China is one of the most popular places to teach English as a foreign language. After all, it’s a considerably massive country, with 1.4 billion residents and 56 distinct ethnic groups.
The country has seen significant growth over recent decades. A growing economy means growing opportunities for TEFL teachers, with plenty of teaching jobs available to foreign English teachers in China. The biggest TEFL market in the world can be found in China, and although the country sits 62nd worldwide for English Proficiency, it’s not through lack of effort. Still, though, less than 1% of the Chinese population can speak conversational English.
That means there’s incredible demand for teachers for China, and money to be made for native-level English speakers if they want to break into a sector that’s growing exponentially.
Before we start, it’s important to make distinctions between tiers of cities where English is widely taught. When we say Tier 1, we’re referring to mega-cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
Tier 2, then, refers to mid-level cities, meanwhile, in Tier 3, smaller cities like Yangzhou and Foshan are represented. These are still large metropolises with plenty of schools and businesses, but they’re dwarfed in size by the likes of Beijing and Shanghai.
There are differences in Chinese schools and teaching positions, too. There’s a state education system, which we refer to as public schools. Then we have to take into account private, international and university salaries to get a fuller perspective.
To become an English Teacher in China, you must have a bachelor’s degree (in any discipline) and a 120-hour TEFL qualification to receive a Foreign Expert Certificate and a Z visa. It’s the only legal way to work as an English teacher in China.
So, what can you earn as an ESL teacher in China?
How much can you earn teaching English in China?
It’s hard to make generalisations about a teaching salary in China. After all, there are variables which make an average salary hard to calculate. For one thing, it depends where you are – as we’ve covered, there are microeconomics within China and it’s tiered system of cities where living cost and income can be substantially different.
It also depends on the school you’re working at. We’ll cover public schools, private and international schools, universities are private tutoring opportunities to uncover what can be earned teaching English in China.
Experience and qualifications also count for a great deal. You’re far more likely to get a job in a private institution or a language school in a major city if you have plentiful experience and qualifications beyond a bachelor’s Degree and TEFL certification.
Wages are continuing to rise in China, according to the country’s own Bureau of Statistics. However, it’s hard to guarantee those numbers are entirely reliable, given the enormous population.
To teach English in China, you will usually need a TEFL certification and bachelor’s degree as a minimum. The average salary for teaching English in China is $1,000 to $2,500 per month.
Take a look below at some of the key facts you should know before teaching English in China.
Public schools salary
If you’re getting your start teaching Chinese students, it’s more than likely you’ll be teaching English in the public school system. English lessons range from teaching young kids in kindergarten right up to the end of schooling age, so it’s important to be flexible and adept at changing your lessons for different audiences.
There are benefits to working in public schools; for one thing, many ESL teachers in the state education system tend to work fewer hours, have more (often paid) holidays and even get free lunch, which is both a great way to save pennies and experience some authentic Chinese cuisine.
The salary can range pretty widely for ESL teaching in public schools from about $1,000 to $2,500 per month. In a lot of cases, salary depends on where you are in China; Tier 1 teachers in public schools typically earn $1,500 to $2,500, while in Tier 2 it’s slightly less: $1,400-2,300 is an average salary. Tier 3, meanwhile, offers substantially less, with wages starting at $1,000 and tending to top out at $1,500.
How much money can you save teaching English in China?
Much like other datasets, it’s hard to compile a China salary guide for teachers. It’s an enormous country, with over 1 billion people, with all sorts of different ecosystems, economies and ways of living.
However, it’s not unfair to say that you can save a great deal of cash working in China as an English teacher. Even in major cities, you could conceivably spend less than $1000 a month on factors like rent, utilities, transport, food and drink and entertainment.
It’s important to remember here that English teaching wages far exceed “normal” salaries in China. The TEFL industry is – despite the ban on private tutoring for children – highly prized, and it’s little wonder that beyond the culture and the experience of teaching in China, TEFL teachers are also drawn to the financial incentives. Deciding to teach English abroad in China, then, is a popular decision – especially considering the abundance of teaching jobs.
Living costs in China
Without repeating the point ad nauseum, China isn’t really like any other country. In the same way that living in New York City is different to residing in Columbus, Ohio, cities are very distinct, let alone regions of China.
