How Much Can You Make Teaching in China: A Look at School Salaries

by: Quincy Smith ESL Authority Quincy Smith | Last Updated December 24, 2019

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That wasn’t so hard, was it?

But before you go counting your unearned money, know that there are a lot of variances when it comes to different types of schools and even different cities.  China is a big place and one where both the teaching requirements and salaries take some time to understand.

This page will explain the different types of schools in China, the average salary for each based on city, and any other perks or benefits you can expect.

How to Use this Page

  • Identify the city or cities in which you’d like to teach
  • Determine the tier of the city, see this guide for more info
  • Browse this page by school type and compare the salaries based on the different tiers

Understanding the Tier System for Chinese Cities

Cities in China fall into 3 different tiers based on their populations, economies, and overall development in relation to other cities.  Both what you can earn and what your employer will provide vary widely based on the city so it’s important to keep that in mind when job hunting.  Here’s a quick breakdown:

Tier 1

Cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen

Average Cost of Living: Around RMB 7500/mo

Tier 1 cities in China rival any other developed city on earth and are the most advanced, affluent, and cosmopolitan in the country.  Teachers working in these cities will have no issue finding comforts from home like foreign foods and Western apartments, but expect to prices to be higher than other tiers.

Tier 2

Cities: Nanjing, Chengdu, Kunming, Wuhan, Xiamen

Average Cost of Living: Around RMB 5000/mo

The best way to describe Tier 2 cities ‘up and coming’ – these cities have many of the same attributes as tier 1 but with far less recognition.  These cities are the fastest growing in China and there is a significant demand for all things foreign, making it an easy city for teachers to get a job while still saving a good chunk of their salary.

Tier 3

Cities: Yangzhou, Zhongshan, Guilin, Foshan

Average Cost of Living: Around RMB 3000/mo

Tier 3 cities fall behind the other tiers in both economic and structural development, but are still a good option for those looking to live cheaply in an authentic Chinese environment.  Don’t expect too many frills here, housing can be basic and specialty food hard to find.

It’s important teachers take the city, salary, and cost of living into account when looking for a job so we have broken out each school salary by tiers to make it easy.

Schools and Salaries

Kindergartens

Kindergartens are not for everyone though they do tend to pay well.  Expect a Monday to Friday schedule with classes in both the mornings and afternoons.  Because these schools are privately owned experiences vary, so it’s best to speak to some current or foreign teachers if possible.

CitySalary (RMB)Salary (USD)
Tier 110,000-20,000$1,450-$2,900
Tier 29,000-15,000$1,300-$2,200
Tier 37,000-12,000$1,000-$1,800

Training Centers

Training centers abound in China and are seemingly on every corner.  They exist as a sort of after-school program where kids can go and get more help and generally operate at night time and on the weekends (you will not have Friday and Saturday off here).

The centers are almost always smaller than regular schools and most tend to be newer and better equipped with smart boards, etc.  These schools are privately owned and motivated by money and it’s common for teachers to receive bonuses based on performance and student retention.

CitySalary (RMB)Salary (USD)
Tier 112,000-20,000$1,750-$2,900
Tier 210,000-12,000$1,450-$1,800
Tier 35,000-10,000$725-$1,400

Public Schools

Public schools are big, chaotic, and often overwhelming for new teachers.  Class sizes are big (30+ students), but you usually have an assistant to help keep control and your schedule is light at around 10-15 teaching hours per week.  You also get quite a few paid holidays, including a month for both winter and summer holidays.

CitySalary (RMB)Salary (USD)
Tier 111,000-18,000$1,600-$2,600
Tier 29,000-15,000$1,300-$2,200
Tier 37,000-10,000$1,000-$1,450

International Schools

International schools are the holy grail for a lot of teachers – they are generally well-funded, well-built, and have a great teaching and learning environment.  Teachers are expected to be experienced (often with specialized degrees or licenses) and the pay and benefits reflect that.  Schedules follow traditional schools back home but class sizes tend to be small.

