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Teaching English in China: The Survival Guide 


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Interested in teaching English in Asia? Well you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to learn our survival guide to teaching English in China!

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1. The Visa Process 

There’s no avoiding the cruel reality that obtaining a fully-legal visa to work and live in China is a long, laborious and frustrating process. Be prepared to wait around six months for the whole process to be completed and don’t waste your energy wondering why, in 2019, only an ink signature and not a digital copy of a recommendation letter will be accepted by the mysterious ministries of the Chinese Communist Party. 

Top tip: Follow the instructions of your HR department to the letter and don’t bother trying to research the rules and regulations yourself. Not only are the requirements continually changing, but every province, local administration, and different teaching jobs have different stipulations. 


2. WeChat 

The number one thing to remember when you teach English in China is WeChat reigns king. Life without it in China has been described as possible – but not a world you want to live in. Not only a messenger service, akin to WhatsApp, you’ll also use WeChat to pay for everything from a bottle of water to your electricity bill. It also has numerous additional functionalities including programs where you can top up your mobile phone, book trains and flights and split the bill with friends after dinner. 

Top tip: Setting up a WeChat account is no longer as straightforward as it used to be thanks to ever-increasing regulations. You’ll need somebody with a local account to ‘sponsor’ or ‘approve’ you. As most people who move to China don’t have friends there, ask your future employer or prospective HR department to assist you with the validation process. 


3. Find a House 

Finding a place to call home is one of the most challenging parts of teaching English in China. In large tier-one cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, housing can be considerably more costly than most anticipate. The quality of housing can also be questionable and finding something which is affordable and adequate can take a little time and patience. Start with the local online magazines (The Beijinger & That’s Shanghai), ask everyone you meet to add you to WeChat groups and download Wellcee; an app specializing in house shares which is rapidly gaining popularity in cities across China. Remember, though you can rarely negotiate on the price, most landlords are willing to redecorate, provide new furniture and appliances such as mattresses and even televisions. 

Top tip: Rent in China is paid in three-month installments, four times a year. When you first move in, you’ll also need to pay a month’s rent as a deposit, making for a sizable upfront payment. Some landlords are happy to let you pay this in portions and if you’re really lucky, they’ll agree to rent paid monthly – it is always worth asking. 


4. Banking and Finance 

Teaching English in China can be a lucrative business. Many people move to the Middle Kingdom looking to save cash for the future. Opening a bank account is remarkably easy – getting your money out of China is not. Only Chinese nationals can transfer money digitally outside of China. Anybody with a foreign passport will have to go to the bank to do it manually. Be aware, that this can take several days so make sure you give yourself ample time. Union Pay is the standard debit card issued in China. Note that not all cards have the magnetic strip which enables you to use the card outside of the country. If they issue you a card without this magnetic strip, you can directly ask for a different card. Not all international destinations will accept Union Pay cards either, so always check before you travel internationally. 

Top tip: Union Pay cards only work on Chinese websites. You will need to transfer money to a foreign bank or use a credit card to purchase items on international sites. Cards issued by Visa or Mastercard are typically a safe bet. 


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5. Choosing a VPN 

Before you leave to teach English in China, download one of the reputable VPNs. This will allow you to subvert the Great Firewall and continue to enjoy full access to the internet. Most foreigners living in China opt for either Express VPN or Astrill. There is no consensus on which is superior, debates rage over it in expat bars across the country. It seems to depend on your internet service provider, phone model and a whole lot of luck. 

Top tip: Both Express and Astrill offer a free trial. Try them both on all your devices for the first few weeks and see which works best. For Astrill you need to be outside of China when you first sign up to access the free trial – don’t leave it until you arrive!


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