Teaching English abroad is one of the best ways to be an expat! If you’re a native speaker (have a passport from a qualifying country), all you need is to know where to look. This is especially true in China, where you’d be hard-pressed to find a parent who doesn’t want their child to learn English. Because of that, they’re willing to pay huge amounts (relatively) to get their children a teacher.
All of this cumulates into a great environment for teachers. There are plenty of international schools (all-English) and English training centers (after school/weekend centers aimed at improving English) that hire. At all times of year, jobs are way more plentiful than supply of teachers (but especially during winter). For this reason, it’s a great way to live in China and earn some money!
Reason 1: It’s a Teacher’s Market
China is ultra-competitive. This comes because they have an astronomical population, but also because rapid economic growth leads to income stratification. To get a “good job” means you have to be qualified enough for it, and almost every industry requires English knowledge. The supply of rich parents that want their children to learn from native speakers is only increasing, even if they don’t expect their children to ever go abroad. Simply because the other kids in school are learning English, their children need to learn it.
The huge demand for English teachers means that it’s an enormous industry. This CNBC article quotes the value of the industry at $5 billion USD in 2015. With the increase in population (repeal of the one-child policy) and continuing globalization of the economy, it doesn’t look like the trend will abate any time soon.
There is going to be an endless supply of schools and training centers that are hiring. You can get a job easily; the trick is just to make good money. If you can negotiate a good starting salary, you will have no problems living at a high standard of living.
Reason 2: It’s Easy to Save Money
Though China has a huge supply of rich and upper middle class people, there’s a reason there are plenty of cheap things still manufactured in the country. With 1.7 billion people, the income and wealth gap is huge. For unskilled workers, unfortunately, they have really low wages. They might make ¥3,000 RMB per month if they’re lucky. At $1 USD to ~¥6.7 RMB, that’s less than $500 USD per month. And, there are plenty of people who make far less than that. A salary of about ¥10,000 RMB/mo (~$1,500 USD) is considered pretty decent.
If you work towards saving money, you could work a full time job and save about $15,000 worth of RMB in a year, assuming you don’t have outside expenses. If you go to the extreme and/or get a really high paying job, it could easily be as high as $30,000 USD/year.
Low Cost of Living
Implications of income disparities aside, it means that the cost of living is pretty low. If you want to live like a poor college student, you can get a tiny room in a shared apartment (or even get a roommate) and make your own food. If you do that, you’d probably be able to spend just ¥3,000/mo or less. A subway ride is ¥4, and a good meal could be ¥20 or less if you make it. You can ride a bike through a bike share program for ¥1 each time after you pay the deposit. Of course, there’s no reason to do that when you are capable of earning more. You should feel free to spend that much on part of your rent, but to know that’s possible is to get an idea of how low cost of living could be.
[Recommended Read: Cost of Living in Beijing, China]
Competitive Benefits from Teaching English
Benefits, in general, are pretty great. There’s the high salary, which comes from the fact that there are plenty of rich Chinese parents who are happy to shell out tens of thousands of RMB for their kids to learn English. For example, at my training center, classes cost between ¥17-20,000 for a semester (3 hours a week for 4 months). For a year, it’s ¥33,000, a significant discount but close to $5,000 and more than a typical worker might make in 2-3 months.
The nice thing about teaching English as a foreigner is that, for teaching typically up to 25 hours/week, you can get a high salary. That comes with other costs (jealousy from Chinese staff, stereotypes that all foreigners are rich and entitled, etc.) but it does have its benefits.
At the lowest end of the spectrum, some jobs will offer ¥11,000-¥14,000/mo. If this is your offer, definitely hesitate. Even if you have zero teaching experience, leverage anything that you could have – multiple offers from different schools/training centers, tutoring experience, TEFL certifications, etc. – to negotiate. You can do quite well with this salary, but I can almost guarantee your teacher coworkers will be earning more than that.
At the highest end of the spectrum, you could earn ¥30,000/mo or more. This, of course, is for people will a multitude of experience, ability to negotiate, etc. However, any training center or school should be able to offer you at least ¥15,000. If you work 40 hours a week, though, a good rule of thumb is at least ¥100/hour. That works out to ¥18,000/mo before taxes. Taxes are pretty low (about ¥1k for an ¥18k salary).