A word to the wise – countless Chinese schools simply attach ‘international’ to their name with no accreditation or proof, these schools aren’t all bad but it’s worth doing your homework to ensure you’re applying for a registered international school.

CitySalary (RMB)Salary (USD)
Tier 115,000-30,000$2,200-$4,350
Tier 213,000-25,000$2,000-$3,600
Tier 310,000-20,000$1,450-$2,900

Universities

Universities aren’t for everyone as they tend to justify their low teaching hours with an equally low salary.  Still, teachers can generally expect students with whom they can converse and interact with and a support system comprised of other professional and caring staff.  Overall, they tend to be a great place to start or further your teaching career and are quick to dismiss teachers that don’t take the position seriously.

CitySalary (RMB)Salary (USD)
Tier 18,000-10,000$1,150-$1,450
Tier 27,000-9,000$1,000-$1,300
Tier 35,000-8,000$725-$1,150

Other Perks

If you’ve looked at even one job in China then you’ve seen that most of them offer more than just money.  Things like accommodation, flights, and year-end bonuses are the most well-known, but the details of each can vary just like your salary.

The good news is that you can always negotiate on these if you feel they are unfair or lacking compared to what other jobs are offering.  Here is what to expect:

Housing

As long as you are working full time, housing is almost always provided with a few exceptions, namely companies that claim to pay more so that you can find your own housing.  Generally, housing is either provided for you or you are given a stipend and support to find your own.

If your school provides housing, great, you can stop reading.  If your school provides a stipend, you can expect it to be anywhere from 1,000-3,000 RMB depending on the city.  If you have expensive tastes, this might only cover a portion of your rent and you are still expected to cough up the deposit and rental agency fee.

Flights

While some schools try and dress a free flight up as your year-end bonus, the only really free flights come from true international schools or top university positions.  If you’re applying for those positions it’s not uncommon to also receive a moving allowance for you and your family.

Bonus

Bonuses come in all shapes and sizes in China and I’d suggest making it a requisite for potential jobs, even if it’s in the form of a flight allowance.  The most common bonus is based on your monthly salary and is generally 75% to 100% extra awarded at the end of your contract (basically one-month extra pay).

Other schools might offer less or reward teachers based on enrollment or retention, but the idea remains the same: bonuses are awesome and you should make sure one is factored into your contract before you sign.

Quincy Smith ESL Authority

Quincy Smith

Quincy is the founder of ESL Authority and a former teacher in South Korea and China.  Currently based in Shanghai, he enjoys strong coffee, IPAs, and solo travel.

40 Comments

  1. Hello,I am from an English speaking native;Ghana. I will graduate from the university of Ghana this year , can I use a TEFL certificate in place of work experience?

    Reply
    • No, you’ll almost certainly need the 2yr of experience.

      Reply
    • Hello, are there grade specifications For degree requirements (ie first class, second class, third class) ?

      Reply
      • Hi Caleb – not entirely sure what you mean but your degree needs to be the equivalent of a 4-year bachelors degree.

        Reply
        • Hi,

          I’m a Jamaican with a IT degree. I have 11 1/2 years work experience. 5 1/2 years as a Management Information Specialist and 6 years as a operations manager. I’ve recently registered for a online TELF course and intend to start in a few days time with the aim to finish the first week of February. What kind of salary do you think I qualify for? There is also the strong possibility that my girlfriend and my young son ( 16 months old) will be going with me to china should I get an offer. She also has a degree.

          Reply
          • Hi Andrew – I believe you’d fit into the expected salaries listed in the tables above. Unfortunately, your experience won’t have much value to a school when it comes to your salary, but you shouldn’t have any issue commanding the same amount as any other teacher assuming you meet all the requirements. The good news is that you may be able to find a school for your son to attend, many international schools offer free or discounted tuition for family.

  2. Hi,
    I am a nonnative English teacher, holder of a bachelor’s degree and TESOL (150hs),
    with 7 years of teaching English in class.
    can I teach in China?

    Reply
    • You will need to look harder for a job but it’s likely that you’ll be able to find a school to hire you.

      Reply
  3. Hi. I’m Canadian, TESL certified with 4+ years of teaching abroad. I expect to have my U.S teaching license next year.

