The Story Of A Foreigner Who Comes To China To Teach English (ESL)

In China, Guangzhou, while I boarded in Dengba hostel (登巴客栈), I befriended a 20-year-old British kid.  On a walk along Pearl river (珠江) he shared a common tale of how he became an English teacher in China, and the inevitable failures with his decision to teach English in China as a foreigner.

Dengba China Guangzhou Coke Soy Milk Bottles

The story of a foreigner who comes to China to teach English to Chinese students saw him spend a few months in Guangdong China as an English teacher (ESL).  He began in England by hiring an agent (中介)to find suitable English teaching jobs in China.  He had never taught English, and had no teaching qualification.

He flew over on China airlines and was placed in Guangdong, Yuanjiang (园江).

On arrival to the Guangdong English teaching academy, he was advised he would receive 2 weeks of teacher training.  Instead, he was thrown into classes with 30 Chinese kindergarten kids.  He was paid 7,000 RMB (人民币) per month.

Later, he relocated to another English teaching academy in Anhui.  His experience as a foreigner teaching English in China was poor.

Foreigners Being Cheated In China As Common Practice

Foreigners getting cheated in China is a common practice.


I told a Chinese friend later of my time in China, “You know, as an English teacher, I get cheated.”

She asked, “How do you get cheated?”

I wondered, how do I explain a cultural difference to someone who has lived their whole life in China?

I commenced, “I am a foreigner.  Every single time I come to China looking for work, I get cheated.”

“I am working in World International English now.  They promised me a full time teaching job and some casual teaching work.  One day after I came from Australia to Guangzhou China and started work there, the English school staff advised me there is no teaching work until after Spring Festival.”

She asked, “Why do you think that is cheating you?”

I said, “Some agencies contacted me in Australia to ask, ‘I know you are in Guangzhou but can you go to Hangzhou and work there?'”

“I decline, ‘No, I am travelling from Australia to Guangzhou.'”

“Then another headhunter asks, ‘Can you go to Beijing and work as a teacher?'”

“I think, ‘No!  Why would I go to Beijing?  I live in Guangzhou.'”

Immigrants Looking For Work Opportunities In Australia

I continued, “You have to get your own flight ticket to China, and once you get there, the teaching job and the accommodation they promised you, it doesn’t materialize.  My time in China is like this.  Foreigners are stuck in China waiting for a teaching job that never happens.”

She asked, “Doesn’t that happen in Australia too?”



I said, “No.  If immigrants come to Australia looking for a job, the bosses that provide them those jobs are usually immigrants themselves that give them a job.  They work really hard in that job, and they are paid really poor, but they still get a job.”

“In my time in China, they will pretend that there is an English teaching job there, because maybe there are four full-time English teachers, so the headhunters will try to trick a foreigner to come to China to fill up a gap for when teachers get sick and need to be replaced temporarily.  They don’t care about the foreigners who come here from overseas.  They just care about their profits, and themselves.”

I stressed, “You are Chinese.  You have not had my experience.  You won’t understand.”

She said, “Actually, Chinese people also trick Chinese people.  I think that is just human nature.”

I assured, “It does not really happen as much in Australia as it does in China.”

This part of Chinese culture regarding scams in employment opportunities is not as prevalent in Australian culture.  This is a Chinese and Western cultural difference.

The Promises Made To Prospective English Teachers By English Schools In China

English teachers in China can expect to receive between 8,000 RMB to 20,000 RMB per month.  The conditions considered in an application are the prospective English teacher’s English teaching qualifications and experience, native English speakers, and their China visa status.

The school or teaching academy will often use enticers, such as flight allowance, accommodation allowance or free accommodation provided at school, meal allowance, insurance, and as well some schools will also say they can provide a work visa in China.

In all my time in China as an English teacher (ESL), and from the horror stories of other English teachers in China, we all become aware that, except for the salary, most perks and allowances do not materialize.

The salary of an English teacher (ESL) working illegally on a holiday visa in China will also be taxed 30%, despite the fact that their work goes unreported.  This tax on salary will most likely be pocketed by the English academy.

How Much Money Do Foreigners In China Need To Survive?

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If you are determined to travel to China for the experience of teaching English, and the discussions with your headhunter (猎头)have secured you a contracted English teaching job, then the cost of living in China becomes an important consideration.

In my time in China, from experience, I also found that a bare minimum of 100 RMB in cities such as Guangzhou is sufficient to survive on bare essentials of food and travel.

Food Expenses In China

Cheap food such as chive buns (菜包)or congee (白粥) are the cheapest Chinese staple foods at 1-5 RMB each.  Drinks can also be inexpensive at 3.50 RMB for Coca Cola and sports drinks.  Chinese diners such as Xinjiang (新疆)diners will charge on average 15 RMB per plate.  A Starbucks coffee on the other hand will cost 31-43 RMB per coffee cup.

Travel Expenses In China

Travel in major Chinese cities can be as cheap as 2-10 RMB per day on metro.  Buses and ferries charge 1-2 RMB per trip.

Accommodation Expenses In China

The daily minimum increases to 150 RMB if you need simple accommodation such as a hostel.  A cheap hotel costs 140-160 RMB.  You can also try AirBNB in China for 60-80 RMB per night.

For travelers who come to China to teach English, or see the sights, 150 RMB (人民币) is enough for a hostel and cheap Chinese street food.  300-500 RMB (人民币) per day is good for a traveler who needs a good hotel, rich food experiences, and needs to purchase gate tickets to attractions and events.

I found all these things out in my time in China.  If you have any questions, or Chinese-related stories to share, leave them in the comments section, or send me a personal message.

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Author: 钨宝

The author of Diary Of A Mad Chaos from 1996 to 2018, The Lost Years book, Wubao In China (猎艳奇缘) book series, and Foreigner (华人) an exploration of race relations in Australia. Fluent in Chinese Mandarin, Macedonian, and English, the author currently resides in China, Guangzhou where he continues to make comparative analysis of the cultural differences between Eastern and Western societies.

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