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Section I: Teaching English in China continued

Comprehensive Summary of Key Points From the Guide You Should Know

The following is an alternative to our mini-checklist and includes a comprehensive summary list and discussion of 31 points and questions you should carefully consider and ask, respectively, before accepting any job offer as an English teacher in China.

This mini-guide is not intended to be a substitute for reading the complete online guide, but it will provide prospective foreign English teachers with enough information with which to make an informed and intelligent decision when considering future job offers. For more information about anyone of the following topics, you can browse the main menu for the complete unit or simply conduct a search on any terms you'd like to know more about.

Our 31 questions and issues are organized across five categories for the reader’s convenience: 1) Initial Screening; 2) Teaching Responsibilities, Work Schedule, and Compensation; 3) Housing Issues; 4) Work Milieu and Physical Environment, and; 5) In-Kind Benefits.

Initial Screening of the School

These are questions to ask and issues to consider before proceeding any further once a school or recruiter expresses an interest in your application for employment.

  1. How long has the school been open and is it licensed by the SAFEA to hire foreign experts?

    The very first issue you should concern yourself with is whether the school is actually licensed to hire foreign experts. Many are not and will try to disguise this fact by encouraging the teacher to move to China on a business (F-) or tourist (L-) visa. Under most circumstances, and depending on the municipality and province, it takes a minimum of a year for a school to receive SAFEA approval and licensure to hire foreign experts.

    In fact and unfortunately, many licensed schools will also attempt to encourage teachers to do the same in what amounts to a glorified personal interview (at the teacher’s expense). Never agree to arrive in China for the purpose of earning income with anything other than a Z-visa. If a school or recruiter provides you with any resistance whatsoever in this area, run—don’t walk—away from the offer as quickly as possible.
  2. Will you be provided with a foreign expert invitation letter and work certificate in the name of the actual school you've been promised?

    When dealing with recruitment agencies, you need to be aware that many will attempt to bring you over to China as an employee of the agency instead of any one particular school. You need to absolutely avoid this arrangement by all means because it essentially permits the agency to hire you out to the highest bidder at any time. Your best defense against this ruse when dealing with recruiters is to simply ask if the foreign expert invitation letter and work certificate will be in the same name of the school you've been promised.
  3. Does the school pay for the foreign teacher’s residency permit and physical exam?

    Although you will be responsible for the cost of the initial Z-visa, the school should assume full responsibility for all expenses related to the residency permit and physical exam. It's become normal operating procedure for schools to require the teachers to absorb the cost of the photos that are attached to these documents but that amount is nominal (usually no more than 30 yuan).
  4. Conduct an Internet Search on the School's Name

    People who have had particularly wonderful as well as horrific experiences teaching English in China tend to post about them on one or more of the myriad of China teacher and expat forums that exist out there on the Internet. Unfortunately, those who have had typically mixed experiences tend to post absolutely nothing about them and those are precisely the types of reviews that would be most useful to prospective foreign teachers.

    Keeping that caveat in mind, one of your first steps should be to conduct a search on your favorite search engine for the school's name. Generally speaking, it is best to constrain the name in quotation marks, e.g., "Famous English School" instead of simply entering Famous English School. For the most part, no news is probably good news.

    In some cases, especially if the school has been around for a good while, you may find several reviews of it on the Internet. If you see several negative reviews or a combination of severely damaging and rave reviews, you should be very concerned. Schools that receive consistently bad reviews on Internet forums will essentially bribe two or three of its less ethical teachers to post rebuttals in exchange for some favor or preferential treatment. One quick way to determine if the rebuttal has been purchased or cajoled is to read it for disparaging ad hominem remarks against the teachers who posted the negative reviews, e.g., "Some people just can't adjust to China," or "I don't expect the world to cater to me like some people apparently do." Common sense should dictate that no current teacher is going to take the time to post a detailed rebuttal on a point-by-point basis unless he or she has been put up to it. If someone is sincerely motivated by a genuinely wonderful experience to write a glowing review, he will do so in isolation of what others have written before him.

