Teach English in Shanghai

There’s nowhere quite like Shanghai; while there are countless great English teaching jobs available, you can enjoy the apex of Chinese culture, architecture, food and music. The Magic City is about as welcoming as it gets for TEFL teachers

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How does teaching English abroad in one of the liveliest, most sprawling municipalities in China sound? Meet Shanghai, a metropolitan area home to around 26.3 million residents, spanning nearly 2,500 square miles, and absolutely packed with incredible sights, sounds and other delights for the senses.

When it comes to modern China, Shanghai epitomises the outward-looking, visitor-friendly approach being taken in the big cities. The skylines are simply beyond compare, with skyscrapers like the Shanghai Tower (or ‘The Twist), the World Financial Centre, the Jin Mao Tower and more piercing the clouds hundreds of metres above street level. For nightlife, it cannot be beaten, with The Bund, The French Concession and Houhai, amongst others, attracting revellers in clubs, bars and music venues. 

From a rich film heritage to sport and everything in between, Shanghai really does have it all. So, what better place to teach English as a foreign language? After all, China is an absolute TEFL powerhouse, with countless language teaching companies, a school system that places the utmost importance on English proficiency, and millions of adult learners needing private lessons.

So, what kind of teaching opportunities are there in this sprawling metropolis? Can a TEFL teacher really have it all in Shanghai, finding a balance of satisfying work and vibrant social life? What do you need to teach in Shanghai, anyway?

Let’s explore what it’s like to teach English in Shanghai.

Shanghai: An Overview

If you want to teach English in Shanghai, you’ll be delighted to know there are a wealth of opportunities for ESL teachers. Children in China have compulsory English classes from the age of 9, and the language’s status as the lingua franca of business means that for a great number of Chinese people, there’s never a bad time to start learning.

As a place to live, you really couldn’t ask for much more on your doorstep. Known as the “Paris of the East”, Shanghai might dazzle with its modern look, but its reverence for an incredibly dramatic past and traditions should not be overlooked. Sights like the Songjiang Square Pagoda, for example, have stood since the 1100s, while the Old City - particularly the Yuyuan Garden - is an absolute must-see attraction to anyone interested in Chinese history.

Are theme parks more your scene? Try Happy Valley or Jinjiang Amusement Park out for size, if you’re after countless thrills. Interested in the culinary delights Shanghai has to offer? Make a checklist of fantastic local delicacies, like Ci Fuan Tuan, Xiao Long Bao and even Gui Hua Lian'ou, but you’ll need a napkin for the latter!

This is a metropolis with so much to offer, whether you’re into nightlife and clubs or history and Michelin-star restaurants. Not only that, the teaching opportunities are excellent, with the self-acclaimed ‘World’s Best School System’ at your disposal as a TEFL teacher. 

You could easily, and happily, live and teach English in Shanghai without feeling a major need to travel, such is Shanghai’s size and culture. However, the Magical City just happens to be on China’s east coast, so if you wanted to see some of Korea and Japan while you’re living there, it’s easy to do!

Requirements for teaching English in Shanghai

To become an English teacher in China including Shanghai, you must have a bachelor's degree and TEFL certification with a minimum of 120 hours of training. These are required for a work visa. If you don't have a degree, it might be possible to teach on a working holiday visa or student visa.

Let’s break down the specifics of what you’ll need to get teaching in the Magical City.

TEFL Certificate 

As is always the case, the completion of a TEFL course is fundamental in finding teaching opportunities abroad, and this is no different if your aim is to teach English in Shanghai. The industry standard is 120 hours of training, and there are TEFL courses available online with high standards of accreditation, tutor support and self-paced study. Many TEFL learners opt for a Level 5 course, which offers a more comprehensive review of teaching methodologies.

If you want to teach in China, but aren’t yet TEFL qualified, don’t despair! High-quality TEFL courses are affordable, engaging and perhaps most importantly, available online. To really stand out in the job market wherever you choose to teach, completion of a TEFL certificate really is a must for foreign teachers.


Do you need a degree to teach English in Shanghai, and China more broadly? The answer is yes. To gain a working Z visa, a bachelor’s degree - in any subject - is an absolute must. For roles in elite language schools, private schools or universities, you may require a master’s, but this is subject to the requirements of each employer.


China’s TEFL industry is enormous, and part of the attraction of teaching in major metropolitan areas like Shanghai is that you don’t need experience to start teaching there - unless, you don’t have a TEFL certificate, in which case you require two years of teaching experience. 

