Stop me if you’ve heard this before: nobody teaches English abroad for the money, right? Actually… wrong.
Although teaching English overseas will never get you on a list of world billionaires, it can come with a reasonable salary -- one that even puts money in your savings account. As a teacher abroad, it's perfectly reasonable to earn a decent salary -- in top-paying countries, this can be from $2,000 to over $5,000 per month! -- depending on the country and region.
Keep in mind that high salaries are not always everything: you have to also weigh the local cost of living and benefit packages to determine how much you’ll be able to save during your teaching stint.
Although some countries and regions still pay very little (like teaching gigs in Thailand or Central America), other countries, particularly teaching jobs in the Middle East and Asia, are compensating English teachers with surprisingly decent wages. The highest paid ESL jobs can often be found in these parts of the world.
Keep in mind that high salaries are not always everything: you have to also weigh the local cost of living and benefit packages to determine how much you’ll be able to save during your teaching stint. But before you make any decisions, read on for the countries where ESL teacher salaries are the highest.
Editor's Note: We have updated this list to reflect 2020 salaries. If you see an error, please let us know by commenting at the bottom of this post.
1. The U.A.E. - $3,500-$5,500 per Month
Generally speaking, the highest paid ESL jobs in the world are found in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the two biggest cities in the UAE. Salary packages for teachers in the United Arab Emirates can range between $3,500-$5,500 (12,300-20,400 AED) per month, depending on experience. However, like most Middle Eastern countries, the requirements are stringent and most jobs require teachers to be certified to teach in their home countries or at least have several years of teaching experience.
Aside from the high salary, you can also expect to receive extensive benefits in the UAE, including a housing allowance, relocation allowance, flights home, and government health care. Plus, your salary will most likely be tax free! When all of this is combined, it's very easy to save lots of money while teaching here.
Two of the most popular destinations in the UAE are Dubai and Abu Dhabi. These world-class cities are the definition of cosmopolitanism. If you live here, you'll have your choice of top restaurants, beaches, nightlife, and cultural activities.
New Job Postings in the U.A.E
2. Japan - $2,200-$5,000 per Month
The food, snow-capped mountains, springtime cherry blossoms, steaming bowls of noodles, and welcoming people have given teaching in Japan a wide appeal. And it doesn’t hurt either that salaries in Japan have a wide range of $2,200-$5,000 (¥220,000-¥540,000) per month, depending on your certifications and experience as a teacher. Some jobs even offer additional bonuses like housing assistance and free flights to the right candidate.
Previous teaching experience is not necessary, though it can be tough to find a position without it since the job market in Japan is extremely competitive. Most less experienced teachers opt to participate in the JET Programme, but be sure to consider the alternatives.
New Job Postings in Japan
3. Saudi Arabia - $3,000-$4,000 per Month
If camels, desert, and a little bit of culture shock sound like a fair trade-off for a high ESL teaching salary, Saudi Arabia might be a destination for you to consider. Saudi Arabia has an edge on some of the other countries in the Middle East, because many job openings do not require teacher certification.
Experience is always beneficial, and TEFL certificates are usually necessary, but salaries in Saudi Arabia are typically in the range of $3,000-$4,000 (11,000-15,000 SAR) per month. Benefits again are generally extensive, and you can expect housing, flights, and health care to be covered.
4. Kuwait - $2,600-$4,000 per Month
Due to a high number of international schools, the job opportunities are plentiful for English teachers. Kuwait City may be surrounded by desert, but the city itself is buzzing. It's clean and modern, with skyscrapers, green parks, clubs, shopping, and a vibrant expat community.
ESL teacher salaries in Kuwait range from $2,600-$4,000 (785-1,200 KWD) per month, tax-free. Most employers require teacher certification and experience especially for higher salaries in this range.
- Typical requirements: Experience and TEFL certificate.
- Recommended reading: Our guide to teaching jobs in Kuwait.
5. Oman - $2,000-$3,500 per Month
Oman is one of the most developed countries in the Arab world, and it has seen rapid advancements in its education system in recent years.
Although opportunities to teach English in the country are rather limited right now, it is a great opportunity to act as a pioneer in a burgeoning field. If you do choose to teach in Oman, you'll be rewarded well.
Teacher salaries in Oman can range from $2,000-$3,500 (750-1,350 OMR) per month, and with a very low cost of living (around $700 per month) you'll have plenty of opportunities to expand your savings.
- Recommended reading: Our guide to teaching jobs in Oman.