    Related, you should be very cautious when there is only one review, especially if it is either extremely positive or negative. Related, you should regard "mentor lists" that only offer a single foreign teacher's name per school with considerable suspicion, especially if it has been more than two years since the teacher has allegedly worked at the school. The presence of only one name suggests that the teacher (and, possibly, the website owner as well) has a strong vested interest in either promoting the school or, conversely, trashing it. The competition between private language schools is fierce and unscrupulous school owners will often solicit the services of far less scrupulous foreign teachers to both promote their own schools while damaging the reputations of their competitors. This happens all the time in China.
  5. Will the school provide you with the names and contact information of both current and former teachers?

    Another excellent and reliable way to screen a potential school is to immediately request the names and e-mail addresses of at least one current and one former teacher as soon as the school expresses an interest in you. If the school is reputable and treats its teachers fairly, this will not pose a problem for them. However, if the school hesitates at all in meeting your request or replies with a partial response with something like "We can give you the e-mail address of one of our current teachers but we don't keep contact information on former teachers," you should be concerned. That type of response suggests that most, if not all, of their teachers leave on bad terms.

    When communicating with current teachers, you will have to be something of a detective. No school is going to give you the name of a teacher it knows is discontent and, obviously, no current teacher with several months left to go on his contract is going to place himself in the position of being later identified as the reason you decided not to work at the school. And, as mentioned earlier, many schools will simply bribe a current teacher into lying to you by omission. So you are going to have to read between the lines.

Teaching Responsibilities, Work Schedule, and Compensation

Most of the answers to the questions and points raised in this section can be garnered from a close examination of the SAFEA contract addendum, which is a document you should specifically ask for as soon as the school has expressed an interest in you. Other issues and questions will have to be addressed directly with a current teacher.

  1. Does the contractual addendum contain a nullification clause?

    One of the first things you should check for is what I refer to as a nullification clause. During the SARS epidemic a few years back, many schools found themselves in the unfortunate position of having to let teachers go due to decreased enrollment and in each case it cost them a breach penalty in order to do so. Consequently, many schools responded by adding a stipulation to the contract which essentially allows them to void the agreement for any reason. This clause is usually vaguely written and can typically be found hiding towards the end of the addendum. Obviously, you should never agree to such a condition.
  2. Does the school stipulate a probationary period and, if so, what is the duration?

    Although a probationary period is understandable, it also has enormous potential for abuse and can amount to a glorified nullification clause. If the school specifies a probationary period, it should also specify what measures will be taken to rectify a problematic situation. At the very least, the teacher should receive notification in writing and be permitted a reasonable period of time to make the necessary improvements. A probationary period of three to six months is standard but can be successfully negotiated to a shorter duration by those who have already proven themselves to be successful teachers in China.
  3. Does the addendum stipulate a specific pay date and does the school pay on time?

    All employees in China are paid on a monthly basis, as opposed to weekly or biweekly as is the case in the West. Many contracts fail to specify the actual day in the monthly pay cycle that the teacher will be paid and if you find that to be the case, you should be concerned because it means the school is reserving the right to pay you whenever it gets around to it. You should be paid no later than on either the last day of the current month or on the first day of the following month. The only exception to this rule appears to be at many public universities that typically pay on the fifth day of the following month (e.g., you will be paid on May 5th, for the month of April).
  4. What is the annual salary versus the number of face-to-face teaching hours per year?

    When considering job offers, many prospective foreign teachers fall into the trap of comparing gross monthly salaries only without ever considering the ratio of total annual number of contractual hours per year to annual salary. For example, a salary of 5,000 per month for 14 hours of teaching at a public university yields a much higher hourly pay rate than does a salary of 6,000 per month for 16 hours of teaching at a private school when you factor in the total annual number of contractual hours for each position. University teachers only work about 34 weeks per year and usually get paid for 52 (especially if the contract is renewed). Private school teachers typically work as many as 47 to 48 weeks per year. If you do the math, it calculates to this:

