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 best to teach English?”

So, you’ve decided to make teaching English in China a reality. You’ve got your visa sorted, your TEFL completed, medical records done, diploma in hand, your bags are packed, and you’re eager to start your new adventure abroad.

I ❤️ ... Shanghai 🏙️️ or Suzhou🏕️?

We’ll look at how Shanghai and Suzhou stack up against each other to help paint a better picture. You’ll get an insight into how these cities differ, as well as what they have in common. Each city has its own unique charm and there’s a paradox of choice that makes settling on a location even harder to choose for new English teachers who have different living requirements. It’s important to consider which factors are important for you. Let’s take a look at what each city has to offer!

What’s it like to live in Shanghai 🏙️️?

Shanghai has an ever-growing population of 24 million people. It’s the most international city in China and living here can be quite the experience and culture shock for many. It’s a bombardment of sights, sounds, and sensory overload is a real thing.

The city boasts a lively nightlife and it’s extremely safe for foreigners, especially women, to get around town. The extensive metro network makes it super convenient to get to places too. As a new English teacher, you’re looking to stay in the quieter, albeit, more expensive part of Shanghai.

Shanghai is like New York City times three or four. The streets buzz with life and the feeling is electric.

Rent can range from around $500-$1000+ per month depending on where you live. As a new teacher if you sign a contract with a school make sure your rent is covered and your accommodation included. The average salary for an English teacher in Shanghai can range between 8,500 RMB to over 35,000 RMB per month. Read more on accommodations, salaries and other things you better know before moving to China.

There is a high demand for English teachers in Shanghai and depending on how many hours you want to put in per week, there is a good opportunity for new teachers to make some serious money. Take a look at reviews about teaching English in Shanghai.

But less about work 👔, let’s talk about play ⚽.

If you’re looking for peace and quiet, then Jing’An and Xintiandi districts can be a good choice. If you like to go shopping Xuhui district has the Metro City mall which is convenient to shop, see a movie, or go out to eat.

At night, cruise around on an electric scooter or catch a cab and hit up some of the side street stalls and get “shao kao” BBQ. The walkability of Shanghai is excellent and if you’re up for exploring, there’s never a dull moment in the city. Given that Shanghai is the most international, you’re bound to meet people from all over the world. Shanghai has a ton of things for you to do such as karaoke, bowling, tons of clubs, laser tag, arcades, there’s even a shooting range. There’s no limit to what you can do in Shanghai.

The Downside to Living in Shanghai ☁️

Pollution can be a problem, and many people wear facemasks. The PM 2.5 levels can get pretty high during the winter months and the weather can be grey, gloomy, overcast, and rainy. The wet cold can be an issue for new English teachers who come from a warmer climate that they’re used to back home.

Alternatively, some complain that it can get too hot in the summer. So, when you mix hot weather and the feeling of being too crowded, you may consider escaping out west to Suzhou which is just a short 100km away and is a less hectic place to live.

What’s it like living in Suzhou 🏕️?

Some say it can be “boring,” or that there isn’t much to do in Suzhou. Well compared to Shanghai, yes, this can be true. But if you’re the type that enjoys nature, quiet, and a more laid-back way of living, then Suzhou may be your best bet. Suzhou is an ancient city with over 2,500 years of history. Like the Venice of China, explore the canals and the famous gardens in your free time.

Unlike Shanghai where most people funnel into tubes underground and shove along to get on the metro. You’ll get to use the public busses in Suzhou a lot more, and if you’re feeling like getting some fresher air (compared to Shanghai) just hop on the city bicycles.

Suzhou is near Taihu lake and offers a lot more in terms of outdoor activities. If you’re an English teacher that wants to get out into nature, Suzhou is your best bet.

The cost of living is lower than in Shanghai (around 30% cheaper). The average is around 5,000 to 6,000 RMB per month in Suzhou. Rent would be cheaper (3,000 RMB), and the salary (7,000 RMB – 13,000 RMB) would be slightly less than teaching in a larger Tier 1 city like Shanghai, but given the tradeoff, many English teachers prefer the lifestyle Suzhou has to offer.

Because Suzhou is “out there” it can be difficult for English teachers to make friends. There’s still bad air quality, but slightly better than Shanghai, and the Internet and Wi-Fi is just about as slow as it would be in Shanghai, too. Look at our article about teaching English in Suzhou, and of course, check available teaching vacancies in Suzhou.

Which City is Best for You ❤️?

If you’re having trouble choosing between Shanghai and Suzhou, keep in mind that if you ever want a change of pace, you can always hop on the bullet train between the two cities, which only takes 27 minutes! You can enjoy the best of both worlds.

As an English teacher in China, you’ll have plenty of options and job opportunities in many of the cities. Overall, you can’t go wrong, as each city has its very own distinct charm and after living in either Suzhou or Shanghai, you’re sure to enjoy a nice lifestyle, meet interesting people, and gain lifelong memories from experiences working as an English teacher.