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Preparing to Teach English in China – A Handy Guide for Teachers

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Preparing to Teach English in China

Moving to a foreign land to teach English needs preparation; mental, financial and physical. It can get hectic trying to figure out what you will need to move.

I have prepared a checklist that could help you in your transition to teach in China.

Passport and Visa

Have your valid passport and visa ready before the day of travel. Most passports are valid for up to ten years, and that would not be a problem. 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. 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. Pioneer & Beyond will help you each step of the journey. You can check out our visa guides here!

Plane Tickets

Book your plane ticket early in advance before your day of travel. You can book your tickets on websites such as Kayak and skyscanner. Avoid travelling on days close to public holidays such as the New Year’s Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival and the Spring Festival. Plane tickets tend to get expensive due to passenger influx. Since the dates for public holidays in China vary, you can check from the internet to confirm. However, if it is unavoidable to travel during such periods, it would be wise to book your ticket some months earlier before prices increase. The best time to visit China is during summer or autumn seasons. On the day of travel, arrive at the airport about three hours earlier. Sometimes there are delays at the airport and its best to keep this at the back of your mind just in case. Most schools will reimburse the flights, the full amount will be stated in your contract with the school. 

Personal items

It is advisable that you pack wisely, pack only what you need for your travel.


 Pack enough light, easy to dry clothes including a sweater or light jacket. Remember to pack sun gear (hats and sunglasses) and rain gear (raincoats and umbrellas) alike. Pack a comfortable pair of shoes because you could be required to walk some distances.

Personal effects

 You will find most personal effects readily available in China. It is, however, advisable to pack just enough to push you for some time before you find the brands that work for you in China. Pack some tissue, wet tissues, sanitary towels and a hand sanitiser for use in toilets during travel. Pack toiletries that you use on a daily basis such as combs, toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, shower gel, soap, towel, flannel, blow drier, deodorant, lotion, moisturiser, shaving cream, nail clippers and other personal hygiene items. Due to change in climatic zones, our skins tend to react. It is advisable to pack enough sunscreen (SPF) for use during the summer. Summers in China can be incredibly hot; you will need your sunscreen and protective creams for the skin.


 When travelling, it is advisable to have your 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. Have a list of numbers that can be contacted in case of emergency, including that of your doctor. Have bottled water to accompany your medication and to drink too. Tapped water in China is not safe for consumption.


Remember to pack your video 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. Chinese prefer to carry out cash business transactions in their own currency. While in China, institutions such as HSBC and Travelex allow you to withdraw money from foreign accounts. Be keen on the exchange rates and try to use the institutions giving better rates. Carry with you the necessary credit and debit cards for your shopping. Do not forget to inform your local bank about your travel, they could be of assistance if you got stuck while in China. Remember to purchase travel insurance for use during your stay in China. For those who go to teach English in China, the schools employing you will provide health insurance.


China has 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.  WeChat (Weixin) is the most commonly used social media in China. It operates as 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. (More information here!)

Books and Films

Watch and read about China. Gather as much information as you can before you can go to teach in China. Books and films are effective tools to deal with culture shock because they give the information you need.

 Some books you can sample are:

 Leave Me Alone by Murong

This book gives an account of the life of a young Chinese adult together with his friends. It is an eye-opener on matters debts, gambling, sex, lust, marriage, drugs and addiction.

Eating Smoke by Chris Thrill

The book gives a firsthand account of the author of the book as a meth addict while working in Hong Kong.

River Town by Peter Hessler

This is the story of the author who taught English in China for two years. He gives a full account of his life in China since the first day in Chongqing Province until he left China. This book would be very useful to first-timers entering China to teach English.

Watch films such as:

Chopsticks Brothers

This film focuses on a two-person band, Wang Taili and Xiao Yang who have an incredible sense of humour. They showcase life in China humorously through their music. Other short films done by this duo are Old Boy and Father.


This film tells a story of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China and a very ruthless murderer. As you watch the film, you will find out that the protagonist in the movie plans to assassinate the emperor.

Touch of Sin

This is a series of four stories showcasing modern China. It is mostly based on true stories and exhibits a lot of violence as a result of Chinas Rapid growth and development.

 Dreaming of Zhongshan

This film reveals a young man’s search for love and romance in Zhongshan nightlife. Zhongshan is a city in southern China.

You can also visit blogs and watch documentaries about China; culture, lifestyle, education, food, infrastructure and so much more. You can base your reading and films to the place where you will be located. You can but books and films about China. When leaving your country, buy some books and save some films to help you deal with the homesick that comes with being in a foreign land. For teachers, carry your English books, Mandarin phrase books and teaching materials.

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

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