What are the REAL salaries to teach English abroad?

what are the salaries to teach english

When it comes to teaching English abroad, one of the first concerns that most would-be teachers have is knowing the actual salaries to teach English abroad . Although the industry is becoming more regulated and schools are requiring additional qualifications compared to even five years ago, plenty of jobs remain. While China and Saudi Arabia are the current hot spots, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, Colombia, Chile and pretty much everywhere else in the non-English speaking world offer opportunities to live and teach. Personally, I taught in Japan from 2007 to 2011, which was a great experience. I made an average salary, but it was enough for me since my main goals at the time were adventure, the ability to travel during breaks and to financially support myself while living abroad.

Through this blog, I get a fair amount of emails from people looking to teach in various parts of the globe and I am happy to answer their questions if I can. Not surprisingly, most inquires are about money and how much one can make in a particular country. I often get comments, such as “I want to maximize my earnings so I can pay off student loans” or “I won’t teach anywhere unless I can make at least $50,000 per year” or “I don’t have any teaching experience, but I want to make enough in my first year to save money and pay off my student loans” or “I won’t take a job offer unless I can make the same income as a middle class person in my home country.”

If you have been following this blog, you know that my chief aim is to provide an honest perspective about teaching English abroad. Although I do make an income from affiliate marketing and advertising, I strive to offer a realistic outlook about what to expect. The reality is that salaries to teach English abroad are generally lower than what is perceived by the public. While you can save money in the right situation, most people don’t save much. When I taught in Japan, I usually saved about $5,000 per year, most of which I spent traveling at the end of each contract. For me, I was content with that since my objective was to travel and enjoy my time. I lived frugally at moments, but I did so to travel and visit friends and family. I never had the expectation that I would get rich, pay off my student loans or come back to the United States and purchase a house or condo.

Like I said, it is possible to save money teaching overseas and one can save a good amount in three or four years. However, to do so means you will have little social life, spend most of your time cooped up in your apartment after work and devoid yourself of travel during vacation periods. In my honest opinion, you really should think twice about teaching abroad if your only concern is to make money and save because you will inevitably be disappointed. While you might be lured by flashy advertisements with smiling faces, the truth is that you are never going to make as much money teaching abroad as you would like. Even in countries with higher salaries, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the actual pay never matches the speculation. While there might be a small minority of teachers in those countries making 80 to a 100k per year, that certainly is not the norm. If I am wrong, please feel free to post a comment and offer some proof to the contrary.

So, how much can you really make teaching English abroad? It depends on several factors, such as the country, your experience, qualifications and type of school. Generally, the best paying jobs throughout the world are at international schools. However, international schools generally only hire teachers with certified teaching licenses from their home countries, so if you don’t have a teaching license like the vast majority of those looking to teach abroad, you can rule out working for one of these institutes. Personally, I find it unfair that international schools usually only hire public school teachers with a license since it seems to make little difference in one’s teaching ability whether or not he or she has a license, but that is another story. Below is a general, but not complete breakdown of what you can you expect to make in different parts of the world. Keep in mind that there are always exceptions and the numbers I have come up with are based on general averages. Again, if you feel that my estimates are off, leave a comment, post in social media or contact me directly. The goal of this article is to provide a realistic estimate of salaries and answer the question, “How much money can I make teaching English abroad?

For a list of the best countries to teach English Abroad, check out The Best Places to Teach English Abroad. 

What are the real salaries to teach English in Asia?

If you are a native English speaker, the surest way to land a job teaching English abroad is in Asia. In my opinion, it remains and will always be the best place to look for work. Not only are there plenty of positions on this beautiful continent, but most of the countries in Asia offer a healthy balance of modernity, culture and lifestyle. Although many Asian economies have cooled off in recent years, the vast majority of English teaching jobs can still be found there. With so many countries to choose from, China, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Tawain, Vietnam, nothing really comes close. This majestic continent is endowed with incredible food, innovative people, breathtaking nature and all the amenities of modern society. If you are only teaching in Asia to make money, then you are missing out on what it truly has to offer to the wandering Westerner. While you will battle through days of inevitable homesickness and isolation, living in Asia is an incredible experience. Here is a breakdown of what you can expect to make.

China

If you are going to teach in Asia, I would advise to first look at China. Sure, there is pollution, traffic, 1.3 billion people and bustling metropolises, but isn’t that all part of the fun? There is nothing like waking up in Asia and hearing the roar of the city,  the movement of droves of people and the aroma of restaurants and street food. While schools in China have somewhat of a dubious reputation, conditions have improved in recent years. Less common are fly-by-night schools that don’t honor contracts, which have been replaced by institutes that for the most part pay on time and offer benefits, such as free housing and contract-completion bonuses.

