Bringing Home the (TEFL) Bacon

Can I make ends meet while teaching overseas?

There’s a big question out there that newbie teachers ask before they teach English overseas: How much can I earn?

It’s a great question and in this post I’d like to give a useful answer to it.

New teachers often need to pay off some outstanding debt (think student loans or house payments) back home. They need to find out if the job they’re going to will provide them with enough salary to take care of these obligations.

As we get older, the more financial responsibilities we’re likely to have and the more we look to saving for the future; so I get this question very often from teachers who are over 30 years old.

Now, if this is your situation—you’re about 30 (or over) and have some bills or loans to pay back—can you still bring in enough money to make teaching EFL to be a sound decision?

My quick answer is, “Yes.” But, I’d also like to add: “it depends.”

Let’s look at this more in-depth. Take for example one of my readers, who wrote to me with the following questions:

1) In Asia, for example Taiwan, can I make 2,500-3,000 USD monthly?

2) If so, is this a 30- to 40-hours-per-week job or do you think I’d need to supplement that with a part-time job doing tutoring or classes at another training center or school?

3) Will I be able to make enough money to live comfortably, pay off my student loans, and save a little?

This teacher, who was over 30 years old, had a TESOL certification and an MBA, good qualifications. The teacher also had some experience traveling in the East, but hadn’t lived there before.

When answering this teacher or anyone else who asks me these same, crucial, questions, I think it’s important to emphasize  the difference between the salary you get and the salary you can bank. Just because you get a higher paycheck in one region than you might in another doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to save more money at the end of the month. This is your discretionary income.

Talking about Taiwan specifically, it’s important to note that though the wages paid there to teachers is pretty high for the region (Korea is just a smidgen less), you won’t be able to take advantages of some other benefits—such as no-cost-to-you housing and subsidized airfare at the end of your contract. It’s important to compare tax rates between countries too. I’d say that, at the end of the month, even if you were earning less on your paycheck in Korea than in Taiwan, you’d end up with more bankable income in Korea.

Take into consideration, also, the cost of living. In Taiwan, that cost is higher than Korea. I have taught private lessons in both countries as well, and while I found the stress factor to be less for lessons in Taiwan, it was easier (and more profitable) to find private classes in Korea.

When you’re looking at the Asian region and weighing your options for teaching jobs, don’t automatically rule out mainland China, either. Since the teacher above has an MBA, they should be aware that Business English classes are in high demand in China—more so than in Taiwan and Korea. In China the teacher might just find a job that would offer a lower cost of living, a lower tax rate—and, even if the salary was less, dollar-to-dollar, than in Taiwan, perhaps they’d end up with more take-home pay at the end of the month.

China also offers a lot of jobs which include free accommodation or living stipends; round-trip airplane tickets upon completion of the contract; and, occasionally, free utilities (expensive in Korea and Taiwan).

So, after taking all these factors into consideration, what’s the real bottom line?

You can rest assured that in any of the three Asian countries we discussed today—Korea, China and Taiwan—you’ll probably save more money than you would in the USA.

Extrapolating from these ideas, another question that comes up is:

4) Can I make a career out of TEFL? What if I wanted to teach overseas indefinitely!

And my answer is, “Yes!”If this is your dream, then go get ‘em! You can— I did—and many many other people around the world are doing it right now. The only danger is—you may like it so much you never want to go back…

Good luck!

TED’s Tips™ #1: If you, like most of us, are concerned about the financial aspects of teaching overseas, don’t worry as much about how much money you are MAKING, worry about how much you will be BANKING.

TED’s Tips™ #2: When figuring out the true ‘cost’ of teaching overseas, don’t neglect to factor in your whole employment package—not only wages, but also the taxes you’ll pay on them, the cost of living in your target country, your ability to get jobs on the side to supplement your income, and benefits like housing stipends, subsidized utilities and free flight tickets home.




How Much can you Earn Teaching English Abroad?

Everybody asks that question, but the real question probably needs to be, How much can you SAVE teaching English abroad.

The wage packages can be so different between countries and what looks like a great offer – might actually be bettered by what appears to be a more modest offer.

Things to consider when calculating your wages and benefits . . .

Cost of Living.

In some countries you might get paid a lot, but the cost of living can be very high and what you do earn, you may well spend on basics.  Jobs in Europe and the Middle East might fall into this category.

Benefits: Accommodation, Medical Insurance and more . . .

Some jobs provide free accommodation.  But look even deeper.  Some jobs in China, for example, may even offer a basic level of electricity, cooking gas and water as part of your package.  Some schools provide free medical care (but do inquire carefully about coverage and quality of care).

Income Taxes.

A lot?  A little?  Does you employer pay them for you?

Paid Vacation Time.

University jobs often pay modestly but sometimes offer three- or four-day work weeks and even up to twenty (yes, 20!) weeks paid vacation per year.  That is literally a half-time job for full-time wages.  Be careful though, some colleges and universities might pay a reduced rate during vacations and some might not pay at all.

