How & Where to Make the Most Money Teaching English Abroad
When you ask people why they want to teach English abroad, the answers are usually along the same lines - to travel, experience the world, learn a new language, live somewhere warm near a beach.
Money doesn't usually make it onto the list. Nobody becomes an EFL teacher for the pay, right? Wrong! While you'll never become a millionaire, you can save a significant amount to pay off student loans or just build a little nest egg.
With depressing job prospects and the rising cost of living at home, you may even be financially better off teaching English! So, how can you make sure you're earning the best salary possible?
Below you can read some top tips for securing a well paid English teaching job overseas and view a guide to the best countries to teach if you want the highest salary.
Get a Good Qualification
Obviously the best paid jobs usually require a better qualification.
Any TEFL qualification is better than none at all, and a longer qualification with more hours or more teaching practice will score more points with employers. If you teach with the EPIK program in Korea, for example, any TEFL certificate of at least 100 hours will bump you up a pay grade.
The CELTA is seen by many employers as the best TEFL qualification, and the CELTA or Trinity TESOL are the most commonly requested. Large organisations such as the British Council require a CELTA and experience to get any kind of job, and well-paid college teaching jobs also require a CELTA.
Ultimately, if you get a better qualification then you start in a better position to apply to the best schools and negotiate your salary.
Choose the Right Country
If you want to make bank as an EFL teacher, the best place to go is still the middle east. Salaries for teachers in Saudi Arabia can reach up to $5000 USD per month - tax free! - plus free housing and other benefits
The United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar are also constantly looking for teachers, with salaries in the $2000 - $4000 range. The downside is that jobs in the middle east have stringent requirements - you usually need at least two years of teaching experience or a Masters degree, or both.
Big cities such as Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Riyadh and Kuwait City are clean and modern, with skyscrapers, shopping malls, and decent sized expat communities. Bars and clubs are in short supply, though, as many countries in the middle east do not allow alcohol. Women are expected to dress modestly in public, or cover up altogether in some places, so the culture shock is much greater than in other parts of the world.
Wages in Asia are also high, and they are much more open to inexperienced teachers. Average salaries in Japan are around $2300 - $2600 USD, although the cost of living in big cities is high. In South Korea you can make $1800 to $2200 USD per month, with a lower cost of living which means you can save more than in Japan. Both Japan and South Korea are both well-discovered tourist destinations, so in the larger cities you will find plenty of western amenities and foreign foods, and thriving expat communities.
In China salaries vary much more widely, but even an inexperienced teacher can start on $1600 per month. While this might not sound like much compared to the other countries, it almost always includes free accommodation, and the cost of living in China is very low. Many Chinese people only earn around $800 - $1000 per month, so if you stay away from expensive cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong you can easily save $500 per month.
Negotiate Your Salary & Benefits
If you don't ask, you don't get. You'll never know what a company is willing to pay you unless you negotiate a little.
Start by researching salaries in the country you're moving to. If you know what the range of average salaries is you'll have more realistic expectations of what you can ask for - and you'll know if a school is trying to short-change you. Look at the cost of living and work out what it will take to make you comfortable, then resolve not to accept less than that.
When the school makes you an offer, you should already know from your research how good or bad it is. If it's good then it's best to acknowledge that - "That is a very fair offer, but I was hoping for a little more." Emphasise your experience and qualifications, and what an asset you will be to the company. If there are downsides to the job, like unsociable working hours or an undesirable location, you can mention that.
Don't be afraid to ask for a few days to think about it. Many companies will come up with a better offer for fear of losing you. If you do other interviews in that time then you may get job offers from other companies. "I really like you're school, but I've had another offer..." can be the magic words to a better salary.
If the salary is non-negotiable then the benefits might be. Benefits that a school might offer you include airfare (one way or round trip), free accommodation, a stipend towards paying your bills, free language lessons, an end-of-contract bonus or a re-signing bonus.
You can ask for some of these things if they're not on offer, or you can ask for money instead of benefits you don't want. If you ask for an accommodation allowance instead of an apartment, for example, you can negotiate the allowance up a little and then find an apartment that costs less, meaning you can pocket the rest.
Many teachers supplement their income by teaching private classes on the side. You can check with your school how they feel about this, but most schools don't mind so long as it doesn't interfere with your teaching and you're not actively poaching their students. Also make sure to check the terms of your work visa, as some visas only allow you to work for a single employer.
Word of mouth is the best way to get work, so mention to co-workers and anyone else you know that you are looking for students. In many countries people will be interested in talking to you because you're foreign and English-speakers will be eager to practice with you. Have a few business cards printed so that if you strike up a conversation with neighbours or people in local bars you will give a professional impression.
Local colleges are a good place to look for clients, because college students often want to study abroad or think English will enhance their career prospects. Put up flyers on your local college's notice boards, in your gym, on noticeboards in local supermarkets, and anywhere else advertising is allowed. The classifieds section of local newspapers is also a valuable resource.
How much you should charge varies widely depending on the country. Look at what nearby language schools or other tutors are charging for individual lessons. Don't be afraid to charge a little more than you think you're worth - most tutors undervalue their own services, and your students may well expect to negotiate the price with you anyway, meaning the rate you advertise is not what you will end up charging.
You may find it easier to get students - and be able to charge more - if you target a particular niche. If you have experience teaching exams then this is a big advantage, so advertise exam prep classes for IELTS or FCE. If you have a STEM degree then you could target people studying or working in your field who want to learn technical vocabulary in English.
If you live in a touristy area and lots of people work in service industries then you may be able to get clients by advertising lessons focused on relevant vocabulary and role plays.
By far the best paying teaching jobs abroad are in international schools.
These schools are for the children of expats from English-speaking countries, and are often quite expensive private schools. Instead of teaching English as a Foreign Language you would be teaching a subject relevant to your degree such as history, chemistry, mathematics or English literature to students whose first language is probably English.
Some schools offer qualifications such as SATs and GCSEs which the students would sit if they were in their home country. Others offer equivalent international qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate.
In developed countries salaries are usually commensurate with private schools in the US, UK or Australia. In countries where the cost of living is lower they may be slightly lower but still substantially more than the average wage, which means it's possible to save huge amounts of money.
As with teaching EFL, there are often benefits packages including free airfare, free or subsidized accommodation and free healthcare. Depending on the country, you may also pay substantially less tax than you would at home.
To apply for a job in an international school you will need to be a qualified teacher in your home country, and it helps a lot to have a year or two of experience in your home country too.
Most principals expect their teachers to contribute towards extra-curricular activities and get involved in the school social life, so your personal interests can help you land a job. If you play a muscial instrument, have experience coaching a sport or have an interest in amateur dramatics, chess, or anything that would make a good school club, be sure to mention it in your resume and at the interview.
When you compare salaries abroad to those at home, remember that your money can go a lot further in other countries, especially if you're getting free housing abroad. Check out qualifications and requirements, research your destinations, and remember to negotiate for the salary you want.
With a little luck and some thorough research, teaching abroad can be a great way to pay off student loans, save money, learn new skills, travel, and have an unforgettable experience teaching English overseas that you'll remember for the rest of your life.
By Victoria Hughes has been a TEFL teacher for 4 years and has lived in Poland, China and Turkey. She writes about job hunting, lesson planning and the joys and frustrations of teaching at TEFLicious.