Why You Should Never Accept School Accommodations
When a foreigner decides to come to China, or might already be living in China, or wants to relocate, they sometimes look for a job that provides accommodations in their employment package. This is a foolish idea in most cases. Sure, if you are working for a company in your own country and they transfer you to China, accommodation might be a really good thing because everything is being arranged for you. The employment package can be extremely generous with free flights, health and accidental insurance at a western standard. Sometimes a car is included to drive you around, and other benefits including a high-end apartment in an expensive neighborhood, paid vacations, free education for your children, extremely high salary equal to or higher than your regular salary in your own country. 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 lower and there aren’t the extra benefit packages. Insurance benefits (if any) are of the lowest coverage, and Chinese employers might get you accommodation that is far from suitable for western living and will be as cheap as they can possibly make it; 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 expense. This may include giving you accommodations inside the school or in a 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). Many 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 hole in the floor and you squat over it as you try balancing on your feet or a trough in the floor. (for more details, visit http://www.wikihow.com/Use-a-Squat-Toilet)
Things to keep in mind when looking for a job and schools offering accommodations:
- The school is sponsoring your visa and if they are legally allowed to employ a foreign teacher, they sponsor your work permit (Category B) as well. Because of this, they have a lot of control over you while you are in China and can cancel your visa and category B whenever they want. Without your visa, 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 your documents and you must change your visa out of the schools name within 10 days, or face fines and/or deportation.
- 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.
- If the accommodations are provided with the job, whether it is in the school or off school property, what do you think the chances are that they will allow you to continue living in the accommodation if you quit or worse, 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 Category B.
- 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 and broke, and there is a good chance they are going to cancel your visa and Category B. 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. If you aren’t legally employed, you can do nothing and the government won’t lift a finger to help you, neither will the courts.
- If your accommodations are on school property, you will find out the school will not allow you to have guests, especially overnight guests. If your family comes to visit, you have no place to let them stay while they are in China. The school will have strict rules regarding 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.
- 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 warmth 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 are willing to sacrifice their own comfort to save money.
- The school gets to pick the location of your accommodations. If you were the school, would you choose an apartment (if an apartment is provided) close to the school for the teacher to get to work easier, or a place closer to grocery stores, shopping malls, bars, or in some cases, close to a 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.
- 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 accommodation provided, 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 a different part of 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. This allows you to do what you want when school hours are finished.