people at Forbidden City in China during daytime

Where Should You Teach English In China: Beijing vs Shanghai

Teaching English abroad has become one of the most popular career paths for digital nomads looking to turn their dreams of travelling around the world full-time into a reality. There are opportunities for teaching in schools, language academies and private individuals in a home country or teaching online remotely. One of the most popular countries for teaching English abroad has always been China, with the most job opportunities and highest-paying salaries in the country’s two largest cities, Shanghai and the capital, Beijing.

Both cities offer an unforgettable travel experience, but which one has the edge when it comes to TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teaching? Join us today as we put Beijing and Shanghai under the spotlight, exploring everything from the salaries, and cost of living to major attractions to answer which of the two you should kickstart your teaching career in!

Requirements For Teaching English Abroad

Before we delve into which of these stunning Asian destinations is the top dog for TEFL opportunities, it’s worth sparing a few lines on what is required to begin teaching English abroad. Every job posting will have its own set of requirements and employers will have their ideas and priorities for what they want their applicants to possess, however, some of the most commonly requested of these include: 

  • A clean criminal record
  • A clean health check
  • A Bachelor’s degree
  • A TEFL/TESL/TESOL certificate 

Being a native English speaker (i.e. hailing from a country where English is the first language) is often a major advantage. However, it isn’t necessarily always a strict requirement, provided you have a fluent level of proficiency. Prior teaching experience also isn’t always a must-have for certain employers in either Beijing or Shanghai such is the demand for teachers! What is a non-negotiable, however, is having an infectious passion for teaching, so make sure you bring that along with you.

Why Teach English In China?

Photo Credit: Aaron Blake

As we mentioned in our opening introduction, China has always been one of the world’s most popular countries for teaching English abroad. Having grown as one of the world’s newest superpowers and more interconnected with the Western world since the 1990s, proficiency in English has become a valuable skill for students and business professionals looking to further themselves both at home and abroad. 

Shrouded in ancient myths and legends, home to picturesque natural landscapes, bustling cities and stunning delicacies, thousands of tourists flock to China every year, so the opportunity to fully immerse in the culture is one that plenty of travelers are keen to sign up for. 

As for teaching experiences in the country, China offers some of the best salaries in the TEFL market, and the low cost of living in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai means that teaching English also represents one of the best ways of paying off student debts and saving money. Salaries for teaching English in China typically range between $2,300 and $3,500 and many job opportunities come with benefits such as housing allowances, health insurance, flight reimbursement and paid vacation time, allowing teachers plenty of time to escape the classroom and see all the country has to offer! 

Teaching English In Beijing

Beijing, China
Photo Credit: TEFL Academy

China’s bustling capital city

Vibrant, occasionally chaotic and beyond fascinating – it should come as no surprise that Beijing is one of the most popular destinations for TEFL teachers in China. The country’s capital boasts some of the most reputable training centers, schools and universities and can boast the highest salaries and most benefits for foreign teachers working within its borders.

It is also one of the best options for newcomer or inexperienced teachers abroad. There are more expats in Beijing than anywhere else in China, which can make the initial moving and settling in phases of moving overseas much easier. With a little proactivity, teachers in Beijing often report having their friendship circle growing rapidly with weekly meet-ups and excursions. The influx of expats in Beijing has led to the city filling up with everything from clubs, parks, art and yoga classes to Sunday Roast get-togethers! Make sure to do your research beforehand so you know exactly where and when these events are before you land. 

Beijing offers foreign teachers an incredibly low cost of living and a potentially high standard of living. Even teachers who splash out on eating out and travelling frequently report plenty of saving opportunities thanks to the combination of high salaries for foreign teachers and the city’s cheap means of living. Rent starts at USD 450 in a shared apartment or $700-$1000 in Rented apartments in the city center, whilst the average TEFL salary in Beijing is around $2,000 per month in public schools and up to $3,000 in private academies. 

Thanks to the abundance of teaching jobs and being the capital of the country, English is widely spoken across much of Beijing, which should help most foreign teachers during their first few weeks at their workplace. However, communication barriers can exist, especially on the outskirts. The combination of these language barriers can lead to some teachers feeling isolated or detached, which is why we would always recommend attempting to learn some Mandarin to at least help you hold a conversation with the locals.

What’s So Appealing About Beijing?

