TEFLChina.org > Jobs > Contracts > Pay


FAQ compiled by John Pullen, November 30, 2001

What is an appropriate salary for a teacher?

The comments listed below are in no special order although I tried to list
them sequentially over time as they were received.  I believe that all of
the items were comments made on the teflchina list, but some may have had
other origins.  I tried to list the name of the person who wrote the
comments in each case.  If there are additional comments or others would
like to add to this, just send your information to
teflchinalife@yahoogroups.com   If you are not already a member, join and
then make your comments.  Thanks, John Pullen.

Despite your lack of experience but given that you are a native speaker with
a degree, I believe the fact that you are not given a return air-fare adds
up to a miserable and unacceptable  package.  It's true you can live quite
well on RMB2,300 but you'll find your savings go nowhere if you start to
travel around China in your holidays.

You need to be aware that conditions in China are quite hard for many people
and you need to forget the idealised post-card images.  China is a rapidly
industrialising nation sometimes evocative of Dickensian
Britain.  I don't mean to put you off, but you deserve *reasonable*
compensation for the work you will do and the conditions you will work in. 

It has been said on this list before by others, but there are many more
positions than applicants for teaching English in China, so my advice is to
find one that includes return airfare in the package.

I encourage you to find (or re-negotiate) a better package so that you can
enjoy what will doubtless be a wonderful experience for you.

Best of luck,

Richard wrote>  My salary of about 2,300 Yuan ...is it low or not?  They
won't pay for my flight from England, only the internal flight from Hong
Kong to Guiyang

Richard--For some balance in this discussion of salaries, benefits and so
on--In six years of teaching in China my compensation never included
international airfare, just the domestic. Furthermore, the basic salary was
1800-2000/month most of that time, with last year's salary raised to
2500/month, which I greatly appreciated. This is in Sichuan province.
Friends teaching in other, more prosperous places are aghast at the Sichuan
salaries, but this is the way it is in most public universities here. I
recently met another foreign teacher teaching here in Chengdu who said her
salary has now been upped to 3500, but she teaches in a school run by the
Bank of China. A friend teaching in the Guiyang area also receives about
what you mentioned. Sometimes a travel allowance is also given, in my case
about 2200 per year. Of course, a lot of people are subsidized by various
organizations (such as Jennifer's VSO). Perhaps if you checked around you
could connect with such an organization.
Personally, I think teaching in Guizhou would be fascinating--lots of
scenery, lots of ethnic minorities. Don't feel discouraged.

Camilla Krueger

I'd say I'm valued as more than 'eye-candy' where I work, but our
department's had a native speaker teacher now for 4 years, through a UK NGO
(VSO).  We mostly cover Oral English classes, but a mixture of other stuff
makes up our 14-16 hours of classes contract, for which we're paid the state
recommended minimum, 2,300 RMB (plus free accommodation including gas,
electricity and water).  On 2,300 RMB I'm not rich but nor can I do anything
like as much as I could on a UK teacher's salary!  Our return fares (on
2-year contracts) are covered by our NGO.

I'm just starting my second year, and have got very positive feedback on my
achievements with regard to the students' speaking skills development - from
students, from teaching colleagues and from my dean.  I'm TEFL trained and
with several years experience, and albeit with lots of accommodation to the
students and the environment, I think I give very 'standard-theory' EFL
lessons with the emphasis on speaking skills development.  I think the more
you're seen to be taking the job seriously, the more likely you're going to 
be taken seriously. 

Jennifer Wallace

Dear Richard,

Don't let John's message dim your enthusiasm.  RMB 2600 isn't much, but it's
more than I make, and I didn't get any airfare either.  But this doesn't
concern me.  Perhaps I'm getting a bum deal, but it was non negotiable
(although I did squeeze an extra hundred a month out of them).  And I don't
think the pay is indicative of what they expect from you.  I am subject to
evaluations, and my students are expected to show marked improvement.  That
doesn't mean, of course, that I am not otherwise ignored by the department.

