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Jan 22nd, 2023 by David O Connor

The Pros and Cons of Teaching and Living in China in 2023

The Pros and cons of working and living in China

Every ESL teacher

should evaluate the pros and cons of living in China. Naturally, not all advantages and disadvantages of life in China will hit a chord with everyone. After all, the enjoyment of living and working in such a unique country comes down to personal likes and dislikes.

Yet, given there’s a yin for every yang, we thought we’d collate the pluses and minuses of life in China, so you can see everything you’ll gain if you move here to teach English. This way, you’ll also know what you’ll be trading in return.

  1. Pro – Outstanding cuisines
  2. Con – Lack of food familiarity & dubious food hygiene
  3. Pro – Excellent salaries
  4. Con – Challenging workload
  5. Pro – Amazing job opportunities
  6. Con – Harsh COVID restrictions
  7. Pro – High standard but low cost of living
  8. Con – Lack of familiar products/services
  9. Pro – Independence & freedom
  10. Con – Bureaucracy
  11. Pro – Cultural diversity
  12. Con – Culture shock
  13. Pro – Friendly locals
  14. Con – Loneliness & social isolation
  15. Pro – Excellent travel opportunities
  16. Con – Homesickness
  17. Pro – Personal safety
  18. Con – Internet restrictions
  19. Pro – Exciting BIG city life & sensational wilderness
  20. Con – Pollution
  21. Pro – Extensive expat social networks
  22. Con – Getting stuck in an expat bubble
  23. Pro – Inexpensive domestic travel
  24. Con – Expensive trips back home
  25. Pro – Booming demand for English-speaking teachers
  26. Con – Cost of living is on the rise

Ready to discover what your life in China will be like?

 
 

The Pros and Cons of Living in China - Detailed

  1. Pro – Outstanding cuisines

If you’re an avid foodie and have researched the cuisine of your intended destination, you’ll no doubt have realized that China is a phenomenal gastronomic hub. In this food-obsessed culture, fantastic food is served 24/7, no matter where you are. Plus, it’s all so damn affordable. From quick catch-ups outside steamed bun joints to sumptuous, 3-hr long feasts in fancy restaurants: much of life and business in China takes place over a meal. Local, regional, wholesome and tasty food is a huge advantage of living in China. Discovering the culinary delights in every city is reason enough to travel domestically at every chance.

  1. Con – Lack of food familiarity & dubious food hygiene

Do you know what’s a drawback of living in China, though? Sweet, white, chewing-gum bread. Actually, make that sweet everything, including mayonnaise, pasta sauces and even pizzas. Because yes, you will find plenty of Western food in China, but, blimey, it rarely tastes as it should. Add a very ‘fluid’ attitude to food hygiene, and you’ve got yourself a bonafide foodie adventure.

Good luck!

  1. Pro – Excellent salaries

The financial advantage of living in China as an ESL teacher is unquestionable. English teachers are so in demand right now that schools and institutions are offering sensationally attractive packages, which can include a tax-free housing stipend, top-notch health insurance, visa-costs reimbursements, and a load of extra perks. China is unbeatable for intrepid teachers who want it all (to enjoy a great cultural experience whilst earning well and saving).

  1. Con – Challenging workload

Fantastic teaching salaries are definitely a pro of living in China yet you will need to work hard to earn big. Experienced expats say this is a country of opportunity and hard work in equal measure. Think long days, some weekends, and the incessant pressure to always perform at your best. Luckily, there are various teaching job types in China. Here, you can earn top yuan and work hard or earn less but have a more leisurely lifestyle. Either way, you’ll be on top, for the following crucial reason. Read our blog about teacher salaries in China

 
 
 
 
  1. Pro – Amazing job opportunities

Demand for foreign English teachers is at an all-time high in 2023. Not only can you find an excellent teaching position with loads of perks, but the opportunities multiply once you have your first teaching stint under your belt. There’s a lot of room to climb the professional teaching ladder in China, more so than perhaps anywhere else in the world. Given the prestige of landing impressive jobs in such a thriving country, a teaching stint in China will undoubtedly boost your resume for years to come. 

