Shanghai is rich in discoveries and new opportunities. From expatriate-run boxing matches, to martial arts lessons, to culturally diverse restaurants, and a nightlife that is unparalleled to most Western cities, this city has plenty to offer for you to explore.

China is currently the second largest economy in the world with Shanghai as a leader city with a population estimated to be nearly 25 million. Shanghai’s growth rate and rapid industrialization has resulted in an outpouring of employment opportunities. In an effort to meet the rising demand of English proficiency, English training schools have sprung up throughout China. In turn, the need for foreign English language educators has multiplied in recent years.

In order to teach English in Shanghai, most teachers will require a university degree and/or TEFL certification, and in some cases, two years of work experience — ideally formal teaching experience. The average salary for teaching in Shanghai is $1,500 - $2,200 per month.

Teaching opportunities in China fall primarily into three broad categories:

Private Language Academies/Schools:

By far, the largest employer of foreign English language teachers in China is the private language school sector. Positions in these types of schools are the most abundant and easiest to secure. Private language schools tend to make the most exceptions to the employment requirements. They also pay the highest salaries in China, but usually require their foreign teachers to work a minimum of 20 hours per week of teaching. Private English language schools offer the greatest opportunity for negotiating salary, housing, and benefits.

Public Schools and Universities:

Government-owned schools are generally considered to be the safest to work for because conditions for foreign English teachers are both standardized and enforced. Contracts at public schools and universities are typically 10 months in duration for the initial contract and are then extended for 12 months thereafter. Foreign teachers with advanced degrees and several years of teaching experience in China may be able to negotiate an initial 12-month contract. Although public schools and universities generally pay less than private schools do, the workload tends to be less and the amount of vacation time is the greatest.

Private Schools:

The advantages are more or less the same as described above for public, government-owned schools: fewer hours and more freedom since these institutions adhere to the same academic calendar in China as the public schools do. In addition, and unlike public schools, there may be room to negotiate salaries and benefits with these private schools.

When and Where to Look for Jobs:

Numerous teaching jobs are available at any time of the year. People find English teaching jobs in China by reading and responding to advertisements posted on ESL/TEFL websites or expat websites under the “classifieds” section. Most employers prefer to interview potential applicants in person, thus many people enter the country on a tourist visa and convert it to a work visa once they land on a teaching job in Shanghai.


The majority of schools, if not all, require teachers to be native speakers of English. Other requirements for a teaching job in China vary widely from school to school. In some provinces, they require a minimum of a college diploma. In big cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, schools usually require a university degree. Others require you to be TEFL/TESOL certified and have previous teaching experience.

Salary & Cost of Living:

Foreign teachers can expect to earn on average 10,000RMB a month, which is generally 2 or 3 times more than that of a local Chinese teacher. Cost of living in China is substantially cheaper than that of the West because of the relatively high pay. In addition, schools oftentimes offer teachers free furnished housing, either shared with another teacher or private, as well as other benefits such as airfare reimbursement, flight allowance, health insurance, Chinese lessons, bonuses and holidays. For someone arriving to China for the first time, having accommodation provided is a huge benefit and makes the transition a lot smoother and easier.

Most schools will also give you the option of renting your own housing if you prefer not to share with another teacher. If you opt for your own housing in China, the school usually pays you an allowance of roughly half the monthly rent and you will be responsible for the remainder.

In terms of food in Shanghai, the cost can vary considerably depending on where you decide to eat. The price of a meal can range from 6 RMB to 80 RMB. Taking everything into account, a foreign teacher could spend around 5,000 RMB – 8,000 RMB for expenses and leisure purposes, depending on the teacher’s spending habits.

Classroom & Work Culture:

The culture in China is very different from the West. Chinese education is strongly based on results, so students are constantly studying (memorizing) for a never-ending series of exams. Teachers generally lecture while students passively copy down notes. Consequently, students excel in memorization but lack basic critical thinking skills.

Americans are used to participatory classrooms where teachers and students engage in dialogue. Contrary to the West, students in China are passive and are reluctant to participate in class. However, foreign teachers can introduce new concepts, such as discussion and role-play, to the classroom. Teachers can create an open and comfortable space for active participation to help develop their critical thinking skills.

Contributed by Betty Lau

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