    University: 14 periods x 34 weeks = 476 hours. Annual salary 60,000/476hrs = 126.05 yuan per hour
    Private School: 16 periods x 48 weeks = 768 hours. Annual salary 72,000/768hrs = 93.75 yuan per hour

    Although the private school's gross monthly salary is 20 percent more than the university's, the hourly rate of pay is actually about 35 percent more at the university. In addition, while most private schools enforce moonlighting prohibitions, most universities do not and the teacher is free over the spring and summer breaks to travel or moonlight in intensive holiday programs.
  5. Office Hours, Prep Time, English Corners, Administrative Work, and Overtime Pay

    You will need to check the addendum for and question other teachers about what the reality is in regard to office hours, prep time, extracurricular activities (such as English Corners and contests), and administrative work, e.g., grading homework and exams, and all of this needs to be factored into your consideration of the job offer.

    A great deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that more and more private English language schools are attempting to force the issue of "office hours" in response to what they see as an increasing supply of better qualified foreign teachers owing to the current economic crisis in the states. As one teacher recently explained:

    ...they're using the US financial meltdown as an excuse to tell us that they want us to work 18 hours/week as office hours as well as 22 hours/week teaching in order to get the same pay as we did before when we only had to do 22 hours/week teaching and office hours were as you pleased.

    Obviously, a 40-hour work week in exchange for a salary of 5,000 yuan is unfair and should not be considered. Our advice is that no foreign English teacher should ever agree to free office hours. In addition, if the school or university requires your participation in extracurricular activities such as hosting English Corners or judging English contests, these hours should either be factored into your workload or you should be paid for this overtime work at an additional rate of pay that is clearly specified in the contract. Most universities in China treat these extracurricular activities as previously undisclosed expectations of the teacher and the rates of pay for each event are often informally determined at the last minute, after the teacher has already provided his time and service.

    In addition, most private schools will expect their English teachers to work a considerable amount of overtime during the Spring Festival and summer holiday, as this is typically when they offer intensive programs that meet Monday through Friday. In most cases, the teachers will not have a choice but to participate in these special programs. If engaging in marathon teaching of up to 30 hours per week is not something you relish, then you will need to clarify what the expectations are in regard to these spring and summer programs. In addition, the rate of overtime pay should be no less than 100 yuan per hour.
  6. Is the teacher free to engage in outside employment?

    All schools and universities, as a matter of course, include some contractual stipulation prohibiting their foreign English teachers from moonlighting. However, this regulation appears to be seldom (if ever) enforced at universities while most private schools take it quite seriously.

    Private school owners typically believe that because they sponsored the Z-visa, they should have exclusive rights to the teacher's time and should not find themselves in the questionable position of incurring all the foreign expert processing fees and travel costs so that they can end up providing part-time foreign teachers to their local competitors. Universities, on the other hand, perceive no loss of revenue or unfair disadvantage to themselves if their teachers choose to work part-time for a local private school or even another university.

    If you plan on working for a private school and you know that you will need extra income, then you must check very carefully with the other teachers (only) about what the school's position is regarding moonlighting. In addition, if the school strictly prohibits outside employment, it will most likely extend to any type of outside work including participation in non-paid events such as external English corners and "English parties."
  7. How Are Income Taxes Handled By The School?

    Foreign teachers are responsible for paying income tax above the tax-exempted amount of 4800 yuan per month. However, as the amount of income tax is negligible for most foreign English teachers, the majority of schools simply pay whatever tax is due and, so, the salary being reported represents both gross and net income. Nevertheless, you should clarify this before accepting the position, especially if your salary is 8,000 or more.
  8. Does the school have multiple branches and are teachers required to work split-shifts, especially across multiple branches? If so, is travel time compensated for?

    This issue has proven to be a big bone of contention for most foreign English teachers in China, so it's an issue you should verify and be mentally prepared for before you commence working.

    If the school has multiple branches within the same city, their English teachers are typically assigned to one branch in the morning, a second branch in the afternoon, and perhaps to even a third branch in the evening. Aside from being physically exhausting, having to travel from branch to branch can be very time consuming (depending, obviously, on where each branch is located).

