Teach English in Hong Kong – What It’s Like and What You Need to Know
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Hong Kong Overview
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About Teaching English in Hong Kong
A dizzyingly high skyscraper, similar to many in the financial district of any world-class city, stretches to the heavens. Almost as dizzying as these tall buildings are the intermingling of smells in the Fragrant Harbour; sizzling pork and beef, boiling noodles, dried herbs, fresh fish, burning incense from a temple, fresh-washed laundry out on a line, and a hundred other things you won’t even be able to identify.
Cantonese (and to a lesser extent) English is the lingua franca, but as you navigate through the crush and press of humanity you’ll hear a little something of every language on Earth being spoken. Welcome to the colorful and oddly orderly chaos that is Hong Kong. It’s not too much of a stretch to call it the New York City of the East.
Though it’s an easier cultural transition for those used to living in Western cities, finding a job teaching English in Hong Kong can still be a confusing process. The job market is a pretty competitive environment, so having a degree is a strong requirement, alongside either a TEFL teaching qualification or two years of previous teaching experience. If you meet these baseline requirements, there is a steady need for English teachers in a range of settings, from popular private language schools to the more prestigious universities.
With a well-paid salary and a bustling city life on your doorstep, Hong Kong can be a great option for those of you wishing to teach English abroad.
Requirements to Teach English in Hong Kong
Each school has a fair degree of freedom to set their prerequisites for English teachers, but the main division in guidelines comes down to whether you want to teach at an institution of higher education or public school, or at a private “language learning” school.
Saying this, the government has set the following minimum requirements for all teachers:
- A bachelor’s degree (in just about any subject)
- Either two years of previous ESL teaching experience and/or a 120-hour TEFL certificate from a verifiable source/teaching qualification
Although in the past actual enforcement of these two standards was very lax, in recent years the government has put a particular focus on enforcing them in the larger cities. Attempting to gain employment in Hong Kong without them is not advised.
How Much Can You Make Teaching English in Hong Kong?
For people thinking about travelling to teach English in Hong Kong, salary is an important consideration! Generally speaking, teachers in Hong Kong are well paid. Average monthly salaries are anywhere between $2,300 USD and $6,500 USD, depending on the type of school/setting and your experience.
You’ll find that universities and the NET scheme tend to pay the highest, but most teachers end up in private language schools where a realistic monthly salary expectation is likely to be between $2,300 and $3,200 USD.
While this is markedly better than the China-wide average salary of 12,000 RMB (approx $1,700 USD) per month, you have to take into consideration that Hong Kong has the highest cost of living in China and is among the world’s most expensive cities.
A fair number of teachers come to Hong Kong once they have taught elsewhere for several years, as your salary is dependent on your experience. However, if you’re a new teacher, it’s still possible to land a teaching job, just expect to be on the lower end of the salary spectrum.
At the private schools, performance bonuses are not uncommon, and most employers will subsidize at least part of your travel costs in and out of the country provided you complete your contract. They will also usually cover the costs of obtaining your visa, and you can expect some form of paid health care and paid sick days/holidays.
The NET scheme also offers an attractive relocation package for teachers. They tend to cover a return flight from your country to HK for each completed contract, and you may be given a housing allowance and medical allowance. Always a bonus in the ever expensive HK!
Cost of Living For a Teacher
The cost of living in Hong Kong is definitely on the more expensive end. However, teaching jobs are usually well paid, so you should live pretty comfortably, and even put aside some savings!
Rent in Hong Kong tends to begin around $10,000 HK per month (approx $1,280 USD) for a small apartment to yourself, so finding a company that provides housing (or tacks on a significant “housing allowance” to the base salary) is an almost indispensable perk for ESL teachers. Without a good housing allowance or having housing provided, you’ll likely be looking for roommates. Living on the outskirts of the city, as opposed to the city center, will reduce your rent.
