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Whether you're already working as a teacher in China or you're just considering coming for a new experience, th...ere are a few things you need to know in order to get the best from your time in the Middle Kingdom.
Working legally is not just a “conscience matter”, but it is essential to avoid serious risks for your criminal records. Just remember that laws and regulations in China may not be as “soft” as in Western countries!
So, here are some important points you need to keep in mind when working as a foreign teacher in China, or while thinking about it.
1. What is needed.
Teaching English, or any other foreign language, is an excellent way to gain working experience while traveling and discovering new places and cultures, that’s why many people feel attracted by this chance. By the way, to do this in China you need specific requirements: some of them are mandatory to get a working visa, some other may vary.
Generally speaking, this is what you need to get a Z Visa (the only one you can work with!):
- A Bachelor's degree, or higher qualification. Degrees in humanities, languages or education are usually better accepted than, let's say, engineering or architecture.
- TEFL certificate or equivalent and/or teaching experience (of course, if you have both, you will have even more chances to be hired).
- Being a native speaker or, if not, being fluent in the target language without any strong foreign accent.
If you are offered a teaching position but you don't have what it is needed, this means that you won't get a working visa (Z) or you will gEt it in some other suspicious way. In both cases, you won't be legally allowed to work as a teacher.
Beware of them.
Large part of foreign teachers is recruited by agencies, there are hundreds of them all over China. Many of them just want to make money easily and quickly, without fear of using illegal means. They relay on foreigners' ignorance of local laws and bureaucracy: who comes to China from very far needs someone to introduce him/her to this new world, someone to trust. Newcomers are not aware of all the irregularities the agencies carry on, so many people accept to work for them and only months later they start realizing there's something wrong.
Not all agencies are like that, of course, but you must be able to understand the difference between a serious one and a scam.
Here's a list of unacceptable and sometimes illegal catches that you must be aware of.
- The agency is asking you for money, justified as “deposit” or something like that. This is completely illegal. Agencies profits must come form the schools who need teachers: institutions must pay to get a recruitment service, not you. If you've been asked to pay for “something”, don't worry, you can ask for advice to Expats Hunan staff on how to claim them back (for free, of course!).
- The agency is detracting money from your salary. An average salary for an English teacher ranges from 10.000RMB up to 15.000RMB per month, depending on different factors. If you are offered less than 9/8.000RMB, this means that the agency is literally stealing your money.
- You get free accomodation but you don't have any renting contract. Always ask for it.
- The agency have to bring you to the police station within 24 hours from your arrival in China for the registration. Make sure that they register you on the same address you actually live in, and that the original copy of the final record is in your hands.
- The agency is keeping all your personal documents proving that you live and work in China. This is illegal and may lead both you and the agency to serious consequences. They must be in your hands. Important papers include: police registration, health check, Foreign Expert Certificate and, of course, your passport (!!).
- The agency is promising you a Z Visa even if you don't have all the requirements: this means they will get all your papers though “other” ways. Or, the agency states that you can work with a Business (F or M) or Tourist Visa (L): not true.
- The agency is offering you a part-time job. You can't get a working visa with a part-time position, and you can't work part-time with any other kind of visa, such as student visa. Basically, foreigners are usually not allowed to work part-time.
3. The contract.
Knowing the features of a legal contract is very important before signing. Foreigners may not be aware of rules and regulations in China, so they accept to sign contracts that may look fine, but they're actually not.
- The contract must be in Chinese. Usually, when hiring foreigners, contracts include a “courtesy English”, but this translation is not legally binding. So, before signing, make sure the meaning of the English version is the same as the Chinese one.
- The employment contract must be between you and the school. Not the agency. Alternatively, an agency may ask you to sign a contract where they promise that they will find a job for you, plus other features. In this case, so, you will need to sign another proper working contract with the school.
- Contracts must be signed by the school HR (or whoever) with his/her Chinese name in Chinese characters. No English names accepted. Moreover, contracts must be stamped with the official stamp of the school: a round one with a star in the middle and an identification code.
These are more or less the basics to avoid an unpleasant experience in China, waste of money, waste of time and bad memories.
If you find yourself caught in a suspicious situation, if you feel that someone is making money out of your lack of experience, if you feel that your job is not respected, please ask for help. The Chinese system is willing to help foreigners and to protect them, but unfortunately not many of us are aware of this. The most just decide to go back to their country without even trying to claim for their rights.
No one says it's gonna be easy. Many songs say that, and we completely agree. Working as a foreign teacher, legally, will require lots of papers, signatures, stamps, agreements and arguments. You will need to get to know Chinese bureaucracy, procedures, laws and regulations. But you will be rewarded in many different ways, we promise.
If you have any questions, doubts, or if you just want to free yourself from an uncomfortable position, the Expats Hunan staff is here to help. For free, of course. (Please, beware of anyone who claims to be a member of Expats Hunan but asks for a compensation)