Is it Safe to Teach English in China? Yes, and Here’s Why

China is one of the most popular destinations to travel and teach English abroad, and lots of teachers who have worked there can tell you how unique teaching in China is. But, you may be wondering, is it safe to teach English in China?

China is a safe country for foreign ESL teachers. The country has one of the lowest murder rates in the world. In 2016, the crime rate was 0.62 per 100,000 residents, according to China Daily. However, traveling to China as an ESL teacher and expat involves more responsibility than you might as a tourist or just a backpacker temporarily staying. Like any country you travel to, there are a few things you should be aware of and remember about the culture to avoid offending the locals.

Furthermore, there are estimated to be about 400 million Chinese people learning English, larger than the United States’ entire population, according to People’s Daily. So if you dream of moving to China and teaching English but are concerned about safety – don’t be. China is a fantastic destination for both tourists and ESL teachers. However, you need to be smart, do your research, and know how to navigate through Chinese culture.

Read on to discover everything you need to know about teaching and living safely in China. You might also enjoy reading: Can You Make a Life Long Career Teaching English in China?

Is it Safe to Teach English in China
Is it Safe to Teach English in China? Yes, and Here’s Why –

Is it Safe to Teach English in China?

Teaching in China can be a gratifying and culturally rich experience. However, I know that it can also be a scary idea for anyone looking to start an ESL teaching job abroad for the first time. I did it, and it was a very scary decision. In January 2021, I moved to China to start an ESL teaching job abroad for the first time.

Like any teaching abroad destination, it’s crucial to do your research before accepting a teaching job in China. A good understanding of local laws, customs, and best practices will ensure that your experience living and teaching in China is positive.

One of the most important things to remember is always to stay positive, flexible, and open to other cultures.

What to Do Before Going to China?

Below are things you should do before moving to China:

1- Teaching English Safety in China Requirements

  • Must be a Native English speaker from Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States of America (USA)
  • Hold at least a Bachelor’s degree
  • Preferably have two years of teaching experience (Not required)
  • Complete a 120-hour Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate. 
  • Criminal background check

See also: University of Toronto TEFL Review – Everything You Need To Know

2- Start by Finding a Job at a Reputable School in China

One of the most important steps to safely teaching in China is to find a job at a reputable school in China. I would recommend using reputable websites such as Teach Away and Dave’s ESL Cafe; these are the two websites where I found a position to teach in China, and so far, I don’t have any issues.

Choosing a reputable company to work with will make the process very smooth and easy. In addition, the company will assist you along the way and provide you with all the required documents you need to apply for a work visa in China.

One of the major issues experienced by ESL teachers is the possibility of not getting paid. That’s why it’s important to find credible schools and job opportunities from trusted sources such as the Teach Away job board and Dave ESL Cafe. Like anything in life, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. So trust your gut.

And suppose someone randomly reaches out to you through social media, especially Facebook, about a job opportunity teaching in China. In that case, it could be a red flag that you shouldn’t consider.

One of the best ways to make sure you secure a job with a trustworthy employer is by asking the right questions throughout the interview process and reading your employment contract very carefully before you sign it.

2018 survey shows that the leading reasons for ESL teachers to choose a reputable school are the following: 

  • 30 % of ESL teachers said that flexible working hours at school motivate them to select the ESL teacher’s school.
  • 20 % of teachers said high-quality English language instruction.
  • 18 % of teachers said a well-established reputation.
  • Curriculum taught.
  • Expat teacher community at the school
  • Class size.

How many hours will you be working? And How flexible are the working hours?  Could the school put you in touch with a current teacher? ( reputable schools will be happy to provide you with an email contact.)

When you can get in touch with current teachers, ask them about the following: 

  • The quality of English language instruction 
  • The reputation of the school
  • The curriculum taught 
  • Is there an ex-pat teacher community at the school?
  • What is the average class size?

See also: What Is It Like Being an ESL Teacher?

Is it Safe to Teach English in China
Is it Safe to Teach English in China? Yes, and Here’s Why –

3- Get a work visa (Z visa) for China in advance

To legally and safely teach in China, you will need a work visa called a Z visa. You should be suspicious of any school that says otherwise or recommends you travel to China before you have a valid work visa.

Reputable schools or placement companies, such as SIE Shenzhen, will only hire you if you are eligible for a work visa, also known as the Z visa.

Contrary to what you might have read on online forums like Reddit or Quora, it is not legal to work in China with a tourist visa, also called the L visa.  It is not safe to work in China with a tourist visa; the consequences will be disastrous for you.

You will be deported or even spend time in prison and banned from entering China again. It is not worth it, and any school that suggests that you work with a tourist visa is planning to take advantage of you. They will refuse to pay you or even pay under the table, which is also illegal.

What Are the Requirements for a Z Visa to Teach English in China?

To be eligible for a Z visa, you will need to meet the same requirements to teach English set up by your school in China. Review the conditions to get a Z visa to teach English in China below: 

  • Must be a Native English speaker from Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States of America (USA)
  • Hold at least a Bachelor’s degree
  • Preferably have two years of teaching experience (Not required)
  • Complete a 120-hour Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate 
  • Criminal background check

As soon as you accept a job with your employer, they will walk you through the process from beginning to end.

