11 awesome cities where you can teach English in China

where to teach english in china

Teaching English in China is one of the fastest growing markets for newly-minted TEFL teachers. And that’s with the ESL industry going from strength to strength. Most of us (at the very least) have friends who’ve jetted off to Asia - rarely to be seen again. Some of us are probably already in Asia leading the good life.

There’s so much info out there on all the different teach abroad options as an English teacher, and there are plenty of blogs keeping you posted on things like the 12 companies in China that are hiring English teachers like crazy. It’s easy to see why new grads and experienced ESL teachers are flocking there. The requirements are manageable (no need for a teaching license, a TEFL will do) and the salary is good.

The question is not should you teach English in China? That’s a no brainer: save money, get experience, see things that will change you, opportunities for career progression and salary increases…sign me up! The question should be - where should I teach English in China? Which of China’s cities has my name written all over it?

We know lots about China, but if you’re like I was (before I spent a bazillion hours researching) not that much of it was very specific. Aside from 3 - 4 of the more famous cities, I would have been pretty stumped if I had to figure out where to live. But now I know (CHENGDU! No question, see why below ). I’ve taken the liberty of compiling info on the 12 best places to teach English in China, so you can make your own judgements. You can thank me later 🤷.

Here we go…

1. Beijing

teaching english in beijing

Who will love it: Big city lovers, history nerds, foodies, culture cravers and arty folk

Population: 21.7 million (basically 2.5 times bigger than NYC)

Language: Mandarin

Teaching English salary range:  $1,200-4,500 USD per month

Fun fact: It’s bicycle heaven with more bikes than even the city of bikes (Amsterdam) 🚲

Types of ESL jobs: Business English, private academies and public schools

Obvious bonus: Proximity to the Great Wall (you might have heard of it) 🤷

If you want a big city life feel, then things don’t get much bigger than teaching English in Beijing (see Shanghai if you think Beijing feels too pokey). It’s the cultural heart of this country with so much of Ancient China still visible today. History nerds will be in their element wandering through Tiananmen Square, gawping at the Summer Palace, taking a trip to the Great Wall or discover the forbidden city. When you’re not being wowed by history, there are enough restaurants to leave you paralyzed by choice. The traditional crispy duck has been compared to divine intervention (FACT! 😇).

Accommodation is normally included and you will find yourself in a bustling metropolis, with everything you could possibly want, quite literally, on your doorstep. Shoot from one end of the city to the other on the subway, cycle through the streets along with an army of other bikes and marvel at the sheer number of skyscrapers reaching for the clouds 🌃.

There’s plenty of options to teach English here with private academies and public schools both hiring English teachers. The higher salary range will usually be achieved with a teaching license and extensive experience. But even newbie teachers can make a decent salary here - starting at about $1,200 per month (depending on other qualifications and background). Things like a background in business will be seen as a massive advantage for those hoping to teach business English, as well as a TEFL certificate.

Beijing is also the ideal place for English speakers to learn Mandarin and lessons are often added to the teaching contract. So if you want to immerse yourself in; culture completely, language, history and...well, cycling… then Beijing might just be the best teach abroad destination for you.

Check out this post about traveling in Beijing and Shanghai by one of our English teachers.

2. Guangzhou

teaching jobs in guangzhou china

Who will love it: Culture junkies who want to live somewhere a little less typical!

Population: 14.4 million (there are only 4 states in the USA with a larger population)

Language: Cantonese and Mandarin

Teaching English salary range:  $1,100 - 2,500 USD per month

Fun fact: This city is a bit of a name changer. It’s previously been called Canton and Panyu!

Types of ESL jobs: business English, private academies, and public schools

Obvious bonus: A hop, skip and a jump to Hong Kong

The third largest of China’s cities. Guangzhou is a little off the beaten track. It’s Hong Kong’s neighbor and boasts an international airport - so you can get your travel-on pretty easily. It’s home to the Pearl River and they make their own beer (although rumor has it - it’s far from the perfect pint!). From museums to towers, startling skyscrapers, and the massive (even by Chinese standards) Temple of the Six Banyan Trees, there’s plenty to do and see without ever leaving Guangzhou.

