How to Avoid Teaching Job Scams in China
Sometimes it can seem that the only jobs available are in China!
With huge numbers of jobs, come huge numbers of teaching job scams in China. There’s no doubt that China is a country that also has a lot of job scams, and the stories of English teachers being deported and exploited are numerous.
Common Teaching Job Scams in China
GETTING YOU TO WORK ON THE WRONG VISA
If you Google “ESL teacher in China arrested” you get lots of news results of many teachers who were arrested at their schools, held in Chinese prisons and then deported. This is not something to be taken lightly. Their stories are awful.
In most cases, they were working on the wrong visa. Some were brought in on a tourist visa, with the promise of converting it to a Z visa when they arrived, but either that didn’t happen, or the school was raided before it did. Others were caught working in one school when their work visa was for another.
There are many stories of teachers without degrees being arrested because you cannot legally teach English in China without a degree.
BAIT AND SWITCH
In this situation, the ‘agent’ recruits you to work at a school, they give you the website of the school, details of the classes, etc. but when you arrive, you find that you are working for a totally different school, sometimes in a totally different city than you were told.
BREAKING THE CONTRACT
Another one of teaching job scams in China similar to the one above is the school or company not delivering on what they agreed. They may not pay you on time, pay you less than agreed, give you more hours than agreed or something similar. This is probably the most common.
Ok, perhaps this is extreme, but it’s possible. Flying to the other side of the world without knowing exactly what you are getting into puts you at huge risk.
TIPS TO AVOID A CHINESE TEFL SCAM
Having said all this, many teachers have incredible experiences working there and spend many happy years teaching English in China.
UNDERSTAND THE REQUIREMENTS FOR TEACHING ENGLISH IN CHINA
To teach English legally in China, you need a valid work visa. This work visa also needs to be acquired before you leave the country. For a Z visa to teach English, the requirements are:
- To be under 60 years old
- A passport from the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada or South Africa, or a Bachelor’s degree from one of those countries.
If a school offers you a job but you don’t have a Bachelor’s degree, beware. If they get you a Z visa, it isn’t going to be done legally.
Non-native speakers without degrees from native-speaking countries do teach in China. They may have a Z visa to teach their own language, so French, Spanish, etc. They may have been certified teachers at home with degrees in education and be employed as kindergarten teachers, or homeroom teachers in international schools. They may be employed as P.E teachers, or science teachers because they hold degrees in these fields.
There are definitely ways that non-native speakers can teach in China. However, if you don’t have a passport or degree from one of the countries mentioned above, find out what you are getting your Z visa to do, so you fully understand.
BE CAREFUL ABOUT ‘AGENTS’
Facebook groups for TEFL are full of job adverts to teach English in China. The majority of these seem to not be by the school, but by agents. There are two main types of agents.
The first is professional registered companies who work directly with schools to find suitable teachers. If you apply through them, they will interview you to find out your qualifications and experience and then match you with one of the schools they work with. They will pass you over to the school’s HR and if the school employs you, will take a fee.
These companies have a reputation to uphold and will endeavor to match you with a school that meets your requirement, as well as theirs. They will be able to tell you the name of the school they are matching you with. They will advise you on the legalization and paperwork required and if necessary, do it with you. There are also smaller companies run by ex-teachers in China who have got tired of the dodgy agents and want to provide good service for their teachers.
The second are independent agents. They sometimes work directly with schools, but often work for another agent, stalking Facebook groups to find teachers looking for work. They often have no background in education, they can simply speak English. Once you make contact with them, they will pass you over to another company and take their commission. We are regularly contacted by agents, offering us money to find the teachers.
These agents will not be able to tell you the name of the school, because they are going to pass you on to another agent who will match you with a school. They will just say something like ‘a primary school in xxxxx province’. They are often sketchy on the legalization process. These agents don’t have well-being in mind. They just want the money.
Another type of agent to be wary of is one that directly employs teachers themselves. Instead of passing you directly onto the hr of a company or school, they will send you a contract to work for them. Then again, won’t be able to tell you the name of the school you are going to, or any details, because they don’t know.
They will get you the Z visa to work for them, fly you out to China, and then place you in a school that has vacancies at that time. They may tell you that you are going to X province to teach in X school, but when you get there, you are taken to a totally different place, sometimes out in the sticks somewhere you are the only foreigner, working for one or more totally different schools than you agreed to.
To avoid teaching job scams in China, find out what kind of agent you are dealing with.
