If you’re considering a career move abroad, you might ask yourself; ‘Is it safe to teach in China?’
Making the decision to move to a new country is daunting. If you’ve never visited China previously, you may be worried about safety levels, crime, food hygiene, pollution, scams, and more. That’s before you’ve even sorted out your Z Visa!
But don’t worry.
Much of what you hear about China probably isn’t true. In fact, we’d say it’s one of the safest countries in the world to live and work in.
If you’re worried about whether it’s safe in China, keep reading.
Is It Safe to Teach in China?
That’s one question we’re asked often here at INTA Education, but thanks to our team’s combined years of experience living and working in the country, we know first hand that: ‘Yes, it is safe.’
We get it though. Like anywhere in the world, China does have its problems. If you’re always watching the news, or have worried family members sending you concerned stories they’ve read about life in China, then it’s easy to form a negative opinion before you set out.
But if you’re seriously evaluating your prospects abroad, then it’s important to look at safety in China objectively.
Yes, there is on occasions pollution in some cities. Yes, food hygiene levels can be hit or miss, and yes, the roads can be dangerous. If it was really that unsafe though, why would hundreds of thousands of foreign teachers choose to live and work in China every year?
The short answer is it is safe to teach in China. Before you get on the plane, it’s helpful to be aware of issues you might confront, so you can deal with them effectively.
How to Stay Safe in China
We get asked a lot of safety-related questions by prospective teachers interested in taking up professional placements in international and bilingual schools across China.
We’ve got a lot of time to answer these concerns, because we want you to be as comfortable as possible when making your career change.
The safety questions we see time and time again generally relate to the following issues, with Covid-19 being the latest addition to the list of concerns:
- Legal employment status
- Different laws and customs
- Food hygiene
We also receive questions concerning specific destinations for teachers in China, such as ‘Is it safe in Beijing?’ or ‘Is Shanghai safe to live in?
We’ll address several city-specific questions later in this article, but first let’s take a look at the above safety concerns in more detail.
Legal Employment Status
One of your biggest safety concerns will regard your legal employment status in China. There’s no doubt that this is warranted, and you should always be careful when signing up for teaching roles.
The most important thing to remember is that you need to be on the correct visa to live and work in China. Generally speaking, this is the Z Visa, which you’ll apply for in your home country once you’ve had your teaching placement confirmed. Once you’ve arrived in China, you may then need to register with your local police to officially transition to a residence permit.
The exploitation of foreign teachers was a problem in the past. In 2017, it was estimated that of the 400,000 foreign teachers working in China, only as little as one-third of them had an official visa. If you’re caught teaching without the correct visa or permits, then you’ll find yourself in trouble with the authorities and could be deported.
However, if you work with reputable schools and ensure you follow the visa requirements to a tee, then your legal employment status isn’t something to worry about. In fact, if you secure a placement through INTA Education, we take the formalities seriously. We only work with schools that we’ve personally vetted, and we support you through the visa application at every step of the process to ensure everything is done legally.
Different Laws and Customs
China’s laws and customs often seem different from a western perspective, and in many cases they are. China’s system of government is distinct from countries like the United Kingdom or Australia, and there are many different laws, rules and regulations you might have to get to grips with.
For the most part, there aren’t many laws you’ll need to specifically worry about breaking when you’re in China. No one’s out to get you after all, and the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a list of the local laws and customs you might find different.
There are several differences you’ll encounter in areas like the internet and media access, with the government blocking major platforms like Facebook and Google. There are Chinese versions of these that are in popular use, while a VPN always comes in handy. Serious crimes carry severe penalties in China, with drug crimes being cracked down on particularly hard.
The culture shock in China can also be severe, but that’s not to say it’s dangerous. Life in China is very different to life in the west, and you’ll need to be prepared to deal with minor embarrassment when you inevitably do things the ‘wrong’ way. Different customs and cultures, though, aren’t a safety concern, unless you’re struggling to keep up with drinking the rice wine when you’re invited to your colleague’s wedding!
Statistically speaking, China is one of the safest countries in the world. That’s because the police are tough, and sentences are harsh even for what you might consider to be lighter crimes.
