There are more and more teachers looking to teach English in China. It’s by no means a new phenomenon - teachers have been pilgrimaging to this ancient country for longer than any of us have been alive. The first American missionary was Elijah Coleman Bridgman (what a name!) who arrived in 1830!
What’s new is the sheer number of people flocking toteach ESL in China. Every day we talk to teachers who are curious about the opportunities. Part of this is because China has become competitive when it comes to salary and benefits. The doors are being flung open and teachers are lining up to find out what all the fuss is about.
Although there’s a lot of controversy around whether China has the most English speakers in the world, there’s no doubt that it has the most English learners. An estimated 250 - 350 million English learners are living in China today. And English learners need English teachers! AMIRITE? ♀️
With all these English learners knocking about, it’s no wonder China is investing so heavily in teachers and becoming such an attractive TEFL destination. It’s such a massive country, that you could spend years and years there and still have more to see…
Let’s check out the numbers and see what all the fuss is about!
How much can you earn teaching English in China?
There’s a big salary range when it comes to teaching English in China. Like anywhere, it’s going to depend on your experience and education. At the top end of the scale, you could be making as much as $3,000 USD per month, but it’s more likely that fresh-faces will land somewhere between $1,500 - 1,800 a month.
For an in-depth breakdown of teaching salaries in China, check out our blog post on the average salary for a teacher in China.
The average salary for those teaching English in China with a little experience under their belt is between $1,800- 2,000. Although you may need to complete a year at a slightly lower salary before you make that much. As with everything else, it completely depends on the program, the school and the teacher. But you can rest assured that there is money to be made in China for qualified candidates.
Side note: Teachers who are licensed teaching professionals in their home country (with a 120-hour TEFL and teaching experience) could make a monthly salary as high as $4,000. This is a side note because it would be disingenuous to pretend that this is common. Most teachers will make a salary in the average range, with opportunities to increase their salary over time.
One last thing! Salaries vary from rural to city areas to account for cost of living. Smaller towns or rural areas tend to pay teachers a lot less as teachers won’t have a high cost of living (we know, that seems a bit counterintuitive when South Korea offers bonuses for teachers willing to brave the wilds).
We recommend applying to cities if you’re planning to save money. There are absolutely tons of them, and it can seem daunting to decide where to go, so why not check out our blog on the best Chinese cities to teach TEFL in.
If you’re worried about requirements: check out this blog on the qualifications you need to teach English in China.
Is housing included in my overall compensation package?
Most, but not all schools, offer free housing. So you need to factor this into the equation. And there should be some sort of equation happening if you’re planning to teach abroad. Including projected costs and the cost of living are just as important as salary.
So the fact that housing is covered is a big benefit for teachers hoping to teach in China. Obviously, if your rent is covered you will be making substantially more than a teacher who has to pay for a place to rest their head.
What about those benefits?
China is pretty sweet when it comes to benefits and they’re right up there with all the best countries for ESL teachers. More than likely, English teaching positions in China will include free housing, flight reimbursement, visa assistance, health insurance and the added bonus of Mandarin lessons.
You’ll obviously need some savings to get set up and it’s wise to be prepared to pay for your flights (you’ll get it back later, don’t worry) and have enough money to survive for your first month. Anything between $2,000 - 3,000 should cover flights and set-up expenses. This is giving you room for unexpected costs, so you could save less and still get to China! As always, it depends on how thrifty your spirit truly is.
What do I need to know about the cost of living in China?
The cost of living in China is generally very low. Teachers usually are surprised at the quality of life they can afford. From food to weekend travel, there’s no shortage to what a TEFL teacher in China can budget for while still making bank.
Expenses in the countryside are remarkably lower than in the cities, but without too much effort a teacher in the city can get by on well under $1,000 per month (and that’s being conservative). We’ve got some money saving tips below!
So, tell me how much I can save already?
In one year teaching in a Chinese city, it’s possible to save between $10,500 - 18,000. The less you travel the more you will save, but even those who travel quite a bit should have no trouble making bank. Countryside dwellers will be able to save something closer to $5,000 - 10,000 (if they’re particularly frugal) in one year.
It’s worth noting that most teachers will receive raises as they gain experience and so that if you want to build a career in China, your savings should increase every single year.
Our top 5 tips for saving money while teaching in China
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1. Travel China - not Asia.
China is massive with tons to explore and if you really want to put away some serious money, it makes sense to save money by sticking to the country you’re in. Food, accommodation and transport are all cheap, so you can see a lot of the country for very little.
2. Eat local food.
It’s all part of the experience and foreign/American food will come at a premium. Of course, there’s plenty of it, but eating traditional food and learning to cook some of it will save you loads.
3. Make sure your accommodation is covered by your job.
This is one of the biggest costs most people have every month. One of the major advantages of teaching abroad in China is that you might not have to worry about this.
4. Make a budget and stick to it.
It’s easy to spend your money without realizing. Why not break down your monthly income (including target savings) and watch the money pile up. This will stop you blowing it all on a spur of the moment weekend in Thailand, just because!
5. Make sure your flights are reimbursed. ✈️
Air travel is pricey and paying for flights yourself will make a dent in your current savings. Making sure they’re included will mean you can save the $1,000 or so that you would otherwise be spending.