English-language learning has been deeply rooted in Chinese curricula since the early ’80s. However, even more importance is being placed on learning the language today, and all children are required by law to start learning it at the age of eight. China’s emphasis on English-language learning has consequentially led to a thriving TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) job market, making China one of the largest employers of EFL teachers.

With 23 provinces and a population of 1.3 billion, China is, without a doubt, huge. As every city offers something unique, it can be difficult for potential EFL teachers to choose where they want to live and work. So, to provide some inspiration, TEFL Org has put together a guide with everything you need to know before teaching English in China’s most popular cities.

Photo by Kyle Obermann

So, why China?

China is one of the most attractive countries to TEFL for a number of reasons. It is common for employers in the country to offer benefit packages, including flight reimbursement, accommodation, health insurance, paid holidays, and even free Mandarin lessons. Additionally, while teachers may not earn the same income as they would at home, living costs in China are much lower in comparison.

In China’s major cities, the average cost of living (excluding accommodation) is 5,000 RMB per month (roughly $720 USD). Outside of those cities, living costs hover around 2,000 RMB (roughly $290 USD).

With reference to Teachaway’s post on teaching salaries in China, teachers in Tier 1 cities (such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen) can expect a salary of $1,500 to $2,500 USD from public schools and $1,800 to $2,900 USD in language centers. Teachers in Tier 2 cities (such as Nanjing, Chengdu, Kunming, Wuhan, and Xiamen) can expect slightly less, with public school salaries ranging between $1,400 and $2,300 and language center salaries fluctuating between $1,500 and $1,850 USD.

Popular locations to TEFL in China

Beijing

With a population of 21 million people, China’s capital city is considered the country’s cultural, political, and educational hub. Beijing is also one of the world’s oldest cities, and its rich history and cultural offerings are a big draw to many EFL teachers.

Things to do and see in Beijing

Beijing is a fast, bustling city, full of skyscrapers, modern and ancient architecture, and… well, pollution. That said, the city is combatting the latter with its green spaces. No matter where you are in the city, you’re never far from a park or lake. According to Beijing’s Gardening and Greening Bureau, there are even plans to establish a further 1500 acres (600 hectares) of urban green space, which will increase the city’s green coverage rate to nearly 50 percent.

Beijing is also home to the Forbidden City, the largest palace in the world. Though it now encompasses the Palace Museum, for almost 500 years, the Forbidden City served as a residence for emperors and their households, and a political center for the Chinese government. With an impressive 8,700 rooms, the palace exhibits Chinese palatial architecture and took a total of 14 years to build.

Situated just northwest of Beijing is the Summer Palace, the largest imperial garden in the world. With a total of 3,000 man-made ancient structures in the form of towers, corridors, bridges, and pavilions, the Summer Palace is considered one of Beijing’s most historic sites.
You won’t lack for a social life in Beijing either — Sanlitun, situated in the city’s Chaoyang District, is the center of the capital’s nightlife. Buzzing with restaurants, bars, clubs, and shops, Sanlitun has been nicknamed “bar street” and is popular with both locals and travelers. While it may be short on cultural attractions, the shopping village within Sanlitun is well-known — fun fact: it’s home to the largest Adidas store in the world.

The list of things to do and see in Beijing does not end there, though. The city is also home to the Great Wall of China, the Eastern Qing Tombs, Lama Temple, and Beijing Olympic Park.

Shanghai

Home to both the longest metro system and the busiest container port in the world, Shanghai is considered the transport and financial hub of China. Its population is just under 25 million, with more people living in the city than all of New Zealand. Shanghai is considered one of China’s most cosmopolitan cities and is often likened to its Asian counterparts, Hong Kong and Tokyo, due to its diverse, exuberant, and fast-paced lifestyle.

Things to do and see in Shanghai

Shanghai is full of attractions. The Bund (meaning “embankment”) is a mile-long stretch of waterfront along the Huangpu River in the Huangpu district. To the west of the stretch, there are 52 buildings of various architectural styles — from neoclassical to gothic — often referred to as “the museum of buildings,” which is perfect for photographing or admiring.

Across the Huangpu River, facing the Bund, you’ll find the fourth-tallest building in Asia (and the sixth-tallest tower in the world): the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, which measures 1535 feet (468 meters). Completed in 1994, the tower, inspired by a Tang Dynasty poem is described in ancient Chinese as “large and small pearls dropping on a plate of jade.” as the spheres of pink and silver signify pearls, with the river embodying jade. Inside the tower is the Shanghai Municipal History Museum, the Space Capsule, a wholly transparent elevator (the first of its kind), and a glass-bottomed sightseeing corridor. The tower also includes a revolving restaurant — the second-highest dining experience in all of Asia.

