Answering Your FAQS on Teaching English in Hong Kong

Answering Your FAQS on Teaching English in Hong Kong

Almost daily now many of you send me e-mails asking questions about teaching in Hong Kong. I’ve found that most of you actually have the same questions, so I thought it would be helpful just to put them all down in one place as a resource for you guys!

Here are your frequently asked questions about teaching English in Hong Kong.

Do I need a degree to teach in Hong Kong?

Yes, you will need a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree in order to legally be granted a work visa. However, the subject matter of your degree isn’t important. Meaning, you don’t need a degree in education or English in order to be qualified. My coworkers had degrees in things ranging from art to science—and my degree is in Japanese, so anything is fine.

What if English is not my first language?

You’ll need to be fluent in English in order to teach it; so most employers will be looking to hire native English speakers only. In Hong Kong they primarily hire from the UK, the US, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. It is rare, but not unheard of, to be hired from other countries.

Hong Kong

Do I need any teaching experience?

No, you do not need any prior teaching experience, but do be aware of the job requirements that will be demanded of you daily.

Many foreigners seem to come to Hong Kong to teach with this notion that there will be little work involved and they can party all year. However, teaching can be quite a full-on job.

If you do have experience, be sure to include it in your resume. You can even include things like tutoring, babysitting or working at summer camps to help make your application standout.

Do I need to have a TEFL or CELTA?

Not necessarily, although more and more language centers are beginning to require at least a TEFL Certificate of 150 hours.

Regardless, having one will make your application stronger as it shows you are more serious about becoming a better teacher. The same applies for a CELTA.

Hong Kong

Where can I teach?

There are many different teaching options for native English teachers. For convenience, I’ll be dividing them into two different groups: schools and learning centers.


Schools include international schools, bilingual schools, government schools, private schools. These range from preschool to university level, but kindergarten is by far the most common type of job placement.

Your job will usually run from early in the morning, around 7am until early afternoon, 2 or 3pm. Sometimes you may be required to do afterschool activities or show up on weekends or holidays for school events.

Often this kind of job will require you to do all of your own lessons and planning, so be prepared for that sort of responsibility as it will add extra time on to each of your days.

Learning Centers

Learning centers are institutions that children will attend to supplement their schooling. Within the category of learning centers you will also find tutoring centers, playgroups and business English academies.

They cater to students of all different ages, but usually range from 3 to 12 years old.

The hours of this sort of job varies depending on your company. Some shifts run all day, whereas some will do split shifts meaning you may work from 7am until 2pm or 2pm until 9pm.

Most learning centers will provide all lesson materials for you, so you won’t need to worry about developing a curriculum or planning.

Keep in mind that learning centers hire year round, but public schools only hire twice a year so you need to monitor the application window closely.

Hong Kong  english-faq-6

What is the NET Programme?

The NET Programme is like JET in Japan or EPIK in Korea. It’s a competitive, government-backed program that places English speakers into public schools throughout Hong Kong.

The application process is long and often grueling, but if you make it through you’ll be heavily rewarded with a secure job with high pay.

Will I be the only foreigner at my school?

That depends on your school. If you are teaching at a public school, you’ll likely be the only foreign teacher.

If you are teaching at a learning center, you will be with a group of foreign teachers, but it depends on the size of your center. Even within my company some centers had two teachers, while others could have 12!


Just tell me, is it better to teach at a school or a learning center?

That’s a tough one! There are certainly pros and cons to almost any job out there, but it really comes down to what you want out of the job and your level of experience.

Language centers are nice because, as I mentioned, the lesson planning is minimal and you are often doing activities or games with the children. Class sizes also usually range to around 4 students, which is very manageable for those who may not have much teaching experience.

The downsides is that the hours can be long depending on your placement, vacation days are limited and it’s a business first and an educational institution second.

There are pros and cons to either of those environments, so it all depends on how much teaching experience you have and what type of setting you’d feel most comfortable in.

Working in a school is great because the hours are a bit less and you get quite a bit of vacation year round, which makes it easy to travel all over. You’ll constantly see the same students year round and can form better relationships with them, but do remember the class sizes can be quite large—around 30 students or more!

Usually you’ll be paired with a local teacher, who will help you when teaching, but they might not always speak English.

One of the biggest downsides to teaching in a school is that you may be the only foreigner there, so if you’re looking to make friends or have a nice support system abroad, it might be harder.

Hong Kong

Where should I start looking for a job?

Dave’s ESL Cafe is probably one of the most popular sites with new job openings posted daily. Other popular options are JobsDB.HK and the Classifieds listed in the South China Morning Post.

Did you go through a recruiter?

Unlike countries like Japan or Korea, recruiting agencies are rare in Hong Kong for placement. While a few larger companies are beginning to turn to agencies, most of the jobs you will apply for directly.

Hong Kong

Do I need to get a job in advance or would it be easier to find one once I arrive in Hong Kong?

Due to the visa system in Hong Kong, you will technically need to be hired before you arrive. It is considered illegal to arrive in Hong Kong on a tourist visa in order to seek employment.

