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:
- Everybody wants to “help” you find a job and…
- There are some basic requirements China has for all foreign English teachers.
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 (or at least it was before COVID!). 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?
Here’s a rundown of what we’re going to cover here:
If you’re serious teaching English abroad, you should certainly consider the TEFL. The truth, however, is that it may or may not be necessary, depending on your situation.
Are you hoping to teach English in China? Download my free guide on how to get an ESL job in China!
Do You Need 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 tend to 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 this:
No, you technically do not need the TEFL to teach in China.
That being said, the need for a degree is slightly different.
What About a University Degree?
Before I go on, I will say that it is much harder to get around China’s 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”.
This 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.
Two Reasons to Get TEFL Certified
As I mentioned above, TEFL isn’t required but is highly recommended.
I taught for many years in China without a TEFL certification and I know many others who have as well. It IS possible.
However, there are two very important reasons why you should consider spending the money and time to get TEFL certified for your China teaching gig.
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 get the TEFL to teach English in China. Consider the following benefits:
- Learn how to manage a classroom: Trust me, this isn’t always intuitive, and it makes your job easier when you understand how to manage a class with a variety of different students, both young and old.
- Learn how to teach English, not just speak it: English is likely your native language, so you may not realize 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 confusing and a TEFL helps prepare you for how best to teach it.
- Learn how to make learning fun: Learning happens when you’re engaged, not bored. But how do you make your classroom fun? The TEFL gives you the tools to make it happen.
- TEFL gives you a higher foreigner score: Did you know that your eligibility for new visas is determined based on China’s foreigner grading system? You get points for various qualities and qualifications, TEFL being one of them.
All of these benefits are fine and good and they should be enough to warrant getting certified before you move to China to teach.
But there’s another reason that’s likely to tip the scales here: the money.
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 move to China without being properly 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 to teach English in China or if you have 2+, 5+ or 10+ years of teaching experience.
In most cases, your China teaching salary can be increased in one of two ways: TEFL certification or 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 month contract x 1,000 RMB extra salary||12,000 RMB|
|Average cost of a TEFL course (in RMB)||-1,200 RMB|
|Additional salary for the year:||10,800 RMB|
That’s almost US$2,000 extra for the year!
And keep in mind that I’m low-balling 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 a TEFL to teach English in China 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 even 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.
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.
…sadly, 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, you should be skeptical.
TIP: Make sure you take your TEFL certification course from an accredited provider!
There are quite a few TEFL 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 TEFL for China
I conclusion, it is absolutely to your advantage to do TEFL to teach English in China.
It’s not necessary, but it makes your job easier, equips you to teach better, makes it easier to get a China visa and – best of all – 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!