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Teaching in China with a family – 10 things you should know
2020-11-09

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Living and teaching in China with a family is not nearly as challenging as it seems. It is important, however, to know what you’re getting yourself into.


When you decide to pack up your significant other and the kids to make the big move East, you’ll need to take quite a few factors into consideration. Most especially in COVID times.


Here are the most important tips you should know when considering teaching with a family in China:


1. Planning to go soon? You’ll need to quarantine!


China has perfected the art of centralized quarantine in 2020, something that can be challenging (not impossible) with family.


The most important thing to know is that families are most often split up, with children under 14 being allowed to stay with one parent.


Families with young children can make a request to share one room and this is often granted, but never guaranteed


2. Choose a destination that’s right for your family


Some of the most lucrative teaching jobs in China are in Tier 1 cities like Beijing and Shanghai. However, not every family wants to move to such bustling cities.


Some might but most probably won’t. When it comes to choosing the right teaching destination in China, your family’s needs and desires will trump your own professional ones.


Choosing the right place will come down to several factors, including income and saving potential, lifestyle choice, schooling choice for the kids as well as overall cultural immersion.


Would you like to dive head-first into the Chinese culture immediately or prefer to live somewhere with a sizeable expat population?


3. Choose the right teaching job that allows for family time


Yes, international schools pay better than most others in China yet they will also expect you to churn out many working hours.


Want to have your weekends and evenings free to spend with the kids? Then don’t work for a training center or private language school!


Want a 9-to-5 that gives you plenty of free time? Choose a public school!


Every teaching job in China has its pros and cons – know what each one is about and you’ll be able to make an informed choice.


Whichever job you choose, the best choice is choosing a school who will educate your children. Most schools offer a big discount if not free tuition for up to two children. This lessens the financial as schools in China can be quite expensive.


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4. Get a comprehensive health care for the whole family


Health care is not a top priority for every teacher in China but it should be for teachers who want to live here with their families. Many foreign teachers simply choose to pay for their own private health insurance once they arrive, yet it’s one thing to fork out a bit of cash for yourself and another to potentially quadruple that expense.


The best schools in China can offer international health policies that not only cover your family unit but also covers you outside of China. Say, when you’re back in your home country for a visit or anywhere else on vacation.


5. Negotiate a housing stipend rather than free accommodation


Many schools offer free accommodation for their foreign teachers, but this is hardly ever suitable for families. Usually, they are too small to comfortably suit a family.


Instead, ask for a housing allowance so you can choose the right place to live that will suit (and fit) you all. This kind of housing stipend is paid on top of your normal salary, and it’s not taxed!


6. Apply for your Z Visa well in advance


Securing a legal Z Visa for teaching in China is time-consuming as it is. Getting visas for all of you to be able to move there will be even more so.


Visa for spouses and dependents (known as S1 and S2 visas) can be obtained when you’re securing your own visa, however you may need marriage and birth certs authenticated and legalized. The advice is to start the process as early as you can.


7. Consider all your daycare options


Schooling your children in China is amazing and gifts them an incredible experience yet if you have very small kids, you’ll need alternatives.


Many expat families employ an ‘aunty’ (ayi) a domestic helper/nanny who will not only look after your children but also speak to them in Mandarin and pretty much run your household if you need help. Nannies and domestic helpers are inexpensive in China and incredibly valuable. Having one join your household will undoubtedly enrichen your teaching in China experience even more.


8. Is your partner also interested in teaching in China?


There’s no denying that having both parents as teachers makes life easier. First of all, many non-teaching partners end up bored, frustrated and even depressed at home, alone, in China.


While their partner undertakes a new adventure and meets loads of new people, many stay-at-home partners don’t have it so easy. Yes, even if (or especially if) there are small kids to look after. Fortunately, there are options here.


Firstly, if your partner is keen, ensure he/she is also eligible to teach in China. Then, ask your prospective employer (if you’ve already scored a job) if there are any other positions available.


If you can both teach at the same school (whether in teaching or non-teaching positions) you really will have a much easier time of it. Not to mention, you will be earning (and saving) so much more.


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9. Save as much as you can before you even arrive


Moving to China to teach can come at a considerable cost to families. Yes, even if you negotiate for most of your initial expenses to be reimbursed by your employer. No matter what, you still need to fork out for visas, flights, and plenty of incidentals to begin with.


Although a lot of expenses will be shared in a family (like the initial accommodation) you should still aim to save USD 5,000 per adult and perhaps half-that for kids. And then save some more.


The most important tip? Don’t ever consider moving to teach in China (or anywhere else) if you’re in dire financial need already. Financial security is important for singles before a big move, let alone anyone with a spouse/partner and kids in tow.


If your only option is to move, there are options. Look for a school who can provide a loan on arrival. They will then take it from your salary over the following months.


10. Why not take a vacation in China before you decide?


Yes, this will eat into your savings but it may also save you a lot of heartache later. Never been to China before with your whole family? Now it might be a great time to plan a visit! Recon trips are a great idea for anyone who wants to teach ESL abroad and even more genial if they wish to move there with their family. Because, no matter how intrepid your spouse and/or kids seem to be at home, you’ll never really know just how much they’ll like China unless they experience it first-hand.


If this is just not an option for you, talk to friends, family or acquaintances who have lived or just visited China.


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