Mike Cairnduff from Hello Teacher!

Updated April 17, 2019
Mike Cairnduff

ESL teacher in China

Teaching English in China? Here are the nine biggest mistakes you don’t want to make – before you leave for China and while you’re there.

BEFORE YOU GO TO CHINA

1. Not doing your research

If there’s just one thing you do before leaving your own country for China, it’s this: do your research.

This doesn’t have to be daunting or time consuming. Just be clear about what you want out of your experience and identify your personal preferences.

Have a look into the kinds of schools available, the locations (China is huge) and the type of salary you could expect.

Do some reading and then ask questions, or do it the other way around. The key is to arrive in China prepared.

2. Not saving enough money

Bring enough money to last you at least a month. This is because you may not be paid your salary until a month after your first class, depending on the school’s pay cycle.

Your apartment, if included in your teaching contract, will include all the basic necessities like a bed, couch, table, fridge and so on. But what about the little things like cutlery and clothes hangers?

While some of the little things might already be in your apartment, others won’t be.

That means you’ll need to fork out some money in the initial days and weeks to make your new home nice and comfortable.

You’ll also need money for food (cheap in China!), socializing, as well as getting around on public transport.

3. Not checking visa requirements

Touching down in China with the right visa is absolutely essential.

You need a proper, sponsored working visa to teach in China. Beware of schools or recruiters who tell you otherwise.

Hello Teacher! can help you get the right teaching visa for China.

Not having the right visa is one of the mistakes you don't want to make as an ESL teacher in China

You need the right visa to teach in China.

4. Not taking out travel insurance

While you’ll receive basic medical insurance through your school in China, this may not be enough.

For example, what would happen if you needed to be evacuated for an unexpected injury or illness?

Taking out travel insurance could save the day. And speaking of saving, insurance in Asia is not nearly as costly as it is in North America.

If you can’t afford a policy for the entire time you're in China, you should at least take out cover for the time you spend traveling before or after your teaching stint. The insurance you have with the school only applies while you’re employed by them.

WHILE YOU’RE IN CHINA

5. Not using a Chinese phone carrier

Thinking about using data roaming on your phone while you’re in China? Forget it.

Unless your phone carrier gives you a great rate in China, you can rest assured that surfing the net while overseas will result in an eye-bulging bill the following month.

Plus, you can’t expect your new, local friends and colleagues to contact you on an international number.

Your school liaison will help you get set up with a Chinese phone carrier. Just make sure your phone is unlocked before you arrive in China (or buy a cheap phone once you get there).

6. Not being alert to scams

Ever heard of the one where you’re invited to a ‘tea ceremony’ and then forced to pay an exorbitant price for the tea you’ve drank?

This scam, amongst numerous others, could trip you up in China.

Whilst Chinese people are very friendly towards foreigners, they can be shy and generally won’t bother you. So be careful with strangers who approach you and offer to take you somewhere else.

It pays to do your research (there’s that word again!) and find out the classic scams you can expect in China.

7. Not following basic safety precautions

China is a safe country and crime against foreigners is very low.

However, like anywhere overseas, you should always take care of yourself and your belongings.

Keep your money and passport in a safe place in your apartment, avoid traveling at night and be careful in crowds. It’s Safety 101, really.

Not following basic safety precautions is one of the biggest mistakes you can make as an ESL teacher in China

While teaching English in China, keep your valuables in a safe place like your on-campus apartment.

8. Not doing any traveling

After a year of teaching in China, you will kick yourself if you arrive home without having done any additional travel.

China is smack-bang in the middle of Asia, so there’s no reason why you couldn’t squeeze in some travel to neighboring countries like Japan, South Korea, Thailand or Vietnam.

Not to mention travel within China. This amazing place is home to UNESCO world heritage sites, cheesy tourist attractions and everything in between.

Need some inspiration? Here are the top 10 cities to visit in China according to a Chinese study.

9. Not eating Chinese food

Why choose China as your teach-abroad destination if you’re not going to eat Chinese food once you’re there?

Sure, every now and again you’ll crave hamburgers, pizza and ice-cream, but don’t rely on eating this kind of food daily. Not because you’ll get fat (though health is important) – but because Chinese food is delicious!

Passionate cooks across the country have been perfecting recipes for thousands of years.

So whether it’s the steamed dumplings in Beijing or the hotpot in Chongqing, you’ll fall in love with China’s varied and delicious cuisine.

Get local recommendations for some good places to eat at, or go to restaurants where there’s plenty of happy customers. That way you can’t wrong!

What mistakes have you made while preparing for, or teaching in, China? Have your say below.


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