My Experience Teaching at EF in Chongqing, China

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

The first time I moved abroad to teach English was through a company called English First, or EF, in Chongqing, China. I remember the first time going through everything was a bit nerve-wracking and I had so many questions! So here is my experience from start to finish working at EF in China.


Watch my video! And/or continue reading below...


Interview Process

The interview process was pretty quick for me, I applied online and was contacted for an interview a couple days later. My Skype interview was only about 20-30 minutes long and they asked me pretty basic questions about myself, my past experiences/education, and a couple of situational questions. Some examples (although I can't remember the exact ones I was asked) are "how do you handle conflict?" or "tell me about a time where something didn't go right for you, and how did you overcome that?"


After the couple of questions, the interviewer was explaining the job role to me, more information about the company, and things like that. I pretty much felt like I was hired by the time the interview was over, which I know is not the case for everyone. Sometimes they'll do 2 or 3 interviews before they extend a contract offer.


If you are extended a contract offer, it will state your city location & salary. It won't tell you your weekly days off/exact schedule or holidays off. If you don't have any teaching experience or a degree in education, you will most likely start as "Band 1" teacher with the lowest base salary of 13,667 RMB (just under $2,000 USD). But don't worry you will have appraisals during your time at EF where you have opportunities to move up bands and earn more money (but I'll get into that more later).


If everything on your contract looks good, you'll sign it and give it back to them. Then, they will assign you a visa officer.


Visa Process

So I did this process back in 2018, and I had to do everything myself. I had to gather all the documents, go get them Apostilled at the California Secretary of State, then get them legalized at the Chinese consulate, and finally go get the visa put into my passport. More details on exactly what you need here.


However, my sister was just hired by EF in September 2020 and scheduled to leave for Chongqing in February 2021, and she did not have to do this. EF has an online portal where she uploaded all her documents and they are doing the whole process for her. Once her documents are all ready to go, she will just have to drop off the papers and her passport at the Chinese consulate to get the visa put into her passport.


I'm not sure if this is just because of stricter regulations due to COVID-19, or if this is how they're doing the process from now on. But either way you'll either have a visa officer that you can contact to help you when you're doing it on your own, or someone will simply do it all for you!


Visa information: $140 with a credit card, money order, or cashier's check (no cash). 4 day standard processing time. (you will be reimbursed for this on your first paycheck in China- bring your receipt!)


Booking Your Flight

Once you have the visa in your passport, you'll scan a color copy to your recruiter. Once he/she receives it, they will book your flight for you and send you your flight details. Super easy, you don't have to do anything!


Upon Arrival

When you land at the airport in China, there will be someone there with an EF sign waiting for you. They will take you directly from the airport to your hotel. They will have a private hotel room booked for you for 2 weeks- you won't have to share with anyone. You just need to show them your passport to check in, and that's it!


On your first day of "training" you will meet the rest of your fellow training teachers and an EF rep. They will take you to the phone store and set you up a phone plan (the first month is covered by EF), and then they will take you to the bank to set up a bank account. Then, they will show you how to link up WeChat (how you communicate/pay for everything in China) and MeiTuan (food devliery app) to your bank account so you can start ordering!


The next couple of days you will go to your center and meet everyone, and then start looking for your apartment. EF will provide you with a realtor and a translator (usually someone who works at your center with you).


Even if you find your apartment in those first couple of days, you still have the hotel room for the full 2 weeks. So for example, my boyfriend and I found our apartment on day 2 and we moved in all our big stuff that weekend. But then we stayed in the hotel still on the weekdays since it was a lot closer to the training site.


Training

You'll have 5 full days (about 8 hours each day) of training before you even go to your center. This training will consist of getting to know the curriculum, mock lesson plan making, and even giving mock lessons to your fellow trainees.


Don't worry you won't be judged or graded on this training, it's more about giving you guidance and helping you try to feel comfortable before you go to your center.


After the 5 days of training, you'll start officially working at your assigned center. When you're first starting at your center you'll just start by having more in-center trainings and observing other teacher's classes. Eventually you'll start co-teaching with other teachers, and then get your own classes.


Getting Your Own Classes

There are two ways that you'll get your schedule of classes to teach:


1) A current teacher is leaving the school, so you will take over their entire schedule. So this was the case for me. A teacher was leaving a couple weeks after I got there, so I basically just shadowed her. At first I was observing, then co-teaching, and then I was teaching and she was observing me. Once she left I just continued on with her schedule of classes as my own.


