Creating a teaching abroad budget for China makes more than kuai and cents: You’ll be able to plan well in advance for your needs abroad, allowing you to relax a little in those first few weeks (trust us, they’ll be a little nuts!) and settle in to your new life. Stressing about finances is never pretty, and with the right amount of planning, you’ll be financially secure for teaching in China faster than you can say “More dumplings please.”
You might be able to swing it with your current finances, or you might need to make some serious adjustments to your current spending habits to save up. Wherever you fall on the savings abacus, this guide will help you figure out how much to budget for teaching English in China!
Ask yourself these questions
1. Where am I headed?
Are you set on teaching English in one of China’s more expensive cities, like Beijing or Shanghai? Or will you be calling the countryside of rural China home?
Keep in mind that within China’s borders, the daily cost of living will vary considerably. You can likely stock up on noodles for super cheap in less populous areas, whereas major cities might mean extra kuai for the same product.
For example, central China, including major cities like Chengdu, is ~40% cheaper than nearby Shanghai. An apartment in Kunming (southwest China) will run you about 100 kuai less than an equivalent option in Beijing.
How do you find this information in advance? LMGTFY. Research typical expenses once you’re in-country, such as rent, transportation, cheap meals out. Keep a running tab of what you find out to more accurately project your monthly expenses.
2. Do I have savings?
Figuring out how much to save before teaching in China isn’t rocket science. Ideally, you’ve already been saving up in preparation for your move to China—and now you’re planning for how to cover your upfront costs (new backpack, TEFL certificate, visa application, flights) on top of your expected first-month expenses.
Once you’ve calculated your estimated expenses for a month of living in China, multiply that amount by at least 1.5—this will give you a practical nest egg for the beginning of your teaching gig abroad. If you want to play it ultra-safe, plan to have the equivalent of at least three months of your expenses already handy in your savings account.
3. What will my income be?
You’ll be earning around RMB¥5,000 monthly (US$760/€630/£560) from your teaching job. Keep in mind that your daily expenses will be quite low since you’ll be living with a host family and having your meals provided. This money can be saved up for adventures, weekend trips, splurging on extra churros, or a visit to the local museum.
If you want to make more money while teaching in China, you can supplement your teaching income by working as a private tutor. It’s very manageable to tack a few extra classes on each week, and you can earn up to even €40 per hour easily with this teaching arrangement.
4. Do I have expensive taste?
Do you anticipate spending the majority of your time in the expat areas of town, rolling deep with your crew and buying bottle service at the trendiest clubs in San Li Tun? Are you already drooling at the thought of shopping sprees along Nanjing Road? Will you need to dine on some western food regularly and take Uber from place to place?
If you have expensive taste, you’re going to need to save more in advance of your trip to China. While it can be cheap as chips, there are also activities, restaurants, and experiences that can ding your budget quick. That’s the beauty of China: from luxury to local, you can find numerous lifestyle choices to fit any budget.
Pro tip: If your goal is to adopt a “local lifestyle,” your budget will thank you. Keeping meals simple, taking public transit, and shopping for groceries at the local market, rather than the international chain, will all help you keep your costs down.
What to budget for
Before you go’s
Your teaching in China budget should include line items dedicated to costs you’ll incur prior to that cross-continental flight. This includes things like a new backpack, your travel insurance, your visa (it can be pricy in China), and more.
One of your largest up-front expenses for teaching abroad will be your flight! Unless you’re hopping to China from another country in Asia, you can expect to pay hundreds (if not €1000+) to even get to China.
Will you live walking-distance from your school or students, or will you need to hop on the bus or subway every day to get to your classroom?
Many cities in China come with a ready-made public transit system ready for you. Trains, buses, and peer-to-peer car rentals will be easy to come by. You might look into purchasing your Shanghai metro card up front to get a discount monthly. Or just take the bus—it rarely costs more than a single kuai!
If you opt-out of provided accommodations, you can expect to pay 6-10,000元 monthly for a normal apartment.
Food, glorious food
Step aside, buffet Crab Rangoons and takeout Kung Pao Chicken. REAL Chinese cuisine is unlike anything you’ve had before—in a good way.
Exploring the local culture via your tastebuds should be pretty high on your “teach in China bucket list.” You’ll find some of the classics (they do eat Kung Pao chicken) but you’ll also be introduced to some wild and weird options, too. Try the Peking Duck for a flavor explosion!
You’re not just going to Netflix and teach, right? RIGHT?
Do you simply *have* to see the sunrise over the Great Wall? Have a strong cocktail atop the Shanghai World Financial Center rooftop, while taking in views of the Pearl Tower and Jin Mao Tower? Learn for yourself if the carved faces of the Terracotta Warriors are really all unique from one another?
Make a list of popular things to do in China up front that are “must do’s” for you. You should absolutely plan for your adventures and if you have a clear sense of your non-negotiables, your activity budget will be all the more helpful.
Be sure to add extra to this budget, too. You’ll want to do spontaneous group trips to Hong Kong with your new teaching pals or splurge on that Hutong tour in Beijing. There’s lots of fun to be had that you didn’t plan for, and you’ll love knowing you can be a “Yes man” while teaching abroad.
You’ll want to make sure that your China teach abroad budget isn’t planned for down to the very last cent. Make sure that you also cushion your budget with additional funds to cover any unplanned expenses, too.
Teaching abroad budget example
Let’s say you’re planning to teach abroad in Shanghai, China for five and half months. Awesome! Here’s a quick example of what your teaching abroad budget may look like:
- Before you go’s: €1200 to cover new backpack, passport renewal, travel insurance, and program cost
- Round trip flights Madrid to Shanghai: €800
- In-country transit: €75 monthly; ~€400 for five months
- Food: ~€25 per week; ~€600 for five months
- Must-have activities: €1500 (~€300 monthly)
- Ideally, you’ll write out and make a rough budget for these attractions so your total budget for activities more accurately reflects your goals
- Unplanned for’s: €1000 (~€200 monthly)
These are your debits, but be sure to be mindful of your credits, too! You’ll have an income of €630 monthly, which sounds like a GREAT way to subsidize your fun, food, or unplanned for’s.
*These teach abroad budget figures were correct at the time of writing. Be sure to research current data for more accurate figures.
Your budget for teaching in China is set
Now that you’ve planned how much to save and budget for teaching English in China, a word of caution: The key to true budget success is to track your spending. We’d hate for you to run out of cash somewhere in the middle of it all! Keep a pulse on your accounts and don’t be afraid to say “No” to that treat every now and then if it means healthier finances in the long run.
Now that you’ve built your teach abroad budget and know its feasible from a finance-perspective, the time has come to apply!