Shopping in Hong Kong can be expensive – if you plan and bring some key items from home (see our guide to What to Pack for Hong Kong for more information) you can save money in the long run!
Let’s look at some average figures for the cost of living in Hong Kong, complements of Numbeo:
|Meal, inexpensive restaurant||50||$6.50|
|Local transport, monthly pass||500||$64|
|Loaf of fresh white bread||17.14||$2.20|
|Milk, 1 liter||22.61||$2.90|
|Domestic beer (0.5 liters)||50||$6.50|
Want to know how much Hong Kong Dollars are worth? Check out XE’s currency converter.
The following video is a pretty in-depth guide to teaching English in Hong Kong, covering salary, requirements, expenses and things to do.
Visa Requirements for Teachers in Hong Kong
What Kind of Visa do You Need?
The work visa needed to legally be employed in Hong Kong is called the “Z Visa.” Only registered schools are authorized to provide a Z visa to their teachers, so if you find a school that either says they can’t provide one or is giving you excuses, we recommend you err on the side of caution. Insist on a Z Visa if you meet the requirements, and the school won’t provide one, it’s advised you look elsewhere.
The visa requirements will be in line with the requirements for your teaching position, and tend to revolve around the basic government standards:
- A bachelor’s degree (in just about any subject)
- Either two years of previous ESL teaching experience or a TEFL certificate from a verifiable source/teaching qualification
When your new employer agrees to hire you, they will sponsor you for this visa and handle much of the initial paperwork. You’ll need to provide them with the following documents:
- Scans of your passport
- Evidence of your diploma/degree
- Copy of your teaching certificate (if applicable)
- Anything that demonstrates relevant teaching experience, like a letter of recommendation.
Please note – a scan of your passport should be fine; if a company asks that you mail them your actual passport, it’s a big red flag that it’s a scam. So say no!
The hiring company uses the documents you sent to obtain an invitation letter and a Foreign Expert Certificate. You then need to take these to a Chinese consulate or embassy to apply for your visa or pay an agency to handle this part of the process for you. If all your paperwork is in order, it should take less than a week to get the visa in hand. The Z Visa grants you entry to the country, but within 30 days of arrival, you’ll need to convert it to a residency permit.
What About A Background And Health Check?
You don’t need a health check to get into Hong Kong, but there is a basic background check, which can take anywhere from one week to a month. You’ll need a reasonably clean criminal record, and it helps greatly to be under the age of 60 (for men) and 55 (for women), as these are the retirement ages in China.
The visa process for Hong Kong is very similar to the process required to enter the rest of China, so please refer to our China page for more detailed information.
What’s it Like to Teach in Hong Kong?
Unless you’re working at a public school or university, you can expect to be given part-time hours. However, in many cases, these so-called “part-time” hours are more in line with full-time hours! They tend to include somewhere between 20 to 30 per week in the actual classroom, plus another 10 or more of prep and office time. So in many cases. you are looking at a regular full-time schedule of 30 to 40 hours per week.
While it’s possible to find six-month contracts, expect most schools to want teachers to commit for one full year at a time. If you’re looking to stick around and teach English in Hong Kong for multiple years, schools will usually offer pay bumps and bonuses for renewing your contract with them.
Settings can vary greatly, from teaching children as young as age three to teaching a mix of middle-aged businessmen and university students in a “business English” school. In most cases, however, reputable schools in Hong Kong have very modern classrooms and also attempt to keep class sizes low. You’ll also generally work out of one classroom throughout the day, with different classes coming to you rather than having to move around.
Behavior and Attitude of Students
Young students tend to be well-behaved, and students at all age levels have a genuine desire to learn English, as mastery of it is seen as a major competitive advantage in China.
Different Types of Teaching Jobs in Hong Kong
Jobs at universities are fewer in number and the standards for getting them are more rigorous. They are quite hard to secure without preparation for an academic career, therefore it’s advisable to only apply if you are already focused on this type of career.
