The 5 Best Cities to Teach English in China

teach english in china

So you’ve made a decision that will lead you to China in the near future. The hell with your job, school, a relationship, and the crabby faces of the morning commute. I can’t blame you for going. Not just to China, but anywhere on this grand planet. I am guessing that there are several variables imploring you to teach English in China. Not just that it is an interesting place along with rest of Asia, but the exorbitant number of jobs, opportunity, a massive economy and the ability to save money. You are not going to get rich teaching in China or anywhere for that matter. However, you can walk safely outside at any hour of the night, grab a beer, munch of some food, sing karaoke or just go for a stroll. You can save some money in China and live comfortably, but the real attraction is to live in an exotic land with thousands of years of history, yet one that has all modern amenities and continues to march into the future at warp speed.

There is no question that China is now the place to teach English and it should remain that way for another 5 to 10 years before it suffers from the same inevitable economic fates of Japan and South Korea. But even after years of saturation and a predictable slowing economy, plenty of jobs will remain. For the more ambitious types, China from an economic and cultural standpoint has much more to offer than simply teaching English. It is the place to do business, invest and make money. For some, teaching English is merely a way to get a foot in the door and parlay it into something more lucrative.

For more about getting a job in China read: Teach English in China: The Essential Lowdown

I get emails from individuals on a daily basis about teaching in China. There is one thing that stands out most about people who inquire about teaching China. While many are set on living there, the question becomes where exactly to go. The issue is that China is such a massive country with an enormous population. Beijing and Shanghai are two obvious choices to live and find work, but many would-be teachers often look at alternatives to these two mega cities. Some general concerns about living in China seem to be the cost of living, pollution, availability of jobs and the weather.

After consulting with former teachers and ones that currently live there, I have come up with 5 of the best cities to live and teach English in China. If you would like to contribute to this list or feel that it is inaccurate, feel free to add to the discussion in the comments section. Keep in mind that this list only includes five cities.  If you have a smaller city or cities that you would like to advocate, please share. The reality, however, is that choosing the right city to teach in China is really about what you need as an individual. Obviously, you are going to make more money in the larger cities, but the cost of living is also higher. If you want to be somewhere close to nature, then living in heart of Shanghai or Beijing is probably not a good idea. Fortunately, China is such a huge and diverse country that you are surely able to find the right place. I can tell you from my personal experience of living in Asia that you really  want to  find the right situation based on your interests and preferences in order to feel comfortable and enjoy yourself. If you are already a big city person, then moving to Shanghai or Beijing is probably going to be an easy transition, but if you are not, then it might be difficult.

1. Shanghai

shanghai

  • Population: 23 million 
  • Teacher Salary: 10,000 to 18,000 RMB/month

We are start with Shanghai simply because this seems to be the most popular place to teach in China. A large number of the applicants I get for China are from people who only want to be in Shanghai. Not surprisingly, expect a bit more competition there as schools can be more selective in a city where a lot of Westerners want to teach. Despite that there are still plenty of teaching jobs in this massive city. The hardest part might be trying to decipher which ones are the best. Personally, I’ve never had much interest in teaching or living in a place where the majority of people want to go, but that is just me. I am sure that Shanghai can be a great city to live in, but I couldn’t see myself there.

The biggest draw to Shanghai for Western teachers is the access to modern amenities and at least some ability to replicate one’s life back home. When I lived in Japan, I met a lot of foreigners that insisted Tokyo was the place to be, but I usually  tried to avoid Tokyo whenever possible during my four years there. Again though, that is my preference and one person’s dislike is another’s delight. Like I said before, it is important to choose a place in China or anywhere abroad where you will be most comfortable. If you are a big city person and just can’t live without some of the luxuries of back home, then Shanghai is probably a good fit.

China’s most modern metropolis, Shanghai, is endowed with a streak of international culture, nightlife and entertainment. There you can find cuisine from all over the world, people of almost every nationality and an endless supply of nightlife. Another advantage of Shanghai is its thriving ex-pat community. Being a cosmopolitan city, Shanghai can be a little pricey in some areas, but what mega city around the world isn’t?

