Worst Case Scenario: What if I Get Scammed Teaching in China?

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Richelle, my school disappeared on me overnight, and now I don’t know what to do!

I’m trying to apply for jobs now, but I don’t know what to look for. How do I know which schools are the good ones?

My school hasn’t paid me in 2 months! What do I do now???

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I get these questions pretty much on a daily basis.

The China-lover in me wants to tell people not to worry, that teaching abroad is amazing and there’s no way you’ll be scammed.

But unfortunately, that’s not always true.

For every horrible scammy job in China, there are at least five amazing positions. BUT you have to know what to look for and what to avoid. Many of these schools prey on inexperienced teachers who are new to China, and without help and guidance, you could easily fall into the trap that many first-year teachers (including me) experience.

Teaching in China is an amazing opportunity, and I want to help you avoid all my mistakes and get started the RIGHT WAY, scam free.

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scammed in China

Getting Scammed Out of $5,000 Teaching in China

Wait, Richelle, you got scammed out of $5,000??? 

While I did have a not-so-great first year in China, I thankfully didn’t lose any money out of the experience. However, Youtuber Where’s Poppy had it much worse than me. Not only was she scammed out of $5,000, but she was also scammed by TWO different schools.


How Could This Happen?

As I watched this video, I couldn’t help but cringe the entire time. I honestly feel so bad for Poppy, and I wish I could’ve been there to help her through this.

Her story is just one red flag after another, and it makes me want to beat my head on my desk.

There’s just not enough information out there to avoid these types of scams, and it’s so hard to stand up to a school that’s not paying you or providing the appropriate visa.

She and her boyfriend are obviously very kind and understanding, which you can see in the video, and I wish they would’ve found some of my resources (like my free Facebook Group) to help her get through this.

But the past is the past, so let’s focus on making sure none of you have the same experience!

teach English China

Just a few of my high school students

Teach Abroad Red Flags

Like I said, there are a TON of red flags from Poppy’s video, and I quickly want to go through some of them so you can recognize them for yourself.

#1 Too Good to Be True

Poppy mentioned in her video that a friend said their contract sounded a bit too good to be true. If someone with experience is telling you this, that’s a major red flag, and here’s why:

The school is brand-spankin’ new, which I can tell by the references to investors and “Bonnie” promising to design a curriculum around Poppy and her boyfriend. A brand new training center that’s hiring someone on the ground is probably not going to be that great of a job.

Any jobs with legitimately great contracts will be established with reviews online. For example, my college counseling job had great perks, but I was also working for an established company that is very, very picky about who they hire (trust me, I send them people all the time, and they turn down 2/3 of the people I send).

If it’s an unestablished company and it sounds to good to be true, that’s because it is too good to be true.

Hiking Great Wall

#2 Contract Doesn’t Match Verbal Promises

In the video, Poppy mentions the contract did not match their conversation AT ALL. “Bonnie” said the contract was a mistake and promised to create a new contract.


I would’ve started looking for a new job right then and there. Too good to be true promises + a crappy contract = disaster.

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teach English in China

#3 Working Without a Contract

NEVER EVER EVER work without a contract. Unless you are teaching ONE demo class to showcase your skills, there is no need for you to ever teach without a contract. You should also never start training without a contract either. Basically, don’t ever do anything without a contract.

Contracts are your legal backing in China, and they’re taken super seriously.

Don’t ever, ever, teach without one unless you’re teaching part-time and getting paid by the hour. This is typically done by students or travelers who don’t plan on teaching legally. For example, I taught part-time without a contract while getting my Master’s in China. This isn’t technically legal, but it’s rare to actually get caught if you keep a low profile.


#4 Not Working on the Proper Visa

Some of us just don’t have the proper qualifications to teach legally in China. Others want to teach part-time while studying or traveling. That’s fine. (Well, it’s not legal but it’s fine).

However, if you meet all of the legal qualifications to teach in China, DO NOT start working until you’re on the proper visa. No matter what they promise you, DON’T DO IT.

