My salary affords me a good standard of living here in China, but I could easily earn a lot more. And so could YOU!
So here's my list of 11 real ways of boosting your salary while working as an ESL teacher in China.
Be More Qualified
The first one is easy - up to a point. You simply need to be more qualified.
So what qualifications will get you a better salary?
This usually just comes down to postgraduate qualifications. My school pays their teachers an extra 500 RMB a month ($78) if they have a Masters degree, and 1000 RMB a month ($156) if they have a Ph.D. So that postgraduate qualification can be a bonus if you have one. The subject you studied doesn't matter either.
If you have a PGCE, QTS or other "real" teaching qualification then it won't necessarily allow you to earn more money teaching English in China. But it will potentially allow you to teach other subjects - more on that later.
Teach Kindergarten Kids
So my second tip is that if you want to earn more, then teach younger kids.
I regularly see salaries on offer of up to 20,000 RMB a month ($3122) for teaching English in my city in Eastern China.
You usually have to teach much younger kids.
If you're good with kids and have a lot of energy, then this is how to earn big money here in China. Of course the upside + downside to this is that you'll be working with lots of very young kids.
If this topic interests you then after the CELTA you can do the add on course aimed specifically at giving you advice on teaching young learners. http://www.ihlondon.com/courses/ih-focus-on-teaching-young-learners/ This course is highly recommended as the CELTA is specifically aimed at teaching adults. When I did my CELTA at International House we only practiced teaching adults, although we did have one input session on planning lessons for young learners. I found the lesson quite entertaining, although for one of my peers it was all too much and she stormed out of the session!
Teach Other Subjects
How else can you earn more money teaching in China?
This one is simple - teach other subjects!
I see quite a few adverts for teachers of specific subjects - especially Maths, Chemistry and Physics.
If you're a graduate in a specific subject then you might want to look into teaching these subjects. As a Ph.D. in Biochemistry I'd love to teach biology and chemistry for example.
You'll be a really attractive job applicant if you're already a qualified teacher who has real experience of teaching these subjects in your home country.
The downsides? Well most teachers in these subjects are required for coaching students to pass exams like A Levels. So it can be demanding. Also the jobs will most likely be in international schools with long hours and high standards to attain.
The other downside is that there are far less of these jobs going round compared to standard EFL English teacher jobs.
After graduating I worked as a software developer for 20 years. I did look into teaching IT instead of English. However, IT teaching jobs are pretty rare here. I did a search on the eChinaCities jobs board and only found one position available.
In the whole of China.
One of my fellow teachers in my current school teaches IT, but there's not much of an advantage of doing so to be honest. He has to spend a lot more time planning customised lessons. Whereas as an English teacher I can simply download one of the millions of ESL lesson plans available online.
Furthermore I don't believe he earns any more teaching IT than I do for TEFL work.
Finally teaching other subjects is hard work. The students here are all new to IT and programming, but they have been learning English for at least 5 years. I'd rather teach intermediate level students in any subject, rather than teach newbie absolute beginners.
Increasing Your Teaching Hours
If you're intending to teach in China then read your prospective contract carefully to see that:
- You're happy with your teaching hours.
- You get paid extra for doing more hours.
I work at a university and in general university teachers teach from between 14 and 20 hours a week.
If you've never taught before then try not go to beyond 20 hours a week in your first semester.
In my contract I get additional payments beyond this (I'm doing 22 hours next semester).
Teaching extra hours can of course be hard work. But the secret here is to try and teach additional classes that require no extra preparation. Then it's easy money. For example, although I'm doing 22 hours next semester, I'm teaching a lot of streamed classes. Effectively I only need to prep 4 lessons a week.
When you're a new teacher, lesson preparation is the most time consuming part of your week.
Oh, and make sure the extra hours pay decent money. I've seen contracts where the extra hours are paid at miserable rates like 100 RMB an hour. You can make 300 RMB an hour by doing private tuition (more on this later).
I don't know a lot about these but International Schools are said to pay decent salaries.
Again you can also make good money by teaching subjects other than English. Increasing numbers of Chinese students are choosing to study for non-Chinese qualifications, like English A-Levels.
The key to working in schools is to make sure you're not expected to be in the school itself for the entire working day. Pore over your prospective contract and seriously think twice about joining a school that effectively imprisons you like a corporate drone.
Corporate jobs can pay VERY well. I've seen them advertised at up to 25,000 RMB a month. That's actually pretty similar to my IT job's salary for a Senior role in the City of London! It would be an absolute fortune in China.
