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


Teaching Internships in China


Quality of Life Teaching English Abroad

What is the Quality of Life of an English Teacher Overseas?

Typically, EFL instructors are paid better than the average wage in a country. You will usually live better than the average wage earner. Not bad, eh?

Yeah, well . . . what level is that? What if the “Average Wage Earner” lives in a tin shack?

Good question! Your quality of life can be modest, but can also be very good. It depends a lot on the country. But, I don’t think I have ever lived poorly. Nor have I heard other teachers from other countries complain.

Even in countries where wages are quite low, teachers tend to live well on the local economy.

What problems exist?

Though it seems like a great idea to get free housing from your employer, it can sometimes a bone of contention. You may find yourself living in what looks like a slum. I know I have. But, very modest housing in many poorer countries doesn’t mean what it means in many developed countries. It is quite unlikely that gangs or crime will be out of control.

In Korea, I had friends who lived in an area, that back home in America, I would be afraid to enter after dark. But, in Korea, no problem. In many countries, crime is not the problem it is “back home”.

In spite of the alarmist and xenophobic press in the West – you will often find many parts of Asia in particular – far safer than most Western cities.

My Personal Experience

While teaching English in Taiwan, Korea (twice), Saudi Arabia and Thailand – my quality of life has always been good. I eat well and live well, and can afford good medical care (typically at a small fraction of the cost back home).

With the exception of Thailand – I have always been able to save significant money every month (minimum US$800/month, up to double or triple that). In all countries, you should expect to be able to live well on the local economy and to be able to vacation in the region.

Ted’s Tips™ #1: Don’t judge a job on wages alone. Find out what that wage buys on the local economy. In some countries you will be able to save as much as half of your wages and that is often MUCH more than you could have saved “back home”.

Ted’s Tips™ #2: Asia in particular is a much safer place than most of the “West”. Do ask about local conditions for crime and safety, especially in Latin America.