Without a doubt, foreign teachers in China are the biggest group of fraud victims--maybe not so much in terms of dollar value, but certainly in terms of volume. The China Foreign Teachers Union (yes there is one!) reports that approximately half of all foreign teachers in China have been swindled. There are 10 tricks used by agents and private schools to scam teachers.  Here are a few of them.

Shady Agents

It starts with the agent who is focused on only one thing: his fee. They will enhance the credentials of a teacher and post it on the internet along with the teacher’s image without the knowledge and consent of the teacher.  That teacher gets interviewed and hired on the merits of the bogus resume and within a month the truth comes out, the teacher gets fired and blacklisted. But the agent collected his fees and was long gone two weeks ago. Now the teacher has to bribe someone to get the phony resume and his photo removed from the internet since only the agent had the password required to put up the ad! (sometimes the agent will have the audacity to sell the password for RMB1,000!)


Identity Theft

There are roughly 40,000 foreign teachers in China and almost twice as many agents. Most are not really working to find jobs for their clients because it's more lucrative to collect their personal information from resumes, passports, and visa copies and sell it to identity thieves for RMB1,000 per teacher.  You thought it was mere coincidence that 10 percent of all foreign teachers here have ID theft issues?

Illegal Schools

Up to 40 percent of all the private “schools”, “learning centers”, and “training centers” in China are not properly licensed nor registered and claim to be “affiliated” with some famous university or huge American company like Berlitz for example. They present a nice shiny image with glossy brochures and a fancy web site and they lure foreign teachers with false promises of Z visas and RMB300 per hour “after their probationary period”. The problem is the teachers are rotated out at the tail end of their probationary period for fresh gullible meat. If someone complains to the Ministry of Labor they suddenly find themselves blacklisted and unable to renew their visa. Even when these fake schools are outed, they just change their names. The money they save on taxes goes for legal fees I suppose. Good business model!

Exploited for Lesson Plans

Teachers are brought into a school only to be milked for lesson plans and ppts all done during the probationary period and then they are terminated. Once gone, the school  rebrands all the proprietary material of the talented teacher under their own name and lets their Chinese teachers use it for their classes since it is easily RMB100 per hour more expensive to hire a foreigner.

Slave Labor

Once working for a private Chinese school, teachers find their five day work week stretch to six days and 8 hour shifts transform into 10 hours with no extra pay. Eventually they can no longer contain their frustration and resign. They will more often than not never collect their last pay check and will have to almost beg  for a reference letter. The CFTU regularly makes random calls to obtain “reference checks” on former teachers and they report former employers are vindictive towards teachers who quit for any reason and very seldom give positive referrals, no matter how highly praised the teachers was when actively employed.

What Can You Do?

1. Our advice to foreign teachers? First and foremost, avoid agents at all costs. There is nothing they can do for you that you cannot do for yourself better.  Just visit the employment section of some 20 English language China portals (like City Weekend) and you will find hundreds of jobs offered by direct employers.


2. Before accepting an interview with any school, punch them into Google with the key search words of “complaint, problem, scam” and see what pop ups.  If nothing does, get a copy of the current China School Blacklist at www.GlobalBlackList.org and ask the China Foreign Teachers Union if they have reviewed the school or if they have a good or bad reputation based on complaint history. You can contact the CFTU at help@ChinaForeignTeachersUnion.org.


3. Never start working at any school without a written and chopped contract--in English--that is acceptable to you.  If there is some clause you do not understand or do not like, line it out before you sign  and be sure to keep an original copy of that contract for yourself. We also highly recommend that you refuse any hourly wage below 250 yuan per hour, especially if you are a native English speaker.


4. If you do have problems getting paid or with getting your visa, consult with a veteran foreign teacher, the CFTU, or go blog your problem in the form of a question here and you will get plenty of advice from old timers. Most importantly remain cool and don’t let your temper transform into violence which will get you permanently banned from China.


5. Never agree to pay any deposits,  “training fees”, or other up-front fees no matter what story they feed you.  Last but not least, ask for a copy of the schools license and verify it is a properly registered school on line with the Ministry of Education, SAIC, or CFTU. The CFTU is run by foreigners and a good friend to make in China.  The CFTU can help you with this as well.


There are plenty of other ways teachers (and basically any foreigner) can be exploited by employers in China. After your blood stops boiling, please remember to be a gracious and friendly guest in a country where 90 percent of the people are not trying to cheat you and do not deserve your scorn and contempt.

Each week, City Weekend will feature one scam alert from the China Scam Patrol. If you have a scam to report, let them know in the comments below.