If you read about me, you’ll know that in 2012, I graduated college with my teaching license in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and I didn’t have very many job options–that I truly wanted anyway.
So I did a very adult thing and moved back to my hometown and in with my parents. During those two years, I really wanted something more and since I completed my student teaching experience in Thailand, I knew I wanted to be overseas.
I applied for exactly 1 teaching job in China and got an offer. I jumped at the opportunity to leave my home and teach English in China. It can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but there are also a few practical things to consider before YOU make the decision.
From my own personal experience, here is a list of 25 pros and cons of teaching English in China to help you make the best choice.
25 Practical Pros And Cons of Teaching English In China
Each pro is listed with the following con to help you consider both sides of the coin. Let’s dive in!
Pro – Benefits of Teaching English in China
One amazing benefit of teaching English abroad is the salary offered to English teachers. The highest-paying jobs are at international schools in China which can be anywhere between $1,200 – $4,500 per month.
Another benefit is that most language schools offer free or low-rent housing with the job. Because you’ll be saving so much money on free or low rent, you can spend your money in other ways such as paying off student loans or traveling the world.
Professionally, teaching English in China is will look great on your resume. This is a good way to get your foot in the door of the job you want when you return home. That up there is a snippet of my current resume and I’m pretty proud to have it on there!
If you work in an international school that observes both your home country and China’s holidays, you might get all those days off for vacation.
The school I worked at was American-based so I got a few days off for Thanksgiving in November in addition to time off in October for the National Holiday.
Con – Challenging Workload and Difficulty Getting Books
A disadvantage of teaching English in China is the challenging workload. One of the biggest complaints is that teachers are overwhelmed with work due to the lack of an easily accessible English curriculum.
As an English teacher, you are most likely creating lessons from scratch. If you’re not used to teaching, it may be a challenge to adapt to the lack of curriculum – I know I struggled at first!
Another challenge is there aren’t many and sometimes no quality English books available for teaching English in China. This presents a difficulty when teaching new material to students, especially if you want to introduce new vocabulary, set up reading groups, or use books as a writing example.
Pro – You Can Teach English Without a Bachelor’s Degree in Education
Another pro of teaching English in China is you don’t need a bachelor’s degree in Education to get a job. This is perfect if you have a degree in another field not related to education or English but still want the chance to teach in Asia.
Keep in mind though, that you may need to complete a 120-hour TEFL certificate to be considered for teaching English in China.
Con – You Can Face Punishment Without the Right Visa
You must have a work visa, or the Z-visa, in order to legally teach in China. If you are caught working illegally, your employer can get in trouble for hiring you without the proper visa. That means both the school and individual teachers could face consequences such as deportation.
If this happens, you will not be able to return to China even as a tourist. If the company you are planning to work with is promising a different visa, be very cautious and look into other schools.
Pro – Low Cost of Living
One pro of teaching English in China is the low cost of living. According to Numbeo, a website that compiles cost of living data, the cost of living in Beijing is around 52% lower than in New York City. This cost of living includes food, transportation, electricity, and service providers for phones and the internet.
With the benefit of free or low housing from your company, you will be able to save a nest egg while teaching English in China.
Con – Unfamiliar services or products
A con to low costs of living is that you may be unfamiliar with the services offered. China does not have T-Mobile or Verizon for phones or Comcast and Xfinity for the internet.
China Mobile is the biggest cell phone and internet provider in China. There isn’t typically a phone or family plan. Instead, you may be paying as you go or pay to refresh your data monthly and you would be paying annually on your internet.
Though this might seem like a con at first just because it’s unfamiliar, I actually think it’s an easier system!
Pro – Cultural Diversity
As a teacher living in China, you will be in the midst of many cultures. With more than 200 different ethnic groups and 56 spoken languages, China has a variety of opportunities to experience different ethnic people.
You’ll be exposed to Chinese cultures and traditions and even purchase some Chinese clothing like the qipao if you’d like. Some of the best experiences are celebrating Chinese festivals, such as Chinese New Year, and enjoying ethnic foods like moon cakes and jiaozi.