Pay in China for English teachers can range anywhere from $1000 to $2500 per month in addition to free housing, paid vacation time and healthcare. Salary is significantly tied to location and the size of the city. While pay is higher in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Guangzhou, so is the cost of living. Even a first-year teacher with no little or no experience can expect to make $1500 to $2000 per month in larger cities like Shanghai or Beijing. If you want to make $2000 or more along with free housing in China, you will need prior teaching experience and a certified  TESOL, TEFL or CELTA certificate. In other words, your certificate should be at least 120 hours.  Don’t waste your time and money on anything less. Saving a few bucks on a 60-hour certificate is not worth it in the long run.

For more about teaching English in China, read The Essential Lowdown to Teaching English in China.

South Korea

Up until a few years ago, South Korea was the hotspot to earn a decent income, save money and have plenty of job opportunities at one’s disposal. Thanks to the Korean economic recession,those days are over and unlikely to return. That doesn’t mean that South Korea is no longer a worthy destination to teach and save money. For the meantime, schools are still providing paid airfare to the country and a return ticket home upon completion of a contract. However, I would guess that paid airfare to South Korea will soon begin to be phased out. While most schools still pay for housing or provide a ‘housing stipend’, I suspect that will eventually be gone in the near future as well. Teaching wages in South Korea have for the most part stayed the same for the past 10 years.

For a guide on teaching English in South Korea, read the Guide on How to Teach English in South Korea. 

If you are fresh out of university with no teaching experience, expect to make no more than $2000 per month in addition to free housing (keep your fingers crossed), subsidized healthcare and flight tickets (again, keep your fingers crossed). If you are an experienced teacher, you probably cannot get a job there unless you are already in the country. Korean companies prefer to hire naive, recent college grads in order to keep the wages low. Even the best and experienced teachers in South Korea make no more than  $2500 to $3000 per month, including university instructors. There are some exceptions to this rule, but there aren’t many making more than $3000 per month these days.

Japan

The glory days of teaching in Japan are long over. Prior to South Korea, Japan was the place to be for a number of years. When I arrived to teach there in 2007, there were still a fair amount of jobs, but nothing like the 1990’s and early 2000s when teachers were reportedly charging $50 per hour for private lessons. Despite an economic downturn in recent years, I had a blast living there from 2007 to 2011. The market was a bit competitive then and it is probably even more so now. Wages by that time took a hit and have remained about the same. With little or no experience, expect to make between $2000 to  $2500 per month teaching English in Japan. Back in the day, most institutes paid for housing and airfare, but that is no longer the case the and it  hasn’t been for a while. It is possible to make between $3000 to $3500 per month in Japan, but you will need experience or good connections. The most I made was $3000 per month and I probably averaged around $2500 over four years. That is not a whole lot of money, but I also lived comfortably  and was never short on funds. If you manage to get a job outside of the Tokyo area, a studio apartment will only run between $300 to $600 per month.

For a guide on teaching in Japan, read the Inside Scoop to Teaching English in Japan. 

Thailand

I spent a month traveling through northern Thailand in 2010 and it was nothing short of awesome. Although you definitely won’t make the same as in China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan or even Vietnam, people move to Thailand to live their lives and I cannot think of a better place to do so. Generally speaking, the average English teacher there working full-time makes around $1000 per month. Although this isn’t an appealing Salary, a $1000 in Thailand is equivalent to $2000 or $3000 back home. Ok, so even that isn’t a lot of money, but if you want to make money, don’t go into teaching. Get a degree in marketing, become a contractor for the military or sell insurance if you want to become well-off. If you want to have the time of your life for a couple years, go teach English in Thailand. Keep in mind that you can rent a nice flat there for around $200 a month and live comfortably on $10-$15 per day. You can also eat a decent meal for around $3.

For more info about teaching in Thailand, check out The Insider’s Look at Teaching English in Thailand.

Taiwan

I’ve been stuck in the Taipei airport a few times and met quite a few Taiwanese while living in Japan. I have to say that the Taiwanese are probably the nicest people that you are going to encounter in Asia. I guess it makes since being they are 25 million isolated on a relatively small island. Taiwan was always on the top of my list as a place to live an teach and I sometimes regret not doing it. Salaries are a bit lower than China and South Korea, but so is the cost of living. The Taiwanese also seem to be less stressed compared to the Koreans, Japanese and affluent Chinese. First year teachers there with no experience can expect to make between $1800 to $2000 per month. If you fit this category, you will likely be working at a ‘buxiban’ (cram school). There are Westerners in Taiwan making upwards to $3000 per month teaching at either a university, private school or a premium buxiban. However, you will need to have experiences, a certificate and networking skills to find such positions and the same goes for any country that you plan to teach in.

