If your English is good enough to follow discussions on this site you can get a job teaching English in Shanghai. If you can participate meaningfully you are frankly overqualified. I am currently saving about 2,000 dollars a month working approximately 9-5 every day.

The minimum legal requirements to teach are that you be over 23 years of age, have a (relevant) degree and two years of relevant work experience as well as a TEFL qualification that took 120 hours to complete. In theory you should also be from a country where English is a native language to teach but this requirement is often honoured in the breach. In practice you must be over 23 and know someone who can fake up a degree certificate in Photoshop, and be willing to write yourself a fitting resume and sign a form stating that all the documents you are submitting are true. Some companies will do all of the faking and lying for you, some will at least want you to give them the appropriate fake documents so there’s some farcical plausible deniability.

If you are not on a work visa doing work of any kind for pay is illegal. This rule is ignored all the time, including by large Western multinational companies with legal departments because the rules change depending on who’s interpreting them and which website you’re looking at. But people get Business visas to come over here and do internships regularly and if you are from a First World country the worst that will happen to you for getting caught working on a tourist or student visa is a large fine (5500 yuan). If you overstay your visa by more than about three days you will be deported. This is one of the few things the government care about when it comes to foreigners. Drugs, gambling, prostitution, as long as there are no nationals involved it needs to get quite big for them to care. But you can get unlucky. It's rare but it happens.

Demand for English teachers in Shanghai is insatiable. If you are being paid by the hour the minimum acceptable rate for someone with no experience, who can’t spell, and can’t teach is 150 RMB per hour. Never accept less than this for any job. The local public primary schools are legally barred from hiring foreigners so they go through companies who hire them instead. You will not really be teaching at most of these companies, more providing a prop; you, the foreign teacher. There isn’t that much you can teach in 35 minutes a week when half of it should be games or the children will dislike you, meaning the parents will dislike you, meaning the school will complain about you to the company. But you can make English fun, and given sufficient planning and practice you can teach something even in such small classes. If you just want a job for a visa there are companies who will provide one for teaching one day a week. You can make 7,000 RMB a month easily doing this four days a week. I used to make 10,000 when I was doing a similar schedule. This is in a city where you can eat well for 50 RMB a day, very well, have a maid come to your apartment three times a week for less than 200 and you can get a nice apartment for 3,000 a month. Ten RMB is worth approximately 1 pound sterling, so at a guess 1.6 dollars. My single greatest living expense is going out. There are "dive bars" with relatively low prices but most places that cater to foreigners make you pay for it. One company that is of average incompetence (very) and unusual honesty (except during negotiations about hours, pay per hour and where they have available schools) is Corneil. They will often screw up the recording of your hours but rarely by a significant amount and will give it to you if it's pointed out to them. It's not malice, they're just incompetent. So is everyone else.

To illustrate how low the standards are here I have met someone who was teaching at a high school who was moved to another at the school’s request because he was swearing in class, smoking in school and sharing with the students. They also suspected he was sleeping with one of his students. After they moved him the school requested him back because he was very popular. He also can’t spell. He has been teaching for seven years.

Getting work at the weekend is very, very easy. Again, never accept less than 150 an hour. Some people think that's low.There are many, many companies serving this market and all of them are perfectly willing to pay people who do not and can not legally work for them. In theory most of them have standards and demand lesson planning, something resembling professionalism and turning up to work on time. In practice if you arrive on time all the time and ask the co-teacher what pages to teach for the next 45 minutes you will be fine. Then there’s a break and you play a game for the remainder of the class. If you are working legally for one of these companies they will usually try to get you to work three evenings a week as well. I wouldn’t but if you want to you can. If you’re willing to work in the evenings you can just post an ad on one of the local expat magazine websites and you will be able to do private lessons. It’s easier to go through an agency that charges introduction fees at first but after you’ve been here a while you can just do it all yourself.

Teaching business or other professional English can be much more lucrative but the standards are higher.

If you actually have a relevant degree and two years of teaching experience you can probably get a job at an international school. They pay better, have higher minimum standards and as far as I can tell from talking to friends who teach at them they are all quite political places. Being a good or very good teacher will not protect you from politics but being reasonably good at politics will save you from anything but being an abombinably bad teacher. Most of the international schools start hiring for the next school year about now but just before the beginning of the school year is also reasonably good because if they need somebody they need them now. It is possible to go transition from teaching English as a foreign language or teaching a subject you know through English in a Chinese school to working in an international school but it takes a while. You must actually become a reasonable teacher first. If you want to do it for the long term it’s a good idea to get a teaching degree at some point. Once you teach in one international school you can travel almost anywhere and teach in others. It has much to recommend it.

