Frequently Asked Questions about Teaching in China

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Topics on this page:

Application Process       Job Placement    Living and Working      Travel and Arrival

Application Process

Do I need TEFL certification to teach in China?

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Most applicants will need TEFL certification in order to qualify for the the visa. For that reason, our Teach in China “Regular” and Teach in China “Immersion" program options both include our high-quality online TEFL course! To make sure it’s done in time, you should plan to start that training by early March for fall start dates, or by early September for spring start dates. No need for a separate TEFL application – it’s all included with your Teach in China program.

If you have an Education degree, or a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certification, or you can get letters confirming 2+ years of full time teaching experience, those things would also meet the visa requirements and you wouldn’t have to take our TEFL course if you didn’t want to. In this case, "Teach in China “Basics” gives you a way to opt-out of TEFL and still get all the other benefits.

Should I pay a fee to teach in China?

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We know that there are lots of jobs out there for China. Some of them advertise themselves as “free” programs, but in reality they will expect you to pay for expenses like the visa fee and handling services, health insurance, TEFL training, and international shipping costs on your own, which can add up to more than $1,500 in some cases. At CIEE, we charge a fee, but we bundle as many of those services as possible into our program package to help streamline your experience. Plus, you get the benefit of our top-notch support and reliable placement partners! If you have questions about this, give us a call at 207-274-5783. We’ll give you our honest advice, even if our program isn’t the best fit for you.

What’s The Difference Between CIEE's Different Programs?

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CIEE offers three Teach Abroad programs in China: 

Teach in China “Regular”. This program includes our online TEFL course and connects you with the full range of available locations and placements. That includes Shanghai as well as Chongqing, where lots of university jobs are available.   

Teach in China “Immersion". This option still includes placement at a school and TEFL before you go, and it also adds an 18-week beginner Mandarin class (no higher levels available). The class is held one night a week in Shanghai, after you are done teaching, so that’s where the Immersion program is based. The program fee is higher because of the extra feature.

Teach in China “Basics”. If you already have an Education degree or TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certification, this is the program for you. It includes all the same placements and support that come with the “Regular” program, just without the included TEFL certification, and it has a lower program fee as a result.

All of the programs include personal assistance and support from CIEE staff in the US and in China, and in-country orientation. If you’re not sure which one is right for you, schedule a call and we can advise you further!

Do I need recommendation letters to teach in China?

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Yes! To get a Chinese work visa, you’ll need to prepare two signed original recommendation letters. These actually aren’t important for the CIEE selection process or hiring decisions – they are only required for the visa process. You can submit your application and get a job without letters, but you’ll have to prepare them eventually. You can find more detailed instructions on your CIEE application.

I graduate in the spring, can I teach in China in the fall?

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Probably. On your application, you may use a letter from your academic advisor to confirm your anticipated graduation.

The bigger issue is, you can’t start working on your Chinese visa without an authenticated copy of your actual Bachelor’s degree. Visa officers just won’t accept transcripts or verification letters. Check with your school to see if your degree will be handed to you at graduation, or if it gets mailed out weeks afterward. The Chinese visa process is lengthy and inflexible - it takes 12+ weeks from the day you receive your degree to the day you get your visa back. For people who won’t receive their degree until June or July, this means a late arrival in September or maybe even October. Some schools in Chongqing can accommodate a late arrival, so this is possible but not ideal.

Job Placement

Can friends or couples teach in China together?

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We get this question a lot: Can couples teach in China together? Can friends teach in China together? The answer is, yes! It’s pretty easy to find a Chinese school that will hire both of you, and give you shared housing. Make sure to mention each other’s names somewhere on your CIEE application, like in your personal statement.

Can I bring my cat or dog?

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No. It’s very difficult to “import” an animal into China, and then repeat the process to come back into the USA. Employers and landlords won’t let you have a pet in your small, high-rise apartment either. You’ll need to find someone back home for your pet to live with while you teach abroad.

How does the placement process work?

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We’ll gather your preferences about location, age group, and salary, and then show your application to employers we think are a good match until one requests an interview. We’ll show you a detailed School Profile at that time. If you have questions or concerns about a potential job, make sure to discuss them with us so we understand what you’re looking for. It’s not possible to compare multiple interviews or job offers, since schools won’t wait that long for a decision, but we can definitely adjust your search as we go to make sure we’re on the right track.

Can I request a specific location or age group?

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We work hard to honor requests from our teachers. We don’t have jobs in every part of China, so be sure to check our program pages to see what locations are available. While you’re there, visit the Job Description section for more information on what types of employers are hiring. If you’re asking for a combination that we can’t deliver, like a university position in Shanghai for example, we’ll get in touch with you to talk about which factor is more important to you and steer your job search in that direction.

How competitive are teaching jobs in China?

