Teaching In China Experience – What is it Really Like?

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Teaching English in China is a great opportunity to gain experience and make money. You might have heard that moving abroad to teach can help pay off student loans or open up opportunities to travel.

You might even wonder if it’s safe for you to live in China or if you’d like the food when you go.

What is it really like?

view of traditional Chinese houses with Asian architecture

I have lived and taught in China so you’ll get first-hand answers to some of the most asked questions on all aspects of living and teaching in China to help you make an informed decision.

Why is it good to teach in China?

Is teaching a good career in China

1. Access to highly coveted teaching positions in China

English teachers are in high demand in China. Many parents want their kids to be able to speak English, so they may hire private tutors or choose to put their kids in private schools that have an English-speaking program.

If you are a native English speaker with the right qualifications (like a TEFL certificate or teaching license), you have a high chance of being hired.

International schools are also some of the highest paying teaching jobs in China if you hold a teaching license and 2 years of experience.

Read more about the requirements needed to teach English in China.

2. Great teacher salary with awesome benefits

Teaching jobs in China pay well, with most salaries ranging from $1,200 to $3,500 per month. The cost of living in China is also relatively low, with many basic necessities costing only a few dollars.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that the cost of living can vary depending on the city you live in.

Most schools will also provide furnished housing or a housing stipend as you look for your own apartment. In addition, you will likely be provided with health insurance and a flight home once your contract is up.

3. Grow your teaching skills in the classroom

If you are a new teacher, China is an ideal place to gain teaching experience. Teaching in China is challenging, but it’s also a great way to learn and develop your teaching skills.

You will have the opportunity to work with students of all ages and levels, and you will see firsthand how different techniques work in the classroom.

If you have teaching experience, a move to China will also look great on your resume and just add to your experience. You may also have a different experience than the one you’re used to as you’ll be teaching children from all over the world.

4. Wonderful opportunity to experience Chinese culture

China is an incredibly diverse country with a rich history and culture. As an English teacher in China, you will have the opportunity to experience all that China has to offer.

From stunning landscapes and ancient temples to bustling cities and delicious food, China has something for everyone.

As you start becoming friends with the local Chinese, you’ll be invited to go to their houses, meet their families, and maybe even be a part of their wedding!

With the vastness that China offers, you’ll be able to visit amazing places like the ice castles in Harbin, the stone soldiers in Xi’an, or see the majestic Great Wall of China. All of these things are part of the Chinese experience and you’ll be able to see it all!

5. Chance to travel throughout Asia

As an English teacher in China, you will have the opportunity to travel throughout Asia on your weekends and holidays. China is the epicenter of Asia, so it’ll be very affordable to travel to other Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, and Thailand.

Many of the first countries I’ve visited were in Southeast Asia, and that’s where I fell in love with traveling! It could be the same for you.

Does teaching in China pay well?

Does teaching in China pay well

Your salary will depend very much on where you teach in China, both in terms of the city and type of school.

Teaching jobs at international schools or with private language institutes tend to pay more than those in public schools. Teaching salaries in China also vary depending on your qualifications and experience.

In China, there are 5 types of English teaching jobs you can work for:

Type of SchoolSalaryWho You’ll Teach
Private Tutoring$22/hourpersonally hired to teach Chinese children one on one
Public Schools$1,000-$2,500/monthmost Chinese students attend
Private Schools$1,000-$2,500/monthschools with extracurricular activities or classes such as English
International Schools$1,800-$4,500/monthstudents who do not hold a Chinese passport, mostly expat students
Universities$1,000-$1,500/monthuniversity-level English classes for college students
**These salaries were adapted from Go Overseas, another blog focused on teaching English in China.

In general, it may be easier for you to get a job in a public school or at a university if you don’t hold a teaching license; however, you may have a higher number of students (think hundreds).

On the plus side, your hours may be around 15-20 hours per week, so your teaching load would be less than a full 8-hour day in an international school.

If you are a qualified teacher with a teaching license and experience, you should apply for international schools as those are the highest paying with amazing perks and benefits.

You can also get your TEFL certificate and become qualified to teach at other institutions where you can still get a high salary (depending on the city tier) and be highly respected as a foreign English teacher.

