EF China

EF China: A Serious Warning

I applied to teach with English First China in August 2009. I’d actually been browsing jobs teaching English in Japan when I saw a sidebar ad that read “Teach English in China.” I clicked it and arrived at the EF China home page.

Unlike the majority of ESL job postings online, language school English First’s website was organized, informative and beautifully-designed. It explained in crystal-clear detail what I could expect from the application process, upon my acceptance as a teacher, after my arrival in China and on the job.

I didn’t hear anything for the first several days after submitting my application, but within 48 hours of EF’s response, I had a job offer and placement in Shanghai. I hope this isn’t too good to be true, I thought as I clicked the “Send” button.

As you can probably guess, it was indeed too good to be true. Although English First Shanghai is far from the worst place I’ve ever worked, little about the company separates it from any of its multinational competitors. Continue scrolling to read one of the most candid EF China reviews you’ll find online.

Need help getting an ESL job that doesn’t suck? Hire me as your Travel Coach!

The Good

I like to start with the positive whenever I can, so I’ll begin by telling you what was good about my experience teaching English in China with EF. Overall, English First’s strong suit is that it has money, which it uses to make sure teachers’ bare necessities are covered.

English First was always on-time direct depositing my salary into the Bank of China account the school set up on my behalf. By contrast, many smaller English school pay teachers late, or not at all. These school sometimes even cease operations without prior notice.

As promised, EF promptly reimbursed me for expenses I incurred during the application process, such as obtaining my online TEFL certification and Chinese “Z” work visa.

English First also facilitated the conversion of my work visa into a residence permit. The school provided me with a work permit, medical examination and a chaperoned transfer to the office where I had to submit my paperwork. EF paid all associated costs.

Furthermore, EF’s “welcome package” was excellent. My liaison Apple met me at Pudong Airport and escorted me to the four-star Rayfont Nanpu Shanghai Hotel, where EF had prepaid a two-week stay for me.

Before Apple left, she provided me all the materials I’d need to start with the company the following Monday, including instructions as to where to meet her colleague, who’d be taking myself and my future colleagues to orientation.

The Bad

EF offered teachers a salary of 12,350 RMB (or about $1,850) per month as of November 2009. The EF English First salary is enough to live well in Shanghai or other large Chinese cities, but it isn’t enough to both save and spend. Allow me to explain.

First of all, China taxes expat employees in this income bracket at a rate of 20%. In other words, my take-home pay was only 9,880 yuan per month.

EF does not provide you with an apartment or compensate you for yours. Instead, I paid about 3,000 yuan (~$450) per month in rent, and 700 yuan, or $100 in utilities. I spent 200 yuan ($30) per week on groceries, 50 (about $7) on lunch at work and 100 ($15) filling up my Metro card. My recurring expenses totaled 4,050 yuan (~$625) per month.

EF China also doesn’t reimburse you for your flight up-front.Rather, it pays you monthly installments of a set, 8,000 yuan ($1,200) employee transportation allowance that doesn’t come close to covering the actual cost of a round-trip ticket from anywhere in North America or Europe to China.

The Ugly

EF China Work Environment

You might notice that I haven’t mentioned much about my work environment yet. You know what that means: It sucked.

As a disclaimer, I will say that I loved my students more than you can ever imagine. I taught adults, so many of my students became friends. They showed me parts of Shanghai and China I’d never have been able to see otherwise. For this alone, I am forever indebted.

That being said, EF is surely not the only English school in China with good students.

EF China Management

Unfortunately, EF is one of the worst managed places I’ve ever worked. I’m speaking about my work location in particular: The EF “Megacenter,” the company’s national headquarters in Shanghai’s People’s Square district.

Friends who worked in other English First centers throughout the city and country, teaching both kids and adults, had varying reactions to their workplaces. The vast majority of them were as disappointed as I was.

This was particularly true for kids’ teachers, who were unwittingly forced into working two six-week sets of seven-day work weeks during EF’s seasonal “Summercourse” and “Wintercourse” modules, without overtime pay or time off in lieu of worked weekends.

EF Professional Development

Several job-related irregularities irked me. First and foremost was the issue of “Feedback.”

About half of a given SMART teacher’s schedule is composed of four-person “Face-to-Face” classes.  The primary benefit students reap from taking these classes is individualized instructor “Feedback” within 72 hours of class completion.

Being the overachiever and generally good worker than I am, I made a point of entering feedback immediately after each Face-to-Face class. I got zero recognition for my promptness. By comparison, all but a couple of the other teachers were chronically late.

To add insult to injury, I was also made to stay in the office during unpaid “office hours,” even though I was finished with my work. Because of this, I ended up being “at work” approximately 50 hours per week, while getting paid for just 25.

My supervisor used his quarterly conferences mostly to remind me that he didn’t personally like me very much. The subject matter of these conferences only tangentially related to teaching or learning, and usually focused on matters of office gossip.