    If in fact this is the situation currently in effect at the school you are considering, you should—at the very least—be compensated for all your travel expenses, e.g., taxi fares. Teachers who are well-educated, highly experienced in China, or offer some special skill can often negotiate the travel time into their workload as well—but this would generally not be an option for those who are applying from abroad.
  9. How many days off per week do you have and are they contiguous?

    Simply stated, schools that value their foreign English teachers will guarantee in writing two contiguous days off per week while those that don't will reserve the right to schedule classes seven days per week if they have the need. If the contract addendum is silent on the number of days off per week, you will need to clarify this with current teachers. Generally speaking, you will work from Wednesday evening through Sunday evening at private schools (with Monday and Tuesday off) and Monday through Friday at universities (with weekends off).
  10. Total number of paid vacation (non-rescheduled) days off per year?

    Related to the aforementioned discussion is the issue of paid vacation. Universities are the most generous in this regard as they all run on two 18-week semesters across China. Depending on the university, what this means is that you will teach between 16 to 17 weeks per semester and administer final exams over a two-week period at the end of each term.

    Years ago, all university contracts were issued for a one year period. Sometime around 2003/2004, universities started offering 10-month contracts as a way of saving money. This is highly negotiable and most universities will pay their English teachers for the summer vacation if they renew their contracts.

    The situation at private English language schools is entirely different as dictated by the market. Private schools earn a considerable amount of extra income by running intensive programs when the students are on vacation from their regular schools—so foreign teachers at private schools will work the hardest and longest when their counterparts at universities are on vacation. As a rule, English teachers at private schools are given four to five weeks of paid vacation per year, typically at no more than seven to ten days in duration at a time. At any rate, this is something you should verify before accepting the job offer.

Housing Issues

The following section includes a list and discussion of various questions and issues you should raise in regard to provided housing.

  1. Will the school provide you with photos of the actual apartment you will be living in?

    The school should be willing to provide you with photos of the actual apartment you will be living in, not one "just like it." Having just written this, most schools have never taken the time to put together a gallery of photos of their school or foreign teacher housing. If this is the case, simply ask for the contact information of the foreign teacher who is currently living in the apartment you will later be assigned and ask him or her to take a few snapshots and e-mail them to you. In addition, do not sign the contract until after you have walked through the apartment and don't sign a contract until you are provided with suitable housing.
  2. Is the school willing to inspect, repair, paint, and clean the apartment before your arrive?

    As incredible as this may seem, the vast majority of schools do not bother to inspect and clean the apartment you will be living in until after you arrive (and only then after you have complained and typically you will have to wait several days or weeks before everything is completed).

    In almost every instance, you will walk into an apartment that is filthy and in varying states of disrepair. You will need to either mentally prepare yourself for this phenomenon before you arrive or you will need to specifically ask that your housing be thoroughly inspected, cleaned and repaired before your arrival.
  3. What is the school's policy, if any, regarding overnight visitors and long-term house guests?

    Years ago, most foreign affairs offices maintained very rigid policies regarding overnight visitors of the opposite sex and, in some cases, curfews were even imposed on those living in on-campus housing. As China has continued to become more Westernized, these "moral code" policies have fallen into disfavor, especially in international and most second-tier cities. However, a few public schools and universities still do enforce this policy, particularly—but not exclusively—in the more remote regions of China. In addition, many public and private English language schools will object to foreign teachers inviting friends and family members to visit for several weeks at a time, presumably owing to increased liability. If you anticipate this being a problem for you, you should verify whether the school maintains and enforces such policies with another foreign teacher before you sign the contract.
  4. What floor will you be living on and does the building have an elevator? If so, does the building have a backup generator and, related, how often and for what duration does the area lose electricity?

    Not every building in China is equipped with an elevator. Only buildings taller than eight stories are required to include one and older buildings constructed years ago, before the new codes went into effect, could be taller than eight floors without an elevator. If the school plans on housing you on the sixth floor of a sixth-story building, you won't have access to an elevator and this is something you should be aware of and prepared for before you arrive.