Shanghai is also home to the Maglev train, the fastest commercial high-speed electric train in the world, which runs between Shanghai Pudong International Airport and Longyang Road Station. The magnetic-levitation line operates at a speed of 268 mph (431 kmph) and runs every 15 minutes. A single journey on the Maglev train costs an affordable 50 yuan ($7 USD) or 80 yuan ($12 USD) for a round-trip journey. And, with each trip taking just 8 minutes, the Shanghai Maglev is unlike any other form of transport in the world, and a must for anyone visiting Shanghai.

Other notable places to visit within the city include Longhua Temple, Tianzifang, Jade Buddha Temple, and St. Ignatius Cathedral.

A face changing performance in Chengdu, a major TEFL city.

Chengdu

Despite its lesser-known status in comparison to other major cities in China, Chengdu is quickly becoming a popular destination for EFL teachers, as it offers a wide range of job opportunities. Chengdu serves as the capital of the Sichuan province and is one of the most populous cities in Western China, with 11 million calling it home. Known for its relaxed pace, Chengdu is an easy-going city with a small-town atmosphere.

Things to do and see in Chengdu

Chengdu is home to the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, which is why the city is often branded as the panda capital of China. The base imitates the animals’ natural habitat and aims to further scientific research, education, and public awareness of pandas. Fun fact: the world’s only thematic museum for rare and endangered species is built within the research base.

The largest and tallest stone Buddha statue in the world also calls Chengdu home. Located on the eastern side of Leshan City, the Leshan Giant Buddha lies between the Min and Dadu rivers and is an impressive 233 feet (71 meters) in height. The structure took 90 years to carve, beginning in the Tang Dynasty in 713 and finishing in 803. To get an idea of the type of detail involved in its creation, note that the Buddha’s coiled hair features a total of 1,021 buns.

The Chengdu Culture Park is another one of Chengdu’s most important cultural destinations, as it’s home to the famous Sichuan Opera House. The venue hosts regular performances of Bian Lian, an ancient Chinese dramatic art that typically involves brightly colored costumes, dramatic music, and vibrant masks. Performers of Bian Lian portray well-known characters by changing from one face to another — this is done by quick movements such as swiping fans or waving hands. Needless to say, if you’re living in Chengdu, experiencing a live Bian Lian performance should be at the top of your list!

Be sure to also visit the Sanxingdui Museum, Jiuzhai Valley National Park, the Chengdu Museum, and the Baoguang Temple during your time in the city.

Photo by Struin Konstantin

Know before you go

Common questions

Do I need to speak Chinese if I want to teach in China?

No, as an EFL teacher you are not required to speak the native language of the country you are teaching in. When teaching, you are strongly encouraged to only speak in English to immerse your students in the language as much as possible.

What are the visa requirements for China?

We strongly recommend that you look up the visa requirements before making a decision on where to teach. While no qualifications are required to enroll in a TEFL course, most countries in Asia will look for you to have a degree (a BA or above/equivalent) in order to attain a work permit. Requirements for native English speakers and non-native English speakers can also differ. To find out more about visa requirements, check out our blog post on Why You Should TEFL in China.

Do I need to have previous teaching experience?

No previous teaching experience is required to become an EFL teacher. A TEFL course will prepare you with the proper skill set and knowledge, which you can then confidently apply in the classroom.

What is the most suitable TEFL course to take if I want to teach in China?

We recommend at least 120 hours of TEFL training to ensure that you’re as confident and well-versed in TEFL as possible when you step into your first lesson. This will also make you eligible for the widest range of TEFL jobs, as a minimum of 120 hours of training is a requirement for most employers. Basically, the more hours you have, the more competitive your TEFL resume will be. You can check out the various TEFL courses we offer here.

Photo by @kv.hn

How to best prepare for your time in China

Save

While China offers reasonable salaries in comparison to other popular TEFL destinations, it is still important to have some money saved up should you need it. Do your research to establish just how much you’ll need — not every employer will offer benefit packages that include both flight reimbursement and accommodation. In preparation for your move, why not make use of budgeting apps such as PocketGuard, Mint, or YNAB to get ahead on your saving? Every little bit helps.

Be aware of bad employers

The amount of bad employers out there is minuscule in comparison to the thousands of legitimate employers, but it is still important to familiarize yourself with the warning signs. To do so, check out our blog post on How to Avoid TEFL Scams and Bad Employers.

Legalizing your TEFL certificate

After gaining your TEFL qualification and securing a job, you may be required to have your TEFL certificate legalized — this can be done by having a notary public/solicitor verify the certificate to prove it is a genuine original. For more information, visit Hague Apostille.

To find out more about the TEFL industry in China, click here. Or, if you have a question, sound off in the comments below!

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Zoe MacKenzie
Zoe MacKenzie is a Digital and PR Executive at TEFL Org, the UK's leading provider of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) courses, based in Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. When she's not helping budding teachers find their dream jobs abroad, she's busy planning her next adventure.