When a foreigner finally decides to come to China or who might be already living in China, wants to relocate, they sometimes look for a job that provides accommodations in their employment package but this is a foolish idea in most cases. Sure, if you are working for a company in your own country and the company has transferred you to China, accommodations might be a really good thing because everything is being arranged for you, and the employment package is generally extremely generous with free flights, health and accidental insurance at a western standard, sometimes a car to drive you around, high-end apartment in an expensive neighborhood, paid vacations, free education for your children, extremely high salary that is equal or higher than your regular salary in your own country and in addition to all that, your visa is arranged and sponsored by the company in your home country.
This isn’t the case with any job that is found online, either through an employment agency or even directly through the school. The salaries are generally much lower, there isn’t the extra benefit packages, insurance benefit (if any) is the lowest coverage, Chinese employers might get you accommodations that is far from suitable for western living and will be as cheap as they can possibly make it, which is more suitable for their own pockets and not your comfort. Keep in mind, the employer is trying to make as much money as they can with the least amount of expenses. This may include giving you accommodations inside the school or in the school dormitory, where you have very little privacy, share washrooms with your students (including showers), no cooking facilities in your room, where the school’s cafeteria is only open Monday to Friday and closed on weekends because the students and staff have gone home. Living at the school can feel like you are being held against your will. The school gates lock at night to keep students in and strangers out (for the protection of the students). Most schools don’t even have internet or if they do, the internet only operates during business hours. Have you ever seen a Chinese style toilet? It looks like a whole in the floor and you squat over it as you try balancing on your feet or a trough in the floor. (for most details, visit http://www.wikihow.com/Use-a-Squat-Toilet)
Things to keep in mind when looking for a job and they offer accommodations are simple.
First, the school is sponsoring your visa and if they are legally allowed to employ a foreign teacher, they sponsor your Foreign Expert Certificate (FEC) as well. Because of this, they have a lot of control over you while you are in China and can cancel your visa and foreign expert certificate (FEC) whenever they want. Without your visa or FEC, you can no longer stay in China and they can actually stop you from obtaining employment somewhere else. When leaving a legal employer, you require 3 documents, the release form, release letter and the cancelation of the FEC document, without them, you can’t stay in China.
Second, they know where you are, where you live and in some cases, they know everything about what you do in your spare time because someone in the area is watching you. If you are sick, they know where to find you and can make you go to work anyway. Because they own the place, they have the right to come into your place to snoop, especially if you are living on school property and they know who comes and goes out of your living space. There have been some stories about hidden video equipment and spyware software on your computer or internet.
Third, if the accommodations are provided with the job, whether it is in the school or off school property, what do you think the chance are that they will allow you to continue living in the accommodations if you quit or worst, get fired? You could be put in a position where you are unemployed and homeless in a matter of hours. Being that the accommodations are provided by and paid for by the school, they can even get the police involved with removing you immediately and you have no say about it. I hope your employment with the school is totally legal because it is a possibility that the police will want to see your visa, temporary residence permit (TRP) and FEC.
Fourth, if fired or if you quit your job, there is an extremely good chance that the school will not pay you immediately and make you wait until the scheduled pay period or they may not pay you at all. If they don’t pay you, what can you do about it? You’re homeless, unemployed, broke and it is a good chance they are going to cancel your visa and FEC. You can make a complaint to the government (if you are legally employed) but you will be lucky if the government will process everything within a timely manner and you could be waiting for months before the matter makes it to court.
Fifth, if your accommodations are on school property, you will find out the school will not allow you to have guests, especially the overnight type guests. If your family comes to visit, you have no place to let them stay while they are in China and the school will have strict rules regarding the students visiting their teacher during the evening, especially the opposite sex and if you are placed in with the same gender, the school will encourage you and the students to spend a lot of time together, for basically free education or to build relationships (friendships) with your students, meaning working but without pay. Think of the different situations you could get yourself into without even trying.
Sixth, if the school is paying for the accommodations, they are generally paying the water, electricity and gas. This means they can have reasons to complain about usage. The electric bill is too high because you want warm in the winter and to be cool in the summer. By the way, most Chinese don’t use their heating and air conditioning because they want to save money on electricity and they are willing to sacrifice their own comfort to save money.
Seventh, the school gets to pick the location of your accommodations. If you were the school, would you chose an apartment (if they were providing an apartment) close to the school so that you could go to work easier or a place closer to grocery stores, shopping malls, bars or in some cases, even close to the nearby town or city. Of course they are going to pick a place very close to the school because to them, that is the reason you are there. To work, to make them money and to be there whenever they need you. They don’t want you to go too far away from the school because you might meet people or find a better job or think the nearby town/city is a better place to live. I have met some schools that don’t like their teachers to venture out from their area and will come up with excuses why it isn’t safe. By the way, China is one of the safest places in the world and serious crime is extremely rare, which is amazing since China has over 1.65 billion people.
Eighth, free is generally not free. If the accommodations are at the school, it cost the school nothing. If it is an apartment, the school got the apartment extremely cheap or it’s a friend’s place and they are working on a side deal. Generally, a job that comes with accommodations generally pays less, even if it isn’t costing them anything.
There are many different reasons why you don’t want accommodations, even more than we mentioned here. Keep control of your own life, coming to China wasn’t only about a job or to make money, it was to see and experience a different culture, to see the world and to meet new people. A good employer will help you find a place to live and might even negotiate with the landlord about the rental price but allow you to make all the choices on where you want to live, how much you are willing to pay and what the conditions of the apartment is in. Keep safe and think ahead.