Receiving your first job offer for teaching in China is always very exciting yet now is not the time to let your guard down. After your efforts to ask the important questions during your interview, now’s the time to see if the employer will come through. It’s not often that we find huge discrepancies between what a school offers initially and what they eventually deliver but it does happen, occasionally. This is why it’s pivotal you scrutinise the contract carefully. No matter how rosy a picture the employer painted of what’s expected of you and what you will receive, the only thing that really matters is what they offer on paper.

Singing on the dotted line will seal the deal – when it comes to finalising your China teaching contract, these are red flags you ought to avoid:

  1. Details of your job description/pay/holiday/reimbursements etc do not match what was promised to you during the interview

Some employers can be smooth talkers – the kind that hook you in with 1001 promises and then having little intention of actually delivering. This is your time to weed them out. The most important aspects are related to your workload (how many teaching and non-teaching hours are you required to churn out?) pay (when and how much you’ll get), time off (not only detailed holiday time but also if you’d be paid for them) as well as reimbursement of some or all of your initial moving expenses. Not every contract will be identical, naturally, but if you’ve managed to negotiate a full reimbursement for your flight and some or all of your accommodation expenses, for example, you’ll want to see that detailed in the contract. Employer promised you a fully-furnished, paid-for apartment? It needs to be in writing.

The most important thing to remember at this point is this: if it’s not written on your contract, it won’t happen. Every minute detail, no matter how small (that one-hour lunch break or that agreement that there won’t be any extra-curricular work at all?) Yes, they’d better be stated in the contract.

  1. Details of your Z-visa are inauspiciously missing

As a foreign teacher, you are only allowed to teach in China with a Z Visa – this is literally the only legal way to get a foot in the door. The school has the responsibility of helping you secure this visa and will act as your sponsor and this is something that is both time-consuming and relatively expensive for them. A few dodgy employers will try to wriggle out of this commitment and may try to convince you to come into the country on another visa instead. This is highly illegal and something that is likely to get you into a lot of trouble. So don’t fall for this pitfall! Your teaching contract must have details regarding your Z Visa and this is the biggest non-negotiable.

  1. The school’s exact location is missing

Many schools have various branches all over China and, sometimes, the most enticing branch will be advertised on job offers, even though teachers are needed elsewhere. Now, enticing and desirable locations may well be subjective terms (one person’s middle-of-nowhere is someone else’s enticing remoteness) yet unless you really are a dare-devil looking for a blind adventure, you’ll surely want to know precisely where you’ll be teaching, right?

The full address and name of the school should be detailed in the contract and there should also be a clause stating that you cannot be transferred anywhere else, against your wishes. You may decide that swapping school location could be a fun experience once you’re there but no teacher wants to be moved about unwillingly.

  1. The contract is scant on details

Ambiguity is an old trick and it’s usually there for a distinct purpose: to give your employer a chance to wriggle out of promised commitments. If you find the whole contract to be far too broad and lacking details, this is something that should wave a red flag in your eyes. After your initial Skype or Zoom interview, you should have a very clear list of every detail of your job and all those details must be also stated on the contract.

  1. The contract details unreasonable penalties if you quit your job early

A contract is a legally-binding document which is the reason you need to get it right BUT that doesn’t mean you’ll be enslaved to your employer, no matter what. Sometimes, stuff happens, like an emergency in your home country or your discovery, after a few months, that you just ain’t cut out for this ESL teaching job after all. You do have the legal right to terminate your contract if you must and although a resignation notice (usually 4 weeks) and perhaps a small fee are acceptable terms (recruiting you did cost them quite a bit, after all) threatening you with deportation or humongous financial payments are not.

Employers may have every right to encourage you to see out the rest of your contract but it is illegal for them to stop you leaving or to threaten you with huge financial losses if you do.

  1. The employer refuses to change the contract or starts giving you the run-around as to why it can’t be changed

If you are one of the few unlucky ones who have noticed discrepancies, not all is lost, just yet. First, ask for amendments or additions to be made. Alarm bells should only ring if the school refuses to comply. Sometimes, omissions can be just a slip but, if they are, you’ll soon find out: you’ll receive a profusion of apologies and amendments will be made immediately. Failure to do so is another huge red flag and one of the many pitfalls that novice ESL teachers, in particular, need to be aware of.

If you need to start fighting now to get what you were promised, your teaching experience with this particular employer isn’t going to be a walk in the park, so be warned.

Signing the right teaching contract in China can be the start of a beautiful experience, both professionally and personally. Get it right from the get-go, avoid the most common pitfalls and you could be in for the travel experience of a lifetime. At China by Teaching, we can help you gain employment with the best and most reputable schools in China. See our comprehensive Guide to Teaching in China and contact us to know more.


David O Connor

David is China by Teaching’s chief contributor. When not offering sage advice about teaching in China, David is a headmaster of a Bilingual kindergarten in Beijing. David is a lover of craft beers, book clubs and super long road trips.


Beijing,  Anywhere, 

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