But actually, John is probably right that their expectations won't be high -
they know what they are getting in an inexperienced teacher.  Maybe they
don't expect to see much improvement, but hopefully over the course of the
year YOU will, which will make the school's apathy a little less
discouraging.  Assuming you will be teaching oral English, I would look for
some activity books geared towards that.  There are lots.  I have one called
Keep Talking (maybe by a guy named Kippel? - I'm not sure).  It has been
very useful.  
And I think in such a class creativity is as important, if not more so, than
methodology.  A lot of us came over without any experience and are doing
just fine.  The key for me in the early days was acknowledging to myself
when something wasn't working and realizing that help was available (which I
continue to 
solicit -THANK YOU everybody for the great writing advice!).

Good luck!
Beijing Normal University

Richard  -

It would be helpful to read the archives for this list and also teflchinajob
and Dave's eslcafe.

Where are you going to be teaching and are you aware that the salary you
quoted is very low compared to most?  How many hours are required, will they
pay for round trip travel, are you required to do other things like English
Corner, will they pay holiday pay, and is this pay for 12 months or nine

You are correct that they will probably just want you for eye candy.  They
need to provide some models of native speaking and have some motivation for
students to use English.  At that low pay, they aren't too much interested
in your improving the students' skills or ability to pass the various
national tests.  Even the Chinese cram schools for getting good grades on
TOEFL don't use native English speakers to teach what is important in
passing the tests.

I would check out Dave's ESL Cafe for the latest on who's hiring and who NOT
to work for.  Personally, I do think that 2,000 (or whatever your salary is)
is quite low for a starting teacher nowadays.  When I first started teaching
just over six years ago I got 1,800 RMB and I had to pay for my own ticket
back to the States.  How times have changed.  Since then, I have changed
schools and my salary is 4000RMB a month.  Most schools now offer a base
salary of 3000RMB, but of course it all depends on where you will be
working.  If you live in Central or Western China, where there is less
development you probably won't get 3000RMB.  Also, to be competitive, many
schools are now giving their foreign teachers a travel allowance(round trip
ticket).  My school is offering me an allowance of 750US dollars.  That is
given to me after I complete my one year here.

Good luck and Happy Moon Festival and National Day!

Hi Rebecca,

The deal you mention from Global-Access China seems pretty standard for
state run schools, though the accommodations are at the higher end of the
scale.  Some schools will not offer the airfare as a part of the package,
but if you insist on it you can sometimes get at least one way airfare after
one year included:  This is one point that often, but not always, seems to
be open for negotiation.  Since there are many, many more jobs in China than
there are teachers, I am skeptical for the need to go with an organization
if they require you to pay them any money or if all they are offering is job
placement, as you can find a good job easily enough on your own by contacted
the schools directly by email.  Better yet, if you are truly adventurous,
come to China and visit the schools you are thinking of working at:  You
would get a direct feel for working and living conditions and would be in a
strong place to negotiate if something in the contract or housing is not up
to your standards.

Good Luck,

Chris says:

Four out of five of the most expensive cities in the world are now in China,
but you should be OK if you are willing to lower the general standards of
the global teaching profession and accept a third world 
lifestyle in a third world environment. 

I have survived on a salary of 1800 but I certainly would not recommend it
and while your (others) experiences might be relevant in Changchun, I am
keen to let people know what it is like in the more expensive parts of the
country such as Guangzhou.

I would not like people to come here, only to find that they could (not)
survive on low salaries.  I would rather that they came and enjoy
themselves.  Sorry if you (others) disagree with this.

Patrick in Changchun says:

I know many people currently in China who are accepting salaries at less
than 3500 a month simple because they want to work at a certain school or
live in a certain area.  No one in our small section of China that I know of
is pulling down anywhere near 10,000 a month for teaching English, though I
know it is possible on the coast, in the southeast, and in Beijing to do
this.  Sure, I could make much more money in Beijing or Shanghai, but I
simply have no desire to live there.  In many cities in western China, if
you can even find a job teaching English in those cities, with only a BA you
would not expect to receive much over 2500, and even with a MA in TESL the
best you will do is the state mandated minimum, around 3500.  Whether or not
you should accept this kind of pay depends on where you want to live in
China, what kind of school you want to work for, what kind of hours you want
to have, and what kind of lifestyle you expect to have in China.  Some
schools have the money and the freedom to offer high salaries (though they
may not always do so), while others do not have either money or the freedom
to exceed certain pay limits, even if they have a high desire to employ a
foreign teacher.  Just because you receive a high salary by no means
guarantees that you will be happy working at a place, because there are so
many other intangibles involved in working and living in China.  At any
salary, if you are coming to China to get rich, then you've chosen the wrong
place to live, so it is better to focus on the intangibles rather than money
if you are going to live here anyway.  If money is your primary frame of
reference, then China will only leave you cynical and bitter in the end.

