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The Best 10 Cities to Work as an ESL Teacher in China

China is the fourth largest country in the world (by land area), yet the most populous (with almost 1.4 billion people as of 2019). The country sounds thrilling to many adventure-lovers as there is so much to explore in China. It offers diverse landscapes, rich history, unique cultures, plentiful cultural heritage sites, and amazing cuisines. If you’re not sure where to teach English in this gigantic country, please take a look at our list below of the 10 best cities to work as an ESL teacher in China:

1. Beijing

The exciting capital of China – Beijing, is among the top four first-tier cities in China for foreign ESL teachers. Home to the Forbidden City and The Great Wall, Beijing has a unique culture, stunning architectures that date back hundreds of years, diverse population and mouth-watering cuisines. The average English teaching salary in Beijing is around 246,292 Chinese Yuan or $36,643, according to Payscale.

Top places to visit in Beijing:

The Forbidden City, Great Wall of China, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square

Iconic must-try food in Beijing:

Peking Roast Duck, Zhajiangmian (Soybean Paste Noodle), Jiaozi (Dumpling)

2. Shanghai

Nicknamed “Pearl of the Orient”, Shanghai was once called the world’s greatest city by CNN Travel. Shanghai is the biggest city in China, with a population of 26+ million people. Foreign ESL teachers find the attractive mix of the East and the West here, with tall skyscrapers and ancient colonial architecture. Its vibrant international hub and progressive culture attract many foreigners here to live and work abroad in China.

The average English teaching salary in Shanghai is around $27,807 to $59, 562 per year, according to Payscale. While the competition is more fierce than in other places in China, Shanghai is an ideal destination with lots of things to do and an easy-to-fit-in life for foreign English teachers.

Top places to visit in Shanghai:

The Bund, Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Nanjing Road, Yu Garden, The Jade Buddha Temple, People’s Square

Iconic must-try food in Shanghai:

Xiaolongbao (Soup Dumplings), Shengjianbao (Fried Pork Dumpling), Hongshao (Braised Pork), Fried Pork Buns (Fried Dim Sum), Steamed Crab & Crayfish

Aerial view of the city in guangzhou, china

3. Guangzhou

Following Beijing and Shanghai, Guangzhou is the third-largest city in China, and also among the four first-tier cities in China for ESL teachers. Its nickname is “the City of Flowers”, thanks to its evergreen climate that allows beautiful flowers to bloom year-round. Its population is around 13 million people, as of 2018. Yet the Guangzhou municipality area is huge as it includes Shenzhen, Foshan, and Dongguan as well (~44 million residents in total).

Guangzhou is a major port city and a trading, manufacturing hub that contributes tremendously to China’s economy. The average English teaching salary in Guangzhou is around $1,600 to $2,500. However, the cost of living is more affordable than in Beijing or Shanghai. 

Top places to visit in Guangzhou:

Canton Tower, Huacheng Square, Yuyin Garden, Shamian Island

Iconic must-try food in Guangzhou:

Shao Wei (Cantonese Barbecue), Dim Sum (Breakfast Dumplings and Snacks) such as Cheon Fen (Rice Noodle Rolls), Char Sui Bao (BBQ Pork Buns), Siu Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumpling), Har Gao or Xia Jiao (Shrimp Dumpling) 

4. Shenzhen

This fast-growing city has changed a lot in the past four decades. Originally a small fishing town with a few hundred thousand people, now, Shenzhen is home to 13+ million residents, filled with massive skylines, metros and bullet trains. Shenzhen is home to many successful high-tech and manufacturing companies. It’s sometimes referred to as the Silicon Valley of China. The per capita income here is the highest in China, making it the most affluent city in China while being just the seventh biggest city. The average pay for ESL teachers in Shenzhen ranges from $1,000 to $3,000 a month. One can live well under $1,000 per month in Shenzhen.

Top places to visit in Shenzhen:

Tien Hou Temple, Nanshan Mountain, Futian Central Business District, Widow of the World

Iconic must-try food in Shenzhen:

Shao Wei (Cantonese Barbecue), Dim Sum (Breakfast Dumplings and Snacks) such as Cheon Fen (Rice Noodle Rolls), Char Sui Bao (BBQ Pork Buns), Siu Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumpling), Har Gao or Xia Jiao (Shrimp Dumpling)

5. Chengdu

This large and fast-growing city is the financial and economic hub as well as the culinary capital of China. Its population is around 7.8 million. This was the starting point of the famous Southern Silk Road that made exporting tea, iron, and silk from Chengdu to neighboring areas like Myanmar, India, Bangladesh, and the Middle East. While it’s a second-tier city in China, many think it’s risen to be the new first-tier city. The average ESL teacher’s salary in Chengdu is around $1,400 to $2,300 a month.

Top places to visit in Chengdu:

Mount Qingcheng, Du Fu Thatched Cottage, Dujiangyan Irrigation System

Iconic must-try food in Chengdu:

Liang Ban Ji (Cold Chicken in Chili Oil), Shuang Jiao Tu (Rabbit Fried with Peppers), La Xiang Chang (Smoked Sausage), Hong You Chao Shou (Sichuan Dumplings in Chili Oil), Chengdu Hot Pot

6. Wuhan

Wuhanis also among the new first-tier cities for foreign ESL teachers in China. Why? While it’s a historic city with beautiful nature and impressive relics, it’s also China’s 10th largest city. Wuhan is the capital of Hubei Province, located along the Yangtze River. There are around 10+ million residents are living and working in Wuhan. There are many universities, education institutes, and research centers in Wuhan. Its cost of living is quite affordable, the people here are open, and the city is extremely safe. The average salary for ESL teachers in Wuhan is around $800 to $2,000 per month.

Top places to visit in Wuhan:

Yellow Crane Tower, the Guiyuan Buddhist Temple, East Lake, Moshui Lake, Lotus Lake, Heptachord Terrace, and National Stone Museum

Iconic must-try food in Wuhan:

Re Gan Mian (Hot Dry Noodle), Doupi (Fried Sticky Rice Cake), Wuhan’s Hotpot, Spicy Lobsters and Crayfish, Sijimei Dumpling. The average ESL teacher’s salary in Nanjing is from $1,000 to $2,000 per month.

7. Nanjing

Nanjing is also located along the Yangtze River. It was once China’s capital for seven historical periods (six dynasties and the Republic of China). There’s a rising number of foreign visitors and businesses coming to Nanjing, making the city very diverse and dynamic. The weather is quite hot in Nanjing, with summer temperatures going up to 35 or 40 degrees Celsius. The transportation system in Nanjing is amazing, well equipped and very convenient.

Top places to visit in Nanjing:

Dr. Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, Zhonghua Gate, Nanjing City Wall, Qinhuai River, Confucius Temple, Presidential Palace, Yangtze River Bridge, and Xuanwu Lake Park

Iconic must-try food in Nanjing:

Tangbao (Soup Dumpling), Gansi (Shredded Tofu in Chicken Broth), Duck Soaked in Brine, Sesame Pancake, Pidu Noodles (with 15+ ingredients), Dumplings in Red Bean Soup.

8. Xi’an

Well-known as the birthplace of Chinese civilization, Xi’an holds many secrets and charms to be explored and discovered by others. It was the capital of China for 13 different dynasties. It’s a bustling city with many things to do. While it has developed and changed quite dramatically, the historical relics and cultural heritage stay intact. Xi’an marks the end of the Silk Road in the East. Yet the cost of living is quite low in Xi’an, making it even more attractive to foreign ESL teachers. The city is home to about 12 million people. The climate is nice and temperate.

Top places to visit in Xi’an:

Bell and Drum Tower, Muslim Quarter, Big Wild Goose Pagoda, Tang Dynasty Palace, Mount Hua (one of China’s five sacred mountains), Terracotta Warriors guarding China’s first Emperor Qin Shi Huang in his afterlife

Iconic must-try food in Xi’an:

Yangrou Paomo (Flatbread in Mutton Soup), Kabob (Skewers), Shiliuzhi (Pomegranate Juice), Roujiamo (Meat Burger), Liangpi (Cold Noodle), Biangbiang Noodle

9. Changsha

Changsha is a busy transportation hub connected to many regions in China. However, there aren’t that many foreigners here than in other parts of China. Changsha is the capital of China’s Hunan Province. It’s also the birthplace of former Chairman Mao Zedong. Today, the city is a cultural center famous for its beautiful temples and impressive art scene. It’s home to around 8 million people. The average salary for ESL teachers in Changsha ranges from $1,000 to $2,500 per month.

Top places to visit in Changsha:

Orange Island, Yuelu Mountain, Wuyi Square, Yuelu Academy, Mao Zedong’s House

Iconic must-try food in Changsha:

Stinky Tofu, Mao’s Braised Pork Belly, Spicy Beef

10. Kunming

Kunming is the only second-tier city in this list of the 10 best places to teach ESL in China. Yet it’s the largest city and the capital of Yunnan Province in the southwest of China. Its population is approximately 10 million people with many diverse ethnic groups living together. Kunming’s nicknamed “the City of Eternal Spring”. The city’s got clean air compared to many other big Chinese cities. Because of its 2,000m (6,600ft) altitude, the weather is dry and cool in Kunming, making it perfect for those who dislike hot and humid summers. There are lots of foreign English teachers currently working and residing in Kunming.

Top places to visit in Kunming:

Dianchi Lake, Stone Forest, Western Hills, and Dragon Gate, Jiuxiang Caves, Flower & Bird Market, Golden Temple, Yuantong Temple, Kunming City Museum, Bamboo Temple, Dongchuan Red Soil Land

Iconic must-try food in Kunming:

Erkuai (Rice Snack), Yunnan-Style Steamed Chicken, Guo Qiao Mi Xian (Cross-Bridge Noodle), Xuanwei Ham or Yunnan Ham

There are many other second-tier cities not yet listed here that are attractive to many foreign ESL teachers as well because of their affordable cost of living, peace, and ease of living. Overall, this list hopefully gives you an idea of where to teach English in China, depending on your weather preference, lifestyle, and other factors.

Are you looking for opportunities to teach English abroad in China? Check out our Teach English Abroad Facebook group for daily job listings.

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