6 Things To Look For In An ESL Contract

Six months ago I opened my computer, clicked a few links, had an online video interview, and started the process to move to China.  What type of “grass” was I smoking! If you’ve ever heard the quote “you don’t know what you don’t know” then you know exactly how I feel. I wish there was a checklist that could guide me through the negotiations and contract. Recruiters & owners will say whatever you want to hear to get you on that plane and commit a year to their company.

Six things to look for in an ESL contract are the salary, days off, working hours per day, responsibilities, reimbursements, and breach of contract. For those of you interested in an ESL (English as A Second Language) teaching job, I will go into detail in this post about each area to give a solid foundation of what a good ESL contract looks like. Remember, you will be negotiating across continents and oceans, and the person on the other side could use that to their advantage. 


Salary (Duh!)

How much will I be getting paid and when?

“Show me the MONEY”! This is what everybody wants to know. How much am I going to make? Let’s get into the details. ESL recruiters and contractors will say any salary to draw workers in. Many of the job postings when I began applying had salary ranges from roughly $1,800 to $3,000 per month – that’s a huge gap! The contract should say what exactly the salary is and when you will receive your full salary with a date (For example, the 15th of every month). There should also be a portion that discusses what happens if the employer fails to pay the salary. The contract should also state any deductions, and how much the deductions are for. Beware of contracts that state things like ” the employer has ten days to submit payment before the contract is breached”. If they add it in the contract just assume they will use it.


Days Off / Vacation


How many days per week do you have off?

Do you work 5 days per week with 2 days off? Are there two consecutive days off or are the days sporadic? This is an area that you should pay very close attention to. Work weeks vary across the globe, so it is imperative that you get a clear picture of what a work week will look like for you. For example, before I came to China I “thought” I negotiated for 5 working days with two days off. Well, I “thought” wrong. What I actually ended up with was 6 days a week with two half days. Not the ideal situation.

How many paid, unpaid, sick days off do you have?

Many contracts will tote the paid and unpaid Holidays as a carrot to draw your attention. Make sure you take your time and read exactly what that means. If it isn’t clear ask more questions. Also, make sure that your paid vacation days are separate from national holidays. Employers will say you have 30 days off within your contract , but they will include EVERY national holiday that most people have off anyways.


Hours / Days per week?

Hours per week can be divided into teaching hours and office hours. Make sure that both are clearly stated in the contract. Also determine what happens if you work over the stated amount of teaching hours. Do you get paid more? Do you earn vacation days?

What time does work start/end on each day?

Will you report to your job at 8:00 am or 3 pm? This is important because you will want to plan other events in advance around your time. If this isn’t clearly stated you can have all types of issues. It will make it almost impossible to plan anything in the future.

Do hours change, if so when?

Will hours ever change in the future. If so, when and what will they change. Avoid contracts that say things like hours are subject to change in the near future.


What specifically will be reimbursed?

Will my background checks, document authentication, plane tickets, and travel expenses be reimbursed. Make sure you read and re-read this section in the contract.

When will reimbursements be paid?

Will they be paid in full or in partial payments. Does it start after the probation period, or before.

What happens if either Party breaks a contract.

Will you be able to leave without issue?

** Check the VISA Laws on the country you are going to, but depending on the country some employers can limit you from finding work **



  • No contract is perfect!
  • There are things that you will like about one and hate about another.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask and be pushy! I repeat, DO NOT be afraid to ask questions!
  • The rules of negotiations are different across borders. Research the country you are negotiating in before you make sign any thing.

You should use this checklist to assist you with making a strong informed decision. In the ESL Industry everyone is looking out for their best interest. Please use this post to do the same!

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