Starting an ODM (Original Design Manufacturing) business, or any sort of business in China for that matter, is a big job requiring tons of time and energy. You need to be in constant contact with your suppliers and your customers, all while figuring out the mechanics of running a business and creating and managing a Kickstarter campaign.
If you’re like a lot of people in the western world, you probably work a job that requires a lot of time and energy, leaving little time and energy left at the start and end of the day to work on your business.
But what if there was a job somewhere in the modern world that required only 1/3 of the time and energy to do, but paid the same amount of money respective to the country you were living in. That would mean that the other 2/3 of time spent working would be freed up to work on your business. What is this magical job? Welcome to English teaching in China.
How a Job Teaching English in China Frees up Time and Energy
The average job in the US or Canada is 40 hours per week plus commute, in exchange for money to live. If you work fewer hours you likely won’t have enough money to maintain a decent standard of living, if you’re employer lets you work fewer hours at all.
In China, as a foreign English teacher, you can work as little as 10-20 hours per week and still make plenty to have a decent standard of living, leaving you much more free time to work on your business. Many English teachers live in an apartment on campus or near the school they work for so the commute to work is also quick.
Furthermore, most jobs in the US, UK, Australia, or Canada don’t allow you to take more than a few weeks off per year, further limiting the time you have to work on your business.
In China however, foreign English teachers at colleges have a full 4 months of paid vacation per year that can be used towards working on your business.
In the US and Canada with 40 hours of work per week plus 2 weeks of vacation per year: 40 hours / week x 50 weeks = 2,000 hours spent earning enough to live per year.
In China with 20 hours of work per week plus 16 weeks of vacation per year:
20 hours / week x 36 weeks/year = 720 hours per year. If you work in a training center or tutor students privately you can make more money per hour but you won’t have long paid vacations.
So as you can see it only takes about 1/3 of your time teaching English at a college in China to make all the money you need to live off of per year. With the rest of the time and more energy, you are free to work on your business.
Cost of Living in China
On the low end, in your home country you may need to spend $1,500-$2,000 just to get by:
- Apartment + utilities/internet: $500-$1,000
- Car payments, insurance, gas: $350
- Phone: $50
- Food: $300
- Entertainment: $200
- Other: $100
- Health insurance: $100-$300
In China the cost of living is only about $1,000 on average:
- Apartment + utilities/internet: $500
- Transportation (taxi, bus, electric bike): $70
- Phone: $30
- Food: $200
- Entertainment: $50
- Other: $50
- Health Insurance: $100
Requirements for Teaching English in China
In China, every college’s requirements for foreign English teachers are different. Almost all colleges require a college degree. Many colleges now require teaching experience, but there are still many that do not.
If you do not have teaching experience, there are many schools that will still hire you as long as you have a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. Such a certification can be obtained by going through a 40-hour course. You can read more about TEFL here and about the training here. Coursera also has a cheap TEFL/TESOL certification now. Finally, some schools will not require either TEFL or teaching experience.
The most important requirement with all schools though is the college degree. Chinese schools take degrees very seriously and if you have a Masters or PhD they will pay you even more.
Job Boards Where You Can Start Looking for Jobs Teaching in China
There are lots of resources for finding jobs teaching in China online, but below are some of the big hitters. They list all types of jobs from kindergarten, to training centers, to high schools and colleges.
In addition to looking at the requirements, it is important to look at the benefits – whether a round-trip plane ticket is included and whether they provide housing or not. A round-trip ticket from Europe or the Americas usually costs around $1,500 though I have seen flights from Chicago, IL USA to China for as cheap as $500 on Hainan Airlines. See below.
Other Job-Finding Resources
Besides job boards, it is a good idea to speak with other people who have taught English in China as you will sometimes be able to get a job through them and can also ask them about their experience. The Enter China community has many members who have made the leap to China.
Check with the Asian Studies department wherever you went to college or go to college in order to find someone who knows about programs that send people to China to teach English.
Visit a Confucius Institute in a big city near where you live. Confucius Institutes are schools set up by the Chinese government around the world where anyone can go and learn about Chinese language and culture. People there also often know about work opportunities to teach English in China. Do an online search to find the school closest to you.
According to John Mullen, an Enter China member, and former China English teacher, colleges and K-12 schools typically pay around 6,000-8,000 RMB ($800-$1200) per month but they will also give you an apartment with utilities paid for, 4 months paid vacation, and a round-trip plane ticket. You will need to work 15-20 hours per week usually and need to do a bit more lesson planning than you would if you worked in a training center. The first semester may also have more classes than the second semester.
Rico Ngoma, CEO of Source Find Asia, Co-Host of the Made in China Podcast and long time Enter China member, taught English at a training center and was paid 16,000 RMB per month (about $3,000). Although he technically worked 40 hours per week, when there were no students at the training center he had free time to work on his laptop and still get paid.
Rico also said that if you were to work for a training center or as private tutor by the hour you could make 200-400 RMB per hour depending on experience, meaning you can make up to 4,000 RMB per week by working 10 hours.
