It's true that English teachers abroad likely didn't make that career choice solely for the money. The benefits and personal growth gained by being an ESL teacher far outweigh the salary for most, however, finding a financially sustainable and rewarding experience is also important when searching for English teaching jobs abroad.
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 and attainable to earn a decent wage -- in top-paying countries, this can be from $2,000 to over $6,000 per month! -- depending on the country, region, experience, and qualifications.
It's also important to keep in mind that high salaries are not the only variable for a financially rewarding job teaching abroad. You should always consider the local cost of living and benefits packages to determine how much you’ll be able to save during your time teaching ESL. Many jobs will offer benefits beyond what you may expect, including room, board, and travel expenses.
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 strong wages. The highest-paid ESL teaching jobs can often be found in these parts of the world.
Editor's Note: We have updated this list to reflect 2021 salaries converted to USD. These ESL salary estimates are subject to change.
1. The U.A.E. - $3,500-$5,500 per Month
Generally speaking, the highest-paid ESL teaching salaries globally 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-$6,000 (12,300-22,000 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. Additionally, while highly experienced teachers can make a salary around or even potentially above USD 6,000 per month, the average teacher is making much closer to AED 16,000 (USD 4,350).
Along with a high salary, ESL teachers can expect to receive an extensive benefits package in the U.A.E., 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, saving money on a teacher's salary here is very achievable.
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. Additionally, the cost of living is in the U.A.E. is less than in the United States.
New Job Postings in the U.A.E
2. Japan - $2,200-$5,000 per Month
The cuisine, snow-capped mountains, springtime cherry blossoms, steaming bowls of noodles, and welcoming people have given teaching in Japan a broad 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. ESL teachers participating in the JET program average a monthly wage of USD 2550 (280,000 JPY).
Japan has a high cost of living relative to the United States, which should be considered when evaluating potential destinations to teach English abroad. An individual living in Japan should expect to pay at least USD 1,500 a month, making programs that provide housing subsidies extremely desirable.
New Job Postings in Japan
3. Saudi Arabia - $3,000-$4,000 per Month
If a dry, desert climate sounds like a fair trade-off for a high ESL teaching salary, Saudi Arabia might be a destination for you to consider. Saudi Arabia has the edge over 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. ESL teachers in Saudi Arabia can also expect extensive benefits packages, often including housing, flights, and health care.
Saudi Arabia has a substantially lower cost of living relative to the United States, so an ESL teaching salary can go a long way. The generous salary range offers significant room for savings.
New Job Postings in Saudi Arabia
4. Kuwait - $2,600-$4,000 per Month
Due to the high number of international schools, 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.
Kuwait also has a reasonable cost of living, so the quality of life English teachers can experience is high. Combining the low cost of living, a modern city, and a robust salary range makes Kuwait an excellent destination for prospective ESL teachers.
- 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 somewhat limited, it is an excellent opportunity to help develop the ESL field in Oman. Those who do choose to teach in Oman will be able to do so for a competitive salary.
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 you'll live comfortably and have plenty of opportunities to expand your savings.
- Recommended reading: Our guide to teaching jobs in Oman.
New Job Postings in Oman
6. 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 popular 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 complete or partial flight reimbursement.
Considering the additional 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 generally required to teach English in Korea, especially for the EPIK, GEPIK, or SMOE programs.
New Job Postings in Saudi Arabia
7. Taiwan - $2,000-$3,000 per Month
Similar to ESL Salaries in 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 ESL teachers in Taiwan find it possible to save at least $1,000 a month!
Taiwan does not have a legal requirement that ESL teachers obtain a TEFL certification, however, most schools will require one. Additionally, Applicants will need a bachelor's degree (or, in a few cases, an associate's degree) and will have to pass a background check to get a teaching job in Taiwan.
New Job Postings in Taiwan
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, especially with potential benefits packages.
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 make a difference in the lives of your students.
China does require ESL teachers to obtain a TEFL certification and a bachelor's degree. Many of the employment packages available in China include a TEFL certification course, adding to the benefits of choosing China as your destination to teach English abroad.
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 relatively high for ESL teachers in Hong Kong, ranging from $3,000-$6,500 per month (23,000-50,000 HKD), the cost of living in this region is incredibly high. 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. That said, high salaries should still make it possible to live and even put money away, especially if you budget a bit.
Commensurate with the pay, the qualifications to teach in Hong Kong are strict. 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.
New Job Postings 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. ESL teachers in the United States earn on average $40,000 - $75,000 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 better wages -- 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. Teaching at an international school abroad is a desirable option for those who want to make a career out of teaching abroad.
Lastly, 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 expect to earn between $14-$22 per hour, which will certainly add up over time, especially relative to the expenses of traveling, living, and working internationally.
Teaching English online is a fantastic option for those looking to determine if teaching English is a rewarding career path for them, newer teachers looking to gain experience in the industry, or ESL teachers who have obligations that prevent working abroad.
Additional Reading: Teaching English Online Salary Expectations - How much can I make?
- 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 ESL Teaching Salary
For each country on this list, there is, expectedly, a fairly large range of salaries. Unexperienced teachers, 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 a TEFL certification will be able to make more -- regardless of destination.
A TEFL certificate is highly recommended for anyone interested in teaching English abroad. It will prepare you for the classroom and help you provide students with a highly valuable experience. Additionally, many TEFL programs will help you find a job in the country you get certified.
Don't Settle For Less
Teaching English abroad is a way to pay off student loans, travel, save money, add to your skillset, 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 constantly changing. With a little bit of luck and research, you can earn both a good wage and an unforgettable life experience.
While your salary as an ESL teacher is a significant component in making the right decision on where to teach abroad, there are many more. Continue your research and learn about the 10 best places to teach abroad in 2021 here.
This article was originally published in February 2013. It was updated in February 2017, May 2018, June 2020, and June 2021.