Long working hours and far less holidays than if you were to teach in a school.
For example I saw that the Midea corporation were advertising for an English instructor in Guangzhou. Midea is a household name (at least in China). If your free apartment comes with a kitchen then you'll no doubt have some Midea kitchen appliances in it!
This gig required the successful applicant to teach Business English classes to their staff. It could be in small groups, or 1-1 tuition.
I'd love to do something like this. However, the working hours were 08:30 - 18:00.
You'd not necessarily be teaching all these hours. But you would be expected to be onsite.
The other problem with gigs like these is that you're either going to be living in a dull factory district or have a real hassle commute to work every day.
Finally Chinese managers can be really annoying. I try to have as little contact with my current school's admin department as possible. They're freaking useless. They change things at short notice. They tell me the wrong days for things. And they won't ever do anything for me. Move classrooms? Nope. Buy more blackboards? Nope.
Would I want 50+ hours a week of this? No way!!!
If you have a low teaching schedule and need the money then it's possible to find private tuition gigs in China. These can pay pretty well. When I started at my job, my agent who found me the job told me about a private gig in the same city. The pay was 300 RMB + travel expenses for an hour's work.
The traffic is so freaking bad here I realised that one hour's work on a Friday night would literally wreck my entire week and burn me out for the weekend.
Ultimately I turned it down as I don't really need the money - there's very little worth buying here!
If you have student loans to pay off then by all means look into private tuition. But if it's not near your school then it's rarely worthwhile to be honest.
A final tip - be VERY careful about offering private tuition to your own students. It will alienate others, and could also get you in trouble with your school.
Extra Work in School
Sometimes schools have extra things going on and you may or may not get paid for them. For example last semester I judged an English speaking competition, a drama competition and attended a Thanksgiving event (a bit weird if you're a Brit like me). There were also a couple of departmental meetings.
Try and get paid for this!
I was really thankful for my more forceful colleague for insisting that we got paid for all of this. We (or he) succeeded and I ended up getting an extra $420 in my pay packet for the last semester as a result!
It must be said though that employers in China (or anywhere?) hate paying you extra so you'll have to be persistent.
One other tip - use these events to raise your profile (see the next section).
Get a Better Performance Bonus
This one will probably only apply if you're intending to stay at your current school for more than one year.
My current school's salary structure includes a performance related element. This is largely decided from feedback from your students.
It can be quite significant. For example there's a 2000 RMB a month difference between the poorest and highest performance rating!
So you gotta get your performance rating up!
How do you do this?
By being entertaining in class, and being everywhere for your students.
I'm a bit suspicious of performance bonuses that aren't really tied to academic achievements of your students. Because I've found that students like entertaining classes with lots of games. While these are fun and get you big scores in student satisfaction surveys, pause for a minute... Are your students actually learning anything?
Actually I'm not sure students should be rating you at all. After all, how do they know what makes a really great teacher?
Peer observation would be better. This is how teachers are rated back home in my native UK. I've NEVER been peer observed by my school here in China.
If you want to get good performance ratings then the other thing is to be friendly for your students. A quick tip is to set up a WeChat group for each class you teach. Regularly post things on your WeChat Moments so students will get to know you. Market yourself as a brand. Be sure to NEVER post anything even vaguely negative about China! Stick to travel selfies, even if it's just downtown. Also cute things, food and drink and the occasional photo from back home (throwback Thursday?) will get you a huge number of social media "likes".
Export Stuff Home
Of course China is the world's factory and there is a tonne of stuff made here that needs to be exported to other countries.
Why not get a piece of the action?
You could potentially make vast amounts of money. But it requires significant time and often investments as well.
I'll also point out that you've got 1.4 billion Chinese people who want to do the same. Competition will be INTENSE.
It can work well if you know a particular niche. For example maybe you know about fishing and can spot some great fishing gear to export back to your own country.
Importing and exporting is very involved. If you're seriously interested in it then make sure you find a teaching job in a trade hub like Guangzhou/Shenzhen. I lived in Guangzhou for a while and there are many wholesale markets you can visit. I even visited a leather goods showroom that had 3 (or maybe 30?) floors of handbags. I nearly went mad in there.
If you work at a Chinese university like I do then you'll have a lot of spare time. Effectively I only work 8 months of the year!
So there's plenty of time for doing other things.
You might like to try blogging. There are few Westerners in the part of China I'm in, so there's a lot to blog about + not much competition from other bloggers.
Blogging can be fun but it doesn't pay nearly as much as it did in the golden years from 2008 - 2013. Then I was easily making $1000 a month from blogging. On top of my salary.
