The idea of teaching abroad has a certain allure: the adventure, the travel changes, the ability to immerse oneself in a new culture other than your own, and the wonderful vibes that come with knowing you’ve made a positive difference in someone’s life. When it comes to finding a job abroad, China is the first port of call for many newly qualified English instructors. China is frequently lauded as one of the top destinations for English teachers, and with good reason.
Its fast-expanding economy has drastically expanded the number of available teaching posts, which vary in terms of living conditions and quality of life depending on where they are located. Even for those who are traveling to teach for the first time, teaching English in China can be a terrific experience. In China, the cost of living is very low. Although Beijing and Shanghai will have increased living costs, they will still be less expensive than your native country. Teachers’ monthly salaries in China vary depending on experience, teaching hours, and employer size, among other factors. Most professions require 15 to 25 hours of teaching each week. Additional time spent preparing materials and arranging lessons is not counted as teaching time. Many young people nowadays are looking for a way to make a decent living that will allow them to enjoy their lives while also putting some money aside.
One of the reasons why so many people choose to teach English in China is because of this. Teaching in China has several advantages, including the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture, travel to exotic locations, and meet new people, as well as a fair wage. This compensation, combined with the low cost of living in China, allows many instructors to live comfortably and even save money.
So, let’s take a closer look at China’s cost of living!
In China, the Average Salary for an English Teacher Is
After taxes, the average monthly income for an English foreign instructor in China is roughly 10000-15000 RMB ($1,400 – $2,200). For new foreign teachers going to China to teach English, most respected schools will pay in this range. While this may not appear to be a big pay in comparison to your home nation, it is important to consider the cost of living in China. As we’ll see below, 15000 RMB can go a long way in China and even provide a comfortable existence.
Renting an Apartment in China Is Expensive
In China, as in your native nation, rent will account for the majority of your living expenses.
However, the cost of renting an apartment in China is still far lower than in the United States.
While rates vary by city and district, most Chinese instructors should expect to pay between 2000 and 4000 RMB ($290 and $580) per month for an apartment. Beijing and Shanghai are high-cost cities where you may expect to pay at least 4000 RMB per night, or possibly more if you want to stay in the city’s most desirable areas. Other cities, such as Guangzhou, can be significantly less expensive, particularly if you choose to reside on the outskirts of town. These costs will differ depending on whether you desire a one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartment. Most Chinese teachers can afford to live in their own apartments without roommates. However, some people prefer to share a room with a roommate in order to reduce their costs and expand their circle of friends. Another factor to consider while renting an apartment in China is that most schools, including First Leap China, include an apartment allowance in your teaching compensation. Teachers in high-cost areas, such as Beijing will receive a greater apartment allowance.
Please keep in mind that you may need some cash when you initially arrive in China to cover initial expenses, particularly your apartment.
You may be expected to pay a few months’ rent in advance, as well as deposits and rental agent fees, in major Chinese cities. Make sure to speak with your recruiters ahead of time to get more information.
China’s Transportation Costs
When it comes to transportation, China offers exceptionally low pricing. A 20-minute taxi ride across larger towns might cost up to 25 RMB if you take the city bus (but traffic can make this journey a short one for the price). Subway (or metro) rides in China are likewise relatively inexpensive, starting at roughly 2 RMB for short distances. Even travel within China and beyond can be reasonably priced. In fact, the high-speed train from Guangzhou to Wuhan, which is only a few hours apart, costs roughly 490 RMB, and the slow train for the same route costs around 120 RMB (although it will take much longer). Due to the range of airline alternatives available, including low-cost airlines like Spring Airlines and Air Asia, flights to surrounding countries can also be inexpensive, depending on the departure/arrival cities. Imagine being able to fly to Thailand for only a few hundred dollars! In general, transportation in China is inexpensive. You’ll have more money to put in the bank or spend on other enjoyable hobbies!
Food Prices in China
It’s worth noting that the local cuisine in China is significantly different from what you’re used to in your native country. While there is a vast array of cuisines to choose from, Chinese cuisine is generally excellent. And the cheaper the food is, the more local it is. If you prefer eating local cuisine, this implies you will have a very inexpensive cost of living. Of course, local cuisine may be found all around China. However, if you prefer imported cuisine, such as European food, it might be difficult to come by (unless you live in a big city) and can be quite costly in China. So, when it comes to your budget and eating choices, you might want to bear that in mind.
In China, there are numerous dining options. There is also local street food for the adventurous.
