How to launch an English Teaching Business in China

English Teaching Business China

The booming demand for English teachers in China has been flourishing for decades now and despite the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the long-term demand does not seem to be going away. Furthermore, even if growth in the Chinese economy stagnates, the English teaching market is expected to continue to grow.

Chinese society has placed great emphasis on the importance of learning English for years. While ESL schools in China were first established to teach English to adults, in the last couple of decades, the market has shifted toward primary and secondary-level students. Many Chinese parents are willing to spend up to half of their household income on language classes for their kids, resulting in an ever-growing market. For instance, in 2020, it is estimated that over 400 million people in China were learning English which makes it the largest market in the English learning industry.

Overview of the English Teaching Market in China

The English learning market is already larger than the entire population of the United States. The market is estimated to be worth about $4.5 billion dollars.

Technavios analysts forecast the ELT (English Language Training) market in China to grow at a CAGR of 21.93% during the period of 2017-2021. The last trend showed a gain of interest in 2nd and 3rd-tier Chinese cities. The reason for this trend is rather simple – the competition in 1st tier cities is way too fierce with organizations that have been in place for years.

Read our China Education Market Guide

One of the major drivers for growth in this market is the development of an online training center. Nevertheless, the popularity of free online platforms or open-source applications is a threat to the growth of the market. Open-source models such as Duolingo free up the cost of beginner learning. This ease of access to free online resources is forcing classic language training schools to change their models.

How is the ESL market evolving in China?

Despite the development of new resources, studies estimate that at least 100,000 English teachers are currently needed in China. This number should continue to increase over the next few years. This is a challenge for the government and private sector organizations that will have to find ways to attract always more qualified teachers.

As the age for learning English in Chinese public schools has changed from twelve to nine years old, the students of private English training schools are also getting younger. This has opened up plenty of new opportunities for businesses to come up with adapted programs. As a result, you’ll see Chinese children as young as four years old starting at English schools.

Although the demand for teachers is incredibly high, stigmas still remain. The prestige of a typical foreign face in terms of a traditional English speaker is much more desirable in China than qualified local teachers. Parents are willing to pay twice the price for a teacher who looks like they’re from the west.

English Teaching Business in China: Best Practices

ESL Chinese website China

  • A school in China must be registered to issue “expert certificates” to foreign teachers. According to the Beijing Bureau of Foreign Experts Affairs, only roughly 500 institutions in Beijing are allowed to issue these “expert certificates” which grant foreign teachers work visas; however, there are approximately 7,000 institutions that employ foreign teachers illegally.
  • Foreign English school chains need a Chinese partner and must have their teaching materials approved
  • Business licenses, fire safety inspections, and the requisite certificates allow you to hire foreigners. These all take time to acquire so starting the process to get these is highly advisable.

What is the optimal location and pricing for English services?

  • While the market in 1st-tier cities in China is larger and the demand is higher, being located in a 2nd-3rd tier city is also attractive because those areas have much fewer competitors.
  • Location in the city is also important. Pick spot kids frequent or is on the way to or from school.
  • Offer training for English comprehension tests. With more and more students heading overseas for college, the ESL market in China is looking for TOEFL, SAT, and ACT tutors as well as college counselors and admissions consultants. As an example of just how big it is, it is estimated that 30% of all the international students in the USA are Chinese.

Who to hire for your staff

  • Hire native English speakers as teachers and highly qualified non-natives. Teachers that also speak Mandarin are even better but they will cost you more.
  • Hiring teachers is just a start. You’ll need staff for accounting, marketing, cleaning, etc. There are options to go through an agency to help you reach your target personnel.

How to successfully launch and operate your ESL Business in China

You will rapidly learn that reputation is everything in China. Chinese people are among the most connected in the world. Digital marketing is crucial to promote yourself. This includes preparation before launching and building hype around your brand before the actual launch.

It is now more important than ever to consider new methods available for teaching English. These also act as great points when promoting your school. Due to the ever-evolving situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for online teachers and other digital solutions for teaching English is incredibly high. During the early onset of the pandemic and even still, many students have had to switch to entirely online methods of learning. This has forced both students and ESL businesses to adapt.

