How to Negotiate a Lucrative Teaching Contract in China

There hasn't been a single week this year where I haven't heard a horror story about some new teacher getting ripped off, not by a street scalper, or a cab driver, or a vending machine, but their own school or the agency that found them the job. Why does this happen so often? Not only in China, but in a lot of other South East Asian countries as well, like South Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand. Because a lot of these new teachers don't do their due diligence before accepting an offer.

Research, research, research.


I know, I know, there's not a lot of information out there about how much you can make teaching English in China or how much you can save, or what to expect before you make the big move. This is one of the reasons why I got inspired to start this blog. I'm one of those people who had it easy, I mean don't get me wrong, I went through the rough patch and all the good stuff that happens to expats when they move to a new country but when it came to the job, the contract, the money, I had it all set - I have one of the most lucrative contracts for teaching English in China. Yes, I am lucky but mostly it's because I did my research and I negotiated a lot. And I mean a lot.

Follow these three rules to get the best deal from your school, agency, or the cute panda that's offering you a job teaching English in China.

Rule #1. Relationships are everything.

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China is all about connections. There's a special word for it in the Chinese language - Guanxi 关系 - which describes the basic dynamic in personalized networks of influence. In simple words, it's all about who you know.

If you're a new teacher, all you can do is research the numbers and make sure you get what the market rate is. At the beginning you will only get the minimum salary. Once you're in China, you can start building your network. It's not that hard, be humble, be kind, be helpful, and work hard. 

The fun starts in your second year when it's time to renew the contract. However, it all depends on where you work. In China, you need a Z visa to work legally as an English teacher and not all schools have the license to get you one. This is where the agencies come in. 

Public school jobs - the Education Bureau doesn't hire directly, which means you have to go through one of the agencies that have been approved by them. It changes every year, sometimes even in the middle of the semester, go figure. So basically you don't have a choice, however, there's always room for negotiation based on how you performed the previous year and how much the staff likes you. I'm not joking.

Training center jobs - Some of the training centers have their own licenses issued by the government so they can get you the Z visa directly - you don't need to go through an agency to land those jobs but if you do, they will keep a cut of your salary. In simple words, you will make around 4,000¥ to 5,000¥ more a month by not signing your contract through an agency.

Rule #2. You don't ask, you don't get.

When I finished my undergrad, I got an internship where they were producing a series of films executive produced by Steven Spielberg. I landed that gig because I knew someone who knew someone - relationships are everything. 

The first advice I got from my mentor was to always ask for more. She told me that she learned this lesson from hooker nanny - this prostitute turned nanny who used to take care of her children.  "You don't ask, you don't get, simple as that," she said.

Since then I've always used the hooker nanny advice. Whenever I had to negotiate, I asked for more, and always ended up with the best possible deal. And I did it again in China, and it worked! So what can you ask for when negotiating a teaching contract in China, or South Korea, or anywhere else in South East Asia?

Well, to start with, ask for more money. Ask for no office hours. Ask for annual bonuses. Ask for food allowance. Ask for housing allowance. Ask for transport allowance. Ask for more holidays. Ask for overtime. Ask for medical and dental insurance. Ask for sick leave. Ask for maternity leave. Ask for anything and everything you can think of. And here's the truth - if your school really really wants you, they'll give you what you ask for.

Rule #3. A contract means nothing in China.

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Remember that agencies and training centers in China exist for the sole purpose of making money. They will try everything they can to maximize their profits, even if they have to skim money off your salary. It's not that they cheat the system or blatantly lie to you so they can pay you less (though some do), they just see the contract differently than how most of the foreign teachers do.

The best advice I can give you is to make sure that everything has been included in your contract and all the details have clearly been stated.

For example, one of the clauses in your contract might state that "the employee will get all the Chinese holidays." If you accept this clause and then later get pissed when you're denied one of the holidays because your employer believes it's not really a holiday, "everyone works that day," they might say, well, you should not get pissed because you kept a vague clause in your contract. The better way would be to have all the holidays included in your contract; with specific dates, to avoid such situations in the future. 


5 essential must-have clauses in your teaching contract

Every contract is different, however, the purpose is always same - to ensure that both parties have a clear understanding of what is expected during the term of employment. This document can also serve to eliminate any disputes which may arise at a later date. So here are the 5 clauses that should definitely be in your teaching contract.


1. Salary calculation

There should be a clause in the contract that clearly states how your salary would be calculated. It should say that one workday's salary will be calculated based on the monthly basic salary divided by the number of workdays in a given month.

This clause will prevent your company from paying you less than what you deserve, in case you miss a day of work. If there is no such clause in your contract, your company can easily divide your salary by 30 days and pay you less.

2. Teaching hours

Make sure you have a clause in your contract that mentions that there are no minimum number of teaching hours. Let's say you've agreed to teach a maximum of 15 classes a week. The contract should state that if the company assigns less than 15 classes per week to the employee, the company should still pay the full basic salary and full housing allowance to the employee. 

Some companies avoid adding this clause to the contract so they can pay you less whenever classes get cancelled. Be smart, make sure this clause is there, and protect yourself from the beginning. 

3. Overtime hours

This applies mostly to teachers working at training centers. Make sure there is a clause in your contract that clearly states that if the company requires the employee to work outside of the scheduled working hours (13:00 to 21:00), as in starting work earlier than 13:00 or finishing after 21:00; those hours will be considered overtime hours. This will prevent your company from making you work like a donkey.

Also, make sure there is a clause that mentions that if you're asked to work on an official Chinese public holiday, your company will pay you three times the overtime hourly rate. So let's say if your overtime rate is 400¥ per hour, on a public holiday they will have to pay you 1200¥ per hour. Trust me, if you don't have these details in your contract, you will never see any extra pay. They will find a way to not pay you.

4. Vacation and public holidays

If you work at a public school, you will get one month paid vacation and all the Chinese public holidays, as well as, Christmas day off. For teachers working in Beijing public schools get an additional two months paid vacation during summer holidays.

Training center teachers usually get two weeks paid vacation, however, you can always negotiate for more. If you are a great teacher and your school really wants you, they will give you more days off. Regardless of who you work for, make sure the public holidays are clearly stated in the contract; with specific dates. 

5. Annual bonus

If you've ever worked in South Korea, you know that the standard annual bonus is one month's salary but in China it varies. If you work at a public school, you don't really have much choice because agencies control those contracts. However, for training center jobs, anything is possible as long as you sign the contract directly with them instead of through an agent. 

So there it is. Everything you need to know to negotiate a lucrative contract for teaching English in China. Don't forget to read the fine print, before signing the contract. Good luck.