One of the biggest questions you will have when you find an ESL job overseas is “Where am I going to live?” Finding an apartment or house in a foreign country will probably seem intimidating at first, especially if you don’t speak the local language and don’t know which neighborhoods you are likely to enjoy the most.
There’s no need to get stressed out! Finding a place to live while teaching English abroad sounds scary, but in almost every case the school or teaching program that is hiring you will make finding a home very easy. Often, the school will even provide you an apartment for free (yes, seriously!).
Housing benefits vary quite a bit from country to country and sometimes from school to school. So let’s break down the different accommodation options for TEFL jobs and where each option is most common.
1. Apply to teach abroad programs that pay for housing
Teach abroad programs that cover housing costs include:
- The Explore Program (China)
- The English program in Korea (EPIK)
- Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE)
- Gyeonggi English Program in Korea (GEPIK)
- The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET)
- The UAE Government Schools Program
- English Opens Doors (Chile)
Getting to travel the world and get paid doing it already sounds like a pretty sweet deal, so getting free housing to go along with it seems too good to be true. In many countries, not only is free housing possible, but it would be downright strange if your school didn’t provide you with a place to live as part of your contract.
Free housing while teaching abroad, huh. What’s the catch?
Now, although free housing is a great deal, you should still be aware of a few things. First off, you probably won’t have any say in where you live. A common situation is for the school to either own the apartment (usually a studio) where you will be living or they will have an agreement in place with the company that does. That being said, you shouldn’t be too concerned about the lack of options. The vast majority of the time the apartment provided is perfectly comfortable. Horror stories regarding free housing are surprisingly rare.
That being said, feel free to ask your future employer for photos of where you will be living and what will be included. Housing for ESL teachers usually comes furnished, although you may have to buy some items, like cooking utensils and bedding, yourself. You may also have to pay for utilities on your own.
Also, in a lot of countries, especially East Asia, most homes aren’t equipped with an oven. This lack of an oven comes as a surprise to many first-time ESL teachers, but it’s actually completely normal in many households. So don’t assume you’ve been “ripped off” if your apartment doesn’t have everything you are used to back home.
Typically you will get a private apartment (usually a studio with a small kitchen and bathroom). Sometimes, however, you may find yourself sharing a kitchen and living space with other ESL teachers, especially if you are living on-campus at a university.
Note: If you’re a certified, experienced English teacher then many private international schools interested in hiring from overseas do include free housing in their overall compensation package.
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What about ESL/language schools abroad? Where is free housing standard?
In a handful of countries, it is considered industry-standard for schools to provide free housing for their ESL teachers. In South Korea, for example, it is almost unheard of for a school to not provide free housing.
Free housing for English teachers in China
In China it is also normal for housing to be given free of charge. The wealthy Gulf States in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar, also almost always provide free accomodation. In the rest of the Middle East, however, free housing for TEFL teachers is rare.
Free housing for English teachers in Japan
In Japan, free housing isn’t quite standard, but it is fairly common, especially if you are teaching through a government-run program. And across Europe, most language schools expect you to pay for your own housing.
2. Apply to ESL schools and programs that provide housing stipends
In a lot of other countries, instead of an apartment provided to you by the school, you will be given a housing stipend (i.e., an extra amount of money to help cover the cost of housing). The great thing about a housing stipend is that you can look at a few apartments and choose for yourself where you’d prefer to live.
The downside is that looking for housing in a new country can be intimidating at first. You may also not know if the stipend the school is providing you will be enough to cover the cost of a comfortable apartment. Housing stipends are fairly common among ESL employers in China and Japan.
Tips on making the most of your housing stipend
If your school is providing you with a housing stipend, make sure they still have resources to help you on your apartment hunt. Most schools won’t leave you completely on your own when it comes to finding a place to stay and will often have a real estate agent show you a couple apartments.
But make sure you do your own research beforehand. Before you leave, have an idea of how much apartments typically cost and which neighborhoods you would like to live in. Don’t just choose a neighborhood that is cheap as it may not be close to public transit, grocery stores, or other necessities.
Also, if you find a place that costs less than your stipend, find out if you will be able to pocket the difference or if the school keeps it.
3. Apply to homestay teaching programs
In a few countries, especially developing ones or ones where the market for ESL teachers isn’t as massive as East Asia, it is common for accomodation to be provided through a homestay.
With a homestay, you get to live for free with a host family and you’ll have a cultural immersion experience that is simply unbeatable. The disadvantage is that if you prefer the privacy that having your own apartment provides then a homestay isn’t going to be ideal.
Homestays are common through government-run programs, including in Georgia and Chile. Check out Go Abroad for more on the latest homestay English teaching jobs abroad.
A similarly short-term alternative to a homestay program, if you’re into the idea, is working at a summer camp, where you can avail of free housing on top of a small allowance. There are a ton of these scattered throughout Asia and Europe.
What do I do if my employer doesn’t offer free housing?
Finally, you may simply have to find a place to live on your own, at your own cost.
The North American Language and Culture Assistants Program in Spain is one example of a teach abroad program that doesn’t arrange accomodation for successful applicants. Same deal with the Teaching Assistant Program In France (TAPIF).
Going it alone sounds scary, but it really isn’t! Your school will be able to provide you with resources to help in your house hunt and there are usually tons of online classifieds with apartment listings. Your students and fellow ESL teachers will also be able to offer excellent tips on the best way of finding a place to live.
If you are expected to find your own apartment when teaching English overseas, a good idea is to have an Airbnb or hotel booked for your first month so that you have plenty of time to find housing that suits you best.