One of the major benefits of this city is that the cost of living is considerably cheaper than Beijing or Shanghai, while still having all the benefits of a bigger-scale city. You will have more than enough brands and restaurants from home, and plenty of opportunity to save. It’s a little off the international radar, so it’s also not swamped with tourists year round.

The climate is temperate (occasionally a bit rainy) ☔ - so you can escape the Baltic winters of more northern cities. It’s green 365 days a year and is known as the city of flowers, making it one of the most colorful cities in China. If you want to live in a place with flowers blooming all year🌼, then this might just be the city for you.

Native English speakers will have no trouble landing a job in this busy city. Depending on your qualifications there are opportunities in both public and private institutes as well as a wealth of companies who teach Business English.

Why not check out this blog: What it’s really like teaching English in China (from a teacher who spent time teaching adults English in Guangzhou).

3. Shenzhen

teaching jobs in shenzhen china

Who will love it: Warm-weather-loving travel junkies! ☀️😎

Population: 12.5  million (it’s bigger than the entire country of Belgium)

Language: Mandarin and Cantonese

Teaching English salary range:  $1,100 - 2,500 USD per month

Fun fact: China’s richest city. Shenzhen has grown to 50 times the size it was just 40 years go. So, they must be doing something right!

Types of ESL jobs: Business English, private academies, kindergartens and public schools

Obvious bonus: A subway ride away from Hong Kong (yes, a subway ride) 🚅

Warm in winter (yes please!) and hot in summer (as it should be!)…this is the perfect location for lovers of sunnier climes. Not that sunbathing is your only form of entertainment, from the bustling traditional restaurants (the hot pot is unmissable…just saying) and shops of the Shuiwan district to a challenging hike up Nanshan Mountain⛰️, there are lots of attractions to keep your weekends busy. You’ll also find your fair share of tall buildings, theme parks 🎡 and temples dotted throughout the city.

If you’re worried about air quality in Chinese cities then this might be the city for you to teach English in. Not only does it have some of the best air quality possible in a Chinese city, but the city is famous for its growth and wealth. There is a healthy financial district and so, plenty of jobs to go around for English teachers. The cost of living is lower than in China’s bigger cities, so teachers can enjoy a quality of life they mightn’t be able to afford at home.

A great location for meeting Chinese citizens from all over the country - as its wealth and jobs market attracts ambitious talent from the rest of the country. Oh and did we mention that subway ride to Hong Kong, seriously, it’s right there!

Whether you want to teach little kids or adults there is an opportunity for you here. From public to private schools there’s no shortage of demand for English teachers in this Chinese city. Teaching English in Shenzhen is also a popular choice and you’ll have no trouble finding a group of expats to hang out with!

4. Yangzhou

yangzhou teach english in china

Who will love it: Water babies, those looking for smaller-city vibes, and flower fanatics 🌸

Population: 4.4 million (so, basically the population of Ireland in one city)

Language: Mandarin

Teaching English salary range: $1,100 - 2,500 USD per month

Fun fact: Fried rice is this city’s dish and they eat it with thousand fish soup!

Types of ESL jobs: Public, private and business English

Obvious bonus: Um, I’m confused, did we not mention the fried rice? But a second might be you’re only a 1.5-hour train ride from Shanghai!

This city is 2,480 years old, so you can expect to stumble upon some nuggets of Ancient China here and there. Known for its extensive network of waterways (rivers, lakes and the ocean!), and its cultivated gardens, it’s a beautiful city to live in and tends to attract quite a few tourists to its scenic streets. Folk arts like Chinese puppetry and opera are still practiced here, so you can definitely get some insights into the local culture.

Museums, tombs, temples and mountains (not necessarily in that order) are all part of the landscape. When you’re not eating the local fried rice (the last mention… I swear) you can hop on some public transport and check out China’s Dinosaur Park. It’s under 2 hours away, and so, so worth it. You can officially say you’ve ridden a pterodactyl. If you’re into that kind of thing 😳.

As for teaching English in Yangzhou, there are plenty of schools on the lookout for native English teachers. From public to private, and adult to little cuties, there’s something for everyone (pretty much the theme of teaching English in China!). And with the cost of living being remarkably lower than the bigger cities - it should be easy enough to save.

