Standard of Living for English Teachers Abroad

 If I teach overseas, will I live well or suffer for my dreams?

Don’t worry! Usually, teachers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) make more money than does the normal John Q. Public in their host country. This means that most English teachers are able to support themselves in a style better than most of the locals. Sounds good, right?

Hold on a minute, though. What if Mr.and Mrs. Public live in a hovel, with a leaky, corrugated iron roof and a dirt floor (plus or minus a couple of chickens)?

It’s good you asked. Teachers of EFL may find that their quality of life is modest. But modest can also be good. Of course, this is going to be different in each country you visit in your teaching career. For myself, I have never suffered a poor quality of life. And I’ve seldom or never heard other TEFLers complaining about this issue.

That’s because, even in countries that don’t pay much, teachers can still get by (or even prosper) in the local economy.

What should you be aware of?

People say you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but if you’re taking free accommodation as part of your employment package, then you should be prepared for the possibility that it won’t be at the same quality level as something you would pick out for yourself.

It can happen that your housing looks like it’s in the middle of a slum, that’s happened to me, in fact. But, in developing countries, appearances of low upkeep don’t always signify crime-ridden neighborhoods as they might in the West. In most places you would go to teach (particularly in Asia) , it’s unlikely that crime will be a big problem in your city.

When I lived in Korea some of my friends lived in the kind of area that back home I’d never have ventured into after sundown. It was a rabbit warren of back alleyways . . . However, despite its dodgy looks by Western standards, this Korean neighborhood was a perfectly safe place.

In the West, the press focuses on troubled areas and ‘hot spots.’ But in reality, when you’re traveling abroad you’ll find many places, and parts of Asia in particular, much safer than your average Western city.

How it’s been for me

I have always maintained a good quality of life while living abroad. I’ve taught in Taiwan, Korea (two times), Saudi Arabia and Thailand. I have never deprived myself of food, amenities or good medical care. (And usually, that medical care is much cheaper abroad than at home!)

Except in Thailand, I have always been able to save money after my basic living needs were taken care of. I usually was able to save at least 800 USD per month, and sometimes even twice or three times that per month.  Wherever it is that your TEFL career takes you, your salary should allow you to have a good lifestyle and to be able to take local or regional vacations without hurting your bottom line too much.

Ted’s Tips™ #1: Do some research and check how much a job’s salary would work out to in local terms. You’ll see that some countries, even after your monthly expenses, you’ll be able to pocket 50 percent of your wages. That’s often a lot more than you could have done in your home country, even if the base wage is lower.

Ted’s Tips™ #2: Ask about local crime rates and safety levels. In general, Asia is much safer than the West. Be sure and research destinations first if you’re going to Latin America, where crime can be an issue


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Adjusting to a New Country

Some People have Difficulty Adjusting to Change

On a forum in which I participate we were talking recently about things to do to help you get “settled in” and comfy in your new country/city.

People were looking for some hard and fast rules.  But as with most things, general guidelines are probably better.

If you are planning staying long term somewhere then I think what you might do depends a lot on the particular city and your comfort level with the culture.

I went about doing things very differently when I moved to Bangkok versus Taipei versus Riyadh versus Pusan, Korea versus Francistown Botswana.

Some essentials though are to make your home comfortable. Get Internet set up, TV, telephone – communication things organized, so you can communicate with friends and family.

Buy and organize your kitchen items so you can eat when and how you like. Same thing with bed linens, pillows – etc. The point being to make your home comfortable and to feel like home rather than to feel like a temporarily rented box.

Part of this will depend also on how introverted/extroverted you are. I am a bit quiet and shy until you know me, so I try to connect with groups that have similar interests. In Saudi Arabia it was a poker group. In Bangkok it was a book club. In Pusan it was a teachers group.

In one place I volunteered at an English language library. The library was an excellent way to meet people and it was easy to start conversations about what people were reading.

I’ve lived in five “foreign” countries for about two to ten years each and every one was super different even if in the same region of the world. Crime, ease of accessing the language, weather, culture and customs all will affect how you might go about adjusting.

