Contracts In China| 7 min read
Foreign instructors in China occasionally have contract disputes with their employers. Employees should be sure to have all agreements put into writing and not to rely on verbal promises. If possible one should receive an official copy of the contract before arriving in China, including a copy in Chinese. Even so, foreign teachers may find that Chinese contracts are not considered as binding as contracts back home.
These contracts will sometimes contain unexpected alterations when the prospective teacher arrives, during the duration of their employment, or at the end of the period specified by the contract. Taking an employer to court over breach of contract is far less common in China than it is in the West, and is a particularly difficult process for foreigners.
Culturally, oral negotiation and a solid relationship with the employer are of paramount importance. A good working relationship with your school, institution, or business is vital to reaching an agreement over contractual difficulties.
Basic Features of Most Teaching Contracts
Contracts for teaching positions typically last for one year and should include provisions for salary, housing, working hours, class size, medical insurance, taxes, early termination, and in some cases, a plane ticket home. Any bonuses, such as travel bonuses or contract termination bonuses, should be clearly spelled out in the contract. Further information on these topics can be found below.
The majority of English teaching jobs in China pay monthly salaries. Nevertheless, the salary should be clearly defined in terms of hours per month and compensation per hour. Also, in the interest of clarity, numeric figures as well as written amounts should be included on the contract. Payment dates, methods, and currency should be specified in advance. Chinese bank accounts are not generally accessible overseas, and many schools place a limit on the amount of RMB you can convert into foreign currency. If possible, specify this number or percentage in the contract.
Teachers should bring sufficient funds to cover at least a month of room and board, as the institution might not be willing to forward any part of the salary upon arrival.
Full-time teaching is generally considered to be between 12-20 hours per week in China. However, this number varies according to the type of school or institute. Most teachers end up with approximately 15 hours of class per week, supplemented with additional hours running conversational groups or participating in cultural activities. Those teaching younger children will generally find the hours to be greater, but will not be required to do as much outside specified teaching hours.
Conversely, teaching at a higher level, such as at a university, will generally require office hours. Additional hours should be specified in the contract, preferably with a confirmed hourly rate. Prospective teachers should make sure that contracts specify the maximum number of classroom hours per day and per week, as well as the maximum number of workdays per week, and any vacation periods. Teachers generally receive vacation time for Chinese New Year; However, this is not always paid vacation.
Many schools offer, or even require, on-campus housing. This can take the form of a dormitory or an apartment. Other institutions will occasionally offer a housing allowance. If housing is included in the contract, it should specify details. If the accommodation is classified as “furnished” one may want to ask for a basic inventory of the dormitory or apartment and its attendant facilities.
Another issue to address is whether the housing has heating and/or air-conditioning, telephone, and internet, and, if these are provided, who pays for them. Also, be sure to verify if the accommodation is single or shared. Other items which you may want to verify include whether the bathroom is private or shared, and if there is access to a kitchen. Some Chinese universities, particularly in the Southern provinces, have been known to establish curfews for their foreign teachers living on campus.
Some contracts include a return plane ticket to your home country upon completion of the contract, and some even provide round-trip airfare. While this is a very common practice, teachers have occasionally run into difficulties when their employers refuse to provide the promised plane ticket upon completion of the contract. In this situation an Embassy is not authorized to provide citizens with the funds.
While emergency repatriation loans are available to most foreign citizens who become destitute overseas, it is recommended that you ensure access to sufficient funds for a return plane ticket in case of emergencies, regardless of what is specified in your contract. Also, many schools and institutions will reimburse the teacher for the cost of the airfare, rather than provide them with a pre-paid ticket.
A standard feature of English-teaching contracts in China is the “Contract Completion Bonus.” This may comprise a sizable portion of monthly salary, and will be paid upon completion of the contract. Another common feature, though by no means universal, is the “Travel Bonus” which provides funds to travel occasionally during the duration of the contract.
Class size is not typically addressed in contracts, so be sure to ask. Class size will vary, depending upon the type of institution. Expect classes to be relatively small in private language institutes (often between 10 and 20 pupils), and large in most schools and universities.
Many Chinese schools provide health insurance to their foreign teachers. This can cover up to 80% of medical expenses. Note that employees are usually required to pay a certain percentage of medical expenses, which can grow quickly in event of a serious injury, a hospital stay, or extended medical attention. Chinese hospitals often demand payment in cash in advance before providing service.
The Chinese medical system, particularly in rural areas, often does not meet western standards. For this reason, all foreigners traveling to China are strongly encouraged to buy foreign medical care and medical evacuation insurance prior to their arrival. Since your medical insurance may not always be valid outside your country, please check with your insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas and if it includes a provision for medical evacuation.
Contracts should always include an acceptable early termination clause. If a contract is terminated early and the employee wants to work at another school in China, a “Letter of Release” from the previous school will be required. This letter allows the next school to officially register the teacher; without it one cannot work legally at a new institution.
Taxes in China
All schools in China that hire foreign teachers must pay taxes on their salaries. Most employers will deduct this tax amount from the employee’s salary. The employer will arrange for this, and you should receive a receipt for any taxes that have been deducted from your salary. Tax amounts vary depending on the province and salary. Questions should be directed to the local tax office.