A lot of people will poo-poo and tell you that it’s impossible to legally land a job in Hong Kong without a university degree. As it turns out, it’s definitely possible, especially if you’re a native English speaker! (To understand why you can do it legally, check out this article by hongkongvisageeza)
Actually, most schools just want to please the parents by having an English teacher who looks and sounds like an English teacher. What my mom and I found, after applying to a several places and going to a few interviews, was that there is age discrimination and some racism in the hiring process. It’s pretty messed up, but I was told that because I’m an American and look American, that I’d have no problem finding a job without a degree. This was pretty true.
But that’s not to say that an older, non-white, or non-native speaker won’t find a job. There are videos of older women from New Zealand teaching English in HK on Youtube. I met a New Yorker in my hostel whose parents are Hong Kongese. He sounded as American as me and landed several jobs teaching English in HK. But he said he did get paid a couple thousand Hong Kong dollars less because his appearance is Asian rather than white. 🙁 Not cool.
Below you’ll find the info I gathered from the culturally-illuminating process of applying for English teaching jobs in Hong Kong without a degree.
Credentials You Need:
Maybe nothing. I did see a company write that they welcomed first time teachers and would even give them a practice lesson to teach and provide feedback. But I’d say, at a bare minimum, you should have a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certificate that’s at least 120 hours, especially with part of it being certified in-class training. Experience with children and/or any experience with tutoring or teaching, volunteer or paid, is a huge help.
Where to Look for Job Listings:
hk.jobsdb.com is a good one. If you don’t want to sign up and fill out the annoying profile, then you can (and this is advised anyway) research the schools you want to apply to and get a contact email from the school or language center’s website. Then email them directly with your CV and cover letter attached.
There are a lot of “chain schools” (schools with multiple locations throughout the city) in Hong Kong. Here are a few to search for: Monkey Tree, Tutor Time, Eton House, and Sunshine House.
Where to Apply:
This is a big one. Apply for jobs at English Learning Centers, not in public schools. It’s much harder to get a work visa with a public school (they really need a university degree) than with a center and the hours in a school are usually longer with crappier pay. A lot of centers partner with schools throughout HK though. So if you apply at a center, they may want to place you at a school that they’re affiliated with. If this happens, just check that the hours, pay, and environment will suit you. It may be that your work visa will be processed by the center even though you’ll be working at a school, and that’s a good thing.
What Should You Put For “Expected Salary?”
I was so thankful that my new friend Joey came in just as I was about to send off my first English teaching job application. In almost all the listings, you’re asked to state what your expected monthly salary for the job would be. I had absolutely no idea. Thankfully Joey, the Hong Kongese New Yorker I mentioned earlier, knew all about it. He advised that I put HK$23-25,000/month. There are cases of people getting paid $19-21,000/month if they are inexperienced. Hiring managers will certainly want to low ball you if you don’t have a degree either. But living costs in HK are so ridiculous (it’s currently listed as the second most expensive place in the world), that I really wouldn’t go lower than $23,000, unless they throw in good benefits.
What to Look Out For:
Watch out for people who want to take advantage of your degreelessness! Not having a degree does not make you any less qualified to be a great teacher, nor does it make you any less of a professional. However, the attitude in Hong Kong, in my experience, is that you can be given the bare minimum pay with maximum work hours because you’re “uneducated.” Don’t let any school or center do this to you. Keep looking until you find a workplace that will value your skills.
If you have any insecurity about not having a degree (or even if you don’t!), click the big green letters “Are You Qualified” below to listen to a 14 minute clip. It’s the best commentary on the subject that I’ve ever found. Get that confidence up!
ALSO! Look out for people who ask you to do anything illegal, like working before your work visa is approved. Don’t take important risks just so they can benefit off of you.
Most jobs will have you work Tuesday to Saturday if it’s a center. Watch out for places that will try to make you work six days a week rather than the typical five. A typical work day is eight hours, not including an hour you usually get for lunch.