Mostly – keep your eyes open, read community boards in places where expatriates gather (you WILL want to speak to people in your native language from time to time), volunteer if you can.

It really depends on how you wish to define your lifestyle.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Get your home nice and comfy as fast as you can.  Establish communication links with family and friends.  Volunteer and join up with local groups and organizations.  Do those things and you’ll soon have your new home country/city humming along like a nice pair of old shoes . . .

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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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A Realistic View of TEFL and Life Abroad

Another reader writes in with:

I read a lot of stories about how great teaching English is…

And my response is:

Teaching English is – first and foremost – a job.  Just like any job there are good and bad things – good and bad employers – good and bad days.  Mostly it is, like most of life, all about attitude.

Besides your website, can you recommend any sites that give a real view of teaching abroad.

TEFL Daddy is a good one, one of the best – but that is mine too. I wrote most of my websites because I found there was very little middle ground.  Either people fantasize about life abroad or overstate things (often they are selling something) OR they have had a bad experience and blame it on the country, school, nationality and never really stepped back to take a good look at themselves.

I personally love the lifestyle – but I don’t try to sell the life/lifestyle to anyone as it is not for everyone.  Not everyone can handle life abroad and living/working in a different culture with things done differently and different cultural expectations at work.

I wrote most of my materials as I found it difficult to find real middle ground on the internet.  Middle ground that really reflected how my 20+ years abroad worked and how things worked for the people I know who have spent long periods of time abroad successfully.

There are certainly hundreds of websites with lesson plans, jobs listing etc – but very few with REAL interpretation of life abroad and how to live it successfully.  If you want some help with cultural adaptation, the job search and just basic how to be successful abroad – go over to TEFL Boot Camp and pick up the free eBooks on offer to help you succeed overseas.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Be sure to seek a balanced view of life abroad.  While it can be pretty fantastic, many people oversell the lifestyle or try to blast it out of the water as they could not succeed.

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Is Life Abroad Healthy?

Can you drink the water?

Generally speaking, yes – and no. Life is healthy, and no, don’t drink the water (sometimes and usually).


I have found that my life overseas has been no more and no less healthy than life back home. Except, I live a much less stressful and less hectic life than do my family and friends “back home”. That’s healthier!

Better Medical Care

My personal experience is that most doctors overseas will spend much more time with you. They aren’t pressed by the numbers game of HMOs or clinics. You won’t find the doctor pushing you out of the exam room or running out the door to the next customer (whoops, I mean patient!).

When younger, I had some serious health issues that never really got resolved until I met a couple of great doctors overseas. They spent the time with me to talk about the problem, explained, reviewed some options, and left the course of action up to me!

I didn’t feel that they were eagerly “sharpening their knives” and wondering how much all this could be worth. Just my cynical outlook, I guess? Frankly, I trust my doctors here more than I did there. Really.

Staying Healthy

You will find that things aren’t always as clean as you would like them to be – and bathroom cleanliness is not common in many parts of the world, nor is regular hand washing. So, you will find yourself, wisely, washing your hands MUCH more than you used to – and it is a very good habit for keeping yourself healthy. Carry a handkerchief with you as most lavatories won’t have any towels at all or will often have a community towel for all to use.

The Water?

Generally, not good to drink, but it depends on the country of course. Ask! Most countries though have cheap and easily accessible bottled water. I get five-gallon (19 liter) bottles delivered to my door for about US$1. And I buy the EXPENSIVE water. The cheap water is about US30 cents. Most places you can gargle and brush your teeth with tap water – some places you can’t – it is important to ask your coworkers.

Boil it?

Sometimes. And you will see many people do this. But often the problem with the water may not be bacteria and other living things in the water, it is often pollutants or heavy metals, things which are not affected by boiling.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Good quality bottled water is cheap – buy it. Your health is too valuable. You’ll quickly get used to the routine. It is simple and easy. You won’t even notice after a few weeks when you have habit down.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Caveat: I’m not a doctor – but I am careful with my health. I am, after all, in my 50s. All the above is just my opinion. Of course, consult you personal physician on any personal health issues.

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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!