Living as a teacher in China: Is it worth it? Cost of living abroad

China. The word alone can bring about mixed feelings. Maybe even a sense of uncertainty and curiosity. I remember when I first heard of the option to teach English in China. I had just graduated from university and hadn’t settled on what to do next. Teaching English? In China? When I did some further research, I felt an insurmountable mountain of tasks before me. Visas, medical checks, what about my accommodation? Flights, passport, cost of living. What should I pack? The list went on, but looking back on it, it was all trivial. Why should anyone consider being an ESL teacher in China? The experience over the years teaching English in China have been some of the best moments of my life. So, my answer is to take the leap. Living abroad as an English teacher in China is definitely worth it, and here’s why.

Let’s break down the cost of living:

 

Cost of living: Food

Cost of food in China

It’s expensive to eat healthy in the US. Wholefoods can feel more like whole paycheck. Knowing where your food comes from and if it’s safe to eat are a concern as well. Usually cheap equals bad, expensive equals good, but in China, you can easily afford cheap but delicious and healthy food.

I miss riding my electric scooter down the side streets of Shanghai, scouting out all the restaurants and food stalls. $2-$10 (no tip) can get you a decent meal. Don’t think of your typical local “Lucky Star Chinese Buffet” where they serve sushi rolls and soft-serve ice cream and leave you with stale fortune cookies. There are over eight different types of Chinese cuisine from Shandong, Sichuan, Hunan, Zhejiang, Anhui, Guangdong, Fujian, and Jiangsu. But you don’t need to eat just Chinese food. In most cities you’ve got all the same fast food you’d find back at home: McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr., Burger King, Pizza Hut (it’s where many Chinese go out for date night believe it or not!), Subway, Dairy Queen, and the list goes on. Most Tier 1 cities in China have a lot of great international food options.

Eating local food is cheap and straightforward. Don’t feel like moving? Wish you could just snap your fingers, and the food would appear? Well, in China, the delivery service is somewhat magical. I remember my parents came to visit me in Shanghai, at the hotel they mentioned they’d like some wine and to try xiao long bao (my favorite). I pulled out my phone and used one of the many food delivery apps. Within 30 minutes, the delivery guy was at our door, and we were sipping wine and feasting on XLBs. All transactions were made via WeChat, and all in all, was exponentially cheaper than back home.

 

Cost of living: Transportation

Cost of transportation in China

Tired of sitting in traffic? Driving back home can be a pain. Gas is expensive, and people always bring up their car as a topic of conversation. What’s great about being an ESL teacher in China is not having to deal with the headaches that come with car ownership. In China, people use Didi (Chinese Uber) to catch a cab. I still laugh about the look of disbelief on my parents face when we arrived at our destination and what seemed to be like a 30-minute cab ride came out to ~$4.

You know who’s got a fantastic network of subways and trains? China. Getting a metro card is simple and can be pre-loaded with RMB at most stops. Need to get across town to teach English? Easily walk from your place to the nearest metro stop and ride your way to work.

 

Cost of living: Housing

“The rent’s too damn high!” It’s demoralizing to spend money on rent back home. Tack on utilities and you’re spending a sizable chunk of your hard work and time. Being an ESL teacher in China has its perks. Usually, contracts for English teachers in China include free or reduced accommodation. Looking to get your own place? Rent can range between $300-$1000+ depending on which city you’re in and if you’d like to have your own place versus a shared apartment.

 

Cost of living: Entertainment

Cost of living in China: entertainment

The cities are buzzing, and there is always something to do affordably as the cost of living in China is low. With a large expat community, and with Chinese catering to more and more English speakers, the options for having some fun are endless! Sometimes movies are released earlier in China than in the US too. With some cities having millions of people and with an infrastructure so developed you’re bound to bump into people and build friendships to go out on the town.

 

Come to China. You won’t regret it.

My friends and family have come to visit me in China over the years to travel throughout the country. Family members back home will message me and ask, “do you remember that time in China when…!” Memories will be made, and the experience of teaching English in China as an ESL teacher was the gateway to getting set up in China, living affordably, and having the free time to explore and make memories with locals, friends, and family.

 

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