I taught English in Shanghai, the most international city in China; home to thousands of English teachers. I taught for two years before going back to graduate school in my home country. Working and living in China as an English teacher is a worthwhile experience. You'll be able to make money, travel the world, and if planned correctly, you'll be able to save money too. That's how I was able to save up for my graduate education after my time in China.
If you have gotten a placement to teach English in Shanghai or you have been offered a job with EF, your salary as a teacher in China will go a long way due to the low cost of living in the country. Additionally, as a foreign teacher, you'll have a variety of benefits offered to you by the company such as free airfare, paid holidays, and career development opportunities.
If you have been considering teaching English in China, especially as a fresh university graduate, hopefully these tips on saving money and living on a budget throughout your stay in China will go a long way!
Spending sensibly with a moderate way of life in Shanghai (and China in general) will leave you a generous bank account as the months roll in and out. Your cost in food can be reduced by limiting the rate at which you buy western foods as compared with the local Chinese food. For example, you're looking to spend anywhere from 100-200RMB per person at a western restaurant in Shanghai (and that's for one night)! Take that 100-200RMB (about 15-30 USD) and spend it at your local fresh foods market. Oats, veggies, and fruits are inexpensive – and not to mention, healthy too! A 500g bag of quick-cooking oats (40RMB), carrots/celery/peppers (25RMB), strawberries/bananas/oranges (55RMB) will amount to 120RMB (17 USD). This will last you the whole week and is cheaper than the one western meal you had at Papa John's.
If you do not like to bring in your food and eat at work, don't panic, as the local Chinese restaurants are not pricey and won't break the bank. You can opt for family style meals and get it shared among friends with an equal share of cost. For example, 6 dishes of meat, veggies, and noodles can come to about 300RMB (44USD). Then divide that between you and your three friends from work, and you'll leave with a full belly and full wallet; at 75RMB (11USD) per person! You can also take advantage of the free coffee provided by EF to all teachers in between classes.
The amount of money spent on transportation can be greatly curtailed per day when you give up the luxury of taking Didi taxi to your place of work and back every day. An alternative to cabs are bike share you'll see on the side of the road. Popular companies in Shanghai are MoBike and OFO. Take out your phone, scan the QR code on the bike, and you can be off in your rent-a-bike in under a minute. Every 30 minutes you spend on the bike, this will cost you 1RMB (about 0.15USD). These bikes are everywhere – so there's no excuse for opting for a MoBike versus getting into a Didi.
The Shanghai subway system is a dream – especially for those coming from other large cities like London or New York City. The Shanghai subway is clean, easy to navigate with the color-coded lines, and best of all, it's cheap! My commute was 30-minutes door-to-door and the metro was 20-minutes long. This one-way commute cost me 4RMB (0.50USD). If you think about how much I spend in one month for commuting expenses – it comes to about 160RMB (or 23.50USD)! How much money do you spend on automobile gas in one month alone? Not to mention; insurance and car maintenance fees.
Rent prices are always rising, and as with most big cities, Shanghai is not to be left out of this phenomenon. When you come to teach English in China with EF, the company will grant you a housing allowance of 4,000RMB to accommodate your expenses. In Shanghai, that doesn't typically go far for one-bedroom apartments; even with the 10,000RMB housing advance that EF offers. Fear not, you'll be onboarding with other teachers. Some may be teaching at your center or close by. Feel free to share an apartment with one or two other teachers. You can find some nice complexes with a pool and gym included, in a high-rise apartment for 12,000RMB. If you have two other roommates, you'll be able to live comfortably; without breaking the bank.
You can also get household essentials from second-hand WeChat groups to greatly reduce your housing expense instead of spending your life savings on buying sets of new glasses, plates, and utensils. Often times, other expats will be in these groups and will be leaving town, so they'll give upwards of 50-70% off of original retail price for quality items.
Expenses on social events, travels and entertainment can also be reduced majorly by attending free teacher events organized by EF. EF has hosted many activities such as cooking classes, board game nights, movie nights, and free tickets to Shanghai Disneyland! You can also meet teachers from other centers and products that you may not have had the chance to do so before. Visiting parks, exploring the city, and viewing art at local museums are all activities free of charge.
If you want to travel outside of Shanghai, you can do so on a budget! Travel off-season to take advantage of cheap train tickets to nearby cities in China. I went hiking a few times with my some of my teacher friends in Suzhou and Moganshan. I've also been to Beijing, Tianjin and Yulin to visit friends in those cities. The nice advantage with EF is your days off will be on a weekday (most teachers work Wednesday-Sunday with Monday and Tuesday off). Flight prices will be cheaper on Mondays and Tuesdays, so international destinations like Hong Kong or Korea wouldn't break the bank.
Even though Shanghai has been known to have a higher cost of living than most cities in China because it's the most metropolitan city, it is still possible to spend minimally and save money with these tips on how to cut costs living in Shanghai.