For those with an unwavering desire to experience new lands, teaching English abroad affords the opportunity to soak up a new culture while earning a steady income. From recent college graduates eager to live abroad to mid-level professionals seeking a career change, teaching English attracts individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds. And, as one of the world’s most spoken languages, native English speakers are finding that teaching positions are available nearly anywhere around the world.
Yet, the perks of teaching English – mainly the ability to live and travel abroad – tend to overshadow many of the drawbacks. And, teachers sometimes discover that teaching English overseas comes with its own set of unique challenges.
Schools can be disorganized, hours can be long and salaries can be low. Sometimes a thankless job, teachers may find themselves subsisting on cheap bowls of rice with hardly any disposable income to actually enjoy their new, exotic home. So, as an English teacher in a foreign country, you might be wondering whether it is possible to negotiate your salary. And the simple answer is yes. You can always try to negotiate, but you may not always be successful.
To help you identify whether you should advocate for a little more moolah each month, you should consider the following:
1. The Location of your Work Placement
If money is a concern to you, which it is for many of us, then you may want to narrow your job search to areas that are known to have a higher teaching salary. As a general rule, Asian countries tend to pay a pretty cushy salary compared to those in Central or South America. Granted, cost of living tends to be lower in the latter countries, but teachers generally scrimp by and sometimes even need to dip into savings to make ends meet.
Because countries such as China, Japan and South Korea place such a high value on English classes, salaries for English teachers are generally much higher. Andrew Dunkle, for example, explains how his monthly salary in Taiwan enabled him to live comfortably and even save money. However, because these positions can be highly competitive, such as Japan’s JET program, you may not have much room to negotiate your salary when there are several others eager to jump at the opportunity.
In addition, it’s important to consider the appeal of your geographic location. If you landed a highly sought-after beach job, language schools and institutions may view that in itself as an added perk. After all, beach jobs are often limited and in high demand.
So, assess your geographic situation before requesting a higher salary. Sometimes you need to give a little as well – if you’re happy with the location and can live reasonably well, then you may need to accept a lower salary.
2. Your Experience and Education
Several years ago backpackers needing some extra cash could settle in a large town or city for a few months and easily find a teaching job with no experience or credentials. Today, however, that is the exception rather than the rule.
To teach English abroad, most schools and institutions require a minimum of a TEFL or CELTA certification. These four-week, reasonably priced programs not only give individuals the skills required to teach English abroad, but they demonstrate a certain amount of commitment and dedication to the field.
As a result, those individuals lacking a certification and teaching experience have very little negotiation power. Teachers with several years of experience or an advanced degree, such as a Master’s in TEFL, have a much greater chance to negotiate a higher salary or extra benefits. If you can’t provide tangible reasons why you deserve a higher salary, it is unlikely that your employer will be willing to grant your request.
3. Benefits Packages
While most employees are concerned with the number of zeroes that are written on their paycheck, it is important to remember that salary is not the only bargaining chip. In fact, when you’re living abroad, it can sometimes mean very little.
Some programs and schools offer very generous benefits to teachers. In addition to a monthly salary, some teachers receive free airfare, accommodations, health insurance and paid vacation days.
The well-known JET program in Japan, for example, offers a comfortable monthly salary along with accommodations. The extra money you receive each month is nearly all disposable income, which can be used for extracurricular or travel expenses.
If you are dissatisfied with your salary, consider any additional benefits you are receiving. Approximate the value of these benefits and add that to your fixed salary. You might be surprised at how much additional money you’re actually receiving...even if it doesn’t come in the form of actual currency.
In the same respect, if your employer is unwilling to budge on the hourly or monthly wage you’re receiving, propose other benefits. Perhaps the school would be willing to add free language classes or pay a percentage of your housing costs.
Negotiating your salary can be a contentious topic. You may be hesitant to step into your employer’s office to discuss pay and benefits, but sometimes it’s necessary. Don’t doubt your value as an educator, but don’t overvalue it, either. Remember that each country has different living conditions and income levels. Do your homework in advance so that you are fully prepared to present reasons why you are seeking a different pay package.Photo Credits: Rex Pe, slolee, and Renato Ganoza