Can you live for 2500 in China?  This summer I traveled for a month
throughout western China and my food budget was less than 30 a day. However,
I also spent over 300 RMB in one day in Beijing with little or nothing to
show for it.  Even in Beijing I think you could make it on 2500 RMB month,
but you would have to watch your spending carefully.  As for China having
the most expensive cities in the world, where are you coming from?  I lived
in Kyoto and Osaka for a number of years, busting my butt teaching English
for sometimes as much as 35 hours a week, and was always having money
problems even though my salary was $4000 a month.  Just going shopping in
Japan for food, we often spent over $100 a day.  Now I'm living in Changchun
with my wife and four children on a combined salary of less than $1000 a
month, I work 11 hours a week, and we have enough money to travel in China
and also to hire a maid.  Yes, if you expect to live according to a western
lifestyle in China, the costs can be quite high, but if Beijing were really
so expensive how could the average lower class people there, who average
about 800 RMB a month in salary, survive?

John says: 

Of course the answer will vary as it does in other places.  It also makes a
difference depending on the additional duties, location inside a city or
country school, location in a Number 1 school or a Number 66 middle school,
number of subjects taught, connections within the party or city, number of
hours taught each week, whether or not a round trip return ticket is given
each year, if you will have food paid by the school, will you be paid over
twelve months or ten, etc.  

I'm quickly falling behind the times in my personal knowledge of prices and
expenses in China after being back in the States for four years, even though
I returned this year, 2001, for a week.  My true concern has always been
that some responses to this question have been, or I think they are,
potentially turn offs for the questioner.  They tend to tell the person that
they have been duped into accepting the lowest salary; China is more
expensive than Britain, France, Australia, or America; and they are the
reason existing teachers are not making more money.  No one wants to be
duped or have others think they have been duped.  And no one really wants to
be the person who draws down the salary of the big boys.  However, believe
it or not, there probably are more positions available before 3500 than
there are above.  And not all of the higher paying jobs appear at the time
an individual is trying to make a life changing decision to jump into the
sea.  I believe we need to leave loop holes for exceptions and for
individuals to grow, no matter where they start in the process.  I've seen
many people turn away from opportunities to make significant life changes
because someone told them they first needed to do XYZ and then they can
change.  This usually just stops them.  I'd rather open their eyes, let them
see the variations, know what different choices will produce in response,
and see encouragement to make a change.

Those of us who did well in our salary or choice of jobs will always
continue to look for more benefits, salary improvements, and professional
growth.  However, there are many who even use their own money to get a job
in China, and then accept positions that might be almost a voluntary
position. It doesn't make them stupid, perverse or less superior.  Usually
they just don't know all of the variations and possibilities.  They just
have this burning inside to get to China, for whatever reason that might be.
But if they have already made the choice, then a negative non-supportive
response just makes them feel bad without providing ways for them to recover
"face". And if they don't have a PhD, Ed.D, TEFL, TESOL, etc. they really
shouldn't be being paid over 10000 rmb while learning the craft.  There
should be low paid jobs with low expectations for them to begin.  And it is
possible to survive in China at 2500 rmb a year as was proven for two years
by Leslie and her daughter, I think that is who I remember being on the list
and now is in Phoenix.

Patrick say:

Yes, people should know what they are getting into, but I don't know anyone
in Changchun who is here for the money.  I think it has to do with where you
choose to live in China--you simply cannot make as much money up here, so
the people who come here by and large only have a marginal interest in
money.  A pay raise is always welcomed, but the people who are into money go
south.  Enjoyment also is a relative thing:  You can have a nice life in
many parts of China with a low salary, depending upon what you want to get
out of life.  If I were single, I would take a certain job that I know of
without question even though the pay is 2500 a month, simply because I want
to live in that city and there are few work opportunities there.  However,
in doing so I would be placing myself hundred of miles away from McD's, any
kind of western food or western amenities, and I would be living in an
apartment that often has no running water and has no AC.  Would I enjoy it
there?  You bet! (My wife and family would not, however. Actually, the pay
is not the big issue for us:  The size and condition of the housing is, for
no other reason that the fact that we have small children).

