Have you made the decision to quit your job and head to China as an English teacher? China is a massive country with a diverse culture, varying living and teaching conditions and unique dialects. A decision to teach English in China is a good one - with a massive economy and the ability for young people fresh out of college to actually save money with a good lifestyle. China is also a fascinating country to experience. Beyond its rich history, many expats living in China feel safe and comfortable in any city they choose to live.
Making a decision on the best city in China to teach English might prove a challenge. While most teachers limit their search for jobs in China to mega cities like Beijing and Shanghai, there are several other cities to choose that may provide an even better experience, depending on what you are seeking. Choosing where to live in China can be overwhelming for most people, especially if they plan to stay for a year or more. To help you in the selection process, we have highlighted for you some of the best cities to live and work as a foreign English teacher in China - as well as noting some of their pros and cons that English teachers in China (or any other international workers) should consider.
If you want a modern, big city experience with just a bit of traditional culture and even some international cultures, then Shanghai is one of the biggest cities for you to live and work in China. This is a popular choice for most teachers looking for work in China. There are plenty of teaching jobs with good pay in this city, but expect some fierce competition for jobs as most schools in Shanghai are able to be quite selective on the teachers they hire.
Shanghai is a great pick for international teachers in China because of its wide range of amenities that replicate the life back home. In fact, there are many expat areas in Shanghai that it sometimes doesn't even feel like you are in China. This can make life feel quite comfortable for foreigners in Shanghai, but those looking for more traditional Chinese culture may find Shanghai too much like home. However, Shanghai is full of entertainment both at night and daytime.
Being such an international city, you should not have any issues finding your favorite cuisines from around the world. From Mexican food, Italian, Southern "comfort" food from the USA, etc. Shanghai truly is a global city. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most expensive cities to live in China. So unless you can get a very good job with a high salary and housing allowance, some English teachers in Shanghai could find themselves with less money in their pockets.
With a total population of over 8 million people, Hangzhou is another great destination with good pay for English teachers. Most foreign English teachers who have spent time in China regard it the best city to live and work. The living standards here are cheaper as compared to Shanghai, but these two cities are still very close. This is probably the biggest reason it is regarded as a great choice for teachers. The new bullet train from Hangzhou to Shanghai is just 45 minutes which means you can enjoy the great nightlife and attractions of Shanghai while still living in Hangzhou.
Hangzhou is a city of rich history and long tradition. This allows expats living in Hanghzou to experience the traditional Chinese culture. But with the influx of foreigners, it has become a mix of the old and new. So international teachers in Hangzhou can get the best of both worlds.
Life is also a little slower paced here than in Shanghai, with locals appreciating the outdoors - especially while visiting West Lake, of of the main attractions in the city. While you can expect to make less money here as compared to Shanghai and Beijing but your living costs will typically be lower as well.
Beijing is a giant cosmopolitan city with a population of over 20 million people. This is the capital city of China and one place every traveler to China ought to visit.
Beijing is a great city to teach English, with many schools looking for highly qualified international teachers and offering good pay. Although the salary is higher, the living standards are also high as well -- higher than most cities in China. So teachers in Beijing should be prepared to spend a good bit more money on an apartment in Beijing as well as food and dining out.
Even though Beijing has existed for three millennia, is has undergone recent and rapid development into a modern capital. The city is quite organized and you will find that the rule of law may be enforced here more than other cities around China, seeing as it is the capital.
You can spend your free time living in Beijing hiking the Great Wall, riding a bike through Beijing’s traditional hutong neighborhoods, or wandering the Summer Palace or many other parks around town. While pollution can still be a problem in Beijing (as it is in many Chinese cities), the government has taken many steps to improve air quality in recent years, making for a better quality of life in the city. Regardless, the strong market for English teachers in Beijing will always attract international teachers here.
Chengdu has a population of 7.4 million people and a great city to teach English. Teachers in Chengdu typically earn less money than in other big cities in China; however, the cost of living is quite a bit lower too. The city is surrounded by nature and is noted for having a much slower pace of life compared to the other big cities in the east of China, such as Beijing and Shanghai. In fact, many people around China say the quality of life in Chengdu is considered to be quite good due to the relaxed, slower pace.
The food choices here are great, although known to be very spicy! Further, there are many green parks around town and a lot of things to see and do during your free time. The Giant Pandas of Chengdu remain one of the most popular tourist attractions in Chengdu, and makes for a nice visit on a teachers day off. In fact, Chengdu is home to the largest Panda Reserve in the world.