Any reputable company will get you a working visa, so that would be taken care of. They also often offer a flight reimbursement, bonus, TEFL subsidy, health insurance, and days off. If you complete a year’s contract, the best companies will reimburse a round trip flight to your home country, offer you a bonus as a percentage of your salary (another reason to aim high), cover you with health insurance, and offer you national holidays as well as days off.
If you can’t get a higher salary, ask if more days off, a higher flight reimbursement, or something else could be improved instead! The great thing is that, if you fulfill your contract, you will be able to avoid a lot of costs. My company, for example, offers ¥8000 for the flight, ¥9000 for my bonus if I complete the year, ¥1000 for TEFL reimbursement, free health insurance, and 11 days off in addition to 11 national holidays. It’s not the best offer, but that value adds up to over ¥12,000 in benefits and 2 weeks paid vacation, not including the value of the health insurance.
Reason 3: The Built-In Community
The first time I came to China was in September 2016. It was kind of terrible because I interned at an all-Chinese staff office. It put a lot of pressure on my language skills, and there was an inherent barrier between me and really being able to settle in because of that. Only expats know what expats need! Meeting other expats means being introduced to things that locals think are self-evident, which makes meeting people all the more important.
This is especially true in China, because it takes several months to really get used to how things work here. Almost everything is different – from the food to the payment system to, of course, the language. There’s also the fact that you have to navigate WeChat; having a support and mentor system is invaluable.
When you come to China to study, you automatically have that support in your classmates and even program managers (if it’s something formal like that). They almost always segregate international students from Chinese students, so either way you’ll meet other foreigners. If you come here to work, however, you have to rely on your coworkers. The benefit of them over classmates is that you will be able to meet Chinese staff as well, so they can help you out with language barriers and other challenges that you might meet.
Reason 4: The Change of Pace
For many reasons, China is like living in another world. I always joke with my mom, saying that, “Things that you never think could happen, happen regularly in China.” That’s why it takes so long to adjust. On the other hand, it is a really refreshing change of pace.
In China, just some of the “different” things they use and do include:
- Payment: the vast majority of transactions happen through WeChat Pay or Alipay
- Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr – all blocked. You’ll have to use WeChat, and to really get into the culture you can use Weibo and QQ.
- Email and file sharing: Google, DropBox – blocked. Yahoo still works, but most likely you’ll have to use an interface that your company sets up, and WeChat for communication. I still have no idea how to send people files without using email attachments or WeChat. There’s a way, but I have yet to figure out how to do it.
- Online shopping and mail: Instead of a single online behemoth like Amazon, you have lots of options for shopping online. Taobao, T-Mall, and JD are some of the most popular. Packages are usually tracked pretty well, but the delivery person almost always calls you before delivery to confirm that you’ll be there, which can be more confusing than helpful in some cases.
- Security for subway rides: Every time you use the subway, you’ll have to walk through a security check. During rush hours, it means you might wait in line for 20+ minutes if there’s a line of people.
The above points don’t even include cultural differences.
I personally think having to navigate such a different lifestyle is a huge hazing ritual. If you pass it, you’re officially an expat in China. Those who can’t grumble about how unfair the process is, but those who do wear the honor with pride. If you know any expats who spent any time in China, chances are living there is among one of the first things they told you.
Reason 5: Opportunity to Travel
More than any other country, China is a fantastic place to travel – while saving money. Every city connects to every other with high speed trains in addition to airports. The country is rich with history, and getting between cities is relatively easy. If you are in a big city, it’ll take you a while to explore it and the cities close enough for a weekend trip. You should also have national holidays free, and annual holiday days off that you could take! All in all, it adds up to a good amount of free time.
If you want to travel, you can definitely do it. All the big cities make it pretty convenient to get from one place to another, and you should take advantage of it! Thus far, I’ve been to these cities while living in China:
- Changsha, China
- Hanoi, Vietnam
- Shenzhen, China
- Tianjin, China
And I have way more on my wish list!
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