What kind of salary can you make teaching English in China?
I'm asked this question all the time.
Sadly, there's so much misinformation out there, so I'm going to clear it up for you.
But first, a bit about the TEFL market in China (because you need some background).
China is the home of TEFL teaching
Mainland China is one of the world's biggest markets for English language teaching.
It's estimated that more than 360 million students are learning English in China
And, the private education market is said to be a $330 billion industry. That’s huge!
Most schools and institutes across China, from public elementary schools to private night schools, offer English as part of their curriculum.
This equates to high demand for qualified, native English-speaking teachers, particularly those from the US, Canada, UK and Australia.
Your salary depends on six important factors
Before we start diving into actual figures, I need to share with you the main factors that will determine your salary.
Having this context makes it easier to understand why two teachers may earn vastly different amounts.
What you can earn teaching in China depends on:
- School type (public vs private)
- School location (major city vs smaller city)
- What you teach (just oral English vs specialized subjects)
- Hours you teach (part-time vs full-time)
- Your qualifications (education degree vs non-education degree)
- Your past work experience (teaching vs non-teaching).
If I had to call out the most important factor, it would be the school type.
Private schools pay much more than public schools.
The kind of school you teach at dictates how much you earn (pictured: elementary school students in Jiangsu province).
The typical salary range
OK, now for the figures!
A typical teach English in China salary is in the range of RMB 6,000 to RMB 18,000 per month.
This equates to about USD 860 to USD 2,580 per month.
If you can't get your head around yuan (RMB) or US dollars, check out your country's exchange rate here.
Why is there such a big range?
It's because no two teachers are the same, and no two teaching offers are the same.
Think back to the six factors – that's what determines the range.
You could spend hours researching China teaching salaries (like this thread on Quora), but I wouldn't bother.
Just focus on yourself and what you can bring to the table.
Four real teaching salary scenarios in China
To help you understand how foreign teacher salaries in China can vary significantly, here are four common scenarios.
They include an approximate starting salary in a small to medium city.
1. Full-time English teacher at a public school or university – approximate starting salary RMB 6,000
Teaching at a Chinese public kindergarten, elementary school, high school or university can be a great opportunity.
You could teach only 16 hours per week and still be considered a full-time teacher.
Working part-time hours (as a full-time teacher) means plenty of time for extra-curricula activities and traveling around China.
You can earn at least RMB 6,000 in a public university in China.
Although you’ll love the flexible work schedule, the expectation is that lesson planning is done in your own time.
If the school has a well-organized syllabus and lesson plans are already written up, your preparation time will be minimal.
On the flipside, if the class textbook is optional and you have free rein to teach what you like, you'll need to spend a lot of time planning lessons.
2. Full-time subject teacher at a public school or university – approximate starting salary RMB 7,000
If you can teach core subjects like maths, science or business, you can command a higher salary than teaching English alone.
Some schools even offer specialist subjects like American culture and history.
Chinese students love getting a taste of the outside world from their TEFL teachers.
Plus, these kinds of subjects can help students prepare for experiences overseas and entry into foreign institutions.
Subject teaching can earn you good money in China.
The contact hours for subject teaching are similar to oral English teaching. So, 16 hours per week is about the lightest load you could take on.
One of the challenges with subject teaching is that students may be grappling with understanding the course content as well as the language of instruction itself (i.e. English!).
3. Part-time English teacher at a private language center – approximate starting salary RMB 8,000
Some private language institutions give you the option of working part-time or full-time.
Roughly 20 hours constitutes part-time while at least 30 hours is considered full-time.
Put simply, the more hours you work, the more money you can make.
Private training centers are popular employment choices for many ESL teachers.
If you teach at a private institute, you'll need to work on evenings and weekends.
Your time off will probably be on two consecutive weekdays. This may not align with your colleagues' schedules.
If you’re a touch on the disorganized side, teaching part-time at a private center could be for you.
Lesson planning is usually taken care of, which means you simply follow a prescribed methodology. Your life outside the classroom won’t be consumed by planning lessons.
Along with a higher salary, this is why a lot of TEFL teachers prefer to work at private centers.
4. Full-time English teacher at a private language center – approximate starting salary RMB 12,000
If you’re keen to teach at least 30 hours a week, including evening and weekend classes, you can earn a great salary teaching English in China.
Private centers typically pay monthly salaries from RMB 12,000 (USD 1,720).
You can make a lot of money in China teaching English at a private language center.
Considering you can live comfortably in China on just a few thousand renminbi per month, after a few years of teaching (and saving hard) you could return home with enough money for a deposit on your own home.
It’s a big and fair reward for putting in a lot of hard work.
Video on teaching salaries in China
If you're a visual kind of learner, here's one of the few accurate YouTube videos on what you can make teaching in China.
It's from two years ago but still valid.
Perks in addition to your salary
So far I've only talked about actual salary amounts.
When you're teaching in China, there are some other great perks that can help fatten your wallet.
Some of these include:
- Airfare reimbursement
- Mandarin lessons
- Free housing (public sector)
- Utility and internet bills (public sector)
- Sign-up bonuses (private sector)
- Performance bonuses (private sector).
Now you can see why China is such a popular choice!
One of the perks you can get by teaching in China is the free accommodation.
How to maximize your earnings
Everyone has different motivations for teaching in China.
But if yours is to make the most money possible, I suggest working in a private training center.
These schools are essentially businesses. So if you're doing a great job and the students like you, you can earn good money.
Plus, you can do private tutoring on the side if the school allows it. This can bring in a lot of extra cash.
If you're a qualified teacher
If you have an education degree or a Masters, teaching subjects at an international school in China is your best bet.
These schools generally only hire teachers who are qualified to teach in their own countries.
Does a TEFL course have an impact on salary?
I don't think it matters which TEFL course you choose, as long as it's at least 120 hours.
This length is the minimum requirement for China.
If you haven't completed a TEFL course yet, I've reviewed some of the best online courses here.
How does a foreign teacher’s salary compare with a local salary?
Even if you earned the lowest starting salary above (i.e. RMB 6,000), you’d still be earning above the average in most Chinese cities.
The generous salaries for foreign teachers, along with perks like free housing, mean you can live like a king or queen in China.
You can earn well above the average Chinese salary in most cities.
Just keep in mind that any money you save in China won’t go as far in your home country when you exchange currencies.
Good luck teaching in China
Regardless of where you end up teaching in China, you can earn a generous local salary.
And at the end of the day, that's all that really matters.
Have a great time teaching in China!