While some of it may be suspect, much of it is delicious and inexpensive. People in the north of China, for example, may prepare a meal of eggs, potatoes, carrots, and beef wrapped in a thick and flaky rice wrap and doused with hot pepper sauce from a street-food cart. This filling meal will set you back roughly 3 RMB ($0.43 cents) and can be purchased on your way to work! Many local or family-run eateries serve a bowl of rice with meat and vegetables or a bowl of noodle soup for an average of 8-15 RMB ($1.16 – $2.18). International fast-food companies such as McDonald’s, KFC, and even Pizza Hut are available (yes, there is pizza in China). These fast food establishments have costs that are comparable to those found at home, making them a little more expensive alternative in China. A simple hamburger at McDonald’s in China, for example, costs roughly 12 RMB ($1.74). In China, Pizza Huts are more of a high-end eating institution (a genuine “date night” establishment), with pizzas costing between 50 and 80 RMB. Of course, there are fancier Chinese restaurants as well, where lunch might cost anything from 50 to 100 RMB ($7.27 to $14.54) or even more, depending on the establishment.
When most Americans go out to eat in the United States, they pay between $5 and $10 for practically every meal. However, as you can see, costs in China are significantly lower. If you eat at a very excellent restaurant or go to an international specialty restaurant, you will only pay $10 or more. If you consume a lot of local food, you’ll spend a fraction of what you would back at home. Overall, it is determined by your personal tastes and financial constraints. In China, most teachers mix it up. They might eat mostly local street food and go out to dine at a finer restaurant once or twice a week.
China’s Grocery Shopping
Dairy goods are generally relatively expensive in China due to the fact that the Chinese do not consume dairy products in large quantities. A small carton of milk costs roughly 7 RMB, while cheese is rather pricey, costing around 25 RMB for basic cheddar. Eggs are plentiful (Chinese people eat a lot of them), and they are inexpensive – approximately 5 RMB for a pack. Vegetables are reasonably priced and of decent quality (think farmers’ markets like in the States). Most goods in the store, from carrots to potatoes, onions, peppers, cucumbers, and so on, will cost between 5 and 10 RMB, and even less if purchased directly from producers at local markets or on the street.
Chicken breasts will set you back 15 RMB, white rice, water, and beer will set you back 5-8 RMB. So, in comparison to your home country, food prices in China are extremely affordable. It’s simple to get a lot of value out of your English teacher income in China, depending on how much you cook at home and how often you choose to eat out.
In China, the Cost of Leisure Activities Is Quite High.
The majority of people who come to China to teach English are excited about the variety of recreational and cultural activities available. The good news is that many of these activities are significantly less expensive than they would be in your home country.
To put things in perspective, a good 3-course supper may be had for less than 100 RMB.
A membership to a fitness club (an activity that is gaining popularity in China) will cost roughly 150 RMB per month. A night at the movies can cost roughly 65 RMB depending on the theatre, and there are many more museums and cultural activities that cost nothing to less than 100 RMB.
In high season, even a visit to Beijing’s iconic Forbidden City costs only 60 RMB. As a young professional or someone fresh out of school in your own country, the salary of an entry-level position can make it difficult to make ends meet, let alone indulge in luxuries! However, as an English teacher in China, your salary and cost of living allow you to indulge in some luxuries. Chinese massage, for example, is quite popular in China and is an important aspect of health and well-being. Massages may be purchased for as little as 40 RMB for a half-hour, and you can even locate complete day spas where you can pamper yourself for roughly 300 – 500 RMB. Housekeepers are another low-cost option: for roughly 30 RMB, you can hire someone to clean your apartment for two hours. This is where working as an English teacher in China pays off because you can see how far your money can go for all the wonderful things that make your life joyful.
Example China’s Teacher’s Budget
As you can see, the cost of life in China is not prohibitively expensive. An example of an English teacher’s budget while living in China is shown below.
In this example, we’ve budgeted for a decent apartment and sizable dining out budget (average of 80 RMB per day) plus a few hundred RMB per week for leisure activities like shopping, spas, and movies. With this luxurious lifestyle, you can see that the monthly balance is about $1000 USD, which you can put in the bank to save.
Salary per month (including housing allowance): 15,000
Rent & Utilities: 3500
For dining out (80 RMB per day avg): 2500
Shopping & Leisure: 1300
Leftover / Savings nearly $1000 USD: 6,850
In China, it’s Possible to Have a Good Time
Overall, there are few other options for students just out of college to earn this kind of money that allows them to live comfortably and save money. When you add in the opportunity to learn about a new culture, travel to incredible locations, meet people from all over the world, and gain transferable skills and international work experience, it’s difficult to argue that teaching English in China is one of the coolest and most valuable experiences of a lifetime.
Setting a New Direction
Teachers should select second and third-tier cities over first-tier cities for a variety of reasons. While newly trained instructors may find the experience intimidating, there are many interesting and financially attractive opportunities available in the region, and the region’s place in the Chinese economy means it is only getting stronger. Now is the time to take advantage of this fantastic opportunity!