 

  1. Con – Tough Competition

Since China has dropped its harsh, COVID-related entry requirements, eager teachers are moving to the country in droves. Yes, there is abundant teaching work on offer, yet competition is tough. What you need to do is stand out from the crowd.

  1. Pro – High standard but the low cost of living

This winning combination, coupled with the high salaries, makes China an appealing teaching destination. Life here is inexpensive, even in megacities, especially when compared to most of Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. Plus, there are many options to keep your cost of living low, including eating locally and not renting a 5* serviced apartment in the absolute centre of a city’s CBD. Your life will still include plenty of comforts and indulgences.

  1. Con – Lack of familiar products/services

Some might say that one always gets what one pays for, but in the case of China, that’s not entirely true. Some expats lament the lack of home comforts, yet, in reality, (almost) everything you may want is here. The catch? You’ll pay top dollar for it if it’s imported and not made locally.

Advantages and disadvantages of teaching and living in China
  1. Pro-Independence & freedom

The surprising aspect of expat living in China is that, despite what you may have read, you’ll have a lot of freedom. Parents, in particular, find it liberating to be in a culture that doesn’t judge parenting styles. Foreigners might even enjoy not having family and friends around, expecting them to work, parent, and live a certain way. In fact, this is one of the most revered benefits of living in China or anywhere else outside of your home country. You can enjoy the personal independence that’s difficult to experience at home.

  1. Con – Bureaucracy

Sometimes, your personal and professional lives get buried under a heavy blanket of bureaucratic responsibilities. They certainly will in the first year as an expat living in China. If it’s not one form you need to fill in, it’ll be seven.

  1. Pro – Cultural diversity

Culture vultures lap up the bizarre strangeness of life in China. Everything about the country is nuts to outsiders (especially Western ones), and discovering every aspect of the local culture is fascinating, entertaining and addictive. You can live in China for years and still feel like you’ve barely scratched the cultural-learning surface.

  1. Con – Culture shock

Move to China to live and work, and you may find yourself shaking your head in astonishment quite a lot, especially at first. From spitting out chicken bones on the floor of a fancy restaurant to the morning throat-clearing practice, the toddler toilet-training in public, the smoking everywhere, and the yelling at the top of one’s voice to get a waiter’s attention in a restaurant. It certainly takes a while to get used to seeing certain things, but hey: their house, their rules! Add to that the language barrier, and it’s a whole new level of culture shock indeed.

Read this hilarious take on 10 things Chinese do that outsiders find crazy.

  1. Pro – Friendly locals

But gosh, the Chinese are some of the friendliest people you will meet. Not all and not everywhere (they’re still grumpy a**es in larger cities, as usual), but you’ll meet locals who will teach you all about hospitality, friendliness, and generosity. This is especially true if you travel to more rural regions and start discovering the country’s lesser-known areas and villages.

  1. Con – Loneliness & social isolation

Travelling to those idyllic rural areas is terrific, but living there can be very isolating. Even a new life started in a big city can be lonely. Until you start mingling with colleagues and neighbours and joining social groups, you will learn the reality of extreme isolation in a city of millions. It’s eerie, but there are plenty of ways to combat loneliness as an expat!

  1. Pro – Excellent travel opportunities

This particular advantage of living in China is so enticing that it’s among the top 3 reasons to move here to teach. Not only is the country centrally located for travels throughout Asia, but choosing the right region means you can even travel abroad over a long weekend. Super popular destinations are Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, as well as Japan and South Korea. Hong Kong and Taiwan are RIGHT there if you stick to the east, and Tibet and Nepal are just to the west.

  1. Con – Homesickness

Homesickness is a natural consequence of all the above pros and cons of living in China, mainly because you won’t be able to go home as often as you might imagine. Especially when you consider the significant travel cost increases in 2023. Multiple international trips in a year are only possible if you’re on a super-high salary. Those high salaries, however, will come with high commitments. You will work hard for top dollars in China, which won’t leave you with a lot of free time to head back home for a visit. This is where those comforting expat social networks become your lifeline, especially (but not solely) if you can meet fellow countrymen and women.

