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The 16 Best Cities to Teach English in China

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If you’ve started looking for ESL jobs in China, you may be getting overwhelmed by all the employment offers out there.

There are jobs in a billion different cities you’ve never even heard of!

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How are you supposed to choose between all your choices?

Read our guide to find out what makes some of the best cities to teach English in China special and discover which is the best place to start your TEFL career.

Choosing a City

You might think that you’ll have a similar experience in any city in China, but that assumption couldn’t be more wrong.

China is the world’s most populous country, is as big as the United States, and has over 23 provinces, over which there’s a wide variation in weather, culture, food, language, and more.

Every city in China has something unique and special to offer, so consider what kind of experience you’re looking for and think about which characteristics of a city are most important to you. Some factors to consider are the following:

  • Weather
  • Geography
  • Population
  • Culture
  • Ease of transportation
  • Local food
  • Size and quality of expat community

This post will discuss these factors and more to help you make an informed decision on where to teach English in China.

Apply to Teach English in China

EF English First is looking for amazing teachers to join its state of the art schools in China. Jobs in over 60 cities available!

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City-By-City Guide To China

The question of the best places to teach English in China can only be answered with a long list, which leaves the decision up to you.

This list is by no means exhaustive. It’s a selection of some of the most popular teaching destinations in China, along with information about what it’s like to live and teach in each one.

Note: All population information is from Wikipedia, all cost of living information is from Numbeo, and salary information is from Glassdoor and previous research.

Cost of living does not include rent. All monetary information is listed in USD.

1. Beijing

  • Population: 21,542,000
  • Average cost of living: $572.09
  • Average salary: $1,448-$2,462/month
  • Perfect for: The teacher who loves history, big cities, and variety
CCTV Building in Beijing

The Culture

The capital of China, Beijing is truly a world unto itself. This megacity is full to the brim with ancient history and is home to the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall, and more must-see spots.

Beijing is also known for its extensive hutong system, a series of alleyways throughout the city where you can find tasty street food, cozy speakeasy, killer live music, and more.

If you like Peking duck or have a penchant for eating tripe and other intestines, you’ll find a gastronomical paradise in Beijing. If you have a more staid appetite, though, don’t worry. There are countless places to get any type of local or international food in this metropolis.

As a giant city, Beijing also has a giant expat scene, so if you ever get in the mood to go to an English-language comedy show or just eat a hamburger you’ll have options here.

This city is more sprawling than Houston, so it can be a little perilous to traverse. But the subway system is super affordable and will get you most anywhere you need to go.

As a northern city, Beijing has hot summers and cold winters, unlike the semi-tropical areas in the south of China. Think of it like the Chicago of China, weather-wise.

You’ve also probably heard about the pollution in Beijing. It’s true: this city can get extremely, dangerously smoggy. That’s definitely something to keep in mind, but note that the smog is getting better all the time and there are still plenty of “blue sky days” here.

Also note that the price of living is higher in Beijing than in other places, but you can also make a higher salary here.

The Teaching Situation

There are seriously tons of teaching jobs in Beijing, so you’ll no doubt be able to find work here. However, the competition is also steeper here than in other cities due to how many foreigners there are, so it might be hard to find work at an elite school or right in the city center if you don’t have teaching experience.

If you really want to be in the thick of things and can’t get the job you want, try working on the outskirts of the city or in a nearby city like Tianjin for a year and then trying your luck once there’s a little more muscle in your resume.

2. Shanghai

  • Population: 26,317,104
  • Average cost of living: $643.53
  • Average salary: $1,448-$2,606/month
  • Perfect for: The teacher who loves culture, art, and parties
teaching-english-china-shanghai
Shanghai

The Culture

The cultural capital of China, this city is full to the brim with interesting people and places. Shanghai’s iconic skyline makes it one of the world’s most famous cities, and it lives up to its cosmopolitan reputation.

In Shanghai you’ll find ancient history smashed up against state-of-the-art architecture, ancient villages in the middle of modern city blocks.

Shanghai is also famous for having a giant expat community, and though it’s crowded it has phenomenal public transportation.

