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How Much Money Can You Save Teaching Abroad?

How much money can you save teaching abroad?
This article will looking at teacher savings in the following countries:
  • China
  • South Korea
  • Japan
  • Spain

It’s the question that all prospective teachers are wondering: how much can I really save teaching abroad? A high salary is great, but if you’re living in an expensive country, your cash isn’t going to stretch as far as it might in a developing country.

This is especially important if you're teaching abroad straight out of college and want to pay off some student loans by teaching abroad (it's been done!) or going overseas with your family and need to budget for more expenses than other teachers.

A high salary is great, but if you’re living in an expensive country, your cash isn’t going to stretch as far as it might in a developing country.

While I’ve already helped you figure out how much you can make teaching abroad, now I’m going to break down the numbers and help you figure out how much cash you’ll really save teaching abroad using real stories from real people. Hallejulia!

How Much Teachers in China are Saving

Teaching in China
  • Average Salary: $942 - 2,500 USD / month
  • Cost of Living: $1,000 per month (rent is usually included)
  • Typical Benefits: Free housing, flight reimbursement, visa assistance, health insurance, Chinese lessons
  • Save or Spend: Save

In general, the salary expectations for smaller cities and rural areas will be lower than places like Beijing and Shanghai, however, the cost of living is also much lower. Your salary will be influenced by the type of school you teach at, and the amount of experience you have.

Like anywhere else, the longer you stay in China and the more experience you have, the easier it will become to find high-paying jobs. Schools will typically raise your salary after the first year as well. For a more detailed breakdown on salaries by school type read the full guide to teaching salaries in China.

Just to give you a comparison, we’ll look at how much you can save by working in a mid-sized city with an average salary, and the countryside with a low salary.

Low salary in the countryside: saved $3,000 with extensive travel

Two years ago I worked in the countryside near Ningbo, Zhejiang at a public high school. At $800 a month, my salary was pretty low, but thankfully the cost of living was low as well.

Since I was the only foreigner for miles, I became the go-to English teacher in my town. I taught 18 classes a week at the high school and was able to also teach two classes weekly at the primary school for an extra $60 a week. My school even organized a tutoring class for my colleague's children where I charged each kid a little under $10 an hour, and was able to pocket all of the money with no middle man or overhead costs!

All together with my extra gigs I was making $1,300 a month with free housing!

Living in the countryside was great for saving money, especially since I cooked most of my meals or ate $1 lunches in the school canteen. My biggest monthly expense was taxis into the city, which could cost me upwards of $10 USD. I tried to live somewhat frugally in my year abroad, which was easy due to my countryside location, but I definitely didn't deprive myself of having a good time in China.

The reason I only ended up saving $3,000 after a year of teaching wasn't due to my low salary, but the fact that I traveled a lot.

The longer you stay in China and the more experience you have, the easier it will become to find high-paying jobs.

In one year of working I took many short trips throughout China. I visited Beijing, Shanghai (twice), Harbin, Guilin, Yangshuo, Yangdanshan, and the Zhangjiajie "Avatar Mountains". I also went on bigger trips to Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan. After all this traveling I still managed to save up a few thousand dollars. Talk about living the life!

Average salary in a mid-sized city: saved $10,500

Nick and Dariece were able to save a combined total of $21,000 USD teaching English in Yangzhou, China. They each worked 20 hours a week for a monthly salary of $1,300 USD. In this time they spent about $5,600 USD total, saving them $10,500 USD each!

While most jobs pay for teacher's housing, Nick and Dariece were given a housing stipend that covered most of their rent. The school covered $266 USD for an apartment for the two of them, leaving them to spend $98 USD a month on housing.

As for living expenses, Nick and Dariece spent a bit more on food, due to their love of cooking Western food and the greater options for dining out in their city. However, the couple spent a lot less money on travel than I did, only taking one trip to Shanghai the entire year they were abroad.

If you're really looking to save a lot of money in China, cut down on your traveling costs and you can easily save $10,000 USD in a year!

If you're interested, Nick and Dariece compiled a breakdown of their costs for the entire year in China.

