What to Expect from Your ESL Employment Contract in China

What to Expect from Your ESL Employment Contract in China
Jun 21, 2018 By Lewis Schwinn , eChinacities.com

You stare down at the dense contract, filled with legalistic and somewhat misspelled English and hundreds of incomprehensible Chinese characters. You look up at your expectant prospective employer urging you to sign so they can continue with the hiring process. One question should pop into your head: What the hell does this mean? Negotiating a contract in any situation is difficult, but negotiating an ESL employment contract in China is a law unto itself. Today, I’m going to share a few things to look out for.


The Chinese version is king

Pretty much every contract in China will contain a clause stating that in the case of a legal dispute, the Chinese version is legally binding. Therefore you need to make sure you understand exactly what the Chinese version says. An easy way to do this is to run the contract by a long-suffering friend who’s fluent in English and Chinese. If there are no serious differences between the translations, you’re good to go.

Beware performance bonuses and student ratings

Any part of a contract laying out a performance-based bonus should be disregarded as unrelated to your actually salary. Student performance often relies on a wide set of variables beyond your control, so meeting the targets of the contract will be difficult if not impossible. In the case that you actually meet the target, the company will likely still try to weasel out of handing over the cash.

One of my colleagues worked at a school where all of his students successfully passed the subject he was teaching. When he asked for the bonus promised in his contract, management stated that the bonus was only handed out if the entire department (not just his subject) reached the high pass rate, and therefore they owed him nothing.

Student ratings are also unreliable, since if you’re a decent teacher there will be some students who don’t like you for the simple fact that you make them work. Don’t get swayed by such promises and be sure to negotiate a decent base salary before signing an ESL employment contract in China

Take note of the probationary period

Most employment contracts in China have probationary periods, during which the company can fire you with little to no process or warning. Most schools will not act on this, since finding replacement teachers can be difficult. However, some schools will over-hire teachers for the same subject and then choose the best one at the end of the probationary period. Consequently, it’s good to have an understanding of the exact terms of the probationary period in your contract.

Make sure healthcare is included

Chinese companies are obligated to provide you with rudimentary healthcare if they are employing you on a Z-visa (which they should be). Make sure healthcare is in the contract and follow up on the specifics, like getting an insurance card, especially if it’s a small company. Many teachers assume they have insurance, only find that their company never bought them any when they get sick or hurt.

Visa transfer 

Check the contract for the company’s policy on transferring visas. If the school refuses to transfer your visa to another company at the end of your contract, it can cause serious problems and may force you back to your home country to start the visa process all over again. As we know only too well, this is very expensive and time-consuming.

Chinese Social Security 

This is by the far the most useful information I can give you in this article! Assuming you’re working legally and on a Z-visa, a certain portion of your salary will be taxed for Chinese social security purposes.

Because you’re a foreigner, you will never be able to access Chinese social security (unless you get one of the much coveted green cards). As long as you stay in China less than five years (after five years you’re considered a permanent tax resident) you can reclaim the money the government took from your salary when you leave. However, there are certain things you will need to do:

- Make sure your contract specifies that your employer will be paying these contributions on your behalf.

- Register with the local government tax bureau immediately upon starting work if you make more than a certain amount a month (in my province it’s 6000 RMB). If you do not do this step you will be unable to reclaim any money when you leave. If you have already worked in China for several years, you’re most likely out of luck.

- Make sure you get the records from your company showing the duration of your work, your salary and the contributions paid on said salary so you can apply for your social security refund when you leave.

The process varies in complexity from province to province, but depending on how long you work in China, it can add up to a nice chunk of change when you leave. However, also keep in mind that government bureaucracies are designed to be confusing, and as a foreigner trying to claim money from the Chinese government, you might attract an unwanted level of scrutiny.

Taxes remittances

If you’re a foreigner working in China, you’re probably trying to save some money. That probably means you’re also trying to send money back home.

Companies like Western Union can be expensive and there is an inconvenient daily limit on how much you can send. However, as long as you make sure during contract negotiations that you are legally taxed and your company can prove it, you can use those documents at the bank to legally send most, if not all, your monthly salary back home.

Beware of ‘marketing activities 

You should clarify any section of a contract that mentions obligatory “marketing activities”. This most likely means you will have to do free demonstrations classes or terrible publicity events that display you like a zoo animal to prospective customers of the school.  

Holiday Pay

If you teach children there will likely be certain periods of the year where you have no work, specifically the public holiday of Chinese New Year/Spring Festival (usually late January to Mid-February) and the summer months of July and August.

During these times your school will probably pay you “holiday pay”, which might be half or even a third of your normal salary. Thus, when a school promises a certain monthly salary, you may find your yearly pay is far lower than you expected.

Make sure that you check your contract to see if there’s any mention of holiday pay, and of course remember to negotiate!

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Keywords: ESL employment contract in China employment contract in China


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regarding the probabation period. be wary if you arrive without a work visa e.g. starting at a new place in china having left a previous place - this can be used to evaluate you before they bother processing a visa for you and is illegal. The labour laws for foreign worker is a very helpful organization which can be contacted if an employer is abusing your terms of contract especially working unstated hours. Place I worked at used to like the jolly idea of staff meetings at lunchtimes, which was a breach of contract. The Principal Graham Setters was an idiot who didn't even know about the labour laws. Also if you are coerced into having to create a curriculum - don't. ESL has a deep history of teachers who wing it and only now is it finally getting its act together and ESL teachers are expected to have all the resources available, when in reality a school should provide them. One more thing - air fare home. If you decide to leave China completely this can be a difficult thing to get sorted as the process is usually get your money back later which is impractical in reality. Don't be afraid to use the Labour Laws or SAFEA as threats if you feel your employer is abusing your contract T&C.

Jun 25, 2018 15:52 Report Abuse



very helpful, thank you

Jun 23, 2018 12:54 Report Abuse