Teaching English in China is an amazing adventure. As a teacher in China, you can learn new things, earn money and achieve your career goals in a rapidly expanding field. Most schools are also great places to work, offering amazing environments and high pay. However, the high demand for English teachers has resulted in a few unscrupulous people opening schools and training centers just to cash in. In fact, according to the China Foreign Teachers Union, at least one-third of all foreign teachers in China have been cheated by their schools. Below are the most common scams that occur in schools and training centers.

1. Work Visa Scam

When you find a school that agrees to employ you without a “Z” type work visa or that tells you it is better for you not to have a work visa, know you are in the wrong place. Without a work visa, you will have no employment rights and no power to raise claims against pay discrepancies. There are also frequent sweeps in schools to crack down on foreigners working illegally on a tourist “L” visa. If you are caught, you may face a huge fine of up to 20,000 RMB or even deportation. Therefore, as soon as you arrive in China, find out whether the job you are offered comes with a work visa. Avoid a school that offers to employ you on a tourist or business visa and make sure to secure a work visa before you begin working. Besides, you should never lie on your visa applications because you may have serious problems later on when the school fails to provide paychecks or deny you paid leave and sick days.

2. Contract Copy in Chinese

As a foreigner, you may never be proficient enough to clearly understand the clauses of a contract written in Chinese. But some sham schools offer contracts with staggeringly awful clauses written in Chinese to their unsuspecting foreign teachers. Once these teachers sign contracts they do not clearly understand, they become vulnerable to serious abuses. And even if a school is not trying to scam you with their contract, a copy written in Chinese may contain certain duties and aspects of the job that you do not expect or should be discussed before you start working. Therefore, when you arrive at a school in China, make sure to look over the contract before you accept the position. Do not sign what you can’t read, insist that the copy is produced in English, and you are given enough time to read it carefully before you can sign it. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification of any unclear clauses and make sure the contract is duly signed and stamped, and that you are allowed to keep the original signed copy.

3. Extended Probation

Some schools con foreign English teachers by insisting on an extended probation period. This gives them the power to use quality labor without appropriate pay. As a rule, make sure to check the length of the probation period before you sign anything. Chinese Law protects teachers in China by limiting the probation period to only one month for a contract lasting up to 1 year and to 2 months for a contract lasting between 1-2 years. If the school insists on a period longer than provided for in law, then you should think twice. Equally, you must watch out for schools insisting you can get your work visa after completing the probation period or that a probation period of 1 month will be extended by three months if you fail to pass.

4. The Lesson Plan Scam

Schools in China commonly request their teachers to create personalized lesson plans or to prepare lesson plans during their probation period. A lesson plan is a great way to use your curriculum development skills to boost the quality of your classes and an effective way of expressing yourself in class. However, some schools just hire foreign teachers to milk them for their lesson plans during the probation period. When the probation period ends, they terminate your contract and then rebrand all the proprietary material you produced under their own names and give to their Chinese teachers. As it’s roughly 100 RMB per hour more costly to hire a foreign English teacher than a local. Make sure the school does not take copies of your plans before you sign the contract. Also during the probation period, you need to protect your ideas and proceed carefully at the school so that your lesson plans are only used once you have a contract.

5. Salary

Make sure that the salary clauses in your contract are clear and binding, indicating plainly how much and when you should be paid. The clauses should also specify the means of resolving any paycheck issues. If you are a native English speaker, you should refuse any hourly wage less than 250 RMB per hour. While many legitimate schools will pay low salaries during the probation period, a few dishonest employers routinely hire teachers and then firing them before the probation period ends, keeping their operational costs low. You can avoid such schools by ensuring your job comes with a work visa and talking to their current teachers to find out how the school handles workers.

6. Schedule changes and extra hours

After you start working for a school, you may find the five-day working week stretched to six days and eight-hour work shifts transformed into ten hours without extra pay. This may be painfully frustrating and may even force you to resign, leaving your job without collecting your last paycheck or begging for a reference letter. You can help to avoid these situations by speaking to current and former employees of a school to get a clearer picture of the working conditions before you sign a contract. Your contract should also clearly stipulate the working conditions and terms of service. Moreover, you should make sure to sign a contract with an employer who will respect you and will abide to the terms of your contract.


The majority of schools and training centers in China provide amazing opportunities. You can make a large salary, together with accommodation, flight reimbursement, and a bonus for Chinese New Year and Summer Break. To maximize these opportunities, you need to use; common sense, ask the right questions, go through an established classified website, and apply the tips provided above to weed out shady schools.