Once you picked up your Z Visa from the Chinese visa center, it is now time to move to China. Next, we will discuss how to keep yourself safe in China and make your teaching and living experience memorable.

See also: SIE Shenzhen Reviews: Everything You Need To Know

What to Do Stay Safe While In China?

Here are my personal tips for staying while living and teaching in China:

1- Avoid teaching English on the Side in China

Once you have your work visas, your legal responsibility is to stick to the employment terms stipulated in your contract. You must take time to review what you agree to before signing. Most of the time, your contract will include that you can work exclusively for the school that sponsored your visa and no one else.

You might be encouraged by other teachers to find other side jobs, but keep in mind the Chinese authorities are increasingly cracking down on this kind of practice.

Working with other schools and giving private classes on the side count as working illegally, leading to deportation or other legal troubles.

2- Staying Safe at School

Again go over your employment contract and familiarize yourself with what you can and can’t do. It is very important to understand all the expectations your school has from you.

  • Communicate effectively and act professionally with your school: If you face any issues, try to discuss them with your school HR or administration.  Always remember it took a lot of effort and work to invite you to China. A reputable company will still support you and make your stay in China safe and pleasant. 
  • In class, never discuss politics, religion, or sex. It is important to rule to remember. 
  • Be flexible and adaptable – Sometimes, things don’t go as planned in China. Rules, timetables, and procedures can change without prior notice. 
  • Stay positive and don’t complain about China or your home country – Nobody wants to be around complainers and whiners. Be optimistic and enjoy your experience.

3- Staying Safe in Your City and in China

  • Don’t expect China to be like your home country: Remember, China is still a developing country. One of the issues you might face is air pollution. The good news is that since 2013, China has implemented a clean-air policy and has steadily decreased pollution. Depending on the city you live in, you might need to wear a mask.
  • Be aware of Pedestrian crossings rules: Always be on the lookout when crossing roads and don’t rely only on traffic lights. Whatever your transport mode, crossing a major road in China is maybe the biggest threat to your safety. It is widespread for drivers to drive through crosswalks when pedestrians are still crossing. So, always try to pay particular attention when crossing intersections. 
  •  Beware of scams and Petty Theft in China: Generally, you should be aware of scams and petty theft everywhere you travel. Even though China is a safe country to visit, work and live in, scams and petty theft are existent. Try to be vigilant of your belongings in large crowds, especially your passport. 
  • Food safety in China: Although the food might not exactly be what you are used to, China’s food is safe. Most of the time, food safety is a significant issue for new ESL teachers. However, it is mainly related to foods people generally never experienced eating, such as chicken feet and duck tongue. To be safe, choose places frequented by locals or recommended by other people you meet.

4- Respect all the Chinese laws

Once in China, you are subject to all local laws, no matter how absurd they might appear. The possession or use of even small quantities of ‘soft’ drugs, including recreational and medicinal marijuana, is illegal.

After moving to China, the first thing you will experience is culture shock. Be aware that some of your behavior you might consider as simple cultural preference could be illegal in your host country. 

Before moving to China, take time to familiarise yourself with the culture and learn about China’s local laws and customs.

See also: Complete Guide for Canadian Applying for a Chinese Work Visa and Flying First Time to China

5- Stay Up to Date With Your Government About Travel Advisories for China

By staying up to date on the latest information, you will know your rights and responsibilities while living and teaching in China and also who to contact if you need help.

Keep in mind that local laws and international relations between countries are changing continually.

To ensure you are protected while you live in China, take time to let your home authorities know that you are currently living abroad. By registering yourself, your government can notify you in case of an emergency abroad or a personal emergency at home.

CountriesWhere to Register Website for Advice
CanadaGovernment of CanadaAdvice for Canadian citizens
New ZealandOfficial registration for New Zealanders living and traveling overseasAdvice for New Zealand citizens
Ireland Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and TradeAdvice for Irish citizens
United States of AmericaU.S. Smart Traveler Enrollment ProgramAdvice for US citizens  
United KingdomGovernment of the United KingdomAdvice for UK citizens
Australia Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and TradeAdvice for Australian citizens
Is it Safe to Teach English in China? Yes, and Here’s Why –


Overall, China is one of the safest countries to visit, work and live in. As an ESL teacher, make sure:

  • Finding a Job at a Reputable School in China
  • Get a work visa (Z visa) for China in advance
  • Avoid teaching English on the side in China 
  • Respect all the Chinese laws
  • Stay up to date with your government About travel advisories for China


Hello friends, I am Altiné. I am SO excited you are here! I am the guy behind Project English Mastery. I am from Toronto, Canada. I graduated with a Master in International Economics and Finance from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. After working a few years in the banking industry and completing my 120 TEFL from the University Of Toronto, I decided to teach English in China. Project English Mastery is a blog that provides helpful resources for English Teachers and Learners: vocabulary and grammar, exercises, and class activities ideas and tips.

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