2) If no teachers are leaving your center soon, you will only start to get your own classes once new classes open up. So this could take awhile to get an actual full teaching schedule, which is nice because you won't have to do much, but you're still making the same amount of money.


Working Conditions

Your working week will be 3 weekdays and both Saturday and Sunday. Everybody has different days off so that way the school is never closed, but you will be guaranteed 2 consecutive weekdays off. And if you came with someone else to China (significant other or friend), they will work at a different center than you, but will also be guaranteed the same days off as you.


So for me personally my boyfriend and I both had Mondays & Tuesdays off, and then we worked Wednesday-Sunday.


On the weekdays, there are 3 class slots that you might have to teach: 5-6pm, 6:15-7:15pm, or 7:30-8:30pm. So you'll have to come into the office at either 2 or 3pm (depending on your center) for admin time and lesson planning, and then you have to stay until your last class finishes.


So for example, this was my weekday schedule:

Wednesday 3pm-7:15pm

Thursday 3pm-8:30pm

Friday 3pm-6pm


It really just depends on how many classes you have, and that can change throughout the year. On the weekends everyone will work from 10:15am-6:15pm, regardless of how many classes you have. You could either have a full schedule of classes, or even if you don't have your own classes, they will fill your weekend hours up with other things like giving placement tests, doing group activities/crafts, or giving demo lessons to potential students.


Appraisals

After 5 months of teaching, your Director of Studies (DOS) will observe you and decide if you should move up to a Band 2 or 3 teacher with a salary increase. Then, you'll have another appraisal at 13 months if you decide to sign on for another 1-year contract.


Summer/Winter Hours

For 3 weeks in February/January and 8 weeks in July/August, you will be working either "winter course" or "summer course." This means that you will have additional classes on your weekdays ON TOP OF your regular evening classes. So you will typically work from about 9am-1pm for holiday classes, have your lunch break, and then come back for your regular evening classes.


Holidays

You will get 10 days of paid annual leave, and 10 days of unpaid. Most of the time they don't want you to use your unpaid leave unless you have a family emergency or are very homesick and want to go back home for a visit. But it just depends on your DOS.


Then, you'll get all Chinese Public Holidays off (2021):

  • Jan 1: New Years Day

  • Feb 11-17: Lunar New Year

  • April 4: Qingming Festival

  • May 1-5: Labor Day

  • June 14: Dragon Boat Festival

  • Sep 21: Mid-Autumn Festival

  • Oct 1-7: Golden Week

Finishing Your Contract

Once you're coming to the end of your contract, you'll have a meeting with your DOS about whether or not you want to sign a new contract. Here's what happens with either decision:


NO: Once you decide you want to leave after your contract ends, they will start to make a plan for how you will give your classes away. If you get a new teacher they will shadow you and take over your classes once you leave. Then they will start to apply for your "exit visa" which is basically just letting the government know you are leaving the country. Your exit visa will be stamped in your passport and you must leave the country before that date. You cannot return to China without re-applying for a new visa. On your last day of work, you should have a direct deposit with your last paycheck in your bank account and you're on your way!


YES: You will sign a new contract and can try to renegotiate your salary. But basically you will just continue working as if nothing has changed. You will NOT be given any time off in between the end of your first contract and start of your second one.


Pros of EF China

  • Very helpful with the set up process: They make you feel extremely comfortable and relaxed when you're making this big move. They really help out with all the little details of getting you to China and making you feel settled once you arrive.

  • Job security: They really want foreigners to come to China and teach, so it's very rare that you could get fired unless you do something pretty terrible.

  • Can get hired pretty easily: no degree in education or prior teaching experience needed

  • Easy workload: not a job that you'll take home with you or even think about once you leave

  • Amazing community: you meet great friends, and the local Chinese co-workers are extremely helpful with anything you need


Cons of EF China

  • Everything varies from center to center: everyone's experience is going to be completely different based on their city, center, and DOS. (For example: my boyfriend had to start work everyday at 2pm because of his DOS, while I started at 3pm)

  • Just an "okay" salary: it's not low, & not high. You'll still live a nice life off your salary, but the longer you're in China and meet others from different schools/companies, you'll see that they pay a lot higher usually

Why I Left

I finished my contract and knew that I wanted to backpack around Asia for a couple months, and then go teach abroad somewhere else. There was nothing negative that happened, I just wanted to experience something new!


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