How We Saved $21,000 in One Year Teaching English in China

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

We’ve received numerous comments on our website and lots of emails from people asking questions about our teaching jobs in China. How were we able to live comfortably in Yangzhou, China, while saving enough money to travel after working for a year?

When we say we saved $21,000 while teaching English in China, most people assume that we must have lived a very basic lifestyle. Not only did we live well, but we had great experiences, met amazing people and had wonderful students.

Oh, and did I mention we only worked 20 hours a week?

I figure it’s time to breakdown our lifestyle in China compared to how much money we earned (and spent) there.

These figures are all based on a couple’s salary and living expenses in China, and are in US Dollars.

*Note: If you need money sent to you while you’re living in China, check out this TransferWise Review and see if it’s right for you.

Not sure if you want to pack up your life and move to China? There’s another option – you can Teach English online from home, or anywhere in the world! If you’re from Canada or the United States, check out VIPKID and get paid to teach English online to Chinese students. If you’re not from North America, don’t worry, you can still teach online. Check out our article for details:

Teach English Online: Get Paid With These Top 5 Companies

Living Conditions

We like to think that we had a nice apartment. It was a pretty big corner unit (88 sq. meters), had lots of windows with a nice view, was newly built, had a private bedroom (instead of just being a studio suite) and it had a washing machine.

apartment in china
Our apartment in China when we first arrived

It was fully furnished as well. The apartment had a flat-screen tv, a bed with mattress (a very hard one), end tables, armoire/wardrobe, a futon couch, kitchen table with 4 chairs, some pots, pans, bowls, a kettle, rice maker, hot plate and…chopsticks!

Not too bad, right?

Monthly Breakdown:

Cost of apartment: $364/month (including monthly rental fee). The school covered $266 of this amount, meaning we spent $98 / month on rent.

Total spent: $98/month

Want to earn and save even more while living overseas and travelling? Check out our epic list of 101 Travel Jobs, learn how to find work, how much each job pays and what the work entails.


Our idea of entertainment may differ from that of other people. For us, our main form of joy was drinking red wine paired perfectly with aged cheddar!

bottles of red wine
This is our kind of entertainment! Our modest collection on the counter.

If we decided to go out, it wasn’t about the bars, we loved going out for dinners with a big group of friends.

We also would have parties at our house or get friends together to watch a UFC fight. In the summer, we had BBQ’s at our friend’s house as well as pool parties.

restaurants in china
A typical dinner out in China filled with great food and even greater friends

We went to karaoke, arcades, the movie theater and watched our friend play live music at different coffee houses.

Apart from going out for dinners (the cost of which I’ve included below in the “food” section, we enjoyed spending an afternoon in the park, having picnics, walking around the Old Town and riding our bikes.

arcades in china
Playing some basketball at the arcade on my birthday

Monthly Breakdown:

Bottle Of Imported Wine: $10

Watching live music with a drink: $5

Karaoke, Arcade or Movie Theater: $10 each

BBQ, Pool, Watching UFC, Park, Picnics = Free

Total Spent: About $50/month


Oh, how we miss Chinese food!

They may eat some seriously strange foods there, but there are so many other delicious meals as well. We ate dinner out at restaurants 3-4 times a week and typically made breakfast and lunch at home.

Our cupboards and refrigerator at home were stocked with western foods.

chinese dumplings
Yes, we ate a lot of dumplings, but not because they were cheap…we love them!

Even though the cost of the imported food at the supermarket was equivalent to what it would cost at home, it didn’t matter, we wanted good cheese, meat, coffee, chocolate and snacks!

We bought our produce from our favourite street-side vendors and it was always fresh and delicious.

And yes…we ate a lot of dumplings!

