Shanghai- what's it like to live and work there?

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Shanghai is quite a popular expat teaching destination and based on what Linva, a British expat teacher working in a secondary school there, has to say- it is very easy to see why! Spoiler alert: Expat teachers pay tax in Shanghai...

How long have you been teaching abroad?

This is my sixth teaching year abroad. I spent five years teaching in the Middle East and this is my first year teaching in Shanghai. 

What made you decide to move overseas to work?

For me it was more about seeking adventure and living in amongst the local population in a different country, than wanting to leave the workload teachers face in the UK. 

How did you find your current job?

Initially, it was through an agency in the UK. They had been commissioned by this school group to find potential new teachers for their schools which are based all over China and Hong Kong. The agency along with several school leaders from this school group held information sessions in London for which I was invited to attend via a Skype link, as I was living in Dubai at the time. It was quite a rigorous process as I had three separate interviews with three different principals from the same group of schools on three separate occasions. The impression I got was that they wanted to match my skills and personality with the right school for me.

Why did you choose that location?

Both the culture and the people of the Far East have always fascinated me. And now that I am living here, I’m looking forward to exploring my new home and of course travelling in China and to nearby countries. Also, I found what I was looking for job wise at that point in time. The job really matched my skills and where I was looking at taking my career.

What is it like living there as a single female?

As I live outside of the city centre, the area I live in makes it difficult being single full stop as there is not much nightlife here. However, there are other singletons around so that makes it easier as we can still go out and grab a beer or have something to eat. As a female, I don’t feel threatened or scared in any way, on the contrary, the locals, particularly the children, will stare at us as we look different to them so that is to be expected; I suppose this is natural. Often you’ll find yourself centre of attention and people will be taking photos of you. That takes some getting used to! But it is not threatening in any way.

What are its advantages?

Not having the nightlife and the many expat distractions means that saving money will be a lot easier to do. Also, being out of the city means that there is less traffic and the air quality here is so much better than in the city. We can hop on the metro and go downtown Shanghai whenever we want. But then we have the added advantage of going back to our village where there is less people and less pollution.

Are there any negatives?

I do miss not having the option of getting dressed up and going to happy hour. I also miss out on joining sports clubs and going to the theatre. It is feasible, but it takes some planning. Being so far out of the city, means that I can’t really be spontaneous with what the city has to offer. Instead, I have to book things in advance and often will stay downtown in a hotel for the weekend.

How did you deal with the negatives/ homesickness?

Having been away for five years means that I deal with my homesickness as many expats do through social media and Skype calls. As for the negatives, I’ve thrown myself into the gym which alleviates boredom setting in, and I party at weekends. That’s enough for me!

What has been the best part of your experience?

The best part of my experience is the places I have been fortunate enough to travel to. Such as; Sri Lanka, India, Cambodia, Singapore, Australia, Thailand … the list is endless, and there is still so many places left for me to visit. Also, I have met genuine people who have become part of my life, without this international experience I would not have met these people or had the opportunities of travelling to exotic places.

What are the biggest differences with teaching at home?

Teaching students whose first language is not English and for some students, they only have access to English speaking people at school. This is such a challenge, as you have to adapt your teaching practices in order to help the students access the curriculum. Not only do you teach your subject, but you are also a teacher of English as a second language.

What is normally included in a good teaching package in your location?

For my school in Shanghai, accommodation was included and provided, although I have teaching friends in the city who were given an allowance for accommodation and they had to go through estate agents to find their own accommodation. Return flights at the beginning and end of the contract and a generous annual flight allowance. Included in the package is an exceptional medical and dental insurance package. There is also an end of contract gratuity. Teachers’ pay for their own utilities, WiFi and TV package.


Is there tax on your salary?

YES!! Depending on your salary you can pay up to 25%

How did you find your accommodation?

I live in school-provided accommodation. However, friends in the city had to go through a real estate agent to find their accommodation. From what I can gather accommodation allowance is standard practice downtown.

What is the social life like there?

Downtown Shanghai is fairly similar to any cosmopolitan city. Thriving! However, I would class where I live as a village; a new area being built on the Pudong side of the city. The best we can hope for is KTV (Karaoke bar), a recently opened cinema and shopping mall, lots of restaurants and a few café/bars.

Any insider tips? E.g. when applying for jobs, renting, living and working there?

Check out the area you are planning on moving to. How far is your accommodation to the school and do the school provide transportation between home and your place of work? Tax on your salary is definitely payable in China, so you need to find out what percentage you would pay on your salary and consider how that would affect your potential saving ability. Even though tax might be high, you need to consider the cost of living in your new city. The cost of living here in Shanghai is fairly low which means your salary goes further than potentially what it does at home. Lastly, we never know when we will need to see a doctor or go to hospital therefore, health insurance is very important, so you should enquire as to your schools’ health insurance policy.

My name is Sorcha Coyle and I’ve been teaching in the Gulf (Qatar and Dubai) for the past 9 years. I also run Empowering Expat Teachers, whose mission is to empower future and current expat teachers to lead personally, professionally, and financially rewarding lives. If you haven’t already, join the supportive EET FB group here and follow me on IG @sorchacoyle_eet for lots of research, CV, and cover letter tips! Last but not least, I also provide CV and cover letter support to future and current expat teachers with my range of services in Teach Abroad Academy- check them out here!

Sorcha x


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