How the ESL Industry in China is Changing (2023)

Teach Abroad

The ESL industry in China is rapidly changing and it can be hard to keep up. Wondering how exactly the ESL industry China is evolving, and what it means for teachers? Let’s break it down.

How the ESL Industry in China is Changing (1)

By Richelle Gamlam

Published October 6, 2021


  • Qualified teachers in China can typically find ESL jobs with ease, earn a competitive salary, and receive awesome perks such as free housing, medical insurance, reimbursement on airfare, and even contract renewal bonuses.
  • In past years, China’s online ESL teaching market has skyrocketed. However, the Chinese Government has proposed bans restricting companies from hiring foreigners to teach private ESL lessons to Chinese students. They have also enacted other restrictions such as a ban on online tutoring for students under the age of six and the introduction of 9pm lesson curfews.
  • Due to preconceived misconceptions of what an “American English teacher” should look like and lack of exposure to diversity, race-based hiring practices still exist. However, the number of BIPOC teachers being hired in China and throughout Asia has been slowly rising over recent years, as teachers can "wow" employers with certifications and experience.
How the ESL Industry in China is Changing (2)

With a booming ESL market, growing economy, and a large population of students eager to learn English, China has continued to be a major hotspot for ESL teachers looking for a job abroad.

Qualified teachers in China can typically find ESL jobs with ease, earn a competitive salary, and receive awesome perks such as free housing, medical insurance, reimbursement on airfare, and even contract renewal bonuses.

However, the ESL industry in China is rapidly changing, especially with the recent ban on China’s online ESL market. For many aspiring (and current) teachers interested in teaching in China, it can be hard to keep up.

Wondering how exactly the ESL industry China is evolving, and what it means for teachers? Let’s break it down.

The market continues to grow, despite major changes and restrictions

Over 10 years ago, only about one-fifth of China's vast population was studying English. Today, there are estimated to be around 400 million people in China learning English, which happens to be larger than the entire U.S. population.

Studies report that the English-training market in China is expected to reach a value of $80.54 billion USD during 2021-2025, as it continues to grow.

(Video) China's ESL Crackdown Part 2 - How They are Changing the ESL Market

Over the years Chinese schools have begun to raise salaries, offer more benefits, and follow government regulations to attract more teachers and lure them away from other popular teaching hotspots like Japan and South Korea.

However, the pandemic has definitely affected the teaching industry scene in China. Wall Street English, one of the largest private language institutions in China, filed for bankruptcy after news of new government restrictions banning online, private ESL tutoring were announced. Still, the market in China is expected to continue to grow, due to high demand of students and families eager to learn English.

Students are learning English at a younger age

ESL students in China are getting younger by the year. Public schools have switched from starting English education at age twelve to age nine, and some schools in China's larger cities start teaching English in kindergarten.

While ESL schools were first established to teach English to adults, in the last decade the demand has shifted to parents who are willing to spend up to half of their household income on language classes for their children. Many private academies are taking note of this transition, offering more specialized classes for children. For example, English First's Shenzhen school used to contain primarily adults, however now more than 70% of their students are children.

Disney English had discovered that classes aimed at toddlers and preschoolers are one of the biggest areas of growth, but in 2020, the company decided to shut down and close its chain of language schools in China.

There’s been a major crackdown on the online ESL market and private tutoring in China

How the ESL Industry in China is Changing (3)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the online ESL teaching market skyrocketed, raising concerns from the Chinese government and eventually, leading to a strict teaching ban on companies that profit from online teaching in China, including companies that run private ESL tutoring like VIPKID.

This tutoring crackdown, enacted by The Chinese Ministry of Education, proposes a ban on companies from hiring foreigners, and instead focuses on giving teaching roles to China-based teachers.

In addition to the ban, more rules were added such as 9pm curfews for online students and restrictions on online tutoring for students under the age of six.

If you’re an online ESL tutor -- don’t sweat just yet, there’s still opportunity to keep doing your job! However, you may encounter salary cuts and lose the chance to teach during weekends, holidays, and school breaks.

"Expat Jobs" are highly desirable, but also become more competitive

How the ESL Industry in China is Changing (4)

With China’s growing economy booming over the years, the country has become an increasingly attractive spot for expats looking for career opportunities overseas.

Before, roles in marketing, copywriting/editing, and teaching made up a large population of expat jobs. However, with an abundance of foreign companies and corporations looking to expand operations in China, there has been a large increase in managerial expat positions over the past few years, in major countries such as Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou.

