Section I: Teaching English in China continued—Foreign Teacher Compensation
This chapter will provide a general overview of the highly variable travel and medical benefits that are afforded to foreign English teachers in China.
There is a great deal of variability in how schools, both private and public, treat the issue of travel allowance. 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 cost. In some cases, especially at government 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). A few private schools do not specifically reimburse for travel, per se, but offer annual performance bonuses instead.
Of course, if one is credentialed and experienced, benefits such as plane fare and travel allowance can often be successfully negotiated before signing the contract. If you have a master's degree in any field, but especially English, linguistics, or a related discipline, you should be able to successfully arrange for a 12-month contract (up front and not contingent upon renewal) and 10,000 yuan per year as a bonus paid semi-annually (in lieu of travel compensation), when negotiating with a public or private university.
Despite popular belief to the contrary, employers of foreign experts in China—SAFEA approved or otherwise—are not required to provide their foreign teachers with healthcare benefits. As a rule, if any healthcare benefits do exist, they are limited to accidental injury insurance only. According to the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA):
The complication here is that—owing to either deliberate deception or the language barrier—most school owners and foreign affairs officers (FAOs) will tell their prospective foreign teachers that they will receive "medical insurance" when, in fact, what they will actually be receiving is nominal accidental injury insurance. If your prospective Chinese employer informs you that you will have "health insurance," asking just a couple of key hypothetical questions, e.g., if I get sick and need surgery, is that covered? will quickly clarify that they are using a misnomer. Generally speaking, only Western-owned schools, universities, and companies with branches in China will provide their employees with real health insurance, e.g., the Walt Disney corporation's Disney English in Shanghai, New Jersey's Kean University in Wenzhou, Nike Corporation in Guangzhou, etc.
Consequently, foreign teachers working for Chinese-owned schools and universities are strongly advised to either extend their current health benefits to cover them in China or to look into supplementing their health benefits with insurance plans designed specifically for foreign teachers (see, for example, WorldNomads, Globasurance, or Goodhealth Worldwide).
Standard "health benefits" that have been adopted by most government universities typically include coverage of up to 80% of 2,000 RMB, maximum, for outpatient services and 80% of 10,000 RMB, maximum, for inpatient services related to accidental injuries only. If, for example, you develop a respiratory infection or contract the flu, visits to the hospital and the cost of your medication will not be covered by the school's accidental injury insurance policy. However, the cost of a doctor's visit at the local hospital is typically no more than six to eight yuan (less than $1.12 USD), and medication costs tend to be considerably less than they would be for similar medications in the West (even when the medication is real).
The only real exception to this healthcare fee structure can be found in first-tier international cities where an entire cottage industry of expat hospitals and clinics is emerging. It has been reported that the fees at these more modern Western hospitals and clinics are comparable to and even far in excess of what foreigners would have to pay back home, especially in regard to maternity care (see chapter on Having a Baby in China for typical maternity costs in second- and third-tier cities). Conversely, competent dental care—even in international cities—is still relatively inexpensive compared to what dentists in our respective Western countries charge. Aside from finding more modern medical equipment, a nicer looking environment, and far better English language skills among the staff, it is very difficult to say if—in fact—the quality of care is considerably better at these expat facilities than it would be at a second-tier Chinese hospital with Western trained and English-speaking Chinese doctors.
Many large cities in China are home to expat Western physicians, typically Americans, who operate their own medical clinics in China as registered Christian missionaries and are therefore exempt from meeting national licensing and other requirements in China. These expat physicians typically charge foreign patients what they would have to pay back home and, in addition, their offices provide patients with the same medication that can be purchased in a large pharmacy at quite a considerable "convenience surcharge" (typically 50% to 75%). Despite their relatively exorbitant (if not avaricious) fee structures, these expat clinics are all quite busy as foreigners seem willing to pay just about anything to be treated by a Western-trained physician who can speak English natively, irrespective of actual education, training, experience, and skill.
For more information, see our Guide's chapter Healthcare System in China.