Teaching English in Shanghai

Being China’s largest and most populated city makes Shanghai a no-brainer for potential EFL teachers: the greater the size and population of a city, the greater the choice of 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 not a little unnerving to newcomers, Shanghai is an assault on all the senses. If you’re after a superlative ‘big city’ experience in China, however, and really love being thrown in the deep end, it’ll be just right for you.

Shanghai boasts the largest expat community of any Chinese city, with foreigners from every corner of the world looking for that unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Unlike many other Chinese hubs, you need not go far to meet expats in Shanghai: you’ll no doubt be surprised at the city’s Western influence with an abundance of recognisable restaurant, shopping and café chains spread about the place. As such, you’ll have a wealth of social options in which to indulge – Shanghai has a totally wicked nightlife and a myriad of totally fun and interesting things to do: doing them in the company of newly-made friends will make your stay in this exhilarating city all the more rewarding.

Shanghai as a TEFL destination – What’s life like for an expat?

Here’s a quick overview of the basic issues that’ll soon become part of your everyday life.

Climate in Shanghai

If you’ve ever seen scenes of the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, you’ll have a pretty good visual of what Shanghai is like during the Summer school vacation, in July and August. Boasting a sub-tropical climate, the city enjoys a high level of humidity, with fervent heat in Summer (hence the mass expat exodus) and a distinct chill in Winter. Temps are not 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 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!

Cost of living 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. Most importantly, it helps to know that Shanghai offers some of the highest TEFL salaries in the country which, coupled with the city’s relative affordability, certainly 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 which means they split 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

Entertainment & outdoor activities 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 and, with them, you can join gyms, do sightseeing tours around Shanghai, visit art galleries, museums and check out yet another restaurant and shopping mall opening. You’ll no doubt overindulge in Xiaolongbao with your newfound friends (the soupy dumpling having its origins in Shanghai) and spend your first few weeks getting familiar with the former French Concession (Tianzifang) arguably the most popular hood for expats. There are lots of green areas and gorgeous parks in which to chillax and you’ll discover a city that’s ever-changing, with new and amazing attractions opening up almost weekly here.

Dealing with the language/cultural barrier

First off: do know that Shanghai rates highest among all Chinese cities for English language skills with just over 50% of the city’s population being at least moderately fluent. Those ESL teachers are really making a difference! Nevertheless, although almost all 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 whilst also allowing 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!


Quick Facts

  • Total Population:

    26 million

  • Expat Population:


  • Airports:

    2 – Pudong & Hongqiao


  • Average starting TEFL salary:

    USD 1,000 (public schools) USD 2,000 + (private & international schools)


Humid sub-tropical


  • Public Transport Cost:

    USD 0.60, one-way ticket


  • Eating Out (local food):


  • Eating Out (Western food):

    Under $10

  • Price of beer:

    $1.50 (local), $5 (imported)

Fun Fact

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

Monthly rent

  • Starting Monthly Rent, City Centre:

    USD 500 in a shared apartment

  • Average Monthly Utilities:

    USD 50

  • Monthly Gym Membership:

    USD 45

Shanghai photo
Shanghai photo
Shanghai photo