Having lived in Shenzhen for more than a year, I can say that it really is a great city for any expat, and living there can be as comfortable or as authentic as you’d like. For new teachers looking for comforts from home to help ease the transition, Shenzhen is a tier 1 city making it easy to obtain pretty much anything you need from Western food to king size sheets. There is no shortage of things to do, including networking opportunities, sports clubs, and general meetups based on various interests.
Also, the proximity to Hong Kong makes for an awesome (and easy) weekend trip and (usually) a cheaper alternative when looking for flights around Asia. Finally, you can’t really talk about China without talking about the air. Rest assured, Shenzhen has some of the best air in the country and its location next to the ocean ensures that there is ample breeze with which to blow the dirty stuff out of the city.
Shenzhen As a City
Shenzhen is a testament to China’s modernity – built on the banks of the bay that separates Hong Kong and China, Shenzhen was a village only 30 years ago. Now it’s a huge metropolis that rivals both Beijing and Shanghai in terms of amenities and quality of life for expats. Shenzhen was marked as a Special Economic Zone in 1980 and thus is a bit looser when it comes to government control and overall way of living. Located in the southern tip of the Guangdong province, both Hong Kong and Guangzhou (another tier-1 city) are accessible in an hour.
Where to Live/Work
A lot of teachers don’t have much say in where they work and live, but if you’re still in the research phase you can easily look for schools located around these 4 main areas:
Shekou used to be where the majority of expats lived and is still popular with families and execs on expat packages. With its abundance of import stores and western restaurants, it might be the least Chinese place I’ve ever been in China, but that’s not to say it’s not damn convenient. Located in the southern corner of the city, Shekou is also a bit isolated from the rest of Shenzhen and getting to other areas can take 30+ min on the subway. Also, if you’re renting your own apartment, expect prices to be a bit higher than normal here.
What little culture Shenzhen has tended to be based in Nanshan – it is a huge area in the northwest area of the city and home to most of the artistic and tech communities in the city. Living here is a classic best-of-both-worlds scenario, you get awesome urban villages like Baishizhou, sprawling art districts like OCT, and the major startup environments like Hi-Tech Park. While a little rough around the edges compared to Shekou, rent in Nanshan tends to be cheaper and it’s easier to get to the rest of the city.
Futian is the financial capital of Shenzhen with a layout and skyline similar to any major city in the world. In my opinion, it’s also the area currently with the most development going on, and there seem to be new buildings springing up every week. Consequently, rent is also being driven up, but in return, you get a central location and access to the top restaurants, clubs, and shops. While salaries in Shenzen are already quite high compared to most of China, Futian does seem to command the highest compensation in the city due to the cost of living and the affluent nature of the area.
These three aren’t quite the suburbs, but anyone teaching in Shenzhen will find themselves a bit outside of the major city (though still connected by subway) when living here. Expect your money to go further here and it’s not uncommon to land a huge apartment for just yourself. On the other hand, you will definitely be traveling further for Western meals and amenities. If you’re just beginning your job search in China, expect recruiters to push jobs in areas like this as they are harder sells than those more in the city. However, if you’re looking for a teaching experience and work environment that aligns itself with more traditional China, these areas might be for you.
Working in Shenzhen
With a population nearing 20 million, there is no shortage of work in Shenzhen people looking to teach in China will have their pick of jobs. Also, because Shenzhen is a tier 1 city, expect salaries to be on the higher end of the scale with lots of perks like housing thrown in. Outside of the classroom, teachers will find it hard not to meet other foreigners as the city has tremendous appeal. Most ex-pats are located in the Shekou area, though that is slowly changing with the emergence of the Futian (financial) district.
The majority of Shenzhen’s popular didn’t live there 30 years making it difficult to find even a semblance of culture. The city is changing daily with new things being built and you will be hard-pressed to find any kind of cultural string that binds together the residents.
There is no shortage of both Western and Chinese nightlife opportunities for teachers in Shenzhen. From the one-off Chinese clubs to the ever-expensive there really is something for everyone.
There is no getting around it – Shenzhen is hot (as is the rest of Guangdong) and you cannot expect a proper 4 seasons when living here. Instead, prepare to wear a short-sleeve shirt to Christmas dinner and be sweating constantly during the summer thanks to the 90% humidity.
Cost of Living
If you think you can come and teach and Shenzhen and live for pennies on the dollar, think again. Shenzhen is one of the most expensive cities in China and depending on spending habits, you might find yourself needing to make just as much as you did back home. That’s not to say it can’t be done cheaply – plenty of people save money here, but it takes discipline to not eat, drink, and live like a Westerner. Here are a few figures to drive the point home:
Is Teaching in Shenzhen for You?
If you like living and urban life and having access to anything you need, there is a good chance you’d enjoy teaching in Shenzhen. While it can be difficult to save money if you live like a Westerner, salaries are also high her and with a little planning and discipline, you can easily pocket a lot of your pay.