Do you need a TEFL certification to teach English in China? As you consider a job as an English teacher in China, it helps to understand what they require and what influences your potential salary. As somebody who has taught English and lived in China for over 10 years, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned.
Once you start looking around for teaching jobs here in China you’ll realize two things very quickly: 1) everybody wants to “help” you find a job and 2) there are some basic requirements that aren’t very clear. One such requirement is the TEFL Certification, which stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language.
It’s common knowledge that teaching English is one of the best ways to travel China on a budget. What beats getting paid good money to live overseas?!
So here’s the question: Do you need a TEFL certification to teach English in China or is it just a good thing to have it?
If you’re serious teaching in China (if so, you’ll also want to read my 5 Steps to Finding a Great Teaching Job in China), you should certainly consider the TEFL. The truth, however, is that it may or may not be necessary, depending on your situation.
Do I Need the TEFL to Teach English in China?
The answer is simply…maybe. Let me explain.
Most quality schools hiring foreign teachers require that new hires have a university degree. Not only that, these schools take the extra step of requiring some sort of teaching certification. Those schools that don’t make it a requirement incentivize new hires to acquire the TEFL certification by offering a higher salary if you’re certified.
So unless you’re particular about the exact school you want to teach at or gunning for the highest salary possible, the short answer is that no, you do not need the TEFL to teach in China.
Before I go on, I will say that it is much harder to get around the university degree requirement. You see, in order for you to get a Work visa in China your school will need to register you as a “foreign expert”, something that can’t be done unless you can show proof of a university degree.
If you’re one of those who just graduated high school or doesn’t yet have a university degree, consider looking into a China internship program. You’ll not only get the teaching experience, you’ll also end your year certified.
But back to the TEFL. As I mentioned above, TEFL isn’t required but is highly recommended for two reasons.
1. Being TEFL Certified Is a Win-Win for Everybody
No school in the U.S. or Europe would hire just anybody off the street…why should we expect China or any other country to do the same? Over the past decade, China has learned the hard way that in many cases, hiring untrained foreigners is bad business.
But for you as a potential teacher, it makes a lot of sense to be certified. You learn how to manage a classroom and most importantly you learn that speaking English and teaching English are two very different things. You don’t know how many times that I get asked a question about English grammar that requires me to say “You know, let me think about that and I’ll get back to you“.
Frankly, the English language is really confusing.
Being certified is a win for you because being prepared to teach makes teaching more fun. And if you’re not having fun, your time here in China is going to suck.
Finally, additional teaching qualifications allows you to score higher on China’s foreigner grading system, which helps when it comes time to renew your work visa.
2. Being TEFL Certified Makes Sense ($$$)
Most people don’t realize just how much money they are leaving on the table when they decide to just run out here without being certified. Let me give you a quick example from a school near where I live.
The school offers a base salary for all teachers plus various perks including flights, housing, etc.. At this point, salary can be increased in one of two ways – certification or experience. In other words, you can get paid more if you have a TEFL certificate or if you have 2+, 5+ or 10+ years of teaching experience.
On average, I’ve seen that most schools offer about 1,000 RMB in additional salary for those with a TEFL certificate. Let’s say that you pay US$200 for a TEFL course and sign a one-year contract with a school. The math works out like this, where “RMB” is the Chinese currency standard:
12,000 RMB = 12 months x 1,000 RMB extra per month
– 1,200 RMB = average cost of TEFL course converted to RMB
10,800 RMB additional salary for the year
That’s almost US$2,000 extra for the year…and I’m lowballing my estimates here. I know many schools that offer even more than that for being TEFL certified. Financially speaking, it just makes sense to get a TEFL Certification.
Do I Need a 120 Hour TEFL or 300 Hour TEFL?
If you’ve come to the conclusion that getting TEFL certified is a good idea, the next question you’re likely to run across is this: Do I need the 120 hour TEFL course, the 300 hour TEFL course or something in between? Does it matter for teaching English in China?
There are so many different TEFL courses it’s almost funny. You can do a 20 hour classroom course, a 300-hour online course or you could do a combo of the two that adds up to 120-140 hours. It’s unbelievable!
The truth is that as long as you have a TEFL certificate, the Chinese government doesn’t really care how many hours you have completed. It doesn’t really matter.
The reason people take more than the foundational 20 hour course is to better prepare themselves for teaching. This is especially true if you plan to go teach at a university, where the level of teaching and questions will be more advanced than, say, kindergarten or elementary school.
The average accredited TEFL course should run anywhere between US$150-$400 depending on the medium (classroom vs online) or the number of hours (20 vs 120). If you find something online that runs much lower than that, it’s ok to be skeptical.
TIP: Make sure you take your TEFL certification course from an accredited provider!
There are quite a few courses available. To start your search, I recommend you compare these courses by i-to-i TEFL. They offer many of the different options I’ve mentioned above at very competitive prices.
Final Thoughts on the TEFL for China
I conclusion, if you want to teach English in China, having a TEFL Certificate is to your advantage. It’s not necessary, but it makes your job easier and provides thousands of extra dollars in income.
For those without a university degree, consider the China internship program. If you have a degree but just need to find the cheapest online TEFL course, check the courses listed here for up-to-date pricing.
If you have any additional questions, please feel free to ask in the comments below. Best of luck and I hope to see you out here in China soon!