 14 in clothing or wear size 40 shoes or larger! If you would like to master Chinese before you go to China, some universities in the UK have Chinese studies [link:]. Downloading useful APPS and a VPN are also recommended. 

3. It is a wonderful country to visit, with interesting sites around every corner. Some of the buildings are astounding, enormous and post-modern, and the Chinese people I met are endlessly patient with their time and happy to help a foreigner.

4. Last but not least, the Chinese students I taught were very hard-working and appreciated everything I tried to do for them. They are the result of China’s continuing economic growth [link:] and if you work with them, you will be playing a small part in developing understanding between the West and the East.