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Ask a Teacher: Can You Really Get Free Airfare & Housing While Teaching Abroad?

Can You Really Get Free Airfare & Housing While Teaching Abroad?

Hi Go Overseas!

I hope all is well! I have a question that you might be able to shed some light on. I saw a post regarding teaching English in South Korea or China and they stated that housing is provided and flights are reimbursed. This is all too good to be true to me, are they for real?

Best,
Skeptical to-be teacher

This is a question I get all the time. It seems too good to be true. How is it possible that a company will give me free airfare and housing to teach abroad? This must be some sort of scam, right?

Well believe it or not, these offers are not too good to be true. Providing free airfare and housing is actually the industry standard in many countries, most notably China, South Korea, and most Middle Eastern countries. While this is a general East Asia perk, keep in mind other countries like Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia will probably not provide a housing stipend and may not reimburse airfare either.

Providing free airfare and housing is actually the industry standard in many countries, most notably China and South Korea.

When deciding to take a job teaching abroad, it's important to look at the benefits in a holistic way. Airfare and housing are two perks that come with teaching in East Asia, however, it doesn't mean that these jobs are inherently better than what you might find in Southeast Asia.

Today I'm going to go over how to interpret these benefits so that you can make an informed decision. I'll also dig deep into the meanings behind "free" housing and airfare so that you know what to look for in your contracts and avoid any unfortunate surprises.

1. Free Airfare

Free airfare

Many jobs in China and South Korea will provide free airfare to and from your home country. If you have a multi-year contract, usually you'll receive a round-trip flight per year, and two one-way flights at the beginning and end of your contract. These round-trip flights are the industry standard in both China and South Korea. Sometimes they have a price cap, for example $600 one way, while other times they will cover the entire cost of the flight no questions asked.

Most of the time these flights are reimbursements. This means that you will have to pay the cost of your own airfare upfront, at least for the original arrival flight. Your departing flight will usually be included with your last month's salary, or the company will purchase it for you.

If you have a multi-year contract, usually you'll receive a round-trip flight per year, and two one-way flights at the beginning and end of your contract.

Since I was a bit short on money after my college graduation, I actually had to borrow money from my parents to pay for the cost of the original flight. You may need to do this or get a small loan if your provider isn't willing to give you the money upfront.

Finally, just because airfare is guaranteed doesn't mean they will give it to you right away. My first school took months to pay the money back, despite me asking for it time and time again. They eventually told me they wouldn't have the funds until half-way through my contract!

To avoid this issue, be sure to discuss reimbursement before you sign the contract, and possibly request a clause in your contract to guarantee a specific time frame for reimbursement.

If airfare isn't included, try looking at flight providers like StudentUniverse and STA Travel -- especially if you're under 26 (they'll help you find youth flight discounts).

2. Free Housing

There are two different types of "free housing" you may encounter in a contract: a provided apartment, or a housing stipend. Both of these have pros and cons, and some countries prefer one over another. If your housing is not covered, you'll need to factor this into your salary considerations. Be sure to have a look at our comprehensive country guides to see how much housing will cost in your country of choice.

"Apartment provided"

Some schools will provide you an apartment to live in at no cost to you. Usually, these apartments are fully-furnished, however, you may need to buy bedding, cooking supplies and basic household items. My first job in China provided these things, while my second job did not.

Usually these apartments are owned by the school you work for, and can be on or directly off campus. The first school I worked for in China converted a room at the school into an apartment for me. They installed a hot water heater and brought in furniture and cooking supplies. Another ESL teacher, Frank Macri, had a similar situation:

Some schools may have a teacher's dorm full of furnished apartments whereas other schools may have a designated apartment building where they place teachers. The industry standard is that you should have the whole apartment to yourself. Even if you do end up having roommates, you will always at least have your own bedroom. If an apartment is provided, be sure to ask for the details or even photos before your arrival.

If you live on campus at the school, you probably won't have to pay for utilities like electricity and water. However, if you live in a private apartment sometimes you will need to pay these costs. Be sure to ask the school what you'll be paying for and what is covered so you can get a general idea of what you'll need to budget every month.

The upside to having a private apartment is that you're guaranteed your place will be free, and sometimes the apartments are very nice! It can also be convenient to live so close to your work. The downside is that you have absolutely no say in your accommodation besides the benefits outlined in the contract.

Don't worry too much about these apartments though. Rarely do schools put you in a place that's completely awful. However, it can be a bit frustrating to not be able to choose the neighborhood you want to live in.

Housing stipend

While some jobs provide you with an apartment, other schools will give you a housing stipend and will let you choose your own apartment. While it's great that you can choose your own place, it may be difficult to find an apartment that works for you within your budget, especially if you want to live alone.

For example, I was given a 6,000 yuan ($930 USD) housing stipend in Beijing, which I thought would be more than enough for a studio apartment. However, all of the apartments I was shown in the area were all 7,000 yuan or more! Because I hadn't done my research, I didn't know where I wanted to live or where the cheap housing was, and my company pressured me to find an apartment right away. Also, the real estate agents make a commission on each sale, so they often withhold cheaper options from you to make more money.

My biggest piece of advice is to not just take the first offer that looks like a good fit. Compare your job to other similar listings and search for information online.

After staying in an expensive studio for six months, I moved into an apartment with four roommates for 3,500 yuan ($540 USD) a month. I live in a great area and I'm able to pocket the extra 2,500 yuan monthly! Not every company will let you keep the difference though, so be sure to check before you stay in a cheaper place.

It's extremely important to look up typical rent prices before you accept a contract with a housing stipend, so that you know whether your rent will be paid in full or not. Rent places vary depending on which city and area you live in, so be sure to ask around and look online.

My best advice is to actually rent an AirBnb for one month before you find an apartment of your own. That'll help you decide the best areas and ensure you find a good place.

Find the Industry Standard

Before you take a job teaching abroad, be sure to research the industry standard. What is the average salary? Is housing included? Is round-trip airfare common? Should I find a job online or in the country?

Thankfully Go Overseas has many reviews and teacher interviews that will help you answer those questions.

My biggest piece of advice is to not just take the first offer that looks like a good fit. Do your research. Compare your job to other similar listings and search for information online. That's the absolute best way to avoid settling for a deal that's not very good.

Do you have questions you'd like answered? Contact us for your question to be featured in the next Ask a Teacher column.

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Disclaimer: We have paid relationships with some of the companies linked to within this article.
Photo of Richelle Gamlam

Traveler, blogger and serial expat, Richelle has been living and working in China for the last four years. From high school English teacher to college admissions consultant, Richelle has tried her hand at many different jobs in China. She spends all of her vacation days traveling Asia off the beaten path, and in her spare time, she loves to scuba dive, salsa dance and try weird foods no one else will eat. For more of Richelle's crazy misadventures, check out her blog Adventures Around Asia.