Where to Teach in China if it’s Your First Trip Overseas

Where to Teach in China if it’s Your First Trip Overseas

Moving to China to teach can be daunting no matter how much you travel, but if it’s your first trip overseas at the same time, it’s even more intimidating. Signing up to teach in China might be your way of funding the trip you’ve always dreamed of, the only way you’ll actually be able to take that step out into the world. It might be your version of a gap year, a break before you go back to real life with all its demands. And if it is your first time, there are a few things you should think about before you decide where to go.

Teaching in Big Cities

If you’re a first timer to living and teaching overseas, the city you choose is crucial. You’ll want to choose somewhere exotic, somewhere that will satisfy your dreams of living in a foreign country, but also somewhere you can live comfortably.

Choosing a larger city, one that already has a good population of foreigners, will give you access to amenities that are familiar and can help you feel at home. As an added bonus, a higher percentage of the locals will speak English, which will make it easier for you to get around. And as you get used to the very different customs and way of life in China, you’ll be able to explore some of the smaller cities on your weekend trips. With that in mind, here are some big cities that would be great places to work on your first trip overseas:


You really can’t beat Shanghai for a mix of the foreign and the familiar. This big international city has all the amenities you could ever want as well as a high demand for English teachers. The cost of living here is a little higher, with higher wages to match, so if you’re trying to save money you’ll have to be a little more careful about how you spend. Which is difficult, because there’s always something to do in Shanghai.


Beijing has a very different feel to Shanghai. It’s just as international, and yet it seems to hold on to more of its heritage and history. The city is home to a number of important cultural sites you should see such as the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. And, because of the recent Olympics, more locals than ever speak English, which will make it easier for you to make friends and explore the city.


Another wealthy, modern city that’s easy to live in and is close to other places of interest, Guangzhou offers lots of English teaching opportunities, amazing food, and enough local flavour to make your daily life an exciting adventure.


Shenzhen is built on the banks of the bay that separates Hong Kong from China and it’s a modern city that offers both western amenities and authentic Chinese culture. When you’re teaching in this city, you can have the experience you want. If you want the comforts of home with just a taste of the unfamiliar you can have them, and if you want to immerse yourself in a different culture you can get that too. This city offers both, so your time in China can be exactly what you want it to be.

An Authentic Cultural Experience

The bigger cities in China are amazing, but there are other cities in China that can offer first-time teachers a very different type of experience. If you want to experience Chinese culture without all the western influences, it means choosing a city that sees very few tourists and has only a small population of foreigners. This will make your trip more difficult in a number of ways. Less western influence means that many of the locals won’t speak English, the street signs will be in Chinese, and you probably won’t be able to find many of the foods and products you take for granted back home. Travelling around the area will be more difficult, and wherever you go, people will probably stare at you in a way that feels both intrusive and rude to western sensibilities.

This may all sound like disadvantages, and it can be, but it also makes for a more challenging, immersive, and authentic experience. And isn’t that what teaching in China is all about? Try some of the following cities for a different type of experience teaching in China:


A relatively small city in China’s southeast, Fuzhou has less pollution, a lower cost of living, and a comprehensive rail system that allows you to go almost anywhere in China. It isn’t the prettiest city, just a normal city that’s going about its business and letting in select pieces of western culture, enough that you’ll feel comfortable living there.


Xiamen is a coastal city that has amazing food, a low cost of living and easy access to the bigger cities in China. It’s also completely charming in its own right, with large pockets that look untouched by western influences and beaches that attract a lot of Chinese tourists in the right season.


When you live in Chengdu, you’ll experience authentic Sichuan food and experience one of the most livable cities in China. Here you’ll find lots of job opportunities as well as a history that stretches back over 4000 years. Chengdu also has a famously laidback lifestyle that’s infectious and very different to what you’d find in other areas.


Not many people have heard of Tianjin and that’s good if you want to experience something new and exotic while you’re in China. Tianjin is a port city that has been invaded and influenced by a series of different cultures over the years and each of them left behind amazing architectural features that remain to this day. This is a city that’s full of life and history, and exploring it is an absolute delight.

What was your first overseas teaching post like? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.

About the Author

Gayle Aggiss is an ESL teacher and a dedicated traveller. She’s taught in Fuzhou, China and Hanoi and she much prefers smaller cities to the larger options. When she’s not on the road, she lives in Perth, Australia.  Ahw writes about education, ESL teaching specifically, and you can view more examples of her work at www.gayleaggiss.com.