Whichever school you decide to teach in, the cost of living will make it easy for you to budget for savings, traveling, or paying down debt.

Which Chinese city should I teach English?

How do I get a teaching job in China copy

China has a tiered system for their cities, with them being listed as either a 1, 2, or 3.

Tier 1 cities are the largest cities with the most influence both in politics and culture. They are also the most populated and highest-grossing cities.

Tier 2 cities are mid-sized with a population ranging from 3 to 15 million people.

Tier 3 cities are then the smaller cities with even less direct control from the government.

As you consider where you are applying, tier 1 cities would have the best pick of the lot for both teaching jobs and salaries since they are bigger, but you may also be paying more in rent and/or cost of living.

On the other hand, a tier 3 city may be placed in a rural area where you might be the only English teacher in that city and the pay may not be nearly as high as one in a tier 1 city, but your costs will also be lower.

There are many great cities in China to teach English, but the best ones depend on your priorities. If you want big city life and plenty of teaching job opportunities, consider Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou. If you prefer a smaller city with a lower cost of living, try Kunming, Xi’an, or Dalian.

You can read more about a detailed list of China’s tiered cities here to better help you make your decision: Understanding the Tier System.

What’s the cost of living in China?

Cost of living in China

The cost of living in China varies depending on the city you live in. However, most people find that they can live comfortably on a teaching salary in China.

Some of the things that will affect your monthly budget include:

Rent: This will be your biggest expense, especially if you live in a big city. You can expect to pay anywhere from $100-$1,000 for rent, depending on the size and location of your apartment. However, if your school is paying for rent or providing you with a housing stipend, you can save quite a lot of money.

Food: Food is relatively cheap in China. You can eat out for as little as $5 a meal or cook at home for around $30 a month.

Transportation: Most cities have excellent public transportation, which is very affordable, which includes bus passes and the metro or subway. A monthly pass usually costs between $15-$30. You can also taxi everywhere, but it would cost more than the public transit passes.

Utilities: Depending on the city and your lifestyle, you can expect to pay between $50-$200 for utilities (electricity, water, internet, etc.).

Lifestyle: Clothing, housing items, and other lifestyle items are pretty affordable in China, and might be comparatively cheaper than in your home country. In terms of a phone plan, you can set that up with the internet provider or get on a “pay as you go” plan (which is what worked best for me).

Pro-tip: If you are packing clothing from home, you may not need to update your wardrobe often. Some schools may have a “hospitality closet” where you can choose left-behind housing items like pots and pans for your use.

How are English teachers viewed in China?

is it safe for expats to live in China

It’s a great experience! Teaching in China is a fantastic way to live overseas and get to know the Chinese culture. You will be working with students who are eager to learn and you will have the opportunity to make a real difference in their lives.

Chinese students are also very respectful towards teachers. They will see you as an authority figure and follow your directions well.

In addition, teaching in China can be lucrative. You can expect to earn a good salary, receive benefits like housing and health insurance, and have the chance to save money.

On the other hand, being an English teacher in China can be hard when trying to find English books, familiar materials, or other English teachers to bounce ideas off from if you are the only English teacher in your school.

Read Next: Can you teach English abroad without knowing the language?

Is China a safe country for expats?

what are the requirements to teach English in China

China is a safe country to live in. The people are friendly and welcoming, and you will quickly feel at home in China. However, as with any country, it is important to take precautions and be aware of your surroundings.

Petty theft is a prevalent crime, so you’ll want to keep an eye on your belongings as you make your way to work and especially in popular tourist areas if you’re traveling.

While at home, you’ll also want to make sure to lock your windows and doors as it has been known for thieves to break in. Check with your school for the best neighborhood to live in before signing your contract for rent.

If you purchase a bike for transportation, you’ll want to make sure to also get a bike lock. Be aware that bikes are a popular item to steal and they will cut wires to steal a bike, usually at grocery stores or large shopping centers.

Your school and neighborhood will most likely have gates, so theft will be less likely at work and home.

Other instances of safety in China include food safety, air pollution, and road hazards.