There is absolutely no reason to teach on a business or tourist visa if you meet all the requirements to teach legally. If one school isn’t willing to get you a visa, there are 5 more great schools that WILL get you a visa. You’ll just need to look for another position.

Teach Abroad China

Enjoying Halloween with my students

#5 Working Without Pay for 3 Months

If you’re not paid on time, this is a major issue and you should not continue to keep working. I know many of you are worried about losing out on your salary if you leave the school, but the longer you stay, the more free hours the school gets from you.

If you’re on a proper visa with a contract, you actually have legal rights in China and can go to the police. This is a whole complicated process which will take me way too long to explain here. Thankfully, I have an entire post on what to do if your school doesn’t pay you on time.

Unfortunately for Poppy and her boyfriend, they didn’t have contracts and were not working on legal visas. While the school could get in trouble for not hiring them legally, you can also get in trouble for working illegally. You could theoretically threaten to out your school to the police, but that would also be putting yourself at risk.

The smartest thing to do if you’re teaching on the wrong visa is to work for an established school with reviews online OR get paid by the hour.

College counselor job China

Working as a college counselor in Beijing!

Getting Scammed Again… By a Foreigner

After Poppy and her boyfriend decided to cut their losses and find another job in China, they were scammed AGAIN, this time by a foreigner!

Honestly, I just feel so bad for her that this happened. On the one hand, I’m glad that she acknowledges that foreigners can also be a-holes, but on the other hand, I hate how this looks for the ESL industry in China.

Thankfully she still loves China?

What Went Wrong Here?

When in China, it’s much easier to trust a foreign face. You feel like there’s no way they’ll treat you poorly or scam you out of money since they’re in a similar position to you. This is especially true if you’ve become friends with that person.

But it’s important to remember that even when working with foreigners, you need to do your research and make sure you take steps to protect yourself.

Here’s what went wrong, and how you can avoid getting into this position.

teaching english china

My coworkers in Ningbo

#1 Not on the Appropriate Visa… Again

While she didn’t make this super clear in her video, I’m assuming she and her boyfriend weren’t working on proper visas again. This is mainly because the owner of the company was also not on the correct visa, and because she mentions getting on the right visa before you come to China as something she’d always recommend for people.

You don’t HAVE to arrive in China on the right visa; I’ve gotten jobs while already in China and they flew me to Hong Kong to get my work visa. BUT if you do it this way, it’s important to not start working until they’ve flown you to Hong Kong to get your visa.

Having a legal visa makes your life so much easier, not only because you’re legal, but also because you have legal recourse if anything goes wrong.

Teach Abroad China

#2 Job Requirements Changing After the Probationary Period

Most jobs don’t have probationary periods, but some do, including my college counseling job. Probationary periods are a great opportunity because they allow you to leave a job easily in the first month or two if you don’t like the position.

However, your job should NOT change drastically after the probationary period. If your school starts asking you to do a bunch of extra work after your probation, you should bring the contract to them and point out that it’s not in your job description. You should also remind them that your job should not change drastically after the probationary period ends. The probationary period is a test for both the school and for YOU.

Hopefully you can reach some sort of consensus with your school, otherwise, it might be time to look for a new position.

TEFL training Shanghai

Make sure you and your friends understand your contract!

#3 Vague Contract Escape Clause

A contract escape clause is what I like to call the “what you need to do if you want to leave” portion of your contract. This should be SUPER SPECIFIC, and if it’s not, you need to amend the contract before you sign it.

In Poppy’s contract, there was a section stating she needed to give one month’s notice before leaving. However, there was nothing in the contract that stated what would happen if she failed to give one month’s notice. THIS IS IMPORTANT!

Because of this, her school is in the legal right to take her last month’s salary since she broke the contract!!!!

Sure, it’s horrible and unfair, but she did break the contract, and that’s how China works. To avoid this, you want something in the contract that stipulates what happens if you don’t honor the escape clause. Also, you should always follow the escape clause if you can. One month isn’t that long to wait. Many contracts make you give 2-3 months notice!