Many of the business people here have a very dismissive attitude to teachers, whether TEFLers or international school teachers. If it bugs you don’t hang out with people like that.

Most single foreigners who have been here a significant length of time end up in Jing’an or the Former French Concession. You pay a premium for the central location but the cultural and other amenities make it well worth it. People with families are more common near Hongqiao Road in the Minhang area but that’s not relevant to you unless you’re homeschooling because even the “international” schools like Shanghai United International School that accept Chinese children cost very large sums of money. Shanghai American School’s yearly tuition is comparable to Harvard’s.

The dating situation here is incredibly easy for men and  pretty terrible for women, at least for expats. If I was a single woman I wouldn’t move over here unless I was very attractive, very outgoing or both. Even TEFL teachers here can easily be in the 90th percentile of income working five days a week. International school teachers get paid better. This, together, with the fact there are lots of women with a thing for either English speaking guys or white or black guys makes it really, really easy to meet women here. If you want a love life here as a woman it will really help to initiate. Also, if you move over with a boyfriend or husband he will get hit on all the time, including by people who know that he’s not single. There are a lot of very, very mercenary girls here who will use you for your bank balance but they’re not really that hard to avoid if you have some sense. As a teacher the real gold diggers will not care about you at all.

You will not learn much Chinese here unless you make a serious effort to do so. I have met expats who have been here eight years who know five words of Chinese. Mine is better than average by virtue of having completed the Pimsleur Mandarin series. This does not mean my Mandarin is good, it means everyone else's is crap.If you want to learn Mandarin every single other city in China is better, Beijing included.

If you have questions ask. If you can think of suitable tags or links to be added feel free to PM me.



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Ten RMB is worth approximately 10 pounds sterling, so at a guess 15 dollars

Not even close. 10 RMB is approximately 1 GBP, or 1.6 USD.

As brainfarts go that is pretty embarassing. If a mod could alter it that would be cool. The idea of editing a post on my phone does not appeal.

I was in China for five years (and did a bit of teaching as a side job), and what's described here matches my experience. I did learn Chinese, and would like to add that teaching can be great fun; you can find creative ways of getting the kids to talk through games, roleplaying, etc. Also, Chinese pupils seem nicer and more obedient than French ones.

I was in China for five years (and did a bit of teaching as a side job)

Why a side job?

Because I was a student, and spent most of my time at the lab :)

When I was in China, my at-the-time girlfriend showed me a Chinese cartoon with two beggars in the street in the US, one telling the other, "Hey, I have an idea - let's go teach English in China".

That should say something about how Chinese students see some English teachers.

That's also true in South Korea; one of the k-bloggers I follow has a historical shtick where he digs up & translates old articles about 'native English teachers', and also archives comics from Korean newspapers about them (typically xenophobic etc).

[-][anonymous]10y 0


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How is the pollution in Shanghai?

Awful. If you have bad asthma don't go. It has improved steadily for the past five years but it's still quite, quite bad.

Can you escape air pollution by going indoors? Or does the pollution permeate the entire city?

Or does the pollution permeate the entire city?

Where exactly would this unpolluted air indoors be coming from?

Filters? Plants? This TED talk comes to mind

... an arrangement of three common houseplants, used in specific spots in a home or office building, can result in measurably cleaner indoor air


Typically only work on particulates past a certain size, which won't deal with many forms of pollution. I've heard of some businesses in Beijing using them but even if one is fortunate enough to work at such a place, that leaves the rest of one's life.

measurably cleaner indoor air

Ah, my old foe: statistical significance. (You can also measure the level of cyanide in your breakfast eggs, doesn't mean you're going to be re-enacting Arsenic and Old Lace anytime soon.)

Possibly from the air intakes located on the roof of the buildings. Pollution is much worse on street level than 20 stories up. At least in Jakarta, where I lived for 6 months.

IIRC, the US Embassy's controversial pollution readings were being taken from their rooftop, and in photos of Beijing you can see the smog in the sky - so the rooftop pollution may still be pretty bad.

If only. Chinese builders do not believe in central air conditioning. Every room gets its own damned air conditioner. Unless your budget is much, much greater than any teacher's will ever be.

Regarding dating does the same apply to other areas of south east Asia? I was thinking about Hong Kong and Thailand, Vietnam.

