China’s New Policy for Online Teachers Explained

It’s no secret that the ESL teaching industry in China has historically been filled with legal grey areas. Up until this year, the legal requirements to teach English online to Chinese students has been fairly vague. This has meant that ESL teaching platforms based in China, such as VIPKID and Qkids, have had free reign when it comes to setting their own hiring policy.

As such, companies like VIPKID and Qkids have been under no obligation to require teachers to have evidence of TEFL certification or prior teaching experience. Many such companies were happy to hire teachers without these criteria as long as they were native speakers and Bachelor’s degree holders.

However, that all changed earlier this year when China issued new regulations for online teaching companies as part of a national crackdown on ‘after-school classes’. Today, we’re going to be explaining exactly what these new regulations mean for ESL teachers.

When Did This Happen and Why?

It all started with a press release published on the official Ministry of Education website towards the end of last year.

China ESL policy change image

The press release was vague in detail but, importantly, mentioned that “a management platform will soon be launched online to tighten scrutiny of after-school training institutions across China.”

As online ESL classes fall under the banner of ‘after-school training institutions’, it was clear that this new management platform would affect the online ESL industry.

The change came amidst the country’s broader efforts to ease academic pressure students in primary and secondary schools. As mentioned in the press release, one driving factor behind the change was complaints regarding the overall poor quality of many after-school programs.

Since the announcement, further details about the regulatory changes haven’t been made public. However, they were given to the ESL platforms in advance of the crackdown. That’s why major ESL platforms like VIPKID and DaDa all made major changes to their hiring policy at around the same time, from which we can deduce what changes were made to the regulation.

Below is a screenshot showing an announcement by ESL company DaDa ahead of the crackdown:

DaDa new requirements

Companies That Aren’t Affected By the Changes

It’s worth noting that not all online ESL platforms will be affected by this change. It’s only platforms based in China that are subject to the new regulations. Here are a few popular ESL companies that won’t be affected:

As the above companies aren’t based in China, the new regulations don’t apply. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have similar entry requirements regardless.

Companies That Are Affected By the Changes

All of the following companies are based in China and as such will likely already have/soon be updating their hiring policy to reflect the new requirements:

How To Meet The New ESL Teaching Requirements

If you’re already a teacher for any of the above companies or are hoping to apply for them, you may be required to supply documentation proving you meet the minimum job requirements.

If you don’t already have them, that means you’ll need to get your hands on a TEFL certificate, background check, and Bachelor’s degree.

Let’s talk about each of them in turn:

China ESL Teaching Requirements

Getting a TEFL Certificate

There are many TEFL courses out there that will award you with an internationally-recognized accreditation. There are lots of different types of courses, but they’re usually subcategorized based on how many hours are required to finish the course, and where the course takes place.

As such, you can choose from:

  • Online-only TEFL courses, face-to-face TEFL courses, or a mixture of both
  • 100-hour courses, 120-hour courses, 140-hour courses, or more.

Usually, online-only TEFL courses are a lot cheaper and faster to complete, but they also don’t give you any actual classroom practice, so if you want some hands-on experience, it might be worth investing in a course with some classroom teaching hours.

Under the new China regulations, you’ll need to have a minimum of 120-hour TEFL course, and your accreditation will need to be internationally recognized. Bare this in mind while shopping around.

The gold standard when it comes to TEFL courses are the CELTA, DELTA, and TrinityTESOL courses, but these are also the highest-price courses you can get – they cost hundreds of dollars while some online-only TEFL courses are available for as little as $50.

Related: Discounted TEFL Courses

120-hour courses are designed to require you to study for 120 hours in order to pass, but in practice, many teachers report being able to complete them substantially quicker. Some teachers report finishing online TEFL courses in as little as a few hours.

Getting a Background Check

To get a background check, you’ll need to go through the appropriate channels for your home state or country of residence.

If you live in the US, this might require you to go to the local police department for your most recent place of residence and request a criminal record search and documentation. You may also be able to apply from your embassy if you live overseas. It’s worth consulting with your local authority to confirm the exact process required, but you can find out more information here.

If you’re from the UK, you may be able to apply for a basic check or DBS online, depending on what your specific ESL employer requires. You can ask them for more information or consult the UK government website for more information here.