5. Harbin

teach english in harbin

Who will love it: Ice fanatics, lovers of elaborate lighting displays, cozy jumper heads ❄️

Population: 5.14 million

Language: Mandarin Chinese

Teaching English salary range: $1,000 - 2,000 USD per month

Fun fact: AKA as China’s Ice City. In winter Harbin city  builds life-size castles and well a city, out of ice and then lights them up. Check it out here.

Types of ESL jobs: All the jobs - from public to private

Obvious bonus: The ice festival is perhaps the most spectacularly extravagant thing on planet earth today! ❄️

A much smaller city than some of its contemporaries, Harbin is definitely a little off the beaten track. If you’re not a fan of the cold then maybe avoid a city that is famed for its ice festival. The winter is long here, but it’s not cold all year round. Summer sees temperatures reach 40 degrees Celsius. So be prepared for weather extremes. ☃️

Many teachers prefer the summers, but there’s a lot to be said for living in a winter wonderland. Bundling up and looking at the lights on your walk home from work would be a daily vision you could never forget. The buildings are well heated and if you’re able to cope with a Baltic winter - then you can reap the rewards of living in this smaller city. From exotic Russian-style cathedrals to a ski resort - there’s plenty to do.

This is perhaps the most European city in China, with many of the buildings reflecting Russian influence. And it’s not all snow and ice - the sun island scenic area is home to a flower garden, a swan lake and a squirrel island during the summer months! 🐿️

ESL teachers planning to teach in Harbin can expect to earn anything from $1,000 per month upwards. With the reduced cost of living, it should be no problem to save money. Just make sure you pack a winter wardrobe!

6. Shanghai

teach english in shanghai

Who will love it: BIG CITY LOVERS. Seriously, this is your spirit-home. Also, people that are a bit nervous about teaching English in China.

Population: 24 million (basically three New York cities)

Language: Mandarin Chinese, Shanghainese

Teaching English salary range: USD $1,200-4,500 per month

Fun fact: It’s not a concrete jungle. There are 157 public parks in Shanghai! 🍃🌼

Types of ESL jobs: Everything, but especially teaching English to adults and Business English

Obvious bonus: It’s the world’s biggest city. It has...all the things!

If you’re nervous about teaching abroad in China, then this might be the place for you. This is a home away from home for expats, you won’t be short of foreign friends and there’s a large English speaking community (actually there’s a number of them!). You won’t just be hanging with your fellow TEFL heads as there are lots of business type expats too. So it’s a bit more mixed than some teach abroad opportunities. There’s also many of your home comforts and foods and it’s a truly international hub. 🍕🤷‍♂️🍔

As it’s such a big city there are a lot of opportunities for teachers when it comes to teaching adults or business English. There are public and private school positions too, but there’s definitely more on the business end of things. It’s worth noting that the cost of living is higher, but then again, the wages are also higher.

7. Hangzhou

teaching english in hangzhou

Who will love it: Tea addicts, nature lovers and people looking for quiet city life 🌿🌷

Population: 9.4 million

Language: Mandarin Chinese

Teaching English salary range: $1,000 - 2,000 USD per month

Fun fact: It’s the tea capital of China. Can we get a cuppa? 🍵

Types of ESL jobs: All sorts - adults, children, public or private.

Obvious bonus: You can sip tea in gorgeous gardens, can I get a yes please!

From the tranquil beauty of Qiandao lake, to the quiet pagodas of West lake, this peaceful city is the perfect spot for quieter types. If you’re interested in history and culture this city is the place to experience a different side of China. And if you’re ever in need of a little hustle or bustle - you’ll be a one hour high-speed train ride away from Shanghai. So, the best of both worlds.

Teahouses, water activities and a more manageable city size mean that you’ll be able to settle in and get the run of the place a little quicker than in some of the vaster cities. There’s plenty of cultural and historical spots and the city is a healthy mix of the old and new. It’s also pretty close to several other cities, and there’s a large network of trains that can whizz you off for a weekend away in a matter of hours (public transport is relatively cheap).

There are more than enough teaching opportunities for English teachers in Hangzhou and you can find positions in both private academies, public schools and even (for the very qualified) universities. Find out more about teaching English in Hangzhou here.