*Note* while the pay is higher you’ll often have cancellations and you don’t get paid for those. Higher pay but you also have to account for consistency when you’re starting a business.
Unlike colleges, training centers may not provide housing or plane tickets, and likely won’t provide any substantial paid vacation.
Although schools provide some medical insurance it’s not nearly enough. John had this to say, “You must get your own health insurance. My job only bought me basic accidental injury cover.” Lack of good medical insurance led to all kinds of issues when John got seriously sick.
I recommend purchasing extra insurance from an insurance company like Seven Corners. The cost is usually less than $100 per month and you can get treatment in first-world facilities like in Hong Kong.
Getting a Chinese Visa
Once you are hired at a school, they will help you with the paperwork for the visa process. Depending on the school, they may get a work visa (Z visa) for you or a student visa. Read more about they types of Chinese visas here.
What it’s Like to Teach English in China
Each school is a little bit different with which types of classes you will teach but in general they all revolve around “oral English” and getting your students to practice speaking English with you. Most of your students will have studied English from a young age, from middle school or primary school. However many have not had chances to speak with a native English speaker. If you’ve ever learned a foreign language you’ve probably noticed how much easier and more interesting it is when you have a native speaker to speak with and learn from. The same type of logic is at work in the Chinese classroom.
While teaching English in China you will play lots of games, have discussions, watch some films or TV shows, do role-plays, have contests, and participate in debates. You may need to correct exams at the end of each semester, which can take a few hours outside of class each week for a couple of weeks.
You will teach 2-6 hours per day depending on the day and how many hours you have that semester. I had one friend who taught only 2 days per week one semester and was able to travel around China and Asia the other 5 days per week. I also had one friend who worked 4 hours per day starting at 2:30 pm every day. Your schedule will vary.
Managing Your Time
When you first start teaching you will need to spend some time outside of class preparing lessons, which does take some time. You will likely have different groups of students though so you will hopefully only need to make 1-2 lesson plans per week. One semester I only needed 1 lesson plan every other week since I taught some many different classes.
If you have classes from 2:30-6:00 Monday-Friday, then you will have the entire morning and early afternoon free to work on your ODM business, visit suppliers in person and connect with your customers. Don’t forget you will also have the months of January, February, July, and August totally free while still being paid if you work for a college or K-12 school.
Creating a Personal and Business Network
Rico used the method described in this article of teaching English in China while starting an ODM business in order to start his own business. He started teaching English in December 2014 and was able to transition into his business full time in September 2015.
One of the most important things for success in starting an ODM business in China for Rico has been the network he gained while teaching English in China. In addition to being a job with a low barrier to entry in China providing lots of free time, teaching English also provides you with an excellent network for business and personal reasons. Rico’s first employees in his business were his former students.
When you first arrive in China you won’t know anyone or where to go or what to do. The friends you make at the school will be your first friends and likely your long-term friends while living in China. Some of my best Chinese friends from 6 years spent in China are those that I met my first day in China at the school I worked at.
You will be able to learn a ton about the Chinese culture, including the business culture from the friends you make at the school. Many students have great English and you will be able to hire them as ad-hoc interpreters for when you visit suppliers. Many students who study English have aspirations to do foreign trade work and so they will be perfect for helping you with your ODM business. Besides acting as interpreters they will also be able to help you with your business in other ways. My first two employees at my business in China were my business partner’s students.
Low Cost of Living Allows You to Transition into Full Time Business Faster
Because the cost of living in China is so low, you will be able to transition out of your teaching job faster than you could otherwise transition out of your job back in the western world. In China you can live comfortably on 6,000 RMB ($1,000) per month while maintaining a good standard of living. In the US you might need to make $2,000-$2,500 per month before you are able to work full time on your business.
Transitioning out of Teaching and into Your Business Full Time
With more free time than you’ve ever had in your life, you will make big progress in your ODM business and transition into working on your business full time faster.
Most expats in China either start with a business visa (M visa) or transition from a Z to an M visa after leaving their teaching gig.
You can read more about the M visa details on what is required here. The main thing you will need is an invitation letter from a company or institution in Mainland China. You can have one of your suppliers write a letter or write a letter from your own company if you have set it up in China.
With an M visa you will need to leave the mainland every 60 days. Many ODM business owners head to Hong Kong or Macao and then re enter the mainland the same day.
With the M visa you cannot collect payment while doing business in China. There are of course many legal ways to deal with this. You can have money deposited into a bank account you set up in Hong Kong or your home country.
Start Your ODM Business While Teaching English in China
As a native English speaker you have an unbelievable opportunity to teach in China at a job that allows you a high standard of living without putting in much time and energy. When you are building your ODM business you should really consider this amazing opportunity.
About the Author
Nick Lenczewski (Len-chess-key) is the author of Ultimate China Guide: How to Teach English, Travel, Learn Chinese & Find Work in China. He helps foreigners find a job in China and writes and makes videos about it at China Life Files. You can download the first 30 pages of Ultimate China Guide here.