Teacher Pay In China: 3 Tips For Earning More

Earning More Teaching

Learn how to earn more and increase savings teaching in China

You’ve finally settled on China as the place that you want to teach English. Awesome! At this point, you’ve probably been doing a lot of research into which city is right for you, whether you want to teach at a language center, private school, or a public school, and all of the other considerations that have to be made before making the plunge to live and teach abroad.

Or, maybe you’ve already been teaching in China for a year or two and you’ve got all the basics down. You love teaching English abroad and plan on doing so for at least a few more years.

Whichever camp you are in, one thing that has probably crossed your mind at some point is how much you will be getting paid, or potentially, how you can get paid more.

Now, we understand that money isn’t everything. You have traveled abroad to teach and the reward of helping students better themselves while experiencing a new culture is immense. However, student loans, retirement, bills, and everything else we contend with as adults are a reality no matter what country you are in. It’s safe to say that a little extra money every month can go a long way.

So, how do you go about increasing your monthly earnings? We have three tips that will allow you to potentially bank more money each month that anyone teaching in China or thinking of teaching in China can implement.

Choose a Tier 2 City

This one may seem counterintuitive, but it is undoubtedly the most overlooked way to save money.

China currently has four Tier 1 cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzen – that also happen to be the most popular locations for ESL teachers to find jobs.

Finding a job in a Tier 2 city such as Chengdu, Tianjin or Wuhan can save you a decent amount of money each month while still being able to enjoy the amenities and creature comforts of an urban lifestyle.

Many first time teachers immediately think they need to find work in the busiest cities. However, major cities are also the most expensive place to live. Higher rents, food costs, and time spent commuting, not to mention higher levels of pollution and congestion, all take a toll on your state of well-being. These factors will probably offset any additional income you earn living in a Tier 1 city. In fact, you might find yourself saving less than you would in a Tier 2 city.

On top of the above facts, if you are working at a job where you aren’t being provided with accommodations or receiving a stipend then you are surely going to be spending more than you need to on housing.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You can find all of the same amenities in a smaller to medium sized city, especially in China, that you can in the main cities of Shanghai and Beijing. Large expat communities, airports that will take you wherever you want to go, great food, bars aplenty, and everything else you might want when living in a foreign country can be had for usually much cheaper than in the main city.

The counter to this is that you can make more money in most jobs in a city like Shanghai than you can in a place like Chengdu. However, when you factor in the higher cost of living, that extra money, and more potentially, is getting eaten up each month just from your normal day to day activities and living expenses.

Negotiate Your Salary

Many teachers seem to think the stated salary in a job listing is non-negotiable. However, in China, negotiation is a regular aspect of life.

Any teacher who has spent time living in China has come to realize that their salaries are negotiable to some extent. If you’re already living in China legally and are in the process of looking for a new job, you’re most likely going to have an edge finding work than someone seeking a job from outside China. This is because it is typically easier to hire someone already based in China than bring a new hire from abroad. Consequently, you have some wiggle room to negotiate a higher salary as the cost of hiring someone already based in China will be lower.

Teachers based outside of China can negotiate higher pay, too. When applying for teaching positions from abroad, emphasize your teaching qualifications and experience. Present yourself professionally. Be agreeable and friendly. Finally, explain the benefits of hiring you. In China, relationships often trump any kind of result you might bring to the table, so avoid being overconfident and arrogant, and focus more on forging a long-term, stable relationship. 

Don’t shy away from negotiation simply because it is unfamiliar to you. Many teachers in China successfully negotiate a higher salary each year while other teachers working in the same institution, sometimes having worked longer, don’t get paid more because they either feel intimidated or guilty to negotiate their salaries.

Negotiating your salary also gives you some insight into how much the company values what you have to offer. If you find an employer is unwilling to negotiate with you, consider other opportunities.

Forbes has an excellent article on tips for negotiation in China.

Supplement Your Income

It isn’t uncommon for teachers abroad to supplement their incomes. Many teachers offer private lessons, while others venture into teaching online or freelance writing online. This extra income can quickly add up into significant savings.

But isn’t working an extra job illegal in China? Technically, yes. However, there are ways around this so you can supplement your income and do it legally. Let’s look at private lessons, for example. If you teach at a private language school (or training center, as they are commonly referred to in China), chances are your employer does not want you to teach private lessons, because you would in essence be competing with your employer. However, if you were to organize private lessons during non-peak hours, and thus bring in more students to your institution, you could negotiate with your employer to pay you a higher rate for private classes. Now, these classes would not technically be private, because your legal employer would paying you for them, and you would be teaching at your legal work premises.

If you choose to do freelance work, talk to an accountant in your country about how to set things up so you can earn that money legally.

Don’t be that person who simply resigns to saying they can’t make enough money teaching and nothing can be done to change the situation. In fact, many people who started as ESL teachers moved on to other careers or even set up their own thriving businesses.

If You Deserve More, Get More

If you’re good at what you do, provide immense value to others, and are committed to doing more to make more, you deserve more. Whether your goal is to save money, pay down a student loan, or gather funds for travel, set yourself a clear goal and explore your options for earning more as a teacher in China.

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