Best place to teach English in China

Do you want to know what city is the best place to teach in China? Let's have a look at different criteria you might want to take into account and review the most popular destinations in China.

It's hard to decide what location to prioritize during your job search, especially if you haven't been to China before. Many teachers put "Beijing" and "Shanghai" as defaults - but in my opinion it's worth doing some research to make sure your teaching experience in China matches your expectations.

Usually, there are quite a few teaching jobs available for foreigners in any city with population over a million people, so the question is what place will be the most comfortable for you.

Main factors to take into account when choosing a city

These things are not listed in order of their importance - prioritize them according to your preferences

  • 💸 Quality of offers
    This usually includes types of teaching jobs available, level of compensation, and benefits.
  • 🏘️ Cost of living
    The school will usually provide you with accommodation allowance, but expect your expenses to be higher in bigger cities - up to 9-11k yuan a month after housing, compared to 5-8k yuan in smaller cities. In Beijing and Shanghai schools also tend to provide shared accommodations due to astronomical rent rates.
  • 👔 Competition for jobs
    This factor is usually underestimated by teachers looking for a first job in China. It's much harder to get a decent job in a city with many candidates who can come over to a school for a demo lesson any day of the week. No need to explain that the best schools prefer to see the teacher before signing the contract and teachers in China have a competitive advantage.
  • 🤟 Expat community and Luxuries of the Western world
    Big cities have big expat groups which make it even more attractive for foreigners and create Western-oriented markets for goods and services. No-brainer.
  • ☁️ Air quality
    Before accepting the offer in China, take a look at our checklist for your contract, download Air Matters (or another app that shows air quality) and check historical data for the selected city. Here's Shanghai statistics.

🏙️ Chinese Cities Tier system

Many economists, consultants, and businesses classify cities in China based on the tier system. Chinese government does not publish or recognize the tier system, however, it is frequently referred to by various media publications. Cities in different tiers reflect differences in consumer behavior, income level, population size, consumer sophistication, infrastructure, talent pool, and business opportunity.

An unofficial list published by the South China Morning Post ranks 613 Chinese cities on four tiers, Yicai Global's 2017 classification contains ranked cities on 6 tiers: tier 1, new tier 1, tier 2, tier 3, tier 4, and tier 5.

Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen are usually included in Tier 1. For TEFL it would be correct to include Beijing and Shanghai to Tier 0, due to a much higher number of foreigners and competition for jobs. (Source: Reddit)

🌆 Tier 1 cities have a population of 10 million people and more, where there are usually many jobs available, but the competition is a bit lower than in Beijing or Shanghai.

🎡 New Tier 1 cities include major metropolises and provincial-level capitals (Tianjin, Kunming, Chengdu, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Xi'an, Changsha). They provide a fair balance between cost of living, large foreigner community and quality of jobs.

🎢 Tier 2 cities are major cities (>5 million people) that still provide many opportunities and good salaries, along with western style luxuries (not comparable to Shanghai or Beijing, though). Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an American investment banker and author of How China’s Leaders Think, argues that the so-called “second-tier” cities should actually be called “first-class opportunities,” given that these cities have been growth engines of the Chinese economy. Examples: Xiamen, Fuzhou, Wuxi, Hefei, Kunming, Harbin, Jinan, Foshan.

🌉 Tier 3 cities are usually 3 million people and more. You still can get a decent job, but you may not find as many foreigners as in Tier 1-3 cities. Reasons to choose might be a lower cost of living and more opportunities to learn Mandarin (as fewer people, in general, speak English).

🌇 Tier 4-5 cities, or sometimes referred to as Tier 88, are less wealthy and usually factory towns with a population of a million and less. It's harder to get a good offer in these places, foreign community and western luxuries would be scarce. If it’s your first time in China, you should probably pick a Tier 1 or a Tier 2. Tier 3 if you know some Mandarin.

Here's another unofficial 🧀 cheese-based classification of Chinese tier system 😀 - taken from here:

  • Tier one: access to a full range of cheeses. Soft cheese, parmesan.
  • Tier two: access to several cheeses including cheddar, mozzarella and monterrey jack.
  • Tier three: kraft singles.
  • Under tier three: you sprint over to the fridge but what you thought was cheese is some kind of tofu.

🤩 Top-rated places to teach in China

We are reviewing cities our candidates most often ask about. Interested in a particular city? - Let us know.

Tier 1 cities

🚅 Shanghai

Teaching English in Shanghai – Shanghai New Century Primary School

I highly recommend anyone looking for an opportunity to go abroad, teach, and explore to consider Shanghai as a destination. I’ll leave bullet-points below covering the pros and cons of life in Shanghai as a fresh-off-the-boat/plane English teacher.

🏙️ Guangzhou

Teaching English and living in Guangzhou, China

Since it's the third-largest city in China, it’s no wonder many foreign teachers flock to Guangzhou to teach. So, of all the cities in China, why not Guangzhou?

Teaching English in Guangzhou - private school vs. public (state) school.

Compare the life of a teacher in a private and state school and take a look at the differences between living in a big city and a small town in China. Decide which is for you.

New Tier 1 cities

🏞️ Suzhou

Teaching English in Suzhou – Paradise in China, Found.

Located just 100km west of Shanghai, this ancient town is an ideal place for English teachers to live and work as an English teacher in China.

Shanghai vs. Suzhou – Where Should You Teach English?

You know you’re going to teach in China, but a common question many prospective English teachers ask is, “Which city in China is the best to teach English?”

🌉 Wuhan

Living as a Foreign English Teacher in Wuhan

What do we know about Wuhan except for coronavirus? We’ll look at what the city has to offer and what makes it an appealing choice for those looking to live and teach English in China.

Tier 3 cities

🏤 Huzhou

Teaching English in Huzhou, Zhejiang Province

This city combines the traditional local Chinese culture with modern styles. I’ve lived here since the year of 2015. Every year I notice how this city grows fast and it surprises me every time.