Monthly Breakdown:

A Month’s Worth Of Western Groceries: $325

A Bag Of Fresh Produce: $3

Meal At A Restaurant: $4-7 (each)

Meal At A Street side Vendor: $1

Total Spent: $571/month 


Although we did go on a lot of walks and chose to walk around whenever we could, we each bought ourselves a bicycle ($50) when we moved to Yangzhou and used that as our mode of transportation for a year.

riding bikes in china
Our sweet rides for the year

If we were going further outside of our neighbourhood, if it was raining, if it was cold, or if we were lazy, we wouldn’t hesitate to take a taxi.

Monthly Breakdown:

Taxi: $1-$3 / journey

Bus: $0.16

Total Cost: About $16/month

Nights Out At The Bar

We aren’t exactly crazy partiers like some of our friends in China, we rarely went out to the local bar, preferring to go to house parties or dinners which inevitably led to plenty of drinking.

bars in china
At the bar in Yangzhou, we went there only 4 times in the whole year!

Oddly enough, some of our most memorable (or should I say, barely memorable) nights happened while living in China. We partied if we felt like it, and stayed home and watched a movie if we didn’t.

Monthly Breakdown:

Cost of Beer At A Bar: $2.50

Cost of a Cocktail at a Bar: $5

Big Bottle Of Beer From A Shop: $0.36 (You can bring store-bought beers into restaurants and some bars!)

Since we rarely went out to the bar, and large bottles of beer only cost $0.36, our drinking costs during nights out were quite low.

Total Cost: $17/month


We had the best internet you could have in Yangzhou (which wasn’t saying much), we each had a cell phone on a pay-as-you-go talk & text plan. Plus, we paid for hot water, heat and air conditioning.

Monthly Breakdown:

Internet: $16/month

Phones: $8/month

Electric Bill: $50/month

Water Bill: $5/month

Total Cost: $79/month

Travelling Around China

We really wanted to go to Japan and Thailand while living in China, but since our holiday time is the same as the rest of China, the cost of flights was outrageous. We opted to spend our holidays closer to home.

We love Shanghai and travelled there numerous times. We had weekends away in Wuxi and in Nanjing. Plus, we spent a few days in Hangzhou and in Suzhou.

train station in zhenjiang
At the train station, ready to go to Suzhou!

With the great bus and train system in China, it was easy to get away for a couple of days.

Breakdown Of Travel Costs:

Fast Train to Shanghai: $13-$21 (per person, per way)

Bus to Train Station: $2.85

Bus to Surrounding Cities: $5

Hostel in Shanghai: $20/night

Total: Our travels outside of Yangzhou for the whole year cost about $800


I figure we spent about $500 total on random things throughout the year such as clothing, bottled water, toiletries and items for the house.

We also received a bonus at the end of our contract for $500 each. 

Yearly Breakdown Of Living Expenses

Accommodation: $1,176

Entertainment: $600

Food: $6,852

Transport: $192

Partying: $204

Utilities: $948

Travel/Vacation: $800

Miscellaneous: $500

Total Spent: $11,272

We earned $32,200 in the year and spent about $11,200, which means we saved $21,000 between the two of us!

Not only did we save a lot of money while living in China, we lived well during the year. We didn’t have to scrimp and scrape or be totally stingy with our money in order to save enough to travel after just one year of work.

This total doesn’t include the money we made from the blog, this is strictly income from teaching English.

We made a decision when we moved to China that we were going to save as much money as possible, without compromising our lifestyle, level of comfort or our experience of living in a new country.

living in china
Loving life in China!

Our goal was to have enough money at the end of the year to go on a backpacking adventure through Mongolia, Russia, Central Asia and Iran, and we’re fortunate to have been able to achieve that goal.

Teaching English is an excellent job for anyone who loves to travel and is interested in learning about new cultures. It’s also great if you want to save lots of money in a year while working minimal hours and having lots of free time!

For more information about a career in China, check out:

Is China Cheap? The Cost Of Living In China Revealed

Teaching English In China: Getting Started Frequently Asked Questions

Teaching English In China: FAQ’s About The Job

Have you ever taught English abroad? Were you able to save money as well? Share with us below!

Like It? Pin It?