For teachers, crime isn’t something you’ll likely need to worry too much about. It’s safe to walk around big cities and you’re unlikely to be the victims of fraud or violent crime. The police simply have too many resources and too much power for anyone to try and commit crimes against foreigners.
Of course, you do need to watch out for petty criminals, like pickpockets, particularly on packed public transport routes. When you’re in touristy places, including the Forbidden Palace in Beijing, you’ll also need to be wary of minor scams aimed at tourists.
Food hygiene can be a worry for new teachers in China, and even more so if you’ve got a weak stomach. Standards are different here, and you’ll need to exercise caution when you first arrive. As tempting as the street food is, you’ll want to ease yourself in!
Restaurants generally carry a food hygiene rating or certificate issued by the local authorities. If you don’t see one of these, then be wary of eating at the venue. You can also ask your fellow teachers and colleagues for recommendations on places to eat and drink. That way, you might just avoid a spot of stomach trouble.
Chinese roads are chaotic. When you first arrive, you’ll be amazed at the density of traffic and the sheer number of pedestrians weaving their way through it in the large cities.
Pedestrian crossings can be hit and miss, so take your time when you’re crossing the roads. Even if you should have the right of way, this doesn’t mean you will! It takes a little bravery, but you’ll soon learn how to navigate the roads like a local.
You shouldn’t need to drive in China, although many teachers like to get around the cities on scooters. The public transport in major cities is extensive, while intercity transport (especially the high speed trains) is often excellent.
Covid-19 added a new dimension to safety concerns. Not just in China, but globally. Although the virus is thought to have originated in Wuhan, for much of the pandemic the country closed its borders completely and managed to contain the spread of the virus. Foreign teachers found it tough, though, as lockdown rules were strict in China.
However, as of January 2023 China loosened its pandemic laws, ending lockdowns and testing.
Like the rest of the world after opening up, the country initially saw Covid-19 spread nationwide again although this has now subsided. Although this is something to be aware of, China has now reopened its borders and teachers are allowed to travel freely in and out of the country as it returns to pre-pandemic normality.
How Safe Are Chinese Cities?
As a teacher in an international or bilingual school, you’ll be living and working in one of China’s major urban areas. Chinese cities are densely packed, but rest assured, they’re perfectly safe for foreign teachers, even if they do take a little getting used to.
How Safe Is Beijing?
Beijing is China’s historic capital city, and it’s a fantastic choice for anyone looking to start a teaching career. But is Beijing safe? Yes, the capital is a perfectly safe choice for teachers, and it’s a great place for anyone hoping to immerse themselves in the cultural and political centre of China.
There’s a large police presence in Beijing, as you’d expect from any capital city, so serious crime is incredibly rare. You’ll find it a safe and welcoming place to teach, with the only real chance of petty crime coming from pickpockets on the busy metro and bus systems.
As Beijing attracts a large number of tourists, many of the popular sights are patrolled by professional scam artists. This includes sights like the Forbidden City, where scammers often ask you to practice English with them in a teahouse, before leaving you with a hefty bill for your troubles. The only serious safety concern in Beijing is the air quality. Try to escape the city whenever you can, if this does worry you.
How Safe Is Shanghai?
Shanghai is China’s largest city, and one of the most popular destinations for foreign teachers. This buzzing hub of modernity offers a glimpse into China’s future, and the city is home to some of the nation’s best international schools and a large expat community.
It’s an attractive place to live and work, with air pollution not considered nearly as bad in Shanghai as it is in cities further north. The large police presence also means that for such a large urban area, Shanghai has relatively low crime rates. Watch out for your pockets on the subway, and you should find yourself enjoying a safe stay in Shanghai.
How Safe Is Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is administered differently to the rest of mainland China, so you might be wondering if there are any safety concerns you should worry about. As a teacher, you’ll find that crime isn’t one of them. Petty crime levels are low, but like anywhere, there’s always a risk.
Would you love to start a teaching career in China?
Then contact INTA Education to start your journey.
INTA Education was founded by Lydia and Will, teachers with a passion for language and education. With ten years’ experience teaching in Asia, we can help if you’re asking the question: ‘is it safe to teach in China?’
Our experienced team is ready to find your perfect teaching placement in China. Get in touch today to start your new career journey.