Ah, the golden question. Money makes the world go ‘round, indeed. But we always try to guide our applicants with the advice that you should absolutely not be chasing salary or city in China — you should be chasing trustworthiness in a school. While some are not as easily convinced as others, the truth is, there really is no one-size-fits-all guide to what a common ESL teacher salary is.
Being in the recruiting game for around two years and teaching English for three, I’ve had the benefit of meeting all kinds of aspiring English teachers. There’s the person that read somewhere online they should be making 15,000RMB ($2,435) monthly with everything from their flight to China to their meals being covered by the school, yet they have no experience or degree. There’s the person who has been screwed over by so many schools and recruiters, yet for some reason, they still keep looking for jobs and constantly have their guard up with no matter whom they speak to. There’s the person that read all the online forums saying all agents are monsters robbing you of your salary. Which can absolutely be true for some, but luckily not for us, being that you’ll never sign a contract with New Life, only directly with schools we’ve introduced you to.
And then, sometimes, on a really, really gorgeous day, when the sun is shining and the birds are chirping, we get that one person that fully understands that salary = experience, qualifications, and city tier. When this person applies on our site, I often can’t control myself and end up putting on my guilty pleasure playlist (it includes INXS), dancing around just moments before our Skype meeting. I sincerely love this person.
Unlike most countries that accept foreign English teachers, China is unique in that salaries are based off the tier of the city. They can’t have foreigners coming in and making 12,000RMB a month and working 25 hours weekly while the locals are working 40 hours weekly making 2,000RMB. It’s just not fair. So here, I provide to you a full break down of what salaries will look like throughout China based on experience, city tier, and qualifications.
As stated here, 1st tier cities “are known for being important political, cultural, industrial and financial centers in China as well as key hubs for the greater East-Asia region”. So how much money can you make in China’s hubs?
Average ESL Teacher Salary: 7,000RMB-30,0000+
Who Qualifies for what?
First things first. Let’s discuss getting into a southern Chinese first tier from the outside of the country. To sum it up in one word, it’s difficult. The south is heavily populated with foreigners. All of them are ready to work and have experience in China, which is what most southern schools are looking for. Therefore they can cut out us, the middle (wo)men, and get applicants who are already in the city. Yes, we have positions available in these cities, but calling the interviewers “picky” would be an understatement. In order to get a quality position in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, or Shanghai you must have a degree, be a native English speaker, have experience, and in most cases, an English teaching certificate.
So why is it so easy to get into Beijing? There are a couple simple reasons. One, it’s cold during the winter. Not terribly cold, but if you could chose to not live in the cold, then you probably will choose to not live in the cold. The second reason is the issue of pollution. Yes, it exists, but not nearly everyday. And no one is really forcing you to go outside and breathe it in the once a week it happens. Schools know western media had challenged applicants with this issue heavily, therefore they need to lower some of their expectations. But as a current Beijinger, I love this city and would recommend (almost) anyone live here.
Back to the lecture at hand, who qualifies for what? This depends on the type of school, experience and qualifications.
International: At an international school, you’re looking at 15,000-30,000RMB+ monthly with great benefits. These schools only take the cream of the crop. You likely will need a teaching license from your home country, at least two years of experience, a degree, be a native English speaker, and have and a TEFL of some sort. An entry level candidate will obviously make less, and extremely qualified people will make more.
University: Teaching at a university means extremely low hours, maybe 12-15 weekly, housing on campus, utilities paid for, meals offered, and no office hours. Because this is all-inclusive, and hours are low, salaries are much lower, possibly 5,000-8,000RMB monthly. In 1st tier cities, it can be competitive and salaries may possibly be a little more. The reason for this, is like in most countries, the best universities are built in places with a lot of history and even tourism. Simply put, the best universities want to showcase their best professors, possibly bringing you in an extra 1,000-2,000RMB monthly.
Kindergarten/Public: Most public school teaching hours run the same way; 20-25 30-45-minute classes weekly. Hours are extremely low and office hours are not usually required after a brief probation period. Because of this, salaries can range from 8,000-12,000RMB depending on qualifications. A housing allowance of around 2,000RMB may be provided, or you can be possibly be offered to live on campus.
Training/Language Centre: Because these types of centers are privately owned and are money motivated, salaries are higher. Office hours can be mandatory as well as promotional events like an outing to recruit more students. A common salary can range from 10,000-15,000RMB+ depending on hours worked, bonuses, student retention, etc. Again, the more qualifications you have, the more you will earn with these types of schools.
