Teach English in Hong Kong – Interview with Beth Williams

Teach English Abroad

Teach English in Hong Kong

How long have you been teaching English in Hong Kong?

 I have just completed the first half of my initial contract in Hong Kong, which means I have been teaching here for 6 months.

Please tell us about your job?

I work for an English Learning Center, which are popular throughout Hong Kong. Language centers are literally everywhere; my company alone has over 8 branches throughout Hong Kong.

The center I report to is technically located outside what classifies as the urban, “downtown” area. I still don’t think I would classify where I work as rural, since I don’t believe anywhere in Hong Kong can be classified as something other than urban. However, the area I work in is largely residential; which means we have a lot of students.

Being a learning center means that we see students of any age starting as early as 3 years old. Hong Kong kindergartens are separated into a morning and afternoon class, so a majority of our students range from K1-K3. Because our students all attend an actual school institution, we also do not teach the same students daily.

The teaching hours are long with 10-hour days—typical of any workweek in Asia. I leave my apartment at 8am only to often return past 8pm.

Despite the long hours, I am fortunate enough to only work 5 days a week with Saturdays off. (I’d like to note this is not standard for my company; everyone has a different 2nd day off. I was just the lucky one, having 2 concurrent days off a week.)

How did you find your job?

Before graduation I knew I wanted to move abroad. As soon as I decided on Hong Kong, I started to push my application to dozens of schools I found online.

I would use popular job listing sites such as Monster.com.hk, Jobsdb and the SCMP Job Classifieds. I would even just Google for popular language centers in Hong Kong and tried to find their “contact us” page hoping to get an email contact.

Soon I found myself with a lot of Skype interviews and schools to pick from for my first real job.

Does your school provide accommodations or pay for your travel expenses?

My school does not provide accommodation, but they will help you find and set up an apartment if you want. Many of our teachers live with others teachers to help cut costs. I personally found my own accommodation through a Century 21 agent after arriving in Hong Kong.

They do offer to pay ~$600USD of your return airfare upon completing 2 years. This often barely pays for half of the ticket cost, so it is not incentive enough to make most people stay a 2nd year.

Although my school does not really pay for accommodation or travel expenses, they do kindly pay for our work visas—which otherwise would’ve been a big chunk of cash.

Is it necessary to have teaching certificates or training to find employment?

As with most Hong Kong teaching positions, a Bachelor’s degree and TEFL Certificate are both required. Teaching experience is recommended, although you can often get away without.

How did you get your work visa?

To obtain a work visa in Hong Kong you must have an employer sponsor you. The whole process is relatively easy, and just a matter of paperwork and paying for the visa itself. As I mentioned previously, my school did cover the costs for my visa.

Is it possible to arrive without a work visa and find work?

Technically, you are not allowed to switch your visa status while in Hong Kong; which means that it is frowned upon to seek work while on a tourist visa. However, the reality is that many people do this.

Even though I had a job secured before my arrival in Hong Kong, my visa still had not come through. This just meant that a few weeks into work I had to make the famous visa-run to Macau in order to activate my visa legally.

What is Hong Kong like? 

Apart from the horrible pollution, the quality of life here is amazing. Hong Kong currently has the longest life expectancy in the world! The food is delicious and the scenery is beautiful. From mountains to stunning city-scapes, Hong Kong is the perfect “gateway” Asian country since it is a perfect blend of Eastern and Western culture.

What is your cost of living?

It’s no lie that housing in Hong Kong is expensive. Almost all other teachers I know here need to live with a roommate—unless they’re okay living in a shoebox. My apartment is roughly $2,000 USD per month! ($1,000 for my share.) Luckily almost everything else is nearly free.

Thanks to government subsidies our utilities have never been more than $15 USD. Also thanks to the subsidy, we often don’t have to pay anything. Even my cellphone bill is only $20 USD per month and that gives me unlimited data and minutes.

The delicious food I mentioned above is also affordable. We spend about $15 – $20 every two weeks on groceries. However, those who want to eat at Western establishments will be paying a lot more per week.

Is it possible to save much money teaching English in Hong Kong?

Yes! I have been fortunate enough to put away a lot of money even within only 6 months. On top of my savings I have also been able to make payments on loans back home and afford travel to other Asian countries such as Thailand, Singapore and Japan.

Are there opportunities to earn income on the side?

My school does not allow us to take on other work opportunities—and honestly I wouldn’t have the time to tutor on the side. However, it is possible for people in most other situations to find side income.

Do you recommend Hong Kong for other English teachers?

Absolutely! Teaching in Hong Kong has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. It is a fun and exciting city that seems to never sleep.

What advice would you offer for others thinking of teaching English there?

Do your research—don’t accept the first job you are offered. I was offered a lot of jobs that pay 10k-14k HKD per month. Compared to Mainland China rates, this pay seemed great!

But in reality, Hong Kong is still expensive. I would not have been able to pay all my bills, while saving if I had jumped and taken those first jobs. Hold out and try to get something higher. There are plenty of jobs that will be 18k+ HKD.

Can you please provide some links to online sites geared towards foreigners in Hong Kong?