School contracts are usually valid for a year, sometimes less. Most English teachers enter China on a Z visa which eventually morphs into a residency visa and Chinese “Foreign Expert Certificate”. With few exceptions, a Z visa cannot be issued unless the applicant is in his or her home country. After arriving in China, the teacher must pass a government-provided physical, and a security interview with the police before the paperwork is final. Prior to completion, the foreigner must surrender his or her passport for up to a week while the visa is processed. The paperwork takes time because these documents are granted only at the national and provincial levels.

What Kind of Person Does Well Teaching in China?

For someone who has never lived in a country other than their home, making the decision to move to an unknown place can be difficult. The first step in the decision-making process should be to look at what kind of person seems to thrive in such an environment. The following distinctive qualities or traits describe expat teachers who have had successful experiences living in China:

A strong desire to connect with people from another culture regardless of what that may require of the foreigner.
Friendly optimists who thrive in new situations and enjoy celebrity status.
An ability to accept differences – cultural standards, social behaviors, and especially living conditions – without comparing everything to back home.
Creative thinkers who relish opportunities to think outside of the box.
A reason for wanting to start over, possibly with a minimum of baggage.
Independent people who are not so closely tied to family and friends back home that they spend hours each day trying to stay “in touch” or struggle with serious bouts of homesickness.

What Type of Location Feels Comfortable?

Teaching English in China is fun but if a new location is uncomfortable 24/7, the stress will make life so unpleasant, many expats will feel overwhelmed and want to quit and go home. Therefore, the second step in making a decision to teach in China is choosing where to invest a year or more in a new life. Nearly every type of community imaginable is available and needs people to teach in China.

Like in other countries, the ethos of a small rural community has little in common with a community of commuters in the suburb of a large city. Teaching jobs overseas in mid-sized towns may have lower costs of living, but smaller cities will also lack some of the Western gotta-have-its. Although Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, and KFC have infiltrated China down to the level of most small to mid-sized cities, many other amenities may be lacking.

Large cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu – are noticeably different. They have an international flavor and cater to many Western tastes from Starbucks to Ikea which may not evoke a feeling that one is teaching English in China. In these cities, the cost of living is much greater and the frenetic pace of life is approximately the same as that of any other large city in an industrialized nation. Often, people are too caught up in survival to be down-home friendly.

Relocating to teach in China requires adapting to a new language, culture, job, friends and home. This creates enough stress that most people find it comfortable to reside in a place similar to something they’ve experienced and enjoyed in the past. After a year in one location, if the urge to move is still there, then do it. Remember, most employers require a letter of recommendation from any previous job held in China, so don’t burn any bridges when leaving.

Five Easy Steps for Finding a Job Teaching English in China

These first two steps in deciding if someone is a good candidate for living and teaching jobs overseas may apply also to attending school and jobs other than teaching. People who have the same qualities as those listed for successful expat teachers are likely to enjoy the experience. Regardless of the country, when moving, it pays to make wise choices about the living conditions.