Most Common English Teaching Job Scams in China: What to Avoid

Most Common English Teaching Job Scams in China: What to Avoid
Sep 15, 2016 By Louise Levicky ,

Teaching English in China can be a great way to experience the country while gaining experience in a field that’s expanding rapidly. It can be tempting to jump at the first offer when you start applying for jobs online from the familiarity of your home country. We give you some tips to avoid the scams that more than one unfortunate soul has been prey to over the years.

As in many parts of Asia, the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (‘TEFL’) business in China is, in many instances, just that – a business. According to the State Administration for Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA) – the Chinese body that regulates the hiring of foreign teachers – prospective teachers must hold a Bachelor’s degree and have at least two years’ teaching experience. In order to be legal, schools offering TEFL courses must be licensed by the SAFEA. Unfortunately though, many schools register as companies, bypassing the expensive process of obtaining a license, and leaving their foreign employees unprotected by the relevant laws. These schools are most often language training centers. The other major options for would-be TEFL teachers are public universities (often a better bet than private universities) and primary and secondary schools. Both universities and schools are often a safer bet than training centers.

Most Common English Teaching Job Scams in China: What to Avoid
Photo: Sam Haldane


Unscrupulous recruiters look for unsuspecting newcomers to scam them out of an initial ‘deposit’ or ‘recruitment fee’. Avoid ads with titles like ‘Teach English in China – No Degree Required’, or ‘Weekend TEFL Certification’.  In addition, the website China Business Central urges all applicants to teaching jobs in China to “avoid recruiters who cannot produce verifiable identification and a SAIC [State Administration for Industry and Commerce] business license that vouches for their authenticity”. Reputable recruiters will be happy to provide you with the relevant documents; never agree to pay an up-front recruitment fee or provide a passport scan without proof that the recruiter is licensed.

Open communication

For would-be teachers with a Bachelor’s degree and at least two years’ (read: twenty-four months’) teaching experience, finding a teaching job in China is relatively uncomplicated. Websites like offer hundreds of positions to prospective teachers, updating their databases daily or even hourly. Going through a recruiter is thus unnecessary for candidates with some job experience and common sense. Always request contact information for at least two TEFL teachers who currently work for or have worked for the school you are applying to; hearing their perspective will help you get a sense of what the working conditions will actually be like, rather than the rosy portrait painted in the job posting. The willingness of the school or recruiter to provide you with this information will in itself be an indicator of whether or not the position is a trustworthy prospect. In this same vein, this tip from long-time China resident Gregory Mavrides comes in handy: “Ask to see recent photos of the same apartment you will be placed in upon arrival (not one “just like it”). The quality of the housing provided by the school is the single strongest predicator of how foreign teachers are regarded and how you will be treated by that school throughout the duration of your contract”.

Identity theft

A more serious scam is the issue of identity theft, with many cases being reported over the years. After doing some research, what emerges is that identity theft is almost always carried out at the hands of bogus recruiters. These recruiters collect teachers’ personal information from passport scans, resumes posted online, and visa copies, and sell it on to identity thieves at a hefty price.

The Visa issue

If you’ve worked as an English teacher in China, it’s highly probable that you’ve met one or a few other teachers who were working illegally on a tourist (‘L’) visa. Though this practice has continued throughout the years and many so-called reputable language centers continue to recruit teachers from abroad and bring them into China on a tourist visa, the authorities are cracking down on it. Regular sweeps are carried out in schools, with a heavy fine (of up to 20,000 RMB) for the illegal teacher being the best-case scenario, and deportation the worst. In some cases, the police will confiscate your passport while investigating the case, leaving you stranded in China at the mercy of the authorities. We strongly recommend candidates avoid recruiters and/or schools who offer to fly them into China on a tourist visa – if nothing else, teachers are in most cases required to pay for the requisite trip to Hong Kong to obtain a work visa out of pocket. Make sure your potential employer recognizes the importance of securing a work (‘Z’) visa for you before entering the country to begin working.

If your potential employer is willing to secure a work visa for you before you begin working, you will have a chance to look at the contract before accepting the position. Make sure the contract is signed and chopped, and that the English version is acceptable to you – don’t be afraid to ask for clarification, and keep an original signed copy for yourself.

When in doubt, trust your gut. Contacting current and former employees of your potential employer will give you a clearer picture of working conditions. Do your homework: run a search on any potential school with the keywords ‘scam’, ‘complaints’ or ‘issues’. Arm yourself with information and make sure you pick a reputable school that will respect you as an employee and stick to the terms of your contract. If you use common sense and ask the right questions, teaching English in China can be a breeze.

