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Can Non-Native English Speakers Teach English in China?

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With Chinese economy gaining more traction in the global market, speaking English becomes more of a necessity for its citizens. This is why demand for English teachers in the country has skyrocketed. For 2015 to 2016 alone, it is estimated that at least 4,000 teachers are needed nationwide. This gives many individuals, like myself, a chance to combine part-time traveling with a full-time job.

There is, however, a shortage of native English speaking teachers since most native speakers come to China looking for work within the scope of their previous experiences, most of which are not related to teaching. On the brighter side, this opens doors of opportunities for non-native English speakers to fill the gap. Here are the crucial things to sort out and understand for you to find a lucrative teaching position in China, even if English is not your first language.

Working Visa and Other Important Chinese Regulations

To work as an English teacher in China, one must obtain a work visa, which means complying with the regulations put together by the Chinese State Administration for Foreign Expert Affairs. The minimum requirements dictate that an applicant must hold a Bachelor’s degree, at least two years of post-graduate work experience, and a TEFL certification. If you lack TEFL certification, you can easily do it online while in China. I did mine in two months when already being employed by one of local high schools in Huan yuan, Hunan province.

If you meet all of that and if after the interview, the school you applied to gives you a position, then the next step is to process the needed paperwork. First, make sure you have a valid passport and a formal letter of invite from your employer (Foreign Expert Invitation). A Foreign Expert identification card is also required; this will be provided by your school as well. Next, present the invitation letter to the Chinese consulate nearest you in order to apply for the work visa, officially known as the Z visa. You need to apply in your home country.

Once you have the visa, a physical checkup will then be required. You may be asked to do this before and after relocating. Once in China, you will have to register yourself in the local police station and work with your school to obtain a Residence Permit. Paperwork processing may take more than two months.

What Is the Advantage of Being a Non-Native English Speaking Teacher?

At first glance, being a non-native English speaker may appear to be a barrier when it comes to teaching and moving to China. However, if you look more closely, there is an advantage. The demand is nationwide. Most native speakers are likely to concentrate their efforts in the top-tier cities. In other areas though, competition will not be as fierce. If you look for jobs with this in mind, landing a position may be easier for you.

What You Can Do to Improve Your Chances of Being Hired

The best approach is to ensure that you are qualified. A TEFL certification is one of the best options to show that you are fit for the job. As much as possible, go for the 120+ hours certification. Aside from this, it is also advisable to send your CV to recruiters who exercise non-discriminatory hiring processes. Or, seek out schools who clearly welcome a diverse workforce. By being discerning with your job-hunting and application process, you will definitely minimize rejections. Another thing to keep in mind is your attitude. You can be a native speaker of English with a great teaching background but if you don’t enjoy teaching and having fun with kids, the school is not going to be happy with you. Be active, passionate about teaching and never stop being creative. It is very important when teaching English in China, especially when you are  non-native English speaker. In this case, your positive attitude could be one of your biggest advantages, trust me!

Give It Your Best Shot

Overall, teaching English in China even if you are a non-native speaker is very much possible. You just have to be aware of the obstacles that stand in your way and, at the same time, always keep an eye out for the right opportunities. Hone your skills, polish your resume, and show without a doubt that you are the right person for the job. Look at me! I came to China in August 2011. Although I had some relevant teaching experience and Bachelor degree, I held a Polish passport and had no TEFL certificate. Nevertheless, I had this passion for teaching, positive attitude that pushed me to further develop myself as a teacher. I started my TEFL course online, proved to the school I was a good teacher and therefore I was offered a full-time contract with many perks such as high salary, free accommodation, food and a lot of spare time to travel across China. If I could do that being a non-native English speaker, you can do that as well! :)

Agness Walewinder @AgnessTramp

Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"

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  • if you speak another inportant language of culture, there may be possibilities to teach that language (German, French, Spanish....) in higher education.

  • Hi I speak fluent American English, this winter I will start taking TEFL course
    I only hold a Mexican passport but I have a passion to teach kids since I teach piano classes to my son and some kids

  • hello im a BA student im studying english litterature in morocco and im interessted to get a teaching job in China .. but i dono how to reach that !!!!

  • Hello Miss Walewinder
    I am Portuguese yet speak English fluently. Which British degree do you suggest I take in order to teach English in China? Are they all the same? Is there a university that is more accredited than others? Are all British degrees accepted in China? Thank you for your time.

    Kind regards,

    Fernando Penetra

    • If you'd like to take on a an undergraduate course in UK to later teach in China, then the teaching major would be the best. Any accredited university would do, but the better the uni the more you'll learn :)

  • Hi Agnes! I'm Oksana from Ukraine and I've signed a contract with Scholastic School in Jinan, Shandong province. They've promised to send me invitation and work permit so that I can apply to the Chinese Embassy in Ukraine! I've got suspicious because they are sending it to me more than a month already! Does it take them so long to prepare that invitation letter?

    • In many cases, yes. There's quire a lot of bureaucracy in China. Have you got the visa in the end? Please let us all know here!

  • Hie

    I wanted to know if i will be able to get a visa. I am Zimbabwean but currently teaching in South Africa. Thank you

  • Hi Agnes,
    You're really blessed that you have secured a job in China an English language teacher though you're a non native speaker of English.
    I may say it was the skin colour that favoured you, but if you were of an African origin (black), it wouldn't have been possible because I have tried to apply for teaching jobs in many of those Asian countries, but all in vain despite the fact that I hold a certificate, a diploma and a Bachelor's Degree in teaching (majoring in English language).
    They think black Africans are not fluent enough in English though some of us were brought up in an English speaking environment.

    • Hi Arafat,

      I'm sorry to hear that you're considering giving up. In China, we have worked with many teachers from Africa. In fact few times more of our teacher friends are from Africa than from Eastern Europe (that's where we are from). While it may sometimes feel difficult, we've even heard that sentiment from white native English speakers, the most important is not to give up. It applies to most jobs and wishes in life, in fact.

      Wishing you the best of luck!
      Cez

  • Thank you very much for this informative post. I will love to try my luck in China for sure after reaching there as I learned a little bit Chinese in my hometown.

    Xie Xie Da Jia. :)

    • And we strongly recommend you try! Even if you don't want to work there, a visit would be eye-opening :D

  • I know a few people doing the same and they're loving it, some have even married locals and are staying on to live there!

  • As a native-speaking teacher of the English language here in Germany, I found this interesting. For the most part, Germany wants native speakers teaching English (despite the incredibly high demand here for English teachers).

    I wish you a wonderful start to the week :)

    • Hey! I traveled to Germany but never taught there. Thank you for sharing and you also have a wonderful week. Mine has been amazing so far! X :) X

  • Unfortunately it isn't all that easy anymore to get a teaching job as a non-native speaker. Recently the government implemented a new law which states that only native speakers (from common wealth countries) can be English teachers. Sure, there are ways to get around that law, but that means you would technically be working illegally.

    • There is an exeption..if you r non native English speaker and u hold degree from English speaking countr then u can still teach English in China legally.

      • Where did you study Agness?:) I am going to Scotland to get my teaching degree from there. My last teaching experience from China was great but I want to find cleaner place and better salaried teaching position:)

  • I must say that your written English is perfect, so no issues there! A very helpful guide

  • I think work permits and visas will be the death of me once I start to travel. -_- It's a great idea though, teaching English in China, I never would have thought about it without this blog.

  • great post! I loved teaching English in Japan, although I think all the teachers there were native speakers. Getting out of the big cities I feel is the best for a real experience of cultural exchange. It was great! But not easy work at times.

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