    Depending on which city and area you will be living in, the electrical power system can be quite unreliable and even insufficient. Some localities routinely turn off service to specific grids on a rotating basis as a power conservation measure. Consequently, you will need to verify what the power system is like in the area you will be living in and you will need to ascertain whether the building you will be housed in is equipped with a backup generator that can power the elevator when the area loses electricity.

    Related, if you will be using a computer, you would be well advised to purchase an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) for it. This is essentially a battery pack that charges while the electricity is running and will provide you with about 10 minutes of power so that you can gracefully save your data and turn off your computer whenever the electricity fails. In addition, a UPS also acts as a "line conditioner" and will provide a continuous and steady flow of power to your PC and monitor during electrical spikes and brownouts, which are quite common in China. Purchasing one shortly after you arrive is highly recommended unless you don't mind replacing your motherboard and PCI peripherals several times a year. A reliable UPS will cost between 250 to 400 yuan depending on location and brand name.
  5. Does or will the school provide a Western-style, coiled-spring mattress?

    Standard Chinese "mattresses" are not manufactured with coiled springs and are rock hard. Unless you are in the habit of sleeping on the floor back home, you will need to address this before you agree to anything or plan on spending anywhere from 800 to 2,000 yuan for a new mattress the moment you arrive.

    Some schools (but not most) provide a "starter kit" of bedding, i.e., pillows, pillow cases, sheets and a comforter but you should plan on supplementing that shortly after you arrive. Related, most schools do not provide bath and face towels, and common household necessities such as wastebaskets, a medicine cabinet, or even shelves. One school I had worked for even failed to provide any mirrors in the apartment whatsoever, including one in the bathroom.
  6. Is local telephone access and Internet included and, if so, are they shared or routed across several apartments?

    A common ruse engaged in by almost all schools and universities is to tell you that you will be provided with "free" telephone and Internet service and when you arrive, you realize that the telephone service is a party line and the Internet amounts to a low-speed connection that is routed across many apartments to the point of being dysfunctional.

    The local line land is not a major issue because almost all foreign English teachers purchase a new cell phone shortly after arrival and this is good idea because you will need that phone to call bilingual Chinese as interpreters whenever you are away from your apartment. The Internet, however, is a completely different story. If fast and reliable Internet access is important to you, then you will have to negotiate the right to purchase your own line and service shortly after arrival. And depending on the type of line that is in your apartment, you may not be able to do so. Consequently, if you need Internet access, you have to make a point of exploring what your options are before you sign a contract.
  7. Who is responsible for utilities? Will you receive a utility allowance?

    Depending on location and usage, your electrical bill can be a major monthly expense and this is a reality you need to be prepared for before you arrive in China. Given a cost of .8 yuan per kilowatt, adequately air conditioning a 100 sq. meter (1100 sq. ft.) apartment during the summer months will run you no less than 1000 yuan per month, which amounts to about 20 percent of most foreign English teachers' salaries.

    If you use your cell phone often, you can count on spending about 200 yuan per month on that. You will also need to supply your own drinking water (tap water is not chemically treated in China) and that will run you between eight to ten yuan per 3-gallon tub. Keep in mind that many areas in the south of China are not heated and if you happen to have a particularly cold winter, you will need to purchase one or two electric heaters and those cost a small fortune to run.
  8. How many air conditioners are provided in the apartment? Is air conditioning (or heat, if applicable) adequate? (ask this of teacher only)

    Although you will be told that air conditioning is provided, what this typically means is that you will find one old and inefficient unit in the bedroom only. If you don't plan on spending your entire summer locked in the bedroom, you are going to have to negotiate for a second and even third unit. At the very least, insist that the living room be provided with a "3P" (refers to BTUs) floor model—that will usually be sufficient for cooling down the second bedroom as well.
  9. Is a kitchen included, and if so, what provisions for cooking are there, e.g., gas/electric range, microwave, utensils, etc.?

