A unique case
Finding English teaching jobs in China is Chinese in nature. You do it their way or not at all. It isn’t wise to use some methods you might have adopted in other countries because China is not like other countries. In most non-English speaking countries, the best way to find an English teaching job is simply by going to the country and finding a job while you’re there. This is possible in China, but it is not the best way to go about it. English teaching jobs in China pay well, and the perks are excellent. Employers are very aware of that. They know they have something worthwhile to offer you.
A harder way
If you want to learn about a country at a grassroots level, then going there without a job yet finding one while you’re there is one method you might enjoy. You could go to the British Council in Beijing and get a list of language schools in any part of China you’d desire.
Buy a mobile phone and put your number on your CV. It is best to keep the CV simple, try if possible to put it all on one page. You only need to mention the relevant information. Then you can walk around the city, going to various language schools, leaving your CV at with their reception. You might even get an interview on the spot.
It’s an interesting way of going about it because you get to see China in a way most tourists don’t. Being forced into walking or catching public transport for 30kms or so around the city every day, you get to see another side of the city. You’ll also get to pick the job that you want because you will get a lot of offers. You might even have the opportunity to haggle. The Chinese love a good haggle. They also admire determination and initiative.
However, in China, there is one major hitch in this process. It’s very likely you’ll only be able to get a tourist visa, to enter China. To apply for a working visa you need to get an invitation letter from your employer in China. It needs to be the original letter, and it needs to be official, stamped with the company’s logo at the top. It cannot be forged. The Chinese company or person has to send it to you by snail mail. You could be sneaky: get a job you don’t particularly want before going to China, get the invitation letter and working visa through them, and then find the job you want when you get to China.
The expense and the hassle
If you find a teaching job with a tourist visa, the process of legally working is quite complicated. You’ll have to get an invitation letter from the school, leave mainland China, get a working visa for China from the country you go to and then return. It takes around six weeks to get a working visa as the security checks are rather involved.
You need a health check and a police check, where you give the police your addresses for the last ten years. Depending on which country you’re doing that in, it could be quite expensive. Unless you know people there and can stay with them, you’ll have to pay for a hotel or a hostel for those six weeks.
For most people, it would be much easier to apply for a working visa in their home country, where you know how things work. In Australia and the UK, I can say that the health check can be free, if you are a citizen, but I doubt very much if it is like that in most countries, particularly if you are a foreigner in that country. You might find you’ll be paying an exorbitant amount of money for these things in countries where you are a foreigner.
The police check, though, is relatively expensive ($100 in Australia), no matter where you are. In most countries, if you go there on a tourist visa (or without a job) and find a job there, you don’t need to leave the country to work there legally.
The better, more common method
Knowing all of that, it would seem wiser to find your English teaching job in China before you go to China. This is certainly the most common way of doing it, and the Chinese schools are used to going through the process this way.
You will need, as I said, to get a working visa, which still involves a police check and a health check, which is done after you find a job because you need the invitation letter from the school. The process does take about six weeks altogether, which is a while if you have deadlines and students are waiting for you in China.
Most English teaching jobs do seem to be arranged last minute because that is the nature of most ESL teachers. They are generally people not great at making plans because they are individuals who like to travel and tend to be rather spontaneous.
China won’t let you be spontaneous. The Chinese government doesn’t like spontaneity or impulsiveness in its citizens. They like planning, control, certainty.
Agencies or direct to the school
There are many sites through which you can find English teaching jobs in China. This is the best method. Mostly, it is done through an agency. Very rarely will you apply directly to a school. There are sites like Seek.com or Indeed.com, which always have teaching jobs in China advertised on them. The details of the school will be mentioned, of course, but the agency does all the legwork for you.
There are about half a dozen agencies who organize English teaching jobs in China. By applying for a job, you register with the agency, and they will find work for you, if the one advertised doesn’t work out, they’ll have a better one for you. Each agency has schools they work with, and they have several jobs on their books.
There are websites, where it is possible to go directly to the school, though: Dave’s ESL café is probably the best one (www.eslcafe.com) or there’s eChinaCities.com (jobs.echinacities.com). EChinaCities isn’t as good because it’s not as popular with recruiters or employers, but one feature it does have that Dave’s doesn’t, is the ability to filter your job search by city, which is good in case you have a certain city in mind. Unfortunately, at Dave’s, all of the jobs are lumped together in one long list.
The advantage of going through an agency is that having a go-between ensures that everything is done properly, honestly and legally. You can trust a go-between more than a school generally, because, the go-between is going to be more concerned about their reputation and work as a kind of ambassador for their country. They will tell you the truth generally speaking.
The agency is also used for interviewing ESL teachers, and they have knowledge about the subject area. They will be Chinese generally, but they are mostly Chinese ESL teachers who’ve gone into management. They will speak English well, whereas, it’s possible the principal at the school you’ll be working at won’t and may have little knowledge about ESL teaching.
At the bigger institutions, they will probably have an ESL department where the head of the ESL department will interview you. They will, of course, speak English well and know about ESL teaching. The interviews are done on Skype predominantly, and most of the time there isn’t a lot of competition from other teachers. There are so many English teaching jobs in China (some are better than others), and there’s still not enough teachers.
Do not work illegally in China as an ESL teacher. My advice is not to work illegally at all and moreover avoid breaking the law at all costs, but particularly not in a respectable job like ESL teaching. China is still a totalitarian communist country, so just take heed in your process of finding a teaching job in China.
If you have some problem with your employer, you have no recourse to action. If you’re legal, you have the law to ensure you’re treated well. English teaching jobs in China are easy to find, and they are rewarding in many ways. It’s best, much better, to do it well and to do it legally.