For example, live-streaming classes are a method that is growing in popularity. These classes allow for group learning rather than teaching on an individual basis. This is beneficial for students because they can feel supported as a class and can gain benefits from having classmates such as gaining insights from the questions other students ask. On the other hand, this is great for many ESL businesses because they can save on operating costs by only needing to hire one teacher for several students.

Furthermore, where international travel for teachers may no longer be as easily accessible as it once was, online training for teachers has also become more important than ever. Methods for training teachers online have subsequently become more effective in the last year or so. There are many third-party companies that provide TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) training which is something that most ESL businesses in China require from their teachers.

Be Present Online: Website & SEO

  • Get a Chinese website hosted on a Chinese server. Most of your potential customers will look for information online. Their first contact with your brand will most likely be via your website and it is also an excellent way to display your services, location, price, news, blog posts… etc. It is important for your website to be hosted on a Chinese server so it loads quickly. You don’t want visitors to leave before even seeing your content because your page is taking too long to load.
  • Invest in Baidu SEO.  Baidu is the most used search engine in China and is the Chinese equivalent to Google. Optimizing SEO for Baidu can be much less expensive than ads and also will offer you great visibility.

China Social Media: WeChat and Weibo

  • The king of all Chinese apps is WeChat. WeChat is a crossover between Facebook, Whatsapp, Tinder, Uber, a wallet, and even more. It has its own ecosystem with over 1 billion users active every month. 93% of the Chinese population uses this social media app. For any business that wants to succeed in China, it is essential to create an official WeChat Corporate page so that your customers can follow your updates directly from the app. Use your QR code to promote your WeChat page and your services. It is also a great place to communicate directly with your customers and publish content that has the possibility of going viral.
  • The second app you need to consider is Weibo. With over 650 million registered users and 129 million monthly and a user presence across 190 countries, a presence on this app is critical. It is often referred to as “Chinese Twitter”.  Weibo marketing is one of the most recommended marketing activities in China. Creating a company account is an effective tool to establish your presence in China and to get your content easily shared.


Marketing Efforts “Online and Offline”

  • Create a link between your online and offline community: You’ll notice soon enough that having a name in Chinese communities will help you to grow your customer base.  Get in touch with locals, be present at strategic places online and offline such as local libraries, kindergartens, daycare, parks, and malls. Most of these places would be happy to host a demo class and can act as the perfect setting to conduct business. Be ready to handle parents though. Let us give you a tip: Be proactive and educate them on questions that they might have. For instance: Why is it beneficial to start learning English from a young age? Answering these questions can take many forms: pamphlets, flyers, handouts, Wechat posts, etc.
  • Think e-reputation: Word of mouth is equally important in China to build your image. Invite your customers to review your school and share your services. In order to achieve this, we strongly suggest that you have a presence on Chinese online forums. Examples include Zhihu, Baidu Zhidao, Douban, Baidu Tieba, or the rating app, Dianping. An advantage of Dianping is that you can create coupons that allow people to make reservations to your facilities directly via the app. Having a presence on these forums will help you develop your brand awareness and will ensure that customers are more likely to find you when looking for an English teaching school.

The road is going to be long and perhaps challenging in terms of administration but the English teaching market in China is still highly profitable and well worth entering. Having a polished marketing strategy can help your brand reach the customers that it needs.

Gentlemen Marketing Agency

GMA advertising Agency China

Want to launch yourself on the teaching market in China but have little idea how to reach out to your target audience? Contact GMA, we are a marketing agency specializing in China and help foreign businesses to find their place in this exciting market.

Read more the education market in China:


  • A very interesting article, thank you. Our Academy offers online tuition for students of all ages. Breaking into the elearning English market in China would be exceptional. However, in order to keep our course costs competitive we aren’t able to invest in specific marketing, which is obviously a shame.