He also frequently criticized my wardrobe. This was curious, since I was the only male teacher in the office to adhere to EF’s dress code, which requires a belt, tie, dress slacks and a shirt tucked into them.

Hate sales? I don’t, but it got really fucking old have to put the EF logo on every piece of content I produced for my students, as well as having to use official product and course names whenever I mentioned any linguistic concept even nominally related to them.

Technology at EF China

Technology-wise the Megacenter was also lacking, a problem I imagine is much worse at English First satellite centers. Computers both at teacher desks and in classrooms were sluggish, resulting in regular delays in class starting time for which teachers usually took the blame.

Alternatives to English First China

EF’s main competitor in China is Wall Street English, a decidedly more corporate-oriented language school that have at least as many centers as EF nationwide, if not more.

Wall Street English has a reputation of working its employees even harder than English First (34 classroom hours per week vs. 25), but also pays significantly better, in addition to a rent-and-bills stipend each month. Like EF, Wall Street is a multinational company, so it’s conceivable you could take your job to another country if you make it long enough.

Once I’d finished with English First, however, I had no desire to work directly for someone again. By virtue of my friend Kyle, who worked for British Education Ltd. at the time, I was able to procure several high school-aged students as private clients, eventually making as much per month as I’d made with EF working only half the time.

Teaching private English lessons is ideal if you’re experienced enough that you don’t have a problem making lesson plans from scratch. It’s also important that you be OK with working under the table, since you might not have your residence permit any longer.

Canceling Your EF China Contract

If you’re unhappy working English First language schools, you’re probably worried about being “under contract.”  First thing’s first: The only thing you need to do to get out of your EF contract fair and square is to provide your supervisor written notice at least 30 days before your last planned day of work. End of story.

But what about my residence permit? What about it? Although company drones will tell you otherwise, you are under no obligation to allow EF English First to cancel your residence permit, regardless of whether or not they paid for it as they did mine.

Thanks to the China’s Stone Age information technology infrastructure, Chinese authorities are unable to cancel any entry document without physically having it in their possession. To be sure, Chinese immigration officers are usually too busy with other issues to bother tracking down teachers who quit their jobs a few monthly early.

Although your residence permit will eventually expire, you can remain in China if you so please, whether or not you procure other teaching jobs in China. Simply obtain a Chinese tourist visa in Hong Kong.

The Bottom Line

Is English first legit? EF China isn’t the worst place in the world to work, but it has a lot of downsides—if, like me, you don’t have a specific exit strategy, you should get one stat. After you’re out of EF’s grip, Shanghai (or wherever in China you’re based) is your oyster—ample opportunities are available both within and outside the ESL industry, as many other English First China reviews will corroborate. Or, if you’ve managed to save money, you can get on the next plane out and never come back.

About The Author

is the author of 1065 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!


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Robert Schrader August 3, 2016 at 8:18 am

This was People’s Square in Shanghai.

Chloe Cassandra September 3, 2016 at 8:59 pm

That’s absolutely horrible! How are they getting away with their sick behavior?

Chloe Cassandra September 3, 2016 at 9:07 pm

I reached out to EF as a prospective student and was thrilled to receive a follow-up email soon after. Considering I’ve contacted several other similar companies, their response seemed a bit unprofessional and informal. But I thought maybe they’re in a rush? I set up a schedule for Skype interview and right before the interview the recruiter cancelled with about 3-5 words. I also looked up reviews about the company before the interview and was not pleased. I could not find a single good trait about them. It’s horrifying to know that a company treats their employees so poorly especially considering they travel around the world for a enlightening experience and stumble upon insurmountable indignities.

Julzeric December 24, 2016 at 4:33 am

I worked at Shane and the situation was very similar. And my friends from EF over here never stop complaining about their manager being disrespectful to them and all the staff. The thing is it’s different in every location. Some of those schools are great.. but it’s often hard to know which ones. I found this website http://englishinchina.co/ where you can read teachers’ reviews about specific locations, which is always a good thing to do before committing to a job offer

Dan Friesen May 24, 2017 at 2:23 pm

That’s too bad that you had a negative experience with EF. Mine was somewhat different. I taught with EF in 2015, and while it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t bad either. I taught at CD1, the first EF school opened in Chengdu. Yes, I had to pay rent (~2600 rmb) and my salary wasn’t the highest (better than yours, I guess, at 13000 rmb) However, I don’t remember taxes being that high (I think my take home pay was around 11500) Transportation was super-convenient and cheap (subway to just about anywhere) Food was about the same as at home in Canada (If I was comfortable speaking Mandarin, I could have saved tons more shopping at the outdoor markets) Even so, I ended up sending a lot of money back home, enough to buy a car, get set up in a new city and upgrade my TEFL education with a CELTA.

The school was run rather well, I thought. I had previously taught at two Korean Hagwons before and found EF to be far more professional and well organized with a decent curriculum that integrated technology very well. Teaching the adult students was a breeze, for the most part. There were some difficulties too, like the time when a student on stand by got into a face to face class at the expense of a late student who threw a temper tantrum (lol, actually that was pretty funny!) Or the management not really knowing how to define “Life Clubs” (my least favourite part of teaching there) But, at the end, I really miss my students, co-teachers and some of the other staff I met there.