    Any idea what kind of salary I can expect for my credentials in China?

    Reply
    • Hi TJ – with those credentials I’d aim for at least 30k and would not accept less than 25k, esp in a tier 1 city. I know of a few schools in Shanghai that pay around 23k for teachers with a TEFL but no license so you should be able to command much more – good luck!

      Reply
      • Thanks. That’s a higher pay than what I had expected. Does having TESL/TEFL certificate make a difference once you have a teaching license? Or is it only beneficial to those not holding teaching licenses?

        Reply
        • The difference is negligible as a teaching license opens you up to jobs at international schools where the entire curriculum is in English so a TEFL doesn’t carry any weight.

          Reply
          • Also, is there bias towards white teachers? I heard that even international schools would often pick white teachers over teachers of colour.

            I understand that one should expect some racism due to ignorance in China. However, can this affect one’s employability?

          • Yes, unfortunately, there is bias among employers but it’s far less common in bigger cities and even less so when it comes to international schools. With your credentials, I wouldn’t worry too much.

      • Hi, if I do just a tefl course in South Africa, would I then be able to teach in China ?

        Reply
        • If you meet the other requirements you should be good to go.

          Reply
  4. Good day,

    I hold a bachelors in computer science, and worked as an IT sales man with 4 years work experience.
    I am a Botswana citizen with a British degree with no previous convictions. will I be eligible to work in China

    Reply
    • Hi Richard – it will be hard due to your passport but not impossible – you may need to speak to quite a few recruiters.

      Reply
  5. Hi! I am an American citizen and native English speaker, with a bachelor’s in linguistics (but no teaching experience). Do you know how much I could expect to earn?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Depends on the city but you can expect around 20k in tier-one cities like Shanghai or 10k-15k in smaller cities.

      Reply
  6. Hi, the school that i’ll be working for is putting pressure on me to send my degree and tefl certificate even though i’m still waiting for the police clearance. I told them i’m not comfortable with this, they say they need time to translate the docs for visa etc. What’s your take on this?

    Reply
    • Hi Precious – I believe they sometimes accept scanned copies, have you asked? Either way they will need to see the docs (or copies) in order to process everything.

      Reply
  7. Hi, I am from South Africa and native English Speaker, with a Bcom Degree in Strategic Management, Currently studying Bcom Honours in Business Management, also in an internship program for 1 year I have 2 year experience in Retail, Do you know how much I could expect to earn? Will it be hard for me to get a job?

    Reply
    • This really depends on the city, but if you have a degree and want to work in a big city like Beijing or Shanghai you can expect to earn between 15k-25k per month. And no, you should be able to find a job but might have to work a little harder as there has been some pushback on SA applicants recently.

      Reply
  8. Hi, I am an American who has been teaching ESL and computer science in Cambodia for 5 years. I have a TESOL, and I am earning my bachelors online (Computer Science) and will graduate in about 8 months.

    Would I be able to find a job before finishing my degree? If so, what approximate pay range would you estimate?

    Thanks for the reply.

    Reply
    • Hey Paul – assuming you meet all the other requirements then getting a job should be no problem once you get your degree – salary will vary by city for tier 1 cities like Shanghai Id expect at least 20k RMB per month.

      Reply
      • Ok thanks, and what about a city like Chengdu?

        Reply
        • Id guess between 10k-15k – you can always check current job posting to see what schools are offering.

          Reply
          • Hi

            I’m Irish with a 4 year bachelor of science and a TEFL with 2 years experience teaching English and Science, what sort of salary should I expect if I moved to a tier 1 city?

            Thank you

          • Id aim for at least 25k but be willing to accept 22-23k without any perks like housing.

  9. Hi! I’m a languages’ teacher from England with a degree and Qualified Teacher Status. I’ve not worked in the classroom since qualifying in 2016. Should I be able to find a job in an international school? If so, how much, roughly, would it pay? Many thanks! Stuart

    Reply
    • Hi Stuart – you can probably expect at least 25k RMB per month from a proper international school (maybe more) but make sure to check out the other perks like tuition assistance if you have kids, housing, and return airfare.