Teaching English In China- How To Save $21,000 In A Year

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

Written by

Dariece Swift

Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and an expert in saving money, finance management, building an online business and of course... travel. She loves meeting new people, trying new cuisines, and learning about the unique cultures of our world. She has over 12 years of experience helping others to realize their travel dreams and has worked in numerous jobs all over the world to help pay for travel.

Related Posts

places to teach English in China

10 Best Cities to Teach English in China

China is an incredibly rewarding place to teach, but what are the 10 best cities to teach English in China? With such a unique and varied landscape, from the Himalayas to the Gobi Desert, from the Karst mountains, to vibrant and bustling cities, China has it all! With 56 distinct ethnic groups scattered across this ...
best online TEFL courses

8 Best Online TEFL Courses in 2024 (Teach Online & Abroad)

If you hope to teach English online, getting your TEFL certification is a great idea. In fact, if you plan to teach English abroad in any capacity, getting your TEFL course online should be high on your to-do list. I’ve been an online English teacher for 3 years, and in order to get that job, ...
best level 5 tefl courses

Best Level 5 TEFL Courses Online (Fully Accredited)

Choosing a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course can be tricky. With so many options available, you might be wondering which program is best for you. For those who want to go above and beyond basic credentials, a rigorous Level 5 TEFL certification course might be your best bet! Generally speaking, TEFL Level ...

56 thoughts on “How We Saved $21,000 in One Year Teaching English in China”

  1. Goats,
    I’ve been teaching in China for a little over a month and I can already tell I’m gonna struggle to save money like y’all managed to. Saving 21k?! That’s impressive. Nice breakdown of expenses – I’ll try emulate your spending from now on.

  2. Great breakdown, and really useful! It’s good to know you can live comfortably and still save in China: from EFL jobs I’ve seen there (which is not a huge number and I haven’t looked for a while), it seemed you could only do one or the other, not both!

  3. Great breakdown. I’m always interested in seeing how others are living aboard, how much it costs, and what they were able to save. It’s really helpful for trying to figure out where would be the best country for me to teach English in.

  4. Hi Kevin!
    If you really want to save money, then you totally can. However, if you don’t really have a goal of saving money while in China (which many people don’t), then it’s very easy to just spend all of your earnings on nights out, drinking, travel, etc. – which can all be great as well.

    Good luck with the savings.

    ps, I can’t open your video here in Iran, but would LOVE to see it haha

  5. Nice! I have a blog post about how we saved $20,000 in 1 year living and working in Canada. You guys definitely lived more comfortably than we did. 😀 I wonder if you’d be able to save as much if you were to live in another city. I’m not very familiar with the cities of China, but I’m guessing Yangzhou isn’t as expensive as Shanghai or Beijing?

  6. It’s really good you made that commitment and stuck to it. When poi and I lived in Thailand we ended up spending a lot more money than we planned! We loved ever minute of it but we weren’t se to save anything!

  7. Thanks for the comment Deia!

    Well done saving $20,000 working in Canada. Where were you living?

    You’re right, living in Yangzhou is definitely cheaper than living in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu or another bigger city. In some cases, we’ve heard of schools paying English teachers more to live in the more expensive cities…in other cases, they’ve paid less because the jobs are so sought after in those places!

    We lucked out though and really enjoyed Yangzhou, lived comfortably and were able to save some $$.


  8. haha, ya, that can definitely happen…especially in Thailand 🙂 But ya, we had a goal and we really wanted to save money, enjoy our time in China and have enough money to travel as well. We’re very happy that it all worked out.

    Thanks for the comment Kirsty, happy travels!