Street food is very popular in China where vendors will bring their carts and cook food in the streets, made to order. I personally love chow mian (fried noodles) and jiaozi (fried dumplings or potstickers) as they are delicious. But you’ll want to make sure the vendor has their food prepared and cooked well so you don’t get food poisoning.

When entering restaurants, you’ll notice a letter grade posted up. The letter “A” is usually a top-tier restaurant passing all the safety requirements, whereas a letter “C” has some risks to the customers such as cockroaches or rats running about. Use your best judgment when entering a restaurant.

The air pollution in China is real. It’s a good day when the air quality index (AQI) numbers are around 150 and can get as high as 500 on really bad days. You’ll want to make sure to purchase a filtering mask to protect your lungs especially if you bike or walk to school. Make sure to have Tylenol or other pain medication around just in case you start developing a migraine.

The roads in China are not the greatest. I remember my first impression of Chinese roads when I first moved — all my memories are filled with potholes and uneven lanes.

Chinese drivers (if you’re taking a taxi) can also be scary when they drive. They may find ways to bypass the traffic, might turn the steering wheel just a tad too hard, or even smoke when they are driving. Be prepared for such taxi rides.

On the other hand, China is big on mopeds, scooters, and bikes. So if you are a rider, make sure to follow the flow of traffic with the cars. You do not want to be driving against an oncoming car and you’ll definitely want to follow the pedestrian lights at stoplights (contrary, I know – but it’s a learned art).

If you are a pedestrian, listen to bells, honks, and horns – it’s not road rage; they are warnings that someone is coming up behind you. Move out of the way if you hear someone coming behind you because they may be going at fast speeds.

Will I have culture shock?

will I have culture shock

Culture shock can be a real challenge when moving to China, but with some preparation, it can be minimized. Make sure to do your research on China and the Chinese culture before you arrive, and give yourself time to adjust to the new culture.

Here are a few cultural aspects to be aware of:

  • 1. Chinese manners are different than what you are used to.

You’ll need to take your shoes off when entering a home, bring a gift when visiting a friend or buy a gift for a friend after returning from a trip, make sure to honor the elders by greeting them and allowing them to have first dibs at the food on the table.

**Pro-tip for newbie teachers: Parents may bring you gifts, and it might be a bribe to give their child a good grade. Your school may have a dollar limit on monetary gifts you can receive from parents, so politely say no if it’s more than the school’s policy.

On the other hand, some negative cultural manners that you might not like include hawking, spitting, and smoking everywhere! You might find it deterring when you’re sitting on a bus and you hear someone clearing their throat… just move away because this is normal behavior.

  • 2. The concept of “face” is important in China.

In the West, we often have constructive criticism, but in China, it is very important to save face for the person. “Saving face” means that you should preserve a Chinese person’s honor by being respectful when giving criticism (a.k.a. don’t bring shame to them).

If what you have to say is something that will call them out or bring them shame, do not project it publicly. Instead, you should pull them aside to have a private conversation.

Even in your private conversation, criticism should be given in a way that doesn’t cause the person to lose face. You might feel like you’re beating around the bush, but the Chinese will get the gist of your critique.

  • 3. The Chinese are not as open and expressive as Westerners.

The Chinese are more reserved and might not always be forthcoming with their feelings or opinions. When expressing your feelings such as “I love you” or even giving physical touch like hugs, they may feel uncomfortable responding back.

They may also find it difficult to say “no” so you’ll want to make your requests known in such a way that they are comfortable declining.

  • 4. The concept of time is different in China.

In the West, we often operate on the premise of “time is money.” But in China, people are more relaxed about it. In the workplace, standards are held and Chinese teachers will usually show up in a timely manner.

However, in social situations, you can expect some Chinese trickling in later than the expected times set. Be flexible with your time and understanding if this happens.

Culture shock high sense of family
  • 5. There is a strong sense of family in China.

The Chinese put a lot of emphasis on the family and respect for elders is high. Extended families often live together.

Also, many families may have just 1 child, typically a boy. If this is the case, the son will essentially get whatever he wants. As a teacher, you’ll have the influence to ensure that everyone is treated equally in your classroom.

  • 6. Unfamiliar foods are a part of the culture.

China is a huge country with a variety of different climates and regions. This means that there is a large variety of food to be sampled.