However, competition for these roles are fierce, as applicants must be highly experienced, especially when competing with professionals based in China. Many local businesses prefer hiring Chinese candidates with overseas experience or knowledge, placing foreigners at a disadvantage in the application process. With more Chinese adults obtaining English fluency, there's less room for "expat jobs" in Chinese companies.

Many expats in China have also turned towards teaching. These qualified workers with years of experience in China are snapping up some of the best-paying teaching jobs in China, making teaching positions much more competitive. Now the best ESL jobs in China are demanding years of experience, accreditation, and possibly Chinese language skills.

(Video) How does China's Double-Reduction Policy impact ESL industry

Stricter Visa requirements are being enforced

A decade ago, pretty much any foreigner, native speaker or not, could get a job teaching English in China. However, requirements have continuously gotten stricter over time.

If you want to obtain a legal work visa and residence permit in China, you must be a native speaker with a college degree and a few years experience or a TEFL certificate. Slowly but surely, China is approaching the standardized model of South Korea and Japan, ensuring that the full-time English teaching professionals in public schools are qualified.

For individuals who aren't native speakers or don't have a college degree, you will still be able to find a job teaching in China. However, your salary may be lower and you will have less job security. Your company may also claim you're American when you're really from Austria, or say you’ve graduated from UCLA, when you only have a year of community college under your belt. This way they can command a higher fee from parents and students while paying you a lower salary than they would pay someone with the correct qualifications.

Overall, while China is creating stricter visa requirements for those who choose to work through legal channels, the practice of working outside of those remains common.

The good jobs are becoming more secure

How the ESL Industry in China is Changing (5)

While China may still be rife with teach abroad scams and schools that are looking to cheat foreign teachers, many schools are realizing the value of providing stable, secure jobs for their employees. They've realized that parents are wary of high turnover, and that it's easier to renew a residence permit than to pay for a new work visa.

For example, my company recently had a large turnover of foreign college counselors for various reasons. Many of the parents were concerned, hinting they may move their children to a rival company. Because of this, I have noticed that my current company places a very high value on my happiness and job satisfaction. They encourage me to speak up if I am having workplace issues, and they provide bonuses and raises for foreign staff who say for multiple years.

Compared to many of my friends teaching at other schools in China, I feel lucky to have such a stable and secure position. However, I have met many other people who have also noticed this shift in attitude towards providing positive, secure positions to their foreign teachers. Personally, I'd predict that this will be the new trend in the upcoming decade.

Race-based hiring is still an issue, but there are ways around it

Due to preconceived misconceptions of what an “American English teacher” should look like and lack of exposure to diversity, race-based hiring practices still exist. While BIPOC ESL teachers may have just as many qualifications as their white counterparts, they may face difficulties finding jobs, or be offered lower salaries.

However, if you’re a BIPOC teacher looking to teach in China, do not be discouraged. You can still “wow” employers with your certifications and experience. Also, the number of BIPOC teachers being hired in China and throughout Asia has been slowly rising over recent years.

China is still the future!

Overall, China has become the future of ESL. For those with the necessary qualifications, China is a "teacher's market," offering free flights, visas, housing and bonuses to foreign teachers. For those who can't find jobs in more selective countries like Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, China still offers opportunities to teach without a degree or teach as a non-native speaker.

For anyone interested in teaching English in Asia, China is an amazing place to start. However, it’s important to note, the job market may become more and more competitive! (*hint hint* you can start looking at teaching jobs here!)

New Jobs in China

(Video) Is the ESL Industry Tanking? | Will China Ban Online English Classes? | What I Think You Should Do


What happened to ESL in China? ›

Some ESL firms have already ceased operations, while others, such as Magic Ears and VIPKids, have agreed to fulfill any packages or courses sold to Chinese students. Working with Chinese students or for a Chinese tutoring company does not mean that your ESL career is over. All you have to do is change with the times.

What is happening to English teachers in China? ›

The new regulations are intended to ban private ESL tutoring, ban companies profiting from teaching school curriculum subjects, and ban on hiring foreign teachers from overseas.

What is happening with online teaching in China? ›

The new legislation places a ban on online teaching companies hiring teachers outside of China. This means that it will no longer be possible for English teachers living elsewhere in the world to get hired by an online teaching company that caters to young Chinese students.

