Suzhou is one of the most well-known tourist attractions in China. This is due to its interesting cross between the industrialism that has taken China by storm and its refusal to abandon what makes it unique. Suzhou is home to over four million people within its core districts, with another astonishing ten million people in the administrative area. Yet, despite being a bustling city, there are still ancient artifacts to be found in abundance. This makes it a great city for teaching English in China.

Suzhou is also one of the richest cities in China. It’s a hotspot for high tech manufacturing and can claim one of the hottest economies in the world. How is this so? Well, it’s the world’s biggest manufacturer of laptops. Suzhou got off to a great start being the center of China’s silk industry (it still is), and was able to use this economic position to catapult other ventures.

As if all this weren’t impressive enough, 42% of the city is covered in water, resulting in a network of canals. This is how it earned the nickname, ‘Venice of the East’.

Why Should Someone Teach English in Suzhou?

Is Suzhou sounding pretty amazing right about now? It’s about to get even better. These are the reasons why it’s a great city for teaching English.

Abundant History. Founded in 514 BC, Suzhou has over 2,500 years of a vibrant history. This has created hundreds of relics to be found and explored throughout the city. For those English teachers who were drawn to China by its long, impressive history, this is a great city for exploring over two millennia worth of artifacts.

Peaceful Attractions. As one of the most popular tourist cities in China, it makes sense that it would have its handful of tourist attractions. Unlike some of the other attractions found in other cities, Suzhou is filled with peaceful attractions. Its biggest claim to fame is perhaps pristinely manicured classical gardens, which can be found in many districts of the city. There are also temples, stone bridges, pagodas and other amazing sights to enjoy when you’re not teaching English.

A Cultural Center. Suzhou has produced some of the most influential philosophers and artists in the history of China. It has long been a haven for artists, craftsmen and scholars – and it still is. The canaled districts, the gardens and the temples have long inspired creative and deep thinkers alike. However, it’s still a massive metropolis – there will be crowded streets, clouds of smog and sky scrapers. It’s the interesting balance of the two that attracts a particular type of ESL teacher.

Booming Economy. Teaching English in Suzhou can be a stepping stone to a wide variety of opportunities. With a tech manufacturing heavy infrastructure, there’s always a need for English speakers with some training or education. Or, of course, you can continue to teach English and enjoy living in a city with a strong, reliable economy.

How’s Suzhou sounding right about now? Sound like a city in which you could see yourself residing? Stop fantasizing and let us find you a job.

What Does it Cost to Live in Suzhou?

Depending on how you decide to live, you will be spending far less living in Suzhou than your home in the Western world. There’s still endless opportunities to waste money, but your core expenses will be very minimal in comparison.

Depending on your school, you’ll likely have free accommodation. I’ll say that again – free rent. Your only expense will be your food and phone. Most English teachers in China have almost no financial responsibility (unless they imported them from home *cough* student loans and credit card debt *cough*). The great thing is, you’ll be able to make significant strides towards paying off this debt since you won’t have overwhelming monthly bills.

You will certainly have enough extra to go out regularly, join a fitness club and pursue other interests. Now down to the numbers, how much does it actually cost to live in Suzhou?

(The below chart is using exchange rates as of August 2013, check for up to date rates.)

Cost of Living in China
Expense RMB USD Euro
Local lunch 15 2.4 1.8
Local dinner 20 3.2 2.4
One Liter of Water 3 0.48 0.36
Instant Noodles 6 0.96 0.72
One Liter of Milk 4 0.64 0.48
Local beer 4 0.64 0.48
Chicken 15 2.4 1.8
Bus 2 0.32 0.24
Subway (in major cities) 3-6 0.48-96 0.36-0.72
Taxi 10-15 1.6-2.4 1.2-1.8
Bike 250-1000 40-160 30-120
Bullet train to Shanghai 600 96 72
Flight to Shanghai 1000 160 120
Movie ticket 70 11.2 8.4
Hour Massage 40 6.4 4.8
Gym membership 150 24 18
Theme park ticket 50 8 6
Haircut 30 4.8 3.6


Getting to Suzhou: You’ve got Options

Time to plan your trip. How will you arrive in Suzhou?

By plane. Unfortunately, Suzhou doesn’t have a passenger airport. Most new ESL teachers fly into Shanghai and take a shuttle bus to Suzhou. Pudong International Airport handles almost every international flight to this region of China, so your flight will likely connect here. There are four buses leaving the airport and heading to Suzhou almost every hour.

You may also fly into Wuxi and Hangzhou, both of which offer shuttle services to Suzhou.

By train. China is well known for its train network and Suzhou is certainly no exception. Suzhou is home to four major train stations located strategically throughout the city. The northern station is used for high speed trains to and from Beijing. The other train stations service high speed trains to Shanghai, Wuxi, Changzhou, Nanjing and Zhenjiang. There are also slower and lower class (and less expensive) trains available.

By bus/car. There are three bus stations in Suzhou, each one servicing buses to different destinations throughout China. Each of these stations makes use of the comprehensive highway station to connect you to all cities in this region. If you’d like to explore this option, make sure to plan your trip out ahead of time. It can get confusing.

You can also take advantage of the highway system if you happen to have a car (or have a friend in China who does).

By boat. Once upon a time, there was an overnight ferry from Hangzhou. This is no longer the case. However, there are still riverboats on the Yangtze that make Suzhou their last stop.

By bicycle? Surprisingly, it’s entirely possible to bike between Suzhou and Shanghai. It’s 70 km and it’s a journey expats and locals enjoy. While it might not be a great idea for your initial arrival in Suzhou, keep this in mind for future adventures.

Is Suzhou A Good Fit For You?

As one of the richest cities in China, boasts a strong (and growing) economy, is home to countless historical wonders, has a complex network of canals and has hundreds of intricate gardens. Sounds pretty amazing, right? It is!

Suzhou does a great job at maintaining historical relevance while also being a major metropolis that rivals many cities in the west. It’s a great fit for ESL teachers who wish to explore the cultural and historical background of China, be able to easily visit other cities on vacations and enjoy the many benefits of living in a high tech, modern city.

(photo credit Flickr CC: yakobusan)

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