How to earn a great salary as a teacher abroad

Earning a great salary

Heading overseas to teach is more than just the adventure of a lifetime. Chances are, you’re also hoping to get paid well for your efforts! However, without the proper due diligence beforehand, you could sign up for a year of teaching that won’t raise your bank balance by much.

But if you do prepare, you could leave with your student debt significantly diminished. In fact, teaching abroad after graduation is a common path for a lot of college grads because of the possibility of living cheaply while making a good salary.

To keep your financial future looking rosy, we give you the lowdown on which countries to teach in, which schools and how to negotiate the best salary for yourself.

Let’s compare countries

When it comes to teaching abroad, not all salaries are created equal. Indeed, even if the two countries are side-by-side geographically, their teacher salaries may vary wildly.

For instance, the projected salary for an ESL teacher in Russia is $1,500 to $4,000 USD per month, while next door in Belarus, it’s $800 to $2,000.

Interested in finding out why these differences exist? Let’s walk through a case study together:

China vs. UAE

Right now, East Asia and the Middle East are two of the most popular and profitable regions to teach abroad, and especially China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Both nations reward their teachers handsomely for their work and each has a surging demand for new, enthusiastic hires. China alone has 500 million language learners who are eager to pick up English, so there's no shortage of schools trying to recruit teachers!

In China, English teachers can earn up to $2,500 USD per month, while the UAE offers up to $4,100 USD per month (tax-free). While that’s a $1,600 USD difference (not to even mention the taxes), both are excellent salaries for very different reasons.

For instance, the cost of living in China is drastically lower than the UAE and your ESL teaching paycheck would reflect that. A basic lunchtime meal in UAE costs an estimated $17 USD. But in China, that same meal would go for $7 USD.

Also, the UAE expects teachers to get around in a car, as public transit there is unreliable. Maintaining a car is an added cost for teachers.

The disparity between the two countries continues when it comes to accommodations. The rent on a 900-square foot furnished apartment in an average area of China could rent for $763 USD per month, says Expatistan. Rent that identical apartment in UAE? You’d be paying $1,603 USD monthly.

Of course, we should mention that many schools in both countries help subsidize their ESL teachers’ accommodations, plus offer paid vacation, an extra allowance for food, and additional bonuses on top of the basic salary. The numbers shown above simply demonstrate the differences in living costs.

UAE also offers higher salaries than China because they require teachers with a greater level of teaching experience. To get hired as an ESL teacher in Dubai, generally, you need a valid teaching license, a TEFL certificate and a few years of classroom experience.

Meanwhile, if you hold a TEFL certification and a Bachelor’s degree, you can still find a financially lucrative teaching gig at a Beijing school. And if you are a college grad with no teaching experience, you can still find work in China as a teacher. This fact alone makes China a great choice if you’re an inexperienced teacher looking to land your first teaching contract!

Public vs. private schools

Public vs. private schools

Before we get into the specifics, you should know that public, private and international schools abroad pay their teachers at different average rates.

As a general rule of thumb, private schools pay a bit more than public schools, and international schools pay better than both.

Take South Korea for instance. On average, an inexperienced English teacher in a public school earns up to 2.0 million KRW ($1,724 USD) per month.

If they were working at a private institution, their monthly income could rise to 2.1 million KRW ($1,810 USD).

Meanwhile, landing an ESL teaching job at a Korean international school might pay them up to 2.8 million KRW ($2,413 USD) per month.

These distinctions are important to keep in mind during your job search. But salary isn't the only thing that matters––the experience of teaching in a public school versus a private school in South Korea is also going to be quite different.

How to spot a good salary

As we mentioned in our China vs. UAE comparison, a good salary is largely dependent on the country’s cost of living. Even if a salary is low by American or Canadian standards, it might be an amazing pay rate in that country.

Since most ESL teachers are looking to save money—rather than just break even every month—it’s important to find a job with a salary that allows you to live comfortably, while still having enough left over to put a decent amount into a savings account.

When you’re browsing through international ESL job listings, we recommend keeping a website like Expartistan open in another tab. These sites function as Cost of Living calculators, so you can compare the projected salaries to how much money you’ll be spending to live in that country.

A little number crunching goes a long way!

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How to negotiate a salary offer

Does the thought of having to negotiate a salary cause a cold shiver to run down your spine? You’re not alone!

However, if you’re not an entry-level ESL teacher, you shouldn’t be paid an entry-level salary. Full stop.

Should you find yourself in a situation where the salary offer is below your expectations, you can talk to your potential employer about it.

Professionally and politely, tell them why you have the relevant teaching experience and skill set to merit a higher salary. State your case using facts, rather than emotion, to show that you have carefully considered why their offer doesn’t meet your financial expectations.

After all, the worst thing they can say is no. But with plenty of other ESL teaching jobs waiting to be filled, another opportunity is bound to arise that better meets your financial needs and credentials.

Remember, teaching English abroad is the experience you make of it. So, remember your worth and find the best job for you!

Calculate your salary for teaching abroad

teach abroad salary calculator

If you’re looking for a fast and easy way to compare average salaries for ESL teachers abroad, check out Teach Away’s Salary Calculator.

Simply select the country you’re interested in from our dropdown list. Then, choose the category of teaching experience that best describes you and hit that bright pink “Calculate My Salary” button.

An instant later and you’ll be looking at the projected salary range in US dollars for an ESL teacher in that country with your expertise level. It’s that easy!

For additional information on potential salaries for English teachers abroad, we recommend browsing Teach Away’s job board. Many of our listings have the projected salaries listed, so there’s no guesswork involved and you’re not applying for a job that doesn’t match your financial needs.