6. Taiwan - $2,000-$3,000 per Month
Like Korea, the salaries in Taiwan range from $2,000-$3,000 (60,000-90,000 TWD) per month, with an even lower cost of living, milder winters, and near tropical summers. Saving money can be very easy, and ESL teaching jobs are available across the board, from kindergarten to university, public schools and private. Many teachers find it possible to save at least $1,000 a month!
Most jobs in Taiwan don't require a TEFL certificate, just a university degree, though this may change as the job market becomes more competitive, and experience and/or TEFL certificates are always a good leveraging point if you want to negotiate your salary higher. All in all, Taiwan is a small island with a lot to offer.
7. South Korea - $1,600-$2,650 per Month
Japan’s neighbor to the west, South Korea, has a similar salary and benefits package to Japan but is somewhat less trafficked as a tourist destination. However, that is changing. English teachers are flocking to Korea, where the salary for ESL teachers is $1,600-$2,650 (1.8-3.2 million KRW) per month, and often includes housing and full or partial flight reimbursement.
Factor in overtime and bonus opportunities and a lower cost of living, South Korea is one of the best destinations for teaching abroad. A minimum of a TEFL certificate and bachelor’s degree is usually required to teach English in Korea, especially for the EPIK, GEPIK, or SMOE programs.
New Job Postings in South Korea
8. China - $1,400-$2,200 per Month
Although salaries in China aren't quite as high as others on this list, at $1,400-$2,200 (10,000-15,000 RMB) per month, China is by far one of the biggest employers of ESL teachers in the world. Pair this wide availability of jobs with a low cost of living, and the comparatively 'low' salary is balanced out.
If you decide to teach in China, you can either work through a private company or find a position at a public school. English skills are a requirement for many students hoping to pursue higher education in China, so your contributions will really make a difference in the lives of your students.
New Job Postings in China
9. Hong Kong - $3,000-$6,500 per Month
You might be looking at the salary range above and be wondering why Hong Kong is all the way down at the bottom of our list! While salaries tend to be quite high for ESL teachers in Hong Kong, ranging from $3,000-$6,500 per month (23,000-50,000 HKD), you have to keep in mind that the cost of living in this region is incredibly high. In fact, Hong Kong was recently named the most expensive city in the world, so if you choose to teach here keep in mind that a significant portion of your salary will be going to rent and incidentals. But that being said, it should still be possible to put money away, especially if you budget a bit.
Commensurate with the pay, the qualifications to teach in Hong Kong are high. You'll need to have a degree, 2+ years of teaching experience, and most likely a TEFL certificate.
- Typical requirements: Bachelor's degree and prior experience.
- Recommended reading: Our guide to teaching jobs in Hong Kong.
Bonus: Teach in the US or Online
We've covered international locations for this article -- almost exclusively in the Middle East and Asia -- however, that doesn't mean you can't make a comfortable salary elsewhere. In fact, ESL teachers in the United States make on average $40,000 - 75,000 USD per year.
As with most professions, a Master's degree will help you significantly raise your salary, as will experience and certifications. Urban centers and towns or cities with a high immigrant or international student population tend to have more teaching opportunities and salaries -- though they might also have a higher overall cost of living.
Furthermore, teachers at international schools worldwide also make a very comfortable salary. This ranges from country to country and region, and those positions tend to require more experience and qualifications, but it's an especially attractive option for those who want to make a career out of teaching abroad.
Lastly, staying at home can also mean teaching online. Teaching English online is a great way to gain teaching experience, connect with an international community, and save money, all while maintaining maximum flexibility. Salaries can vary widely, but you can expert to earn between $14-$22 per hour, which will certainly add up over time, especially if you factor in the money you'll save by not having to find accommodation, pay for flights, or cover international moving fees.
- Typical requirements: Varies--generally a Bachelor's degree with be required.
- Recommended reading: Tips for Becoming an Online English Teacher.
New Job Postings for Teaching Online
Tips for Getting a Higher Salary
For each country on this list there is, expectedly, a range of salaries. Unexperienced teachers, and especially those without any TEFL or teaching certification, should expect a salary on the lower end. Those with several years of experience, a relevant degree, and certification will be able to make more -- regardless of destination.
To make yourself more competitive, consider getting a TEFL certificate and getting teaching experience -- either as a tutor, volunteer, or full-time teacher in your home country -- before you apply.
Don't Settle For Less
Teaching English abroad is a way to pay off student loans, travel, save money, add to your skill set, and immerse yourself in a new culture. With contracts that range from 6 months to 2 years, it’s possible to cater your experience to suit your needs.
Remember that the requirements for teaching in different countries are always changing, but with a little bit of luck and research you can earn both a good salary and an unforgettable life experience.
This article was originally published in February 2013. It was updated in February 2017, May 2018, and June 2020.
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