You’ll find hot, humid summers here and winters weather the temperature sometimes drops below zero, but if you can stand the weather you’ll fall in love with Shanghai.

If you’re a fan of nightlife, music, and dumplings, you’ll be right at home in Shanghai.

The Teaching Situation

Like Beijing, Shanghai has a lot of jobs but also a lot of competition. The middle of the city is competitive and expensive, but there are many places outside of the very center that are totally cool — while being more liveable and easy to find work in.

Read the in-depth guide to teaching English in Shanghai.

3. Shenzhen

  • Population: 12,528,300
  • Average cost of living: $513.49
  • Average salary: $1,400-$2,000/month
  • Perfect for: The teacher who loves nice weather, traveling, cycling, and tech
Shenzhen City Park

The Culture

This port city was a small fishing village just 30 years ago, and now it just might be the biggest city you’ve never heard of.

In 1979, Shenzhen was declared a Special Economic Zone, and since then it’s been growing at an astronomic rate.

In fact, it currently has the 3rd largest economy in China after Shanghai and Beijing and is home to tech giants including Tencent (Wechat’s parent company) and DJI. No surprise, it’s called the silicon valley of China.

Shenzhen is a vibrant city with lots to do: it has museums, parks, and lots of shops and bars. It’s also located near Hong Kong and Guangzhou, so you can travel easily to both when you want a break from the city.

And it’s a breeze navigating this southern city by bus, subway, or bike.

Located in the south of China on the Pearl River Delta, Shenzhen has long, humid summers and practically nonexistent winters. It also gets affected by typhoon season, although the worst of the weather typically bypasses the city.

The Teaching Situation

The high GDP and large population makes Shenzhen a particularly good place to go for ESL jobs. You’ll find high-paying jobs all over the city, even if you don’t have prior teaching experience.

Read the in-depth guide to teaching English in Shenzhen.

4. Guangzhou

  • Population: 14,904,400
  • Average cost of living: $521.33
  • Average salary: $1,609-$2488
  • Perfect for: The foodie traveler who’s interested in culture and history
Guangzhou

The Culture

Guangzhou’s metropolitan area has 44 million people in it, making it the largest in China. This city, which is the capital of Guangdong Province, has a culture and flavor all its own.

Guangzhou is located in Old Canton on the Pearl River Delta, and it still retains much of its Cantonese culture. You’ll hear Cantonese spoken on the streets here and you’ll find restaurants serving dim sum and other Cantonese delicacies.

There are also large populations of African and Middle Eastern emigres in Guangzhou, creating an interesting culture-in-a-culture and even more opportunities for good eating.

Guangzhou has lots of nightclubs, art galleries, museums, and cafes. It’s a city loved by expats and locals alike. But when you’re ready to take a break from the daily grind, you can easily hop on a train to Hong Kong or Shenzhen from here — or just take the subway across town!

Guangzhou is located next to Shenzhen, so it gets the same muggy, semitropical weather. However, it’s further inland than Shenzhen so it doesn’t get as much typhoon action.

The Teaching Situation

It’s extremely easy to find full or part-time work in this megacity. Opportunities abound, and employers are always looking for new teachers — no experience necessary.

Apply to Teach English in China

EF English First is looking for amazing teachers to join its state of the art schools in China. Jobs in over 60 cities available!

Apply Today

5. Chongqing

  • Population: 34,484,300
  • Cost of living: N/A. See the typical cost for some everyday expenses in Chongqing here.
  • Average salary: $1,839/month
  • Perfect for: The easy-going teacher who loves cities and straying from the beaten path
Chongqing at night

The Culture

The biggest city in Sichuan province and the 3rd largest city in China, Chongqing is definitely worth your consideration.

The city is home to a number of interesting artifacts and oddities, including a collection of WWII-era memorabilia (because the city was a base for many Allies during the war) and the world’s first underwater museum.

It also is home to lots of foreigners, so you’ll find community here if you’re ever missing home.

Chongqing has long, hot summers and short, warm winters. However, it does have a long foggy and rainy season, which has earned it the nickname “The Capital of Fog”.

