China is such a massive country with several megacities you’ve probably never heard of. When you want to teach English in China, one of the most asked questions is: Which city should I go to? Beyond the obvious options of Beijing or Shanghai, there’s a lot more to discover. This list of the best cities to teach English in China will help you to decide on.
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 the 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 English 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.
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In China, Where Exactly Should You Go to?
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 in 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 megacities. 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 a list 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.
There’s a Lot More Than Beijing and Shangai
Most people, when you tell them that you lived in China for 3 years say” Oh, Beijing or Shanghai?” Well, for your information there is a lot more to China than those two cities. In fact, there is a wealth of fascinating places in China, and even if you want to be in a big city, you still have many options available.
Recently I saw a post by someone wanting to teach English in China and she wrote:” Well I want to work in a big city, so I guess that will be Beijing or Shanghai”. Wrong. Those are not big cities, those are MEGA cities. I mean humongous. Beijing is home to about 23 million and Shanghai is the most populous city in the world and was set at over 24.9 million this year, 2018.
Since I am from the UK those numbers are really hard to grasp. For me, a city like Hangzhou, 9 million or Nanjing, going on 8 million, is still massive. So let’s look at the options for teachers looking to relocate and teach English in China. I assure you, there are many great places.
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.
The Best Cities To Teach English in China
- Population: 23 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 an 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. It’s 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 exists there for English teachers.
- Population: 25 million
- Teacher Salary: 10,000 to 18,000 RMB/month
We 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?
- 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’ 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.
- 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 cuisines in China. Teacher salary isn’t high, 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.
- 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.
Another famous historic town, Nanjing, previously known as Nanking is located in Jiangsu province and has a population of around 8 million. It is a little further north and therefore colder in winter than Hangzhou. It also has a mix of old and new, ancient historic sites such as the tomb of Sun Yat Sen, and the Confucious Temple, as well as lovely scenic areas such as the park around Purple Mountain. It has a cheap, clean and modern subway system and lots of different areas to explore and places where expats hang out, the 1912 district which has plenty of bars and restaurants.
Just check out when you apply for a job where it is located because many of the universities are located way out in the sticks. The forum for expats is called the Nanjinger Nanjing Expat and it has lots of helpful info and a place to ask questions of old-timers. It’s a good place to start if you are looking to teach English in Nanjing.
It’s just across the border from Hong Kong. Plus, it’s a massive booming metropolis with lots to see and do. Yes, Shenzhen pretty much has it all – easy access to Hong Kong and Macau, as well as beaches, shopping galore, restaurants, nightlife, and much more.
Shenzhen had a population of 7 million in 2000 but that number must be much higher by now, as the general trend in China is for people to migrate from the villages to the cities, and many are moving to Shenzhen because today it is the “factory of the world”. That isn’t to say that the whole city is some kind of industrial factory. Far from it, it is in fact pretty clean and has lots of parks and squares and fun places to go. It is also close to Guangzhou, where there are also many cultural and historic attractions.
Shenzhen itself is often accused of having little history – if you are looking for “authentic “ China maybe this is not your place. But if you like large modern fast-paced places it might be for you. There is a great area called the OCT which has a whole lot of theme parks such as Splendid China and Window of the World, as well as art galleries and a whole artists’ village where they will paint you your own Van Gogh or Rembrandt, or just your portrait! The Shekou port area, where many foreigners live, has a great restaurant and entertainment district. Getting around on the squeaky clean subway is cheap and easy. For more info head over to Shenzhen Party.
Xiamen is located on the seaside in Fujian province. Just across the Straits of Taiwan on the East coast, 4 hours by fast train (and I mean FAST) from Hong Kong and 8 hours ride from Shanghai, Xiamen, known in Marco Polo’s time as Amoy, is a great place. The actual city is on an island connected to the mainland by several long bridges, and it has a crazy mixture of traditional and modern.
It has quite a lot of foreigners but still feels Chinese. The people speak Minnan dialect, which you will not understand a word of, even if your Mandarin Chinese is very good. It has tons of seafood, miles of sandy beaches and many shopping malls and parks. The air is relatively clean, especially in comparison to the megalopolises of Shanghai and Beijing. The population is around 3.5 million, and sometimes the traffic is crazy because they are still constructing the metro system which will eventually release the congestion. Lots of rich “returning Chinese” businessmen live there, and therefore, lots of people are looking to learn English.
The weather is subtropical – hot and humid in summer and cool and damp in winter. You will find lots to amuse you downtown on the island- the Nanputuo Buddhist temple, the Piano Island of Gulangyu, reached by taking a 5-minute ferry ride, the boardwalk. If you like you can take a ferry over to Taiwan! Xiamen has a unique feel to it and is a very sought after location by foreigners, particularly those who want to experience China while still maintaining the comforts of Western living.
Most of the Universities are actually located on the mainland in an area called Jimei, and not on the island. The only one on the island is the renowned Xiamen University, which is very close to an “Ivy league” kind of place, with its gorgeous campus which is a tourist attraction for the many visitors who come to Xiamen on vacation. One of the highlights of the calendar in Xiamen is the Dragon Boat Race held in June when different teams of rowers compete annually in the pools near the University district of Jimei. For more details on this city head over to What’s On Xiamen.
Other cities I sincerely recommend investigating are Ningbo and Qingdao, both on the East coast and both pleasant places to live, Guangzhou (near to Shenzhen) and Huizhou, which I heard great things about but didn’t manage to visit. And remember, there are many more places you can check out – just do your research and ask yourself and others lots of questions before you run off and buy some guide on how to teach English in China.