There’s a lot to think about when you’re considering coming to China to teach. One thing a lot of first-time TEFL teachers miss is the visa requirement: make sure you’re going to be in compliance with the law, or you could face a nasty surprise during your teaching time in the country!
The bad news
Teaching English in China is a great opportunity, partly because of the huge demand for English teaching services. However unfortunately there are plenty of unscrupulous ‘schools’ seeking to take advantage of this fact. While many Westerners hope to come to teach English in China, the Chinese government sets strict rules on who can come. To teach TEFL legally in China requires a ‘Z’ visa- which is the minimum legal standard you need to meet to stay in the country more than 6 months, or to draw a salary, or to have legal arbitration with your employer. Some schools bypass this system by offering to help those who don’t meet requirements come to teach- very often these schools are doing so illegally, putting unqualified teachers on tourist visas, which need to be frequently renewed, don’t provide any legal framework for employment and make it a crime to draw a salary for work done. Very often these are ‘cash in hand’ arrangements that can be, at best, very uncertain and insecure, or at worse, exploitative and criminal. As the ‘contract’ these schools offer isn’t backed up by any legal force, it isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, and teachers at these schools frequently report difficulties with the authorities, with getting paid regularly, needing to travel hundreds of miles to renew tourist visas, with getting basic teaching guidance or training, or communication between their ‘employer’ (who legally speaking isn’t their employer at all) and their staff being unclear, fractious or uncooperative once they reach China. As by avoiding the legal Z visas, these are undocumented workers, living illegally in the country, there’s no duty of care provision at all required from these shady agencies toward their staff, many of whom aren’t well suited to teaching (they aren’t exactly picky with who they hire) and aren’t prepared for living in China.
The good news
Premier English is a small, friendly school that seeks to provide not just great teaching, but great experiences for its staff. It goes without saying that we abide by the letter of the law, and we don’t ever ask our staff to do anything they’re uncomfortable with. We take pride in holding ourselves to high standards, both in our teaching and in our responsibility to staff. We’ll always provide all the support you need and we’ll never, ever bend the rules on visas.
Should this put you off teaching English in China? No, not one bit! Every industry has those willing to bend or break the rules, and unfortunately the situation in China is such that to satisfy demand for English teachers, this sort of thing does happen. However it’s always sensible to check out any ESL school thoroughly before you leave for China. Ask as many questions as you need to, look for reviews online and reach out to any current or former teachers with that school that you can find. Here’s a handy checklist of things to bear in mind as you go about your ESL job search:
- Am I speaking to a school, or to an agency? There’s a difference, and while an agency might claim to offer a straightforward schedule or teaching arrangement, this may change. Schools are traditionally more reliable than agencies, as well as being a more friendly way of working and offering more support to teachers.
- Am I qualified? The conditions of the Z visa mean you should have 2 years’ teaching experience, and a graduate degree (not necessarily in English or a teaching-related subject, though). If you don’t meet these requirements, and the organisation you’re speaking to knows this (or hasn’t asked for confirmation) and is still willing to employ you, there might be a problem.
- Is it too good to be true? Lots of organisations will encourage you to sign up through them by offering to organise visas, pay for flights or other such incentives. While there’s nothing suspicious about this in itself (and in fact it can be very helpful!) ask yourself if all the perks are adding up to more than looks reasonable.
- Do they have a licence? If in doubt, ask for the paperwork (ours is below).
- Research, research, research! The internet is a great way to learn about the school you’re considering using, and even getting in touch with current teachers in China! There are also forums and Facebook groups where you can get more opinions and information. If in doubt, always do your own research.