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 up to $4,000 per month! -- depending on the country and region.
Keep in mind that high salaries are not always everything: weigh up 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 is these parts of the world.
Keep in mind that high salaries are not always everything: weigh up the local cost of living and benefit packages to determine how much you’ll be able to save during your teaching stint. But anyways, to hell with breaking even: read on for the countries where ESL teacher salaries are the highest.
1. United Arab Emirates (UAE) - up to $4,000 USD per month
Generally speaking, the highest paid ESL jobs in the world are found here. Salary packages for teachers in the UAE can range between $2,400 and $4,000 a 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.
Two of the most popular destinations in the UAE are Dubai and Abu Dhabi. These world-class cities are often compared to Disney World for adults, with plenty of activities and cultural experiences available.
2. Oman - up to $3,500 USD per month
- Recommended reading: Our guide to teaching jobs in Oman.
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.
Current salaries can range from $1,000 to $3,500 per month, and with a very low cost of living (around $700 per month) you'll have plenty of opportunity to expand your savings.
3. Saudi Arabia - $3,000 USD 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 float around $3,000 per month.
4. Japan - $3,000 USD per month plus housing
The food, snow-capped mountains, springtime cherry blossoms, steaming bowls of noodles, and polite, welcoming people have given teaching in Japan a wide appeal. And it doesn’t hurt either that the pay can be as high as $3,000 a month with added benefits like free housing and flight reimbursement.
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.
5. Kuwait - $2,600 USD per month (tax-free)
- Typical requirements: Experience and TEFL certificate.
- Recommended reading: Our guide to teaching jobs in Kuwait.
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 average about $2,600 per month, tax-free, but most employers require teacher certification and experience.
6. South Korea - up to $2,500 USD per month plus housing
Japan’s neighbor to the west, South Korea, has a similar salary and benefit package to Japan, but is somewhat less discovered as a tourist destination. However, that is changing. English teachers are flocking to Korea, where the salary for ESL teachers is around $2,000 a 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.
7. Vietnam - up to $2,000 USD per month
For teachers who don’t have previous experience and hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and TEFL certificate, Vietnam is a good option. The country has beautiful beaches, mountains, rice terraces, and world heritage sites like Ha Long Bay for travel enthusiasts. Not to mention, the ESL industry has seen a boom in recent years, which means the job market is favorable for teachers.
However, at $1,000 - 2,000 USD per month, the salary is not as high as the other countries on this list, but the jobs are more accessible and cost of living is cheap -- that goes for everything from food to transport to accommodation.
8. Taiwan - $2,000 USD per month
Like Korea, the salaries in Taiwan hover around $2,000 a 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.
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 up your salary. All in all, Taiwan is a small island with a lot to offer.
9. China - up to $2,000 USD per month
Although salaries in China aren't quite as high as others on this list, China is far and large 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 salary range, which is roughly $1,000 to $2,000 per month, is quickly evened 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.
Bonus: Stay at Home
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 / 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.
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.