Shanghai City Guide

Teaching English in Shanghai, China’s biggest city ia a no-brainer for many English teachers. The greater the size and population of a city, the greater the choice of amazing English teaching jobs!

Makes sense, right? Sure it does! Yet be that as it may, there’s no doubt that teaching English in Shanghai – much like teaching English in Beijing – is not everyone’s cup of green tea.

Fast-paced, cosmopolitan, exciting and more than a little unnerving to newcomers, Shanghai is an assault on all the senses.

If you’re after an unbeatable ‘big city’ teaching experience in China, however, and love being thrown in the deep end, it’ll be just right for you.


What are the benefits of teaching English in Shanghai?

Shanghai is the undisputed ‘centre’ of China. This isn’t just the country’s capital but also represents the core of China’s business, entrepreneurship, tourism, technology, education and entertainment. This one of the most modern, cosmopolitan and exhilarating cities in the world and being trapped in its unstoppable life-force is an unforgettable experience.

You may not see yourself living here forever, as a Western expat, yet if you’re looking for that English teaching experience of a lifetime then Shanghai will deliver. BIG time.

Here’s what else Shanghai offers to English teachers:

  • One of the largest English teaching job markets IN THE WORLD
  • The highest English teaching salaries in China for the most qualified and experienced candidates – and some of the highest offered anywhere in the world
  • Outstanding career prospects for motivated, ambitious and qualified English teachers
  • One of the largest and most varied expat communities on the planet
  • A nearly endless array of excellent attractions & activities
  • An enticing hybrid of old & new, East & West
  • The largest offerings of Western luxuries anywhere in China (helps with that homesickness bug!)
  • A surprisingly affordable cost of living
  • Insanely good standard of living
  • Unrivalled street food scene – seriously, this is reason enough to live here!
  • Fantastic nightlife
  • The world at your fingertips – this is the most connected city in China and the 5th best-connected hub in the world, after London, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore

Is Shanghai the right Teaching Destination for you?

Read on and find out!

What’s it like living in Shanghai?

If you’re searching for a bright-lights teaching experience in China that is both exciting and easy simultaneously, Shanghai will serve you will. The true city that never sleeps offers 24/7 food, transport and entertainment and does it all in mind-boggling safety.

When it comes to crime rates, Shanghai is one of the safest megacities you could ever live in. This is an ideal choice for young female professionals, in particular. We know from experience that this is one of China’s biggest enticements for young, freshly graduated teachers looking for their first sting of teaching outside of their home countries. The safety issue is undoubtedly a major plus.

The language barrier and cultural differences, which are detailed below, are not as pronounced here as they are in less prominent Chinese cities. This makes life easier for first-time expat English teachers. Speaking of which: even inexperienced teachers who manage to get a job in Shanghai will make enough money to live comfortably. The standard of living here is awesome.

Living in a city home to three times more people than New York is always going to be a shock to the system. Although astute Western foreigners will be taken aback by the lack of police presence, public disturbances and obesity. You’ll also notice just how well this many millions of people can cohabit a single city without getting in each other’s way. There’s a sense of social awareness and respect in Shanghai that many of our own countries sadly lack. This really does feel like a whole other world you’ve stepped into.


Making friends is easy in a city of 24 million but you know what’s even easier? Getting totally obscured by that number. You need to be proactive in contacting expat groups and joining social events when you first move to Shanghai – life is too fast, too busy and too chaotic here to sit back and hope to stumble onto new friends. You need to go out of your way to make them.

What kind of English teaching jobs are there in Shanghai?


Every English teaching job imaginable is on offer in Shanghai. From renowned international schools to excellent public schools, private kindergartens, training centres, online English teaching agencies and language academies. And then some.

Job competition in Shanghai is huge so don’t be discouraged if your initial job search is futile. It takes time, commitment and action to get the right teaching job. You can’t sit on a decision here: jobs disappear super-fast in the most desired teaching destination in China so decisiveness is key.

The best English teaching jobs in Shanghai will go to the most qualified and experienced teachers. Unless you cut the mustard, you may want to apply to mid-level jobs instead. At the very least, it’ll get your foot through the door and, at best, you’ll still make a very decent living in Shanghai.


What’s it like teaching English in Shanghai?

Your teaching life will be dictated by the type of English teaching job you secure. This being Shanghai, however, you can account on it being fast-paced and fairly demanding.