With that in mind, it’s imperative to look a city from each of China’s tiers. We’ve picked Beijing from Tier 1, Nanjing from Tier 2 and Yangzhou from Tier 3. Up to date cost of living information comes via Numbeo.
Let’s start with rent. In Beijing, if you choose to live in a one-bedroom apartment in the city center, the typical price of accommodation is just over $1200 a month, reduced to circa $678 on the city’s outskirts. In Nanjing, meanwhile, the average city center rent price is over half of that in Beijing – a one-bedroom apartment is, on average, just under $500; just under $300 if you venture outside of the city center.
In Yangzhou, a Tier 3 city, rent is even cheaper. On average, a one-bedroom apartment in a prime central location will set you back just under $300. Even a 3-bed city center apartment will cost just $573 per month – a very kind price where teaching salaries are concerned.
Dinner in a restaurant also varies wildly depending on where you are. A three-course meal in one of Beijing’s mid-priced restaurants will cost around $32 for two people. In Nanjing, it’s about $21, by contrast, and the same is generally true for Yangzhou. Teaching salaries will more than amply cover this for foreign teachers!
Finally, a monthly transport pass will cost about $43 in Beijing. In Nanjing, it’s just $15, while interestingly, Tier 3 city Yangzhou is a couple of bucks more than that, at $17.
As you can see, living costs very much depend on where you are. On a median salary, however, you can live with comfort in a Tier 1, 2 or 3 city. Teaching in China, though, is more than feasible for most budgets.
What benefits do employers offer?
The cost of living is made cheaper by a bunch of incentives offered by employers, particularly at schools where’s high demand for the intrepid ESL teacher who wants to start teaching abroad in China. If you’re working for a Teaching Center, don’t expect too much in the way of bonuses, given the high wages, but if you’re in the public or private educational sector, there’s plenty going.
Free lunches are a big part of the offering. Even in state schools, an authentic Chinese meal is yours every working day. That’s a treat to the wallet as well as the senses! What’s more, it’s a great opportunity to chat to teachers who are teaching subjects you’re less familiar with.
Accommodation is also a major perk of teaching in China. Typically, schools and universities will offer accommodation as part of a contract offer, sometimes even including utilities. It’s a fantastic way to save, and it’s also a show of faith in English teachers. Depending where you are, the free accommodation might not be lavish, but as covered, renting privately while teaching in China doesn’t have to be a huge financial undertaking.
Employers expect you to turn up to work. To that end, flights are not an uncommon bonus when you join a private or international school. Depending on the standing of a state school, you might be offered flights, but it’s more likely you’ll be offered some kind of partial reimbursement for your travel costs.
If you work at a university or Learning Center, a great incentive is lessons in Mandarin. For one thing, a lot of your students are going to want to help you with your Mandarin, as a means of communicating. More than that, though, it’s not unusual for an employer to give you the option of enrolling in an official Mandarin qualification, where applicable.
Employers will also typically help with visas, either through financial assistance or guidance on filling out the right forms. Paid vacation is also enjoyed by many teachers, and it’s a great chance to explore Chinese cities.
Find out more about the English teaching jobs available in China
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Is it hard to get an English teaching job in China?
Provided you have the right qualifications for a work permit, no – it isn’t hard at all to find English teaching work in China. English teachers in China must have a bachelor’s degree and a 120-hour TEFL qualification to receive a Foreign Expert Certificate and a Z visa. Once there, you’ll find the public school system, private and international schools, as well as Teaching Centers and Universities.
Q. Can you teach English in China without a degree?
No, you cannot teach English with a Z visa in China without a degree (in any discipline). A TEFL certification is not enough by itself.
Q. Are teachers paid well in China?
In general terms, English teachers are well-paid in China, with a low cost of living, though much depends on where you’re teaching, both in an institutional and geographical sense.
Q. Is teaching English in China worth it?
If you’re looking to comfortably make a living, experience a unique culture and meet a very specific need in Chinese education, yes: teaching English in China is worth it. A low cost of living and an appreciation for teaching in China means you’ll likely have the time of your life.
Q. Are English teachers in demand in China?
Yes, English teachers are very much in demand in China. Chinese English teaching businesses are constantly hiring, as are schools and universities. English teaching of a high standard is sought after, and with a typically higher salary than comparable countries and low cost of living, it’s a mutually beneficial opportunity.