Robert Schrader May 24, 2017 at 8:20 pm

I’m happy you had a positive experience. Thanks for relaying it! My goal with this post is to provide people a comprehensive view of the EF experience, which is why comments like yours are so important.

Ben Noon May 31, 2017 at 7:25 pm

Great to see a transparent discussion about EF both good and bad. I too have heard both horror stories and good things. Its normal I guess for a company with so many branches and teachers to have a few dismayed employees. But its good to see the positives too. Many thanks for the article it helped me a lot in my choice of where to go.

Robert Schrader June 1, 2017 at 5:14 am

So happy to be of help!

Brandon Ross June 4, 2017 at 5:19 am

What should I expect from the EF Skype interview, as in type of questions? Thank you for this information!

Robert Schrader June 4, 2017 at 6:45 pm

It’s not entirely different from an ordinary job interview, although they will try to figure out if you have teaching experience and what it is, why you want to teach and also your interest in China and why you think you’ll be able to deal with living there.

Marie June 13, 2017 at 12:55 am

Hi Robert!

How were you able to teach “under the table?” Where did you find your students from?

Cav June 13, 2017 at 10:47 am

Thanks for this. I got a response rather quickly when applying for EF after I finished two years as an English Assistant in France. It sounded like an exciting opportunity, but after reading your review and a few others I canceled my interview as it seems it is the opposite from what I am used to as far as labor and management goes. Definitely not my thing.

Robert Schrader June 13, 2017 at 7:36 pm

Happy to be of help!

Robert Schrader June 13, 2017 at 7:38 pm

Ironically, I found my main private student through a salesperson at the EF Center—she initiated, not me. He hired me to coach him on business English and to help him with his MBA application. (He got in, BTW, so his investment was worth it!)

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Xena November 4, 2017 at 9:07 pm

I worked at EF.

I am grateful or the oppertunity.

However do not do it. There are way too many options out there.

After my resignation , I got slapped with warnings that were unfounded and my salary got docked.

Robert Schrader November 4, 2017 at 9:25 pm

Not surprising, I’m sad to say. Godspeed in the future!

dj November 15, 2017 at 11:45 pm

EF,,,,, YEAH YEAH WE KNOW THEM! They also hire teachers without proper qualifications. So that’s what you get for your money!
Try online wholesale Cheat Incorporate TALK915?
They claim to be UK based but they’re run by Chinese with mainly Filipinos to run the foreign affairs. No bad word about the Flippos :). But what the Shenzhen based day-to-day team does is daylight robbery!!!!
After each online class the T has to file a comment about student performance. A 5 minute job in a 5 minute break.
At the end of the month you miraculously find out that ‘you have forgotten to put in 2 or 3 such comments’!
Of course the staff have FREE access to your class files.


In a city (Shenzhen) where the going rate for a kindergarten teacher makes 175-200 yuan/hr (=25 US$), the 9 US$ TALK915 pays you is a pittance! THE FACT THAT THEY STEAL IS UNACCEPTABLE!


Robert Schrader November 16, 2017 at 12:31 am

Thanks for your advice!

Robert Schrader January 15, 2018 at 12:46 am

I would say EF has probably refined its office culture and recruiting methods, for better or for worse. I’d recommend asking to speak with several current employees.

Journal February 19, 2018 at 9:59 am

Hi Robert,
I am currently working for EF but l don’t like it. I want to go back to Japan because l worked there for a number of years. I’m curios, did you leave your job with EF mid contract? If so, what happened exactly? Did you get some money from them? Also, how long did you stay at EF? I am planning to stay only 6 months.

Robert Schrader February 19, 2018 at 7:20 pm

I did leave my job mid-contract! I got paid for the days I worked, but nothing more. They also canceled my visa.

Amanda February 25, 2018 at 9:40 am

I have 2 days to decide if I want to be a teacher at EF in Beijing. I want to see if teaching is the right career for me and also travel a bit. I was very excited but now I’m kind of concerned. I would like to be able to save some money as well and my recruiter did say something about living with a host family so that could maybe help with savings. What advice do you have for someone with little experience looking into this position? Should I accept or look at other options? Thanks!

Robert Schrader February 25, 2018 at 4:57 pm

Do you have other positions being offered to you right now? If you don’t and also have limited other options in your life, I’d advise you to take it, get there and see what it’s like, do your best with it and if it isn’t working, find something else on the ground…

Robert Schrader February 26, 2018 at 6:15 pm

I had many unpaid office hours, even when I’d finished all my work. This was a major sticking point for me.

Robert Schrader March 13, 2018 at 9:58 pm

Wall Street English is certainly a more reputable company, so I would imagine they are a better employer.

Robert Schrader March 14, 2018 at 7:29 pm

Do you have other offers, and/or a burning need to take this job now?

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