Overtime Pay.

Some jobs will start to pay you overtime when you have taught only nine classroom hours in a week (university jobs again), but others may not pay overtime until you exceed as many as 25 or 30 hours per week and some might not pay until you exceed a certain monthly total.  Make sure you understand how this works before you sign that contract.

Payment of Visa  and Related Fees.

In some countries visa processing and associated paperwork can be quite expensive.  Will your employer cover all or part of these expenses?


Will your employer reimburse airfare?  All or part of it?  Or up to a certain limit?  This often varies by country and sometimes even within a country.

Add it all up

Add it all up and figure what your basic package might be worth and how much you might be able to SAVE per month.  Some jobs in China, for example, can have you saving a lot more than similar jobs in Vietnam or Thailand that pay more but where you have to pay for your own accommodation, airfare and get minimal paid time off.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Don’t compare just the wages of a job.  Add in all the other factors and make sure you leave some money for travel and exploring your new country.  If you have big student loans that need to be paid, Korea is probably your best bet.  If you have better-than-average qualifications and experience then parts of the Middle East are excellent for savings as well.

The BEST EFL Teaching Jobs in China: Government Colleges, Universities and Secondary Schools offer the most reliable and worry-free jobs in China. Click on the Link if you would like to Teach English in China

Working TEFL, Making Money . . .

How much can I make teaching English abroad?

I want to share with the readers of this blog one of the most frequently asked questions that I get. And I want to give a good answer to it. Cut to the meat of the issue: How much can I earn, can I pay off bills and student loans, can I do it even at 30+ years of age? My answers are below the questions – but bottom line is “A lot, but it depends” “Yes” and “Yes” – but for the details, read on . . .

A reader wrote:

I wanted to ask you a question regarding the age topic and relative ease at which someone can make a decent living at esl teaching abroad.

My questions are, in one of the top paying ESL locations in Asia specifically Taiwan, can I expect to earn at least $2,500 – $3,000 dollars a month if I work 30 to 40 hrs at one job or would I need to have a part time job i.e.:(tutoring, another school, etc)? I am trying to make sure that I can afford to live and pay off my school loans from teaching esl abroad. I understand the reality is you make a lot less compared to US salaries, but I want to make sure I will have enough to live and pay off loans and save a little.

Also I am 32, have a TESOL cert and an MBA and think its time to live abroad and learn a new language/culture. I have traveled abroad to Asia in the past but never lived or worked there, so would the fact that I am 32 hinder my chances of getting a job in ESL? Also could I make a career out of ESL and teach abroad indefinitely? Any insight would be helpful especially from someone who’s already done it!

It is important to understand that it is not how much you can earn – but rather how much you can bank (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 MBA, you should be aware that there is a demand for Business English that far exceeds the interest in it in Taiwan and Korea. Lower cost of living, even lower taxes and sometimes, you could even bank more money in China than in Korea (not always, but sometimes).

And again – in China, free accommodation, reimbursed air tickets and sometimes even free utilities (which are expensive in both Korea and Taiwan).

True Bottom Line? You can save far more in Korea, China and Taiwan than you can in the States. And it looks like taxes and FICA in the USA are going to be going up up up soon to pay for all the debt associated with the “Stimulus” spending.

Contact me at and let me see if I can connect you with a good Business English job in China. You mention your age, it won’t be a problem and in fact will be a bit of an advantage. Middle-aged businesspeople don’t want to learn Business English from a young kid with no business experience. You will be better able to relate to them, their work, the demands and pressures of the lives; far more so than a 21-year-old fresh out of university.

You also asked,

Can I make a career out of TEFL and teach abroad indefinitely?

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

Go get ’em!

TED’s Tips™ #1: For those whom money is a concern the question isn’t “How much can I make” – it’s “How much can I BANK”.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Be sure to look at the full package: total wages, taxes, cost of living, ability to earn extra income legally (or quasi-legally) on the side and benefits provided such as free accommodation, subsidized utilities and air tickets when computing your bankable wages.

What’s up in China? Learn about a great internship program on offer if would like to Teach English in China

How to Teach English Overseas and Secrets to Success Abroad
TEFL Boot Camp  is offering a free download of their new publication Seven Secrets of Success Abroad – and along with it comes a bi-weekly installment and revision of their eBook called How to Teach English Overseas.

Great reviews for the Secrets of Success eBook – in spite of the hokey name – and the How to Teach English eBook is being updated and rewritten and sent out in installments as it is ready.

Here they are – click on the eBooks to get your FREE copies! Great information and the price is right, from our friends at TEFL Boot Camp – CLICK HERE FOR THE FREE EBOOKS.



Please let me know what you think of the ebooks – use the comments section below.

I confess both eBooks are written by yours truly – hoping to inspire others to head overseas and live life BIG out in the real world. I would value your feedback!