As an English teacher living abroad, I am a member of countless expat, ESL teaching, and digital nomad Facebook groups. Like many of my fellow teachers, I find they often come in handy for a quick piece of advice, restaurant recommendations and the occasional need to offload Ikea furniture. There are other questions that contain so many layers of complexity and individual preference, and asking it online does not always yield the desired result.
Teaching salaries are a perfect example of where the internet can fall short. The initial question I see on Facebook generally goes something like this:
“Hi everyone. I’m from <some far away country> and I want to move to <some other far away country>. What’s the job market like and how much I can expect to make? Is it expensive to live there? Any help is appreciated!”.
This post, is, of course, followed by several random responses from teachers who may be part-time, full-time, raising kids, crashing with 15 roommates, happy, depressed, slightly hungover, or just in desperate need to spread sarcasm. You read through everything, desperately trying to piece together a general answer, but feel like you haven’t really discovered anything a quick Google search hasn’t already offered.
So how do you find the salary that’s right for you? We all want to find a place to teach with lots of available jobs, a low cost of living, favorable taxes, and decent pay. And there are some countries where you can earn a very favourable salary such as in Qatar, Saudi Arabia or South Korea. However, money alone is not the only reason most of us choose this path. Finding the right place with the right salary is not just an exercise in exhaustively researching the “best of the best” online – it is about looking inward and deciding where you best fit.
Ask Yourself the Big Questions
Rather than focus purely on numbers, it is important to take a step back and start from the very beginning. Begin by asking yourself: Why am I doing this? What do I want to gain from this experience? How long am I willing to commit?
I will be the first to admit starting with these questions seems a little cliche, but when you think about it in the context of money, it’s a very simple concept. If you don’t know what you want to do, how will you know what you need to get there? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions and no specific time frame. We may know what we are looking for in this particular moment in our lives, but not all of us are ready to define our life’s goals or say where we want to be in 10 years.
Generally speaking, those who are planning 6 months to 1 year out will have the greatest flexibility to go where they want and take whatever work that pays the bills. This strategy is ideal for adventure seekers who want to maximize their travel experiences and live in areas popular with fellow expats. Anyone choosing this strategy can always opt for a more permanent solution later, but only if you don’t exhaust all your available resources. Your time abroad will eventually come to an end if you end up broke with nothing but an Instagram account to die for.
If you are ready to stay somewhere long-term, or you have long-term obligations such as family or student loans, your options may be more limited. You may want to move to an area with a lower cost of living, focus on teaching opportunities that provide work visa support, or invest in the Cambridge CELTA or and advanced qualification in ELT such as the Trinity DipTESOL for better paying positions. Your location may not be the ideal travel destination and can be a bit lonely at first, but it will offer a more permanent solution and better acquaint you to the local community.
Determine Exactly How Much YOU Need
A quick and easy way to determine how much money you need to make can be calculated based on the 50-30-20 rule: 50% to basic expenses, 30% to lifestyle (aka your “fun” money), and 20% to savings. This list is personal and should include everything you need to satisfy your goals. Many teachers will find they must cut back on savings in order to satisfy their essential and lifestyle expenses and this is completely normal. None of these categories should be completely sacrificed, but they will shift over time with the goal of getting to 50-30-20 eventually. However, there will be occasions when you feel you are getting further and further away from this ideal scenario. If that is the case, it’s time to get creative.
Embrace the (Side)Hustle
It is important to remember your teaching salary may only be part of the solution. Teachers in areas with a high cost of living find multiple streams of income is the key to getting to a more stable financial situation. However, it is advisable for any teacher to consider a side hustle to provide an extra cushion in case of emergency. The first place many teachers start is one-on-one teaching. To maximize your time, you can also encourage your students to form mini-groups, where you teach 2-3 students at a time. Each student receives an individual discount, and you make more money per session. Online language schools are often experiencing teacher shortages and offer flexible part-time work, but don’t limit yourself to only teaching. Use freelance sites like Upwork, Fivrr, and SimplyHired to find opportunities such as copywriting, marketing, and other fields of interest.
Whether you use all or part of these strategies, it’s important to remember that all teachers will be slightly different in how they approach their ideal salary, and all of us will likely experience financial stress of some kind along the way. Money can be a scary and emotional thing, especially when you are living abroad. Facing those fears head on and taking action is the only way to work through that stress. So keep asking the important questions, not just to your friends online, but to yourself.
Are you thinking about teaching abroad? Find out about average teaching salaries and visa requirements in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.
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Blythe Hooker is one of our Developing Teacher with Spanish and Teaching Business English graduates. She is a freelance ESL teacher and entrepreneur currently based in Barcelona, Spain. She began her teaching career in Bangkok, Thailand where she served as an English educator for the Royal Palace of Thailand. She has since worked with teens, adults, and business executives over the course of her 10+ year teaching career.