Teach Abroad

Why Save Money Before Teaching Abroad?

Jason Rodgers
Jason Rodgers

Jason is a hockey player from Virginia, and his passport is a quilt of stamps and visas.

High school students in Kenya

SPORTS CARS! GOLD WATCHES! CASUAL MENTION OF CELEBRITY FRIENDSHIPS! These things are fun and exciting, sexy and sensational! They're a blast to talk about and everybody loves them!

Teaching abroad has its own special reasons for why saving up before leaving is a good idea.

I want to talk to you about saving money instead. It isn't very much fun, and there are decidedly fewer supermodels involved. But this savings lesson isn't about the what -- it's about the why, and the why is teaching abroad. Unlike most conventional jobs that you can simply start and watch the money roll in, teaching abroad has its own special reasons for why saving up before leaving is a good idea.

1. No Salary at Start

Pre-Departure Expenses to Watch Out For
  • First month’s rent and necessities (groceries, utilities, phone etc.)
  • TEFL certification fees
  • Moving costs (for you, and your stuff)
  • Public transit passes
  • Travel insurance
  • Visa and immigration fees

This is going to sound bogus, but sometimes, you only get paid for the hours you work. And sometimes, in order to get to and work those hours, you have to fly halfway around the world, undergo a TEFL course, and feed yourself until you see that first paycheck. When those times happen, you'll be glad you had savings.

Teaching abroad (almost always) requires on-site training. This training can take up to several weeks and this time is not, what a lawyer would call, "billable hours."

Your program may offer your a stipend to help ease the pain a little bit, but you will not receive your full salary until you begin teaching. If you are living in a pricy city like Shanghai or Madrid, you may find yourself counting down the days 'til your first payday so you can finally chow down on something other than rice and beans.

2. Prepare for Move-in Expenses

Students in Costa Rica

Do you have any idea how far it is to your host country? And, a concurrent question: do you know how much stuff you own? And with two and two making four, it costs a lot of money to get all your stuff to your host country.

Now, you have options. You can either stuff a couple duffel bags full to bursting and check them on your plane -- with whopping baggage fees, but nothing like moving costs. You can also buy all new stuff when you get to where you're going. Local stuff, meaningful stuff, stuff that you'll make memories with, but that will, unfortunately, cost money.

Depending on where you are teaching, your dollar will either go shorter or further than you're used to -- so look up the local exchange rate before leaving, and plan your savings funds adjusted accordingly.

But that's not all for your moving fees, because your stuff isn't the only thing that moved, is it? You moved, and you're going to need a plane ticket (cha-ching). You're also going to need somewhere to move into, and that means rent and a safety deposit (cha-ching). If you want to take advantage of your city's movers, i.e. buses, subways, and other mass transit, that's going to cost a monthly fee as well (cha-ching).

Don't let those cha-chings scare you off. They are all sound and fury, signifying nothing. Those things cost money here in America too, and there's a good chance you're already used to paying them. In fact, many teaching programs not only help their students find and arrange housing, they offer them a stipend as well for living expenses and transit passes to and from the school. So fear not, but don't let those expenses sneak up on you either.

3. You’ll Want to Travel, Trust Me

If you're considering moving abroad to teach children (or anyone for that matter), you're probably not a cowardly person. Odds are you've got a love of the world, and you want to see more of it. Teaching is a great way to do that. But you're not going to stop at seeing ONE country on this trip, are you? Yeah right, son.

If you are teaching on a volunteer basis, or making just enough to break even, you'll want to have enough saved beforehand to cover your jetsetting lifestyle.

If you're teaching in Turkey, and you've got your eye on Hungary for a trip but aren't sure if it's worth the ticket, consider this: when is Hungary ever going to be closer, for cheaper, than it is right then? Never. So carpe see-em! Teaching is a great way to see the world, as most countries' academic schedules offer frequent, long breaks and unlike a gap year full of traveling, you'll be making a steady income to offset some of those costs (sweet!).

Not all teaching jobs pay well enough to solely fund your travels however. If you are teaching on a volunteer basis, or making just enough to break even, you’ll want to have enough saved beforehand to cover your jetsetting lifestyle. So whether you want to hop over to Japan while teaching in China, or make the leap to Lebanon while leading learning in Libya, make sure to have saved sufficiently before leaving!

4. Accidents Happen

Leaping Tiger Gorge

Look, accidents happen. I'd tell you to expect the unexpected, but that phrase is a bunch of bull hockey. Let's be real -- streets in China get slippery in the rain, students offer you Peruvian peanut candy when you have a nut allergy, and sometimes you sprain your knee playing soccer with your kids at recess.

I don't want to add insult to injury, you dummy, but these unexpected medical bills can cost a pretty penny (a beau Euro?) If you took our advice and got TRAVEL INSURANCE, a good portion of these expenses might be covered. Either way, some money is making a one-way sortie out of your pocket. After all, it's doctors without borders, not doctors without bankers. So make sure you've got enough money to pay for these emergencies and still be able to cover your day-to-day expenses.

And speaking of emergencies, people aren't the only ones who can get hurt! Got you a shiny new scooter to toot-toot around town in? Did said shiny scooter slide scraping sideways straight into a Saab? Well, shoot. That scooter is going to need a new connecting rod (you have no idea what a connecting rod is) and that's going to cost you a few of the big bills. That's right, those purple ones with the crazy holographics.

You need your whip to get to school everyday, let alone to live your darn life. A car repair (or a bicycle -- chains rust, gears slip) is one of those can't-wait costs. You'll want some rainy day money for this -- call it your Rusty Day fund.

5. Happy Accidents Can Also Happen

There are happy accidents too! Travel plans can pop up on short notice that are too good to pass up. Get asked to be the best man in your friend's wedding? Is your little sis graduating and you want to ruffle her tassel? A flight home can be expensive -- just go on Kayak and enter "Now" for your travel date. Yeah, it takes a little money to pump a magic electric flying metal tube full of highly explosive jet fuel to hurl me literally across the face of the earth at five hundred miles an hour... but I'm not made of money, gosh darnit!

So save up, save down, save left, save right, and you'll be able to do your teach abroad right.

Some of your friends and family may want to visit, or you may have friends who are also teaching nearby, whether across the city or in a neighboring country. Imagine the fun of gallivanting around Eastern Europe with your best buddy! If you were smart enough to save up, you could afford it, broheim!

I know saving money isn't the flashiest diamond in the conversation mine, but it's one you need to have if you want to enjoy teaching abroad and not regret it. And if you've been nodding your head along to our sage advice throughout this article, why not click onward and read some money saving tips for your travels?

After all, teaching's a blast, and it'll change your life, but it ain't free, and cash rules everything around me. So save up, save down, save left, save right, and you'll be able to do your teach abroad right.

Photo Credits: Gina Rogari, and Richelle Gamlam.