Things to know before moving to China. Accommodation, salary&benefits, workplace relationships

So you’ve taken the leap and are on the move. Let us prepare you for the dive to the new environment.

Where to live? — Accommodation

A great concern for many Westerners is, "where am I going to live?", and "what is my accommodation in China going to be like?" Accommodation depends on the job offer you accept.

Most companies will offer an accommodation package. This means your residence will either be on the school grounds, or within walking distance.

The second option is a housing allowance, which is extra money on top of your salary to pay for your living expenses.

🛏️ Apartments provided by the school

Often, you will have your own apartment in the same area as other foreign teachers or Chinese teachers from the school. Most schools tend to have a teachers’ village, so it becomes easy to socialize and make friends with your colleagues. However, some schools may offer you shared accommodation with another foreign teacher. If you find it difficult to make friends, then this would be the perfect option for you – just make sure you let your school or company know your preference before you sign your contract.

Chinese accommodation may be different from what you’re used to. However, all the standard amenities will be provided such as a bed, a TV, basic kitchen appliances and air conditioning. Depending on your preference and the length of your contract, you may want to buy a few more things to make your place feel more like home.

Paying for the utilities depends entirely on your contract. Sometimes, your company may pay for them, but in some cases you may have to pay for them yourself. This usually shouldn’t be over 300-350RMB per month – around $50USD per month. This will include the internet, water, electricity, and gas.

💲 Housing allowance

Many employers offer a housing allowance as part of your contract. This is often in larger cities where it is easier to find your own accommodation. This allowance will be tax-free, and usually more than enough to cover your rent and utilities.

The thought of finding your own accommodation can be daunting at first. However, if you research online beforehand and talk to people who have also lived in that city, it will give you a better idea how to find a place that fits your preferences.

Every school you work for will always provide you with a bilingual Chinese speaker to help and guide you when finding and settling into your new place. Big schools usually put you in touch with a local real-estate agent and take the hassle of apartment hunting from your shoulders. Some schools even give you an interest-free loan to rent an apartment, as in China an advance payment for 2-3 months is usually required.

What about my colleagues? — Workspace relationship

When you start any new position, the fear of not fitting in will almost always be at the back of your mind. However, with the added pressure of moving to a new country, it becomes essential to meet people and socialize, so you don’t isolate yourself or end up feeling lonely.

Before you begin your adventure, try to research online or prepare yourself by asking your company some basic questions about the cultural differences you may face. There is nothing worse than doing a usual habit (for you) and then discovering that it's a rude gesture in China!

Understanding another person’s culture, or at least being aware of it, is invaluable in a cross-cultural work environment. In this way, communication will be more effective, jobs will be carried out efficiently and correctly, and friendships can begin to form. Here are some initial ideas to think about.

🎯 Being direct

Generally, in Western societies, we voice our opinions and are quite direct in the way we ask for things. Just be aware that you are living in a country where English is limited, so you may need to use more indirect language, and think about what you are about to express before voicing an unusual, or even critical, point of view.

😐 Saving face

In China, one of the rules you may learn from your time there is that your colleagues (and students) will try to save face, which means doing everything to avoid humiliation. For example, singling someone out to tell you an answer in the classroom as we do in the West may be tricky, as if the student gets the answer wrong it can be embarrassing, and a long-lasting fear that may end up haunting that student every time they see you. Aim for group or pair answers in class. If you have a personal or complex question, ask your Chinese point of contact or your Westerner colleagues.

🤷 Avoidance

Often, when you first start at a school, the principal and heads will be very smiley and welcoming. The teachers may appear less so. This is not because they don’t want you to be here, but because you (probably) only speak English, so they won’t want to embarrass themselves if they make a mistake when speaking your native language. Don’t take it personally – imagine a Chinese teacher coming to your home country – would you even attempt to speak Chinese to them?!

Your first friend will be in the form of your designated "carer" at the school. They will assist you with your relocation and invite you to as many social events as they can. They will help you with accommodation, travel plans, adjusting to the school system, and everything in between; an invaluable friend no matter what situation arises.

It is very common in China for the principal to invite you out for dinner. It may be with other teachers, or simply with a few other chairs of the school. This is your opportunity to try foods that you wouldn’t otherwise, and the chance to share cultures over a shared interest in eating out. Often, the principal will order the dishes, and they will be shared among the table. Don't offer to pay if someone invites you out. It is commonplace for the inviter to pay for the meal.

Learn more about living in China and culture tips - read our guide about being a foreign teacher in China.

What will I earn? — Salary and benefits packages

What you take home at the end of the month depends largely on what type of organization or school you work for. In bigger cities, the salaries will generally be higher than those in smaller villages. However, the cost of living will also be higher, so there are many considerations when accepting a job.

Your salary will generally be higher than local employees, so be sure not to talk about what you earn openly. What you earn depends on several things:

🎓 Your experience

Teaching experience is preferred but not required. You may see a slight difference in pay for those who have taught EFL before, and those who have recently graduated. For an inexperienced teacher, the salary can range from 8,000RMB to 15,000RMB per month – around $1,150-2,150 USD per month. For experienced teachers, the salary can be anywhere from 16,000RMB to 25,000RMB - $2,290-$3,500 USD per month.

👩‍🏫 Your qualifications

To work in China, you will always need a valid passport from a native-English speaking country, usually a bachelor’s degree in any subject, and a TEFL certification. Of course, if you have a Cambridge CELTA or DELTA certification, this can also boost your pay grade, as well as an MA or other related qualification.

🏫 The type of institution

As in most countries around the world, your earnings will differ depending on if you work for a private or a public school. Private institutions tend to pay more, as there is more academic pressure with higher expectations. The class sizes are smaller, the days are longer, and there are usually classes in the evenings and weekends. Public schools are state-run, so the classes generally run from Monday-Friday, with exceptionally large class sizes. The teaching schedule is generally less intense, so you’ll have more free time, or time to plan your lessons.

📍 The location of your school

Chinese cities are categorized by tiers, so a Tier 1 city would be more expensive to live in than a Tier 2 or Tier 3 city. Tier 1 cities include the 4 largest: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. A Tier 2 city would be less well-known, and so on as you go down the scale. Tier 1 schools pay significantly higher salaries, but there is also more competition for jobs. It is more costly to live there, and of course, it is likely to be more congested than other cities.

Take a look at this page to compare the cost of living in China and the US.

Whatever and wherever you decide to teach in China, you’ll be sure to earn a decent wage compared to the cost of living there. You’re bound to end up taking some of your earnings home with you, which is also a perk to teaching in China!

As with any move abroad, there are many things to consider before taking the leap. With a little bit of forward-thinking and planning, you are sure to have the time of your life, bringing home the best stories to share and friendships that will continue on, long after you have returned home… If you indeed do return home!