8. Chengdu

teach english in chengdu

Who will love it: PANDA LOVERS 🐼🐼🐼🐼🐼🐼

Population: 14.4 million

Language: Mandarin Chinese

Teaching English salary range: USD $1,200-1,800 per month

Fun fact: PANDAS 🐼🐼🐼🐼🐼

Types of ESL jobs: Ones that leave you plenty of time to visit pandas…

Obvious bonus: Um...PANDAS, obviously. 🐼🐼🐼🐼🐼

Chengdu is the city of pandas, it’s not called that, but they have a Panda reserve where they breed pandas every single year. Yes, you’ve understood correctly. There are baby pandas there to smush your little heart.

On a slightly more serious note - Chengdu has more than just pandas to offer. There are lots of things to do with Mount Qingcheng (just your standard palace on a mountain, no biggie), and the Du Fu cottage both drawing crowds.

A smallish city (by Chinese standards… huge by any other standards), this city is pretty affordable. In fact it’s home to quite a few expats who are drawn by the relaxed, sleepy vibe of the city, and (clearly) the pandas. The wages are good and the cost of living means English teachers can enjoy their life here.

Highly recommended reading: Set relatively near by - River Town by Peter Hessler will inspire you to live the life of an English teacher in China.

9. Xi'an

english teaching jobs in xian

Who will love it: History lovers unite!

Population: 8.4 million

Language: Mandarin Chinese

Teaching English salary range: $1,100 - 1,800 USD per month

Fun fact: Some of the most unusual historical attractions  you’ll find in China

Types of ESL jobs: Private and public, as well as business English

Obvious bonus:  Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum (seriously!)

We’re not joking when we say history buffs will be impressed. The powers of preservation have smiled kindly on Xi’an and there are some stunning archaeological things to see here. The Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum dates back to the 3rd century BC!!!! 1,000s of terracotta soldiers were buried with the emperor of the time and the sculptures still stand today.

Other sites include the Xi’an city wall, Daming Palace, a drum tower 🥁 and a great mosque. And that’s only skimming the surface of what this city has to offer. If you want to steep yourself in Chinese tradition and history - then this is probably the city for you.

It’s easy to navigate on foot and also has a space exploration center 🚀and an arts center 🎨. A decent sized city, you shouldn’t have a problem landing an English teaching job here.

10. Ningbo

teaching english in beijing

Who will love it: Ex-business heads looking to teach English

Population: 7.6 million

Language: Mandarin Chinese

Teaching English salary range: $1,200 - 1,600 USD per month

Fun fact: Rumored to have the most developed economy in China!

Types of ESL jobs: Private and public, as well as business English

Obvious bonus:  It’s super easy to access the rest of the country - Ningbo has a railway network that forks out to the rest of China

Just a two-hour train ride from Shanghai, Ningbo is a doorway to the rest of China. You’ll have no trouble jumping on a train and seeing the rest of the country. Of all the smaller cities this is probably the most globally minded. It’s home to many international businesses and expats and is considered a business hub,

Wander the streets and gawk at skyscrapers disappearing into the clouds, or hop in next door to bow at a local temple. This city is a juxtaposition of the old and new - giving you enough of life’s modern comforts to keep you sane and enough of Ancient China to make you feel like you’re getting your daily dose of culture.

The concentration of international businesses means the demand for English teachers is high. So why not add this to your list of Chinese cities you’d like to live in.

11. Nanjing

teaching jobs in guangzhou china

Who will love it: Culture vultures, foodies

Population: 8.3 million

Language: Mandarin Chinese, Nanjing dialect

Teaching English salary range: USD $1,200-2,000 per month

Fun fact: This is one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China

Types of ESL jobs: Private and public, as well as business English

Obvious bonus: Nanjing salted duck is served here, which is said to be the inspiration for Peking duck. So - calling all foodies!

Also known as the “city of culture” - this is a small city with plenty to do and see. Whether you plan to explore palaces and temples or wander around shops, bars and restaurants. There’s an eclectic mix, with plenty of western brands to keep you company.

Just north of Shanghai - the big city is never far away! But you can retreat to this little center of culture, calmness and history for your day-to-day living. There are lots of parks dotted about the place, so plenty of green to break up that concrete.

This city is definitely a great place to teach English and there’s a friendly expat community that will welcome you immediately. Jobs include everything from public to private schools - so you should be able to find a job that pays well for a city with a lower cost of living.

Find out more about teaching English in Nanjing here.