Poppy also mentioned something about money being withheld from her paycheck every month just in case she left early(?) While I’m not super clear on the details of this, the main point is that you can’t assume anything. Your contract needs to be SUPER SPECIFIC.

Chinese woman taking photo of pigeon

Gotta post this on WeChat!

#4 Resigning Via Text Message

Poppy mentioned in the video that everything was done via text at her school, including schedules. However, if you want to get your “one month’s notice” in (or whatever you have in your escape clause), be sure to do this via email.

If you don’t have the appropriate email address, you should ask for it to create a paper trail, just in case.

Curly hair abroad

I’m not cool enough for the government to care about me…

#5 The Chinese Government Doesn’t Care About Travel Blogs or Youtube Channels

In a sheer moment of exasperation, Poppy threatened to disclose the boss’ visa status to the police. However, he came back and threatened to out her as “an American spy” with a link to her Youtube channel.

All I have to say to this is “wtf”…

The Chinese government doesn’t care if you have a Youtube Channel where you talk about China, as long as you’re not saying anything bad about the government or its policies. From what I saw, Poppy only says nice things about China while traveling around the country.

Why would the police care about a positive travel Youtube channel when they have a person operating an illegal school? If anything, she’s doing the Chinese tourism industry a favor.

In my opinion, this guy’s threats are full of BS, especially since they’re coming from another foreigner who’s operating an illegal business.

Unfortunately for them, they weren’t on the appropriate visa. If they were, I’d recommend going to the police. However, since they were teaching on tourist visas, I honestly wouldn’t bother since I’d be worried about getting deported. (Seriously guys, worry about getting deported for teaching illegally, NOT getting thrown in jail for having a Youtube Channel).

The ONLY person I know of that’s had any trouble over a blog or youtube channel is Josh from Far West China, and he writes exclusively about Xinjiang. His website is blocked in China, but he’s still been able to live in China hassle-free for years.

Chinese Public School

#6 Not Waiting Until She Was Paid to Quit

Poppy mentions this in the video, but it’s very true. Wait until right after you’re paid to put in your notice, ESPECIALLY if you’re not working legally.

If you are on a legal visa and you’re following the contract, you have legal backing if your boss doesn’t pay you. However, if you’re working on a tourist or business visa, you should be more cautious.

I don’t care if you think your boss is super reasonable. You should definitely wait until right after your paycheck to announce that you’re leaving. Hopefully, you can part on good terms, but if things get weird and start to go south, stick it out until your next paycheck and then run.

AGAIN, ideally, this won’t be an issue for you if you’re working legally and if you follow the steps outlined in your contract.

Shaanxi Yellow River

Be sure to stand up for yourself

How Do I Make Sure I’m Not Scammed?

I’m sure many of you are wondering: how do I make sure this doesn’t happen to me??

The last thing I ever want is to scare you away from teaching in China. I lived and worked in China for five years, and while I hit a few bumps, I eventually figured things out on the way, and I loved it!

But when you’re moving to a new country with different laws, it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. Here are my biggest suggestions to make sure you have a great experience in China.

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ESL Teacher China

My students on Sports Day

#1 Work on a Legal Visa

If you meet all the legal requirements to teach in China, there’s no reason you should be working on a tourist or business visa. The best way to avoid issues with getting your work visa is to get one BEFORE you arrive in China, so you don’t run into issues like Poppy and me, my first year teaching in China.

That said, you can totally rely on a reputable company to fly you to Hong Kong and get you a visa. My college counseling job was more than happy to do this when they hired me from within China.

Chinese cafeteria food

A typical lunch in the cafeteria

#2 Sign a Good Contract

Firstly, you need to sign a contract, and it should be a GOOD contract. While I don’t have room here today to go over every single thing you need to check for in your contract (I’ll save that for another post), you definitely need to go through your contract with a fine-toothed comb and check for all the important things.