Con – Culture Shock
One con to experiencing amazing cultural diversity while teaching English in China is experiencing extreme culture shock. You will find yourself in a very different culture than the one you are used to.
First, there are a lot of Chinese people so you can find yourself lost in the masses.
Second, every aspect of life is also different from food availability to transportation options and address systems to living spaces.
The way of living is also different. You might experience limited products at restaurants, see all the Chinese men spitting everywhere, experience the seemingly unsanitary public restrooms (or sometimes lack thereof), and so much more.
These differences can be challenging to overcome; however, with time and an open mind, you can adjust to your new normal.
Pro – Excellent Expat Communities
There are huge expat communities, especially in the larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai. You might be living and/or working with people from all over the world and truly gain a global perspective.
If you do not know anyone or are unfamiliar with your area, many expat communities will provide activities and guides to living in China. This is where you can connect with other English-speaking people and grow your community.
Con – Difficulty Connecting with Chinese Locals
Although expat communities are wonderful, on the other hand, you might get stuck in the expat bubble and have difficulty connecting with Chinese locals. Some expats are happy with their lives in China without stepping out of the bubble.
However, if you’re looking to immerse yourself in Chinese culture, there may be opportunities for you to teach English in China by working with locals rather than other English teachers or foreign companies. You can also connect with locals by using schools that offer language exchange programs.
Pro – Gorgeous Scenery and Authentic Historical and Cultural Sites
Teaching English in China will give you the opportunity to explore the breathtaking scenery. With extremely high mountains, vast deserts, and thousands of miles of coastline, there are endless possibilities for adventure.
You may even be able to hike on some famous trails like the Great Wall, Tiger Leaping Gorge, or the Stone Forest National Park.
China’s many cultural and historical sites attract millions of visitors every year, giving you plenty to see and do while you teach English in China. You can visit the Forbidden City in Beijing, walk down the streets of ancient Xi’an, and more!
Con – Pollution is a Serious Problem In China
The pollution and smog in China can be truly debilitating. According to iqair.com, China ranks #14 with the worst air quality. With the country’s manufacturing industry, factories pump out harmful chemicals and particles into the air as well as water pollution from untreated sewage.
The higher the air quality number, the worse the quality is, which makes breathing outside difficult.
The only way to protect yourself is to wear a mask rated N95, KN95, or FFP2 for ultimate protection. You can also ask your school if they provide any options to avoid pollution as much as possible.
Pro – Delicious and Affordable Food
Street food in China is abundant and extremely cheap. Lining the streets are vendors selling every kind of food and Chinese locals rely on these small eats to get them through the day.
With a majority of street food being less than $1, you can afford to eat out several times a week and enjoy pretty healthy meals that taste amazing.
You can find anything in the street foods, but some of my favorites are fried dumplings filled with pork (jiaozi), fried noodles (chow mian), or steamed dumplings filled with red bean paste (baozi). So delicious!
Con – Expensive Familiar Foods
Although it’s not hard to find some favorite familiars like pizza and hamburgers, it may be much more expensive than you’re used to paying in your home country.
Foreign or western food costs more to make as some products like cheese are imported. Because of this, the prices of these foods cost higher than the rice or noodles you find in the streets of China. It might not taste the same either.
True story – I had durian pizza with sweet mayonnaise! Eeks!
Pro – Affordable Clothing and Products
With so many markets, you can find cheap clothing and products if you know how to haggle. Although negotiating the price of goods may be difficult for some, it’s actually a skill that anyone can learn with some practice.
So get out there and start saving! You can show off your new wardrobe on social media without breaking the bank!
Taobao, China’s version of Amazon, also has very inexpensive and fashionable clothing and shoes you can purchase to expand your wardrobe. You can also go shopping in China’s shopping malls and factory outlets where you can find affordable clothing and products.