Housing/Flight Included?: With international schools and some public schools, as stated above.
Why?: To quote the good ol’ Jimmy McMillan, “The rent is too damn high!” No, but seriously. The schools in the larger cities won’t typically pay for houses up front anymore because of the future mortgage crisis China is looking at in the upcoming years. Contractors won’t stop building and people won’t start buying. The good news is that schools WILL give you a housing allowance which will cover 80%-100% of your rent. As for flights, they’ll be reimbursed upon a successful contract competition.
To quote OsioChina again, “The markets in Tier 2 cities are a lot less competitive and the labor costs are substantially cheaper compared to Tier 1 cities. A rapid increase in consumer spending in second tier cities is creating more demand for foreign brands.” Read on to see how much you can make in China’s mid level cities.
Average ESL Teacher Salary: 8,000RMB-12,0000+
Who Qualifies for what?
You can view a more detailed list here on what other cities qualify as 2nd tier cities. Just like I’ve said already, it all comes down to qualifications at this point. Have zero qualifications? You make less. Have more? Earn more. In extremely sought-after cities like Nanjing, Qingdao, and Chengdu, you will face a lot of competition.
International Schools: In 2nd tier cities, international schools are popping up more frequently. Some schools call themselves international, but they’re really just using buzzwords at this point to draw in more students. If you’re qualified enough to get offered a position in a 2nd tier city with an international school, you could make anywhere from 9,000-12,000RMB+. This is less than half of what you can make in a 1st tier city for one simple reason; living costs in 2nd tier cities are outrageously lower than 1st tier cities. Benefits and housing will typically be great, similar to 1st tier options.
Universities: 2nd tier city universities will have the same benefits as first tier, with less pay due to lower hours and living costs. Living on campus, meals, etc. Salaries range from 4,000-7,000RMB monthly.
Kindergarten/Public Schools: Same as in 1st tier cities, but with salaries that range from 7,000-12,000RMB to correspond with living costs. A housing allowance of around 1,000RMB may be provided, or you can be possibly be offered to live on campus.
Training/Language Centres: In 2nd tier cities training centers may operate a little differently. Instead of having a base pay and a bonus system that allows you to earn based on hours teach, usually there is a set salary ranging from 7,000-12,000RMB. Again, all based on experience and qualifications.
Housing/Flight Included?: Housing is included around 50% of the time, give or take. You will always be reimbursed for your flight upon completing a contract successfully.
Why?: Because several 2nd tier cities are on the rise economically, housing prices are going up in the downtown areas. If your school does offer housing, it may be on the outskirts. At this point schools will offer you to take the housing, or get housing allowance to find a place of your own. The school will assist you with this as well.
Cities: Hohhot, Zhongshan, Shantou, Dongguan, Guilin, Weifang
Average ESL Teacher Salary: 4,000-9,000RMB+
Who Qualifies for what?
University: Same as 2nd tier cities with maximum salaries reaching roughly 6,000RMB monthly. That is, unless you’re a master negotiator or extremely qualified.
Kindergarten/Public Schools: Similar to 2nd tier cities with salaries reaching somewhere between 6,000-8,000RMB monthly. Extremely low living costs will allow for benefits to be all-inclusive.
Training/Language Centers: Training centers in 3rd tier cities are facing a lot of competition. The centers keep opening, but because these cities aren’t major hubs, the demand for English fluency isn’t as high. To draw more foreigners in, schools have started raising their minimum wage from 6,000RMB starting to as much as 8,000RMB to start. By choosing to re-sign at these schools, you potentially qualify to earn more than 9,000RMB monthly, which will go quite far in 3rd tier cities.
Housing/Flight Included?: Yes, housing is included. Flights will be reimbursed after contract completion.
Why?: Housing is cheap. Most of these cities have not been heard of by foreigners seeking employment in China, therefore benefits like a house need to be included in order to compete with 1st tier cities.
As we’ve stated before, each school will have its own contract, so some of this information is absolutely subject to change depending on which schools you qualify for. Understanding the basics on how much you can potentially earn in China as an English teacher, what different kinds of schools there are, and which city tier is best for you before having an interview will help you be that much more prepared in your journey to China. Good luck with your search! Apply today!