Money Matters

Opening a bank account to exchange rates


For most people, the primary reasons for teaching English in China are the non-material ones.

Some of these, such as experiencing life in a new country and making friends with its people, learning the culture and trying as much of its cuisine as possible, and leaving with a broadened mind and completely new outlook on life, are absolutely priceless.

However, for everything else, there's renminbi.

Also known as the yuan, the Chinese RMB is the currency you're going to be dealing with for the foreseeable future. While rates will always vary, 10 RMB is usually worth around £1, or $1.50.

To make the most of your time teaching English in China, knowing how to manage your money is essential – preparing before you go, spending while you're there, and saving for after you leave.


Before moving to China

If you've never been to China before, bringing some local cash with you is highly recommended.

Your debit or credit card should work in most ATMs, but knowing you're not relying on it when you step off the plane, after a long flight and into a crowded airport, is one less thing to worry about.

Foreign debit and credit cards can be used at the ATMs of large banks, with the Visa, Mastercard, American Express and other symbols clearly visible on those that accept them. However, your own bank will most likely charge you for foreign withdrawals.

It's a good idea to know how much your bank will charge you per foreign transaction, and perhaps shopping around for a better deal with a different bank before leaving home.

The Chinese renminbi is now a major global currency, and it shouldn't be difficult to obtain some at home before leaving. You may have to arrange an exchange in advance, but post offices, travel agents and banks will be able to help.

Whether cash or in the bank, you're going to need enough funds to cover yourself until your first pay day, and ideally plenty in reserve too.

Be aware that if your accommodation isn't provided by your school, you'll be required to pay your first month's rent upfront, with a further deposit of one or two month's rent on top.


Managing your money in China

As with most places in the world, the easiest way to manage your money while teaching English in China is to open a local bank account.

Many branches of the major banks will have at least one member of staff who speaks English and can help walk you through the process, although it's actually quite straightforward.

You can open a bank account in China with just your passport for identification, but taking your residence permit as proof of address and employment along with you also won't hurt.

You won't have to wait for your ATM card, as it will be registered and given to you there and then. All you have to do is choose a 6-digit PIN.

China's Big Four banks are Bank of China, China Construction Bank (CCB), Agricultural Bank of China (ABC), and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC).

Foreigners can open an account at any of these, although your school may prefer you to go with the same one as they do to simplify the transferring of your salary every month.

We also recommend using a bank conveniently located to your home or school, as using the ATMs of other banks will mean being charged for withdrawals.

Using the ATMs of your own bank in a different province to where you opened the account can also incur charges. To avoid this, consider withdrawing and carrying enough cash for your trip when travelling in China.


Saving money in China

Despite recent economic success increasing the standard of living for many Chinese people, the cost of living remains low.

When teaching English in China, regular restaurant meals, nights out at the cinema and other entertainment, gym memberships, and shopping trips will all fall well within your budget.

Rent and utilities are also cheaper than you'll probably be used to back home.

Unless you're planning on partying like a rock star, you should be able to save a decent amount of cash each month too while still living an enjoyable life. Depending on the salary and lifestyle, many  English teachers in China are able to save anything up to 4000 RMB a month.

Over a year, around £400 or $600 each month certainly adds up. On top of this, many contracts will include flight allowances and end of year bonuses.

This means that once your contract and time in China is over, you should have a nice lump sum to either take home with you or to fund more travels.

Teaching English in China is certainly rewarding in more ways than one.

The non-material benefits are what attract most people, but the financial upsides are just as real.