Salaries, bonuses and negotiations: getting paid to teach overseas

Getting paid to teach abroad

Money might not be the main motivator that inspires people to teach abroad, but one thing’s for sure⁠—if you’re setting off on the adventure of a lifetime you’ll want to make sure you’ve got enough yen, euros or dirhams in your pocket to enjoy it.

But at the same time, you’ve probably heard stories of some teachers saving up small fortunes overseas while others get around the globe on a shoe-string budget.

So why do teach abroad salaries differ so much from job to job? How do you make sure you get a fair salary when you’re moving to teach in a new country? And how can you ask for a raise when you think you deserve it? Read on to find out...

How much do teachers make abroad?

There are literally as many answers to this question as there are countries in the world! At the top end of the scale, teaching abroad can pay a salary that allows you to live well and save money, and at the lower end, it can entail budgeting and working for multiple schools to make a full salary. It really depends on where you go to teach.

As such, it’s important to consider your motivations before you choose where you go. Are you looking for a cultural experience, a chance to make money, or a mix of both? If having a high salary is a high priority for you, you can quickly narrow your search to destinations that fit the bill, such as the United Arab Emirates or Japan. But if you’re more concerned about living in a particular country or city overseas, you’ll have to accept the norm for teaching salaries in that area.

Having said that, it’s important to consider your potential salary in context. A seemingly low salary might actually stretch further than you think depending on living expenses in the city you are living in.

teach abroad salary calculator

How do I know if I’ll make enough money teaching abroad?

Start researching online and ask schools you’re interviewing with what your living expenses will be in any places you expect to work in. (Sometimes during the hiring process, you're not sure which city you will be placed in until a job offer has been made).

Compare your potential salary to the cost of living to really understand how your monthly payments will translate in real terms. Also, take into consideration whether the school provides housing, health insurance and airfare for their teachers.

Next, you’ll need to work out what “enough money” means for you. Obviously, you will have to pay phone bills, buy groceries and have some money left over to do things you enjoy in your free time.

But beyond that, think about the lifestyle you want to have overseas. What do you see yourself doing on the weekends? Will you take lots of trips to nearby cities while you’re living there? Will you need to fly home at any point?

Basically, what are the non-negotiables that you want your salary to cover? And if your salary doesn’t cover them will you have the time, permission from your main employer and visa rights to take on extra work elsewhere?

How do I know if I’m getting a fair salary?

Once you’ve worked out whether your salary will be workable in the country you’re going to, it’s time to take a closer look at your contract.

Here are some things to look out for:

  • Will you be paid purely for classroom teaching hours or does your salary also cover other tasks like lesson planning, report writing, admin and watching students at break times? Check with your school to get a full idea of what your weekly responsibilities will be.
  • Can you stand by all the clauses in your contract? Sometimes final month salaries or bonuses are dependent on you completing a 12-month contract or hitting certain targets.
  • If you want to supplement your income, take a look at whether your contract allows you to work for competitors or provide private or online tutoring.
  • Take a look at the standard salary for teachers in the country you’re working in and what kind of benefits teachers are usually given. How does your contract compare to this?

What can I expect to be paid with my education and experience?

This really depends on where you plan to teach. Some organizations have very clear pay scales (such as South Korea’s EPIK program) and others may not.

It’s fair to say that most schools around the world will at least pay more for a teacher with qualifications such as a TEFL certificate. Teachers with a teaching license or bachelor’s degree in education also open themselves up to the possibility of teaching in international schools, where salaries are generally comparable with what you would be earning at home. Do you have a master’s degree? That's even better!

A good first step is to research what the average salary bracket is where you’re going and place yourself in that bracket based on your teaching background. Then bring up any experience and qualifications when you’re interviewing with individual schools and ask them what their pay scale is.

I don’t think I’m being paid enough. How can I negotiate a raise?

Salary negotiations

The big awkward question: how do you ask for more money? Should you even try? To put it simply, yes! Not being paid what you’re worth is demoralizing and infuriating, but negotiating a higher salary can be easier than jumping ship to an entirely new school. In fact, some would say it’s worth trying to negotiate your salary, even if you are happy with it because there’s no harm in asking.

How to ask

Having said that, how you ask is crucial. Some cultures might consider it rude that you’d ask for more money before you’ve signed a contract with them and proven what a great teacher you are in person. Others expect you to haggle a little over the details of your contract. Whatever your relationship with your school is, be polite, friendly and choose the appropriate moment to bring up the subject. And do a little research into how salary negotiations are typically approached in this particular country.

During the hiring process

If you are trying to negotiate a raise during the hiring process it’s best to wait until you’ve been offered a job. Make sure you know the average salary for teachers in the area to give you an idea of how far to push your negotiations and don’t shy away from talking up any experience, qualifications or other strong points you have.

Another technique you could try during the hiring process is to seek out a few different job offers in the same country or city. Let your current employers know that you’re in demand from schools that pay higher wages and that could push them to pay you more.

After you’ve been hired

If you are already working for a school and want to renegotiate your salary, make sure you have a strong performance record and can give clear examples of what makes you a valuable employee.

Rather than putting too much pressure on yourself, be patient and think of the first negotiation as a way to open a conversation. If your first request for a raise is refused, ask what criteria would make them agree to a raise in the future. Then put a time frame in place so you can go back in 2 to 6 months, with all the criteria they ask for and make your request again.

More than money

Another thing you could consider is negotiating for something other than cold, hard cash. Your school might not be in a position to pay you more but maybe they could increase your benefits by offering extra holiday days, a nicer apartment or guaranteed placement in an area you want. Thinking beyond money could result in a win-win negotiation for you and your school.

Work for great schools

Finally, aim to work for schools who value quality. Seek out employers that are firmly invested in their school’s values and community, and they’ll be more likely to know that it’s worth investing in and hold onto great teachers.

teaching jobs abroad