2. Hangzhou

teach english in china

  • Population: 8 million 
  • Teacher Salary: 8,000-12000 RMB/month

Many regard Hangzhou as the best place to live in China. I’ve across heaps of current and former teachers who all seem to rave about this city. One of the best advantages of Hangzhou is that it isn’t far from Shanghai, which serves as a great place for nightlife and many attractions. The new bullet train from Shanghai to Hangzhou has reduced the time of travel to merely 45 minutes. A one way trip on the bullet train cost around $20. Another attractive to living in Hangzhou is

Hangzhou is known for its elegant mix of new and old.  Like Beijing, it is a city of rich history and a long tradition of foreign influence. One of the main attractions is the cities’s West Lake, which is quite beautiful and offers a quick escape from urban life. Expect to make less in Hangzhou compared to Shanghai or Beijing, but most Westerners are attracted to this city for its quality of life. After all, teaching abroad is about much more than salary.

3. Chengdu

teach english in china

  • Population: 7.4 million 
  • Teacher salary: 6,000 to 8,000 RMB/month 

Chengdu, the largest city in Western China,  is a city that has always intrigued me and a place that I hope to visit in the near future. From what I can tell from research and talking to people, this sounds like a really cool spot in China. While it’s a large enough city,  it’s surrounded by nature and slower-paced compared to the bustling streets of Shanghai. I lived in a city surrounded by an abundance of  nature in Japan call Sapporo, which was also a great distance from Tokyo and a wonderful place to be. Personally, I always crave a balance between city life and nature.

If you also enjoy great food and Giant Pandas, then Chengdu is the place to be. The largest Panda reserve in the world is just outside of the city. The region, Sichuan, is known to have some of the best cuisine in China. Teacher salary isn’t highly, particularly compared to Shanghai and Beijing,  but the cost of living is much lower and many would argue that the quality of life is better. Although it is a little out of the way geographically, Chengdu also has a vibrant ex-pat community.

4. Beijing

teach english in china

  • Population: 20 million
  • Teacher salary: 10,000 to 17,000 RMB/month 

Despite having an abundance of available teaching positions, I come across a lot of teachers that refuse to teach there. The fact that it is on my top seven list might seem like a contradiction then. Sure, Beijing certainly has a issue with air pollution, which seems to be a deterrent for many individuals.  On the other hand, I meet a lot of current and former teachers that love Beijing. It seems to be one of those places that people either just love or hate.

Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by Beijing, mostly because of its storied history. Its not only the modern capital, but the city itself has existed for 3 millennia. It’s filled with ancient sites, including the grand Forbidden City complex. If you are a person that loves history, culture and a little politics here and there, then Beijing has a lot to offer. I think it would be interesting to spend a year or two in a place with such a mix of the old world intertwined with modern architecture and lifestyle. Although the cost of living is similar to Shanghai, most jobs in Beijing tend to pay well and a strong market exist there for English teachers.

5. Guilin

teach english in china

  • Population: 5 million
  • Teacher salary: 8,000 to 12,000 RMB/month

Have you ever seen images of the Li River? It is beautiful. Do you enjoying hiking, nature and just being outdoors? If so, then you might want to look into Guilin. Much quieter than the hustle of Beijing and Shanghai, Guilin is a place where can easily escape to the outdoors on the weekend. When I lived in Sapporo, Japan, one thing that I really enjoyed about the city was the fact that I could actually get to some hiking trails just a few subway stops from my house and Guilin offers a similar lifestyle.

Guilin is located on the Li river. At the center of the city are two lakes, one of which connects to the Li. Guilin and the surrounding area is also a place known for its stunning landscapes. Although it is a smaller city, there are still plenty of teaching opportunities and you are likely to find one if you meet the qualifications. There are of course more positions in larger cities, but those cities have more Westerners, which ultimately creates more competition.

For more about the lifestyle of China check out: What I’ve Learned Living in China

I am sure that there are other cities in China that are deserving to be on this list and I plan to list more and update this in the future. If you disagree with this list or would like to add a city, please voice your opinion in the comment section and add to the discussion.

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About James 66 Articles
Since finishing Graduate school in 2007, I have been teaching ESL and adjuncting as a political science instructor. I taught English in Japan for four years and I have traveled throughout Asia and South America. These days, I spend most of my time customizing Wordpress themes, blogging and understanding SEO. My next goal in life is to become a successful entrepreneur. I recently have started a teacher placement agency, Beyond Borders ESL Jobs, and I am looking for investors to start-up an online language school with an innovative twist.

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