Author, teaching an outdoor English tutoring class in Yantai, Shandong, 2021.

Getting a Teaching Job in China Just Got Harder

English teaching within China is a staple of expats wanting to travel the world. However, times seem to be changing for teaching within the Middle Kingdom.

The most common job for Westerners in China, teaching has long been one of the best ways to get out of the US and experience the world. Factor in China’s cheap cost of living and it makes the country quite the easy choice to settle down in.

However, things have begun to tighten up in the English sector of China in recent years. There are a variety of reasons for this, which I will touch on in this article.

If you’re interested in becoming an English teacher in China or are just interested in the business behind it, read this article and see if you’re willing to remain headstrong in these changing times.

The Epidemic & PU Letters

Without a doubt, the biggest roadblock to moving to China at the moment is the pandemic. Whether you agree or disagree with the approach, China has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to Covid. If there is even one case of the virus discovered, any areas where that person was will be tested and quarantined.

This strict approach to containing the virus extends to how foreigners can enter the country as well. In order to enter China as a foreign national, there is a plethora of paperwork to gather and hoops to jump through. The hardest to obtain is a PU letter. This letter is granted through the Chinese Foreign Affairs Office. It is needed along with your visa to be able to enter the country.

It is only granted to foreign nationals sparingly. Entirely dependent on a case-by-case basis, it has given many foreigners trying to enter headaches over the past year. Many provinces as a whole have stopped offering these letters altogether. An example of this is the province I reside in, Shandong. At the time of writing this no matter how well connected you are, the Foreign Affairs office will not grant a PU letter.

Schools or businesses that are well connected and in provinces that are still offering letters can obtain said letters, typically two or three months after applying. This wait, plus the notorious process of obtaining the actual Chinese work visa puts many hopeful ex-pats off from the idea of coming to China.

Now let me say I am nowhere near a professional or expert in this field. However, there is one “workaround” that is making its way through expat circles. If you are vaccinated with the Chinese vaccine Sinovac, you are no longer required to have a PU letter. This would only apply to those who can be vaccinated in a country that is Chinese vaccine supplied or foreigners leaving and coming back into the country.

Recent Restrictions of Training Centers & Tutoring

Information from China Briefing shows that during 2016, 75% of K-12 students in China participated in after-school tutoring. The tutoring market within China was huge, making up a multi-billion dollar industry over the years. It is reported that the average parent would spend 120,000 RMB ($18,839 at the time of writing) a year on after-school tutoring. However, this year seems to be putting tutoring at major risk within China.

The news leaked on July 23rd, 2021 that Beijing will be enforcing a new law restricting the time of operation for tutoring. Facing beliefs that children within China face too much academic pressure, the new law restricts academic tutoring hours to only weekdays. This means English teaching, along with Chinese and math classes, are outlawed during weekends. Not only this but holidays as well.

This comes as a major hit too many training centers as the prime time for classes is weekends, when most schools are open and operating 10 hours a day. Many training centers, namely franchise Wall Street English, were already facing financial problems ahead of the new laws. Many schools have not been able to make up for the loss of business during the weekends and have closed their doors permanently.

Wall Street English Beijing Location, Photo via China Daily.

Online tutoring is also being hit hard by the new laws. As of August 2021, all foreign curriculum has been banned from online teaching making it illegal for Chinese companies to hire foreign nationals to teach online. Online tutoring juggernaut VIPKids has been hit the hardest from this, with their CEO Cindy Mi being in hot water.

On a personal basis, my first job in China was through a training center, and it seems I escaped right on time from that job. Many of my close friends in China have been let go or even closed their own schools. Now is a bleak time for many in the teaching industry in China, but many remain hopeful that things will get better.

So What Now?

Training centers and online tutoring are the most common places for foreigners to teach in China. With the new restrictions, many schools are closing or downsizing, making the job market much smaller within China. Factor this in with the nearly impossible task of entering China, and you might want to consider teaching in another country.

China is a beautiful place with rich history, wonderful food, and amazing people. Many westerners have traveled to China to explore the world and gain a one-of-a-kind experience. However, it seems as if the years of working in China for an easy vacation are over. But is that such a bad thing?

I personally believe, perhaps controversially, that these restrictions will filter out the westerners who come to China to teach for the wrong reasons. If I’m a parent, I want my child to go to a teacher who really cares about giving them the best education possible, not just getting an easy paycheck and cheap booze. To remain headstrong and jump through all the hoops it takes to come to China one needs to be insanely disciplined and motivated. As a parent, I would want a teacher with those qualities.

As times change with the pandemic and clampdown on the education sector in China, jobs are becoming harder and harder to find. Teachers who have held down secure jobs that treat them well are exceedingly lucky. Hopefully, the pandemic will begin to lighten up in future years and the borders will open again. In the meantime, Westerners will continue to try to get to China despite the many hardships. To them, I say good luck.

Photo via REUTERS/David Kirton/File Photo



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Kade "Kuma" Maijala

Kade "Kuma" Maijala

Detailing Chinese and East Asia culture through art, food, music, and more. Currently residing in Qingdao, China. IG: @kademaijala Portfolio: