teaching in china

Teaching in China Vs. Teaching in Canada: A Tale of Two Teachers.


David, Teaching in China

It’s Monday morning.  David wakes up around 7am, he jumps in the shower and quickly gets dressed.  Grabbing his bag he sets off for the metro. He skips breakfast because it is supplied at his school in the morning, daily.  The metro is about a 5 minute walk from his apartment, he sees many children and parents also leaving their high rise apartment buildings on their way to work and school alike.  He arrives at the metro station entrance, walking down underground and passing security he pays the $0.20 toll and waits a few minutes for his train. The train ride takes about 15 minutes.  The train is busy but not uncomfortably crowded, though it can get quite packed some days.. This is China after all.

After a quick walk from the metro to his school he arrives between 8 and 8:30am.  He relaxes for an hour, maybe doing some reading online or preparing a bit for his first class.  Each day, he teaches 2-4 classes per day that are 40 minutes long.  In total, he teaches 15 classes a week and this is the high end for most public school teachers in China.  Between his classes he does more reading. He has begun to study Chinese online so he spends a bit of his free time doing that as well. The odd day he may watch a movie online in the office during his office hours too.  His school is very relaxed how he spends his time and they never say anything to him as long as he attends his classes and the students are happy.

What’s it like to teach English in China?

Fridays he will spend a little time preparing next week’s lessons and writing his lesson plans.  He can easily find tons of material online to create his lessons so he spends minimal time on this.  Other than teaching and a little prep, he has full free days to do as he pleases.

It’s now 12 o’clock noon and David is hungry.  He walks down from his office to the school cafeteria and pays about $2 Canadian for a huge plate of food.  He remembers tirelessly packing a lunch everyday back in Canada, or paying $15 to go eat some fast food. After lunch he heads back up to the office to relax a bit.  Or he walks around his neighborhood visits some of the small shops. After he returns to school for the daily nap between 1-2pm. His school has provided him with a cot so sleep on and rest up for the afternoon where he may or may not have lessons.

Is it fun living and teaching in China?

After school, which ends around 5 or 5:30pm David is free to do as he pleases.  He returns home where some days he goes to the gym, other days he goes out to many of the bars and restaurants nearby to drink and eat with friends.  A few times a week he even has a private lesson – which are so abundant – where he makes $50-60 per hour teaching a child one on one or in a group of a few students.  It’s fun, the basically play games half the time. And it’s great money.

As david returns home after his private lesson, he looks in the mirror and realizes he’s losing weight.  Not only does he save money on not having a car, paying for gas or parking. He also is losing weight and getting in great shape because he walks or bikes everywhere.  

How much money can you save teaching English in China?

At home, David sits down to review his finances.  He’s paid 11,000 RMB, which isn’t very much compared to Canadian salaries.  He was making more back home. 11,000 RMB translates to about $2,100 CAD per month, or $25,000 a year.  He was making nearly $40,000 back home. But because there is so much opportunity for side work teaching in China he brings in another 7,000 RMB each month, or about $1,400 CAD a month.  To do this, he works an extra 6 hours a week between the evenings and weekends. So really he is making over $40,000 per year out in China.

Where he is blown away is how much money he has been saving.  He has nearly no expenses. His school pays for his apartment and food is so cheap.  He estimates he spends about 2000 RMB on food or $400 CAD. He’s bills are around 1500 RMB a month including taxes, insurance, cell phone and apartment utilities. Or $400 CAD.  And he enjoys going out to the downtown areas full of vibrant bars and or parks. He probably spends another 2000 RMB a month on entertainment, or $400 CAD.

Here are his expenses and salary broken down.

Salary11,000  / $2,200
Side work7,000  / $1,400
Food2000  / $400
Bills  / insurance  / taxes1500  / $300
Entertainment2000 /  $400
Total savings12,500 RMB / $2,500

David is astounded he is left with 12,500 RMB after the months end.  He has nearly $2,500 CAD to do whatever he pleases with at the months end.  Sometimes travels around China or to other nearby exotic countries on long weekends or over his 6 week winter holiday or 6 week summer holiday.  Occassionally, he takes advantage of cheap clothing prices in China, and saves some for a rainy day. He can’t believe how much disposable income he has and for the small amount of work he does.  He goes to sleep thinking about how wonderful his life teaching in China ESL is.

