Teaching English in China: Shanghai vs Hong Kong

ShanghaiTeaching English in Shanghai or Hong Kong is one of the best ways to live and experience Asia. Both of these cosmopolitan cities offer an upbeat job market with a plethora of opportunities for teaching jobs in Shanghai and Hong Kong. What are some of the differences English teachers can expect when seeking career opportunities in either city?

Explore China’s financial cities and learn of the similarities and differences when living and teaching in Shanghai or Hong Kong. 

Hong Kong

While Hong Kong is part of China, it has its own administrative and legal system, separate from Mainland China. Hong Kong has its own distinct culture and was colonized by the British until 1997. The city speaks Cantonese and English as their official languages.  Hong Kong is one of the world’s financial capitals and this creates a steady demand for English teachers.  

From schooling children to adults seeking to improve their English for business purposes, English teachers, experienced or not, are constantly in demand as Hong Kong maintains its reputation as one of Asia’s financial hubs.


Salary & Living Expenses in Hong Kong

Hong Kong offers some of the most competitive salary packages. The city is renowned for its higher cost of living and most packages include flights and accommodation stipends. 

English teachers in Hong Kong can make from U$2,300 to U$7,400, depending on the type of institution and qualifications you have. Rental will be the largest expenditure with an average rate of U$700 to U$1,000 for a studio apartment in bustling areas such as Kowloon. In the New Territories, the rental can be cheaper by 20%. 

Eating out daily can be affordable and does not need to be on a shoestring budget with the variety and abundance of Cha Chan Teng, Hong Kong’s rendition of their local cafe or coffee shop. You can get a decent meal with a drink for U$6 on average. 

Food & Shopping in Hong Kong

Food and shopping are the main two reasons for travelers visiting Hong Kong. Hong Kong is an eating and shopping paradise with malls and street food vendors on just about every corner. The food scene is exploding given that Hong Kong receives tens of millions of visitors annually pre-COVID times.

Dim sum is not just a food type, it is a revered culture, much enjoyed by locals and visitors. It involves a lot of indulgent morsels of steamed or deep-fried deliciousness packed with a special serving of scoldings from the dim sum cart lady. She deserves a special mention as she is the one who serves and dishes out death stares at the same time. Try dim sum, you will love it for the food or the deep heritage that is quintessentially Hong Kong. 

There are no taxes charged on capital gains, interest, or dividends in Hong Kong and it is one of the best shopping destinations in the world. From high-end luxury to peddlers, Hong Kong caters to anyone’s budget. 

NET Scheme

In 1998, Hong Kong developed the Native English Teacher (NET) scheme to attract English teachers to teach in their primary and secondary public schools. It is a two-year contract with many incentives and benefits laid out along the way including medical insurance.

The program requires native English speaking teachers to fulfill the following requirement:

  1. TEFL or TESL Qualification at Certificate or Diploma Level
  2. A Bachelor’s Degree in any subject
  3. A Z visa

Postgraduate qualifications will improve your candidacy and chances of better employment in higher-banded schools. There are three bands of schools in Hong Kong with 1 being the highest, and 3 being a school that requires more work academically. Teaching English through the NET scheme requires you to apply directly with the Education Bureau of Hong Kong. 

Private Language Centres

You may also teach in Hong Kong in a private school. These schools are usually language learning schools that cater to all age groups even adults. Most students attending these tuition centers require additional help for upcoming examinations. The curriculum is handed out to you to execute and requirements from these schools are less rigorous compared to teaching at a University in Hong Kong. 

The requirements are the same as a NET scheme teacher where you are required to have recognized qualifications and an appropriate visa. 


On the other hand, teaching jobs in Shanghai are also equally abundant given that the city is also China’s financial capital. The demand for English teachers is similar to Hong Kong’s where school children and adults require English education. 

One of the main differences between teaching in Shanghai and Hong Kong is the living expense. Living in Mainland China is generally cheaper even though both Shanghai and Hong Kong are world-class cities.  

Salary and Living Expenses in Shanghai

The average salary of foreign English teachers ranges from U$2,500 to U$6,000, and likewise, very much dependent on your personal qualifications and teaching experience. As an expatriate, your salary is higher than the city’s average even though your pay package may be on the lower end of the scale for teachers. Most teachers lead a very comfortable lifestyle based on Shanghai’s standard of living. 

Rent prices are a lower average of U$500 to $1,000 as compared to Hong Kong but accommodation is usually thrown in as part of the benefits package as an English teacher.

Meals in Shanghai are really much more affordable with the average spending from U$2 to U$6. 

Food & Shopping in Shanghai

If there was only one food that had to be picked to represent Shanghai, it would be the Xiaolongbao, or otherwise known as soup dumplings. Very much like dim sum, these dumplings originate from the Jiangsu province and are very much associated with Shanghai. 

Shopping for foreign goods in China can be expensive given the import tax. However, with no lack of local manufacturing, Chinese-produced goods give international products a run for their money. 

Requirements for teaching in China

China requires the following of foreign English teachers:

  1. Be a native English Speaker
  2. A Bachelor’s degree in any field 
  3. Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certificate or 2 years teaching record
  4. Under 55 years old 
  5. A clean criminal record

On a side note, teaching English in private or public kindergarten is one of the preferred teaching jobs in Shanghai as the pay packages are competitive despite the fewer hours of commitment. Nonetheless, teaching jobs should be matched your skillset and strengths to make the teaching and learning experience a wonderful one for you and the students.