So many people are worried about getting scammed or signing a bad contract when it comes to teaching abroad, especially teaching in China. Seriously, I sent out a survey a while back and it was the #1 fear by a mile!!
I myself signed a crappy contract my first year teaching abroad (you can read all about that saga here), so it’s really important to me to make sure that no one else makes my mistakes. I can’t go back in time and fix my contract disaster, but I can at least give you the advice you need to make sure that the teach abroad contract serves your needs and interests.
While I could go on and on for HOURS about how to analyze your teach abroad contract, today I want to give you five simple tips that you can use immediately when comparing contracts and accepting job offers. Easy!
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Why Your Contract is Super Important
Before we do a deep dive into my contract tips, it’s important to know why teach abroad contracts are so important. China is a contractual society, and they take their work contracts very seriously.
If you’re working legally in China, a work contract can be what really helps you out if your school isn’t paying you on time or providing what they promised. However, signing a bad contract can really bite you in the butt too!
You need to be sure that you’re signing a contract that represents the interests of both the school and you! Read the fine print so that you know you’re not signing your life away, or agreeing to a package that’s completely unfair.
I know contracts can be boring and hard to read, but trust me, from my own personal experience I can tell you that it’s very necessary to fully understand your teach abroad contract and your legal rights in China.
1. What’s Your True Salary?
Of course, the first thing we look at when applying for jobs is the salary, right? However, figuring out your true salary for jobs abroad can be a bit of a struggle, especially in China. This is because some jobs display your salary BEFORE tax, and others give you your salary AFTER tax. Also, free housing and housing stipends can make your exact salary figure a bit messy and confusing.
Is Your Salary Before Tax or After Tax?
When you work in China you need to pay taxes which automatically come out of your salary. It used to be industry-standard to always tell you the salary AFTER taxes had already been taken out, so the amount on your contract is actually the salary you take home. However, now many jobs have been displaying their salary BEFORE tax. This can be super confusing, especially if you don’t know how much your taxes are going to be!
For example, my job as a college counselor had a salary of 20,000 RMB/month ($2,800 USD) before tax, however, after taxes, I was making around 17,400 RMB/month ($2,500). That’s $300 difference a month!
If your contract is stating your salary before taxes, what you need to do is ask them what your salary will roughly be after taxes so that you can make sure you’re comparing figures correctly.
Housing Stipends, Provided Apartments, and Cost of Living!
The next thing you need to do is make sure that you’re factoring in housing. Most jobs in China will give you either a provided apartment or a housing stipend. While I’ll leave the pros and cons of each for another day, I’ll quickly go through why this is important to factor into your salary.
Housing stipends can range anywhere from 2,000 RMB/month on the lower side, to 10,000 RMB/month on the super fancy side. As a college counselor in Beijing, my stipend was 6,000 RMB/month and eventually raised to 7,000 RMB/month.
When comparing whether or not a housing stipend or provided housing is a better financial deal, you need to figure out what the cost of an apartment is in your city. If you’ve got a 3,000 RMB/month housing stipend, that will be more than enough to get a cute apartment in Chengdu, but only enough for a room in a shared apartment in downtown Beijing or Shanghai.
Be sure to factor housing stipends and provided apartments into your salary when comparing offers to make sure you’re getting a good deal!
A Quick Note on Housing Stipends in China
One thing you need to be aware of is that in China you will need to pay 5 months’ rent upfront for an apartment. That’s a 1-month deposit, a 1-month nonrefundable agency fee to the real estate agent (ridiculous I know), and 3 months rent upfront. From then on you pay rent three months at a time.
When it comes to your housing stipend, you need to ask how it will work. Many schools give you your housing stipend month by month, and will not cover your deposit or agency fee. If you don’t have a few thousand dollars laying around, this could be a real issue. Thankfully many schools will offer no-interest loans to get you started.
Basically, if you have a housing stipend, be sure to have your school explain the rules and policies in detail.
2. Are Your Benefits Fair?
Next, you’ll need to check for your benefits. Do you have a free flight to and from China? Do you have paid or unpaid vacation days? Sick leave??
I’ve been seeing a lot of contracts that now state that they won’t reimburse your flight until the very end of your contract. Or they’ll reimburse your flight over after you’ve worked for 6 months. While this may be fine for some people, it may not be financially feasible for others to wait that long to be reimbursed.
You also need to make sure that the amount listed in RMB is roughly enough to cover your flight to China. Most flights to China are between $500 – $700 USD unless you’re booking last -minute. You can check average flight prices by looking at Skyscanner. Delta’s website also has great deals if you’re flying from the US (especially the West Coast).
Vacation Time in China
Vacation time can really vary from job to job in China. If you’re working for a public school, you will have a lot more scheduled time off for national holidays than if you work in training center, just like if you work at a public school in the US, you’ll have more time off for Christmas, Spring Break, etc. than you would if you worked in an office.
That said, public school jobs don’t typically have paid vacation time. It’s not likely that you will be able to drop everything and fly home for Christmas. However, training centers can be more flexible with time off. If you have a wedding to attend or holidays back home, your contract may have paid or unpaid vacation time.
You really need to check to see how many vacation days you have, especially if you’re working in a training center. At a training center I would definitely shoot for at least 5 days of paid vacation and the possibility of unpaid vacation time.
Sick Days in China
I’ve been seeing some ridiculous contracts lately that provide ZERO paid sick days. Seriously. If you’re sick even once they will dock your salary. That is absolutely RIDICULOUS.
If you are moving to China, you’re going to get sick. Even if you’re one of those people who is always naturally healthy, you’re going to be surrounded by new bacteria, especially when it comes to the food, and your body will at one point not be able to handle it. I honestly wouldn’t sign a salaried contract that didn’t provide at least 5 paid sick days for the full year.