Yes, at least according to what I've read.

Be careful what you say about pollution in Shanghai. The American Consulate had their Weibo (microblog) taken down by the Chinese government for posting information about the pollution in Shanghai.

If you want to do it for the long term it’s a good idea to get a teaching degree at some point.

Is it possible to get a teaching degree in Shanghai? Or would you have to put your career on hold for two years while you get a degree in your home country?

If Getting a teaching degree from anywhere will help you get better jobs on the margin. For best results just go with a teaching degree from the country that the school you're working at follows. I presume there's one US university that offers M.Ed.s as correspondence courses. For the UK I believe the University of Sutherland and the Open University both do so, and for Australia the University of New South Wales.

Is Open University legit, or is it the Australian equivalent of the University of Phoenix?

The OU is real, and an OU degree is respected (at the very least insofar as looking good on a CV) because it shows you can finish a degree while also working a day job.

The Open University is in the UK, not Australia. It is a real university. It does almost all its teaching, and much of its examining, by correspondence.

If you want to learn Mandarin every single other city in China is better,

What is so bad about Shanghai in this respect? Assuming someone really wants to learn Mandarin and put effort into it aren't there lots of possibilities for learning, including talking with local people?

Most people who speak good to great English, really. Most shops, barss and restaurants with staff who speak good English. The pressure to learn Chinese is substantially lower than elsewhere. You will not have the benefit of anything resembling total immersion.

Moreover, the local dialect differs from standard Mandarin, in case that interferes with your language goals.

True. Shanghainese/Wu is at least as different from Mandarin as French is from Spanish. But the majority of Shanghai residents are first or second generation immigrants. More or less everyone under the age of 40 speaks Mandarin to one extent or another.

Yep, and the state has been pushing pretty heavily for linguistic uniformization (though there are still TV stations in regional dialects).

Shanghaiese will still speak dialect between themselves, so I can't eavesdrop on what they're saying nearly as easily as I can on people in Beijing (or two Chinese from different provinces talking together), and you won't pick up the language as easily by hearing what people around you are saying.

I went to Beijing for a week on a business trip & I really appreciated this aspect. Shanghainese can be beautiful, but the majority of the people I hear speaking it are nasty old women yelling at eachother on the streets.

You will not have the benefit of anything resembling total immersion.

Doesn't that depend on you? I've known about people who only stick to English and get around fine but I suspect there are always opportunities to practice if one wants, no?

I currently teach English in China as well, though in a relatively small, northern city. This post largely fits the situation here, though one has to make adjustments for my smaller, more removed location.

Also, why is this post on LessWrong?

Edit: I retract the question.

You said that schools look for a company to provide them with teachers rather than strait up walking through the front door of a school and asking to work for them, how do we find these companies?

Chiming in with my experience, I taught English in Beijing this past summer (lived there 3 months, tutored throughout and worked at a school the last one). Being 19 I was with my university's language study abroad program for the first two months, but stayed in the country on my own after the program ended. I would have had a very tough time starting off on my own but after a month I felt comfortable enough to be fully independent.


  • Good pay even by American standards. 150 RMB/hr roughly equals $25/hr, and if you set up one-on-one tutoring instead of working with a school, you can easily charge 300 RMB/hr with pretty much 0 qualifications. I felt guilty at first for not having real experience to back up my teaching, but eventually realized that native English speakers are in such short supply that it's worth it to them simply to have someone to have a conversation with in English.

  • Everything's incredibly cheap. You could survive on a 20RMB/hr salary (alibiet not well) if you were frugal. Your foreigner salary is going to give you plenty of money to have fun with, live a high standard of living, and have a lot left over. This also means you won't have to spend nearly as much time working to support yourself as you might otherwise.

  • Oh god the food.

  • People have been asking on LW for a while for a good, rational way to make money. This fits the bill perfectly if you're willing to relocate - good money, nonexistant barrier to entry, plenty of time left to persue what you want, and, depending on how much you like kids/how much effort you put in, has the potential to be very rewarding.


  • Language/culture barrier. One of the most isolating things was the loss of the ability to make small talk, not being able to strike up friendly everyday conversation with people around you. Luckily there will be a lot of foreigners in the large cities.

  • Smaller social network. Your friends will be almost exclusively other expats, and it will be difficult to branch out.

  • The pollution will be worse than anything you've ever experienced before. Los Angeles is considered polluted in the US, it's absolutely nothing compared to China. I've seen estimates that living in a major city like Beijing takes off 1.6 years (thanks MileyCyrus) over the course of your life. Of course, the fact that 95% of Chinese men smoke might be a confounding factor.