      Reply
  10. Hi Quincy

    I am 45, have 15+ years experience of training skills like Fire, First Aid HS&E and ESL. In fact, I started the training division, obtained the accreditations from the various SETA’s and was the Head of Training of the company.

    I decided a while ago to formally do a TEFL course and did i-to-i’s Combined 320-hour Level 5 TEFL Diploma. I am also qualified (and have taught) in/as Train-the-Trainer/Facilitator/Assessor/Moderator (2010). I have done various other industry-related courses and have 26 years of general business experience in various business sectors, like Management, Financial, Sales, Marketing, Strategy, qualified Principal Estate Agent and whatnot. I am native-level in English and Afrikaans and intermediate in at least 2/3 other languages. However, I do not have a degree, yet.

    I was hoping to get an ESL job in the UAE, but it seems they’re looking for any kind of degree as a prerequisite. I spoke to a lady that operates in the industry in China and after we chatted she is very interested in me apparently and has sent me a contract for 8000 yuan p/m plus free accommodation. It doesn’t sound like an option I would consider as, although I probably need to start somewhere, I have a wife and two young kids (4&7) that I need and want to take with wherever I find a job.

    Obviously my wife can also find a job, but the point is 8000 yuan doesn’t sound like much to me and then the accommodation is for a single person.

    If you wonder why someone with apparently a lot of experience an skills want to give it up for ESL teaching: I made the decision and need the change. I am fed up with current personal circumstances and want to live in another country.

    Can you please give me some advice and share your thoughts.

    Sorry for the “essay”.

    Regards,

    Reply
    • Hi Karl – don’t worry about the essay! Im happy to help if I can. The issue is that regulations are tightening in China and you really need a proper degree to teach legally. With that being said, there are people that promise you jobs regardless – they often offer tourist or business visas and a low salary – I would recommend avoiding those. 8000rmb is not a lot in China, even in smaller cities and especially with a family to support.

      My advice is to either rely on your wife to get a legal job in China or look elsewhere – Thailand doesn’t require a degree and you can live quite comfortably there on a teacher’s salary – are you determined to work in China?

      Reply
  11. Hi Quincy,

    Thank you for taking time out to read/reply to these questions, food for thought for sure. I’m hoping to go to China, Hong Kong or Japan by the end of 2020 to teach English. I am from Ireland, have a BA in Social Care, an MA in Criminology and experience working with children/young people in residential / out-of-home care.

    I am still trying to figure out the right TEFL course for me to do, one that would open the best options, and would really appreciate some feedback/guidance on this.

    Kind regards,
    Aisling.

    Reply
    • Hi Aisling – sounds like you’re well on your way! For courses, you’ll want to do at least 120hr (it can be online, in classroom, or mixed) and ensure the certificate can be authenticated in your home country. This is a bigger deal in China lately and it’s better to plan for this before you pay for anything – we like iTTT around here and I believe we have a discount code you can find at the top of the page under featured courses – hope this helps!

      Reply
      • Hi Quincy. Glad to find someone like you as you seem to be alot of help to thers. My Fiancee and I are both interested in teaching in Shanghai. Both of us have a bachelor degree in education and a 120 hour tefl. We have applied with a few agencies but nothing has come up yet. Can you recommend agencies or sites we could visit?

        Reply
  12. Hi Quincy,

    I have CELTA and BA in English Literature plus 2 years teaching exp. I’ve recently been offered a position in a training centre in Beijing for 20,000 per month (after tax) and a 4000 stipend for housing. When I did the conversion I was pretty happy (I’m hoping to be able to save a considerable amount) but according to a Chinese friend that’s not too much in Beijing. What do you think about this offer?

    Reply
    • Hi Grace – that seems a bit low for your credentials in a Tier 1 city like Beijing – the stipend only brings it to 24k and Id be looking for somewhere around 28k. The good news is that there are a ton of jobs so don’t hesitate to push back a bit – a CELTA with experience is not that common so you shouldn’t settle.

      Reply

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