  9. This is enlightening. We have looked at this pretty hard too…. mostly in South America and Northern Thailand. It is really amazing to me how little it costs to live outside of America. $11,000 for two people is incredibly lower than what we are spending to live in America right now! However, we’ve managed to cut a lot of expenses and sold lots of stuff to save $40,000 over the past year. 🙂

  10. That’s awesome!! Isn’t it amazing how much you can actually save when you cut out the unnecessary stuff? Especially when you have a goal in mind (like you guys do!). Congrats on the saving 🙂


  11. You guys are saving pros! We found that it was much easier for us to save when we lived in smaller Chinese cities, even though we make more money now living in Shanghai. There are so many more temptations here between western restaurants, bars, and events, and we don’t want to miss out on all the fun! We’re still trying to find a balance so we can experience all that this incredible city has to offer but still save enough to travel. This article was a good reminder on ways we can save more.

  12. Hey Jen,

    You’e absolutely right, there are so many more temptations in the big city! I think if we had more western restaurants, concerts, shows, bars, etc. in Yangzhou, then we wouldn’t have saved as much money…or at least it would have been harder to.

    Also, great point about not wanting to miss out on all that the city has to offer, otherwise, why are you living there, right? I think it’s important to find a balance. Saving as much money as we did may not be a priority for many people. For us, we really wanted to go on this 5 month trip and have a bit of money left in the bank, so we tried hard to reach that goal.

    So, enjoy all that Shanghai has to offer, but maybe sometimes you can stop to think “hmm, do I really need to buy this?” haha.

    Cheers 🙂

  13. That’s amazingly detailed. I can’t believe you were able to live so comfortably on so little, it really puts things into perspective. Great article!

  14. Hey Tiffany,

    yes, it really does put things into perspective. We (as people) really don’t need as much as we think we do. It’s possible to have great experiences and make wonderful moments without purchasing unnecessary things.

    Thanks for the comment!

  15. Wow. That’s amazing.

    I’m thinking B about teaching English in China but I was kinda worried about my expenses and how much money I can save.
    But after reeding this, it should not be impossible.

  16. Great! Saving money in China while also having a great time is definitely doable. It can depend on where you will be living though. If you’re in the bigger cities, there will probably be a lot more temptations! (concerts, coffee shops, bars, etc.), but if you have a goal to save money, then just put a limit on how much money you spend a month on entertainment and you should be able to save.

    Good luck and enjoy China!

  17. Looks like an advertisement for Yangzhou Shane English School, for more information, please contact with this person Mr. Standy ha…

  18. Sincerely, Glad to hear that you guys experienced a great year in China and save some money for your goats’s dream.

  19. Thank you SO much for this post!

    It’s so funny because when I read your stories like this, it hits home because we exactly where you were a couple years ago! Almost a year ago we decided we wanted to explore the world while we were still young enough to do it. Our current jobs are exhausting, and we realized that we would never get to see most of the world anytime soon only having a few weeks of vacation a year here in the States (and it would cost a lot with all those flights)!

    We decided to make a plan and give ourselves just over a year to save up, get our affairs in order, sell our belongings, quit our jobs and head out! While we will have money saved before leaving, we knew we would want to make money while traveling so we wouldn’t have to dip into our savings. So we decided to look into teaching abroad for a year – probably China! We also launched a blog to help out as well and see what we could make of it.

    The thought of being able to travel the way we want to, actually having time to work on the blog, and making money by teaching English sounds like a win-win-win. But of course, it’s scary to think about quitting a stable job to take such a risk! So your posts have been so helpful and comforting – to know that we aren’t the only ones with this crazy idea…and that it can be accomplished!

    We only have 4 months to go – so as we get closer, we get more excited…and nervous! We love following you and all the awesome information that you provide!

    Liz & Josh

  20. Hey Guys!

    Wow, good for you for taking the “scary” leap of quitting your jobs, packing up and leaving! Trust me, it’ll be a decision you will never regret 🙂

    Teaching English is definitely an option for making money. As you can see, we were able to save quite a bit!

    The countdown is on! Let me know if you have any questions.


