Teaching English abroad, particularly in China, has often been labelled as the thing to do if you want to save money, and if we’re honest, there is good reason for that. In this blog post, we will explore salaries when teaching English in China, and all those extra things you should be looking out for.
We will help you navigate the minefield of jobs that shout impossibly high salaries at you, allowing you to understand what benefit package you really should be asking for when you decide to teach English in China.
China is a country that attracts thousands of TEFL teachers each year, and I know we’re biased, but we can see why! The opportunity to live abroad for a year in a country that is so huge you can never run out of places to travel to, to meet people from all over the world and explore such a unique culture, learn a language that is increasingly in demand, all while earning one of the highest salaries in Asia where the cost of living is still relatively cheap, it sounds appealing right?!
You’re not alone, China’s demand for English teachers is surging, so to take advantage of the growing demand, here are some of the things you should be looking out for when making the leap.
Cost of Living
As with anywhere in the world, where you choose to live affects how much you have to spend to live there. Moving to the big cities like Beijing and Shanghai are the same as moving to big cities like London or New York. They’re expensive, and so often your salary will be higher to reflect the higher rent and food and transport and everything else.
Consider what tier your Chinese city is. Chinese cities are categorized into tiers. Tier 1 cities are often the largest and wealthiest – the megapolises of China such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
Tier 2 usually consists of cities such as Chengdu, Nanjing or Xi’an, with Tier 3 cities is where you will find Fuzhou, Dalian and Qingdao among others, and the tiers go on and on!
Cities in different tiers reflect differences in population size, infrastructure, cost of living and so forth. It is not officially recognized by the Chinese government, but it is a useful tool that will help you determine where the city you want to live in lies.
Working Hours and Conditions
In our opinion, this is the most important thing when looking at the teaching English salaries in China. Key questions to ask here are –
What are the combined teaching, contact and planning hours?
Some schools will (unfortunately) only list the teaching hours for the salary they advertise. What this means is that everything else involved in teaching comes in your own time. Planning classes, promotional activity, talking with parents, marking, all of this takes time, make sure you get paid to do it. If you want to take home a consistent, stable salary each month, ensure all of these things are included.
Do they have a curriculum or lesson plans for you? Is there an office full of resources at your disposal? Do you get support planning classes?
Teaching requires effort, and no amount of money can compensate your time and stress level if you have no support, no materials, and no guidance. Check your school has resources, and that you will be in an office with other ESL teachers who can always lend a hand.
Ask about their curriculum, you don’t want to go in blind! With an established curriculum you will feel proud to deliver it each class, and the structure will allow you see your students improvement. This will be the biggest factor to your job satisfaction.
When looking at teaching English salaries in China, you should consider whether you want to pay for your own apartment (and so have a higher wage so you can pay rent) or have an apartment given to you by your school (and have a slightly lower wage where the standard, company-wide rental allowance is taken out).
Most schools in China will offer you an apartment, often with the choice of living alone or with a roommate. If you don’t want an apartment, ensure you get a housing allowance that is seperate as this is fairly standard in China.
Another thing to consider when looking at ESL roles in China is the support you get. When you arrive in China, you have to do things such as open a bank account, get your mandatory medical check, get a Chinese sim card and so on.
Are you willing to pay for the support as part of your package? Some schools will offer full support as part of your ESL teaching package, others won’t, and therefore will often compensate you with a higher wage.
This is in no way a must have, it’s just something to consider when evaluating your teaching English salary and package offer. For example, here at York, we offer support from before you arrive (with your visa application) and all the way through your contract with us. We have dedicated bilingual administrators who are on hand to help you at any time, whether that’s opening a new bank account with you or taking you to the hospital should you fall ill.
Training & Development
As with support and working hours and conditions, having a school that offers training and development will overall aid in your job satisfaction and general well being. Ask how long you will be trained before you have to teach your first class (for reference, we have a 2 week training period).
Nothing is more stressful than arriving in a new country and being thrown in the deep end. Nor is not feeling prepared or equipped to stand in front of a group of kids for the first time. Check what this training entails, will you be observing classes? Teaching with another teacher first? Will there be workshops? All reputable schools should offer this.
Additionally, feeling like you’re achieving things and being successful in your role will contribute massively to your positive experience in China. Ask about the on-going training once your initial training is over so that you know you are supported throughout your journey.
Flight & Visa Costs
Another thing to consider when looking at teaching English salaries in China, is the amount it will cost you to secure your visa, and fly to China. Does your company reimburse this? These can often amount to hundreds of dollars worth of costs which isn’t comparable to your wage in China’s currency.
With teaching English salaries in China, it’s the smaller things like whether or not you get free Mandarin lessons that are often forgotten about. Learning Mandarin will without a doubt boost your experience in China. That’s not to say you have to become fluent, but learning a bit of the language will make day to day life ten times easier.
And of course you can learn by yourself, but let’s be honest, are you really going to do that? 😀 Ask if your school provides free Mandarin lessons, and ensure they are weekly so that you can benefit from them.
As in many countries, visiting the doctor or the hospital in China requires payment. And with a new diet, a new country, and working with kids, you will definitely get a bit sick to begin with! Check if your school covers your basic medical needs in the package they offer you, because while smaller things aren’t that expensive, if something bigger were to happen, you want to be covered.
Community, Company Culture & Company Trips
And finally, something money can’t buy is a community. There are many ESL teachers who find themselves working in a school full of people who can’t really speak English, who have lives of their own and aren’t on this amazing experience with you.
The friendships you form during your time teaching English in China often end up as lifelong friends, both foreign and with your Chinese teaching assistants. You don’t want to miss out on that.
Make sure you will be working with other people on a day to day basis, and that you’re not going from school to school. Ask about the community in the school or location you chose. Here at York we have things like a pub quiz, yoga, a whisky club, a football/soccer team.
As part of the community experience, some schools will also offer company wide excursions or trips for their staff. For example, here at York we often organize day trips to nearby places for BBQ’s or hikes, or for longer trips such as to see the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an, or to see the Avatar Mountains in Zhangjiajie. It speaks volumes of the company culture and so if that’s what you want, make sure this is part of it.
Of course, all of these things aren’t immediate needs, but after working with ESL teachers for 17 years, we have come to understand what’s important to them, and what makes their experience memorable.
It’s the little things, the community, the support, these are the things that our teachers value the most.
In general, China is a pretty affordable place to live. Our teachers benefit from a lifestyle of ordering coffee to their house or room whenever they want, brunching at different spots in the city, and vacationing when they feel like it. And for those who don’t, they meet their goal of saving money before they return to their home country.
Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Any good school will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about what else they offer aside from their salary.