This is the first post in a two-part series inspired by questions and advice requests I’ve received from Americans who are seriously considering moving to China to teach English. This post is on standard qualifications and compensation. The next will be on how to be an effective English teacher in China and what common classroom challenges to expect.

What’s my background in this area? I spent my second of two consecutive years in China teaching in Beijing Geely University’s Foreign Languages College and at a branch of New Oriental Elite Kids. Geely University is an expensive, pretty new but large university on the rural outskirts of Beijing for students who did not get into prestigious public universities. New Oriental Elite Kids is an expensive academy for students aged 4-18 to take small classes and private lessons outside of their regular schooling. New Oriental is an international language education chain famous within China. I took these two jobs to provide me with income, stability and an extra year of Beijing life while I got my public relations career together.

Some of my Geely University students, coworkers and I on a field trip to the Forbidden City.

A lot of this series’ content may sound negative because I want to warn of China’s high percentage of sketchy English education employers and attitudes toward work and education that most Americans I know disagree with. That said, I loved living in Beijing, my teaching memories from there are mostly positive, and I endorse teaching English through a good employer as a means to first-hand China access. Please note that China varies quite a bit by region and city, so my experience in Beijing may not directly translate to what you can expect in other cities. China’s cost of living and inflation are also increasing rapidly, so my advice from nearly a year ago may be out of date.

First, I’d like to point out a few great online resources:

The following are typical qualifications of English teachers at full-time, reliable employers in Beijing:

  • Citizen of an English-speaking country
  • Bachelor’s degree, not in a major related to teaching or Chinese
  • Passport and diploma copies confirming the above two
  • No Chinese language ability
  • 0-1 years teaching experience, including tutoring
  • Usually you must be from the United States or United Kingdom and be Caucasian due to accent and racial discrimination. However, Geely University hires non-Caucasian teachers.
  • Geely University also hires teachers who are not from English-speaking countries but are completely fluent in English through a lifetime in English-language immersion education. This is the exception, though.

This is the sort of compensation and assistance you could expect or demand with the above qualifications in June 2010 in Beijing:

  • A work (Z) visa and foreign expert’s certificate, arranged but not paid for by your employer
  • An English-speaking point person at your employer to heavily assist you with navigating initial immigration requirements
  • Very basic health insurance to cover major accidents or injuries
  • At a university, a free or nearly free on-campus apartment to yourself with subsidized utilities
  • At a school other than an academy, two-month long vacations in summer and winter that both pay partial salary, (half in my case, which was paid at the end of the break)
  • University working hours: 20 class hours per week during weekdays plus preparation and meetings outside of class
  • Academy working hours: 30-40 class hours per week on evenings and weekends plus preparation outside of class and minimal meetings
  • Public university pay before taxes: 3,000 RMB per month
  • Private university: 7,000 RMB per month
  • Academy (no housing included): 11,000 RMB per month or 150 RMB per hour

You should expect lower salaries and levels of competition for jobs outside of Shanghai and Beijing.

Keep in mind when negotiating that in June 2010, in order to have housing, healthcare, and entertainment comparable to what many 22-year-olds with college degrees experience in the U.S., you would have to make at least 9,000 RMB per month or free housing plus 7,000 per month.

Don’t accept a promise to get you a work visa after you enter China. This is difficult to impossible to do within the country. It will also severely limit your further employment options in China if you arrive in the country without one. Also, you should consider it a job offer red flag if an employer offers to drastically increase your pay after a set period of time. This is standard for sketchy jobs that don’t last long but not standard for work in China in general.

You can negotiate better compensation than what I suggested above if you have a certificate or major in teaching, especially in teaching English as a foreign or second language; experience teaching English as a foreign language in a classroom; or a degree higher than a bachelor’s. I don’t think my ability to speak Chinese to my students was as much of an advantage as these other qualifications, but it might have helped in landing me work.

Do you have any questions? For those who have taught English in China and have anything to add, let me know in the comments.