As our globalizing world grows smaller and smaller, English is increasing in value as the new lingua franca. The Chinese government has placed great emphasis on encouraging its citizens to learn English as a way to increase social and economic power. As a result, there is a massive shortage of teachers in China and numerous English teaching jobs are available throughout the nation. If you are considering teaching English abroad, China is one of the best options for you.
The competition among schools to draw in teachers is a benefit to you; salaries in China are comfortable and often include a variety of benefits in order to attract foreign teachers. The different schools and institutions in China offer varying levels of compensation, but most offer free airfare, accommodation, and paid holidays. China is a wonderful place to teach, earn (and maybe save up) some money, live well, and experience a new and indescribably fascinating culture.
How Much Money Can You Make Teaching in China?
Teaching English in China likely won’t provide you with a salary on par with what you could earn in your home country, but because of the relatively low cost of living in China, your teaching salary could go a long way.
On average, the typical salary for both public and private institutions is between RMB 10,000-RMB 15,000 ($1,400-$2,200) a month. However, some private institutions and international schools offer salaries closer to RMB 20,000 ($2,800) per month and as high as RMB 30,000 ($4,300) per month. Private tutors usually charge around RMB 150 ($22) per hour and depending on your skills and experience you can earn a bit more money on the side.
Here's a quick breakdown of salaries at different schools -- you can read the full article to learn more about each salary and what else is included if you choose to teach each way:
- Public Schools: RMB 6,200-15,300 per month
- Private Language Academies: RMB 6,200-16,000 per month
- Universities: RMB 7,000-9,700 per month
- International Schools: RMB 11,800-29,900 per month
- Private Tutoring: RMB 140 per hour
Public Schools: RMB 6,200-15,300 per month
Public schools tend to pay less than private institutions, in the range of RMB 6,200-15,300 ($900-$2,200) per month. If this seems low, don't worry: there are also many benefits to complement your salary. Teachers at public schools tend to work fewer hours than those at private schools, and they also enjoy longer (often paid) vacations and more holidays. Most schools offer free lunch to teachers, which is a great way to save money and experience Chinese food culture.
You can expect to work 16 to 25 teaching hours per week, Monday through Friday. Typically, there is more freedom at a public school when it comes to teaching style and lesson structure. Foreign English teachers at public schools work with a native co-teacher who provides help and eases your adjustment to teaching in China. However, class sizes tend to be quite large at public schools, averaging at around 20 to 40 students. Public schools also have less of a support structure when it comes to the application process and applying for work visas.
Private Language Academies: RMB 6,200-16,000 per month
You can expect a higher wage at a private academy compared to a public school, in the range of RMB 6,200-16,000 ($900-$2,300) per month. There is a large range in salaries due to the differing requirements at the numerous types of language academies. Salaries vary based on your personal teaching experience and your level and type of education.
If you, like many of those who teach English in China, have limited experience teaching, working for a private institution may be helpful because they tend to provide significantly more support than public schools. Private schools also provide more assistance with applications and applying for visas.
Curriculums at private academies are more rigid than public schools and there will be more direction when it comes to how to teach and manage your classes. Class sizes at private academies are much smaller than public schools, with typically 5 to 20 students per class. However, there is a wider age range since private academies cater to adults, businesspeople, and children.
Compared to public schools there are a few more benefits as well. Most private academies provide free housing, flights (or reimbursement for your flight), and insurance. Like public schools, private schools offer paid vacations, though they are less numerous and lengthy.
Universities: RMB 7,000-9,700 per month
Universities are also a good option for foreign English teachers. Compared to other schools, universities have a much lighter workload and less teaching hours, a maximum of 20 to 25 hours per week with a few hours of prep time. University professors can enjoy more free time, paid airfare, accommodation, as well as paid vacation time. While this means a lower salary -- typically in the range of RMB 7,000-9,700 ($1,000-$1,400) per month -- you'll have plenty of time to enjoy living in China or pick up other work.
Public universities are more attractive than private and are regarded as more prestigious institutions, so these positions can be a bit more competitive.
International Schools: RMB 11,800-29,900 per month
With the highest salaries for ESL teachers in China -- typically in the range of RMB 11,800-29,900 ($1,700-$4,300) per month --, there is tough competition when it comes to landing a job at an international school. Teachers at international schools typically work 40 hour weeks and have fewer benefits because of the already sizable salary.
Since international schools are typically attended by the children of expats and Chinese students who hope to study in a foreign country, the curriculum and teaching style is similar to what you would see at your average American school. The role of an English teacher at an international school is also quite similar to those in the U.S. as well; you may find yourself teaching subjects beyond simply the English language. Teaching a wider range of subjects requires more certifications and qualifications for teaching, typically international schools will require a teaching certificate from your home country in order to qualify.
Private Tutoring: RMB 140 per hour
Many ESL teachers work as private tutors to supplement their salaries. With an average rate of RMB 140 ($20) per hour, it is an easy way to increase your income while teaching in China. There is a high demand for one-on-one tutoring for businesspeople, adults, and high school students as well. It can be difficult to make tutoring a full-time gig without a decent network of connections, so this option is best for teachers who already have some experience teaching English in China.
The freedom of working as a private tutor is quite appealing - no managers, contracts, and the ability to control your schedule. Once you have a base of connections established, private tutoring can be a great way to earn money in China as an English teacher.
How Much Does it Cost to Live in China?
With most ESL teacher’s salaries, you can expect to put away a good amount of money while working in China as the cost of living is relatively lower than most western countries. Of course, the cost of living varies between the metropolises and the countryside, but looking at the average cost of living in Beijing can give you a good idea of the cost of living in most places you would likely work.
Keep in mind that food and housing tend to be more expensive in densely populated cities like Shanghai. Rent is usually included in your teaching contract and you can typically expect to eat lunch at your school, which will save you some cash each month.
|Expense||Average Cost in Beijing|
|Rent||RMB 2,000-6,200 ($300-$900) per month|
|Utilities & Wifi||RMB 300 ($45) per month|
|Phone (with data)||RMB 55-200 ($8-$30) per month|
|A Meal at an Inexpensive Restaurant||RMB 28 ($4)|
|Coffee||RMB 28 ($4)|
|Beer||RMB 14 ($2)|
|Average Taxi Ride||RMB 21 ($3)|
|Subway Ticket||RMB 2-7 ($0.30-$1)|
Ready to Negotiate Your Salary in China?
Teaching English in China is an amazing opportunity for ESL teachers to live comfortably and gain valuable experience teaching abroad - and even save some money. Teaching in China can be the springboard you need for future endeavors or the start of a life-long career. Above all else, teaching English in China allows you a unique experience and enables you to discover the depth of Chinese culture, history, and society.
This post was originally published in January 2014, and was updated in January 2019.