Housing: Surviving the first month in a foreign country can be a little daunting, but with some preparation and creativity, almost anyone can find their way into a secure financial situation. If a teacher must cover their own apartment startup costs, they can expect to pay a two month deposit, half a month’s rent for the realtor fee, and the first month’s rent. This can vary quite a lot between landlords, but $1,500 for housing would carry most people through just fine. Keep in mind, that the deposit will be returned, and the first month’s rent will be reimbursed retroactively, so it’s really only about $300 for realtor fee that comes totally out of pocket.
Internet: There are cheap and expensive solutions for this. If internet speed isn’t a huge priority, there are plans for $100 for the whole year. If a teacher wants the fastest possible fiber optic internet, it’s around 2000 RMB for a year, or $300. Most carriers require a year upfront, but there are a few smaller ones that will work out 3 or 6 month contracts.
Basic apartment items: Most apartments are furnished, but the teacher may need to buy basics like pots, pans, and dishes. A bed will likely be included, but it may require sheets and pillows. Also, stocking food and toiletries for the month should be considered. All told, it will probably cost $500 for food for a month and basic apartment supplies.
For the most optimal possible startup, $2,500 would be plenty. However, don’t despair if this isn’t a possibility. Roommates can be found, so the deposit might be avoided or halved. A cheap internet plan can be a temporary solution. Food is very cheap in China, so eating in is a possibility. A teacher could reasonably stretch $1,500 across their first month. After the salary and housing allowance kicks in, everything evens out, and it’s easy to live a rather luxurious life if one so desires.
Typical Monthly Expenses:
Food: If a teacher eats out at restaurants every day, food will likely run to around 3,000 RMB a month. Most teachers usually eat out a few times a week and cook a few meals at home as well, so 2,000 RMB might be a better estimate. However, many schools provide meals, so teachers who take advantage of this can spend even less.
Utilities: Utilities usually include gas, water, electricity, and the apartment management fee. 500 RMB would be a pretty good guess for how much most people spend, but if a teacher runs air conditioning all of the time, it can be a little higher. This is usually offset by very low winter utility bills.
Transportation: Bus and subway rides are incredibly cheap, costing around 2 RMB and 3RMB respectively. Taxis also don’t break the bank, but are more expensive options. The meters start at 10 RMB, and short trips usually cost 20-25 RMB with a trip to the furthest reaches of the city running up to 140 RMB. Even if someone lives very far out, Uber or Didi Taxi apps can be used to cut down on costs considerably as well.
Since salaries vary more wildly in China, for the purposes of this analysis, a very basic starting salary will be used as a model: 8000 RMB with a 3000 RMB housing allowing. If the above monthly costs are deducted, it would leave a teacher with around 4,000 RMB or $600 in savings. Most teachers build on this considerably with private lessons. A conservative teacher could make 3,000 RMB ($450) extra very easily. Someone who wants to work a little harder could make 6,000 RMB ($900) more a month. Thus, it’s definitely a reasonable possibility to save well over $1000 a month on one of the lowest possible starting salaries.
Sending Money Home:
It’s possible to do bank transfers at most major institutions with obvious small conversion and international transfer fees. This varies by the bank. A Chinese friend can also use an app called Alipay to send money to a teacher’s account. Western Union is a possibility, though it’s a little more arduous than the other options. Alipay is the simplest method but requires the help of a trusted friend, and bank transfers are the most standard option.
Cost of Travel in China & Asia:
China has high speed rail running through most of its major cities. For shorter trips, this is preferable to flying as it’s significantly cheaper. Traveling within the same province usually only costs 250-300 RMB for train tickets. Depending on the location in China, flight tickets to other Asian countries are also incredibly cheap. Flights to Malaysia or Bangkok can be found for well under $200. Perhaps the greatest savings are found in hotels and hostels. It’s easy to find serviceable hotels for $20 and fairly luxurious ones for $50. Small guided tours cost between $40-$50 for a whole day’s itinerary. Sometimes wonderful deals can be booked like white water rafting all day for $40 including lunch and transportation.
Comparison to Korea:
In general, salaries in China are slightly less (with 1-2 privates a week they are the same), but the cost of living is almost half of what it is in Korea. Someone making a $1,600 salary in China often can save more than their counterpart in Korea making $2,000 a month. There’s significantly more vacation time and fewer class hours, so teachers in China generally come out ahead per class in terms of salary. It’s also easier to plan and go on outings and adventures since transportation and hotels are far cheaper in China.