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If you’re looking for a teaching job in China you’re probably asking yourself: What’s the best job I can get? How much salary can I negotiate for? How can I get a position in the city I want? Certainly your schooling and teaching experience will have the biggest impact on your possibilities, but how early or late you choose to apply has a significant effect on your employment and salary options as well. Applying at the right time can mean the difference between a so-so job and a great one, an alright salary and an excellent one. Read on to find out when’s the best time to apply for teaching jobs in China.

China has several types of teaching institutions which hire foreign teachers: primary schools up to universities, public and private schools, international schools and private language academies. Most of them run on a system of two terms per year. The fall term, which is usually the biggest time for hiring, begins late August or early September. The spring term, which brings with it slightly less hiring, begins late February or early March. There are a few exceptions to this, especially with private academies, which sometimes offer contracts of several months. According to the schools I spoke with, you should apply for teaching positions as early as April or May for the fall term, and as early as November for the spring term. By this time, schools have already heard from most of their teachers about whether they will return, and the hiring departments know how many teachers they have to search out. Three to four months may sound early to a lot of ears, and it is certainly possible to start finding a job later, but when you consider that you’d probably like to shop around and compare location, salary, benefits and even do a bit of negotiating, then the more time you give yourself the better.

You probably don’t just want to sign a contract with the first institution that offers you one. Ideally, you want to be looking over several possible contracts, and learning more about the position and the institution itself. After all, communicating and asking questions about a job may sometimes go smoothly, but it can also take weeks. I once spent nearly a month applying to teach at a university, having an initial interview, and then having a meeting to negotiate a few details. It was only at the last meeting that the hiring director told me that the school actually ships out their teachers to another location an hour away to teach most of their classes. As you might imagine, this was not exactly what most teachers, myself included, would want, and I was glad that while discussing their offer I’d been taking my time to apply to other universities as well. A week later, I turned down their offer and accepted a different one. If I had been over the barrel because of time and without other options, I could have done no such thing. Similar to the school system, large academies advise applying four months in advance also. This is not just for the sake of deciding if you want the job, but also because with a multi-franchise school you can choose which city you want to work in. Four months in advance, you may be able to choose between all of those cities as your destination. By about six seeks in advance, the pickings are slim. Academies also offer positions during winter and summer breaks, which range between six and eight weeks. Academies need fewer teachers for these shorter programs, but many local teachers choose to go out of town during this time, leaving some positions open. While your immediate concerns may be with the time involved in researching and applying for jobs, another important factor in the hiring process is that you will need to get your work visa. This is usually shortly before the semester begins, but in some cases schools will help you get it earlier. If it’s simply a renewal, and you’re in China already, it will often take only a week. However, you should leave yourself at least two weeks just in case of bureaucratic problems, or in case a public holiday falls on a visa-processing day (as it might during Spring Festival). Getting the work visa for the first time in China can take as long as a month. At home, it generally takes two to four weeks. To avoid overstaying or other problems while acquiring your visa, make sure you have time during this period to visit the necessary offices (most of which are only open during work hours), and check to make sure public holidays won’t reduce the number of business days, making it impossible for you to get it processed in time. If you already have a visa, you can sometimes negotiate higher salaries when applying at the last minute.

The school will also be short on time, forcing them to agree to contracts they would’ve turned down several months out. This is obviously a dicey tactic, especially when it involves a move, and can result in complications on the visa front. It might seem daunting going through the whole employment process the first time, but getting a jump on it early will be a huge help. Even if you’ve had teaching jobs before, an early start will definitely give you more options. It will also allow you to review more schools, examine more contracts and compare more offers. You may already be very confident in your credentials, but with the added advantage of proper timing, you’re in an ideal position when it comes to landing the right job and the best salary. **Thank you to the folks at Chinaesljob.com, New Oriental and South China Normal University for their help in researching this article ***