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There is HUGE demand for English teachers in China, and that’s good news for you! Some opportunities, like our highest-paying jobs and schools in central Shanghai, can be fairly competitive. That said, there are large numbers of positions and we have an excellent track record with successfully placing our teachers. Don’t worry if you don’t have an education degree or much experience – lots of people just like you have landed great jobs in China.

Living and Working

What are teacher accommodations like in China?

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Past teachers describe their housing as small but comfortable. Most teachers will have either a studio apartment to themselves, or a 2BR shared with another teacher of the same gender. Everyone will have a private bedroom! Housing is provided by your employer, so it varies a bit from placement to placement. Schools usually finalize housing just before you arrive in China, so don’t expect photos or details of your exact housing. Have faith that your school will take good care of you; we’ve selected our partners for exactly that reason.

What's the best thing about living in China?

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So many answers to this question! On top of the great job benefits, we like… the never-ending flow of superb food… trips to China’s mountains, lakes, and national parks… gleaming high-speed trains… easy access to Asia’s travel destinations… and learning to play cards and Mahjong with retirees in city squares. Plus, you’re learning about one of the world’s most important countries firsthand!

Is it safe to teach in China?

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Yes. China’s crime rates are far lower than the United States, especially for violent crime. Our teachers quickly settle in and feel safe and comfortable in their new homes! As long as you avoid drugs, fights, or activism on controversial political topics, you have nothing to fear from the local authorities.

How can I teach in China if I don't speak the language?

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Most Chinese don’t speak English, so you will definitely encounter the language barrier every day. That said, it’s probably easier to navigate than you think. Chinese is a hard language to read and write, but you’ll pick up basic spoken phrases quickly. The latest apps let you download the whole lexicon for instant offline translation, and tech-savvy locals have the same ability, which lets you communicate even without a shared language.

As for your students, it’s actually preferable to teach English without relying on the local language. You’ll use repetition, pictures, circumlocution and lots of acting to get your point across. It works, trust us!

Can I teach in China if I have student loans?

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Maybe. This is a bit tricky, since it’s very difficult to set up transfers from a Chinese bank to a US one, and services like Western Union charge a large fee for funds from China. Past teachers have had success linking an international PayPal account to a Chinese bank, and then transferring from there to a US PayPal account, but it takes a long time to set up. If you need to continue making regular payments, make sure you have at least 4 months’ worth of payments saved up before you go. You should also check with your loan servicer and see if it’s possible to pause payments using deferment or forbearance while teaching abroad.

How hard is it to find western groceries in China?

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In recent years, it has become very easy to find familiar western grocery items like peanut butter, cheese, deodorant, and toothpaste in China. Prices might be a bit higher than you’re used to, but both Chongqing and Shanghai have many options for malls and grocery stores that cater to foreigners. Anything you can’t find there, you can order online through Taobao, the Chinese equivalent of Amazon. 

How bad is the air pollution in China?

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It depends on the day, and where in China you’re going. CIEE places teachers far away from heavily industrialized cities like Lanzhou, Beijing and Zhengzhou, where the air quality is the worst. Chongqing and Shanghai, our primary placement locations, typically fall in the middle range of air quality rankings. The cleanest air in China is found in rural areas and distant locations like Urumuqi. Air quality is often better in the summer, since fuel isn’t being burned for heat.

We asked our former teachers about this issue: 30% said that the air quality in their city made them uncomfortable to some degree. 85% said they had a good experience in spite of it, and only 15% said concerns about air quality would deter them from returning to China.

For most people, the air quality isn’t bad enough to prevent them from signing up to teach in China, but if your top priority is to live somewhere with really clean air, you might consider a different location.

Travel and Arrival

How will CIEE help with my visa?

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In some ways, getting the "Z" work visa is the hardest part of teaching in China. There’s a long list of documents to prepare, and the sequence of different processes takes at least 2-3 months. Thankfully, CIEE has videos and detailed instructions to guide you step by step. For US applicants, we’ll even cover your visa fee and provide a specialty courier service to shepherd your application through the consulate. When you have questions, you’ll get helpful, personalized advice from our experienced staff, based in the US and Shanghai.

When should I buy my flight?

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Because the Chinese visa process can be lengthy and unpredictable, we ask participants not to buy flights until their visa approval is confirmed. In most cases, this doesn’t happen until 1-3 weeks before departure, which means you will probably be buying a flight on relatively short notice. For domestic flights in the US, that’s usually a recipe for a costly ticket, but in Asia everyone else is doing the same thing so it’s not quite as bad. And, if you sign up for a 2 semester duration, you’ll receive an airfare reimbursement bonus of at least 8,000 CNY on the successful completion of your contract!

More Information

For eligibility requirements, compensation, program fees, and more visit our Teach in China Program Pages
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