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June 9th, 2020 David O Connor

The Best Places to Teach English in China – City Guide

Teach in China_Best Places to Teach in China

China’s many cities are classified by how well they do, financially, the quality of their infrastructure, strategic location for trading and, primarily, by sheer size – given that total population is, on its own, a good indication of just how prominent a city is. Understanding the Chinese City Tier System is the first step in identifying the best places to teach English in China and, once you’ve got a handle on that, you can start researching specific destinations.

Below, you’ll find a comprehensive city guide to the best and most popular places for ESL teachers in China – divided by Tiers, as is most commonly done in the teaching world. We’ll give you a good overview and mention some pros and cons to help make your decision easier.

Tier 1 Cities - Best Places to Teach

Beijing – China’s capital is the second-most populated city in the country yet its undeniable political and cultural headquarters. This city has been evolving for more than 3,000 years and has all the bells and whistles to prove it: the most famous tourist attractions in the country (like the spellbinding Forbidden Palace) as well as the most cosmopolitan and multi-cultural society. For teachers, this translates to the best-paid teaching jobs in the most prominent world-class universities and schools. The sheer size of the city and insane amount of attractions means a year teaching in Beijing is like 2 months spent teaching anywhere else – simply not enough time to see and do it all. Learn more on our Guide to teaching in Beijing.

Shanghai – If you’re after a teaching experience that’ll blow your mind…welcome to Shanghai, China’s most populated city. This fast-paced hub is an assault on all the senses and can offer the most exciting and memorable teaching experience of all. For some teachers, this is the epitome teaching in China destination. Home to the single largest expat community of any city in China, a plethora of outstanding historical and cultural attractions and offering unrivalled opportunities for easy travels throughout Asia, as well as surprising affordability, Shanghai is unparalleled. If you can manage to hold off excessive spending (a harder task than you may envisage) you’d do quite well in Shanghai as an ESL teacher, especially if you’ve managed to nab a job with one of the city’s premier schools or universities. Read our Guide to teaching in Shanghai to get the low down on this very exciting destination.

Shenzhen – What started as a small fishing village has evolved into one of China’s most enticing Tier 1 options. The city’s southern coastal location and inexpensive shopping attract ESL teachers in droves. Teachers living in Shenzhen boast about the enviable lifestyle and there’s no denying that if socializing, shopping and travelling rate high on your must-have list then this city would suit you to perfection. The constant sea breeze keeps pollution low in Shenzhen, which certainly helps lure foreign teachers and allows them to really enjoy the great outdoors, something for which the city is renowned, being framed by impressive wilderness and boasting almost two dozen great beaches. Learn more about teaching and living here with our Guide to teaching in Shenzhen.

Guangzhou – One of the fastest-growing cities in China and undoubtedly one of the most productive, Guangzhou is a force to be reckoned with. In southern China, this is the place to be, the city strategically positioned on the South China Sea coast just a swim stroke away from Hong Kong and Macau. Surprisingly, Guangzhou is revered for its immense green spaces and its relaxed vibe, especially when compared to its above-mentioned Tier 1 co-members. Heavily influenced by its trading commerce and boasting a lovely European feel, a great stretch of coast, quite idyllic climate and incredible travel opportunities, this is perhaps the most enticing Tier 1 city of all. See our Guide to teaching in Guangzhou to learn more about this fascinating and enjoyable city.

Teach in China_Best places_Chengdu

Tier 1.5 (New Tier 1) Cities - Best Places to Teach

Chengdu – China’s panda capital is often regarded as the most enjoyable Tier 2 teaching city in the country. An aesthetically beautiful city with laid-back atmosphere, gorgeous parks, excellent cuisine, exceptionally friendly locals and oodles of attractions, Chengdu can be an absolute dream place to teach English. Modern and bustling enough to not feel like you’re in the back of beyond, Chengdu also offers plenty of glimpses of a more traditional Chinese life and you’ll find this to be an immensely interesting cultural place to call home. Read more about Teaching in Chengdu and you’ll understand why we love the place so much.