Travel blogs are fun to write but interest in China tourism is falling away. After all I had to pay £195 for my China Visa - that same amount will get you 14 night's accommodation in Bangkok, Thailand. Can I also add that Thailand has better food, weather, entertainment and of course less pollution?
Being a TEFL teacher is generally a low status job in Western countries and the pay is generally lousy.
TEFL teachers are in huge demand during July and August. And if you work in China then you'll probably only have a September - June contract. This leaves you free to go home and find short term TEFL gigs in your home country.
Many of these jobs are in Summer schools. For example in my native UK a lot of Italian, Spanish and French kids come to the UK to study English. There are also more Chinese exchange students doing the same - you might be able to teach these (and you'll get a huge boost in your application if you've picked up some Mandarin while teaching in China).
Because there are so few foreigners in China then there's often a huge demand for foreigners to do all sorts of one off jobs. I'm not talking about teaching. These side gigs can be as models, musicians, trade show stand talking heads and things that are just generally classified as rent a foreigner "white monkey jobs".
Actually you don't necessarily need to be white to do them, you just need to be a foreigner.
How to find them?
I've had very little success finding these jobs on eChinaCities. I think it's because I'm in a smaller Tier 2 city and there just aren't enough of these types of jobs posted there.
It's much easier to find these types of jobs on sites set up for specific cities. For example check out GzStuff if you're going to be living in Guangzhou. Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen will all have similar sites.
Word of mouth is also a good way.
One tip with these - make sure you have a legit work permit, especially if you're intending to go to larger events like the Canton Trade Fair in Guangzhou. I know that the Chinese police attend these events as they're great places to find foreigners with expired visas or no work permits.
Of course there are also plenty of online jobs you can do these days. I used to do a bit of freelance website development while I lived in Thailand a few years ago. It gave me a bit of an extra income but it was a hassle. The clients were demanding, and often I had to work on existing sites that were a real mess. So only do this kind of job if you have a particular skill and can put up with diva clients.
Save and Invest
This is something I have been doing for a while now. I regularly save more than 50% of my monthly salary.
I send my money home to my bank account. From that I buy investments.
Actually sending money home from China is a real pain, but that's a topic for a separate rant post!
What do I invest in?
Stuff which pays me an income.
I've bought an apartment which I rent out.
I buy stocks and bonds. These generally pay me an annual income of between 5 and 8%. That interest compounds up as I never spend it. If you're young then this money will really grow over 20+ years.
I've also dabbled in P2P investments which can pay up to 12%. But to be honest that was a bit of a bubble and its best days are over.
I stay away from bitcoins, seed investments in new companies and anything else fancy. I tried buying existing websites, but that didn't work either.
So I've been quietly stashing money away. The result? I now make more money each month from my investments than I do from my network of niche websites and blogs.
Check out Ben's ESL blog and YouTube channel for more tips on how to do this.
Finally I should also add that I got a decent bank account balance by:
- Working hard
- Spending less
The second one is VERY important. I have friends who earn way more than me but they're always broke.
Because they have no discipline over their expenditure and they're way out of control!!!
I am relatively frugal in China. In fact thanks to my other income from investments I effectively save 100% of my teaching salary every month!
I don't skimp on food. Especially in China. I tend to buy 60% of my food from the expensive foreign imports supermarket. But food safety is a real issue in China, and it is a false economy to eat cheap food here.
Having said that you could save a vast amount of money by cutting your food bill here. My school has a canteen and it's only 2 RMB for a meal. Practically free! Compare that with a burger + fries + soft drink at Carl's Jr downtown which is 45 RMB.
Do the math on that - you'd save amazing amounts of money each semester.
If you're intending to teach overseas for several years then another way of saving money is by buying stuff where it's cheapest.
For example I buy my medication and vitamin pills at home in the UK as they're cheaper. I also buy most of my clothes at home because weirdly they're also cheaper (and they're guaranteed to fit).
Stationery and teaching supplies are really cheap in China though. IT stuff is also cheap in China. I got an ethernet cable for 5 RMB, and a new keyboard and mouse for 130 RMB.
Finally I seek out free entertainment where possible. The students often have events going on and they don't seem to mind be turning up to watch. Their fashion show was the highlight for me - a brilliant night's entertainment plus the winning student was in my class!
So this was my mega post about boosting your income while working as an ESL teacher while living in China or elsewhere. I hope you liked the post and it reassures you if you need to work and pay off a big student loan.
If you have any more tips about making even more money while teaching, then please post them in the comments section below.