Many expats come to China and think they will just stay a few months or maybe a year. Yet a year passes by quickly and many find it hard to leave the exciting expat life they had been enjoying. Also, since living expenses are pretty cheap in China, many teachers find they have actually been able to save more money than ever before! It’s hard to give up living a pretty comfortable life AND saving money.
Some questions many English teachers in China ask themselves at one point is this: Is English teaching going to be my career? If not, shouldn’t I be moving on? How long can I realistically expect to stay in China?
The answers to these questions are going to be different for everyone, but based on previous expat data the following is true depending on which group you belong to. First, most single expat teachers in China stay two years. Honestly, it takes an entire year just to get acclimated to the crazy life you will have in China so it’s only by the second year you will start feeling more comfortable in your new surroundings. Sadly, by the end of the second or perhaps third year, many feel itch to move on. This is pretty normal for young people these days in any job. After 3 years, most people tend to switch jobs.
Here in China, though, that two year itch is more than an itch; it starts to feel like mile 20 of a marathon. You’re tired and can’t see the end in sight. After two years, the hassle of life here will be causing you to complain constantly and you’ll be thinking about home more than ever. These are signs it might be time for you to head back; however, it’s been proven if you stick this period out, things do get better. It’s a personal choice whether you prefer to push through the pain or call it a day.
Second, if you happen to marry a local while you’re here, it’s likely that you will stay 5-10 years. No one comes to China thinking they will stay for a decade, but then life happens. Usually, you will have found your mate within the first 2-3 years and they helped you overcome the two year itch. After a while, you marry, and then have kids. You may wait until the kids are a bit older and you’ve saved up more money to move back home, but most expats don’t like the Chinese school system so they will move back home once their children are old enough for primary school.
Third, if you’ve found an amazing job or endless career opportunities in China you will most likely stay 3-15 years. There’s nothing better than having an exciting life and a job you like. If you find this magical combination, why would you ever leave? Sadly, China makes it difficult for expats to stay forever. Usually after age 60, it’s impossible to get a work visa or any long-term visa unless you married a local. Perhaps in the future, this will change, but for now plan wisely. How easy will it be for you to transition back into your home country at age 35, 40, or 45? What are your career goals? The sooner you answer these questions, the less likely you’ll feel you “wasted time” in China.
China will have strong demand for English teachers for many years to come still. Use this unique opportunity to experience a different culture, gain international work experience, and meet people from all over the world.