Money is often a top concern for anyone who moves overseas. Wondering how much you can really save up while teaching abroad? We broke down teaching salaries in various countries, asked 3 ESL teachers for budgeting tips, and shared additional ways to earn some extra cash.
The salary you earn will typically depend on location, your credentials, and experience. The more experience and credentials you have, the easier it will become for you to earn higher-paying teaching jobs!
Private english tutoring is a very popular side hustle for ESL teachers looking to gain extra cash. But you can also look into other roles such as freelance writing or working in a coffee shop.
Picking up side gigs may not be viable for everyone though. You can always budget and save money by eating at local food markets/restaurants, cooking as much as possible, visiting free museums and parks, and utilizing public transportation.
Deciding to teach abroad in another country is an exciting opportunity to grow as a person, enrich yourself in new cultures, and meet new people. As you daydream about leading classrooms on weekdays and exploring landmarks on weekends, there’s one question that you’re probably wondering -- how much can I really save up while teaching abroad?
After all, a large part of living abroad is managing the varying expenses. From rent and groceries, to transportation and weekend excursions, the expenses can start to stack up.
To help you understand teaching salaries and budgets around the world, we reached out to three Go Overseas community members and asked them about their budgeting tactics and tips for saving money while teaching abroad. We also broke down the average salaries and cost of living in various popular teaching destinations around the world and shared other ways you can make money while abroad.
If you’re preparing to embark on your teaching journey, here’s everything you’ll need to know about saving (and earning!) money during your time abroad.
Teaching in China
Average Salary: $1500 - $4700 USD/month (based on experience & credentials)
Cost of Living: $1,000 per month
Rent: $200 - $700 (housing is typically included by program)
Transportation (bus): $30 - $50
Typical Benefits: Free housing, flight reimbursement, visa assistance, health insurance, Chinese lessons, paid vacation
In China, your salary will be based on the type of school you choose to teach at (public vs private), the school’s location, and your amount of teaching experience. Like many teaching jobs around the world, the longer you stay in China and the more teaching experience you have, the easier it will become for you to earn higher-paying jobs. Schools will also typically raise your salary after the first year.
Kathleen M., a Go Overseas community member who taught in Shanghai, China with the provider Teaching Nomad, made an annual salary of $48,000 USD after 10 months of teaching. In addition, Kathleen also earned several bonuses, paid to her by the school, throughout the duration of her time abroad.
She was able to save money on food and housing, since her school provided breakfast and lunch meals daily, housing accommodation (with electricity and internet included!), and health insurance.
While teaching, Kathleen also picked up a very profitable side gig -- private English tutoring.
“In China, there is a lucrative income that can be made from private English tutoring outside of regular school hours. Because most of my daily bills were covered by the school, I was able to live off of the income I made tutoring weekly and send the majority of my [salary] home to America to pay off debts and save on investments,” Kathleen said.
Unlike many other countries in the world, teachers in China can also enjoy having a budget for classroom materials. Kathleen explained that teachers receive materials such as paper, craft supplies, and books, from the school itself, and do not have to pay for any classroom expenses out of pocket.
“Teachers are respected as professionals and even receive gifts from administration and parents around holidays,” she praised.
For aspiring travelers preparing to teach abroad, Kathleen’s biggest budgeting advice is to really immerse yourself in local culture, by enjoying local cuisine and activities, and using public transportation.
“Embrace the native culture of whatever country you are living in,” Kathleen advised. “Day to day living in China, I live cheaply by eating street foods like JianBing, dumplings, and noodles. This strategy of embracing local culture will help not only your pocket book, but also help you make the most of whatever country you are living in, by learning more about the local culture.”
Alice H. has spent three years abroad teaching English on the outskirts of a large city in South Korea, after receiving her TEFL certification from The TEFL Academy. The private English academy she teaches at (and many other schools in Korea!) offers free housing for teachers, allowing her to save 50% of her salary monthly. She uses the other half for expenses such as utilities, transportation, and insurance.
“Whilst traveling abroad obviously hasn't been possible this year, I've still travelled around Korea a lot. I also bought a car this year due to living further out of the city, so I have to factor in gas and insurance/running costs,” Alice explained.
For Alice, making money through private tutoring or picking up side gigs isn’t an option, so she’s found other ways to save money as she teaches.