Watch out for sneaky wording in the “Teacher’s Responsibilities” section of a job contract. In a contract I received, I found out that in addition to six days of work, they expected me to “attend and/or organize school events.” No thank you! Make sure you get time to rest and have a life. Please.
Time off and Sick Days:
Another thing. In my job contract, I noticed that I got two weeks vacation a year, not including public holidays. BUT, if I wanted to take one day off of work, I had to apply for it a week in advance. If I wanted to take 2 or more days off, I had to apply one month in advance! Even worse, I was only allowed one sick day a month and would only be granted that sick day if I got a letter from a doctor. OH, but for the first three months of the contract I would be allowed ZERO sick days.
Best Time to Apply:
July-ish. Most schools start at the end of August to the beginning of September. A few start in October. It typically takes six weeks to obtain a work visa. As you should, under no circumstances, start a job without having your visa, it’s best to allow enough time to find a job and get the paperwork sorted before classes begin.
- If you don’t have a residence card, then you’ll need to have a full-time job in order to get a work visa. Usually when you work for a school full-time, you’re not allowed to work any side jobs or do any tutoring.
- You can make more money if you get tutoring jobs under the table and just leave the country every three months. Some people make a ton of money just walking dogs and caring for animals. Of course though, without a full-time job you wouldn’t be on a work visa. So I’m not saying I advise it. XD
- Definitely ask questions about the jobs you are applying for (assuming that you’ve already done your homework and researched the school online). For example, one of the places I interviewed with said they would only apply to get me a work visa for 10 months, the exact amount of time I’d be working for them. But standard apartment rental contracts were for six months or a year. What would I do about the last two months rent if I had to be out of the country?
- If you can, see if you can contact other teachers who work or had worked for the company you might sign a contract with. This is probably the best way of knowing how you’ll be treated and what will be expected of you.
- See if the company or school will help you with finding an apartment. From what I heard from locals, landlords put the price up when a foreigner inquires after a place. If you can get a local to help you, it might save you a lot on the rental price.
- Sharing is caring! HK is expensive~!! Best way to afford an apartment with a kitchen and enough space to turn around is to share. Lots of times an apartment will have two or three bedrooms and a common area with a tiny kitchen. The bedrooms are rented out individually and the common space shared.
- Don’t be afraid to look in the New Territories for a place even if your work will be in the center of town. HK really is well connected. Rent is cheaper, apartments or villa houses out there are bigger, and you get to be a little bit out of all the hustle and bustle. But not too much! You won’t get the feeling of remoteness on this crowded island. You’ll still have a local community around you, but hopefully with a bit less pollution and lots more greenery than you’d find in Kowloon or on HK island.
- Use facebook!! Seriously, facebook is such a huge tool. Immediately get on expat HK groups and HK housing groups. You’ll learn a ton and have a place to ask any questions you have. It’s also one of the best ways to find accommodation. Going through real estate agents in HK will typically cost you the equivalent of a month’s rent.
Key Words to Include in Your Interview
Most schools are looking for teachers to teach children. You’ll be teaching English, but you’ll still be a sort of a babysitter. Hiring managers want to know that you’ll keep the kids involved, engaged, and entertained. Make sure that you communicate that you’re a teacher who’d get the kids involved, make them be active, play games, and read stories.
In one of my interviews, I was given 30 minutes to write a lesson plan based on a children’s book I was given. After the 30 minutes, I was asked to briefly explain my lesson plan and then demonstrate teaching. It was pretty straightforward, but I highly recommend throwing in the term “role play” somewhere. This is a technique that schools love for young children. Are you teaching vocabulary words from a book? Then turn it into a role play and have the kids act the story out! That kind of thing.
Most of all, act enthusiastic, energetic and confident, even if you’re not feeling it. 😉
Here’s a great video to prep you to give a fantastic interview!
Hong Kong really is a fantastic place. I don’t blame you for jumping at the chance to live there. Working for a year or more in Hong Kong is surely going to be an amazing experience full of personal growth. Wish you the best!