Every year thousands of teachers head to China to begin a new adventure, whilst teaching English as a foreign language. For some, the primary motivation is to experience a new culture and to embrace the opportunity of travelling around Asia. For others, the primary motivation is to make and save money! China is comfortably one of the highest paying countries globally for TEFL teaching, and in this blog post, we’ll explore just how much money you can expect to save in China, regardless of what lifestyle you have.

To start with, there are four main factors that will influence how much money you can save in China. These are:

  • How much money you earn
  • How much you pay for rent and bills
  • What lifestyle you live
  • The city you teach in

In this blog post, we’ll break down how much two teachers on the complete opposite ends of the saving spectrum are likely to save, by teaching English in a tier 1 Chinese city for one year. In the end, we’ll then factor in any additional savings that would be made by these individuals if they were teaching in a smaller Chinese city instead.

We’ll call these two teachers The Savage Spender and The Super Saver. The Savage Spender has their own apartment in the city centre, only works their regular teaching job, loves to eat and drink out, and loves to travel all across China and Asia whenever they have the opportunity. The Super Saver, on the other hand, shares an apartment in the centre with a flatmate, does private tuition on top of their regular job, stays in most nights, and their primary reason for being in China is to save money!

Factor 1 – Money Earned

For first-time teachers in a tier 1 Chinese city, you can expect your monthly salary to be around 18,000 – 24,000RMB before tax. Therefore, we’ll say that The Savage Spender and The Super Saver would both earn a monthly salary of 21,000RMB before tax.

This is a very competitive salary, and more than enough to live comfortably in China, meaning that a lot of teachers will only work this teaching job and still save money. However, a lot of teachers who are eager to save more money will also provide private tuition for students, outside of their normal working schedule, with the average pay for this being 500RMB per hour. Some teachers will only do this for 1 or 2 hours per week, whereas others will do up to 10 additional hours a week – it really depends on how much money you want to make. For the sake of this we’ll estimate that The Super Saver will do 5 hours of private tuition, and therefore earn an additional 10,000RMB per month.

Money Earned:

The Savage Spender – 21,000RMB

The Super Saver – 31,000RMB

Factor 2 – Rent & Bills

Unfortunately, rent in the centre of tier 1 Chinese cities is not cheap. As we’ll discuss later, in the smaller cities rent is extremely cheap, but in the most popular teaching destinations like Beijing and Shanghai, you’d typically pay around 7,000RMB (including bills) for a studio / one-bedroom apartment. This is still extremely affordable for teachers, so many will decide to get their own place. Therefore, we’ll say that The Savage Spender will spend 7,000RMB per month on rent and bills.

For teachers who are looking to save money, it is certainly beneficial to share an apartment. If you’re planning on traveling with someone you can share with that’s great, but you can also find expats who are looking for flatmates on social media before heading out to China. The average city centre two-bedroom apartment costs around 9,000RMB per month, so here we’ll say that The Super Saver will spend 4,500RMB on rent and bills.

Rent & Bills:

The Savage Spender – 7,000RMB

The Super Saver – 4,500RMB

Factor 3 – Lifestyle

As mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, a lot of teachers heading to China treat the whole experience as an adventure and therefore want to have fun, travel, and their main focus isn’t to save money. For others though, saving money perhaps for a house deposit or a new car when they return to their home country is their primary motivation. Your lifestyle when living in a tier 1 Chinese city will certainly impact how much money you’re able to save.

Some expenses are absolutely necessary, and a substantial weekly shop in a tier 1 city will cost you around 1,000RMB. The average meal out at a western restaurant will cost you around 300RMB, and a full night out on the town will cost you around 600RMB. All of this of course does depend on what type of restaurants and bars you like going to. Other essential living costs to take into consideration are things like public transport, taxi fares, and phone costs.

Let’s say here that The Savage Spender loves to eat out at least a couple of times a week, and is often out on the town. Whereas, The Super Saver will likely only go out for a meal once a week and a night out every two weeks. The Savage Spender can expect to spend around 8,000RMB per month on living costs. The Super Saver on the other hand will spend around 5,000RMB per month.

The type of school that you teach in will determine how much holiday you get, and thus when you can travel. Typically, most teachers like to travel during Golden Week (the beginning of October) and Chinese New Year (the end of January / early February), and in addition to this, some teachers will also go on small trips during their days off. Let’s say that The Savage Spender goes on a big trip somewhere in China during Golden Week, and then goes abroad for Chinese New Year, whilst also doing regular small trips, once a month, during days off. On average over the year they would spend around 2,500RMB per month on travel within China and overseas. The Super Saver, on the other hand, will stay within China for the year, they’ll still get to explore the country, but they’ll do it on a smaller and less frequent scale. On average over the year they’d spend 1,000RMB per month on travel.

Lifestyle & Travel Costs:

The Savage Spender – 10,500RMB

The Super Saver – 6,000RMB

Factor 4 – City Size

In this blog post, we’ve based our two different teachers in a big, tier 1 Chinese city. However, some of you who are reading this may be planning on teaching in a smaller tier 2 city, and this will certainly impact how much money you can save!

The average salary you’d earn in a tier 2 city is around 16,000RMB per month before tax, which is less than what you’d earn in a tier 1 city. However, the average cost of rent and the cost of living in these smaller cities certainly make up for this deficit, with the average monthly rent in a tier 2 city centre being around 1,000RMB per month! The cost of eating and drinking out, as well as all other essential living costs, is also remarkably cheaper.

Due to the fact that The Savage Spender would spend a lot on rent and living costs in a tier 1 city, we estimate that on average they would save an additional 5,000RMB per month from teaching in a smaller city. Whereas, since The Super Saver would already have a relatively low cost of living in a tier 1 city, they would only save an additional 2,000RMB per month.

Smaller City Savings:

The Savage Spender – 5,000RMB

The Super Saver – 2,000RMB

So, now that we’ve taken into consideration each individual factor let’s take a look at how much both teachers would save both monthly and yearly.

Using our estimates, The Super Saver would save 224,400RMB teaching in a tier 1 city for one year, and 248,400RMB in a smaller city! This teacher needs to be determined to save money, as they’ll be teaching an additional 5 hours a week on top of their regular teaching job, and they?ll need to remain sensible all year, keeping their lifestyle costs low. The main reason a teacher like The Super Saver goes to China is to save a ridiculous amount of money, and by staying disciplined it’s clear to see that this is possible!

The Savage Spender on the other hand would manage to save a total of 20,400RMB over the year in a tier 1 city, and 80,400RMB teaching and living in a tier 2 city! Compared to The Super Saver this amount may not seem like much, but considering that The Savage Spender would live a life of luxury for 12 months this isn’t bad. This teacher will have their own apartment in the city centre, they’ll eat out and party regularly, and will also travel around China and Asia extensively. The main reason a teacher like The Savage Spender goes to China is to have an amazing experience. They’ll certainly be able to do this and still save a bit of money as a bonus!

Typically, the main reason teachers in China are able to save a large amount of money is due to providing private tuition on the side. By devoting just five hours a week, at a rate of 500RMB per hour, The Super Saver would be able to earn an extra 10,000RMB more per month! Therefore, regardless of whether you’re trying to save money or not, we certainly recommend that anyone teaching English in China finds the time to provide some private tuition.

The two teachers we have represented here are both extreme examples, and the majority of teachers who teach English in China will no doubt fall somewhere in the middle of the two. Different teachers have different motivations for teaching in China. Nevertheless, whether you’re a Savage Spender, a Super Saver, or somewhere in the middle, if you teach English in China you’re guaranteed to save money. Just how much you save, is up to you!