Having a list of schools on your CV isn’t a prerequisite if you want to teach English in China if you’re TEFL certified, with new hires being taken on in the educational system and in globally recognised English Teaching centres. 

This said, experience doesn’t exactly hurt. If you have demonstrable proof of your teaching abilities, and even a solid reference or two from teaching jobs in your arsenal, it’s most certainly a strength. This is particularly true for jobs in higher wage brackets, primarily in private schools, international schools and universities.


There are 2 visa types for teaching English in China; the Z visa and X visa.

The Z visa is the most common type of visa for teachers in China. This is the only visa that allows you to teach English full-time.

To attain a Z visa, you’ll need:

  • A bachelor’s degree (in any subject)
  • A 120-hour TEFL certificate or two years of teaching experience
  • To be under the age of 55
  • A clean criminal background check

The X visa is a student visa for those who are studying in China, either part-time or full-time. This is the only legal way to teach English in China without a degree.

Download our teaching English in Asia guide

What’s the cost of living like for foreign teachers in Shanghai? Good question - so let’s break it down by using examples of what you might spend money on. A typical city centre rent for a bedroom apartment is £912/$1110 per month - so if you are offered free accommodation, it’s a good idea to use it! For a three-bedroom apartment, city centre apartments usually charge rent of around £2,500/$3050. If you end up sharing rented accommodation with other teachers, it can bring costs way down. 

Eating in Shanghai isn’t just delicious, it’s also cost-effective. A three-course meal in a mid-market restaurant is only likely to cost around £30/$36 for two, and if you’re eating by yourself somewhere inexpensive, you can still buy fantastic food for under £5/$6. In terms of getting about, you’re never likely to spend more than £30/$36 a month if you’re careful; a monthly pass for city transport is about £26/$31, with buses and even taxis running cheaply.

Basic utilities aren’t a mega expense either; you’re looking at about £56/$68 a month, all in. According to Numbeo, living in Shanghai is 37.7% less expensive than living in London, with rent alone being nearly half the price.

Salary & cost of living in Shanghai 

On average, working in China as a foreign teacher can earn you in the region of 9,000 – 18,000 RMB (£1,000 – £2,000 / $1,300 – $2,575) per month, with an average teacher salary of about 13,000 RMB (£1,450 / $1,860) per month. How does that relate specifically to Shanghai?

Being the major metropolis and fantastic city it is, wages are on the higher end of the scale, as opposed to Tier 2 or 3 cities in China, or even rural areas. So, a typical starting salary in Shanghai is around £1,700-£3,500/$2000-4200 per month, and that’s before we get to the additional benefits! 

Most Chinese employers, especially in big, tier 1 cities like Shanghai, are aiming to entice top TEFL talent. With this in mind, you can expect to be offered free accommodation, or at least an accommodation allowance. This’ll go a long way to helping you save money. Flight reimbursement is also common, saving bundles upon arrival, and there are often performance bonuses, free Mandarin lessons (knowing the local language always helps!) and help with health insurance, should you need it - China has almost universal healthcare. 

English teaching jobs in Shanghai

So what kind of English teaching jobs are available in Shanghai? From kindergarten age to adult learners, China’s Tier 1 cities are brimming with teaching opportunities, and Shanghai is no different.

Let’s have a look at the different types of English teaching jobs you can get as a foreign teacher in Shanghai.

Kindergarten/early Primary

Though English classes are only compulsory in Chinese schools from the age of 9, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any for younger kids. Being able to teach young learners is a real asset here, as many Chinese parents will want their children to pick up foreign language skills as soon as they can. That means there are ESL jobs aplenty to accommodate young learners.

The wages aren’t necessarily as high, and there are fewer hours. As far as a first job goes, though, testing yourself against a room of rugrats might be just the introduction you need to life in TEFL.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q. How much do English teachers make in Shanghai?

    The wages English teachers can make in Shanghai depend on what kind of teaching job they’re able to get, but the average starting salary is around £1,700-£3,500/$2000-4200. Tutoring, or working for an English training centre, can definitely boost income.

  • Q. How to become an English teacher in Shanghai?

    To become a full-time English teacher in Shanghai, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate of at least 120 hours of training.

  • Q. Are English teachers in demand in Shanghai?

    With Shanghai being a global centre for business, English teachers are very much in demand in Shanghai, from kindergarten age to adult learners.