Money: Teaching English

Everybody asks:

How much can I make Teaching English Abroad?

 


But . . . what you need to ask is, “How much money can I save teaching English overseas?”

These are two very different questions.

In some countries you may be provided a relatively modest wage. But with no income taxes, free accommodation, paid or reimbursed airfare, even sometimes subsidized utilities and very low cost of living . . . other than purchasing food – almost everything you are paid is “pocket money” or discretionary income.

The other side of the coin is teaching in some European countries with what might seem to be a very decent wage, but where you must pay for your accommodation, taxes take a huge bite out of your income, airfare is not paid, utilities and transportation are very expensive and the cost of living is very high – and you save nothing. Might even be out of pocket.

So we are going talk about savings, not earnings, here – because what people really want to know is:
Can I pay down my student loans?
Can I pay off my debts?
Can I save enough money to buy an apartment or house – or a car when I return home?

The answer is, “Yes, you can.” It depends only on where you go and your qualifications.

Let’s talk in generalities about regions of the world and specifics about some of the largest EFL markets (China, Korea, Japan, Thailand and more).

EFL Teachers in Korea and Taiwan, for example, typically can save as much as US$1,000 per month or more. Your lifestyle, of course, will affect your personal bottom line as well as how currencies go up and down – but the general idea is accurate. In both countries you will need a BA/BS degree.

TEFL professionals in the Middle East and particularly the Gulf States can sometimes triple the savings of Korea, but the ME will generally require advanced degrees and previous experience for the better positions and some cultural aspects of the region are not to everyone’s liking.

EFL Teachers in China report a good lifestyle on their wages – but that they are usually unable to save significant money, though US$100-200 a month are possible if one is careful.

Thailand and Mexico and many countries in Central and South America offer wages that afford a modest and comfortable living – but serious savings are difficult to come by.

So, as you ponder the decision about teaching English overseas, you’ll also need to consider your financial situation and that will affect what countries you want to look at for your TEFL career.

If you have student loans or other debts, consider only countries where your likelihood of success is great and the average teacher is able to comfortably save at least the amount of your obligations and enough to travel and enjoy the region (Primarily Korea, Japan, Taiwan and parts of the Middle East).

Success

My personal experience is that I started in TEFL with very little in the way of assets – and over the period from 1992 to 2005 was able to buy several rental properties in the USA and pay them off (see TED’s Tips™ below). All the while teaching in four different countries and traveling to many others.

Overall, for me anyway, it was an excellent lifestyle combined with an ability to save. But, it is not all roses and happy faces. I would always prefer to work in a country like Thailand and sit on a beach – but I have had to make some choices and spend some serious time in countries like Saudi Arabia where earnings and net savings can be very high.

TEFL was a real career for me and I needed to make sure I had sufficient funds for retirement (I am now retired at the young age of only 58 – and enjoying that beach!).

TED’s Tips™ #1: In TEFL you are essentially working for yourself, responsible for yourself. Plan for your future carefully.

Working overseas, you might never be paying into a pension fund and if American, you won’t be paying into Social Security. You must plan income for your later years if you intend to stay abroad for a long period of time – or forever. Ignore this tip at your own peril. I’ve have actually seen a destitute old foreigner (Caucasian Westerner) digging through garbage cans, just 100 meters from a beautiful tropical beach. Very sad.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Do you research. Check and double check SAVINGS – not Earnings.

Ask on forums, ask me, ask others: be sure you know before you go.

 

17 Comments

  • By Sergio, August 15, 2009 @ 11:48 PM

    Thanks for writing a blog for the TEFL Newbie! I just received my BA and I’m excited to start TEFL training in Mexico later this month. This blog, along with TEFL Daddy, has been helpful as I start this new part of my life. Keep it up!

  • By Ted, August 16, 2009 @ 7:18 AM

    Go get ‘em – a wonderful new world is just beginning to open to you.
    A year from now you will be blown away by what you have experienced and how much your life and vision of the world have changed.

  • By Loretta, March 27, 2011 @ 4:14 PM

    Hi Ted,
    I am in my mid-40′s, have a PhD in English, but no TESOL yet. I’m wondering if, after getting a CELTA, it would be possible to find teaching jobs in Europe that would allow for “saving.” Also, does having a PhD open any doors?

    Thanks for your comments.

  • By Ted, March 27, 2011 @ 4:15 PM

    Hello Loretta,
    Yes, your PhD should open doors for you if you seek employment specifically at tertiary schools and or perhaps international schools. Europe can be a problem for Americans as EU employers will have to prove that they can not find a qualified candidate from within the EU. With unemployment high in the UK and Ireland, that may be difficult to prove. My understanding is that it is an easier job market in Eastern Europe but then wages are modest and real savings would be unlikely. The Middle East and Korea would both be good options as you soon as you have a good TEFL cert and you can save real money in both places.
    Enjoy!
    Ted

  • By Nick North, December 22, 2011 @ 11:48 PM

    Hi there, I am about to fly out to my first TEFL job in China, where i have it on good authority that over half my wages paid there can be sent home into an account for savings. Admittedly the amount I will be paid is between £500 and £700 a month in English, but the re are jobs in China where they pay more than this. I am a big fan of this site and the Cafe and I appreciate reading about real life experiences in order for me to get ready!!