  21. Thank you for the article. I am wondering WHERE all the details are if so many people are doing this. It is a dream I have had for 10 yrs to return to China. I fought before right after high school for semester as a volunteer. I would love to re-explore that wonderful place but make money at the same time this time around. With that in mind, did you know any couples who had kids? I have a wife and a 2yr old. My wife also taught previously as a volunteer, but we would likely be living on one contract with teaching on the side to supplement. We can also rent out our house for about 500$ income a month, and are hoping to live mostly on that so as to save at least 1000 a month. Doable?

  22. Hi Brandon,

    We have lots of information on Teaching English in China on our site! Have a look at the rest of our articles here:

    Friends of ours taught English in Nanjing and they had a 2 year old, they are still there. Moving to China is doable with kids but I think you may need to be more picky about where you live. If you’re in a westernized city like Shanghai, Chengdu, Beijing, Nanjing, etc. there are more amenities, items for purchase and proper healthcare.

    Nick and I lived off of about $1,300 USD a month. We ate well and had a great time, but we were also in a smaller city. If you’re in Shanghai or another westernized city, the cost of living will be higher – although, your pay may be higher. Living off of $500 for a family would be very difficult. If you only eat at cheap Chinese eateries, buy only local groceries, have your apartment fully covered by the school and cycle around the city, that will save a lot of money.

    I hope this helps!
    Good luck.

  23. True China is somewhere to save money; work will pay for your accommodation/apartment, they will pay for your flights to get there, and they will even give you a cute looking translator (hahaha). My work gives me everything, that is food, apartment, car, flights, i pay for nothing (except when i go out with friends) because they even do the great Chinese drinking culture of drink with bosses (so alcohol is free even). And at the moment the salary is much better in China then any western nation, and the tax lower then my country in Australia. So agreed i save in China, and most expats would save similar amounts in professional jobs. Average salary in Australia is maybe 65,000 but most that gets lost in tax, then rent ect… but in China your average salary of an expat is much higher around 80-100,000/yr (suggested by some expat sites. But then in terms of spending power – a salary of RMB 5,000 per month (approx. USD 800) is said to allow for the same kind of lifestyle that a salary of USD 2,500 per month could provide within the United States. So your considerably better off even if you were given the same salary in China as back home (but thats not normal, as China usually pays much better to encourage professionals and experts to come with their skills).

  24. Yes, China is definitely a great place to save money! Even though a person may make a higher salary in western countries, like you said, most of that is spent on taxes, mortgages, bills, etc. In China, everything is more affordable 🙂

  25. Have really enjoyed reading through your various articles, etc. My husband and I are starting to see some light at the end of our tunnel…I am selling my business, we may sell our house or rent it out, etc. Once that is all settled we will start planning some short trips and then hopefully long ones.

    Its been a long time since I travelled long term and its extremely comforting to see all the articles and stories that remind me that it is possible and we are not crazy for wanting to trade in our daily responsible grind for something different.

    I taught in Japan for a year in 1997 and saved 20k USD . It would have been much more, but the exchange rate became less favorable while I was there. I totally agree that living in a more rural area with fewer big city temptations made it easier to save. I hiked a lot, but rarely shopped because there was not any shopping near by. It was an incredible experience.

    Now that I am married and we are both interested in the travel lifestyle you guys will be my go to resource. I am pretty outgoing and have no doubt everything will be great. My husband is pretty introverted and I am hoping he enjoys the traveling and meeting new people and learning about other cultures as much as I do.

    Thanks for all the info and ideas!

  26. Hi Kendall,

    Thank you for the kind words! We haven’t been to Japan (yet) but I imagine it would be a great place to live for a year. We always love hearing from our readers and thank you for sharing your passion for travel and your decision to give up the “real” world and follow your dreams 🙂

    Good luck to you both – I’m sure your husband will love it, how could he not?


  27. Great motivation that you can still live a good lifestyle and save money. I taught in Chile for 2 years it gave me the opportunity to travel around, go out, and enjoy a nice lifestyle.

