Teaching English abroad can be one of the best financial decisions you make as a young professional—once you start working! But before you begin earning a steady income from teaching English, there are financial costs involved in moving countries and starting up somewhere new.
Prior to signing an ESL job contract, it’s important that you—as a future ESL teacher working abroad—have saved up enough money to afford your new vocation.
But before your head starts spinning with numbers and questions, don’t worry! We’re here to guide you through the associated costs, so you can create a functional budget and begin saving money for your adventure.
As a new English teacher in a foreign country, here are the start-up costs you can expect:
- TEFL/TESOL certification
- Passport, visa, and/or work permits (plus additional documentation like transcripts, background checks, and even medical records.
- Transportation costs to move abroad
- Daily living costs (before your paychecks start coming in)
Feeling overwhelmed by that to-do list? Don’t panic! Scroll down the page and we’ll go through these points together.
Most countries require international ESL teachers to have their Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification, which you are expected to have completed prior to applying for a job.
Successfully graduating from a TEFL course means you are fully qualified to teach English, lead a classroom, and prepare lesson plans. So, needless to say, having this certification greatly enhances your ESL teaching abilities and makes your resume more attractive to potential employees.
You can earn a TEFL certificate in three ways:
- Online course
- In-person classes in your home country
- In-person classes in a foreign country (typically where you would like to teach ESL)
Earning your TEFL online is the least expensive option. It can cost up to $1,000 less than in-person courses, plus you have the added convenience of completing the coursework on your own schedule. If you take your TEFL certification through TeachAway, our courses start at $995.
Passport and visa
As a foreign citizen, you need to have the appropriate documents to be granted entry into the country where you plan to teach English. Acquiring these papers typically costs a bit of money.
If you don’t already have an international passport, you will need to apply for one and pay the application fee. Otherwise, you won’t be able to travel out of your home country. Plus, many schools require that you have a valid passport before they will consider your job application.
All ESL teachers must also hold the valid visas and/or work permits to teach legally in their country of employment. Schools often have their own individual requirements too, such as requesting a full background check, school transcripts, or a signed medical report from a doctor. Typically, these documents also come with additional fees.
During the inquiry or interview stages, ask your potential school if they assist in covering the costs of their English teachers’ visas, work permits, or additional documentation.
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Moving and traveling abroad
After you are offered a teaching job abroad, you need to consider the transportation costs required to move there. Certain countries—like South Korea, Qatar, Indonesia, and China—are known for paying the airfare for new ESL teachers. However, in many instances, you will be expected to foot the bill for your own plane tickets.
Furthermore, some nations ask to interview potential teachers in-person. So, if you’re hoping to teach English in Argentina, Spain, Italy, or Costa Rica, be prepared to travel to the country beforehand—without the guarantee of a job! (You will also need to save up 1-2 weeks of daily living costs to cover your accommodation and meals while you search for a job.)
If you’re hoping to have your plane ticket reimbursed, or prefer to interview over Skype, we recommend looking for an ESL job posting that matches these needs.
Daily living costs
Like any new job, your first paycheck from your ESL teaching position won’t arrive immediately. So, since you’ll have to wait a few weeks to get paid, it’s important to not arrive abroad with empty pockets!
To ensure you can live comfortably during those first weeks, we recommend having 6-8 weeks of living costs sitting in your bank account. Plus, if your school doesn’t cover your housing or transportation (from home to the school), you need to keep those additional costs in mind.
Let’s break down the expenses you will need to cover:
- 6-8 weeks of meals
- Transportation around the city
- First month of rent
- Apartment deposit (usually equivalent to one month’s rent)
- Cellphone and phone service plan
- Entertainment (going out, sightseeing, and traveling)
Prior to accepting an ESL position abroad, we strongly suggest creating a detailed budget that includes the above costs. You should be 100% sure that you can afford the pre-paycheck period of teaching English abroad!
How to reduce the cost of teaching abroad
If you’re worried about affording the initial costs required to teach English abroad, there are several ways you can lower them.
During the application process, consider only applying to schools that pay for your flights and housing. Or, as your second best bet, choose schools located in countries with a low cost of living. Generally, the most affordable countries to teach English in are part of Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.
ESL teachers, who are paying for their own plane tickets (or need to be reimbursed by the school), should book far in advance and use a travel portal that allows you to compare flight prices, like Kayak or Expedia.
As our last money-saving trip, don’t set your sights on teaching in a country where you need to job hunt in-person or come in for a face-to-face interview. Online application portals and Skype interviews are your new best friends.
Remember, if you budget well and choose a country you can afford, you will have no trouble living comfortable until your first paycheck arrives. A little preparation goes a long way!