  • Weak safety net. Your family and friends are thousands of miles away, China has a tenuous political future (I don't anticipate it purposefully going to war against a US ally but the flashpoints are all there, plus there's going to be hell to pay when the housing bubble collapses), and a plane ticket back is at best $1000. Make sure you have that money saved before you go.


  • Life will be about 5x easier and 2x cheaper if you can speak a little Chinese already. When bargaining, the price automatically halved when I replied in Chinese. (You won't bargain most the time. Where this comes in handy is negotiating rent, wages, and buying in tourist traps. Stores have set prices marked.)

  • White skin is an enormous bonus. In pay, assumed English ability, and protection from harassment.

  • Recreational drugs are very illegal.

  • Can't comment on the local dating situation, I was with a girl who was also travelling for the summer.

All this said, I highly recommend trying this if it's something that interests you and you feel like stepping away from it all and doing something a little crazy. I fully enjoyed it and though I was definitely ready to head back to the States at the end of it, I fully plan on going back again. Feel free to message me with any questions.

EDIT: Tagging this post with the keyword Optimal Employment.

I've seen estimates that living in a major city like Beijing takes off shortens about 5 years over the course of your life.

Shanghai only takes 1.6 years off your life. (pdf)

Hey everyone!

I am looking into teaching in Shanghai. I know nothing of the area. Am wanting to know if it is suited to myself. Is there lots to do outdoors there? How is the weather? Is it very english friendly? How is the subway/metro system? How is it for using foreign visa cards? Would love to hear your feedback.


How is the air quality? From the time I spent in China the biggest turnoff was the air pollution.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

I was in Chengdu this summer and it was rather bad.

Chengdu & Beijing are worse, at least in my amateur opinion.

I wonder why I hear about people moving to teach English but not doing it remotely. My sister took Japanese lessons over Skype (I don't know if she still does); do people in Shanghai not have Skype or what?

You can't be a respectable government-funded prison for children and use unconventional methods of teaching at the same time.

Surely there are adult students of English?

Surely, but from what little I know of Shanghai the inference that going out and learning English on your own without spending great effort towards keeping this secret is a bad idea or discourage wouldn't be such a far-fetched one.

So in terms of numbers, the public school students that have to learn English at school would greatly outnumber the individual adults who just want to learn English but can't do it without a teacher of some kind.

I also suspect that the latter would not be counted as a "demand for personnel", and that most of it would happen in the shadows such that we'd be unlikely to hear about it.

Given the (apparent) desire for Shanghaiese to keep it secret, wouldn't an at-home method of learning English (e.g. over Skype) be perfect?

Probably. I'm not sure how large a market it is, though.

The obvious problem is that of finding teachers, or for teachers to find students. A large public website might attract too much government attention. Word-of-mouth friend-knows-someone methods alone sound like each case would be isolated, and so we probably wouldn't hear about it.

A large public website might attract too much government attention.

Host it off-shore. Hell, you can even live in another country while teaching Chinese people English. I've heard of people who do that, though it's harder to make a living that way than teaching in person.

Remote English teaching site. Looks like they pay $15/hr and you can set your own schedule. Must be in college or a college graduate.

There are some people who offer Skype lessons remotely. Skype lessons generally pay less than in person lessons.

In my experience, people almost never use Skype. They use QQ or other programs.

But efforts to learn a language individually are likely to suffer from a couple disadvantages, relative to being in a class. First, classmates can practice new material on each other. Second, economies of scale apply: It's much more time-consuming for a teacher (and therefore, more expensive for students) to have ten one-on-one lessons than to have a single one-on-ten lesson.

Is there a limit to how long you can stay in China? Do they stop renewing student/tourist visas after a few years?

As far as I know student visas can be extended indefinitely. Being on your second tourist visa is okay, on your third risky and your fourth they will not extend it. I'm sure if you're actually travelling it'd be different but if you're obviously resident on a tourist visa they don't like it.

How are the worst-case-scenario recovery tools? I.E., if you're injured, do you risk bankruptcy from medical care? How's the crime risk? Long term health risks?

MileyCyrus appears to know more than me about the legal ins and outs. I have heard the required insurance referred to as bodybag insurance but at the same time I've friends who woke up in a hospital after an epilectic fit who just left. No one chased them for any money. I imagine if you go bankrupt you scrape together the money to go home and do so unless you've pissed off a powerful person enormously. I know of people who are in their third stay in prison for running gambling dens so whatever else they do they don't deport people for comparitively petty shit like going bankrupt. Or they might, if you declare it on the form applying for a new visa.

