Is it possible to teach English in Xinjiang, China in 2020? I spent almost 4 years teaching English out here and I’d love to share my experience. However, I’d also like to share how things have changed.
UPDATE 2020: This article was originally written in 2015 and a lot has changed since then. Xinjiang officials have successfully kicked out most foreigners living in the region in an effort to keep them from seeing all the gross human rights violations they’re committing.
Because of this, getting a teaching job in Xinjiang, China has become almost impossible for the time being. I’m going to keep this article active for reference, but if you’re truly interested in a teaching job I recommend you look elsewhere in China (or other parts of Asia which pay a lot better).
Two weeks ago I received an urgent text from a good friend here in Uruqmi. “Please call me” he said. Come to find out one of his old college friends now works at a primary school an hour outside of Urumqi and they are desperate to find a foreign English teacher.
A month ago I received a message via WeChat with a similar request, this time from another foreigner here in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi whose friend had asked him to help find available foreigners.
Last week I met with a representative from a school in downtown Urumqi that begged me to refer some friends to teach for them.
The funny thing is that despite all of these job openings it is actually quite difficult for people outside the province to find a job in Xinjiang.
The prevailing wisdom a few years ago was to just travel out here on a tourist visa, find a good school and then get hired. Not only does that take a lot of guts, it’s also a risk of both your finances and the kind of school you find. And it often doesn’t work anymore.
So how do you find a good teaching job in Xinjiang?
In this article I want to describe to you the process of finding a good job here with the help of Jan Abbey, an anthropologist and (now-former) teacher here in the province.
How to Teach English in Xinjiang
Let’s start with a basic question: how did you find your teaching job here in Xinjiang?
Jan: My current job came through a relationship that I’ve had through QQ with the principal at the Karamay High School. He initiated my current job offer. I believe XJ jobs are more often found this way rather than through recruiters.
Josh: My prior teaching job came through a relationship a friend back in Louisiana had with a principal at the school here in Xinjiang. It wasn’t an advertised position but it turned out to be 3 years of fun teaching!
Conclusion: Most jobs in Xinjiang come through relationships with people or outside organization who already have a presence in Xinjiang. Rarely are good jobs found on an internet job board.
What pay should be expected for a teacher in Xinjiang?
Jan: XJ pay is very low compared to the east. 4000 RMB is not bad pay. This is one of the reasons XJ schools can’t find enough teachers. (Editor’s note: Jan teaches in a smaller city where salaries aren’t as high as in Urumqi, the capital)
Josh: My pay starting back in 2006 was 4,500 RMB, but that was on top of a furnished apartment that was provided for my wife and I and paid flights. At the time it was enough to live on because the cost of living was so low, but I don’t think that would be the case today.
Conclusion: Nowadays it’s not uncommon for schools to offer salaries upwards of 7,000-8,000 RMB per month for full-time work in order to attract more interest. Each school is different, but some offer housing stipends, bonuses, travel incentives, etc. Pay can also be dependent upon education (bachelors degree? TEFL certification?).
What advice would you give to someone who wants to teach English in Xinjiang?
Jan: For god’s sake, be a serious teacher! It’s an important job, you will have a big effect on many student’s lives. They really want to learn English, not listen to you play the guitar everyday or just play games (rant over!). Han students are easy to teach, though hard to engage, minority students are hard to teach but easy to engage. Most western teachers gravitate toward the more outgoing minorities but if you are a real teacher, you must treat all the students the same. The Han students are well aware of this distinction and are very resentful of it.
Josh: Be an active negotiator. Schools may say that they “require” a certification or that you be from a certain country, but the fact is that here in Xinjiang these schools realize that they can’t be too selective. Don’t accept lower pay just because you don’t have 2 years of experience. Negotiate.
Conclusion: Teaching English in Xinjiang is in some ways different than the rest of China, but there are some ways in which it is the same. Like the rest of China, not all schools in Xinjiang make great working environments. Taking a random job is a risk without somebody to vouch for the quality of school.
I Want a Job…What Should I Do?
It is the goal of this website to promote a better understanding of Xinjiang to the rest of the world and I’ve been thinking to myself: what better way than to help people move out here and live?
After almost 10 years of building relationships here in Urumqi and throughout the province, I feel like I’m finally at a place where I could help somebody find a job that is interested to move out here to Xinjiang.
- What’s in it for me, a potential teacher? For you, you get up-to-date job openings as well as personal help from me. I can help you choose the best city, location and school for your needs. In addition, you get the comfort of knowing that each school has been vetted as a legitimate school with the ability to provide a work visa.
- What’s in it for you, Josh? For me, I’ll be helping out some friends in the education department or building guanxi with others. Some schools offer me a “finders fee” while others do not.
So if you’re interested in teaching here in Xinjiang – and that could just mean that you’re interested sometime over the next year or two – then there are a few things you’re going to want to do.
#1 Add Your Name to the Xinjiang Jobs Alerts List
I’ve established this list for the sole purpose of alerting people of new job openings – it doesn’t matter if you already live here in Xinjiang, in China or anywhere else in the world. The only emails that will be sent will be related to new jobs and will not be more frequent that once every couple weeks.
Add your email – and unsubscribe at any time – to make sure you get the latest list of job openings!
Xinjiang Job Alert LIst
UPDATE 2020: I have removed sign up for this job alert list because no jobs are being offered. Sorry for the inconvenience!
For more help finding a teaching job in China, check out these 5 steps to finding a good English teaching job in China from our sister site TravelChinaCheaper.
#2 Get Your TEFL Certification
While not absolutely necessary in order to teach in China (at least here in Xinjiang), having a TEFL certification not only better prepares you to teach, it also means you’ll get a higher monthly salary (up to 1,000 RMB more each month).
Think about it this way: let’s say you pay about $250 to get a TEFL certification. Over the course of a 1-year contract you will make an additional US$1,750 in salary. Unless you’re in some sort of rush, taking the course is a no-brainer.
If you don’t know where to start, I recommend this affordable online course. They offer a variety of different courses at various price points to fit your needs and budget.
#3 Start Researching What You Want
By my own estimation, there are at least 9 different cities in Xinjiang that allow foreign teachers to be issued work visas. Start thinking about where you would want to go, what sacrifices you’re willing to make and what your ultimate goal is (i.e. travel, making money, etc.).
Teaching English isn’t for everybody (it’s not for me!) but it is certainly one of the best ways to get a full experience of Xinjiang and all it has to offer.
Final Thoughts | Teaching in Xinjiang
Although I’m glad to not be teaching English anymore, I truly enjoyed my time doing so in Xinjiang. It’s a unique place that may not pay as much in salary, but offers significant other benefits.
Remember, at this moment it’s extremely difficult to find a job because China is slowly closing the Xinjiang border, but hopefully that will change in the future. When/if it does, I’ll update this article.
Is there anybody reading this who has taught English in Xinjiang and could add some other helpful tips?