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The Pros and Cons of Teaching and Living in China

The Pros and cons of working and living in China

Trying to determine the main pros and cons of living in China is an exercise every prospective ESL teacher ought to do. Mind you, not all advantages and disadvantages of life in China will hit a chord with everyone. The enjoyment of living and working in such a unique country will eventually come down to personal likes and dislikes.

Yet given there’s a yin for every yang, we thought we’d join the pluses and minuses of China-life 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 – High standard but low cost of living
  6. Con – Lack of familiar products/services
  7. Pro – Independence & freedom
  8. Con – Bureaucracy
  9. Pro – Cultural diversity
  10. Con – Culture shock
  11. Pro – Friendly locals
  12. Con – Loneliness & social isolation
  13. Pro – Excellent travel opportunities
  14. Con – Homesickness
  15. Pro – Personal safety
  16. Con – internet restrictions
  17. Pro – Exciting BIG city life & sensational wilderness
  18. Con – Pollution
  19. Pro – Extensive expat social networks
  20. Con – Getting stuck in an expat bubble

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 what a colossal gastronomic hub China really is. Plus, this is a food-obsessed culture which means 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 and exploring the culinary delights in every single city is reason enough to travel domestically at every chance you get.

2. 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 served up in China but, blimey, it somehow never really tastes as it should. Add to that a very ‘fluid’ attitude to food hygiene and you’ve got yourself a bonafide foodie adventure.

Good luck!

3. 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 include a tax-free housing stipend, top-notch health insurance, visa-costs reimbursements and a load of extra perks. For intrepid teachers who want it all (to enjoy a great cultural experience whilst earning well and saving), China is unbeatable.

 

4. 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 ex-pats say this is a country of opportunity and hard work, in equal measure. Think long days, some weekends and a lot of pressure from both the school and parents 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.

Advantages and disadvantages of teaching and living in China

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

It’s this winning combination, coupled with the high salaries, that make China such an appealing teaching destination. Life here is still inexpensive, even in megacities and especially when compared to most of Europe, North America and definitely Australia and New Zealand. Plus, there’s a ton of 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.

6. Con – Lack of familiar products/services

You get what you pay for, some might say, although we don’t entirely agree. Some ex-pats bemoan 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.

7. Pro-Independence & freedom

The irony of ex-pat living in China is that, despite what you may have read, you’ll have a lot of freedom living here. Parents, in particular, find it liberating to be in a culture that doesn’t judge parenting styles yet for every foreigner it can be as simple as not having family and friends around expecting you to work 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 kind of personal independence that’s difficult to experience at home.

8. Con – Bureaucracy

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

9. 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.

10. 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! Plus, 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.

11. 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 of spirit. This is especially true if you travel to more rural regions and start discovering the country’s lesser-known regions and villages.

12. Con – Loneliness & social isolation

Travelling to those idyllic rural areas is wonderful but living there can be very isolating. In fact, 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, thankfully, there are plenty of ways to combat loneliness as an ex-pat!

Pros and cons of teaching English in China

13. Pro – Excellent travel opportunities

The 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. Plus, Hong Kong and Taiwan are RIGHT there if you stick to the east, and Tibet and Nepal are just to the west. And we haven’t yet mentioned the more than 20 distinct Chinese provinces you can explore. Most of those savings mentioned above? Yes, you can spend them on travel!

14. Con – Homesickness

Homesickness is a natural consequence of all of the above pros and cons of living in China. Inexpensive international flights notwithstanding, it’s not like you can go home whenever you want. Your teaching commitments will likely not leave you with a lot of free time to head back for a visit, to raid mum’s fridge and feats on sourdough bread. This is where those comforting ex-pat social networks become your life-line, especially (but not solely) if you can meet fellow countrymen and women.

15. Pro – Personal safety

When it comes to personal safety, China’s as good as it gets for ex-pats. This is undoubtedly 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. Learn more about the safety issues in China and you’ll see we also tackle the current COVID-19 topic.

16. Con – internet restrictions

Yes, it’s a bummer, but nothing that a hardy VPN can’t fix. Take a look at the unfortunately 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!

17. Pro – Exciting BIG city life & sensational wilderness

Move to teach English in China and you can find your own corner of life-heaven: whether that be in an exciting megacity or a quieter 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, discovers 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.

18. Con – Pollution

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

19. 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 chance to find plenty of social groups, no matter where you are. Tight-knit ex-pat groups are a definite advantage of living in China, and you’ll find your new-found group of friends will likely be multi-cultural and exciting. Fellow extras 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.

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

Just don’t fall into the trap of only experiencing living in China through your ex-pat goggles. The ex-pat ‘bubble’ is a real thing and it 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 ex-pat friends but make sure you dedicate plenty of time to discovering the local culture and making local connections too. This is an ex-pat dance you’ll no-doubt be practising for a while.

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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