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Keywords: teaching English in China English teaching job scams China


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Great article! If I've learned a thing from working s total of three years in three different schools it's that China as a whole is simply less regulated. Most western countries and their citizen are strictly regulated to prevent scams and so most of us never really watch out own backs as we rarely had to beforehand. If you're looking for a job in China do your due diligence and research as much as you can about the school and even the recruiter you're dealing with. Make sure you check blacklists and scan websites and go on and to try to see if you can find the specific school you're applying for (other sites will have reviews only for parent companies but !management differs significantly between schools)

May 31, 2018 08:41 Report Abuse



Please, does anyone has info on working with a X visa?

Oct 15, 2016 13:29 Report Abuse



seems like only employee gets punished

Oct 11, 2016 01:33 Report Abuse



Web School is famous for hiring illegal, avoid them at all costs.

Sep 19, 2016 14:57 Report Abuse



nothing on how the authorities are thwarting these scams?

Sep 15, 2016 15:31 Report Abuse



Authorities are usually in on the scams... unless the spots lights are shone... Then they have to act like they were unaware and need to do their job or risk being punished. The rats scatter when you shine a light on them...

Sep 22, 2016 05:19 Report Abuse



nice information in article. But I have one question. If we will not contact to recruiters for getting English teaching, then how can we get? another source or link, which may be best for finding English teaching job. Like me, I have more than 5 years teaching experience.

Jun 16, 2015 09:42 Report Abuse



I like the scam where they advertise 4000 AUD a month with an immediate start date and when you contact them they want to give you a job which pays far less or the job is only for one month in June. Or the one where they advertise a job which doesn't exist and get you to their office and talk about teaching kids part time and what ages or times you would prefer, when the original job posted was for teaching Marketing or to be a Principal. You gotta love agents. They take your resume and don't read it and just start offering jobs which you either won't take or don't have the experience doing. I get offers to teach children all the time, for half what I currently make. I tell them I don't have experience teaching children and they offer me another job teaching children. I tell them the salary is half what I make and they tell me that is just for the first year and that I could make more than that the next year. If I ask if the next year I could make what I make now, they say no, but it will go up every year and eventually I will make what I make now. I ask why would I change jobs for half and they say that the school is good treatment to foreigners or it is a famous school. They also say things like you can work part time to then make what I make now in addition to the schools hours. I usually leave the conversation with a thank you and please get back to me when they have a job which pays what I currently make. None ever seem to get back to me to waste my time any further. It just amazes me that they would even bother to contact me with such an offer, since I clearly state how much I make and my resume clearly defines what I have done and will do.

Feb 04, 2015 10:25 Report Abuse



What about X visa

Jan 22, 2015 22:24 Report Abuse



China is a fricking scam minefield. Some of the frauds are so devious you don't find them until you step on one and it blows up in your face! Everyone here seems to go through the "Victim Stage" for their first 6-12 months before they wisen up and stop trusting people and check everything two or three times. Contract fraud is a huge problem. You think you are getting everything you were promised in telephone calls and emails but in reality you end up with the absolute minimum. Everyone should probably check out and at least get a map of the minefield. This site at least identifies 37 of the biggest China foreign teacher scams. I for one want to keep my unpleasant China surprises to a minimum.

Jan 20, 2015 14:09 Report Abuse



Hadn't heard of that website; thanks for the tip!

Jun 18, 2015 23:14 Report Abuse



I am going to go ahead and write this out, anonymously hoping my VPN is truly masking me. It's the ugly truth that anyone who has been in country for more than a minute knows or should no. The visa system is designed in a way so that compliance is almost impossible. Who hires someone from a foreign country, spends money and goes through a lengthy bureaucratic process too get a visa for someone they have never seen andwho may decide not to come? Answer, if needed, is no one. It is perfectly reasonable for a school to want someone to get to China first, interview in person so you know they don't smell like beer and begin teaching. Or you can interview them and wait two months for them to start. Right... The real deal is, Chinese law is different from Western law. There are guidelines that should be followed but the reality is that compliance is low. There are crazy things like large schools that operate for years under a well known brand name in a major city without a license. Or, with the state of immigration in America, perhaps it is not so different after all? When there are visa checks, there may be an arrangement where there is a warning and everyone is told to take a walk for the afternoon. Fines are paid by companies as a matter of course and teachers may be asked back to work the same day. Corruption is built into the system. Overall, after a few years of teaching in China I would recommend either getting a job with a big company that will get you a visa if it is available to you or taking a job with a university that will handle a visa properly, maybe, though my experience is that even a highly rated university may be lax in ensuring compliance. The uni may pay less but you can always find something part time for extra funds. Pros and cons both ways. Who really wants to be tied to what might be a terrible employer sight unseen? Come on a tourist visa and sort yourself out from there. Honestly, can anyone really not admit that it is seldom a problem? But then the strain and low level anxiety that go with dealing with this chaotic system can weigh heavily on you. So there you have it all. And nothing.

