Preparing to Teach English in China

Moving to a foreign country to teach English 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.

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.

Prepare to Teach English in China
China is filled with unexpected things….#onlyinchina is a real thing!

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.


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.

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.


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.

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!

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.


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!


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.

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.

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.

You wont believe how many kids I sent to the nurse

I taught little 5 year old kids English during winter camp in South Korea in January ’08. I had  a class of 18 little kids who only had a basic or no knowledge of English and there was no teacher assistant available.

I actually had great fun teaching them but wouldn’t want to teach them for longer than 1 month. It doesn’t matter what kind of teacher you are you always end up referring to your students as your kids. well, my little kids were quite well behaved and they all followed all the little rules that I set up for them. They would all walk quietly in line and not make too much noise when were out playing as I would always let them stay out longer the better they behaved.

It was snowing most of the time so all the teachers took their kids to the gym for playtime. This was my first winter teaching job and I was quite new to snow and the cold so when my class pleaded to go outside I agreed and loved accompanying them.

During the 1st week one of my kids slipped on ice, fell and scraped her knee, so a visit to the school nurse followed. The next day another kid got a snowball in the face and it had some small stones in so on to the nurse with small scrapes in his face.

I had a little girl who kept building snowmen and by the end of the week she had “winter hands”, her little hand were red and cracked and bleeding. I didn’t even know that could happen and had never heard of it before so thought there was something seriously wrong with her. Off to the nurse with her. After that I made sure all my kids kept their gloves on while outside.

During the 2nd week a little boy climbed onto a desk, jumped of and hit his head on the corner. 5 Stitches later he returned from the school nurse. After that I didn’t dare leave them alone for even 5 minutes. One thing I still don’t know how to handle is when the little ones cry. I am not good at consoling little kids as I am not good with physical contact. After a while they got that I didn’t understand them and didn’t know what to do with them when they cried. If one cried they would go the bathroom, wash their faces and then come back and it would all be ok.

During my 3rd week, I looked over and saw one of my little boys crying. I just pointed to the bathroom and off he went. He was gone a long time so I decided to go and inspect what was going on, he might have gotten lost on his way back to the classroom. I walked into the bathroom and was actually shocked at what I saw. This little 5 year old boy was standing at the sink washing his nose while blood was pouring out. He looked over at me and said: “blood not wash away…” A visit to the nurse immediately followed. Turns out the little boy next to him hit broke his nose over a pencil.

I was told at the end of the camp that they have never had so many kids at the nurse from one class….Probably a sign that I should not teach little ones.