Shanghai, China Review for ESL Teachers


Teaching English as a second language in Shanghai, China

Shanghai by some measures is the largest city by population in the world. In 2016 the population stood at a massive 26 million people. Shanghai is located in the Yangtze River Delta on the east coast of China.

Shanghai has 4 seasons although spring and autumn tend to be very short with a long summer from May to November and winter from mid-December to mid-April.

Shanghai has an amazing nightlife with a lot of expat bars and restaurants from every corner of the world. However on teacher’s salary these should be enjoyed sparingly. Beers from the local corner shop and food from a noodle bar will allow your money to go a lot further. Most restaurants except the very small local ones have menus in English, and even the smallest local ones tend to have pictures these days you can point at.

Shanghai’s metro and street names are in English and getting around is easy. Taxis are affordable on a teacher’s salary, but the extensive metro (currently 14 lines and still growing) is even cheaper at 3 to 6 RMB per journey. Failing that buses are 1 to 2 RMB.

If you want to travel further afield Shanghai has 2 airports and several railway stations, flights and fast train tickets are similar to prices you would pay in the west. Shanghai is extremely well connected with the rest of China, Asia and the world beyond. Thailand is often a favourite with teachers due to the low prices and friendly service.

ESL Companies in Shanghai
Learning English in China is a serious business with a few top players. The main companies in Shanghai are in order of size EF English First; providing both adult and kids schools. Wall Street English; catering for Adults and Disney English who specialize in Kids. The market is crowded and competition is fierce with many other overseas brands, but also many local companies, the biggest of which is New oriental (新东方) focusing mainly on exam preparation. IELTS training is also prevalent in Shanghai should you wish to earn a bit of extra money outside of your day job. Shanghai also has over 60 universities many of which use foreign English teachers. Lastly Shanghai has a huge expat community which means a multitude of international schools. What all of this means is that getting a job teaching English and having a career in ELT is not difficult. Although if you are not a passport holder from USA, Canada UK, Ireland, Australia or New Zealand it can be a little more challenging due to the visa requirements. I would recommend trying to get a job before you arrive although many manage ok figuring it out after you get here.

Living as an ESL Teacher in Shanghai
Although there are lots of options, salaries on not high. The average for an ESL teacher is normally between 12,000 RMB and 17,000 RMB at one of the foreign training companies like those listed above. Universities will pay significantly less, but may provide accommodation and the hours will normally be less than the private language school. If you eat and live like a local, don’t drink in the expat bars too often (but do dig out the happy hours and ladies nights) and share an apartment this is enough to live on and even save a little.

There are western supermarket brands such as Tesco and Carrefour selling mainly Chinese goods. There are also a couple of chains of supermarkets selling imported goods. There are even 3 online supermarkets in English who will deliver, but you do tend to pay a premium for imported goods.

Shanghai has several expat magazines and websites which are great for extending your social circle to activities outside that of your school. There are many groups that organise things like day trips, photography meet-ups, language exchange and even philosophy dinners, to name just a few.

I’ve been in Shanghai for 10 years, and I love it. It can be hectic, noisy and a bit smelly at times, but it is a true metropolis. Being such a big city means living as an ESL teacher is not too challenging, there are options everywhere, but you do have to keep an eye on your spending and it can be a little frustrating from time to time with so many expensive expat options on show, but living within your means in not too hard if you keep a little discipline about you.

TEFL Teacher Review Scores

  • ESL lifestyle affordability 85%
  • ESL Job availability 95%
  • ESL community 60%
  • Travel on an ESL budget 80%
  • Overall rating 80%

Select Teachers Member Bio

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Been involved with ESL teaching for over 10 years now. I have taught kids and adults in Shanghai, China. Worked for myself and for a couple of large private English schools. Now co-founder of Select Teachers. We hope you enjoy using the site! Please email us and tell us what you think.

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