Con – Sizes Tend to Run Smaller
Although some clothes do run ‘normal’ sizes, you should expect that most clothing will run smaller. You might have to buy a size up for your pants so they fall below your ankles!
Appropriately sized clothing can be found if you look in the right places, but it may take some time if you don’t have western stores such as Old Navy, H&M, or Zara in your city.
Pro – Chinese People are Friendly to Foreigners
With so many Chinese people studying English, it’s not hard to find someone who can communicate with you. Depending on where you are in China, nearly everyone you meet will be able to speak with you in some level of English, whether it’s only a “hi” or a longer conversation.
In rural areas, you’ll find it much more difficult to find someone who can communicate in English.
Before preparing to go out, you might even be intimidated by the possibility that someone might try to talk to you in Chinese, but even the locals who don’t speak English will be helpful and try their best to help you.
Con – Communication Can Be Frustrating
If you don’t know Chinese characters, many areas will be difficult to get around without knowing where you are.
This is especially true when ordering in a restaurant that doesn’t have pictures. You will most likely point to something you think looks good and end up with something completely different. It happens.
The only way to understand the written language is through pinyin or romanization, which can sometimes be tricky if your pronunciation is off.
To combat this, take some basic language lessons through apps like Babbel and Duolingo or sign up for a language exchange with some locals – you practice English with them and they teach you some Chinese.
Pro – High Sense of Safety
China has taken strides to make its cities safer. Crime rates in major cities like Beijing are very low – there’s no reason to be anxious about walking around the city at night by yourself!
Since tourists often visit these places, the Chinese people are well versed in how to treat foreigners.
Con – Terrible Internet Restrictions
The Chinese government has heavy restrictions on the internet. Many websites like Google, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook are blocked by Chinese censors.
To access these sites you usually need to use a VPN or proxies to get around the firewall.
Even local communication channels such as WeChat are monitored by the Chinese government so you will need to watch what you type on them.
Pro – Excellent Public Transportation
Making your way around China can be very easy with public transportation! The bus and subway system is cheap, clean, and efficient. Even if you want to travel by Uber or Didi, it’s a cheap alternative to taxis.
Travel outside of your city can be very efficient through China’s high-speed trains – and sometimes it’s better than flying.
You will need to adjust to the flow of traffic and unwritten rules, but bikes and scooters are also great options for personal transportation as China is designed for these vehicles.
Con – People are Everywhere
China has the largest population in the world with over 1 billion people. This means that there are A LOT of Chinese people, which can be overwhelming at first. You will always see someone nearby and you might not always like it. Hygiene isn’t always in the best form either.
Getting on public transportation during rush hour may not be the most ideal as there is really no sense of personal space. You might have to elbow your way onto a packed bus or push up against someone to get your turn.
Pro – Easily Travel Abroad
As long as you have a residence permit and an identification card, it’s easy to travel around China with affordable buses leaving from most major cities and into the smaller ones.
If you want to go further into Southeast Asia or Europe then your best bet is to fly from Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangzhou, which are three of the international or connecting airports. Travel time can be much shorter than even flying from California to Florida.
Con – Homesickness as an American Working in China
If you are from America or any other English-speaking country, you will have a huge cultural shock going to work in China. Many people struggle with feelings of homesickness and feel isolated from their friends and family back home.
The time zone probably won’t be beneficial either as you might be awake while your family is sleeping, making it hard to schedule FaceTime sessions.
Stay encouraged though as you will find a routine or time that works for you and your family so you’ll start to enjoy your time teaching and living in China.
Sometimes you get lucky and your whole family comes to visit you! Then you can really show off your Chinese speaking and navigation skills.
Pro – Teaching English Abroad Will Change Your Life
Moving to China and teaching English abroad will change your life. You will meet so many people from all around the world and gain international friends.
You will learn to tell the difference between good and bad Chinese food, know a different language, and grow personally as you learn to adult in a new place.
Even though there are definitely some cons to the pros of teaching English in China, this is an experience not to be missed!
Is it Worth Teaching English in China?
