Teaching ESL in Asia: China vs. Vietnam

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Should you teach ESL in China or Vietnam? There you are in front of your computer or scrolling on your smartphone. You are feeling torn because while you are filled with excitement about your decision to teach English in Asia, simultaneously you’re feeling conflicted because you can’t make the final decision about where to look for ESL jobs. You just keep frantically Googling which one is the best country in Asia to teach English and all it has done is make you feel more confused!

The great wall of china
The great wall of china with a light dusting of snow is a must-see when you teach english in China.


If you are trying to decide whether to teach ESL in China or Vietnam—we have got you covered. Not to freak you out, but a lot is riding on your decision of where to teach English in Asia. From culture to people to the kind of classroom setting you can expect, both of these Asian countries offer vastly different experiences for ESL teachers.

But, don’t freak out too much because we have done a lot of research to help you make your decision. Check out the five A’s below of how to decide where to teach English in Asia (when you are choosing between China and Vietnam!).

Factors to consider while considering teaching ESL in Asia

1. What excites you?

This is probably the reason you decided to teach abroad in the first place, right? Adventure is often the name of game for wanderlusters, and teaching ESL in Asia can be a great way to satisfy that desire. While ESL jobs in Asia, whether in China or Vietnam, can offer all kinds of adventure, you will need to sit down and really think about what kind of adventure you are looking for when deciding where you would like to put down (potentially temporary) roots.

If you decide to teach ESL in China, you will be able to say that you have lived in the most populated country in the world as well as the one who has won the most table tennis Olympic Gold medals. If a large population and ping pong doesn’t spell out adventure, well, then maybe an opportunity to see the Great Wall of China or visit historic sites dating back 4,000 years will. You say potato, we say teach English in China!

Of course, adventure is always awaiting you if you teach English in Vietnam! If you are looking for unique, and delicious, culinary experiences, look no further than Vietnam. But, there are also many other reasons to discover Asia while teaching English in Vietnam.

a locked bike-share bike to make travel easy when you teach ESL in China
Accessibility and ease of transportation in cities like Beijing, could be a deciding factor in your choice to teach ESL in China.

2. What can you do for fun?

When you are thinking about where to spend the next year (or more!) of your life, you may also be thinking about how you will be spending your weekends and time off. When you look at maps of both countries–what cities or neighboring countries jump out at you? Where are you eager to spend your time on your nights, weekends, and holidays?

Making the decision of where is best for teaching ESL in Asia is highly personal and one that cannot be made for you.

If you decide to teach English in China, you may want to focus your energy on exploring nearby Chinese cities. If you find yourself wanting to teach English in Vietnam, it might be easier to not only visit cities in Vietnam, but also neighboring countries, like Thailand or Laos, since they’re just a hop, skip, and a jump over the border. 

The reality is, as you consider your job options in Asia, you also need to keep in mind your life outside of the classroom. There will be free time amidst all those hours spent lesson planning and trying new snacks, and when you imagine what those weekends and holidays will look like, where do you foresee yourself feeling ecstatic joy?

Should I Teach ESL in China or Vietnam?

3. Is the cost of living cool with you?

Since getting rich isn't your main motive (or is it? then read this article on the highest paid teaching jobs abroad), you will likely want to consider a cost comparison before making your final decision of where to teach English in Asia. If you decide to teach English in Vietnam, you can take into consideration how much your accommodations and cost of living will run you in cities like Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, in comparison to teaching English in China in cities like Shanghai or Beijing.

Salary considerations

When you decide to teach english in Asia, salary is an important consideration to make, and make early. You’ll want to make sure you know the salary you can expect from different ESL jobs  in Asia, if you have any immediate financial goals you would like to achieve (or money you want to save for a Southeast Asia adventure!). ESL teachers in China' salary often ranges from 10,000-13,000 RMB per month (approximately $1,500-2,000 USD), where as Vietnam-based teachers often bring in18,000,000-23,000,000 Dong monthly ($800-$1,000 USD).

woman making noodles at a floating market in Vietnam, must see for anyone looking for ESL jobs in Asia.
When you teach English in Vietnam, you’ll have daily access to the wonderful floating markets on every traveler’s bucket list.

4. How comfortable will your lifestyle be?

Deciding to teach abroad is a big decision. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at things), that is not the last big decision you will be making related to ESL jobs in Asia.

Take your lifestyle for instance. Do you want to live somewhere that has all the amenities and accoutrements of your current living situation? Or are you willing to go out on a limb and integrate into a lifestyle vastly different than your own? There are pros and cons to either choice, so the only way you can know which is the best country in Asia to teach English for you is to do research on cities and ESL jobs located all over China and Vietnam. 

Rural or urban, heavily populated or less populated—these are differences you will need to understand about whichever city you choose to teach abroad in, whether in China or Vietnam, since the cities located within each one will be so different. 

Rowboats out on Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, a wonderful place to teach english in Vietnam.
If the hustle and bustle of big cities isn’t quite your thing, then you’ll want to teach English in Vietnam (way from Ho Chi Minh city or Hanoi, of course).

Which ESL jobs in Asia are right for you?

We don’t want to put any value judgements on places, but whether you choose to teach ESL in China or Vietnam, know that you are choosing from Asia’s finest! ESL jobs in Asia are numerous and, depending on where you are, can be well-paying. It might put your mind at ease to know that wherever you decide to find ESL jobs in Asia, you will be making the “right” choice.

You know how a lot is riding on this decision? Well, remember that no matter where you choose to teach English in Asia, you will undoubtedly have a transformative life experience that will shape your future in a positive way. Trite? Maybe. True? Without a doubt.

While the countries themselves are vastly different and will offer completely unique experiences, the one constant is your perspective. Decide before you leave that you are going to make the best of your situation by doing your research before you go and embracing the experience of teaching English in Asia while you are there. While it may be a little early to start thinking about what it will be like when you return home after teaching abroad, it can’t hurt to keep the endgame in mind too.

Browse ALL ESL jobs in Asia

Topic:  Before You Go