The Teaching Situation

There are lots of jobs to be found in Chongqing! Whether you want to teach children or adults you’ll find a job with a good salary here.

6. Kunming

  • Population: 6,626,000
  • Cost of living: N/A. See the typical cost for some everyday expenses in Kunming here.
  • Average salary: $725-$2,895
  • Perfect for: Hippies, nature lovers, foodies, and adventurers
Kunming

The Culture

The capital of Yunnan Province, Kunming is loved for its beautiful weather, temples and lakes, and lusty flowers.

Kunming is a tourist hub because of its history and natural beauty, and it’s also easy to travel to and from Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia from here.

If you love warm, temperate weather, gardens and beautiful scenery, and traveling, you’ll find yourself more than happy living in this laidback town.

The Teaching Situation

Because it’s smaller than other cities listed here, jobs are a little more scarce in Kunming and salaries are a little lower. However, you probably won’t have to work crazy long hours here, and you’ll live a comfortable lifestyle with a low cost of living.

7. Hangzhou

  • Population: 9,806,000
  • Cost of living: N/A. See the typical cost for some everyday expenses in Hangzhou here.
  • Average salary: $1,158-$1,738/month
  • Perfect for: Anyone who loves gardens and natural beauty
Hangzhou Lake

The Culture

Many people (especially locals) consider Hangzhou the most beautiful place in China. The famous West Lake, which draws loads of tourists every year, is situated here, as is Hangzhou University.

Hangzhou is also famous for its tea, and you’ll pass tea fields and cozy tea shops throughout the city.

Hangzhou’s elegant mix of tradition and modern innovation give it a unique charm, and its population of college student means that there’s lots of good nightlife here.

It definitely deserves its place amongst the best cities to teach English in China!

When you’re looking for something a little more high-key than Hangzhou’s easy, beautiful lifestyle, hop on a bullet train and you’ll be in Shanghai than under an hour.

Hangzhou has cold winters, hot summers, and lots of fog that lends the whole city a magical aura.

The Teaching Situation

While the typical salary for ESL teachers is lower here than in Shanghai or Beijing, you can still make a decent living and find a good job in Hangzhou.

8. Tianjin

  • Population: 15,621,200
  • Cost of living: N/A. See the typical cost for some everyday expenses in Tianjin here.
  • Average salary: $1,448-$3,038/month
  • Perfect for: The teacher who’s trying to save money and travel
Tianjin “Eye”

The Culture

Tianjin is located in northeastern China, in proximity of the coast and Beijing. Its main urban area borders the Hai River, and it’s a city with interesting culture and sights.

If you travel about 18 miles north of the city you’ll hit an oft-visited part of the Great Wall, while inside the city you’ll find a folklore museum, an Italian street with over 200 European shops and restaurants, and more.

Tianjin has hot summers and cold, dry winters, and it can get pretty rainy during monsoon season.

The Teaching Situation

Tianjin is a popular place for ESL teachers because of its demand for ESL teachers, high salaries, and reasonable cost of living.

Lots of foreigners start out in Tianjin because of its proximity to Beijing, and then later move on to other cities.

9. Suzhou

  • Population: 10,680,000
  • Cost of living: N/A. See the typical cost of some everyday expenses in Suzhou here.
  • Average salary: $2,038 USD/month
  • Perfect for: The teacher who loves beautiful scenery, a laidback lifestyle, and a healthy salary
Suzhou

The Culture

Located near Shanghai beside the Yangtze River and Lake Tai, this beautiful old city is filled with outdoor attractions: pagodas, gardens, canals, and more are peppered through the city, making it a really calm and peaceful place.

However, Suzhou is also a major economic center, and as such attracts lots of business people and wealth.

This charming city has hot, humid summers and cold and snowy winters — while the temperature varies, though, it’s never totally unbearable here.  

People love Suzhou because of its beauty and its proximity to Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Nanjing.

The Teaching Situation

Suzhou has some very prestigious international schools and training centers, which means that you can get a very high-paying job if you move here. It is harder to get the really good jobs if you don’t have prior teaching experience, but if you interview well you just might get hired.