Read How to Get a Job Teaching English in Taiwan.

Vietnam

Vietnam has been a premier destination to teach English for the past several years as earning potential has been significantly higher than its Southeast Asian neighbor Thailand. Unfortunately, the job market in Vietnam has also become increasingly more competitive. Whereas in the past one could just kind of stroll into Vietnam and fall into a decent paying position, the huge influx of foreigners and reality that markets cannot forever grow at 1o% per year has resulted in fewer jobs, stricter regulations and the need for teachers to be certified with a TESOL, TEFL or CELTA along with a four-year degree. On average, teachers in Vietnam make between $1500 to $2000 per month. The cost of living isn’t as low as Thailand, but it’s fairly inexpensive compared to East Asia. If you really want to hustle, there are plenty of opportunities to do private tutoring on the side there as well. You can pick up private lessons in any country, but the amount of opportunity really depends on the country and the size of the metropolitan area in which you live. Obviously, the bigger the city, the more chances for private gigs. I used to make an extra few hundred dollars a month doing private lessons in Japan. This is also a great way to network, get invited to social outings and meet individuals with different perspectives.

For more info about teaching in Vietnam, check out What It’s Really Like to Teach English in Vietnam.

What are the real salaries to teach English in The Middle East?

Despite pockets of political instability and animosity towards Westerners, the Middle East remains an attractive place for many teachers. While most jobs are in Asia, the best paying English-teaching jobs in the world are undoubtedly in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar. Of those, your best chance of finding a job is in Saudi Arabia. More on that a bit later. The oil rich countries of the Middle East are willing to shell out extra bucks in comparison to East Asia. How much schools there actually pay, however, is probably on average lower than the speculation. I’ve heard many teachers say it’s possible to earn to $80,000 to a $100,000 in parts of the above mentioned countries. Is there any truth in these numbers? For the most part, not really. There are a few teachers making that much, but it certainly isn’t the norm. Most Western ESL teachers in the affluent Middle East tend to make between $35, 000 to $60,000 per year. If you want to teach in Jordan, Egypt, Morocco or Turkey, expect to make just enough to live on.

Saudi Arabia

If you plan to teach in the Middle East, the majority of jobs can now be found in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have and continue to invest boatloads of money into education. A significant amount of that investment is in English as a second language. There are currently an estimated 100,000 Saudi Arabians studying English in the United States alone at either private language institutes or universities. Domestically, the country has modernized and developed its economy over the past few decades at a rate that rivals South Korea or China. As is the case anywhere across the globe, rapid modernization and economic growth is correlated with a priority on English language proficiency.

As mentioned above, there are a few people in Saudi Arabia making $80,000 to $120,000, but it is a small minority. Such positions will require years of classroom experience, a CELTA and likely a degree in English, linguistics or a related field. Keep in mind that even the entry-level teaching positions in Saudi Arabia usually require a minimum of 3 years of teaching experience (exceptions may be made), four-year degree, a CELTA certificate and a US or UK passport. First year teachers with the minimum requirements can expect to make between $35,000 to $45,000 per year in Saudi Arabia. On average, most teachers, whether experienced or not, can expect to make somewhere between $35,000 to $60,000 per year. If you were planning to make a $100,000 teaching English in Saudi Arabia fresh out of university and without experience, then I am sorry to burst your bubble. However,  $40,000 per year isn’t bad considering that it is entirely tax free and includes free housing, healthcare, paid airfare and generous paid vacation time.  With a cost of living comparable to a mid-sized US city, one can definitely save a decent chunk of change even on a lower-end salary. Remember that there are no taxes in the Middle East.

If you are interested in teaching English in Saudi Arabia, check out this great article Looking to Teach English in Saudi Arabia. 

United Arab Emirates

After Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates is the best place to teach in the Middle East considering the availability of jobs and salary. The UAE also offers a more Western lifestyle, which makes it sought-after for many teachers. Job requirements and teaching salaries in the United Arab Emirates are similar to those in Saudi Arabia. Like Saudi Arabia, you will need to be qualified, which means a degree preferrably in English, lingusitics or TESOL, a CELTA certificate and 2 to 3 years of teaching experience. It should also be noted that schools in the UAE and Saudi Arabia prefer teachers over 30 years of age. If you are about to wrap up university and want to teach abroad to pay off some student loans or save a little, shoot for Asia. That is the best and most honest advice that I can give you. First year teachers in the UAE can expect to make $35,000 to $50,000 per year, including free housing, paid airfare, free health insurance and generous paid vacation time.