Do I need to speak Chinese to live in Hong Kong?

No! Learning a few simple phrases might be nice to show your respect, but unless someone wants to learn it for personal reasons, English is compulsory in schools and so it is widely spoken here.

You will find signs and public announcements will be in Cantonese, English and Mandarin.

Hong Kong

I am Chinese, but I was born overseas and speak fluent English. Can I still teach in Hong Kong?

This unfortunately, is a tricky question. While yes you would be eligible to apply for teaching positions, some employers may be reluctant to hire ethnically Chinese English teachers. Unfortunately, most people in Asia are still under the impression that they want white faces teaching their children English.

I do know a few Chinese people who were born outside of Hong Kong that teach, but the numbers are substantially lower compared to Caucasian teachers.

And the all-important questions…

How much can I save teaching in Hong Kong?

How often will you eat Western food? How often will you frequent “Club 7” on the weekends? How much travel are you planning to do? As you can see, there are a lot of factors that go into how much one would be able to save.

It seems most people fall into 2 categories: those who save a lot and those who just break even.

If you budget carefully, you can save about $18,000 USD in one year. However, this would require rarely going out, mainly eating local food, and living in a reasonably sized apartment.

I would say most people more realistically save around $15,000, but if you plan to use your days off for travel, that can, of course, lower that amount drastically.

I’ll be writing more about saving money in Hong Kong later this week, so be sure to check back for that!


Didn’t see your question answered here? Leave it in the comments and I’ll add it in!
Ready to go teach in Hong Kong? Get in contact with me for more details!



  1. Scott Shane
    December 10, 2016 / 12:01 pm

    Thanks for the information, it’s really reassuring. I’m in an American and I currently live in Shenzhen (next to HK on the mainland). I have taught English for 4 years at a public school here. I have a TEFL and CELTA. I also have a bachelors degree (in human physiology). I don’t have any interest in teaching in English Centers and would like to continue working in the public school system but in HK. I’m a bit worried, cause I’m unsure what constitutes teaching certificates on many applications. What is the best way to go about applying for schools and what do you think the likelihood of being hired is based on the my qualifications alone? Any information would help. Thanks everyone :)

  2. Mike
    November 6, 2016 / 1:24 pm

    Just finding this now. Have a question I’m Canadian and married to a Hong Kong resident. We are thinking of moving to Hong Kong. If coming on a spousal visa does it make it that much easier in finding a job teaching English if I have no degrees or experience?

  3. Victoria
    November 3, 2016 / 9:03 am

    Am a Nigerian, would I be given a teaching job? And how do I get a teaching job before coming to Hong Kong?

  4. October 5, 2016 / 7:33 am

    I agree. One cannot teach a language he does not feel comfortable speaking.

  5. Faith J
    August 21, 2016 / 9:05 pm


    I’m Caribbean and I’ve been living and working in Korea, in private English Kindergartens for the past 2 years. How are the native people of Hong Kong are with people of color? Are there high levels of racism?

    Thanks in advance!

  6. Ana Hedrick
    August 3, 2016 / 10:57 pm

    Hi Beth, I am interested in teaching in HK, I’ve been teaching kindergarten for 10 years and have a masters in educational technology. I am a little older than other readers (late 40s ), but ready for a change from our small town living. Does age matters when seeking employment as a teacher? Is it possible to live there with a family (3 including myself) on a teacher’s salary? This is an idea I’ve been having for some time, and I want to start the process to see where it takes us. Thanks for your article, very informative.

  7. Dave
    June 19, 2016 / 9:49 am


    I am in Malaysia at the moment, but am considering Hong Kong and Vietnam as places to teach English and to be able to save some serious money. I just finished my bachelor’s in Languages and Linguistics and I completed a TESL Certificate as well. I have limited experience with having English conversations and going over readings with an Arabic speaking student. That being said, I am unsure on how to apply for jobs in Hong Kong. Many jobs online say to email my resume and expected salary. I have a resume, but am not sure about how much to put for expected salary. How much should I put? (I have heard it’s better to apply directly with a school, as the NET scheme is kind’ve a rip off in terms of salary and benefits.) Also, does this include my housing allowance. I really need your help if you can manage to do so.


  8. May 3, 2016 / 3:05 am

    Hello Beth!

    Thanks for all your great advise, it’s very helpful to people like us ;-) we are an American-Austrian couple with university degrees (not in teaching), TEFL certificates and years if experience in ESL teaching in South America and Africa.
    We would like to start working in HK in January/February 2017 and are interested in Jobs in English institutes.
    What time frame would you advise us for starting to apply with the institutes?
    Eva and Brian

  9. July 4, 2014 / 11:33 pm

    Haha, you’re students are so cute and I don’t see a big difference to my Japanese students.

    All in all it sounds pretty similar to Japan.
    I’d be interested in one thing, though.
    I’m a non-native speaker of English (I’m German) and in Japan the “native speaker” requirement is more of a visa requirement than a job one. Meaning, if you bring your own visa (working holiday, spouse etc.), you’ll get a job as long as you’re English is pretty good.