Great Wall of China
Photo Credit: Johnny Allen

Despite being China’s second-largest city and home to over 21.5 million people, you may be surprised to learn about how much of Beijing’s authenticity has remained intact over the years of the country’s rapid expansion. The city is famed for its array of Qing-era palaces, gardens, tombs, walls and gates, all of which provide a sense of character and history that any traveler is sure to enjoy. Its connection to other parts of the country makes it an ideal HQ for visitors, with trips to other famous destinations in China such as the Summer Palace and Great Wall of China all easily accessible from the city.

Quick Tips For Visiting Beijing

  • There’s no need to tip: It is not customary to tip in Beijing, and any offers will likely be (awkwardly) turned down.
  • Get a VPN: China’s Great Firewall is still very much in force, so a VPN is required to visit websites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 
  • Visit the hutongs: Bejing’s historic neighborhoods and winding alleyways are some of the most overlooked parts of the city, but undoubtedly offer one of the most authentic experiences for travelers.

Teaching English In Shanghai

Shanghai, China
Photo Credit: TEFL Academy

Taking on China’s biggest metropolis

Being the biggest city in a country home to over a billion people is some achievement, but it is one Shanghai still proudly boasts. With nearly 25 million residents, it is the third-largest city in the world, which naturally makes it one of the best places to begin teaching English abroad. The more people, the more job opportunities to choose from! Like Beijing, teaching in Shanghai is fast-paced, and cosmopolitan but can also be overwhelming for those who aren’t used to life in a big city. 

In many ways, Shanghai represents the ‘heart’ of China. The centerpiece of China’s tourism, technological, business and entrepreneurship, entertainment and education industries, the city possesses more types of teaching opportunities than arguably any other location in the world, offering an exhilarating experience that teachers look back on fondly even years after leaving. 

From public schools, training centers, and private language academies to online English teaching agencies, the TEFL job market in Shanghai is stacked and the salaries undoubtedly take the edge over Beijing. Salaries in the public sector can start at $2,300-$2,500 and those in the private sector can open as high as $3,400+! And despite being China’s biggest megacity, the cost of living in Shanghai is still remarkably low; a shared apartment will only cost teachers $800 per month, and monthly utilities only add $50 or so to the list of expenses. 

And whilst it big China’s biggest city, living in Shanghai is one of the safest experiences city slickers can have. The true city that never sleeps (about three times as many people live in Shanghai compared to New York), the lack of police officers on the streets is one of the most common culture shocks for TEFL teachers, but it is a testament to the low crime rates and collective social awareness those living in the city enjoy.

What’s So Appealing About Shanghai?

Shanghai Class
Photo Credit: Aaron Blake

As we mentioned above, Shanghai offers the ultimate city experience of any destination perhaps anywhere in the world. The abundance of museums, bars, parks and galleries offer something for culture lovers, whilst the city’s Puxi district is the ultimate spot for any night owls. Tea houses, temples such as Jing’an Temple and old water towns like Zhujiajiao are all worth a visit too if you find yourself in China’s largest metropolis.

Quick Tips For Visiting Shanghai

  • Try the hongshao rou: This is a Shanghainese specialty and is a red-braised pork belly that can be found in most street vendors.
  • Stick to the bottled water: Whilst it may be China’s biggest city, Shanghai’s tap water still isn’t to be fully trusted – if you can, stick to bottled water.
  • Squat toilets: Many hotels and airports will have Western-style toilets, but squatting toilets are the norm everywhere else in Shanghai, so make sure you’re prepared for that!

Beijing vs. Shanghai: Where Should You Teach? 

So, China’s two largest cities: which one should you start your teaching career in? Both Beijing and Shanghai remain two of the most popular destinations for English teachers looking to work abroad, with both cities offering plenty of different types of positions with good salaries and benefits, and a significantly lower cost of living compared to most Western nations. Of course, both also offer the remarkable opportunity to travel long-term, experience a whole new culture and enrich the lives of students. 

Ultimately, which city you opt for depends on what you’re looking for from your teaching experience. Shanghai is the ultimate urban experience, offering incredible cityscape views, skyscrapers and a fast-paced lifestyle. Whilst not chugging along at a snail’s pace, Beijing is the political hub of China and is arguably more suited for cultural enthusiasts with historical sites such as the Forbidden City. After awhile you may want a change of scenery and decide to move to a smaller city from Shanghai or Beijing and get a fresh perspective on things. What you don’t want to is pass up on some amazing opportunities you might regret not trying later in life.

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