- As is the case for teaching job types, teaching destinations also vary SO much in China. Figuring out the ‘best’ is damn near impossible. What you can do, however, is determine which Chinese city may suit you best.
The fantastic benefit of China is that the choice of teaching destination is nearly endless. For every well-known mega-city, there are hundreds (make that thousand) of smaller and less prominent cities. How to choose the right one? Well, it may help you to first learn all about the ‘tiers’.
You’ve heard us refer to Chinese cities by ‘tiers’ and that’s because China classifies its cities in order of prominence and size. Before continuing, you may want to familiarize yourself with the China City Tier System. Here’s a quick overview:
What are Tier 1 & New Tier 1 Cities?
The top teaching destinations in China are the country’s largest and most populated cities, like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. The metropolises are home to more than 15 million people and, for teachers, they hold a lot of appeals. Here is where you’ll find the best schools in the whole country and the highest paid teaching positions.
The Pros and Cons of Tier 1 Cities
Living in Tier 1 and New Tier 1 city is not for the faint-hearted. These cities can be insanely overwhelming although the pace of life and the exhilarating vibe is also incredibly addictive.
- Pros – Loads of ex-pats, international cuisines, plenty of imported goods and immediate access to a world-class international airport. Also the best-paid teaching jobs in the country
- Cons – Crazy busy, dubious air quality, (relatively) expensive and an assault on the senses. Overall a high-stress working life for the top-paying jobs
Why is Beijing one of the most desired teaching destinations in all of China
What are Tier 2 Cities?
Tier 2 cities tend to be smaller in population and importance with a population of anything of 3-15 million people.
They can still be busy and exciting, only slightly less so than their larger counterparts. Tier 2 teaching destinations like Kunming and Xiamen offer a more laid-back lifestyle. They still had plenty of Western luxuries and an abundance of things to see and do.
A little quieter, a little cheaper and just as rewarding. These are perfect cities for those who want a ‘big China city’ experience, but a more manageable one. Because even if you’ve lived in Sydney, London or New York, nothing will prepare you for life in a mega Chinese city!
The Pros and Cons of Tier 2 Cities
- Pros – Excellent jobs with good pay, slightly cheaper than Tier 1 living costs. Fantastic attractions and infrastructure.
Usually, quite close to a Tier 1 city so you can visit often. You can still ‘blend in’ given the many ex-pats about town
- Cons – Can be as busy and congested as Tier 1 cities but with fewer international and luxury choices. You need to choose your Tier 2 city well or you could risk living in a similar Tier 1 city but be paid less
What are Tier 3 Cities?
Tier 3 cities are the Chinese equivalent of ‘regional hubs’ and are usually inherently historic places full of authentic charm. In cities like Qinhuangdao and Guilin, you’ll meet fewer English-speaking locals You may well be the only foreign teacher in your suburb. You’d probably have to travel far and wide to locate those all-elusive imported goods.
Ask a teacher who’s living and teaching in a Tier 3 city and they’ll tell you they’d never move to a larger city.
Tier 3 cities are ideal for those who are looking for a cultural experience, above and beyond great teaching and earning stint in a foreign country. These are the cities that’ll entice you to learn mandarin, make local friends and experience a more authentic side to Chinese culture.
- Pros – Amazing standard of living despite the low pay, immersive cultural experience, more authentic Chinese living. Less competition for jobs so finding work with little to no teaching experience is infinitely easier here. Most Tier 3 cities are hidden gems that have yet to be ruined by mass foreign tourism (and ex-pat bubbles)
- Cons – You’ll stand out like the proverbial in a Tier 3 city and being a ‘circus foreigner’ can get annoying after a while. You’ll also be hard-pressed to find anyone who speaks English well so you can potentially suffer from a greater culture shock if moving here
Where to live in China? North VS South
By population and landmass, China is an absolutely huge and varied country. Not only do you have to choose between big and small city but you’ll also want to research the north VS south conundrum. Which region would suit you best?
Southern China – the more economically advanced region
Generally speaking, the south is best if you’d like to live in a milder climate and have Southeast Asian beaches at your fingertips. Southern Chinese coastal cities boast sub-tropical weather and easy access across the South China Sea – to South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia, to name but a few. In the south of China, you’ll experience monsoonal rains and high humidity. You’ll also be choosing a much more ‘luscious’ diet of green vegetables and fruit, rice and super fresh seafood.
Northern China – the cultural headquarters of the country
Head north and you’ll be entering an arid region, characterised by mild summers and harsh winters. Meat, root vegetables and noodles are kings up here, as are amazing cultural experiences. This is the more traditional and historic region, home to towns and cities with histories dating back thousands of years. Ironically enough, many tend to group Shanghai (southern city) and Beijing (northern city) as similar but, in reality, the two offer quite distinct experiences for English teachers.
Northern and southern Chinese cities boast many distinctions, many of them so subtle that you’d have to live in both to really notice. From the friendliness and openness of the people to the cuisine, architecture, even shopping habits and general topics of conversation: the two regions really can be ‘polar’ opposites although intra-region migration is swiftly mitigating these differences.