Chengdu, like every major city in China, is abound with teaching opportunities for the native English speaker who is so inclined.
Usually you can find contact information for schools here in China online, in which case you can contact them directly and try to establish an agreement for a contract and visa sponsorship. First pick the city you’re interested in, then just search for schools on Google. Schools in the East of China, near Beijing and Shanghai, tend to pay better but the cost of living out there is also much higher. I believe Hong Kong also has abound with opportunities and pays handsomely. Korean schools tend to have an exceptional pay rate, but also tend to require more of their foreign teachers. I have a friend who used to teach at a Korean school in Wuxi (near Shanghai) making 13,000RMB (almost $2000 a month) monthly, although the work load was definitely above average for teaching in China.
Here in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China’s Sichuan province, the average foreign teacher makes about 6,000 RMB, or just under US$1,000 a month for a 20 class hours per week schedule. However, once settled and your IKEA runs have ceased, it’s quite a luxurious life if you spend even 5,000 RMB a month.
There are a few different types of teaching jobs here in Chengdu:
1. You can work with a company that will send you to public and private schools in your area. The upside is that you only have to work for about 20 hours a week. The downside is that traveling from home to school, plus not really having anywhere to go for your breaks, makes this a weak upside. I started with a company that ran like this, paying 5K RMB a month. Not really worth it, and you end up teaching 20 separate classes of sometimes up to 40 students, from grade 3-11, and it’s rough going sometimes. You can design your own curriculum, but they give you the books you need to teach from.
2. Another type of English teaching company pays well, but you have to stay in the office from 1-9PM 5 days a week, and there is no fixed weekly schedule. In these types of schools, you teach students that are usually aged over 15, all the way up to corporate executives, ocassionally in a one-to-one teaching environment. You get to build better and more interesting relationships with your students, and avoid feeling like a worthless teacher after you teach a class of sweaty 13yrolds just after their gym class, who A) have no respect for teachers who cant speak Chinese B) Don’t want to be there C) and think that your class is a joke. Unlike the other type of school above (1), these schools are specifically for learning English, so you are respected and the people there (aside from the kids who are just forced by their parents, which are a minority) all want to be there. In the school above (1), you are a conversational English teacher primarily just there for public relations and publicity. These schools generally have a pay scale that falls between 7,500 RMB (NDI English School) to 10,000 RMB monthly (Web English School).
3. Another possibility that you may prefer is a university position. If you can get a job with a university, they will often pay for at least the plane ticket home after the completion of a one-year contract, provide on campus housing, and give you the freedom to design your own curriculum. They provide paid vacations and usually require a 13-15 hour weekly commitment for 10 classes or so, usually paying 3,000+ RMB a month.
4. You can commute out to a small town outside of the city (usually over an hour commute), and I’ve been paid up to 200 RMB + transportation costs per class, but these gigs are more elusive.
5. All of the options I’ve mentioned don’t require a teaching certificate or a expert license. If you have these, or training qualifications like TOEFL, SAT, and Kaplan, you can find better paying positions, but, as I don’t have these qualifications, I’m not sure about the details. I met a gentleman who was a certified TOEFL teacher and he would get flown to different cities on the weekends, hotel + transport + stipend with 5,000 RMB monthly for a weekend lecture series, but this is an unusual position to hold.
6. Freelance. This is usually done on an F visa, where you buy your own visa every 3-6 months and teach whenever and wherever you want or are able to.
Visas and Teaching English:
This is getting harder and harder to deal with although the situation has improved slightly since 2008’s Olympics in Beijing. To get anything other than a Tourist Visa, you need an invitation letter from a sponsor inside China. You can come to China on a tourist visa, find a company to work for, and then have them take care of your next visa, which will either be an F (Business) Visa or a Z (Work) Visa. You cannot legally receive money for work on an F visa, however many people ignore this and get jobs anyway. The only problem comes when you need to renew your visa, in which case you need to either find a “visa company” to help you convert to a different visa, or leave China (Hong Kong is a popular destination for mainland visas) and re-enter on a new tourist visa. Americans pay the highest visa application price at over 900 RMB (Almost 150USD) for a tourist visa with one month duration. If you can get that Z visa with a company sponsoring you, you can get a visa good for up to two years. If you enroll in a university as a student, you can get a student visa, and then you can work legally up to eight hours weekly. Tuition at a university costs about 5-6,000 RMB a semester and slightly more at well known schools like Sichuan University. Go online to check the new Chinese visa regulations before you go.
In conclusion, I’d like to say that as far as teaching goes: small towns are difficult. Big cities can be fun to live and work in, but its easy to lose yourself in a sea of foreigners. The North is cold and dry in the winter and the South is hot and sweaty. Chengdu lies on the unfortunately area between latitudes determined to not require central heating; Yunnan is beautiful, Taiwan is better, but expensive and small.