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The Pros and Cons of Teaching and Living in China in 2022

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 collate 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 – 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 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.

  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 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!

  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 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. Read our blog about teacher salaries in China in 2021/2022

  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 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. Read our blog about teacher salaries in China in 2021/2022

  1. Pro – Amazing job opportunities

Once you have your first teaching stint under your belt, the teaching world really is your oyster in China. There’s a lot of room to climb the professional teaching ladder here, 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. Currently, it’s quite tricky getting into China but luckily we’ve got positions waiting for you.

  1. Con – Harsh COVID restrictions

Scoring a great teaching gig and a working visa for China have traditionally been annoying challenges. The COVID pandemic, however, has made everything even more challenging. Between the visa restrictions, quarantine requirements and difficulty in finding flights, just reaching China has become a bit of a mammoth task, truth be told. The only positive of this ‘con’ is that it’s temporary. Pass this hurdle and get a foot in the country and all the pros will be there for the taking.

  1. 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.

  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 quite true. Some expats 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.

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

The irony of expat 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 foreigners 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.

  1. 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 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! 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.

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

  1. 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 expat!

  1. 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.

  1. Con – Homesickness

Homesickness is a natural consequence of all of the above pros and cons of living in China. Mostly, because you won’t be able to go home as often as you might imagine. The irony is that 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, and that might not leave you with a lot of free time to head back home for a visit. 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.

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

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

  1. 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!

  1. 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, 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 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…

  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 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 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

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.

  1. Pro – Inexpensive domestic travel

Outside of peak-travel times (Chinese NY and school holidays) domestic travel is super affordable in China. Sneaky weekends away and short flights to outer provinces won’t break the bank like 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 two years and it seems as if all the airlines are intent on making up their losses in a matter of months. Flight prices to Australia, Europe, the US and South Africa have increased in China, which means many teachers currently in the country are having to postpone their homecoming visits. This, of course, is added to the fact that quarantine restrictions are still in place: a two-week trip back home is essentially just a one-week visit, followed by a one-week quarantine. For many, it simply isn’t worth flying home right now.

  1. Pro – Booming demand for English-speaking teachers

The demand for qualified English-speaking teachers in China has been on the rise for decades. The COVID pandemic, however, has sent it into overdrive. Why? Because countless foreign workers packed up and returned home the moment worldwide lockdowns started. The fear of getting stuck in China for dog-knows how long caused an immediate wave of expat exodus. People panicked and left and many have simply never returned. The silver lining, of course, is that it’s become an ESL teacher’s market: positions can’t be filled fast enough and there are only so many foreign teachers in the country that can be poached. This means salaries are on the up and up, and teaching packages are getting rosier by the day.

  1. Con – Cost of living is on the rise

As mentioned earlier, China offers an enviable standard of living yet there’s no denying the cost of living is 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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