After weighing the pros and cons of living and working in China, I can say that it is definitely worth it to teach English.
First, you will save a lot of money (granted you make a budget and don’t spend all the money you earn), you gain professional teaching experience, and you might even make lifelong friends.
If that doesn’t convince you, the food and ability to travel abroad whenever you want might tip the scale.
Sure, you’ll need to get used to the pollution, an excessive number of people, and some shocking cultural habits, but you’ll gain so much more life experience by moving abroad to teach English.
Are English teachers in demand in China?
If you have a degree and experience in teaching, then it’s easy to find a job that fits your needs. With so many young Chinese students wanting to learn English, you might be overwhelmed by the number of teaching jobs you can find in China.
Are foreign English teachers respected in China?
In general, teachers are highly respected in Chinese culture. As an English teacher, you will be well-respected in China. Chinese students really look up to foreign English speakers and want to learn from them.
If you are teaching young students, like those in Kindergarten through high school, parents will also respect you as the authority in teaching their child English.
Is it better to teach in China or Japan?
Japan is a beautiful country with a rich culture and fantastic food. However, there are many more jobs available to teach English in China than in Japan so you’re bound to find something that works for you.
The cost of living in Japan may be more expensive compared to that of China as well so you should be able to save more money in China. For a direct comparison, check out this article from Panda Buddy.
Final Thoughts on Pros And Cons of Teaching English In China
It’s a cliché to say “don’t judge a book by its cover” and that is definitely the case in China.
I hope this list has helped you get an idea of what life might look like for you if you decide to commit your time and energy to teaching English in China, but I want to know how YOU think about the topic too!
What do you feel is most important when weighing whether or not to move abroad? Do any of these advantages resonate with you personally?
Other posts you might be interested in:
- What are the Requirements to Teach in China International schools?
- Can You Teach English Abroad Without Knowing The Language?
- Packing List for Teaching in China
- The Top 11 Common Interview Questions For Teaching English in China (And How to Answer Them)
- Is Teaching Abroad Difficult?
- 30+ Realistic Jobs After Teaching English Abroad
- The 8 Best and Worst (and Sometimes Hilarious) of my China Stories
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My Favorite Travel Tips + Resources
Here is a quick glance at all my go-to travel tips and resources that I use to plan every trip! For more information, check out my travel resources page.
- Booking flights: I use Google Flights to check all routes and find the best flights. Then I compare them with Expedia (for reward points) and Skyscanner (for the lowest prices) before I book.
- Accommodations: I love budget-friendly rentals or booking at a hotel where I can earn points. For hotels, I go through Booking.com or book directly with Marriott (for points + rewards). When I travel internationally, I’ll book through Hostelworld for very budget-friendly stays. For vacation rentals, I usually look through Airbnb, but you could also use Vrbo. Expedia also has some great bundles for hotels, flights, and car rentals altogether.
- Transportation: For travel in the United States, I love renting through Expedia with Enterprise or Thrifty. They have been consistent and provide the best customer service. For international travel, I’ll book through Rome2Rio or Eurail for trains or bus fares.
- Travel Credit Card: I book all my travel (flights, hotels, car rentals) through my favorite travel credit card. I also use this card for everything on my trip including dining, excursions, and souvenirs. Apart from earning 5x more points towards free travel, there are amazing benefits: no foreign transaction fees, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement (so I can book worry-free), fraud protection, emergency assistance – it’s really a great deal! Check it out here!
- Vaccines and Medications: Check the CDC website for updates on necessary vaccines to enter a country, including updates on Covid-19 and recommended places to visit. I recommend getting all the vaccines you need before you go!
- Tours + Experiences: I absolutely love my tours! Everything from eerie walking ghost tours to food tours, I’ll usually book something every trip either through Viator or GetYourGuide. I also love LastMinute.com for very affordable tickets to theaters and other experiences in Europe.
- What to Pack: I almost always travel by backpack. For products I like, check out my packing guide page for all the things I take with me on different trips.