Apply to Teach English in China

EF English First is looking for amazing teachers to join its state of the art schools in China. Jobs in over 60 cities available!

Apply Today

10. Dalian

  • Population: 6,690,432
  • Cost of living: N/A. See the typical cost of some everyday expenses in Dalian here.
  • Average salary: $1,324/month
  • Perfect for: Foodies who love outdoor adventure and beaches
Dalian skyline

The Culture

This major seaport is the southernmost city in Liaoning Province, which is in the very north of China. Dalian sits on the northeast of China, almost touching North Korea.

Dalian is home to hot springs, beaches, a ski resort, and a number of annual festivals which attract tourists from around China and the region.

You’ll find all sorts of delicious seafood and Shandong cuisine here, as well as plenty of shopping, gardens, and other attractions. The sizeable Japanese population here means that there’s delicious ramen shops and sushi around, to boot.

Dalian has fresh air and relatively little pollution, but it does get pretty rainy here and the winters can be pretty brutal.

The Teaching Situation

The pay in Dalian is relatively low, but so is the cost of living. There are many training centers here that are always hiring, and you can find public and international school jobs here as well.

11. Xi’an

  • Population: 12,000,600
  • Cost of living: N/A. See the typical cost of some everyday expenses in Xi’an here.
  • Average salary: $1,592-$2,895
  • Perfect for: Foodies and history buffs
Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an

The Culture

As one of the oldest cities in China, Xi’an is home to a number of important cultural relics and tons of ancient history. It’s most famous for the Terracotta Army, but you can also find the Xi’an Walled City and a number of notable pagodas and mausoleums here.

Besides a long history, Xi’an is also worthwhile for its lively local cuisine and its art district. You’ll find university students, expats, and a large population of lifelong residents in Xi’an. People love the city for its distinct character and its warm, temperate weather.

The Teaching Situation

As a major city with a healthy business sector and some universities, the market for ESL is sizeable in Xi’an. Whether you want to teach children or adults you’ll be sure to find a high-paying, comfortable job here.

12. Chengdu

  • Population: 14,427,500
  • Cost of living: N/A. See the typical cost of some everyday expenses in Chengdu here.
  • Average salary: $1,818/month
  • Perfect for: Rap geniuses, chillers, anyone who loves pandas and spicy food
Ancient town of Chengdu

The Culture

Chengdu has gained a population as a cool, chill city for good reason. It’s the land of giant pandas, spicy hot pot, rap music, and naps: what’s better than that?

This city is home to many young people, good nightlife, and some of China’s most famous authors.

You’ll find lots of people speaking Sichuanese here, and you’ll also find lots of natural beauty and festivals.

The mix of tradition and hip culture makes Chengdu a place people fall in love with immediately.

Chengdu has short winters and long, hot summers — perfect days for lazing around and doing nothing at all.

The Teaching Situation

The salary is lower than other places here, but so is the cost of living. You can get away with working relatively few hours at a public school or training center here or really step it up by working at an international school or taking on lots of private tutoring.

Options abound in Chengdu!

13. Guilin

  • Population: 4,747,963
  • Cost of living: N/A. See the typical cost of some everyday expenses in Guilin here.
  • Average salary: $1,158-$1,736
  • Perfect for: Hikers and people who love mild weather
Famous landscape of Guilin

The Culture

This popular tourist destination is located along the Li River and contains two lakes as well as some beautiful scenery.

This city has been praised in poems and songs for its beauty and splendor, but you have to see it for yourself to understand the extent of its natural wonder.

People love the relaxed atmosphere and great hiking here, as well as the unique cuisine, which includes Guilin chili and a type of regional rice noodle.

Located in Guangxi Province, Guilin has mild weather with rainy summers and winters and warm springs and falls.

The Teaching Situation

The job market isn’t as huge as in some bigger cities, but you can definitely find a number of kinds of jobs here. You probably won’t get rich in Guilin unless you really hustle, but you will make enough to live comfortably and have some money left over each month.

