Just How Much can you Earn Teaching English?

A reader recently asked just how much money she could earn teaching English in Taiwan versus other locations.  She was hoping to maximize her income to take care of student loans.

She was looking for her first teaching job, so we didn’t discuss the Middle East, where wages can be excellent, but they tend to require a couple of year experience.

Taiwan versus Korea versus China

It is important to understand that it is not how much you can earn, but rather how much you can save (your discretionary income).

While Taiwan ranks high in Asia for wages, the benefits provided with jobs often do not match other countries that pay a bit less. For example, Korea pays only a bit less than Taiwan, but you get free accommodation, paid air tickets and a lower overall tax rate – and, bottom line, you have more bankable income than in Taiwan.

The overall cost of living in Taiwan is higher than in Korea also. I found it less stressful to teach private classes in Taiwan, but they were less plentiful than in Korea and private classes paid more in Korea.

China should not be ruled out either. With your degree in business, you should be aware that there is a demand for Business English in China that far exceeds the interest in it in Taiwan and Korea. Lower cost of living, even lower taxes and sometimes, you could bank more money in China than in Korea. And again, in China, free accommodation, reimbursed air tickets and sometimes even free or subsidized utilities (which are expensive in both Korea and Taiwan) and even meals at some schools.

True Bottom Line?

You can save far more in Korea, China and Taiwan than you can in the States, UK or Australia.  And it looks like taxes and pension costs are going to be going up up up soon as most Western countries struggle to balance their budgets

The same reader also asked, “Can I make a career out of TEFL and teach abroad indefinitely?”

You bet you can – I did – and many others are doing it right now. But be forewarned, it is such a different and enjoyable life you may never go back . . .

TED’s Tips™ #1:  It’s how much you can save, not how much you can earn.  If money is the bottom line for your decision, be sure to compare all your benefits and determine the costs of taxes and essentials before making a decision.

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Potentially Bad TEFL Advice . . .

Well intentioned but inevitably bad advice litters the Internet probably no place more than in the TEFL world.

DO YOUR RESEARCH! people often yell.

But, but, but . . . who should you ask?

I don’t know.

Following is a point a reader sent to us:

Get a Notarized Contract from the Owner of the School

A popular new notion floating around the Internet is that you should NEVER take a job until the owner of a school has signed your contract and their signature has been notarized.  The thinking is that this could or would avoid working for a school that does not honor its commitments.

Now this seems like a good idea.  But if you are the only person a school has wanted to hire to make such a demand, are they not going to be worried that you are some sort of a problem?  That there may be legal issues at hand if they take a risk with you?  Do you think they will actually do this for you?  For how many jobs will you be sent away before you change your demands?

The other problem with this idea is that even if it did make sure you connected with the owner, that doesn’t mean s/he is going to follow through on whatever they have signed and it is almost never financially productive to try to seek legal redress in a country that is not your own.  Better to negotiate a resolution or just get out of the deal as best you can.  Why would getting something “notarized” mean anything to such an owner.  Nortaries aren’t common or even available at all in many countries.

I’ve seen people spend years trying to recover amounts of money that were far less than what they ended up paying their attorney.   These people often just end up bitter and waste life’s precious time trying to prove a point.  Yeah, you got burned.  Move on.   I got burned twice, but I moved on both times (it was two in row!).   Now . . . maybe I was just a patsy, a pushover?  But those were my first two TEFL jobs and I ended up making a great life out of it.

I believe in making a point and in doing things correctly.  But I also feel that life is too short to spend years chasing my own tail.   I’m not saying no one has ever benefitted from such action.  I’ve just never seen it.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Life is full of problems.  They can happen anywhere and they do happen everywhere.  When you run into these problems, assess the amount of energy and emotional baggage that it will take to focus on them versus moving on.  Will that focus take your energy away from your other goals in life?

For one of my two bad situations when I started out, I got out of a school that had bailed out of EFL (it was a Japanese language school that wanted to move into English and they didn’t get rich right away like they thought they would) and landed another job pending placement at a college.  While I worked at that temporary placement  I was consistently shorted a relatively small amount of money each pay day.  I asked about and tried to resolve it, but I knew I was moving on shortly anyway.

I don’t hold a grudge against either of these places.  Whatever they do is their karma. It would not have been worth the time, emotion, money or energy to try to seek financial recompense from either school.  So I just let it go.

There kinds of decsions are highly personal, but I daily make an effort to keep my life positive and focused on positive things.  It works for me.

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Physical Limitations and Teaching English Abroad

A reader recently wrote:

I am a little chubby … am curious what countries are harder to be employed in or if there are any countries you can suggest where that is not a significant barrier

Unless you are hugely overweight it probably isn’t a problem anywhere.