Jan 16, 2015 11:57 Report Abuse



I came on a tourist visa, but to a very reputable school and had already met some of the teachers in my home country. The school administrators didn't yet know how to process a work visa. They eventually gave up and hired a company which processed the paperwork to get my L visa and expert certificate. Will you have a similar experience? Maybe! New international schools (meaning, in this case, Chinese students paying hefty fees at a "public" high school with a good English program to prepare the students to attend college abroad, usually the U.S.) are popping up every year. Those schools (real schools, not after-school programs) may also have people who don't know how to process the L visa paperwork, but are generally trustworthy, legitimate schools.

Jun 18, 2015 23:23 Report Abuse



I meant Z visa, or whatever it's called (it's in processing for renewal right now.

Jun 18, 2015 23:29 Report Abuse



"When in doubt, trust your gut". Great advice. If your guts are telling you to get to the toilet, just do it.

Jan 13, 2015 20:17 Report Abuse



Very good article that covered most of the bases. But I think contract scams are the most devious scams that most of us never discover until it is too late. This teacher in Shanghai shows how he was robbed of 40% of his salary by signing an illegal contract that would have fooled most of us... So the sooner you know that you are protected by China labor laws and their courts, the better for all of us. Here you go - a pleasant surprise: 1. You have the right to seek and obtain employment if legally allowed to do so after obtaining a work visa (Z visa) and resident permit. 2. You have the right to work in a safe work environment. 3. You have a right to be provided a written work schedule in advance. 4. You have a right speak with management about safety concerns 5. You have a right to sick, holiday, and maternity leave 6. You have a right to resign your position in accordance with the law 7. You have a right to request job training 8. You have a right to pay your taxes to the government authorities and to file a grievance with the Labor Arbitration Authority in your Province. 9. You have the right to be compensated for overtime hours worked and may not be compelled to work said hours if not stipulated in your employment agreement. 10. You have the right to receive an original hard copy of your contract that is signed and chopped (red sealed) at the time you sign an employee agreement. 11. You have the right to receive a written job description prior to signing your contract. 12. You cannot be compelled nor forced to do anything not specified in your job description. 13. Your probationary period cannot exceed one month for each year of your employment contract. 14. You have the right to receive both an invitation letter and release letter free of charge. 15. If hired by a duly authorized employer you have a right to be provided a work visa (Z Visa) prior to commencement of your assigned duties. BTW... did you know that 6% of all tourists to China decide to remain/return to and work in China or start a business? Such is the mystique of China! SOURCE:

Jan 12, 2015 16:11 Report Abuse



Oh, the CFTU man moved here now. So sad.

Jan 12, 2015 17:25 Report Abuse



It's like whack a mole

Jan 13, 2015 18:31 Report Abuse



The site is full of training centers like EF. Maybe try for some variety, or this site.

Jan 12, 2015 13:50 Report Abuse



What's EF's reputation in China? In the U.S. it's crap. They churn host families for visiting students, and they make a lot of money doing it by having salespeople find the host families and teachers who don't know what the families have been promised by the salespeople. Some people like it and keep signing up, but most families are one and done.

Jun 18, 2015 23:33 Report Abuse



I love teaching in China. I thought about Taiwan, but you need to be a certified teacher from a university to work in the public school system. I am not sure about the others. I have seen that many Asian countries do not pay as well. For my experience, I like working in a Chinese smaller community. I have ne desire to work in a 1st or 2nd tiered city. Sure, there are some things I would love to see changed. But, speaking to teachers in other countries, they too have issues. I guess it is a matter of perspective. I do find it interesting that the four negative comments thus far are from teachers who are apparently no longer teaching in China. Yet, they are still interested enough in China to be reading this Chinese website.

Jan 12, 2015 13:05 Report Abuse



Fair point

Jun 22, 2015 00:10 Report Abuse



Agree. China is a shocker of a country to work in. I'm here for business, and when that's done I'm out of here!

Jan 12, 2015 10:45 Report Abuse



Agreed. My friend taught in Vietnam, and earned enough to pay for his masters degree in no time. All the while living in a great apartment complex. You must have to really love China to want to come and poison your lungs and teach English for peanuts.

Jan 12, 2015 12:33 Report Abuse



I am not too certain. But I also think the English teachers are treated with more respect in said countries and not so much a dancing clown.

Jan 12, 2015 12:40 Report Abuse