Some of my favorite dishes are fan-xie ji dan (fried tomato and eggs), tang-tsu-li-ji (sweet and sour pork), jiaozi (fried dumplings), and xiao long bao (steamed dumplings), rou jia mua (pork sandwiches), and so much more!

You might also decide to be even more adventurous and try pig’s feet, donkey’s meat, or even the unusual scorpion! You don’t have to be that adventurous, but keep an open mind and try new foods – you may find your new favorite dish!

  • 7. Language barrier may be difficult.

Mandarin is the predominant language spoken in China. There are variations, or accents, between the north and the south, but most people will understand you if you decide to travel around China.

Although Mandarin is the predominant language in China, be aware that there are still many dialects spoken. This can make it difficult to communicate with locals, especially if you are not familiar with the dialect in the smaller cities.

What may be even more difficult is the written characters in restaurants, bus stops, signs… everywhere!

You don’t have to know how to read the language straight off since most places will have pictures or verbal announcements, but you should try to pick up familiar words so you can repeat them over and over again when needed.

Read next: Can I teach English abroad without knowing the language?

Can I make friends in China?

how are teachers viewed in China

It’s actually easy to make friends in China! The Chinese people are warm and friendly, and you will quickly find connections. There are also many social activities and clubs available for foreigners, so there is something for everyone.

In reality, it will most likely be easier to befriend other expats, or foreigners, who have moved to teach or work in China. You will have similar backgrounds and interests, and share a connection to teaching in China.

It may be harder to get out of the “expat bubble” and make national Chinese friends. I would encourage you to befriend other Chinese teachers in the school so you can gain local guidance and insight into Chinese culture.

In addition, the dating scene in China will depend on who you want to date. If you are looking to date a Chinese person, you will most likely find someone who wants to date you back since you are living in China.

However, if you are wanting to date a foreigner, that may be harder. In my personal experience, our school only hired 2 foreign single men with 20+ foreign women. The odds were not in my favor.

So if you live in an area like Beijing or Shanghai where the expat circles expand much further than just teachers, you may find true love yet!

Is shopping easy for expats?

Is shopping easy in China

Shopping in China can be a lot of fun, but it can also be challenging if you don’t know where to go. The best places to shop depend on what you’re looking for, but most cities have a vibrant downtown area with lots of shops and restaurants.

Keep in mind that the clothing in China is catering to petite people, so if you are taller, you may have trouble finding items that fit just right.

Taobao, China’s version of Amazon, may also have various options, but it can be hit or miss depending on the clothing item you purchase.

For items such as pots and pans, bedding, furniture, and more, you’ll have no issue finding something. If you are in Tier 1 or Tier 2 city, there may be an Ikea or a Carre Four nearby where you can purchase all you need!

For classroom materials, there are plenty of warehouses and little shops along the street for you to find stationery items, lesson materials, and much more. Read my packing list for teaching in China for my recommendations.

Read Next: Packing list for teaching in China.

Should I move my family to China?

How is English taught in China
My close friend and her 2 babies

Moving to China as a family can be an amazing experience, but it does require some preparation. As always, make sure to do your research and plan well in advance, as there are many things to consider when moving to a new country with children.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

One of the greatest things to keep in mind is that if your child(ren) look different than the Chinese, they will most likely get a lot of stares, possible hair touches, and really be treated like celebrities. (You might also get that same treatment, too.)

This is mainly because they are intrigued by your child, not because they are wanting to be rude. You can tell the Chinese or also teach your children to say, bu yao or “No, thank you” and most Chinese people will listen.

If you are teaching at an international school, your children will most likely have free tuition as well. This would give them a global perspective as they learn with other students from all over the world.

If putting your child(ren) through the school that you would be working for, you can certainly do deeper research into the teachers and curriculum being taught at the schools you are interested in applying for.

Why is it good to teach in China

Final thoughts on what it’s really like to teach English in China

Teaching in China is a great experience, but it’s not for everyone. It can be challenging and frustrating at times, but it’s also rewarding and fun. If you’re thinking about teaching English in China, my hope is that this post has been helpful in painting a picture for you.

Other teaching English abroad posts you might be interested in:

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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.