Hong Kong is a bustling city with never ending options of things to do, foods to try, and culture to experience. Even though I live on a busy market street, I never get used to it and find myself snapping photos like a tourist every day. With endless islands, markets, hiking, temples, and city life to explore, Hong Kong is truly an expat dream, even on an English teacher’s salary.
*These can change as you consider different types of schools, but the basic requirements remain the same to teach in Hong Kong*
-Native English Speaker or fluent in English
-Experience with kids
-Teaching degree or TEFL/ CELTA
-A Bachelor’s degree
What teaching in Hong Kong is like:
This varies significantly over what type of work you get into. I see ages 3-12 for classes from phonics and play group to formal and creative writing classes. It’s best to ask exactly what you’ll be teaching, no matter what type of school you apply to.
International schools are quite competitive. The pay is excellent, working hours are good, and there’s no shortage of schools to work for. However, you do need to be a qualified teacher (teaching license/ teaching degree) and many positions require a masters’ degree. These positions are much more competitive, and a few years of experience are often necessary to give your CV a boost.
Through the NET scheme and searching local job boards, you can land yourself a job at a local school. These offer a bit better pay and working hours compared to kindergartens and learning centers. Typically, you will work hand in hand with a local teacher, and they will give their opinion on what to do, even if you’re already pretty comfortable with the teaching thing. Going through the NET scheme is also a long and tedious process when applying through the government. The applications close December 31st for the fall school year and it takes several months to go through the application process before you would receive a job offer.
There are many schools that post NET jobs and don’t require applicants to go through the full government application process. It’s a bit of a gamble with these positions as some can be fantastic, and some can be a ton of work. Asking questions like if there’s anything you’re expected to do after school hours – parent/teacher conferences, teachers meetings, etc. – can be quite useful, especially as much of these meetings will be run in Cantonese.
Be sure to ask your school plenty of questions in the interview to determine if it’s a position you will like. Don’t forget, you’re interviewing them too!
You’ll almost certainly be working Saturdays, but you will still get two days off. Most people I know, myself included, have Sunday plus one week day off. The pay really ranges over different learning centers, and I have heard some stories of employer cheating teachers out of the paychecks and asking them to start working before their visas have been approved. Also note that teaching contract lengths differ for each office as well.
Be careful, and read plenty of Glassdoor and Indeed reviews before signing anything. Do yourself a favor and just skip interviewing with Monkey Tree. That being said, many learning centers supply course material so there isn’t much prep for class which can be a huge draw. Teaching time and admin work – lesson prep, giving feedback to parents, meetings- can vary from center to center, so it’s best to ask questions about what you will be doing on a daily basis to have a clear picture of what you’ve signed up for before you arrive.
Personally, my boss is great, and I would happily pass on how to apply for anyone interested teaching at a learning center.
Teaching at a kindergarten can be a lot of work. One of my closest friends in Hong Kong spent a year teaching at a local kindergarten and my biggest takeaway from what she’s said about it is how exhausted she always was. In addition to the day to day teaching, kindergartens compile portfolios for each student and give these to the parents a few times a year. Without much prep time to get these done, it can be very stressful around portfolio time.
You work closely with local Hong Kong staff to coordinate lessons and activities for the kids and spend a lot of time with these tiny tots on a daily basis.
It can be a very rewarding job as the kids are super adorable and you spend a large amount of tie with them, but it is in general, a very taxing job.
If you're not set on Hong Kong, check out teaching in China to get an idea of teaching options there or look specifically at teaching in China at English First, an international teaching center that's a great option for first time teachers.
Finding a job:
In addition to all of the world-wide job boards like Dave’s ESL Café, Indeed, and TEFL Heaven, CPjobs is another great resource for finding teaching jobs in Hong Kong. I found my current job through Uproot. I sent Uproot my CV and they sent back to me a few positions and were happy to answer any questions I had about the move to Hong Kong.
Settling into expat life:
Finding a flat can be a bit tricky, there is a quick turnover as the house market moves rapidly here. It’s also best to imagine how small your flat will be, and then imagine half of that.
These apartments are seriously tiny, especially the closer you want to live to the heart of the city. There’s not much use looking too in depth before you arrive besides to get a general idea of what you’d like and what you can find in your price range. The best thing to do on first arrival is find a serviced apartment, Urban cube for example, until you get settled in and get a sense of what you’d like.
Serviced apartments are great because they come furnished and there is weekly cleaning, and at least for Urban cube, the deposit was quite low. 28hse and squarefoot are great references for starting the apartment search. It’s common to use agents, just know you’ll likely pay half a month’s rent or more for the agency fee.
Nervous that your chopstick skills aren’t up to par? Don’t fret, I haven’t gone into a resto yet that didn’t have forks when asked. Keep in mind that if you have a bite to eat at peak times, likely you’ll be sitting with others and won’t get your own table. Likely your meal-time neighbors will speak English and just as likely, will be friendly and help you with the menu or other questions if you’re up for a chat.
The metro is often the quickest way to get around, but is very packed at rush hours. Admirality station can be quite the adventure if you want get a picture of just how many people do live here. An Octopus card can be used for all public transportation and at many restaurants as well, so it’s always handy to keep it topped up. Thankfully there are 7elevens at nearly every corner to do so.
If you’ve got some time after you’ve settled in a bit, explore your local wet market for fruits and veggies that you might be able to get at home, mangosteens for me! Wet markets aren’t for easily upset tummies though, as meat and fish are on display, dead or alive in some cases, for shopper to determine the freshness. There are many brunches, happy hours, and sets for the food lovers to take advantage of all over this international city.
From Causeway Bay, there are several beaches within 20 minutes that are alright, but travel out a bit farther in any direction and you can score yourself a secluded, beautiful piece of sea for the day.
There are Buddhist and Taoist temples tucked all over the city that definitely deserve visits. Respect locals when you enter by observing quietly and don’t take pictures of the statues directly, but other than that, feel free to go in and snap away.
There are all kinds of hiking opportunities for the outdoorsy. Hong Kong Island itself boasts several, but on Kowloon side or a multitude of other islands you can find trails ready to lead you to jaw-dropping views. Hong Kong also has sports galore. Rugby, football, handball, hockey, tennis, surfing, paddle boarding, dragon boating, rowing, and many others, Hong Kong surely has something for every sports lover.
Ready to start applying? Before you do, read my guide about lifestyle in Hong Kong!