    Most schools will provide you with a portable two-range, propane gas countertop stove, a mini-refrigerator or a low-efficiency full-sized unit, a rice cooker, and an inexpensive microwave oven. A few will throw in a few utensils and plates, but you can't count on that and you'll probably want to replace them with your own things anyway.

    Most English teachers who like to cook will typically buy a toaster oven and a full set of kitchen knives as well as other cooking and kitchen supplies. You really cannot count on making do with what you will be provided with by the school. Of course, if you don't plan on doing any cooking, this will not be a problem for you.

Work Milieu and Physical Environment

Two related areas of concern that most foreign English teachers never bother to consider are work milieu and physical environment, yet both are extremely important in regard to one's ability to adjust and overall satisfaction. The following is a list and discussion of issues related to work milieu and physical environment you should explore before accepting any job offer.

  1. Does the school appear to value the role of foreign teachers or are they simply viewed as superfluous?

    Actually, you'll get a very good idea about how the school regards its foreign English teachers when you examine the photos of the apartment. If the provided housing is substandard, you really don't need to ask this question because you'll already have your answer.

    However, aside from being provided with adequate housing, there is an awful amount of variability in how foreign English teachers are valued and utilized. One reliable way to gauge this is to inquire if teachers are ever assigned to teach classes other than oral English and, if so, are there differential teaching assignments based on education and experience? If all their foreign teachers are essentially teaching the same oral English classes irrespective of education and experience, you have your answer.
  2. Is the school’s FAO (if the school has one) responsive and sensitive to the needs of the foreign teachers?

    Most foreign English teachers do not realize that the person they typically deal with on a face-to-face basis and refer to as their FAO (foreign affairs officer) is not actually the director of the foreign affairs office but an employee with the government rank of section chief assigned to the foreign affairs office. The director, who usually doesn't speak a single word of English, is the real foreign affairs officer and the deputy director serves as the section chief's immediate supervisor.

    The people foreign English teachers must deal with are underpaid and terribly overworked go-fers and grunts. Aside from the part-time staff inside the office (usually university students with decent English language skills), they are the lowest "man" on the totem pole, have very little power and virtually no individual discretion with which to make decisions. They are essentially reduced to regurgitating school policy—none of which has not been set or even influenced by them—and clarifying what is already stated in the contract. That's it.

    Consequently, as you can easily imagine, most resent being bothered by foreign teachers for anything other than what is specifically stipulated in the contract, because it means they will have to take your request to the deputy director, who in turn will have to take it to his or her boss, the director. For this reason, do not expect e-mails or phone calls to be answered in a timely fashion. It will often require several days of waiting before you receive an answer to any special request.
  3. What is the nature of the relationship between the Chinese and foreign teachers?

    Hypothetically speaking, imagine that you are a fully certified and experienced Spanish teacher back home. One day, your State Department of Education promulgates a requirement that all students of foreign languages must be exposed to a native speaker. Your school hires a native speaker of Spanish from Mexico who, prior to being a "teacher" at your school, had been an unemployed plumber. You then learn that this man is being paid up to four times your salary for, essentially, just helping your students to practice their speaking and listening skills. How would this make you feel? If you are like most people, you would feel enraged and terribly resentful. Keeping this set of dynamics in mind, consider the following excerpt from a letter I received from a distressed foreign English teacher in regard to the way he was being treated at his school by his Chinese colleagues and immediate supervisor:

    I became rather popular with the students and soon my weekends were full of exciting things to do and I soon forgot about the lack of friendliness at the school. But after about three months at the school, one of my students told me that the Chinese teachers were talking about me in their classes and apparently telling the students that I was a “bad man” and that any Chinese student who was seen walking or talking with me was not a good Chinese person.

    I could not believe it and so spoke to my boss, and told him I wanted the opportunity to meet these teachers and to ask them why they were being so rude as to discuss me publicly and also I wanted a chance to meet the teachers. I felt if they met me then we could become friends instead of this alienation I was receiving.

