By Richelle, former English teacher in China
Ningbo University in Zhejiang Province, China
It’s the question that all prospective teachers are wondering: how much can I really save teaching abroad? A high salary is great, but if you’re living in an expensive country, your cash isn’t going to stretch as far as it might in a developing country.
This is especially important if you’re teaching abroad straight out of college and want to pay off some student loans by teaching abroad or going overseas with your family and need to budget for more expenses than other teachers.
In general, the salary expectations for smaller cities and rural areas will be lower (sometimes even the opposite) than places like Beijing and Shanghai, however, the cost of living is also much lower. Your salary will be influenced by the type of school you teach at, and the amount of experience you have.
Like anywhere else, the longer you stay in China and the more experience you have, the easier it will become to find high-paying jobs. Schools will typically raise your salary after the first year as well. For a more detailed breakdown on salaries by school type read the full guide to teaching salaries in China.
Just to give you a comparison, we’ll look at how much you can save by working in a mid-sized city with an average salary, and the countryside with a low salary.
Two years ago I worked in the countryside near Ningbo, Zhejiang at a public high school. At $800 a month, my salary was pretty low, but thankfully the cost of living was low as well.
Since I was the only foreigner for miles, I became the go-to English teacher in my town. I taught 18 classes a week at the high school and was able to also teach two classes weekly at the primary school for an extra $60 a week. My school even organized a tutoring class for my colleague’s children where I charged each kid a little under $10 an hour, and was able to pocket all of the money with no middle man or overhead costs!
All together with my extra gigs I was making $1,300 a month with free housing!
Living in the countryside was great for saving money, especially since I cooked most of my meals or ate $1 lunches in the school canteen. My biggest monthly expense was taxis into the city, which could cost me upwards of $10 USD. I tried to live somewhat frugally in my year abroad, which was easy due to my countryside location, but I definitely didn’t deprive myself of having a good time in China.
The reason I only ended up saving $3,000 after a year of teaching wasn’t due to my low salary, but the fact that I traveled a lot.
In one year of working I took many short trips throughout China. I visited Beijing, Shanghai (twice), Harbin, Guilin, Yangshuo, Yangdanshan, and the Zhangjiajie “Avatar Mountains”. I also went on bigger trips to Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan. After all this traveling I still managed to save up a few thousand dollars. Talk about living the life!
Average salary in a mid-sized city: saved $10,500
Nick and Dariece were able to save a combined total of $21,000 USD teaching English in Yangzhou, China. They each worked 20 hours a week for a monthly salary of $1,300 USD. In this time they spent about $5,600 USD total, saving them $10,500 USD each.
While most jobs pay for teacher’s housing, Nick and Dariece were given a housing stipend that covered most of their rent. The school covered $266 USD for an apartment for the two of them, leaving them to spend $98 USD a month on housing.
As for living expenses, Nick and Dariece spent a bit more on food, due to their love of cooking Western food and the greater options for dining out in their city. However, the couple spent a lot less money on travel than I did, only taking one trip to Shanghai the entire year they were abroad.
If you’re really looking to save a lot of money in China, cut down on your traveling costs and you can easily save $10,000 USD in a year.
If you’re interested, Nick and Dariece compiled a breakdown of their costs for the entire year in China.
Overall, it’s definitely possible to save up a lot of money teaching abroad, especially if you teach in Asia. Whether you’re saving for student loans or to travel the world, with a little bit of planning you can save thousands of dollars in a year.