What’s the escape clause and what happens if you don’t follow it? What are the salary and benefits and when do I get paid? What exactly are they promising me, and what happens if they don’t follow through or pay on time? Your contract should be SUPER SPECIFIC.

learn mandarin

Casually making friends in China

#3 Don’t Work Without Pay

If your school isn’t paying you on time, you need to make waves ASAP. You should outline the part of your contract that states what happens if you’re you’re not paid on time and follow the steps from my post: “What happens if your Chinese school doesn’t pay you on time?”

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#4 Don’t Work For New Schools

I would highly caution against working for a brand new school, or a school that is new to hiring foreign teachers. Most schools have a few kinks to work out at the beginning (even fancy international schools). Ideally, you’ll want to work for established schools that have been hiring foreign teachers for a while.

Yes, it can be fun to be the very first foreign teacher a school has ever had, but that novelty wears off the moment you realize the school doesn’t know what they’re doing. (Trust me, I know from experience).

What to do in xian

#5 Check For Reviews Online

Be sure to check for good reviews online. If you’re working for a training center, there should definitely be some reviews online, especially if it’s a chain. If you’re working for a public or private school, there may not be any online reviews; However, in this case, you’ll probably be working with a recruiter so you should look for reviews of that specific recruiter.

While no reviews are going to be perfect, you should look out for huge red flags, like people saying they’re not getting paid on time, or people complaining about a school not getting them a visa or providing the benefits they promised.

If there aren’t many reviews online, you can always ask a school if you can get in touch with current teachers. Any good school should set you up with a teacher you can chat with. When it came to my college counseling job, people reached out to me directly all the time after finding me through my blog!


Come join me in China!

Let Me Help You! Join My Community of Teachers in China

You don’t have to go through this adventure alone. I’ve created a ton of different resources to help you through the teach abroad process, so you have a much better first year than both me and the girl above.

Free Teach Abroad Mini Course

Firstly, you’re going to want to join my Free Teach Abroad Mini-Course. Here I outline all of the steps you need to take when applying to teach in China. From visas to TEFLs to how much money you can save, this 5 Lesson Mini-Course will walk you through everything.


Join the Free Facebook Group

Next, you’ll want to join a community of fellow teachers! I’ve created the Free China Teach Abroad Community Facebook Group, and I’m more than happy for you to come and join us! Here, you can ask any questions you want about teaching in China, and there’s an army of experienced teachers there to guide you.

This is honestly the BEST Facebook group for teaching abroad in China, and we focus on teachers helping teachers succeed – NOT spamming you with jobs like every other Facebook group out there…

Join the Community!

Meet Me on a Webinar!

In a few weeks, I’ll be hosting an awesome webinar on teaching abroad in China! We’re going to talk about the 10 biggest mistakes I made teaching abroad, and how you can avoid them yourself. I’m super excited about this webinar, and I really hope to see you there!

If you’re at all interested in joining me for the teach abroad webinar, just sign up for the mini course below and you’ll be the first to know when it’s ready!

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Don’t Be Afraid of Teaching in China

I know videos like the ones above can be super scary, but I really don’t want you to be put off teaching in China. There are so many incredible positions and opportunities here, and I really want to help you find them!

The reason why I’m so passionate about helping people find jobs in China is that I loved my experience there. I lived and worked in China for five years, and it really made me who I am today.

I myself had a few HUGE bumps my first year (you can read about it here), and I really want to make sure that no one else has experiences like the ones I’ve talked about today. There are incredible opportunities in China if you just know where to look.

How do you avoid scams while teaching abroad in China? Here are some of the biggest teach abroad scams, and how to avoid them as an expat in China! #China #teachabroad #travel #travelblog

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Now It’s Your Turn!

If you have any major questions or worries about teaching abroad in China, please leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP! That said, the absolute best way to get in touch with me is to join my Facebook group for teachers in China. Here you’ll have a bunch of experienced teachers (including myself) there to answer all your questions and worries!

Are you applying to jobs in China? What’s your biggest concern? Let us know in the comments!



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