The primary reason most ESL teachers approach a career in China – or overseas in general – is travel, and the broadening of one’s horizons. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t other opportunities to improve one’s quality of life in other ways. Financially, a career in ESL can also be very rewarding.

While wages and rate of pay do vary from job to job and region to region, even a lower-paid teaching position leaves ample room to save money and lead a very comfortable life. My very first position, in an independent language school in Jinzhou, Liaoning Province, was not very well paid, but the cost of living was so low and I had such benefits that I still earned a tidy sum within a year’s contract. Enough for a month’s holiday in Thailand once my first contract was completed – unthinkable, on a comparable wage in the United Kingdom.

All Expenses Paid

Like many schools, I was provided with an apartment paid for by my school, and I was responsible only for the water, electricity and gas bills (all affordable). Even if this weren’t the case, rent in most areas of China is also very affordable, and there are extensive options available for all budgets. I currently pay around 4000rmb (roughly 450 pounds) per month for a large two-bedroom apartment in a nice district of Chengdu – over half the amount one would expect to pay for something comparable back home. Right now, I feel a world away (physically and mentally) from my first apartment back in Birmingham, England – a tiny, slug-infested (yes, slugs) one-bedroom studio where I nearly froze to death one fateful winter.

This leaves a lot of one’s paycheck for savings and consumables. My mind was blown when I bought my first can of beer for 3rmb – barely 30 pence in pound sterling. Likewise, one can eat for a king on 100rmb (about 10 pounds) a day. The cost of the average takeaway ranges from between 5 and 20rmb, depending on one’s location and taste. Of course, you could cook for yourself too, and fresh fruit and veg from the supermarket is also extremely affordable.

All this, paid for in a largely cashless society. Instead of cash and card, we use the phone apps WeChat and AliPay (connecting your bank card and passport to the app) to pay for purchases, to send and receive money. A quick scan of your QR code at the checkout, and you’re on your way. It’s a revolutionary system – easy even for us foreigners – and very quick to get the hang of.

Other travellers in Chengdu live similarly comfortable lives, and have little trouble finding their home comforts. From gym memberships to gaming (I myself am an avid PS4 fan), there’s something for everyone – and usually far more affordable than it would be back home. For those here to travel, that’s cheap too. Being on the other side of the world means that Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia are a lot closer than they otherwise might be, and airfares are much cheaper as a result. Or, at least, they would be if it weren’t for this pesky Coronavirus keeping us from leaving.

Saving Time

For myself, life in China represents an opportunity to build a savings account for the future and recoup debts from ten years working minimum wage in the UK. In addition to working full time at a Chengdu language school, China has also granted me the means of working extra with private students (1-1 lessons with diligent students in their spare time), and writing for ESL websites such as this one. In my time in China, I have also participated in voice recording jobs and have even been offered a position hosting a wine tasting evening! Putting aside the money, life in China is also good for bulking up one’s CV and trying out new things and potential career paths.

Sure, it could be made easier to transfer that money into my UK account (last time I tried, Bank of China would only transfer a measly 350rmb at a time), so I currently have to use PayPal, losing money in fees with every transfer. But for now, it gets the job done, and I feel comfortable and secure for first time in years.

All that, and the countless other opportunities for work and travel China has to offer. Money is certainly not the be-all and end-all, but it is another benefit of a career in ESL. Look ma, no slugs!

About the Author:

Joel Harley
Joel Harley is an ESL teacher and professional writer currently living and working in Chengdu, China. He enjoys good food, good drink and bad movies. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter, and find his movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.
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