Jessica, teaching in Canada

Just as David is heading to sleep, across the world in Canada, Jessica is waking up.  It’s Monday morning in Canada and Jessica teaches at a public school in a large city. Jessica also wakes up around 7am and gets ready.  She leaves around 745 and it’s about a 10 minute walk to her closest bus stop. It’s only a 20 minute bus ride to school but the buses are frequently late and she can’t afford to miss her bus as the buses run only every 20 minutes. A bus pass costs $100 for the month.

She arrives around 830 to school and quickly does some last minute organization and prep to make sure she has all her things ready for class.  Jessica works a full day, usually between 4 and 5 lessons every day. Her classes vary between subjects, so she’s got to be prepared on a variety of subjects.  She usually has at least one 30 minute or hour block per day where she isn’t teaching. Whether she spends this preparing for her lessons, grading tests or just relaxing is up to her.  She figures she is actually teaching between 25-30 hours per week.

How much money do you spend on food eating out?

Lunch hour rolls around and Jessica remembers she was a little lazy last night, so she runs out to get lunch. She grabs a wrap and drink for around $15.  Jessica will usually buy lunch 2-3 times a week and pack a lunch the rest of the time. She only gets an hour for lunch so there’s not a whole lot of time to relax after getting her food.

It’s back to the grind of lessons until her afternoon classes finish around 3:30.  She sets to work to prep for her next day lessons. She came up with her semester plan over the summer holidays, but still needs to prepare for each class during the week.  Or she needs to grade tests and assignments. She usually spends and hour to an hour and a half prepping after her classes each day. She usually finishes around 4:30/5pm.

Since she spent some extra time at school after her lessons working, her evenings are her own after she gets home from the school.  Jessica still picks up a few serving shifts a week for extra cash. The evening rush is tiring after a day at school but it’s hard to say no to the tips from serving.  She usually works 2 nights a week and brings in about $150 each night on a 3 hours shift.

Should you get a side hustle or a second job?

Today after work, Jessica does not head to the restaurant to work, she decides to sit down at look at her budget.  She’s been working for over a year now and makes about $60,000 a year. She makes nearly $5,000 a month. Then is able to bring in an extra $1,200 per month through serving.  $6,200 gross income a month. She can’t believe she is finally making real money.

Where she is a little surprised, is how much of her income goes to bills, expenses and taxes.  She pays about $2,200 in taxes each month. She understands Canada is a beautiful and comfortable country, and a lot of the luxuries she is grateful for, she has to pay for.  But that’s still hard earned money pulled away from her each month. On top of taxes, other bills and expenses include the rent on her 1 bedroom apartment, which is about $800 + $100 for utilities and internet.  She also pays $100 month for her phone plan. She estimates she spends around $800 a month on food and entertainment.

Teaching salary$5000
Serving side income$1200
Bills (rent, cellphone, utilities, bus pas, internet)$1,100
Entertainment & food$800
Total savings$2,100

Despite paying lots in expenses and taxes, Jessica is still able to save a decent chunk of cash each month.  She works hard for her money though, she feels she earns every dollar she makes with the heavy course load and side work she does.  Saving this much after years of part time work while in university is an amazing feeling. And getting paid even over the 2 months a year of holidays she gets is awesome too.

Final comparison of teaching in Canada vs. teaching in China

Let’s take a 360 degrees look at both of Jessica & David’s work life and savings, and compare them.

Jessica(teaching in Canada)David (teaching in China)
Monthly income$6,200$3,600
Net monthly savings$2,100$2,500
Vacation time2.5 months2.5 months
Teaching hours per week25-30 hours15 hours
Side work hours per month24 hours24 hours
Prep time per week10 hours2 hours

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  • Currently located in China, teaching English and working towards Financial Freedom. I write about money, travel, personal development and more!

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