One thing that is different about Chengdu is the lack of massive skyscrapers that you will find in other megacities. Most teachers can really enjoy their life here, especially if they enjoy the outdoors and visiting nearby natural attractions and national parks. Plus, the people of Chengdu are vibrant and welcoming.
If you really enjoy spending time outside then Guilin is a great city to teach and live in China. This small city is much quieter than the hustle and bustle of Beijing or Shanghai. Plus, the proximity to incredible natural scenery makes it a good place where you can spend time outdoors.
The city is quite beautiful, with two lakes in the center of the city. There are also mountains all around for hiking and great views. The city is a little smaller with a population of five million people, but there is still a demand for English teachers here. Since there are less teachers moving to Guilin, if you meet the requirements then you could have better chances at getting a good job here. Again, while the salary is less the cost of living in Guilin is less as well.
The huge attraction here is the stunning landscapes! In fact, Guilin and the nearby Yangshuo area are one of the most popular tourist destinations in China. This means that certain times of the year will bring a lot of visitors to this city, but it also means that there is infrastructure for some tourists and lots of activities. Visiting caves, taking a boat down the river, hiking, biking, etc. There's quite a lot to do around Guilin for those who choose to live here.
Nanjing is another great city for teachers in China. In fact, the city is known for its culture and important history. It is a beautiful city, that while large, is still smaller than some of the mega cities like Shanghai. Pay will be lower than the megacities, but most teachers in China find that they can easily afford a good apartment and still be able to have a great quality of life.
There is a thriving expat community in Nanjing, due to the number of English schools around the city. It's been attracting English teacher and other foreign workers for some time, so teachers living in Nanjing typically come to really enjoy living here. Making a large group of friends, and having an active social life with so many things to do is critical to enjoying life. For this reason, quite a number of Nanjing expats continue to teach in Nanjing for years.
A number of expats who teach English in Nanjing have told us that they really have fallen in love with China while working in this city. There are several parks in the city where you can spend your free time relaxing or you can wander around Xuanwu Lake. Parks are typical full of retired Chinese people, playing games, dancing or doing other exercises. It's sometimes fun to try to learn some Chinese from them.
While this top 6 list contains some of the most popular cities in China for English teachers, there are many other cities not on this list which are quite wonderful to live and teach -- but are often overlooked.
Shenyang in an example of a smaller (yet still quite large) city in northeast China. It is a city with a fantastic culture, wonderful architecture and lots of history and tradition. Even though it is 2000 years old, it has a modern infrastrcture and accommodates many international expats living in China. The city is quite popular for tourism as well, so there are a variety of things to do for those who choose to teach English in Shenyang. Further, there is some truly breathtaking natural scenery in this area - including some beautiful resorts in the mountains nearby.
Changzhou, located in Jiangsu province, is actually one of the wealthiest cities in all of China. It borders Nanjing and Wuxi and is quite close to Shanghai, which can be reached easily by the high speed train. This city has quite the international outlook, with many international workers and Universities. With so many expats and being close to other major cities with large expat community, teachers in Changzhou have the opportunity to experience traditional China, while having easy access to expat communities and amenities that can make living in China more comfortable for foreigners.
Ultimately, the right city for you to live and teach in China depends on your personality and what you are looking for most out of the experience. China is a vast country full of bustling modern cities, as well as small villages. It's a fantastic place to work abroad, but finding the right city for you will make a big difference. So you should consider if you are wanting more of a modern, busy city life, or if you prefer more of a quiet and local experience. It's also worth considering how much money you want to make or save, because big cities have a lot more to do...but you will likely spend a lot more money.
Another consideration to where you want to live in China is your interests and lifestyle goals. If you are more of an outdoor type of person who enjoys hiking, biking, etc. then you may not enjoy living in the middle of a mega city like Beijing or Shanghai. However, if you prefer to sample cuisines from around the world and make friends with lots of other expats, then you may enjoy living in a big city so that you can become a part of the bigger and thriving expat community.
No matter the city you choose, you can expect to experience a new and diverse culture of the Chinese people; from traditional China to the new China of the 21st century.
Sign Up for Our Free Newsletters
Please submit in right format.
Thank you for signing up!
Sign Up for Our Free Newsletters
Please submit in right format.
Thank you for signing up!
Kay shares with us what it was like as an English Teacher in China for a year with First Leap, and what her life has been like as an expat in China.
Discover why Keegan, from South Africa, enjoys living in China as an English teacher in Guangzhou for First Leap China.
Use these tips to ensure that you impress with your ESL teaching demo so you can get the teaching job in China you want!