Is there a shortage of English teachers in China? ›

There is a shortage of qualified native-speaking English teachers in China and especially for those of you who are native English speakers with a college degree and a TEFL certification, the first job offer will not be the only job offer that comes your way.

Is VIPKid still hiring 2022? ›

This company is no longer hiring online teachers due to recent changes in China. However, you can choose to look at the helpful links below instead: List of Non-Chinese Online ESL Companies – featuring companies such as, Cambly.

Why did VIPKid shut down? ›

What Happened to VIPKid in 2021? VIPKid, a leading force in the edtech space, originally served as a platform connecting Chinese students with Native English-speaking tutors. However, from July 2021, the Chinese government enforced a crackdown on companies offering tutoring services from abroad.

Are all Chinese ESL companies closing? ›

The Chinese Government announced that they will be placing a ban on companies that profit from teaching school curriculum subjects, including English. In addition, private tutoring companies will be unable to hire foreign teachers from overseas.

Why did China shut down VIPKid? ›

One of the world's largest online education platforms, VIPKid, has ceased providing tutoring to children in China as a result of Chinese government reforms.

Is China banning foreign teachers? ›

Foreign Teachers Banned in China + How China's New Education Policy ...

Can you still teach English online in China? ›

Online teaching jobs China

There are essentially two ways to teach English online to Chinese students. Firstly, you can teach remotely from your own home country, or anywhere else you happen to be. Secondly, you can live and teach in China, working for one of the country's best schools.

Is there a demand for ESL teachers? ›

So we take a look at some of the areas that the demand is highest for Esl teachers in the USA. States with large immigrant and refugee populations, such as California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas, have a particularly high need for ESL teachers, however more rural areas are also in need.

Why did China ban for profit tutoring? ›

More Regulatory Clarity After China Bans For-Profit Tutoring in Core Education. China has banned for-profit tutoring in core education to rein in the country's private education industry and improve school-life balance for families.

Do English teachers get paid well in China? ›

Most foreign teachers in China earn between 14,000 RMB (USD 2,500) and 21,000 (USD 3,400) per month. The most qualified teachers, working in the most prominent schools, can expect salaries of approx. 22,000 - 32,000 RMB (USD 3,500-5,000).

How many hours do English teachers work in China? ›

Teaching at a public school might be exactly what you're looking for! While public schools in China aren't the highest paying jobs for English teachers, they usually have other benefits. TEFL teachers can expect set working hours on weekdays only, around 20 hours of teaching time per week and all school holidays off.

How much can I save teaching English in China? ›

In one year teaching in a Chinese city, it's possible to save between $10,500 – 18,000. The less you travel the more you will save, but even those who travel quite a bit should have no trouble making bank.

Is Palfish still hiring? ›

PALFISH IS HIRING FILIPINO TEACHERS AGAIN! and earn P180-265 per hour at home!

Does Vipkid look good on resume? ›

VIPKID involves communication, adaptability, creativity, leadership, multi-tasking, time management, and more! Each of these are, obviously, important skills in any position, so VIPKID will make a great example of all you can do! Overall, VIPKID is one of my favorite side hustles to improve your resume!

Can you still make money with Vipkid? ›

Since classes are 25-minutes each, you can earn the equivalent of $14-18 per hour plus incentives (see next). From teaching more classes to referrals, there are lots of opportunities to earn extra.

How many foreign English teachers are there in China? ›

There are as many as half a million foreign nationals teaching in China. Most of these foreigners were enticed to China during the country's international education boom which created unprecedented demand for English language teachers at government schools, private schools, language centres and international schools.

What are the requirements for teaching English in China? ›

To get a job teaching English in China, you will need a TEFL certification and at least a bachelor's degree. Native English language proficiency is preferred. The average salary for an English teacher in China is $1,250 - $2,850 USD per month.

Do I have to have a degree to teach English in China? ›

Although you can't legally teach in China without a degree, there are plenty of ways of getting around this, including coming over on a student visa and taking a part-time job tutoring, or working on a business visa and taking tutoring jobs on the side.

How many foreign teachers are in China? ›

China is now home to over half a million foreign teachers. Having said that, almost two-thirds are employed illegally. Most of these teachers are not native English speakers and according to Chinese employment law, they cannot teach in China legally.


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2. What does the Future of the ESL Industry look like?
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5. China's Crackdown on ESL Teaching Part 2 (Insights & Solutions)
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