I signed my contract with a Chinese Agency before to go and work as an English teacher which i was so excited about to the point that I didn't check my contract thoroughly and as you might expect it got me into a lot of problems once I arrived in China.....reading a contract before signing it is important and you should make sure what you need and anything the company promises should be stated in the contract. Otherwise you lost your rights and you don't stand a chance of making these promises come true.
I will make it really simple for you by posting a checklist of things you need to check in your contract:
- READ the contract carefully...not once or twice but as many times as you can....much more better if you show it to your legal adviser or friends....
- if the company provides accommodation make sure the address of the apartment and photos from inside the apartment are included in the contract, a list of the amenities of the apartment is also handy in case you don't find a washing machine or that painting they promised you they'll hang on the wall or whatever.
- make sure your working hours and if you agreed to having fixed weekends (Saturday and Sunday for example) are stated in the contract otherwise expect them telling you that you'll take Saturday off and half of Monday + half of Sunday off (happened with my friend)
- make sure it's mentioned in the contract how your salary will be like if they can't provide classes (which happened with me, I stayed 4 months without them providing classes and of course i wasn't making any money)
- In case you are planning to leave soon (which will likely happen because you need sometime to realize what's going on in China before you find the perfect agency or school for you) so make sure there are terms in the contract stating what will happen if you want to cancel the contract.....having a penalty fee of $3000 is not helpful by the way especially if you decide to leave before them providing any classes
- make sure the contract states what grade you'll be teaching....they always promise you whatever you ask for so if you want to teach university they will say yes but once you arrive they will force you to teach kindergarten.
- flight reimbursement should be divided on the contract term so if they promise 12000 RMB flight reimbursement I would recommend getting 1000 RMB every month.....because let's be frank if you agree to take it once you fulfill the contract there's a 70% chance you'll never see this money.
- before signing the contract you should do your homework and google the agency's name to check and see what people are saying about them....use email or skype or whatever method to contact teachers who were working in the same agency and take their opinion....one teacher is never enough because sometimes the agencies pay them to write good reviews online or to tell you that they are the best agency.
- I would recommend starting with a short term contract like a 3 months or a 6 months contract and if you like it there then it's easy to extend. Don't get yourself tied in a 1 year contract in shitty conditions.
- NEVER ever leave your passport with the agency....they will take it for exactly 10 days to get the residence permit but after that your passport is yours....if they keep your passport then you lost any leverage or even the chance of leaving the country.....NEVER EVER ALLOW THEM TO KEEP YOUR PASSPORT FOR WHATEVER REASON.
Finally there's never a way of knowing for sure....I know friends who did everything and checked everything with the agency before they come and then they experienced the worst days of their lives wasting too much money in China trying to work it out only to realize there's no way except for doing the infamous midnight run (which i never recommend)
Be sure to do your homework and leave the rest for fate so at least when it ends bad you know you did everything in your power to make it work.