What Are the Start-Up Costs for Teaching English Abroad?

For many people, teaching English abroad is compelling – but it just seems too expensive to actually work for them.

But what if I told you that moving abroad to teach English doesn’t have to cost you much money at all?

In 2016, I moved to China to teach English for well under $1,000. And I made back everything I spent within a month. 

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Today, I’m going to show you how you can do that, too.

Start-Up Costs for Teaching English Abroad: how to calculate?

My Story

I won’t beat around the bush:

I got lucky when I moved to China. 

I didn’t do a lot of research when I went: I wanted to change my life, and fast.

I was lucky to find a recruitment agency that covered the majority of my expenses, and I was also lucky to move in November, when flights are a lot cheaper than they are in, say, summer. 

My recruitment agency paid for the following:

  • My TEFL course
  • My temporary accommodation upon moving to China
  • My housing
  • My work visa

They also fronted me a portion of my first paycheck so I could cover my living expenses for the first couple of months or so. 

So, what did I have to pay for?

  • My airfare ($400 one-way)
  • My tourist visa to get into China initially (around $200)
  • Incidentals during the visa process and TEFL training (around $100)

For those keep track at home, that comes out to about $700 out of pocket. Not a bad deal, right? 

Now, depending on what country you’re moving to, what school or agency you’re teaching with, and a few other factors, you could spend much more (or much less) than I did. 

That’s why it’s important to do your research so you know what you’re getting into ahead of time, instead of just planning on getting lucky, like me. 

Lucky for you, your research starts with this article.

Common Expenses

Your startup costs will vary based on a number of factors, of course.

  • Will your school pay or reimburse you for some of the costs associated with moving and getting settled?
  • How much do various expenses cost in your destination?
  • Will you be looking for a job upon arrival at your destination or starting work right away once you get there?

These are all questions you’ll want to ask yourself, as they’ll make a huge difference in how much money moving will cost you.

All told, though, these are the expenses you should consider when you’re moving:

ExpenseTypical Cost
TEFL Certification$0-$2,700
Travel insurance$250-$500
Visa ExpenseTypical Cost
FBI Criminal Background Check$18-$95
Notarizations and apostilles$50
Certified translations$40
Medical check$0-$100
Visa fee$0-$200
Passport fee (if you don’t have a current passport)$110-$145

Aside from the expenses above, you’ll want to consider what you’ll spend on housing and incidentals, which we’ll discuss below.


Many schools either provide their teachers with housing or pay them a rent subsidy. If you’re renting an apartment on your own, though, you may have to pay a big chunk of change up front.

When I moved into my apartment in my second year of living in China (after quitting the agency job and striking out on my own), I had to pay the first month of rent ($300), a deposit equal to two months of rent ($600), and a management fee ($50) all up front. 

Yup, $950 out of pocket: for an apartment I was renting for only $300! 

You may very well get away with spending less, but don’t be surprised if various fees sneak up on you when you’re renting an apartment.

If you’re renting on your own (or don’t have a concrete plan when you’re first moving), you’ll also want to think about housing costs while you’re looking for a place to rent. 

Hostels are super cheap pretty much anywhere, but the cost can add up if you’re hosteling for a significant period. Just remember to budget for temporary housing if you need it so it doesn’t sneak up on you!

Pocket Money and Incidentals

This is another important category of expenses, and another category that can vary wildly. 

Depending on your situation (whether you’re taking a TEFL course on-site, whether you have a job upon arrival, etc.), you could go anywhere from two weeks to three months before receiving your first paycheck, and you don’t want to be stranded in a foreign country without cash on hand. 

Here are some expenses you might want to budget for upon arrival in your destination:

  • Groceries: Your need for groceries will vary based on whether your school/TEFL course provides you meals. 
  • Subway/taxi/bus fare
  • Cell phone activation fee: This will probably be minimal, but it’s still something to keep in mind 
  • Money for sight-seeing, going out to eat, etc. 

The range for all of these costs will vary hugely based on your lifestyle, your teaching situation, and where in the world you are. You can use Numbeo to help you figure out the cost of living in your destination – just type in where you’re going to get estimates for common expenses!

How to Calculate Your Start-Up Costs


We’ve thrown a lot of numbers around, but you want the whole enchilada. You’re asking, “How much can I personally expect to spend when I go to teach abroad, not on each individual cost but as a whole?”

Let’s throw out a few scenarios. 

First, let’s assume you’re going somewhere in Latin America with a relatively low cost of living – say, Brazil

And let’s say you’re planning on looking for a job once you get there, and you’re planning on taking a TEFL course online to minimize costs and improve your job prospects.