Teacher Savings in Japan

Teach in Japan
  • Average Salary: $1,700 - 5,000 USD / month
  • Cost of Living: $1,000 USD / month (rent is usually covered)
  • Typical Benefits: Accommodation, flight reimbursement, visa assistance, health insurance, teacher training
  • Save or Spend: Save

Teacher salaries in Japan tend to be pretty nice -- especially considering that accommodation, flight reimbursement, and health insurance are included as benefits on top of teacher salaries. But with a higher cost of living, how much can you really save in Japan?

Honestly, this depends on where your location. Salaries in Japan are standardized, but the cost of living varies drastically based on where you live.

Eikaiwa in Osaka: saved $10,000 in 1 year

Working at a private academy in Osaka, Brenna managed to save $20,000 over the course of 2 years. With a yearly salary of $28,000, Brenna was able to save over a third during her time in Japan.

This was partly due to her extra tutoring classes she taught outside of her 30-hour a week job. Every week, Brenna taught four classes for $30 each.

Teacher salaries in Japan tend to be pretty nice -- especially considering that accommodation, flight reimbursement, and health insurance are included as benefits on top of teacher salaries.

Between her tutoring classes and Eikaiwa job, Brenna was able to save almost $1,000 a month, working out to $10,000 over the course of the year.

In larger cities like Tokyo and Osaka, you can expect to spend a lot more money on rent than you would in a smaller town. The average teacher in these cities spends about $1,000 per month on a small apartment.

Because of this, if you're looking to save a lot of money in Japan, consider teaching in the countryside.

JET Program on a small island: saved $22,000 in 1 year

Silvia taught English for two years though Japan's government JET program on the tiny Japanese island Tanegashima. Since JET teachers have the same salary no matter where they teach, Silvia was able to save a lot of money; $44,000 over two years to be exact.

To be fair, Silvia taught abroad in Japan a few years ago when the yen was much stronger. Her annual salary came to about $46,000 USD, while the current JET salary is only about $36,000 USD now.

Silvia lived pretty frugally, which wasn't hard to do as one of only two foreigners on the entire tiny island. She cooked most of her meals and only spent $100 on rent per month to live in a house! Japanese island life is cheap.

South Korea Savings for ESL Teachers

Teaching in South Korea
  • Average Salary: $1,600 - $2,000 USD / month
  • Cost of Living: $1,100 USD / month (rent is usually covered)
  • Typical Benefits: Accommodation, flight reimbursement, visa assistance, health insurance, yearly bonus
  • Save or Spend: Save (a lot)

South Korea is famous for allowing teachers to save up a lot of money in a short amount of time. But how much can you actually save? The short answer: a lot.

The great thing about South Korea is that you'll have an opportunity to save a good amount of money no matter what type of school you work for and no matter where you live! The amount you save really depends on what kind of lifestyle you want to have.

For comparisons sake, let's look at three different travel bloggers who spent a year teaching in South Korea. While all three teachers live in different locations, they were all able to save a large amount of money.

Hagwon just outside Seoul: saved $17,000

Audrey was able to save a total of $17,000 after one year of working in one of Seoul's private Hagwon academies. Her salary was approximately $1,700 a month with free housing.

In her spare time, Audrey traveled around Korea to places like Busan, Damyang, Gwangju, and Boseong, and took day trips to places like Seoul Cheonan, Boryeong, Daejeon, and Samcheok.

Audrey's biggest tip for saving money was to cut back on her drinking and partying, which she says burned a hole in her pocket. By purchasing alcohol at a store instead of a bar, she was able to save a lot of money!

Overall, Audrey was able to save a little over $1,000 a month, with a total of $12,000 in savings. However, Korea is famous for yearly bonuses, and Audrey made an additional $5,000 in bonuses at the end of the year!

Public School in a village: saved $3,000 with extensive travel

Drew spent a year teaching at a Korean public school in Jinsari, a rural village. He made about $2,000 a month and was able to save most of it, due to free housing, free school lunches, and a low cost of living.

