It’s a question that’s on the minds of many people who want to make a difference in the lives of children, and it’s one we get asked a lot. We’re here to tell you that it all depends on where you teach.
In cities like Shanghai and Beijing, teachers can expect to make quite a bit more than their peers elsewhere. In other parts of China, especially rural areas, teachers often earn less than they would in other countries at comparable levels of education level.
But don’t let this discourage you! There are many opportunities for teachers who want to work abroad in China—and many reasons to go there.
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How much do teachers make in China?
The short answer is, it depends! The salary an international school in Shanghai offers will differ to what you can expect teaching English at a language school in Shenzhen.
If you have a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate but no experience, you can expect to earn $1,500 – 2,900 USD per month teaching at an after-school language training center in China.
If you’re an experienced, licensed teacher teaching your subject specialty, you can expect to earn anywhere from $2,500 – 4,700 USD per month teaching at an international school in China.
If you’re an experienced ESL instructor, you can expect to earn anywhere from $1,000 – 1,600 USD a month teaching as little as 25 hours a week within the public school system in China.
Teaching English at a university in China is also an option that’s open to you – for around 20 hours of teaching a week, you can expect to earn up to $1,700 USD a month.
Public Schools: RMB 6,200-15,300 per month
Public schools tend to pay less than private institutions, ranging from 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 regarding teaching style and lesson structure. International 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 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 relative 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, certifications, and your level and type of education.
If you, like many 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 teaching and managing 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 broader age range since private academies cater to adults, business people, 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 tend to be shorter.
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 fewer 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 ones 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
International schools have the highest salaries for ESL teachers in China — typically in the range of RMB 11,800-29,900 ($1,700-$4,300) per month. The higher salary makes competition very tough 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 another country, the curriculum and teaching style are similar to what you would see at your average American school. The role of an English teacher at an international school is quite similar to those in the U.S. as well; you may find yourself teaching subjects beyond simply the English language. Teaching a more comprehensive range of subjects requires more certifications and qualifications for teaching, typically international schools will require a teaching certificate from your home country 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. It can be challenging 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 low compared to 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. Your teaching contract will often include rent, and you can typically expect to eat lunch at your school, which will save you some cash each month.