  28. Hello,
    I am going to China in September to teach English, however I am having a hard time finding a reputable agency to go with. Any suggests on where I can start. We will be looking to save as much as possible also. Nice to see your break down.
    Thank you

  29. Hi Dena,

    Have a look at, Dave’s ESL Cafe or Transitions Abroad for information on job postings. Many times, it will be the recruitment agency doing the postings. Just do some research before choosing your school and you’ll be fine 😉

  30. We love your blog and the responses you get from people with similar interests in travelling. Keep up the good work and happy travels. Love, Nan

  31. I am looking to travel to China after finishing my bachelors degree in global studies . I am curious if the rural areas of say, Yunnan, pay well enough to save money. Thanks for the information!

  32. I’m curious; how much was the initial move to China? I’m moving from Oregon and only planning on bringing clothing and my computer…

  33. P.S; I’ll have roughly 5K saved upon my departure… Think that should be enough?

    Also; any tips in finding an apartment? The school is going to pay 3000 RMB of the rent.

    You are amazing for writing this up by the way; I imagine this is going to help me in ways I can’t even imagine (at the momenet). 😛

  34. Hi Beth,

    Oftentimes the rural areas don’t pay as much, but then again the expenses aren’t as high as in the big city, plus, there’s not as much “temptation” to spend your money 🙂

    You’ll have to check out job postings though to see what each school in each city would pay.


  35. Hey Ryan!

    How exciting that you’re moving to China 🙂

    5K is a great amount to start off with. You’ll need to pay for some things like cell phone, internet for a whole year upfront. 3 months worth of utilities, etc. Your school probably won’t pay you for the first month (back-dated), so you’ll be good to go with 5K.

    The school should help you find an apartment, but my advice is to not choose the first one you see (unless you love it). remember, you’ll be living there for a whole year! We stayed in a hostel for 4 nights before choosing our apartment.


  36. Hi! Great article I am also going to yangzhou do you have any good areas where I can live? Regarding rent, how would the process work do I have to pay an initial amount such as first month deposit or such and then upfront cost? Would you recommend me going for an apartment that has a broadband with it?

    Thank you for your time

  37. My goal is to teach, gain experiences, and save money. Is there any information about reputable recruiters or how you went about getting a job that allowed that kind of saving?

  38. Good day, thanks a lot for sharing your experience with us! I was wondering if the wages you make in China are somewhat tax-exempted. You may reply to me by email should you wish. Also, my first language is not English, however I have been living and working in an English speaking country for over 10 years. Would you think that is acceptable? Last but not least, do people ask you personal questions at work? I’m gay but usually not open about it. I like to keep a low profile and blend in. I do not like to lie either. Anyway if you can provide any insights into it, I’d appreciate it.

  39. I havent seen the salaries? I would like to know bcoz i am thinking to go to Beijing for 25k rmb per month with free apartment. I am looking forward to your reply.

  40. Hey Brittany,

    Thanks for the comment. That post has been on our site since 2013 and not once did I realize that it doesn’t say the city we were living in! Sorry about that. It was Yangzhou, which is about 3 hours from Shanghai, near Nanjing, in the Province of Jiangsu.


  41. I have lived in China for a whole year now and I have zero saved. Because I’m sorry but food coast a lot more and no I’m not fat but salmon for example coast 60 years real milk cost 70yuan, not the fake milk they sell here and basically yeah it’s more expensive to live here but then again I’m working and I have my mother with me who doesn’t work so.

  42. Did you both teach? in another post you said that you got paid 20,000 RMB / month (35k usd/year) plus bonuses. but here you say your combined income was just 32k usd/year?

  43. Hi Simon. Yes, we both taught English and we earned 8,800 RMB each per month (plus bonuses) while living there. When I initially wrote this article, I had done it in Canadian Dollars (we are Canadian). So when I converted it over to US Dollars, this was the conversion at the time – so it’s a bit off now.

    The going rate now is 10,000 RMB per month at minimum, and many of our articles have been updated to reflect the new salary so teachers can know what to expect. We taught back in 2012/2013!

    I hope this makes sense. Thanks!

Comments are closed.