“I'm unable to work outside of my teaching job due to restrictions with my visa type. However, I find that cooking at home, eating at Korean restaurants when eating out (restaurants serving Western food are a lot more expensive), and taking public transport rather than taxis are good ways to save money.”
If you’re planning to teach overseas and saving money is a huge deciding factor for you, consider teaching in a country with great benefits like South Korea, especially if you’re unable to pick up side hustles while abroad.
Average Salary: $800 - $1000 USD/month (based on experience & credentials)
Cost of Living: $1,000 per month
Rent: $450 - $750
Food: $50 - $100 (depending on how much you cook/go out)
Transportation (bus): $40
Typical benefits: visa assistance, health insurance
Spain is a great place to teach, thanks to the country’s growing demand for English teachers. The three most common teaching jobs in Spain include Language and Cultural Assistant (aka Classroom Assistant), full-time teacher in a private school or language academy, or as a private English tutor for a family. Your teaching salary will typically depend on the role and school type.
Andrea P., a writer for Go Overseas, first taught abroad in Spain in 2014 through BEDA, a private program in the Catholic school system. Since then, she has also taught through Spain’s government auxiliary program, the Spanish organization ConversaSpain, and the government (free) program, where she earned around 1,000 Euros (~$1160 USD) a month.
“With the typical salary of 1000 euros a month, the amount you save depends largely on where you're living. Outside of Madrid, Barcelona, and Pais Vasco, your stipend will go far,” Andrea said.
If you choose to teach in Spain, you will most likely have to budget for groceries, housing accommodations, and transportation.
While living in Alicante, Andrea paid 420 euros a month for a two-bedroom apartment all to herself. She currently pays 480 euros a month for an apartment in Madrid, which she shares with a roommate.
Though housing and groceries are pretty affordable, you may still want to look into other side hustles too, to spend on excursions and sightseeing.
For teachers preparing to teach in Spain, Andrea recommends exploring cheap bars and restaurants, and taking advantage of all of the cool, local experiences Spain has to offer.
“Be on the lookout for cheap bars and restaurants and take advantage of the many free cultural events. Museums in Madrid have at least one day a week with free entry and there are plenty of festivals to enjoy. It's a beautiful country and people enjoy the flawless weather outside often. It's not uncommon to pack a picnic and sit in a public park or even sit for hours on a terrace with only a cup of coffee. Life is way more laid-back here so no one will rush you out of restaurants or cafes if you want to sit with friends or alone reading a book."
Salary: $1,700 - $5,000 USD/month (depending on job type)
Cost of Living: $1,000 per month
Rent: $500 - $700 (rent is usually covered by program)
Food: $100 (depends on how much you cook or eat out)
Transportation (bus): $80
Typical Benefits: Accommodation, flight reimbursement, visa assistance, health insurance, teacher training, contract completion bonus, transportation stipend
Teacher salaries in Japan are typically higher than in other countries, especially considering that accommodation, flight reimbursement, and health insurance are included as benefits. Your pay and savings ultimately depends on job type and locations. Being that Japan is one of the most expensive countries in the world, living costs (especially if you're closer to the city, versus a more rural area) can be quite high.
Most teachers will find jobs either through an Eikaiwa, a private English academy, or the JET Programme, a government sponsored teaching exchange program that recruits ESL teachers and places them in public schools throughout Japan. However, sometimes public schools will directly hire Assistant Language Teachers (ALT) outside of JET. All of these positions tend to be on the lower end of the scale, though still well-paid.
University positions are some of the best paying, but Japan has very strict requirements for university teachers. You'll be expected to have a Master's in Teaching English as a Foreign Language, or some sort of equivalent.
Salary: $2,000 - $2,400 USD/month (based on experience, certifications, and hourly wages)
Cost of Living: $1,000 per month
Rent: $200 - $500
Food: $100(depends on how much you cook or eat out)
Transportation: $30 - $50
Typical Benefits: Visa assistance
Teachers in Taiwan are paid hourly instead of monthly. Unlike other countries where the typical work week is around 40 hours a week, in Taiwan, the standard work-week for teachers is 20-30 hours, plus classroom prep time. Despite the shorter schedules and hourly wages, teachers in Taiwan can still save up a good chunk of cash, as living costs are pretty affordable.
