If I teach English overseas, will I live well or suffer for my dreams?
Don’t worry! Usually, teachers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) make more money than does the normal John Q. Public in their host country. This means that most English teachers are able to support themselves in a style better than most of the locals. Sounds good, right?
Wait a minute… What if Mr.and Mrs. Public live in a hovel, with a leaky, corrugated tin roof and a dirt floor, plus or minus a couple of chickens?
It’s good you asked. Teachers of EFL may find that their quality of life is modest. But modest can also be good. Of course, this is going to be different in each country you visit in your teaching career. For myself, I have never suffered a poor quality of life. And I’ve never heard other TEFLers complaining about this issue.
That’s because, even in countries that pay poorly, teachers can still get by (or even prosper) on the local economy.
What should you be aware of?
People say you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but if you’re taking free accommodation as part of your employment package, then you should be prepared for the possibility that it won’t be at the same quality level as something you would pick out for yourself.
It can happen that your housing looks like it’s in the middle of a slum, that’s happened to me, in fact. But, in developing countries, appearances of low upkeep don’t always signify crime-ridden neighborhoods as they might in the West. In most places you would go to teach (particularly in Asia) , it’s unlikely that crime will be a big problem in your city.
When I lived in Korea, one of my friends lived in the kind of area that back home I’d never have ventured into after sundown. It was a rabbit warren of back alleyways . . . However, despite its dodgy looks by Western standards, this Korean neighborhood was a perfectly safe place.
In the West, the press focuses on troubled areas and ‘hot spots.’ But in reality, when you’re traveling abroad you’ll find many places, and parts of Asia in particular, far safer than your average Western city. Especially in Korea, Japan and Thailand.
How it’s been for me
I have always maintained a good quality of life while living abroad. I’ve taught in Taiwan, Korea (two times), Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Thailand. I have never deprived myself of food, amenities or good medical care. (And usually, that medical care is much cheaper abroad than at home, and often much better).
Except in Thailand, I have always been able to save money after my basic living needs were taken care of. I usually was able to save at least 800 USD per month, and sometimes even twice or three times that per month. Wherever it is that your TEFL career takes you, your salary should allow you to have a good lifestyle and to be able to take local or regional vacations without hurting your bottom line.
Ted’s Tips™ #1: Do some research and check how much a job’s salary would work out to in local terms. You’ll see that some countries, even after your monthly expenses, you’ll be able to pocket 50 percent of your wages. That’s often a lot more than you could have done in your home country, even if the base wage is lower.
Ted’s Tips™ #2: Ask about local crime rates and safety levels. In general, Asia is much safer than the West. Be sure and research destinations first if you’re going to Latin America, where crime can be an issue.