Coming to Shanghai: 5 tips for the first time ESL teacher in China.
1) Bring enough money.
Shanghai can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. The median income is about 5000rmb a month, but renting a flat can cost you considerably more. The same goes for food. You could spend 50rmb a day on meals or spend 300rmb per meal. You won’t really know how much you will have to spend until getting here and paychecks only come once a month so you should have a comfortable buffer of cash to see you through the first weeks.
Also, at some point, you’ll probably want to find your own place or share with roommates. If you are looking to rent your own place, the initial payment can be quite high. Rent is typically paid every 3 months, and to get a flat you’ll have to pay a damage deposit equal to 1 month’s rent and if you use an agent, a 35% agency fee on top of that. So to rent a 5000rmb per month flat (which is quite a bit on the cheap side in the central city), you’ll have to shell out 15,000rmb in rent, 5000rmb in damage deposit, and 1750rmb in agency fee totaling 21750rmb just to move in. To sign up for phone or internet, you may also need to pay a deposit and installation fee of up to 1000rmb or may have to pay 12 months service in advance which can be quite a bill. Moving into a shared flat can help you avoid all these big initial expenses and may be a good option for the newly arrived teacher, but having some cash on hand is always a smart move.
2) If you’ll need a credit card, bring one with you.
Credit is not international. It is dependent on the country or region you live in. Therefore, if you have a great credit score in the US, it doesn’t mean you have credit anywhere else. In China, you have none. So, if you think you might want to use a credit card during your time in Shanghai, don’t cancel the one you have now and think you can just get a new one in China, you can’t.
In fact, getting a credit card without your company co-signing the credit application is nearly impossible if you are not Chinese, and if it is possible, the best most people can get is one that must be prepaid, which isn’t really “credit” at all.
In China, luckily, cash is still king, and all your travel arrangements can be made in person in cash. Hotels may require a 500rmb or so deposit if you arrive without a credit card, but this is no problem for most travelers. But if you hope to travel to other Asian countries like Singapore, South Korea, or Japan, have a credit card becomes much more essential. So, if you think you’ll be travelling around Asia and already have a credit card in your home country, bring it with you.
3) Bring originals of all official documents you may need: Degree, Certificates, Criminal Record Check, etc.
More than once a new teacher has arrived at Longman Schools for a job and forgot some vital official document in their home country. This causes a big headache as your work permit cannot be converted to the residence permit which entitles you to live and work in China. You’ll be sat waiting for things to be sent by courier from your home country while you spend time waiting and wondering if you’ll ever be legally allowed to work. This can be annoying and frustrating and a poor way to start your adventure in Shanghai.
4) Learn all you can about China before arriving.
The more you know, the better off you are. China is a very old civilization with a cultural tradition unlike any the West has to offer. The best way to prepare yourself for being immersed in Chinese culture is to learn all you can about the country before arriving. Read news stories, watch documentaries, and read as many books as possible. (Anything written by Peter Hessler is a good place to start.) When you arrive here you’ll at least have some expectation of what you might encounter and will be better mentally prepared to start your new life working at Longman Schools.
Also, you will find, that in China, getting information about China might be far more difficult than it is outside the country. In other words, after arriving, it might be too late to find answers to questions you have about the how’s and why’s of modern day China. Which leads to the final tip…
5) Buy a VPN.
If you like things like Youtube, Facebook, gmail or access to blog sites, news sites, airline booking systems, hotel booking systems, developer sites like github, or just want to be able to access foreign sites without having to wait minutes for pages to load, you need a VPN.
The internet is a scary thing for the Chinese Communist Party and therefore, they do everything they can to stop you from seeing it. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) will bypass the Great Firewall of China, and allow you to roam the net unencumbered by the shackles of Chinese internet thought police. Even relatively innocuous things like booking a hotel in Tokyo or reading your email may be impossible without a VPN. More than one traveler to China has found themselves in a difficult position because they could not access their gmail to check on hotel reservations or to tell their loved ones they arrived safely. (In this situation, phoning may not be an option as outside f hotels, phones do not connect with the outside world unless specifically applied for at the time of registration and cell phones do not have the ability to make overseas calls.)
So get a VPN before you arrive. Over the past 3 or 4 years, Astrill has been the best and is worth looking into before you come. Paying for things like VPN’s after already in China may be impossible as the sites are to sign-up are often blocked and Chinese payment methods like Union Pay to PayPal for payment are also blocked.