While there is an obvious allure to living in a exotic country while making money teaching English, there are also practical concerns that you will need to address when considering whether to work as an ESL teacher abroad.
Among them, will you be able to afford to live the life you want working as an ESL teacher?
In most cases, yes. But it helps to have an idea of how ESL teachers budget their expenses before you make the leap to move to a foreign country for an English-teaching job. Here is a breakdown of how much the average ESL teacher working in Asia might spend in any given month.
1. Room and board
Depending on the country you live in and the school you work for, how much you spend on room and board can vary greatly. There are schools who will subsidize you for a period of time after you arrive in the country to give you a chance to settle in, and there are others who will provide accommodations for the entire duration of your contract, provided you work for a reduced salary (or the school may even decide not to reduce your salary). Some schools will give you a small stipend for living costs on a monthly basis, while others will pay you handsomely, but leave you to figure out your living arrangements on your own.
So make sure you are very clear with your place of employment as to what the terms are in your contract when it comes to living accommodations. It would be stressful if you accepted what you thought was a decent wage, only to find that more than half of it would be going to your rent.
Here is a breakdown of how much you can expect to pay for living accommodations in varying cities across Asia:
|What kind of place
|~ In USD
|One bedroom apartment
|Seoul, South Korea
|Small one bedroom apartment
|One bedroom condo
|Studio in city center
In most cases, ESL teachers working full time are able to make enough money to afford decent accommodations. How much space and how nice your living quarters are will vary depending on the kind of city you’re in, or if you’re based in a more rural area. Many ESL teachers also choose to find roommates in order to afford more spacious or nicer accommodations.
In some cases, the cost of utilities will be covered in the price of your rent. There are upsides and downsides to that. An upside is that you would never have to worry about paying utility bills on time as that responsibility would fall on your landlord. However, having the landlord in control of your utility bills can be problematic if they’re irresponsible about paying them on time, or if they decide to limit your use of certain appliances in order to keep costs low.
3. Meals and groceries
As is true for almost anywhere in the world, you’ll end up saving more money if you spend time cooking more of your meals than eating out. Fortunately, a nice meal out doesn’t necessarily have to cost you an arm and a leg. In many countries, particularly in Asia, paying for a delicious meal is incredibly affordable. In fact, many people who live in smaller apartments with limited kitchen spaces prefer to eat out most of the time than cook at home, as it is easier to manage and sometimes cheaper than prepping your own meals.
For example, in Taipei, Taiwan, smaller studios and one bedroom apartments only supply tenants with electric stoves with a single burner, or a small kitchenette unit. As prepping and cooking a meal in these conditions is inconvenient, many office workers prefer ordering delivery more often or going out to eat. Tasty, and even healthy meal options are available all over the city, and a satisfying meal of braised chicken over rice with sides of steamed vegetables and a soup can be had for as little as NT$300, or US$10.
Here is a breakdown of how much you can expect to pay for weekly groceries in varying cities across Asia:
|~ In USD
|Seoul, South Korea
And here is a breakdown of how much a simple dinner for one in an affordable restaurant might cost.
|Cost per meal
|~ In USD
|Seoul, South Korea
Public transportation is highly convenient in a lot of places around the world, which means you don’t need to worry about spending your hard-earned money on a car or on calling taxis all the time.
Most major Asian cities, such as Tokyo, Singapore, and Seoul offer public transportation cards that can be used on any public transport system. Simply keep the balance on the card topped off and use it to pay for any mode of public transport you choose.
Various public transport cards used in Asia.
Choosing public transport will go a long way in helping you save money, and is often more convenient and a faster mode of transport over taxis or ride-sharing services.
If using public transport is something that will become part of your daily routine, in most cities your budget wouldn’t go over US$100 a month; in some cities, probably even much less.
5. Socializing & entertainment
What’s the point of working so hard if you don’t spend a little time kicking back and relaxing?
How much you spend a month going out with your friends is largely going to depend on where you live and how active your social life is. However, it’s a good bet that the more metropolitan your city is, the more money it is going to cost to go to places like restaurants, nightclubs, and bars.
However, I have never heard of a full time ESL teacher in any part of the world who wasn’t able to afford spending at least one night out a week because they weren’t making enough money.
Different places around the world offer a wide range of fun activities that can be very affordable or require a bit of budgeting to accomplish. Whether your brand of fun is weekly drinks at the hottest bars with friends or a weekend camping trip in the mountains, you can easily accomplish the lifestyle you want on an ESL teacher’s salary. And if you’re looking to make more money, you can usually acquire a few part time teaching jobs on top of your full time position. If you have a TEFL certification, you may even be able to negotiate for even higher wages.
People partying it up during a night on the town.
A peaceful break by a waterfall during a weekend hike.
For a more detailed idea of how much it would cost to live in any particular city around the world, I recommend checking out the “cost of living” function on Numbeo. It’s a great way to see breakdowns of expenses in cities around the world.
Teaching ESL abroad makes balancing work and a personal life a lot easier, and many teachers have gone overseas to build lives for themselves that never would have been possible if they stayed back home waiting tables at restaurants or bartending.
Many teachers also find it a lot easier to set aside some money every month for savings and to pay down their student debt by teaching English abroad. In fact, many teachers have decided to stay abroad for a few more years, or even permanently, because they were able to completely pay off their student loans and upgrade the quality of their lives.
Hopefully this article was helpful to all of you out there thinking about making that transition to becoming an English teacher abroad. Whether you do it for just a year, a few years, or a lifetime, it’s a guarantee you won’t regret the experience.
Teacher in Taipei
Kaleigh is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the United States. She has traveled extensively throughout Asia and is currently teaching in Taipei, Taiwan. Her passions are mountain hikes and great food!