Universities are primarily salaried full-time positions with benefits, however, there are a smaller amount of part-time adjunct jobs available that have lower pay but also lower required teaching hours.
These are the requirements a university position will generally want to see:
- A Masters degree in English, TESOL or linguistics (a Ph.D. is sometimes required)
- A teaching certificate
- At least two years of prior experience in teaching English
This listing is a recent example from Lingnan University in Hong Kong. As you can see, the requirements are similar to what one would expect from any other full-time university position, such as a masters degree in English (with a doctorate an added advantage) and some prior teaching experience at the university level.
Private and Language Learning Schools
Most of the ESL jobs available in Hong Kong are at the private “language learning” schools, which cater to students of all ages, from children to seniors. Most students use these language schools as a preparation for exams. A mix of international and local schools are prominent across Hong Kong.
The requirements for employment at these schools are less rigorous than universities, tending to be in line with the basic government requirements:
- A bachelor’s degree in any subject
- Either a TEFL certificate/teaching qualification or a couple of years of verifiable prior teaching experience
- While you do not necessarily have to be a native speaker of English, citizens of English-speaking countries who are native speakers and do not have a strong accent tend to be the most desired candidates
This listing is a recent example from a language center in Hong Kong, posted on our list of teaching jobs in Hong Kong. As you can see, the requirements are similar to what one would expect from any other language school position, such as a bachelor’s degree in any subject, a TEFL qualification, and in this case, they ask for a native speaker.
Public Schools (Elementary & Secondary)
Within public schools across Hong Kong, both elementary and secondary, the government runs a program for foreign teachers called the NET (Native English Speakers) Scheme. This scheme aims to assist local teachers and promote a love of English learning in students.
The following are the normal requirements for employment by NET as an entry-level teacher:
- A native speaker of English (or equivalent proficiency)
- A bachelor’s degree (in any subject)
- In possession of teaching-related qualifications (e.g.TEFL/TESOL Certificate, CELTA and PGCE/PGDE in English)
If you have several years of teaching experience or a degree in English or an education-related subject, you may find this to your advantage when it comes to recruitment. Also, the more qualified you are, the higher you’re paid, as NET salaries are determined based on your qualifications and experience.
It’s worth noting that jobs that involve teaching young children will also usually give preference to (or even outright require) that teachers be female, which is legal and not considered discriminatory in China.
FAQs about Teaching English in Hong Kong
Can You Teach English In Hong Kong Without a Degree?
As the basic government requirements stipulate, having a bachelor’s degree is pretty much a necessity. In the past, employers were more relaxed about their teachers having a degree, but it has been more heavily enforced over recent years. It’s safe to say you may find it tricky to gain employment in Hong Kong without one.
This degree can be in any subject for most of the teaching roles, especially those at private language schools. However, certain positions, like teaching in universities, will require education-related degrees, masters, and/or Ph.Ds.
Remember, there are countries out there which don’t hold a degree as an essential requirement, so if you don’t have one, it may be worth checking out your options for teaching English in other countries.
Can You Teach In Hong Kong Without a TEFL?
Most employers in Hong Kong will either ask that their teachers hold a TEFL certificate from a verifiable source/teaching qualification of some sort OR have two years of previous ESL teaching experience. Similar to a degree, this is pretty much a must.
If you don’t have either of these, you may wish to complete a TEFL qualification before applying for jobs in HK. They can be completed online or in a classroom, in a variety of locations.
Can You Teach With a Criminal Record?
You’ll need a reasonably clean criminal record to teach English in Hong Kong. Having a misdemeanor charge on your record shouldn’t stop you from teaching English in HK, but more severe crimes on your record will. Getting a Z Visa with a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) or a DUI (Driving While under the Influence) conviction is also unlikely.
If you’re unsure, it would be advisable to speak to the school you are applying to. There are also options to teach English in other countries, where they may be laxer on this issue.