Yes, even public-school teaching jobs (renowned for being a little ‘cushier’) will require quite a bit of commitment. In Shanghai, they will rate as the best public schools in the country and if you think competitiveness starts and ends with private schools, you’ll soon be very surprised.

You will be able to teach English without speaking Mandarin in Shanghai, which we know is a huge plus for most foreign teachers. You will want to take local language classes, however, and some jobs will also include them in their initial contract.

Teaching English in a Shanghai school also ups your chances of having several Western colleagues, which is a fantastic bonus. That’s something you simply won’t have in Tier 3 city schools, where you may well be the only Westerner in a 20-mile radius.

For the sake of maintaining your sanity, do look for long-term accommodation within no-more than 20-minute walk or 10-minute tram/bus ride from your school. Peak hour traffic can be hideous here and commuting is about the least fun thing to do in Shanghai. Just a heads up!


How much can I earn teaching English in Shanghai?


Your teaching salary will also depend on the teaching job type and school you end up in. Generally speaking, however, you can expect to earn somewhere between USD 1,000 and USD 2000 + a month. The very best teachers, in the very best school, can take home up to USD 4,000 a month!

You’re probably wondering just how enjoyable life would be in Shanghai on just USD 1,000 a month? The answer is ‘very’ enjoyable indeed.

What’s the climate like in Shanghai?

Ever seen the Serengeti wildebeest migration on National Geographic? Well, that’s Shanghai during the Summer school vacation, in July and August.

Boasting a subtropical climate, Shanghai enjoys high humidity with fervent heat in Summer (hence the mass expat exodus) and a distinct bone-chill in Winter.

Temps aren’t even all that extreme, to be honest (the averages are 32°C (90°F) in July and 4°C (39°F) in January) yet the humidity enhances both to surprising levels. If it’s any consolation (to your long hair, primarily) you’ll find that Spring and Autumn are absolutely idyllic.


By law, air-conditioning units in public places in Shanghai are limited in the temperatures they’re allowed to be set to – usually still quite cold in winter and balmy in summer – so you’ll only really find respite in your own home or those of your friends. Should you stay in Shanghai over the summer, be ready to entertain lots at home!

What’s the cost of living like in Shanghai?

In two words, the cost of living in Shanghai is ‘fabulously affordable’ although the more accurate description would be ‘cheaper than Barcelona but more expensive than Santiago’ if that helps in any way.

Shanghai offers some of the highest TEFL salaries in China and this, coupled with the city’s relative affordability, makes for a pretty sweet life.

Given that teaching English in Shanghai is not only affordable but also profitable (if you’re a wise spender) you’ll find yourself with plenty of extra yuan to put in the piggy bank.

Generally speaking, we find most teachers will want to share an apartment in Shanghai. This way you get to share the rent and utilities and gain a new friend from day one. Everyday expenses like food, phone data and public transport are inexpensive (the first even ridiculously so if you mostly eat local food) although there are plenty of options if you want to live the high-life here.

Shanghai offers endless choices and that is, without a doubt, the best part of living here.


The fastest way to double your everyday expenses is to look for recognisable brands when out grocery shopping – imported goods are quite expensive in China. Having said that, there’s always an excellent local version (except for blue vein cheese, perhaps) so try out the local stuff and your travel ‘stash’ will grow exponentially

What is there to do in Shanghai?

Most of your initial entertainment will surely arise from expat groups you’ll come into contact with. These are the anchors from which you’ll set your sails into your new life. With your brand-new friends, you can join gyms and sightseeing tours around Shanghai, visit art galleries and museums, and check out yet another restaurant and shopping mall opening.

Here are some more super fun things to see, do and eat in Shanghai:

  • Delve into Shanghai’s colonial past at The Bund & shop till you drop on pedestrian-friendly Nanjing Road
  • Overindulge in Xiaolongbao (the soupy dumpling having its origins in Shanghai)
  • Meander through the former French Concession (Tianzifang)
  • Explore the many parks and green areas around your neighbourhood
  • Head up to the top of the Oriental Pearl Tower on a sunny day and soak up the stunning views
  • Check out the trendy art galleries in Moganshan 50, or M50 as it’s known to locals
  • Retreat to one of the city’s many temples to find peace and tranquillity
  • Spend a day in Chongming Island, enjoying the beautiful wetlands and indulging in a spot of birdwatching (if that’s your thang!)

And many more ideas right here

How do you deal with the language/culture barrier in Shanghai?