What are the real salaries to teach English Latin America?

Like Asia, Latin America is a huge region with a diverse population and a multitude of economies. An entire blog host could be devoted solely to just Latin America, Asia or the Middle East. For the sake of simplicity, this article will focus on the more popular and feasible places to teach in the region. Like Asia, you can teach anywhere in Latin America, but if you are looking to live a lifestyle that is sustainable and at least with some of the back-home amenities, then the field narrows down to a few choices. The main destinations in Latin America for teaching English are Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Brazil and Argentina. Even in any of these countries, you are not going to make much more than enough to live on. If one of your main objectives is to save money, look for jobs in Asia or the Middle East since these are really the only two regions of the world where one can make enough to actually save. If making money and saving is a low priority, teach in Latin America if you really want to enjoy life. Personally, I think the lifestyle in many parts of  South America might be the best in the world.

Chile

Chile has remained a bright spot for teaching English in South America for quite a few years now. Being the most politically and economically stable country in the region during the last two decades, there are always opportunities there for Western teachers. While most positions can be found in the capital, Santiago, you may be able to find a teaching in the smaller cities. On average, teachers in Chile make around $1500 per month, which isn’t a lot and don’t expect to save much or anything. With the exception of rent, the cost of living in Chile is comparable to a mid-sized American city. Fortunately, it is possible to get a decent one-bedroom apartment in Santiago for $400 per month.

If you are interested in teaching in Chile, read Teaching English in Chile is a Great Idea. 

Colombia

The Colombian economy has really taken off in recent years and the Colombia of today is far removed from the country in the 1980’s and 90’s. An influx of foreign investment, rapid growth in education and modernization has meant that English is a higher priority than ever. Young Colombians are eager to travel and secure a good job with a well-known company. For better or worse, Colombia has been inflicted with the tide of globalization. Although the cost of living throughout the country has increased, so has the number of jobs to teach English. Expect to make between $1200 to $1600, which should cover your cost of living. Again, don’t teach in Latin America if you want to save money, but do so if you want to really enjoy your life for a year or two.

For a great article on teaching in Colombia, read Teach English in Colombia; Why Not?

Costa Rica

Like Chile, Costa Rica has been politically and economically stable for a number of years. A healthy economy, largely fueled by tourism and foreign investment, has fostered consistent growth. Unfortunately, Costa Rica has also become relatively expensive and the cost of living isn’t far from back-home prices. While there are a fair amount of jobs to teach English there, salary does lag behind. Expect to make between $1000 to $1200 per month in Costa Rica. This isn’t a lot of money in a country that has become expensive, but it is a beautiful place, nestled between two oceans.

For more about teaching in Costa Rica, read Teach English in Costa Rica and Escape from Reality.

Argentina

If I had to pick a place to teach in Latin America, Argentina would be one of my top choices . I spent three memorable months in this idiosyncratic country a  few years ao and I’ve met quite a few English teachers that lived and worked there. The problem with Argentina is the rent and cost of living.  Expect to pay back-home prices for rent and many items at the supermarket, but don’t anticipate making a back- home salary. Like I said before,  living in Latin America is more about the experience than saving money. Keep in mind that it is also a great and free way to become fluent in Spanish. If you are from the United States, speaking Spanish fluently is an asset in the job market.

Read Live a Little; Teach English in Argentina. 

If you would like to add to this list or feel that my numbers are inaccurate, please do not hesitate to tell me in the comments or contact me directly. The numbers I’ve come up with here are general averages and there are exceptions to these salary ranges. This list also isn’t complete and I will be adding additional countries in the future,including European ones. If you are considering teaching English abroad, I think the biggest thing to remember is that it’s more about the adventure than the money. Sure, there are few spots where one can earn and save a decent amount, but that also requires the right credentials. Wherever you end up, I am sure you will have a good time and create lasting memories.

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About James 69 Articles
Since finishing Graduate school in 2007, James taught English for four years in Japan and then another four years in Washington DC. James has also traveled throughout Asia and South America. He began JimmyESL in 2014 as a way to provide honest information for those interested in teaching English abroad. These days, he spends most of his time building Wordpress sites, blogging and teaching others the nuances of digital marketing. His next goal in life is to become a successful entrepreneur.