Xi’an – Home to the world-famous Terracotta Army and a phenomenal historical destination, Xi’an is a fascinating place to discover at length. This eclectic city showcases a mix of old and new that is intoxicating and offers an abundance of options for those who love to spend their weekends visiting world-class museums or exploring a more rural countryside. With a temperate climate, a great flow of tourists, a central location, one of China’s most diverse foodie scenes and fantastic nearby mountains, Xi’an suits the teacher who’s searching for more than just the neon-lights of the big city.

Dalian – Founded by Russians just over a century ago, occupied by Japan for over four decades and just a few strides away from Korea, Dalian is ideal for expats who love a multi-cultural, tight-knit community. In this sense, it is the antipode of Tier 1 cities. Nestled in north-eastern China on the Liaodong Peninsula, Dalian is home to friendly locals who are used to sharing their city with foreigners so if you’re apprehensive about choosing a Tier 3 city because you don’t want to stand out of the crowds, this lovely city will suit you well. With the gorgeous array of seaside leisure spots, gardens, parks and fountains, Dalian stands apart thanks to the “Green Storm” environmental campaign spearheaded by the city’s former mayor.

Qingdao – Home of the famous Tsingtao Beer and a city that boasts a glorious seaside location right across from South Korea, Qingdao offers a multi-cultural vibe, much like Dalian. A scenic city with amazing and varied architecture, great beaches, a surprisingly European flair (due to German occupation) and outstanding seafood-based cuisine, Qingdao can make for a very rewarding teaching experience. The cost of living here is enviable and you’ll find a wealth of international and prominent teaching establishments that offer competitive salaries. Qingdao was voted one of China’s most livable cities and many foreign teachers certainly agree.

Hangzhou – A surprisingly clean city and one that boasts perhaps the best public transport system in China, Hangzhou has made tremendous strides forward in recent years. This stunning riverside hub sits at the mouth of the bay that frames Shanghai (just 200km northeast) but showcasing a drastically different vibe. Revered for being home to ancient silk-making and tea-farming traditions, as well as housing the headquarters of Alibaba, Hangzhou is very much a hybrid of old and new. With its UNESCO-listed West Lake, penchant for impossibly beautiful parks and obsession for bicycle riding, Hangzhou can be an ideal New Tier 1 teaching destination.

Chongqing – Although all Chinese cities seem to be evolving at breakneck speed, some are doing it faster than others – Chongqing is one such hub. Yet it’s also one of the most underrated teaching cities of all, probably because it’s so close to both Chengdu and Xi’an that it’s easily overlooked, especially as it boasts neither pandas nor outstanding tourist attractions. In many ways, however, this can work in your favour – superbly located close to the Yangtze River, Chongqing offers exceptional travel options to almost anywhere of any relevance in China: from Yunnan’s mountainous minorities to the western Tibetan Plateau, those adorable pandas and a wealth of varying cuisines – there’s an array of highlights no matter which direction you look.

Suzhou – Just 100km west from Shanghai, nestled on the banks of Lake Tai, Suzhou is that ’Chinese Venice’ you never knew you had to live in. Characterised by its many canals, delightful architecture and glorious gardens, this multi-cultural hub is an absolute hit with teachers, even though it seems to have risen in ranks rather quietly. Not many have even heard of Suzhou although it is now, obviously, one of the top 10 richest cities in all of China, although this prominence isn’t yet reflected in the living costs. Living here still costs far less than in Shanghai and, to be honest, the only thing you’d be giving up is a bustling nightlife, which may suit you just fine. An abundance of luscious parks, a quieter and slower pace of life, still abundant Western amenities, a historic core, oodles of charm…and all that at a fraction of Shanghai’s prices? Sign us up!

Ningbo – Another new addition to the Tier 1 family is lovely Ningbo, another coastal hub (this time south of Shanghai) that offers a superb value-for-money lifestyle. With fantastic food, awesome public transport, a chilled-out vibe and much more compact community that embraces foreigners, Ningbo has been one of our most popular teaching destinations for years now. Glorious temples and pagodas can fill your touristy days, the city boasting a fascinating history that goes back more than 7,000 years, Yes, you read that right! Although modernity is slowly (but surely) changing the way Ningbo looks, traditional architecture, crafts and arts are still hugely prominent. Get here whilst that lasts!