The great thing about South Korea is that you'll have an opportunity to save a good amount of money no matter what type of school you work for and no matter where you live!

After 18 months of teaching, Drew embarked on a whirlwind trip to 16 countries in Asia: Japan, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Australia. Despite all this travel he was still able to save $3,000 USD!

Drew lived a somewhat frugal lifestyle in South Korea due to his location, but still spent many nights out in Seoul, studied Korean and even became a blackbelt in Taekwondo!

Public School in Seoul: saved $17,000 after 2 years

Jessica arrived in Seoul with $4,000 in her bank account and left with $21,000. She found her job in Seoul through Korea's EPIK program which places teachers in Korean public schools. With a salary of around $2,000 a month, Jessica was also able to pocket almost all of it, despite living in South Korea's capital city.

According to Jessica, if you live frugally in Seoul, you can save about half of your paycheck. To save $17,000, Jessica lived somewhat frugally for her first year in Korea, and was very strict on her saving in the second year. She rarely went out to bars, ate at nice restaurants, or went shopping for new clothes, preferring to save her money for travel instead.

Teachers are able to save roughly the same amount regardless of location due to the fact that rent is free; however, those living in Seoul will usually end up spending more money on food and entertainment, making it a bit more difficult to save than those living in the countryside.

Can You Save Any Money While Teaching in Spain?

Teaching in Spain
  • Average Salary: $1,000 - $2,000 USD / month or $18 - 27 USD / hour
  • Cost of Living: $1,000 - 2,000 USD/ month
  • Typical Benefits: visa assistance, health insurance
  • Save or Spend: Save (a little) or break even

Spain is a coveted destination in the eyes of to be ESL teachers, but not necessarily the best paying or best for teachers who want to save thousands of dollars.

On the bright side, while the salary might be a bit low, health insurance is included and many assistants also teach private lessons on the side. Despite the so-so salary, cost of living in Spain is affordable and most teachers are able to save a little (maybe not $17,000, but something) and live a good quality life.

Most teachers in Spain manage to break even, especially if they live in the city and enjoy a good quality of life. However, with a little bit of budgeting, it is possible to save up a few thousand dollars after a year.

BEDA Program in Madrid (Break Even)

After teaching in South Korea, Jessica went to Spain to teach English on the BEDA program. Her salary was far less than South Korea, but living in Spain made it easy to travel around Europe. She made about $900 a month from her BEDA program, plus an extra $110 per week teaching private classes, totaling $1,300 a month.

With rent at $400 a month and a high cost of living, Jessica was able to break even while enjoying her time sampling the local food and wine, and spending some of her breaks traveling to nearby countries.

If you're looking to enjoy yourself in Spain, plan on breaking even. However, if you really want to save up some money it is possible by living frugally.

Auxiliares Program in Southern Spain (Break Even -- Save $5,000)

Chelsea taught English in small-town Andalucia for two years, and now lives in the medium sized town Extremadura. Since she lives outside of Madrid, her Auxiliaries salary is slightly lower than others, at $800 a month. Had she been placed in Madrid, here salary would have been the same as Jessica's.

Spain is a coveted destination in the eyes of to be ESL teachers, but not necessarily the best paying or best for teachers who want to save thousands of dollars.

However, living in a small town does have its benefits. For example, an entire apartment in Andalucia is only about $270-320 a month, which is usually split amongst multiple teachers. Chelsea paid approximately $220 a month on housing while living there, but the average is usually around $165 a month.

With extra private academy classes, Chelsea was able to make $1,300 USD a month. In addition to her Auxiliaries classes, Chelsea teaches 9 hours a week at an academy and does private tutoring for an extra four hours a week. At first Chelsea was breaking even every month, but through budgeting and teaching these extra classes, she now saves $5,000 a year!

Overall, it's definitely possible to save up a lot of money teaching abroad, especially if you teach in Asia. Whether you're saving for student loans or to travel the world, with a little bit of planning you can save thousands of dollars in a year.

Did you teach abroad in one of these countries? How much did you save?

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Photo Credits: You Yi, Jessie Beck, Hon Kim and Enrique Céspedes.
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.