Getting a Bachelor’s Degree

There’s really no shortcut to getting a Bachelor’s degree, you simply need to finish an accredited 3-year or 4-year university degree that awards you with a Bachelor’s degree. If you don’t have one and don’t feel like going back to college/university to get one, you might want to consider applying for a company that doesn’t require a degree, such as Cambly.

Final Thoughts

That about covers everything you need to know about China’s new policy for online teachers.

What do you think about these changes? Will they improve the standard of online ESL teaching? Is your company affected? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Matt is a former online English teacher, content writer, and digital nomad. He’s also the founder of Remotely Working, a blog that helps other aspiring nomads to find online work opportunities and kickstart their digital careers.

14 Comments

  1. Hi I am interested in doing the online teaching. Please guide me through the process.

    Reply
    • Hi Tasmiya – your best place to start is at eslauthority.com/teach/online – we have a lot of great resources there that show you how to get hired + how to be a good online teacher.

      Reply
  2. Hi, I am a qualified English teacher. I have a TESOL from UK and I am a Doctorate degree holder from the US in Theology. I have approximately 25years of teaching experience, in school and as a personal tutor to Chinese, Japanese and Korean students. However, I am an Asian and I would like to seek for online teaching opportunities in English for adults and children. Please advise me how to go about it. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi Maria – what have you done so far? You’re plenty qualified so our advice is to start browsing jobs and apply to the ones that appeal to you.

      Reply
  3. Hi! I currently teach for Qkids and was hired before these changes were made (as many of us were). I hold 2 120 hour accredited TEFL and TESOL certificates and one accredited 40 hour TEYL (teaching english to young learners). I do not hold a BA. I have a technical training diploma in Computer Animation. I have been working with Qkids for almost 2 years. I am also currently enrolled in a 300 hour accredited TEFL diploma course. As many of us without BA’s are concerned about our positions with the company, does this mean we will technically lose our current positions once our information has been verified by the Chinese Government? Thanks for any insight.

    Reply
    • Hi Tina – I don’t think anyone knows yet (and we haven’t heard if anyone can be ‘grandfathered’ in) – what does Qkids say about it?

      Reply
      • Hi Quincy – I don’t think Qkids knows either. They’re just doing their best to prepare all of the current teachers for the Government review. My case is a little bit odd because I am from Quebec. The Education system is very different here. Although I don’t have an actual Bachelor’s Degree per-say, I hold the equivalent in credits. I did a technical training program that bypasses University and you get a different kind of Certificate. I’m hoping that the’ll refer to the accumulated credits on my transcript instead of an actual diploma. I guess we’ll all have to wait and see. I really love my job so I’ve been praying, like many others, that everything works out in my favor.

        Reply
  4. I work for a Chinese bases company, 31abc. I don’t have a BA, but I do have the skills and a TESOL. I don’t think all of the online schools Will be affected, Even if they are in China. There are thousands of online schools in China. I’m not worried, each school has their own policy.

    Reply
    • I work for Itutor group and have been for three years ,also don’t have a degree and did not need it when the company took me on ,I have the TEFL ,also worrying as you can’t just get a degree ! It’s money and time ,really worried

      Reply
  5. My son just started teaching online for a Chinese company. His first check was supposed to be about $68 USD. He only received about $28. They told him the Chinese bank charges a fee to make a wire transfer to his bank and that this cannot be avoided. What fees are legal? Is there a better method to avoid these high, unreasonable fees?

    Reply
    • Hi AK – unfortunately bank-imposed fees are a reality for most online teaching companies. A few have US entities through which they can pay their teachers, but the majority will be sending foreign wire transfers that do come with fees. My only advice is to see if they offer any other payment method that can reduce costs – a good place to start is with the company and any teacher’s group that may exist (check Facebook). Good luck!

      Reply
    • Hi AK,

      I have been working for a Chinese ESL company for a few months and am getting paid via TransferWise. I am charged a small fee to change USD to GBP as I’m from the UK but that’s the only fee I pay. Perhaps this would work well for your son?

      Reply
  6. China imposes an age limit for expats that teach English in China which is 60 years old. Do you know if there is any such age limit for teaching ESL online? I am 59 and considering an online teaching platform.

    Reply
    • Hi Belinda – there is no set limit like there is with visas, but it does seem that companies prefer younger candidates. This is anecdotal as there are people of all ages teaching online, but have heard that it’s more difficult for older educators to find jobs.

      Reply

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