Suzhou – Just 100km west from Shanghai, nestled on the banks of Lake Tai, Suzhou is that ’Chinese Venice’ you never knew you had to live in. Characterised by its many canals, delightful architecture and glorious gardens, this multi-cultural hub is an absolute hit with teachers, even though it seems to have risen in ranks rather quietly. Not many have even heard of Suzhou although it is now, obviously, one of the top 10 richest cities in all of China, although this prominence isn’t yet reflected in the living costs. Living here still costs far less than in Shanghai and, to be honest, the only thing you’d be giving up is a bustling nightlife, which may suit you just fine. An abundance of luscious parks, a quieter and slower pace of life, still abundant Western amenities, a historic core, oodles of charm…and all that at a fraction of Shanghai’s prices? Sign us up! Ningbo – Another new addition to the Tier 1 family is lovely Ningbo, another coastal hub (this time south of Shanghai) that offers a superb value-for-money lifestyle. With fantastic food, awesome public transport, a chilled-out vibe and much more compact community that embraces foreigners, Ningbo has been one of our most popular teaching destinations for years now. Glorious temples and pagodas can fill your touristy days, the city boasting a fascinating history that goes back more than 7,000 years, Yes, you read that right! Although modernity is slowly (but surely) changing the way Ningbo looks, traditional architecture, crafts and arts are still hugely prominent. Get here whilst that lasts!

Tier 2 Cities - Best Places to Teach

Xiamen – Located on the south-eastern coast, right across from Taiwan, Xiamen is another hidden treasure you should be considering. The subtropical weather means life here is comfortable and easy with mild and short winters. This means a wicked outdoor lifestyle for those who choose to teach here, with weekends spent bicycle riding, walking or jogging on paths along the attractive seaside. As an ancient trading port, Xiamen is used to foreigners and likes having them around. Plenty of history, culture and nature to suit those looking for a little of everything – under the hot south China sun.

Kunming – The city of Kunming is framed around one of the most beautiful (and expansive) lakes you’ll ever see, creating a feeling of relaxed vibe that belies its prolific economy. This is a vibrant, young and bustling city that lives a million miles an hour yet it never really feels like one. With a healthy expat community that tends to congregate in a few choice spots, a fabulous climate, clean air, a nearly-endless list of outdoor sport options and great affordability, this Spring City delight is a no-brainer.

Tier 3 Cities - Best Places to Teach

Guilin – If the Tier 3 city descriptions caught your attention, then consider Guilin the dreamiest teaching destination of all. A jaw-dropping city, this medieval-era gem has grown around two sparkling lakes that used to be the castle moat and is framed by dramatic karst peaks – for nature lovers intent on living the good, wholesome, traditional, clean, safe and relaxing teaching life in China, this Tier 3 city is unsurpassed. Strategically located in the Guanxi Province in south-eastern China, Guilin is just a skip away from Vietnam and makes a great base if you’re keen on Southeast Asian travels.

Quinghaodao – Not every coastal city in China is a huge trading port. Sometimes, they’re charming Quinghaodao. Renowned as the spot where the Great Wall meets the sea and loved for its year-round balmy weather, this lovely Tier 3 city is a historical powerhouse and boasts a stunning fortified town centre that literally crashes into the sea. A popular summer resort destination in the northeast coast – just east of Beijing – Quinghaodao is one of the buzziest Tier 3 cities in this region so if you fear you may lonely during your teaching stint, this may just be the place for you. Suits seafood addicts to a T.

Mianyang – With an impressive population of more than 5 million people, the second-largest Sichuan Province city is no wallflower. Even Forbes called this one of China’s best hidden secrets a few years ago and the only thing that’s changed is its prominence. Mianyang is now one of the country’s worst-kept secrets. Nestled in China’s spiciest province and framed by luscious forests and mountains, Mianyang is considered the Silicon Valley of western China and has spearheaded a new economic zone – this kind of exciting ‘new’ beginnings is what makes many Tier 3 cities exciting to live in. Young and dynamic locals, traditional Qiang folks still hanging on to their lifestyles, simply outstanding food, exceptional transport connections and a history that spans more than 2,000 years are just some of the best enticements for foreign teachers.

Finding the best place to teach English in China may seem an impossible task, given the myriad of options. But that’s why we’re here.

If you’d like more personalized advice about teaching destinations in China, or the kind of teaching jobs available, feel free to contact us, anyt

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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