Ask Questions to Avoid Teaching Job Scams in China
One way to do the above is the ask questions. Some people feel that they don’t want to ask too many questions, for fear of missing out on employment. That’s nonsense.
Any school who values its teacher will be happy to answer your questions. They want you to be the right fit because then you will stay, complete your contract, and hopefully resign for the following year. A happy teacher is also far more likely to be a good teacher. They want you to pass on your happiness to others and attract more teachers to work for them. If a school or agent is not comfortable answering your questions, then beware. Do they have your best interests at heart or just their own?
Ask questions about the school:
- How many students are there in a class?
- What age will you be teaching?
- What levels are they?
- Are they streamed by level or by age?
- Do they have materials like coursebooks provided, and if so, which ones?
- Are you restricted on photocopying?
- If you are teaching young children, do you have a classroom assistant?
Ask questions about the job:
- How many teaching hours are there, and what is considered a teaching hour: 40 minutes or 60 minutes or something else (remember that along with face to face teaching, you’ll need to do lesson preparation and marking, so 30+ hours is not acceptable teaching hours).
- Do you have to do speaking clubs and English Corner activities as well?
- What are the office hours (the time you have to be on site when you aren’t teaching)?
- If the job is Monday-Friday, are there weekend activities you have to attend?
- Is there any professional development: training, lesson observations, etc.
Ask questions about the conditions:
- How often are you paid?
- Are you paid into a bank account?
- Can you transfer the money home easily?
- Is the salary after tax and if not, what is the tax, typically, per month?
- If your flight is part of the package when it is paid?
- At the beginning of the contract, or at the end?
- What do you have to do to get your end of contract bonus?
- Are the bills included and if not, how much are they, on average?
- What part of the visa procedure is covered by the school?
- Will they pay for the health check outside the country, the notarization of your documents, etc?
- Does the school provide accommodation and if so, do you have your own flat, or do you have to share?
- Is it furnished?
- Is it on campus?
- Is it in the city or on the outskirts? (many universities and large schools are on the edge of Chinese cities, to reduce traffic congestion).
READ THE CONTRACT
The school should send you contracts and there should be an English translation. Make sure that you read it and ask questions of anything you aren’t clear about. Do the salary and benefits on the contract match what you have been promised? What are the consequences of breaking your contract? Do you have to pay back If there is a probation period, what is it and what do you need to do to pass it? Is the salary lower during your probation period?
ASK TO SPEAK TO TEACHERS CURRENTLY WORKING AT THE SCHOOL
A good thing to do to find out more about the school you are going to is to speak to teachers who already work there. A trustworthy school will be happy to give you the email addresses of two or three of their teachers. You can then ask them what it’s like to work at the school, and for confirmation of the questions, you already asked the school. If all goes well and you do move there, you’ll have the added benefit of knowing people already too!
DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH
- Google and Bing are your friends here. Schools should have a website, so you will be able to see photos of it, information about the classes, curriculum, etc.
- Facebook is banned in China, so not having a Facebook page is not a red flag, but you should be able to find them on Chinese social media networks like
- Search teacher forums like Daves ESL Café and the various TEFL Blacklist and TEFL Watchdog site to see if there are any negative reviews about the school or company. Don’t take these reviews are gospel truth, as people are far more likely to give negative reviews than positive, which skews the results. However, many bad reviews do ring alarm bells.
- Google terms like “NAME OF SCHOOL teacher blog” to see if teachers working there have written their own blogs.
- Google “NAME OF CITY teacher blog” to find other teachers in that city and contact them to ask both about the school, and living in the city. Almost all bloggers are happy to help.
- Just Google “Teaching English in China blog” to find other English teachers in China to ask for advice.
- Find forums and Facebook groups for teaching English in China and ask there if people have heard of the school/company.
If it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
Finally, the Golden Rule applies here. If someone is offering you something that looks too good to be true, don’t trust it. If they are offering a huge salary, even though you don’t have any qualifications, be careful. They are not doing this because they are your friend, or because they want to help you. They are doing this for money.
BE CAREFUL WHEN APPLYING FOR TEACHING JOBS IN CHINA
And that’s how we will wrap this up. Be careful. Those two words summarise everything we’ve written in this post. Lots of teachers are happy teaching in China and have long, rewarding experiences. I’d hazard a guess that most of those began by obeying the golden rule though. Be careful and have a great time.
About the Author
What Kate and Kris Did
Kate and Kris have been teaching English abroad for 12 years, and currently work in Kyiv, Ukraine. They blog about their travels and life, while also giving advice to new TEFL teachers, based on their own, and their friends’ experiences.