Be aware though, if you are “out of shape” or have physical limitations, that many schools in the developing world might well be on the third or fourth floor of a building with no elevator and you might find yourself running between floors to get to a class on time.

I taught at a large college once where the buildings were spread out on different hills and one class might be on the fifth floor of one building and I would have ten minutes to make it to my next class – going down the five floors, down the hill, up another hill and up another 4-5 stories. Even though I was in reasonable shape I would often arrive at my next class out of breath, sweating profusely and not quite ready to take up the reins of the class.

If you have any kind of physical issues, it is important to ask your employer about accessibility issues in the building.  And get specific.  At my last university job in Korea, we had nice new handicapped access type rest rooms installed on all floors of the buildings, but no elevator to get up to them.   Perhaps they are coming later, but they aren’t there now.

Be aware also that many cultures don’t have the social inhibitions about commenting on your size or other issues. When I worked in a college in Taiwan the secretary once told me that I was “getting fatter and fatter every day”. She did this across a large room with many people in it. And yes, I was chubbing out a bit at the time. It actually hurt my feelings a bit and I wanted to say, “Yes, but you are ugly and I can lose weight”. But – I fully realized that her statement was not intended as an insult, just as a friendly comment.

TED’s Tips™ #1:   If you have any kind of physical limitations it is best to be direct and up front about them.   Many countries either do not have accessibility rules or don’t enforce them.  It is far better to find out early in the process than to show up for a job that you can not physically handle.

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The #1 Thing you will Learn while Living Abroad

Why are we such snobs?

This post has been begging to be written for a long time and when I was Googling around looking to organize my thoughts on it I ran into an excellent article in the Huffington Post titled Crime and Safety: Another Reason Why Americans Need to Travel Abroad.

While that article addresses Americans, I’d like to extend this discussion to all Westerners from “developed” countries.

The author details why she has felt relatively safe in various notoriously unsafe cities around the world such as Bogota, Caracas, Mexico City and Phnom Penh.   Why?  Because she grew up and got her street skills in a not so nice part of Oakland, California.

Her counterpart in the article grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, another of America’s crime capitals and she also feels relatively safe in some well known crime locales having acquired street skills in her youth.

A major point of the story was how sad it is that the crime problems in some of the world’s famous crime havens are really about the same as the bad parts of London, Paris, Washington D.C., Detroit and on and on.  We’ve come to accept the crime problem.  And yet, we like to see ourselves and our countries as superior to these other places.

Our national and local news trumpets stories of vicious and horrific crimes abroad.  We’ve all been very clearly told just how dangerous it is outside the safe borders of our own country.  Yet, our own countries have some pretty nasty places  you wouldn’t want to visit after dark and some not even in broad daylight!

An issue she didn’t cover was that there are also many many places in the developing world where crime just isn’t a problem or at least not nearly so much as in our Western cities.  Seoul, Pusan, Bangkok. Chiang Mai, Jakarta and many other places in the world are just plain safer.  Oh yeah, you will read drama on the internet of silly tourists being scammed and usually they were doing things they would never have done “back home”.

Japan and Korea (Korea is maybe no longer a “developing”, but rather a “developed” country) are probably two of the safest places I have ever been.

I’ve lived in Bangkok twice and walked (mostly jogged – as exercise) its dark streets alone late at night many many times with never a problem.   Never got kidnapped or “Banged up Abroad” as the BS TV show likes to dramatize.

I helped place a young teacher in a foreign country recently only to have his mother call me - hysterical – wanting to know at least if he was “still alive”!  I assured her that her child was probably safer now than when back home.   I don’t think she believed me though . . .

How did so many people become so fearful of the world outside their borders, yet so accepting of the horrendous crimes in their own countries?  And just how snobbish is that?  Is our murder really better and less troublesome than their murder?  Come on!  Get off it.

The article mentioned above noted that these days a record number of Americans have a passport – yet only 30%!

That #1 Thing . . .

Back to the title of this article – that #1 thing you will learn when you live abroad is that the big world out here isn’t what you have been told it is.  It is no where near as dangerous and at least ten times more interesting than you have ever been told.

I’m not suggesting you behave carelessly, flashing money and expensive jewelry about, but I am saying head out here with an open mind.  And when you find out what it is REALLY like out in the real world, please educate your family and friends back home.  There probably would be a lot less war in this world if more people saw more of the world and came to understand it better.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Give the world a chance and you will be hugely and very pleasantly surprised.  And please educate those folks back home if you can, but it will be a very tough sell to outdo Banged up Abroad.

TED’s Tips™ #2:  This is really just a personal comment for comparison.  In the about 20 years I spent as an adult in Arizona in the USA – my various homes were burglarized five times.  In my 20 years of living abroad – it hasn’t happened yet.  Who’d a thunk it?!  Knock on wood of course . . .

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