New English teachers in Taiwan typically start out teaching at big chain schools or "bushibans", otherwise known as cram schools. These schools don't pay as highly as their counterparts and have less desirable work environments.
However, after working at a cram school for six months to a year, it's much easier to get a job at a more desirable school, like a foreign-run Bushiban. Teaching at a foreign-run Bushiban will allow you to earn higher salaries, however, these positions are also more demanding and competitive to obtain, as teachers must be certified from their home country.
Teaching in United Arab Emirates
Salary: $2,500 - $5,500 USD/month (based on experience and certifications)
Cost of Living: $1,200 - $1,900 per month
Rent: $700 - $1200 (typically included by the program)
Food: $100-$300 (depends on how much you cook or eat out)
Transportation: $60 per month
Teacher salaries in the United Arab Emirates tend to have high pay and full benefits for both ESL teachers and their families. Additionally, many schools have 2-3 year contracts, with yearly bonuses and full benefits.
Jobs in the UAE are highly competitive and many schools are looking for experienced teachers with advanced credentials. A TEFL certificate with a few years of teaching experience is a must, but a teaching certificate will command higher pay.
Many ESL teachers and their families are drawn to UAE because of the benefits and potential savings. Teachers in UAE can receive stipends to pay for their children's private schools, or for multi-room apartments, which is a major perk for teachers with families looking for international teaching jobs.
More ways to earn extra money while teaching abroad
As shown above, having the opportunity to earn additional income on the side can make a world of difference. No matter where you decide to teach abroad, if you’re crafty and willing to hustle, you should be able to find ways to make some extra cash. Here are some ways to supplement your income while teaching English abroad.
Private lessons and tutoring
English is a valuable skill that many students are interested in learning, and many may even want extra practice outside of traditional daytime lessons. You may also find that some students will want extra help in subjects they struggle in. Be it Chemistry, Math or Biology, if you have a talent in a different specialization, you can broaden the scope of topics you can tutor students in.
Don’t limit your teaching to academic skills. Know how to play guitar? Scuba dive? Surf? Cook? Dance? Knit? Go ahead and advertise lessons. If you have a skill, there's likely someone out there who will pay you to learn it.
Writing, blogging, photography, and videography
Many people living abroad enjoy documenting their experiences by writing, blogging, and taking photographs. Not only is it a fun way to remember your travels, satisfy your creative side, and share stories with friends and family, but it can also be a great way to make a little bit (or if you’re really good, quite a bit) of extra money.
Write and/or take pictures as often as you can. Spend some time developing your craft, ask some friends or colleagues to edit your work, and then try pitching it to some media outlets (online or print). Many travel websites host writing/photography contests with some pretty cool prizes, and many magazines, websites, and blogs will pay a per article/photo/video fee for interesting content.
Feel like you’ve acquired some knowledge that would be useful to others? Write an e-book on the subject and sell it online. Start a travel website or blog. Once you build an audience, you will be able to charge advertisers to post content on your website.
A little creativity and industrial spirit can go a long way while living abroad. Not only can it be a great way to supplement your income, but who knows? Your little side business could turn into your next great passion!
Just because you are living abroad doesn’t mean you can’t do remote work for a company based in the United States or elsewhere. These types of jobs will often pay at a higher rate than those in your host country.
As long as you have a laptop, you should be able to find freelance gigs that match your background and skill set. Some common jobs that are often done remotely include writing, social media management, graphic design and website development/marketing. Popular resources to find remote work include FlexJobs, Remotive, Working Nomads, and Upwork.
A good, old-fashioned side job
Depending on work laws in your host country, you may be able to secure a more traditional side job such as working in a shop, bar, or restaurant while also teaching English abroad. Look for part-time work on local websites, newspaper ads, or even bulletin boards at coffee shops.
Hostels can also be a great place to find extra work as many hostels need English-speakers to fill in shifts at the front desk or elsewhere.
Working a traditional side job can have some other unexpected benefits as you will be better immersed in the local community. Bartending or serving on the weekends can be a great way to make some spending money, but more importantly, can help you meet some new friends and develop new social circles.
How much money you save or spend during your time abroad, depends on a variety of factors (which some of course are out of your control), but at the end of the day, it’s up to you and how you want to spend your time overseas -- We just hope you save time and money to explore all of what your host country has to offer!