    • This article was not fully true even when it was written and is patently false now. As early as 2019, public schools in even the richest districts of Beijing found themselves unable to afford to hire a foreign teacher anymore due to budget constraints while a simultaneous change in the requirements for an FEC made it all but impossible for any small or foreign-owned (let alone both) private training center to legally hire a waijiao. This meant if you wanted to open your own school you couldn’t hire any teacher but yourself and even then you’d have to sponsor your own visa. Got 2.3 million RMB lying around? You’ll need it to get the license that is required to sponsor work visas.
      The article was then further rendered completely obsolete by a sweeping (and stifling) overhaul of China’s education laws in August of 2021 which made it all but impossible for anyone not based in China to teach online to students in China while simultaneously putting an extremely low cap on the number of F.E.C’s the government is even allowed to issue. In essence, you can’t hire a teacher in China to work at your own center or be hired as one working at someone else’s. Between the public schools no longer having foreign teachers and this crackdown on the private sector, the ESL market in China no longer exists. Every, single, teacher who I am still in contact with there is fleeing the country, schools are not eager to replace them and if they were they’d find few foreigners willing to apply.

  • At 72 years of age am I too old. I used to teach accounting in china for two years. Must be secondary school students. I do speak mandarin but yi dian dian

  • Hello,
    Today there is many oportunities as there is a lack of English teacher.
    I am a Chinese mother and the 3 British Teacher that I know left, and went back to Canada and UK.
    It is really difficult to work with Chinese people teaching English, it is really crappy.
    I feel like it is impossible now to find English teacher

    • Deborah

      I wonder if I can help you, Lili. I have just seen this online as my colleague and I are thinking of setting up an online school of English and French in China. I have been teaching online for 7 years now and am about to take on some Chinese students for the first time. I am a fully-qualified British native teacher with 25 years of experience.
      Are you interested in an online teacher?

    • I can agree you on that point that lots of English teacher here in China are crappy but definitely not all. I’ve been teaching in an international school, and now do English teaching online. I’ve got exceptional English pronunciation, accent free and abundant English teaching experience as well as knowledge of local market here in China. Contact me on wx, maybe just listen to my voice, you’ll understand.

    • I could help you with that. I’ve been teaching in an international school, and now do English teaching online. I’ve got exceptional English pronunciation, accent free and abundant English teaching experience. Contact me on wechat: justgettingstarted. Maybe just listen to my voice, you’ll understand.

    • Thank you for this comment and feedback.
      Very useful for our audience I feel.

  • Thank you. A lot of good points to consider. You might consider adding something that could give some idea of how you charge. I am going to guess it is too much and leave and maybe it is not. Never mind about the grammar mentioned. You aren’t the teacher.

  • Marie smith

    That is interesting, I’m a tutor whose students are all Chinese (also a teacher for 25+ years). I decided that this was an area I should look into. My students and parents seem to like my style and I thought I could put some lessons on video. As far as the business side, that’s not my strength, but I’ve heard about WeChat.

  • Samanwita

    We are a small start up online educational institute, i would like to know i want to attract students and get maximum number of students to our institute, how you can help me and what will be the cost, I’m looking for very minimum costing as we are a start up.

  • Really useful, i am thinking of launching a english teaching online school in China.
    It is legal to do it on wechat?
    do you recommend wechat as promotion channel?

    • that’s really interesting, an online school on wecaht. I am a Chinese with excellent English proficiency, we can make it happen.

      • Interested in starting contact w you.

      • Marie smith

        That is interesting, I’m a tutor whose students are all Chinese (also a teacher for 25+ years). I decided that this was an area I should look into. My parents seem to like my style and I thought I could put some lessons on video. As far as the business side, that’s not my strength, but I’ve heard about WeChat.

      • AARON I’m interested in talking we have an online English school based in SEAsia looking to break into China

  • So you’de suggest to go for a smaller city?

  • Michael

    I would say that there are a lot of mistakes with the English you use – a lot! Considering this post is about English teaching it is surprising. I’d be happy to correct for you.


    • Mickey Mercier

      i’d like to see you say all that in chinese

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