We’ll say it’ll take you two weeks to find housing and two months to find a job and get your first paycheck. And we’ll say:

Cost of living in Sao Paulo for 2 months$950
Hostel for 2 weeks$150
2 months’ rent$750
Deposit (another 2 months’ rent; refunded upon leaving)$750
Online TEFL course$200
One-way plane ticket to Sao Paulo from Los Angeles$400
Student visa (used by most teachers in Brazil)$160


So that may or may not be doable, but not necessarily as cheap as you were hoping. You could reduce costs by teaching English online while you quarantine or by looking for cheaper flights. You could also try to get your school to pay for your visa to reduce costs a little further.

Now let’s imagine a different scenario.

Let’s say you’re going to Dubai

There’s a high cost of living where you’re headed, but your school pays for your housing, airfare, visa, and insurance. That means that your only costs are your TEFL course and your daily expenses before you get your first paycheck. 

So how does that shake out? Here we go:

Cost of living in Dubai for 1 month$1,000
Online TEFL Course$200

This is a lot more reasonable, right? 

You could almost definitely knock this price down to just the TEFL course, too – schools in the UAE tend to treat their teachers very well, and if you asked your school to front you part of your first months’ salary to cover your living expenses at first they’d be more than likely to oblige.

That means you could get away with moving to the UAE for only $200!

However, you need to fulfill a lot of requirements to teach in the UAE, so this move might not be feasible for everyone.

Okay. Let’s look at a third scenario. This time, let’s say you’re moving to Thailand. You don’t have a job yet, but you’re signed up for a TEFL course at your destination that has guaranteed job placement. 

The TEFL program will pay for your housing during the course and help you find long-term housing after the course’s end.

And your school or hiring agency will subsidize your visa and housing costs.

In this scenario, you’re left paying for your airfare, your TEFL course, and your incidentals during the two-week on-site course. 

TEFL Course in Ban Phe$1,500
One-way flight from Los Angeles to Ban Phe$863
Cost of living in Ban Phe for 2 weeks$300

It’s worth noting that while the things you’re paying for in all these scenarios vary, your real costs hover between $1,000 and $3,000 in each one.

Although there are significant outliers to this range on either side, this is the general range you’ll fall in – unless you plan and minimize and offset your costs.

How to Minimize Your Costs

If you’ve read this far and you’re thinking that teaching abroad sure does sound expensive, don’t despair.

For one thing, you’re likely to make back your start-up costs within your first few months of teaching.

For another, there are a number of methods you can use to minimize your costs pretty drastically.

Start Your Process Early

The more time you give yourself between deciding to teach abroad and your planned departure date, the more room you have to negotiate, find the best deals, and avoid paying fees to expedite last-minute processes. 

Make a Budget

If you’re realistic about how much you’re willing to spend and how much things should cost from the beginning, you’re less likely to feel like you’re spending way too much at every step. And you’ll be more likely to stay within your means if you make realistic goals initially!

Do Your Research

Look at a number of different schools, agencies, destinations, and flights to make sure that you’re getting the best deal – and that you’re not getting screwed over by signing a contract with a school that has 90% bad reviews, for example. Taking the time to do things slow and right will pay off in the end.


Don’t be afraid to ask schools or agencies if they’ll sponsor your flight or visa, front part of your first paycheck ahead of time, or even help you navigate the housing situation in your destination to make sure you’re not getting ripped off because you’re a foreigner. The worst they can do is say no, after all.

Save Up Before You Go

This is especially easy given, you know, the global pandemic going on. It’ll probably be awhile before you’re able to board a flight and start teaching somewhere, so now’s a great time to start researching and building up some savings that you can use to teach abroad.

Not sure what to do to make money while you’re stuck at home? Teaching English online is a great way to earn some extra cash – and start practicing your teaching skills! Check out our guide to teaching online to get started!

We also have some ideas for other side jobs for teachers that you can try out instead of (or in addition to) teaching online.

Spread Costs Out

If you start your process early, you can spread your costs out over time and thus put less burden on your wallet. By paying for big-budget items like a TEFL course and airfare over time versus all in one go, you create less strain for yourself financially.


Moving abroad to teach English can be pretty expensive. But it doesn’t have to be as pricey as you might think!

In general, the start-up costs for moving abroad hover between $1,000 and $4,000. However, if you plan ahead you can knock those costs down and earn money to offset your expenses while you’re planning your move. 

If you follow a few simple steps, you’re sure to be able to figure out a situation that works for you financially and results in the best possible teaching experience!

  • Make a budget
  • Do your research
  • Plan ahead of time
  • Negotiate your terms
  • Teach online to save money

Most of all, make sure to allot a little more than you think you’ll need, be flexible, and don’t despair. The best is yet to come. Promise.

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1 thought on “What Are the Start-Up Costs for Teaching English Abroad?”

  1. Avatar

    Hi, I worked in TongCheng, AnHui province for two years and loved the experience. I cannot find online work but will travel to Ireland as I have also an Irish passport. Everything changed dramatically for me for the Authentications a comment not mentioned. To the foreigner, keeping an eye to the changing government regulations and obtaining cooperation from the school can damage the contract. I lost my third year contract this way. I now reside in British Columbia, Canada. Maureen

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