10 Things To-Do when preparing to Teach English in China

10 Things To-Do when preparing to Teach English in China

Moving to a foreign country to teach English or any subject is a huge step and needs preparation; mental, financial and physical. It can get hectic trying to figure out what you will need to do and at times you may feel overwhelmed. I always make myself a checklist of all the things I need to do or take with me before I move to a new country. It helps me stay calm and focussed so maybe it will help you too.

Here is a checklist that could help you a bit in your preparation to teach in China.

  1. Passport and Visa

First off make sure that your passport is valid for at least a couple of years and not expiring within your contracted work year. But, most importantly, have your work visa ready before the day of travel. Make sure you get the appropriate visa to enter and travel around China. If you are going to teach English in China, you will need a Z visa. This visa allows you to work in China legally. Registered schools are authorised to provide Z visas for their teachers. Do not trust a school who says its okay to start work on a tourist visa and that they will issue you a work visa later, this is illegal. For you to be given a Z visa you must be a native English speaker, have two years’ work experience or a minimum of 120-hours TEFL certification and possess a bachelor’s degree. Once you arrive in China, you are given 30 days to convert your visa into a resident permit.

2. Personal items

It is advisable that you pack wisely, pack only what you need for your travel and especially for work. Leave the just in case items but be prepared for all kinds of weather as you are planning on being in China for at least a year.

10 Things To-Do when preparing to Teach English in China
My first shared bicycle ride in Shanghai

3. Clothing

Pack enough light, easy to dry clothes including a sweater or light jacket. Remember summers in China can be incredibly hot so to pack enough sunscreen (SPF). It is quite expensive here in China and often contains whitening, bring your own sunscreen and protective creams for the skin. You will definitely need rain gear (raincoats and umbrellas) but those are easy to purchase once you are in China. Pack a comfortable pair of shoes because you tend to walk a lot in China, especially in those first couple of months while you are still trying to orientate yourself in your new city.

4. Personal effects

You will find most personal effects readily available in China. Pack enough toiletries for the first month as it can take time before you find the brands that work for you in China. Pack some tissue, wet tissues and a hand sanitiser for use in toilets during travel. You can find sanitary towels al over china but only the big cities sell tampons so you might want to stock up on those before travelling. Due to change in climatic zones, our skins tend to react so remember your lotions and moisturisers.

10 Things To-Do when preparing to Teach English in China
Me playing at Lego City in Shanghai!

5. Medication

When travelling, it is advisable to have a small travel medical kit with you. If you suffer from a chronic disease, pack up all your medication and stock up enough for a given period of time. Other medications you can include in your kit are laxatives, painkillers, allergy medicine, motion sickness medicine and contact lenses or eye drops. Have bottled water to accompany your medication and to drink too as tap water in China is not safe for consumption.

6. Plane Tickets

Book your plane ticket only once you have signed your work contract and have a start date. Because you are travelling with a work visa you will not need to buy a return flight which is great as you don’t always have your end date in advance. Pay that little bit extra when booking your flight so that you are able to change the date without having to pay again. Do some research to find out which airlines offer the best baggage deals as you might need to check in an extra bag and don’t want to pay exorbitant fees. Check in online the night before you travel to make sure you get a seat where you are not squashed between 2 other people for eight hours. On the day of travel, arrive at the airport about three hours earlier as sometimes there are delays at the airport and its best to keep this at the back of your mind just in case. The good thing about working in China is that most schools will reimburse you for the price of the flight ticket after a couple of months!

7. Locks and tags

Ensure that your suitcase or backpack is comfortable and that it can be locked. Have luggage locks and identity tags to ensure the safety of your luggage during travel and to make your suitcase stand out on the conveyor belt.

10 Things To-Do when preparing to Teach English in China
I got served a whole quail for dinner….and nothing else!

8. Electronics

Remember to pack your camera because China is an endless adventure with photo opportunities around every corner. Pack your mobile phone too and a tablet or laptop. Do not forget your chargers and adapter plugs or converters.

Of course, everything you can think of is available in China, so there is no need to worry if you forgot a charger or a shirt!

9. Money

When travelling to teach in China, convert a substantial amount of your money into Chinese Yuan. You will need to purchase a new SIM card and there are some other set up costs to be covered your first week or two in China. The first month you can withdraw money from foreign accounts at institutions such as HSBC and Travelex. But do not forget to inform your local bank about your travel, they could be of assistance if you got stuck while in China. Your school should help you to open a bank account into which they will pay your salary for you.

10. Apps and VPNs

China censors the internet, they have put up a great firewall which blocks foreign websites such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat among others. Luckily, WhatsApp and Pinterest are not censored. To get around these restrictions, it is best to download some Apps and VPNs before you leave for China. WeChat (Weixin) is the most commonly used social media in China. It operates like a combination of Facebook and WhatsApp and is mainly used for communication. You may also need Chinese dictionary apps such as Pleco, Hanpinlite and Baidu Translate. These will teach you a few survival phrases you may need for communication in China.

You will need a VPN (Virtual Private Networks) to visit a blocked website. VPNs are used in China to bypass the great firewall. As a teacher of English in China, you will need some websites to enrich your lesson. To make this possible, VPNs such as ExpressVPN, Betternet, Buffered and VYPR are used to enhance internet access in China. Ensure you download a few on your gadget because the Great Wall causes most to have fluctuating performance. And do this before you travel as you cannot download it once you have entered China.

Bonus: Books and Films

Before leaving your country, buy some books and save some films to help you deal with the homesickness that comes with being in a foreign country.

All the best as you prepare to go and teach English in China.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Survived my first winter in Shanghai and got to see the beautiful spring blossoms


  1. Great list. In Thailand, they don’t have Tums and I need it due to heartburn from all the spicy food. When I’m back in the states i get a year supply. Also, I don’t have a strange body type but I am a little thick in the shoulders and none of the nice shirts in Thailand fit me (I can find t-shirts sometimes). I have to buy clothes when I’m back in America.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I definitely understand that. Here in Shanghai I have to shop at Western stores or wait till I get home to do my shopping. Going to stock up on antihistamines this holiday as i cannot find any non drowsy ones here in Shanghai.


    • If she is teaching in a big city like Shanghai or Beijing you can get by without any knowledge of mandarin. Trust me, I can not speak or understand Mandarin and am doing quite alright. It would make life easier here If I did speak a bit so I am trying to learn.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Took me almost 10 years be used to French way of life completely, and I enjoy it very much. Now it’s other way around, when I go to Chine, I have to re-adapt 🙂

        By the way, today in France seems more tolerant towards laundry drying outside, ecology obliged, but just a very very bit more.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Although I don’t have any plans to go teach in China (though as a 15-year ESL teacher in America, I hope I would at least get a second interview 😉 ), I found your article endlessly fascinating. So many little but important things you wouldn’t otherwise know. A lot of this information is useful for the regular traveler to China, which I want to be some day. Thanks for an informative read.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much!!! I know how hard it is to always get reliable and accurate information about a new place so thought I would share what I have learnt from my trip to China. I am really enjoying Shanghai, it is a great place and I hope you get to experience this fabulous place someday! Safe travels!!

      Liked by 2 people

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