Another ridiculous thing I’ve been seeing is jobs that require a doctor’s note, even if you’re just sick for one day. Once you have the doctor’s note, even then they only give you half-pay for the day or even zero pay but the doctor’s note is still required. Ummmm What???
If I’ve eaten something bad and I have horrible diarrhea, do you think it’s smart for me to get up off the toilet and go see the doctor? I don’t need to hop in a taxi to the hospital only for them to tell me what I already know so I can prove to some manager that I’m in digestive agony.
I can understand wanting a sick note if you’ve been absent for a few days, but one day? Come on.
3. What’s Your Escape Clause?
This is one of the MOST IMPORTANT aspects of your contract that most people (myself included) typically miss. The “Escape Clause” is my term for the section that talks about what you need to do if you want to get out of your contract and go work somewhere else.
Now I’m sure you’re thinking, “But Richelle, I’m not going to quit! I don’t plan on switching schools so it doesn’t matter!”
WRONG. The Escape Clause is the only thing that protects you if your school is absolutely horrible and you want to leave and go somewhere else. If your school is actually awful and you’re miserable, wouldn’t it be great if there was a legal way that you could get out of your contract so you don’t have to do a midnight run and escape in the middle of the night back to America? I thought so.
My first contract said I could owe my school up to $8,000 USD if I wanted to leave early. That was my ENTIRE SALARY for the ENTIRE YEAR.
Now they usually put the number in RMB instead of USD hoping you won’t bother to do the math, but seriously DO THE MATH!!
Typically a fair Escape Clause is giving 2-3 months notice with no fee, or paying back some of the elements of your contract, like your flight and visa paperwork, and giving 1-month of notice. If they’re trying to get you to forfeit a ton of money OR they’re intentionally vague about the amount of money you could owe, don’t sign the contract.
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4. Is Your Contract Clear?
Speaking of vague things, make sure your contract is clear. Do you have a job description? What exactly will you be doing? Is your Escape Clause clear, or do they have some vague statement about you paying for “the costs of arranging for a new teacher”? What costs? Are you paying for their flight and visa, or do you need to pay for a recruiter referral fee of $2000 on top??
Your contract should also contain the date you get paid every month so that your schools don’t have an excuse to pay you late. It should be something like the 10th or the 15th of the following month, or even the second Friday of the month. Having an exact date will protect you if your school isn’t paying you on time.
Finally, your contract should be clear about what happens if the school breaks their end of the contract. Yes, the contract is also there to protect YOU in addition to the school!
5. Are You Working For the Right School?
This is a weird one, but it happened to me. You need to make sure that the school on your contract and visa is also the school that you’re working for. If there’s a different name on the top of your contract than what’s on the front of the school, you need to figure out what’s going on.
Did you know that some schools aren’t legally allowed to hire foreign teachers in China? My first school was one of these, and they actually bribed another school to “hire me” for legal purposes on all the visa paperwork. I didn’t think much of it until one of my friends was SENT HOME for the exact same thing.
The police found out she wasn’t working for the school that was on her contract and sent her home back to the US and told her she would need to start the application process all over again with a different school because she couldn’t remain in China on a faulty work visa. Yeah, that happened.
If for some reason the name of the school is not what’s on your contract, you need to figure out what’s going on. Sometimes it’s as simple as a center name vs. a parent company, but you still need to double-check and do some googling. Don’t blindly assume that every contract is legal.
Teaching Abroad Doesn’t Have to Be Scary
I know this post was probably a big negative and intimidating for many of you, as I’m usually very positive about teaching abroad in China. However, these are all things that I really want you to know so that you can sign the RIGHT contract and avoid all the crappy scammy schools, and sub-par positions.
There are so many good jobs in China, I want to help you avoid the bad ones, and have a better first year than I did. So just take this advice as a handy tool to help you choose which job is right for you.
Need Some Help With Your Teach Abroad Contract?
I know this can be a bit overwhelming, so if you need a little extra help, I actually do personalized contract reviews as part of my program Teach Abroad Squad. Not only do I teach you everything you need to know to understand and negotiate your teach abroad contracts, but I will also actually look at a few of your contracts via email an analyze them for you!
I’ve been helping tons of different teachers over the years dissect and negotiate their teach abroad contracts in China, and I’m happy to help you as part of Teach Abroad Squad, my online course and community for teachers in China.
If you want to join, I will be opening the course up to new members until Christmas. The best way to hear more about it is to sign up for my free live webinar training this weekend or set up a private discovery call with me by filling out this form.
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Live Training! 5 Secrets China’s ESL Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know
This Sunday, December 15th I’ll be hosting a LIVE training: 5 Secrets China’s ESL Industry Doesn’t Want you to Know! In this free webinar, I’ll be taking you step by step through some of the most important insider information that I’ve learned in five years of teaching abroad in China.
We’ll talk about some of the pitfalls that first-year teachers fall into (including crappy contracts) and my advice for finding and landing an incredible job you love!
If for some reason you can’t attend live, just sign up for the webinar anyway because I will be sending out a webinar replay to all of you! However, I do have a super awesome freebie for those who show up live and stay until the end!
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Grab Your Free Guide: 10 Steps to Landing a High Paying Job in China
If you’re still looking at finding and landing a high paying job you love, be sure to grab my free guide 10 Steps to Landing a High Paying Job in China! This guide will walk you through the entire process, from discovering your dream job and grabbing that TEFL, to acing your interview, applying for your visa and more!
If you want to teach abroad in 2020, you’re going to want this.
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Let’s Hear From You!
Do you have any teach abroad contract horror stories? What about any awesome contract tips I’ve left out? Do you have a major question about your own teach abroad contract? Let me know in a comment below and I’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP!
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