Everything you need to know about teaching in China

Tes Editorial

Teaching In China

Teaching overseas offers a new challenge, the opportunity to move up the leadership ladder and the potential for a higher salary, as many of the countries in which you work enable you to earn tax-free.

Alongside Australia and UAE, China has been one of the most popular destinations for native English-speaking teachers to flock.

The demand for native English-speaking teachers has rocketed in recent years, as more and more Chinese parents are looking internationally for their children’s futures.

Some teachers have been pleasantly surprised with teaching in China, staying in the country much longer than anticipated. 

“What originally began as a one-year break from my home country has turned into a multi-year and potentially lifetime career in China,” Adam John Privitera, academic research and AP psychology teacher at Vanke Meisha Academy in Shenzhen said.

"Teaching in China has been the most enjoyable experience in education I've had so far."


Qualifications and visa requirements

Teachers working in China for the first time must have a Z visa, which must be completed in their original country of residence. However, they are only temporary; within 30 days of arrival in China you will need to change to a work permit, this can only be done in government offices in China.

To obtain a Z visa, you must visit the Chinese embassy website. You will need at least two years’ teaching experience and be under the age of 60. You must also be from an English-speaking country, such as UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. As well as a qualification, you will need a DBS check and a reference. More recently, the embassy has carried out verification checks on qualifications, so make sure you have everything up to date.

Need-to-know numbers*


21% - predicted increase in primary school places available in Hong Kong by 2022

489,258 number of students who enrolled to international schools in China in 2017

129 - number of IB World Schools in China


£3500 – potential salary for an experienced classroom teacher in China

£17.05 - average cost of a three-course meal for two in a restaurant in China

2 - average number of days in which it rains in January in China

The school year

There are two semesters of the school year:

  • One lasting from September-January
  • The other from early-mid spring (dependent on the time of Chinese New Year) to July.

Term times will vary, depending on the region of China you are teaching in. For example, in the north of the country, the winter break is longer, while in the south, the summer break increases. Holidays include the beginning of January as well as the Dragon Boat Festival (early summer) and Mid-Autumn Festival (September), with the latter two dates dependant on the Lunar Calendar.

The school system

For children between the ages of six and 15, the Chinese curriculum is compulsory. From the age of 15, however, parents must choose a "path" for their child to go down, giving them the chance to learn a Chinese curriculum or an international curriculum. This is a big decision as from this point on, they may not be able to switch – students who study an international curriculum are not allowed to attend a Chinese university.

In Grade 9 (13-14 year olds), students take a high school entrance exam called the Zhonkao, and in Grade 12, they will take a Gaokao Higher Education Entrance Exam. The most commonly found international curriculum is Cambridge’s CIE curriculum, but a number of different US curriculums are also prominent.

Types of school:

International schools (Pure international)

One of the most competitive and growing sectors within the school system in China is international schools, which teach only in English. These schools provide a Western-style education in the English language.

They typically teach either the International Baccalaureate or iGCSE and A-level syllabus. They tend to be found in Beijing, Shanghai or other large urban areas. Some of China’s leading international schools are expansions of British schools, with some teachers moving from the UK school to its sister school in China.

Bilingual schools (Internationalised bilingual)

Internationalised bilingual schools, however, are for Chinese students, teaching the Chinese curriculum until middle school. These schools can be independent or state, but usually with an international-curriculum independent sixth form between grades 10-12.

The government have cracked down on state schools with private sixth forms, so their growth is slowing. However, this is still a significantly large sector of schools and much bigger than pure international schools.

TEFL schools

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is an international standard of qualification that acknowledges the teaching of English to non-native speakers in a country where English isn’t the native language.

One point which is important to make clear is teaching in TEFL schools is not just for students on their gap year. There are huge variations in the roles available for international teachers in the TEFL sector. In addition to this, there will be big differences in the school depending on what region you are teaching. A TEFL school in the metropolis of Beijing will be worlds apart from teaching English in a rural school in Northern China.

The interview process

This is open to a few more variables. Schools may carry out interviews through Skype calls, while others will have their representatives flown to the applicants’ countries to conduct interviews face-to-face. The first stage of interviews, at least, is highly likely to be carried out through Skype.

Interview questions may revolve around your previous experience in teaching, your competencies in the other language (if the job is at a bilingual school) or even about potential conflicts caused by cultural misunderstandings.

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*Figures from Relocate Magazine, Holiday Weather and Numbeo.