    Many thanks and good luc to everyone who posts on hre in the future, whether it is your first or your last teaching post.

  • By Ted, December 22, 2011 @ 11:59 PM

    Hello Nick,
    To the best of my understanding you may send up to about 30% of your income earned in China back to your home country. Yes, there are other jobs that pay more but they are usually for teachers who are better experienced, better educated or both. The big cities pay more too, but the cost of living is often very high – higher than in some Western cities. Usually teachers in China can save more if they work in secondary – but still big – cities. Hangzhou would be a good example.
    Good Luck!
    Ted

  • By Rickey, March 8, 2012 @ 5:06 AM

    Hey Ted. I was wondering, how does college work for me if I want to attend college as I work overseas.

  • By Ted, March 8, 2012 @ 5:10 AM

    Hi Rickey,
    Take a reputable distance program for your degree. Both the UK and Australia have some very good programs. USA probably does too.

  • By Andrea, March 26, 2012 @ 4:08 AM

    Hello Ted, thanks so much for your site. I have been looking for a reputable website to look for information and finally found it…thanks for your work. My question to you is this: my husband has a degree and has been a teaching assistant and substitute teacher in the past and I have a degree and am a histotechnologist. We have a 7 year old son and looking to teach abroad so that we may save real money to purchase a home in the US. Given our background and need to have accomodations for three, where is the best place for us to travel to for optimal savings and what companies are easier to work with for families rather than singles? Also as US citizens isn’t are we required to still report and pay taxes on the income we earn abroad…how do we minimize this as to maximize savings?
    Thanks again!

  • By Ted, March 26, 2012 @ 8:50 AM

    Hello Andrea,

    Probably the best place to go is Korea, where you could probably save about US$1000 each per month. You will probably need to home school your child and find someone to look after him at times when you both are working. Yes, you will still need to file taxes – but read IRS 2555 – there is an exclusion of about US$90,000+ per year for EACH of you – you won’t likely be making that much so you probably won’t owe USA taxes. However, you MUST file your taxes and file the 2555 to claim the exemption – otherwise – yes – you will owe taxes on it. Consult a good CPA. It’s not complicated and they will know what to do. You might check out a few “international” schools in Korea as they might be able to provide you with a bilingual education for your son – free.
    Good luck!
    Ted

  • By Andrea, March 27, 2012 @ 10:27 AM

    Thanks for your response Ted. I believe the suggestion to find a n international bilingual school is very helpful since our aim is to both be employed. I’m also pretty sure that daycare assistance won’t be as overpriced as it is here in good old NY! Thanks again and keep up the excellent work with this site.

  • By Matthew Hesse, April 5, 2012 @ 5:07 AM

    Hi! I already have a Bachelor’s Degree in Special and Elementary Education, and am also certified to teach middle school math. Do I need more schooling before I can teach English (or math) in the Philippines?

  • By Ted, April 5, 2012 @ 6:00 AM

    Hi Matthew,
    You should do fine. Your best bet would be to approach international schools. Math teachers in particular are in short supply. Good luck!
    Ted

  • By Rickey, April 20, 2012 @ 5:17 AM

    Hey Ted, I don’t have a degree at all but I thought about getting certified in TEFL, I would like to teach in China. How much money do you think I might be making, and do you think I can pay for college?

  • By Ted, April 20, 2012 @ 6:45 AM

    Hello Rickey,
    Wages in China are modest, but low taxes, free accommodation, subsidized utilities and other benefits tend to mean that your wages are for “food and fun” – so the real question is not How much can you EARN – as much as – How much can you SAVE. This is largely a personal question that depends on your personal lifestyle. If you are out in the nightclubs every night – you’ll spend more than you earn. If you watch your money a bit – still have a good time – you can probably save US$2-300 a month and up from there. There are often opportunities to increase your wages as well.
    I hope that helps.
    Ted

  • By Sonia, February 10, 2014 @ 12:15 AM

    Hi, Ted,

    You are so helpful to everyone. Thank you. Re: Korean salaries. You stated one can save up to 1K/month and their and the Mid. East salaries seem to be the highest. Therefore, on average when offered a position or applying to one, for that matter, what is a GOOD Korean salary for a TOEFL? I have a B.A. in History-Sociology from Columbia (NYC) and no certificates (yet) although I am heavily considering a CELTA course, which I must await until June (in Philadelphia)!

  • By Ted, February 11, 2014 @ 1:36 AM

    Hello Sonia,
    You wrote: what is a GOOD Korean salary for a TOEFL?
    I assume you mean for someone with a TEFL/TESOL certification? TOEFL is a different animal. To employers a BA is a BA, they aren’t much concerned about the subject or school from which you received it. Your wages will depend on your overall qualifications and what you have to offer to the school. So, to some extent it depends even on the type of school you apply to and what kind of a fit you are for them. DO THE CELTA – a good idea if you can afford it and the time. What is your previous work experience? That is important. If nothing special then you can look for a job in Korea here: http://www.eslcafe.com/jobs/korea/ to get a sense of wages good and bad.
    I hope that helps.
    Ted

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