    My boss decided to investigate, but he did not investigate the teachers who were talking about me, he decided to investigate me!! He went to my classrooms and asked my students if I had done anything at all at anytime with any student that was not appreciated. My boss also did not tell me he was doing this nor did he take me into his confidence in any way. He then asked all my students to write anything they wanted about me on paper with no name required. He seemed quite confused when most of the students reported they liked me and that I was a good teacher and they enjoyed the weekend activities.

    I felt concerned that he had only investigated me and that he could not think of any way to inquire about the Chinese teachers and/or what they said, so I gave him the names of teachers and the students, what they were being told in class and requested he take some action. He called the students to his office and put the fear of God in them telling them that the students must make the comments to the teachers personally and that the teachers would know what the students said, etc., etc. I was flabbergasted: Why not do the same thing to the Chinese teachers? I requested they meet with me and explain what they were saying but, “Oh, that was not the Chinese way” I was told.

    Although this is a rather unusually bad case scenario, most of our Chinese colleagues do not appreciate our presence, particularly given the enormous discrepancy that often exists in both our comparatively poorer qualifications and much higher salaries. There is anecdotal evidence that foreign teachers who are well-educated and highly experienced are spared a good deal of this kind of animosity because, in such a case, the Chinese can justify the existence of the foreign teacher, especially if he or she is not being paid considerably more. In a few cases, especially among those Chinese colleagues whose English language skills are pretty good, they will view the foreign teacher as an opportunity to practice and hone their speaking and listening skills and might even befriend you, especially if some help involving the English language is required.

    At any rate, you might want to inquire about the intercultural and sociopolitical climate at any school you are considering working for.
  4. Are the classrooms suitable for their intended purpose?

    If you are going to be freezing in the winter, dying from the heat in the summer, and screaming at the top of your lungs all year long due to the din of 100 kids shouting English words in the adjacent classrooms, you will probably want to know this before you travel up to halfway around the world to accept a position at such a school. And, unfortunately, this type of physical environment is often precisely what you will encounter.

    Related, what are support services like? In most schools and universities throughout China, they are non-existent and you will be responsible for providing your own teaching materials aside from chalk and a blackboard (or whiteboard).

In-Kind Benefits

  1. Does the school provide medical or health insurance?

    Most schools and universities do not provide what we would call medical insurance. Instead, what they typically offer is some nominal and standard form of accidental injury insurance (but they call it health insurance). If you get hit by a taxi and it breaks your leg, you'll receive 80 percent reimbursement for any outpatient expenses incurred up to 2,000 yuan and 80 percent reimbursement for any inpatient expenses incurred up to 10,000 yuan. If, on the other hand, you develop pneumonia or acute bronchitis, you are on your own.

    Having just written that, medical expenses are not nearly as prohibitive in China as they are in the West. It typically costs 8 to 10 yuan for a visit to the hospital and most tests, procedures, and medications are considerably less expensive than what you are accustomed to paying. When going to the hospital, you'll need to bring a Chinese with you whom you trust, preferably one who has established a solid relationship with at least one of the doctors there—to avoid being cheated.
  2. What about the travel allowance?
  3. In lieu of travel allowance, does the school provide semiannual bonuses?

    It is customary, at private English language schools, to reimburse foreign teachers for their one-way airfare to China upon completion of a six-month contract (or after completion of the initial six months of a one-year contract) and, then, to reimburse them for their return airfare home at the completion of a one-year contract. Some schools offer straight reimbursement, others offer fixed amounts irrespective of actual costs (and the fixed amount is often less than the actual costs).

    In some cases, especially at public universities, the travel allowance is simply deferred income that is paid irrespective of whether one travels or not (usually 1,100 to 2,200 yuan paid just before the Spring Festival and an additional 5,000 to 10,000 yuan paid at the end of the contract).

    Of course, if you are well qualified and highly experienced, in-kind benefits such as travel allowance can often be successfully negotiated before you accept the position. If you have a master's degree in any field, but especially English, linguistics, or a related discipline, you should be able to successfully negotiate a 12-month contract (not contingent upon renewal) and 10,000 yuan per year as a bonus paid semi-annually or annually (in lieu of travel allowance), when negotiating with a public or private university.


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