Pros and cons of teaching English in China
  1. Pro – Personal safety

China is inarguably one of the safest countries in the world. You can walk the streets at night on your own without fear and need only ever worry about petty thefts and the trending tea-house scams.  

  1. Con – internet restrictions

Yes, it’s a bummer, but nothing that a hardy VPN can’t fix. Look at the long list of banned websites in China and you’ll see that a VPN is essential for dodging the so-called Great Firewall of China!

  1. Pro – Exciting BIG city life & sensational wilderness

Move to teach English in China, and you can find your corner of heaven, be it in an exciting megacity or a quiet and quaint village. The choice of teaching destinations in China is insanely extensive, each option offering a wealth of unique experiences. The one thing you absolutely MUST do, however, is discover the obscenely underrated wilderness. Just take a look at Matador’s List of Best Hiking in China and you’ll see what we mean. If you’re an outdoorsy type, we suggest you may even want to choose a teaching destination based on its proximity to amazing national forests and parks.

  1. Con – Pollution

China’s trying hard to combat pollution, but it is still a significant problem in major cities. Not every day of the year but enough for locals to invest in an air purifier for their apartment. So, there’s always that…

  1. Pro – Extensive ex-pat social networks

China’s popularity as a rewarding teaching destination means the country is home to more than HALF A MILLION foreign teachers. That’s a lot of potential new friends, right? Well, you won’t get the chance to meet them all but you will have the opportunity to find plenty of social groups, no matter where you are. Tight-knit expat groups are a definite advantage of living in China, and your new-found group of friends will likely be multicultural and exciting. Fellow expats can help you navigate your way through Chinese life and will be a great source of comfort when that homesickness and culture shock get a little overwhelming.

  1. Con – Getting stuck in an ex-pat bubble

Don’t fall into the trap of only experiencing living in China through your expat goggles though! The expat ‘bubble’ is real and can be as detrimental as it is comforting. Just like the overall advantages and disadvantages of living in China, it’s about finding the perfect balance between the new and the familiar. Enjoy your expat friends but make sure you dedicate plenty of time to discovering the local culture and making local connections. This is an expat dance you’ll no doubt be practising for a while.

  1. Pro – Inexpensive domestic travel

Outside of peak-travel times (Chinese NY and school holidays), domestic travel is affordable in China. Sneaky weekends away and short flights to outer provinces won’t break the bank as they might do in Europe or North America. This is fab news for anyone who’s coming here specifically to discover China’s insane array of world-class attractions. All up, China boasts 50 outstanding UNESCO-listed cultural and heritage sites – visit one every two weeks, and that’s almost two years of domestic travel sorted!

  1. Con – Expensive and time-absorbing trips back home

International travel has taken a major hit in the last three years and it seems as if all the airlines are intent on making up their financial losses in a matter of months. Flight prices to Australia, Europe, the US and South Africa have skyrocketed in China, which means many teachers currently in the country are having to postpone their homecoming visits.

  1. Pro – Booming demand for English-speaking teachers

As mentioned earlier, China offers an enviable standard of living, yet there’s no denying that living costs are rising here too, especially in Tier 1 cities. Luckily, the rise in teaching salaries ought to make up for the shortfall in that regard. Given the biggest price hikes have been in rental properties, it’s now become even more pivotal to negotiate for a housing subsidy.

We hope our list of pros and cons of living in China has inspired you to form a well-balanced picture of what life is like for foreigners in this fascinating, challenging, frustrating and amazing teaching destination.

Want to enjoy it, embrace it and squeeze every experience out of it? Then read our Complete Guide to Teaching in China and contact us for more personalized advice.

 
 
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David O Connor

David O Connor

David is China by Teaching’s chief contributor. When not offering sage advice about teaching in China, David is a headmaster of a Bilingual kindergarten in Beijing. David is a lover of craft beers, book clubs and super long road trips.

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