Teach English in Hong Kong

Part 2 of an Interview with Hana Marley

Part one looked at how to teach English in Hong Kong, as well as some of Hana's personal experiences teaching there. Here in part two, Hana talks about what type of TEFL certification you need to teach in Hong Kong, the need to speak Chinese, what it's like to live in Hong Kong, as well as information on how to get a work permit.

Read part one - Teaching in Hong Kong here. Here is part two of her interview.


What level of TEFL certification is needed to teach English in Hong Kong?

Okay, I'd say I pretty much covered that in my previous answer, but for anyone who's still with me here I'll do a quick recap:

1. No TEFL at all; probably private tutoring only, or maybe a bottom-of-the-barrel language school (not recommended though).


A view from the Star Ferry

2. TEFL (pretty much any level); more or less any language school and possibly the HK government's NET scheme (though the NET scheme is getting increasingly trickier to get into as the Education Bureau prefers candidates with teaching certification and experience).

3. TEFL (pretty much any level, but the higher the better) + degree; much better chance of getting into the government NET scheme and possibly a part-time stint at a university.

4. Degree + teaching certification; minimum standard required for international schools (TEFL not required if you majored in something like Linguistics, English or even Drama, for example).

5. TEFL + degree + teaching certification; the world's your oyster! ;-)

For the record, I have no actual TEFL certification myself but I have a degree in English as a Second Language (believe it or not) and in English-French translation. I also have Canadian teacher certification.

Do you speak Chinese? How important is it to speak Cantonese/Mandarin?

Ha ha ha. I know all of about ten words in Cantonese! Shameful.

But no, you really don't have to speak any Cantonese in Hong Kong. I know very few expats who do.

As a matter of fact, if you're going to put in the effort to learn any Chinese at all then you might as well make it Mandarin. That's so much more useful. It's not easy to get around China with absolutely zero knowledge of Mandarin.

What are the best things about living in Hong Kong?

Wow . . . everything!

Hong Kong is by far the best place I've lived anywhere in the world (and believe me . . . I've lived in a lot of really cool places!).

This is an incredibly beautiful, vibrant and exciting city. It feels exotic without feeling foreign (there are a lot of expats in Hong Kong). The social scene knows no bounds, the nightlife never ends and the shopping is out of this world. Great weather, too, albeit a tad hot and sticky in summer!

And there are so many adventurous activities on offer. Boat trips to outlying islands, hiking in the mountains (yes, we have spectacular scenery in HK!), cycling in the New Territories, horse riding, paragliding onto beaches, barbecuing in country parks...

Also, I should mention that salaries are high and taxes are low. Admittedly, cost of living is quite high (mainly because of rent -- it's astronomical) but, personally, I'm still far better off here financially than I was anywhere else I've ever worked (including the UAE, where I paid no taxes at all).


A red bird in the Hong Kong Park aviary. 

Do most expats in Hong Kong stick together, or is there much integration with the local community?

Others may disagree, but in my experience there seems to be far less integration here than I've seen elsewhere.

The expats do tend to stick together more. That's not to say that they have to. They just do, for whatever reason.

There are many bars, cafes and restaurants in central Hong Kong where you'll see nothing but expats when you walk in. You could just as easily be in London or New York City. (As a matter of fact, you'd probably see more Hong Kongers if you walked into a bar or restaurant in London or New York City!)

Is there anything else you would like to add for teachers who would like to teach English in Hong Kong?

Glad you asked!

Sorry to burst your bubble, folks, but remember that you'll need a work permit to teach here.

Hong Kong does not turn a blind eye to black-market work like some countries do. You might get away with not having a permit if you just hang out for a while and do some private tutoring on the side, but no one will be willing to take the risk to hire you illegally (and if anyone does try to - run the other way!).

If you're hired by an international school, DSS school or under the government NET scheme, your employers will sponsor you for a work permit. Language schools may or may not be willing to sponsor you. Some do, but many only hire teachers who already have permits as it saves them the money and the hassle.

Universities also generally want you to have a work permit if you're only part-time.

Of course, if you end up loving Hong Kong as much as I do and stay for seven years or more, you can get permanent residency and never have to worry about another work permit again! :-)


A ship docked in Kowloon

About Getting a Work Permit to Teach English in Hong Kong

I asked Hana for more information on getting a work permit if you wish to teach English in Hong Kong. Here is her answer:

In my experience, work permits are not hard to get. They're just a formality. You don't have to have a full-time job, although I would say that most schools would probably not to want to go through the whole work permit hassle for a part-time position. They would tend to look for someone who doesn't need a work pemit or who already has one.

And you can't just apply for a work permit yourself in order to then go look for a job. Someone (usually employer) has to sponsor you. Once you have the job offer the employer applies for the permit. Most schools are used to doing this (and the Ed. Bureau encourages schools to hire NETs) so it's no big deal.

From what I recall, the teacher doesn't have to do much to get the permit except maybe fill out a form (easy -- the school will give it to you), get some documents together (passport, qualifications etc) and sign some papers. You then go to immigration to get the work permit added to your passport and to get an ID card (those cards are great -- they allow you to access all kinds of services incl. so-cheap-it's-nearly-free public health care).

Teachers employed at government schools sometimes have the added hassle of having to have their non-HK qualifications certified by the Ed. Bureau.

One last thing about visas. There are also other visas you can get here. Like if you have a partner with a HK work visa you can get a dependency visa off his/her work visa (I think the partner applies, but he/she needs to prove they can support you). A dependency visa also allows you to work here.

This is the end of Hana's interview for those of you who would like to teach English in Hong Kong. The link to Part One of her interview is below. You may also be interested in my articles on how to teach English in Hong Kong, and teaching English in Macau below. As I mentioned in part one of the interview, Hana is a keen traveller, and she writes about Shoestring Backpacking on her site.

Thanks again to Hana for the interesting interview.

Below are links to part one of Hana's article, and to articles I've written on how to teach English in Hong Kong and Macau.


Your first paragraph ...


Teaching in Hong Kong - Part One of Hana's interview 

teaching english in hong kong 

teaching english in macau 

teaching english overseas 

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