On a similar note, if the border guard or visa desk guy asks if you are working on a tourist or student visa the answer is no.

As far as violent crime goes I'd be surprised if Shanghai was as violent as New York or London. Gotta watch your wallet/purse/bag though. There are professionals all over.

But, New York is exceptionally safe.

if you're injured, do you risk bankruptcy from medical care?

If you're working legally, the schools are required to pay 80% of your health insurance costs. If you're working illegally you can buy global health insurance. In fact, your health insurance might already cover you (call your provider to make sure though). Also if you're an American under 26, you can still use your parents' insurance.

Long term health risks?

Like others have mentioned, air pollution is a problem. Living in Beijing (where pollution is worse) is equivalent to smoking a sixth of a cigarette a day, which would reduce your life by a couple minutes. Noise pollution is 72 decibels during the day, which is loud enough to stress you out but not loud enough to permanently damage your hearing. Lead pollution would be my biggest concern. I would drink only filtered water and get periodic blood tests.

I am currently saving about 2,000 dollars a month working approximately 9-5 every day.

You're saying you have $2000 USD leftover at the end of the month after all your expenses are paid? That's incredible.

I work every day and make a little under 24,000 RMB a month. That's 3,840 dollars. My rent is 2200 a month and that's my biggest non discretionary expense. I spend max 1000 a month on the metro and taxis and maybe 1000 each a week on alcohol and overpriced food and coffee. That's under 12000. This is with me cooking less since I came to Shanghai than I did in the average week at home. And if you're not a boozehound you can save even more.

And if you don't, strictly speaking, have enough money to set yourself up once you get over here you can get free accomodation by trading English tuition for accomodation. Normally kids and I've never had an extended conversation about it with anyone who's done it but I've met people who did it. And if the family you start with are shit there are plenty of others.

If you're working 8 hours a day, 30 days a month, that would mean you make 100 RMB per hour. But you said the minimum rate to charge is 150. Are you including unpaid hours in your 9 - 5?

Monday to Friday I am actually teaching for an hour and a half a day. If you're getting paid by the hour don't take less than 150. I'm getting paid by the month at that job. When I was working in public schools I'd teach maybe five 35 minute lessons and one hour long lesson a day. So I'd get paid for three hours fiftyfive minutes though I was there from eight to three. You can still save quite a bit.

Depends how well you negotiate. I got 15K in my “contract” for my non-visa job and actually get 13.9K. I have a friend who negotiates hard and then negotiates again if they yry and make him pay taxes. It works for him. But legally, yes.

Thank you so much for this article! Definitely the most helpful teaching English article I've read on the net.

What qualifications do you need to teach business English? I have a bachelor's in Philosophy, and I'm planning to get a 120 TESOL in May, with a 40 hour Business English module on top. Would that be enough?

Also, is it possible to transition from teaching English to some other job in Shanghai (like coding or something)?

You become a Business English teacher by teaching some people and preparing so well that your lack of expeeience doesn't really show and doing that over and over again until you know what you're doing. Fake it 'til you make it. If you want to know more about visas and transferring and changing categories I'm the wrong person to ask. I strongly suspect that shifting fields like that violates the letter of the law. Go ask in shanghaiexpat's visa forum/thread. If you can code factual.com seem to always be hiring if one looks at tgeir HN who's hiring thread history. Or perhaps email one of the people at techyizu.org. The local startup scene is their thing. IIRC meetup.com has a few relevant groups as well. Feel free to say if you learn anything in comments.

Thanks for provoking me to write this.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

Is Open University legit, or is it the Australian equivalent of the University of Phoenix?

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I'm going to Singapore for the holidays, and to check out the job market there. Teaching English could be an option, I speak idiomatic American. Heck, I'd take almost anything there to get out of the Third World. Anybody know the Singapore scene?

I've never been to Singapore but from what I've read they don't hire many English teachers. (English is their official language after all). If you have a "third world" nationality it will be even tougher. Generally preference is given in the following order: American, Canadian, British, Irish, Australian, Kiwi, South African. If you don't have one of those passports you would probably need to find illegal work.

Yeah, a cousin does proofreader work there, but apparently there's a strong preference for permanent residents. The penalties for illegal work are quite stiff; I'm not that desperate. Well, I'll see what the territory's really like when I get there.

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