   > I have to disagree here.  There are many opportunities in teaching
   > privately to make large amounts of money.

Private classes are available anywhere, so why not take a lower salary if it
can get your foot in the door where you want to live, then if you find it is
not enough money you can make a lot more on the side?

   > I think that this is what would leave you cynical and bitter.

What are you(r) expectations?  What do you want to do?  What kind of life do
you want to lead?  I met a teacher in Beijing making 4000, but having to pay
1000 in rent and all of her own utilities, yet she was quite happy because
she liked her job and thought it was a wonderful opportunity..

   > Is it really feasible for a westerner to live the same lifestyle as
   > 'average lower class people' in China?
   > Would some people really want to?

It is feasible, but most people wouldn't want to try.  On the other hand, in
some places the amenities are such that you will be living that way whether
you like it or not.  From where I sit, if you are in it purely for money or
comfort, China is a poor choice, and there's no use complaining about it
because all the complaining in the world won't make it better. However, it
very well could be that expensive GZ, along with the other coastal areas and
Beijing,  are so different from the rest of China in economic strength and
the nature of the teaching industry that we really should be talking as
though they were different countries, and we may therefore be at cross
purposes here.  Maybe if I lived down south I would view things differently,
and you would gain a different understanding of China if you lived here.  On
the other hand, maybe you wouldn't possibly want to ever live here and I
wouldn't care for GZ.  Again, what are our expectations and values?  What do
we want out of life?

Patrick in cheaper (but not dirt cheap) Jilin

Jeff says:

I don't think there needs to be consensus and what a survivable wage - is
depends on numerous personal and geographic factors as other listers
suggest. So the reader can make of what they may - I think a diversity of
opinions might be a worthwhile quality.

For me, I don't think it would be a problem to *survive* in GZ on RMB 2,500
even much much less (given accommodation provided).  I don't know that I
would be having much fun though. I can't comment on Shanghai or Beijing. It
just depends what sort of life style you want to lead. I think Chris'
original comments on this still stand as reasonable.

I've always seen the cost of rice, seasonal fruit & vegetables, tofu as
cheap, cheap, cheap! I have lived for about RMB 500 a month for these and
other basic needs for months - (2 people as well).

So, I disagree with George R. who suggests one may not be able to eat too
often on a low pay. It's the wine, women, men and song I find expensive!

This is our sixth year in China, our third in Dalian. Although we both work
at a state university for the standard wages, I recently took stock of my
cash and discovered we had been able to live here from around 20 August
until now (20 Nov) on less than RMB 6,000. We eat out a fair amount,
although mostly at home. Occasionally we splurge for a western meal at a
five-star hotel. But I was amazed when I did the reckoning. Dalian is
certainly not a rural area. On the contrary, it has a reputation for being
more expensive 
than Beijing, although we've not found it so.
So, for what it's worth, here's our input.
Desert Peter
My lifestyle is modest, and I have no problem at all living on about RMB3000
in Suzhou.
Bob Sasseen
Also, if the school/college provides the accommodation and washing machine
etc, 3000 RMB is sufficient.
Donna Tang
Caveat:  I don't live in China now, but did so a year ago.
1) Since your entertainment needs are low, 3000 yuan will be "sufficient",
but it won't be "ample" for three people.  Shopping at the local markets and
always cooking at home will help.  Your apartment is paid for in addition to
the salary, right?  Whether you 
can save enough to travel will depend on a lot of little things, such as
whether you need to spend any on medical care, Western goodies, and so on.
2) The good news is that your husband, if he wants, can make money tutoring
English.  He doesn't really need to be credentialed if his English skills
are good, just willing to find a few students and willing to be patient,
clear, and professional.  (I had fun tutoring 
the Chinese teachers of English in pronunciation, pacing, and general
"English polishing":  They said they didn't want to sound "Chinglish") .  
3) As mentioned by others, some places are more expensive than others, but I
lived in Shenzhen--reportedly expensive--and was able to eat three meals a
day at restaurants for about 40 yuan ($5) per day.
Have fun!