    How about China?
    Will it be difficult to obtain a work visa for an English teaching job if you’re not a native speaker of English?
    Just really curious how it is in other Asian countries.

    • Beth Williams
      August 5, 2014 / 8:10 am

      In Hong Kong in particular, they’re very selective and typically only want “native speakers”. However, I do hiring for a company, and if I can’t tell speaking to the person that English was their second language, I’d have no problem hiring someone from Germany, or wherever!

      I’ve met so many Germans and Dutch people who have perfect English! I don’t think it would be a big issue finding a job, so long as your interview is over Skype where they can hear you.

  10. June 29, 2014 / 7:13 am

    As someone who teaches in the international/private school system in HK, it’s interesting to get info from the language centre/ESL teaching perspective. If you are a certified elementary/secondary school teacher I highly recommend teaching in international schools as the pay and benefits are incredible.

    • Beth Williams
      July 12, 2014 / 4:34 pm

      Glad you were able to add your input here! If you’re qualified, it is SO worth being in the actual school system in HK rather than a learning center. If I had been planning to stay in HK longer I totally would have taken you up on applying :) Though, we may come back in another year or so.

  11. June 26, 2014 / 9:26 am

    Thanks for all this great information. I’ve really been considering teaching English abroad somewhere for a year, so I’m glad I read this post. Didn’t know there were schools and learning centers; thanks for explaining the difference and pros and cons of each.

    • Beth Williams
      July 12, 2014 / 4:27 pm

      I can’t recommend it enough, at least for a year! I’m not the biggest fan of teaching, but it’s a great way to live abroad short term. Are you thinking specifically of teaching in Hong Kong, or just anywhere abroad?

  12. Jenna
    June 24, 2014 / 2:28 pm

    Great post; i’ve always wondered how HK compares to China when teaching abroad.

    • Beth Williams
      August 5, 2014 / 8:00 am

      I’m sure you’d be able to save more money in China, but the quality of life in HK is higher, so I guess it’s a trade off.

  13. June 25, 2014 / 2:40 am

    Thanks a lot for this article! I’m considering teaching English in Asia after finishing my degree & Hong Kong is definitely an option :) I do want to learn Mandarin though, which I assume would be harder in Hong Kong so I’m looking into Taiwan and places in mainland China instead.

    • Beth Williams
      August 5, 2014 / 8:08 am

      Yeah, if you’d like to learn Mandarin I wouldn’t go to HK. While you can learn it there in private centers you’ll 1) pay a lot 2) not be able to practice it and 3) get scoffed at by certain HKers.

      I think if that’s important to you, go to Taiwan. I have friends teaching there and they love it!

  14. June 25, 2014 / 12:11 am

    Such an interesting read! Even I am interested in teaching all of a sudden!

    • Beth Williams
      August 5, 2014 / 8:02 am

      You should really consider it, even if just for one year!

  15. June 24, 2014 / 5:46 pm

    Wow! Like some of the others, I’m surprised at the saving that you can do. It makes me wish that I had done something like this before marriage and kids.

    • Beth Williams
      August 5, 2014 / 8:01 am

      Yeah, it’s crazy how much people can make in a gap year teaching English nowadays. It’s something I’m really glad to have done before settling down.

  16. June 24, 2014 / 11:17 am

    Im finding that needing a degree of some sort is my biggest issue. As a self taught graphic designer I have always managed to get work via my years of experience and a great portfolio… however, in the asian countries I find they are very degree focused! :(

    • Beth Williams
      August 5, 2014 / 8:00 am

      Yeah, unfortunately most of EAST Asia is degree focused. However, I do know places in SE Asia, like Vietnam or Cambodia, that take people without a degree!

  17. June 24, 2014 / 11:07 am

    Great tips here. I’m really surprised at the saving potentials- much more than I would have thought!

    • Beth Williams
      August 5, 2014 / 7:59 am

      So long as you’re careful with not going out every night, there’s plenty of savings to be had in HK!

  18. June 24, 2014 / 5:44 am

    WOW I had no idea you could save that much working in Hong Kong!! Going to have to reconsider Spain for another year. . . . ;)

    • Beth Williams
      August 5, 2014 / 7:58 am

      After you’re year in Barcelona, move one year to Asia. :)

  19. June 23, 2014 / 11:25 pm

    It’s interesting to find out that most of those answers would work for the middle east too. I do get asked the same question often about the savings.

    Dave’s eal cafe is certainly famous but I prefer as you can upload cv and picture and get email alerts. Been using it a lot lately its really good.

    As for those looking to get an esl job elsewhere it’s the perfect time to apply in the gulf countries many start the academic year end of august or early september and they are recruiting heavily. They are actually on the second wave which means they will take applicants of the “second best” type its great for new teachers, non native, non celta….

    Hope your momventure is going well. How was Disney land paris?

    • Beth Williams
      August 5, 2014 / 7:58 am

      I know lots of people who want to teach English in the Middle East, but aren’t sure where to start. I think it’s great that you’re helping to get the word out!

      Also, Disneyland Paris was… alright. By far my least favorite Disney!