I have one favor to ask of you. Just one. It’s not really that big of a favor, but for some reason people just don’t get it.
Ready for my favor? Here it is: please, pretty please, with a cherry on top, stop comparing your western expenses to Chinese expenses.
There! Now that we’re all on the same page and have an understanding that while China is powerful and wealthy, the country itself is still developing.
To understand how much you need to bring to China, you need to understand what the rest of the country is living like.
Let’s talk about why there is no comparison when it comes to being an English teacher in China verses a local citizen of China.
For a first year teacher with no degree, no TEFL, or no experience, you’re likely to make 6,000RMB. So for the sake of this article, we will call that the minimum wage of an English teacher in China. You will never really see a salary lower than that. Does that make it a low salary? Um, no. Not at all.
Did you know that you don’t have to pay rent? Did you know that the locals do have to pay rent? Did you know that your only mandatory expenses are food and toiletries?
Here is a 2013 map of the average minimum wages throughout China:
The map is in Renminbi (RMB or Chinese Yuan). Let’s use the capital, Beijing, as our main example. The average minimum wage salary is 1,400RMB (about $225). That makes the minimum wage for an English teacher more than three times higher than a local, with far less living expenses.
Just like all over the world, locals in China are struggling to find work. The people making these salaries usually have degrees, have bills to pay, have gas to put in their cars, have kids to feed, and the biggest expense, rent, which is around $500-$1000 monthly depending on if you’re inside or outside of the city.
Obviously, the country has to make living expenses match living wages, so daily items like groceries, medicine, haircuts, etc. all extremely cheap. If you want a clearer insight of common expenses, read our Beijing City Spotlight for an up-to-date chart of prices in Beijing.
So, how do the Chinese do it? They save. They cook at home. They make common sacrifices that people normally have to make when money is tight. If you’ve contacted us about a job, then it’s likely you have been in this position before. I know I have.
What about cities outside of Beijing? Smaller cities will certainly have lower living expenses, however the minimum wage for an English teacher will remain the same, if not, much higher depending in qualifications and experience.
How Much Money Should You Bring to China?
Ultimately, it depends on the life style you lead. If you see yourself going out every night, obviously, you’ll need to bring a bit more money. If you are trying to focus on your work and leading a simple life, you’ll bring less.
A rule of thumb I wish I had thought of before moving to China is to bring the minimum wage of the province you’ll be living in if you want to lead a simple life. If you want to go all out like I did when I first moved, I’d bring about two times the minimum wage.
Now, when I say “go all out”, this includes flying to multiple cities, eating everything that crossed my path, and going out drinking several nights during the week all while not having any income for two months before I started working, due to a month long TESOL course.
Something to consider is that you won’t likely be getting a full months salary for your first paycheck, depending on your arrival date, your start date, and the schools payday. You’ll definitely want to ask about this once you’ve been hired on.
From personal experience, you can do a lot with a little. Not bringing a lot of money in no way defines the amount of fun you’ll have.
Still have concerns about how much to bring? Comment below with your thoughts and experiences.