Shanghai rates highest among all Chinese cities for English language skills. Just over 50% of the city’s population is at least moderately fluent. Those ESL teachers really are making a difference! Plus, this is an incredibly multi-cultural city, something you may find surprising.

Although English is widely spoken it may take you a while to get the hang of the local pronunciation. This is especially true if you are mono-lingual yourself and/or have not had extensive experiences abroad. Street signs and billboards are thankfully written in English so this helps expats a great deal. Newcomers find life easier in Shanghai than anywhere else in China, except perhaps Beijing.

Even though most English teaching jobs in Shanghai will not require you to speak Mandarin or Cantonese, you will undoubtedly find at least a basic knowledge to be very useful, both personally and professionally. It really helps when you’re desperate to know where the nearest bathroom is!

Having a basic vocabulary will open up a whole new Chinese cultural world to you outside of the classroom. It will also allow you to better communicate with colleagues and students who may not be so fluent in English…yet.

Culturally, prepare to enter another world, one where personal space is non-existent and local cultural norms may cause you to scratch your head, even after being here awhile. That’s all part and parcel of living in China and, with time, we bet you’ll also think it’s one of the most enlightening experiences of all.


If your teaching contract doesn’t include local language classes (many do) then consider investing in one of your own accord – we promise it’ll pay you back tenfold! In-country courses are infinitely better than anything you’d find at home, by the way, so wait until you’re here: nothing little a stint of immersive learning to get that tongue rolling!

Travel options – The ultimate perk of teaching English in Shanghai

It’s fair to say that if you only wanted to teach English to Chinese people, you’d be searching for an online English teaching job instead.

But nope, you want to be in Shanghai and we bet we know why: the priceless cultural and travel experience is set to change your life!

What are the best day-trips from Shanghai?

You’ll never run out of things to see and do in Shanghai, that’s for sure, but you will desire a break after a while and, luckily, your day-trip options from the city are numerous.

  • Head to the West Lake in Hangzhou, a haven of tranquillity that rates as one of the most beautiful natural attractions in the whole country
  • Check out the picturesque Venice of the Orient, as Suzhou is affectionately known
  • Enjoy the sublime coolness of Mount Mogashan, where hiking trails will see you discover bamboo forests and endless rolling valleys covered in tea plantations.

All these special spots are within an hour (or 2.5 in the case of Mogashan) outside of the city centre, yet add another hour and your day-trip options will literally be near-endless.

What are popular weekends away from Shanghai?

Take advantage of the many holiday weekends in China and Shanghai’s unrivalled connections, and you’ll find all of Asia at your fingertips.

Japan is a very popular weekend travel option, the contrasting historical and culinary attributes tickling the fancy of culture vultures.

Thailand is inarguably the most popular beach-bumming choice and Laos takes the fancy of those who want culture and tropics yet with fewer fellow tourists in tow.

The way we see it, however, China itself has much to offer new recruits, every province offering a startling and unique experience. Why not take advantage and get to know your new home country?

The Yunnan Province with its delightful historic towns is an absolute must (Dali and Lijiang are unmissable) as well as the breathtaking Jade Mountains and astounding Tiger Leaping Gorge.

The Tibetan Plateau, with its glistening pagodas and eye-watering peaks, is a whole other world unto itself and one of the absolute must-sees when in China.

With the right qualifications and a reputable consulting agent who’s got your back (not forgetting an adventurous spirit), you’ll no doubt find teaching English in Shanghai to be a fantastic life experience.

Career opportunities abound for the intrepid English teacher so if you love having your mind blown away by a fantastic city that offers so much…

Welcome to Shanghai!


Quick Facts

  • Total Population:

    26 million

  • Expat Population:


  • Airports:

    2 – Pudong & Hongqiao


  • Average starting TEFL salary:

    USD 2,000 (public schools) USD 3,200 + (private & international schools)


Humid sub-tropical


  • Public Transport Cost:

    USD 0.66, one-way ticket


  • Eating Out (local food):


  • Eating Out (Western food):

    Under $15

  • Price of beer:

    $1.50 (local), $5-7 (imported)

Fun Fact

Shanghai has the longest Metro and largest bus systems in the world

Monthly rent

  • Starting Monthly Rent, City Centre:

    USD 800 in a shared apartment

  • Average Monthly Utilities:

    USD 50

  • Monthly Gym Membership:

    USD 50-70

Shanghai photo
Shanghai photo
Shanghai photo