Teaching in China is an incredible experience and you're bound to have the time of your life.
However, even seasoned travelers can make simple mistakes when preparing to teach in China or once they’ve arrived.
As a past TEFL teacher in China myself, I know what to look out for and can help you avoid making those simple mistakes.
That's why I've prepared this list covering the 10 biggest mistakes you don’t want to make as a TEFL teacher in China.
Let’s dive right in.
1. Not doing your research
If there’s just one thing you take away from this list, it's this: do your research.
Do some reading and then ask questions, or do it the other way around. The key is to arrive in China prepared.
Work out 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.
I delve a bit more into these three things here - worth reading once you've decided on China.
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.
Save some money before starting your teaching journey.
Your teacher's apartment in China, 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.
This means you’ll need to fork out some money in the first few 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 downloading a VPN app
Unless you want to go without popular websites and apps like Google, Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, you must download a VPN app.
I've reviewed some of the best China VPNs to help you stay connected as a TEFL teacher in China.
Download the app on to all your devices you intend on bringing to China - not just your phone.
Download a VPN app if you want to use Instagram in China.
Most importantly, do it before you arrive in China. You won't be able to download any major VPN app once you arrive.
There's a bunch of other helpful China apps you can download too. These will help with finding your way around, communicating with the locals and buying things.
4. Not checking visa requirements
Touching down in China with the right visa is absolutely essential.
Working in China on a tourist visa is fraught with danger. You need a proper, sponsored working visa to teach in China.
Beware of schools and recruiters who tell you otherwise!
You need the right visa to teach in China.
Hello Teacher! can help you get the right teaching visa for China.
5. 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.
6. 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, accessing the internet overseas can result in an eye-bulging bill.
Plus, you can’t expect your new, local friends and colleagues to contact you on an international number.
Use a Chinese SIM card in your phone in China.
Your school liaison will help you get set up with a Chinese phone carrier. They'll take you to the local store where you can sign up and get a Chinese SIM card.
Make sure your phone is unlocked before you arrive in China, or buy a cheap phone once you arrive.
7. 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 as a TEFL teacher in China.
Whilst Chinese people are very friendly towards foreigners, they can be shy and generally won’t bother you. So be careful when strangers 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.
8. 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.
As a TEFL teacher in China, keep your valuables in a safe place like your on-campus apartment.
9. 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.
10. Not eating Chinese food
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.
Eat Chinese food while teaching in China to get the full experience.
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 go wrong!
Are you a TEFL teacher in China? What mistakes have you made that could have been avoided? Share your story below.