14. Nanjing

  • Population: 8,335,000
  • Cost of living: N/A. See the typical cost of some everyday expenses in Nanjing here.
  • Average salary: $1,712/month
  • Perfect for: History nerds and people who love traveling
Old wall of Nanjing

The Culture

This historic town is situated in Jiangsu Province near Hangzhou and Shanghai.

It’s home to many ancient historic sites, including the Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum. It also contains some lovely scenic areas and museums, such as the park around Zijin Mountain .

Nanjing has a clean, modern subway system and lots of differents places to explore.

It also has a vibrant expat community and lots of bars and restaurants to check out.

Nanjing’s weather is fierce: the winters are cold, and it has some of the hottest summers in China.  However, spring and autumn are temperate and pleasant.

The Teaching Situation

There are many jobs to be had in Nanjing, and though the salary is lower than in some major cities it’s still pretty decent.

There are lots of university jobs to be had in Nanjing, but beware than many of the universities are located far from the city center, so you might find yourself living somewhere much more remote than you were expecting if you’re not careful.

Apply to Teach English in China

EF English First is looking for amazing teachers to join its state of the art schools in China. Jobs in over 60 cities available!

Apply Today

15. Wuhan

  • Population: 10,607,700
  • Cost of living: N/A. See the typical cost of some everyday expenses in Wuhan here.
  • Average salary: $1,439
  • Perfect for: Cyclists, foodies, and travelers
Donghu Lake in Wuhan

The Culture

The largest city in central China, Wuhan is a hub for commerce, transportation, and culture. You’ll find famous temples and towers, world-class art, and beautiful scenery here, along with major industry and jam-packed alleys bursting with delicious food.

In Wuhan you can bike the city streets, sample delicious local food (especially soups), and soak up the culture.

Be warned, though: Wuhan has dry, cold winters and blisteringly hot summers.

The Teaching Situation

As a major city that’s much less well-known than Shanghai or Beijing, Wuhan is the perfect destination for any aspiring ESL teacher. You’ll find plenty of job opportunities here and much less competition than you would in some other comparably sized cities.

16. Xiamen

  • Population: 3,531,347
  • Cost of living: N/A. See the typical cost of some everyday expenses in Xiamen here.
  • Average salary: $1,460/month
  • Perfect for: Outdoorsy people, beach lovers, and anyone looking for a relaxed lifestyle
Xiamen

The Culture

Located on the seaside in Fujian Province, Xiamen is nearby Hong Kong and Taiwan, and is only an 8-hour bullet train ride from Shanghai.

The city is on an island connected to the mainland by several long bridges, and it has a unique vibe all its own. Explore the Nanputuo Buddhist Temple, the “Piano Island” of Gulangyu, and a boardwalk with a ferry here!

There’s a large expat community here, but it’s not so big that you feel like you’re not in China anymore. There’s also lots of young people here, as the city is home to the renowned Xiamen University.

The locals speak Minnan dialect, and there’s lots of seafood, sandy beaches, and parks here. Each year Xiamen also puts on a huge Dragon Boat Race that you won’t want to miss.

People love Xiamen for its clean air and subtropical climate with hot summers and cool winters.

The Teaching Situation

Teachers in Xiamen enjoy a relaxed school atmosphere and a more than liveable salary. There are plenty of jobs to be found here and you don’t need a teaching degree or prior experience to find work here.

Last Words

This list covers some of the major cities in China, but there are lots of sizeable places in the country not listed here — the country’s just that big.

Do some research and explore — there’s truly somewhere in China for everyone.

Read our comprehensive guide on teaching English in China.

And remember that although there are unifying cultural factors across China, it’s a large country. Don’t expect Guangdong and Harbin to feel the same, just like Los Angeles and Louisville don’t feel the same.

What is “your best city” to teach English in China?

So go explore and find your place (or places). The wide world is waiting!

About Molly Oberstein-Allen

Molly Oberstein-Allen spent a year and a half teaching ESL and STEAM in Shenzhen, China. She currently resides in Kansas, where she writes and teaches online. She's passionate about traveling, literature, and the outdoors.

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