Are you a British teacher considering a move to China? Working for the BASIS International Schools network of schools in China can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but where do you start? In this blog post from Dr. Bryn James, Head of High School at BASIS International School Hangzhou, we’ll explain just how easy it is to unlock career opportunities for British teachers in China through the BASIS network.
This is part two in our series on Unlocking Career Opportunities for British Teachers in China. Read part one here.
As an educator considering joining the international school network of BASIS International Schools-China, you may have some logistical concerns about making the move to China. I remember when I first made the transition, I had many questions about the process and what to expect. Based on my own experience and that of my newly arrived colleagues, I’d like to address some of the key areas of concern that may come up for you.
Administering the Move: Logistical Considerations
Visa and Work Permit Requirements
The process of obtaining a visa and work permit for China can seem daunting, but rest assured that the HR team at each individual school in the BASIS International Schools network will guide you through the process and provide support where needed, including paying for visa agents if necessary. With the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, the process has become even smoother. The main requirements for obtaining a visa include certified copies of your university degrees, a police background check, a visa medical check, and translations of necessary documents into Chinese. The process of applying for and receiving your visa typically takes around 3 months.
Support and Orientation
Upon arrival in China, you can expect to receive a lot of individual support. The school’s HR team will collect you from the airport, take you to your apartment, and help you set up your phone and banking. Expect to be taken care of during the first few weeks, with regular check-ins and offers of help. Additionally, there is a cohort orientation program in place, so you can bond with new and returning staff.
Housing and Accommodation
When you first arrive in China, schools offer the option of a school-sourced apartment, which can be a great choice for your first year. In your second year, you can opt for a housing allowance of around 6,000 RMB per person (more for families), which can give you the freedom to find a place that suits your needs and preferences. For example, in Hangzhou, I have a very nice, modern three-bedroom apartment overlooking the river, just 10 minutes from school, in a great location. The housing allowance is currently covered tax-free by BASIS International Schools, which is not the norm with many China-based international schools.
Cost of Living
Living in China can be very affordable, even if you want to live a comfortable lifestyle. You can expect to spend around 5,000 RMB per month on things like rent, food, and entertainment. This amount can vary depending on where you life and your personal preferences, but it is definitely possible to live a fun and comfortable life while keeping costs low.
Health and Safety
Chinese cities are known for being some of the safest in the world. The crime rate is incredible low, and in my experience, people are very kind to foreigners. I have not personally known anyone who has been a victim of crime during their time in China. Additionally, the schools provide excellent medical insurance, which is on par with the standards in the United States. This includes coverage for dental and preventative medicine, and high-quality healthcare is easily accessible in hospitals with international clinics.
One of the major concerns for many educators looking to make the move to China is the cost of relocating. However, with BASIS International Schools-China, this need not be a concern. The school network provides a generous relocation allowance to help cover the costs of moving to China. This can include expenses such as flights, shipping and temporary accommodation. And, when your contract with the school is up, there’s also a generous relocation allowance to help you move on to your next destination. This means you can focus on your new adventure in China without worrying about the financial burden of moving.
Another important consideration for educators is the amount of vacation time they’ll have. With BASIS International Schools-China, vacation time is generous, with teachers effectively getting at least a short holiday every 4-6 weeks throughout the school year. In the summer, vacation time is 7-8 weeks, while in the winter there are two weeks for Christmas and two weeks for Chinese New Year. Additionally, teachers get American Thanksgiving off. This means you’ll have plenty of time to explore China and experience all that is has to offer.
Availability of Internet and Connectivity
Many educators are concerned about the availability of internet and connectivity in China. It’s true that the Chinese government filters domestic internet, but this need not be a concern for those working with BASIS International Schools-China. All schools have a commercial licensed VPN which removes these filters to give unrestricted Western internet. Additionally, it’s easy to get VPNs for your own devices, so you can still watch Netflix and stay connected with friends and family back home.
Cultural and Linguistic Opportunities
As an historian, archaeologist, and anthropologist by training, I have found learning more about ancient and modern China to be an absolute joy. The culture and heritage is incredibly rich and accessible to tourism, and in Hangzhou alone for example, you can visit many famous sites. This ancient city was the capital of the Southern Song dynasty and was famously visited by Marco Polo. You will find some cultural differences in communication style, but modern China has a politeness and face culture not dissimilar to the UK, so Brits tend to naturally get along with Chinese colleagues. With 1.5+ billion people, cities can be busy, but the hustle and bustle is all part of the experience.
One of the biggest considerations for many when moving to China is the difficulty of learning Chinese. It’s true, Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn to a higher level, as reading and writing relies on learning thousands of individual pictoral characters. However, the good news is that you can get around with a handful of stock phrases, and people are very understanding. Everyone has a smartphone, and most middle-class Chinese speak some English, so language barriers that existed even 10 years ago are largely broken thanks to digital translation. Most of the important apps are also bilingual. The school will provide and subsidize lessons, which I would recommend taking advantage of. Learning Chinese is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture and connect with the locals on a deeper level.
One of the best things about working at a school like BASIS International Schools-China is the opportunity to build connections with colleagues and students from all around the world. The international community at the school is incredibly diverse, and you’ll have the chance to work alongside educators from the United States, United Kingdom, and many other countries. Not only will you learn from their experiences, but you’ll also have the chance to share your own culture and insights. This cross-cultural exchange is incredibly valuable and will help you grow as an educator and as a person. In addition to building connections within the school, you’ll also have the opportunity to connect with the wider community. Many of our staff members are involved in local charities and organizations, and you’ll have the chance to volunteer and make a real difference in the lives of people in China.
Personal and Lifestyle Benefits
One of the biggest perks of teaching at a BASIS International Schools-China campus is the opportunity to travel and experience new cultures. With a generous tax-free allowance, many teachers at BASIS are able to see most of Asia, as well as extended summers in Europe and trips to America. This is a major reason for many teachers to work internationally–it allows them to see the world and expand their horizons. In 2017 I got a new 30 page passport before moving to China, and as of January 2023, despite COVID, it is now completely filled!
Quality of Life and Community
Another great benefit of working at BASIS International Schools-China is the ability to have a high quality of life and save a significant portion of your salary. Many long-term staff at BASIS International Schools-China have significant real estate and investment portfolios and are on track to retire in their mid-40s.
Dr. Bryn James
Head of High School
BASIS International School Hangzhou
Learn more about teaching abroad with BASIS International Schools on our careers website.