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As a former ESL teacher, here’s a question I get a lot: how much money can I save teaching English?
The answer: a whole lot – potentially.
You sure can earn a lot as an ESL teacher, but the salary isn’t the only important thing when it comes to saving money – it’s about how far that salary will get you.
Across 2 years of teaching ESL, I managed to save around $20,000 – some of which I then put towards paying off my student loan debt, and the rest into my savings account.
I know some people who managed to save double that, and others who saved nothing at all.
To help you arrive at your own figure, I’m going to break down the different pay rates, costs, and expenses you might incur.
For context, I’m also going to provide some real case studies from real ESL teachers and give you some tips and tricks for saving more money.
Let’s get started!
What is an ESL Teacher?
In case this term is completely new to you, let’s start with the basics…
ESL stands for English as a Secondary Language. You’ll also hear some people refer to it as TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). ESL/TEFL teachers are people that teach English to language learners.
Unlike regular English teachers in America, you won’t be teaching poetry, literature, and creative writing.
Instead, you’ll be focusing on conversation practice, vocabulary, grammar.
This is easier for three reasons:
- You don’t really need any subject knowledge. if you’re a native English speaker, you’re already an expert – you just need to do what comes natural and speak English!
- There’s a much lower barrier to entry. You don’t typically need any teaching qualifications like you would to teach in a state school in the US.
- Lessons are much simpler and more fun. It’s mostly about conversation practice, which means lots of games, chit-chat, and speaking activities.
Because of how easy it is to start working as an ESL teacher, and because you can potentially earn a lot of money, it’s a very popular job amongst graduates looking to pay back their student loans, and people just looking to make some quick savings.
There are two main types of ESL teachers you need to know about…
Online vs In Schools
Online ESL teachers teach from the comfort of their own home, completely remotely, via an audio-video feed on their laptop or computer.
Regular ESL teachers teach in actual schools. Mostly, these schools are in other countries where English isn’t the native language, but it’s also possible to find a few in America and other English-speaking countries.
So What’s the Difference?
Well, for starters, regular ESL teachers typically have a much harder job.
You’ll be teaching in a classroom, which means you’ll usually have large class sizes of 10-30 students. You’ll also usually be responsible for planning your own lessons, grading papers, and more.
Online teachers, on the other hand, usually just teach one-on-one classes or very small groups.
Lesson plans are usually provided, assessments are minimal, and there’s little to no preparation time. They usually also get a more flexible working schedule and don’t have to commute!
On the flip side of that, regular ESL teachers can generally earn a little more than online teachers. They also usually get more stable contracts and working hours and enjoy a more rewarding experience.
Plus, they don’t have to deal with technical difficulties and other annoyances that come with working online!
Which one is best really depends on what your priorities are.
This article is about how much you can save, though, so let’s get back on topic and talk about exactly how much you can earn in each of these roles.
How Much Can You Earn as an Online ESL Teacher?
Right, let’s talk money.
There are dozens of online ESL employers out there, and each will offer different rates of pay. As a rough estimate, expect to earn somewhere between $10 and $30 per hour.
Most online teachers pay will fall somewhere in the middle of that range, at around $20 per hour.
To break that down even further, let’s compare the different pay rates of some of the leading online ESL companies:
- Basic pay is $15 to $25 per hour
- Bonuses available for attendance, referrals, and student sign-ups
- Indeed currently reports average hourly earnings of $24.86.
- Basic pay is $14 to $18 per hour
- Bonuses available for performance and attendance
- The highest-earning tutors typically earn around $2,000 per month
- Pay is $0.17 USD per minute ($10.20 per teaching hour)
- No bonuses available
- Completely flexible; teachers work whenever they want
- Basic pay is $21 USD per 40-minute class ($31.50 per teaching hour)
- Attractive bonus available for trial class conversions and referrals
- Indeed currently reports average hourly earnings of $21.00
- Basic pay is $16 to $20 per hour.
- Bonuses available for attendance
- Indeed currently reports average hourly earnings of $17.89.
You can find out more about some of the above companies as well as other online tutoring jobs in this post.
It’s also worth remembering that most of these online companies will have a minimum and a maximum number of hours teachers can work per week, which means your earnings will always be capped.
I’d estimate that most online English teachers are able to teach for around 20 hours per week, so let’s do the math.
20 hours per week, at around $20 per hour, means that a rough estimate of how much you can earn, on average, would be:
- $400 USD per week
- $1733 USD per month
- $20,800 USD per year
Now let’s compare that to teaching in schools.
How Much You Can Earn Teaching ESL in Schools
If you decide to teach ESL in schools, you can earn either a little or a lot more, depending on where you teach.
Salaries (and job requirements) for English teachers vary from country to country. To help you arrive at a figure, let’s look at some popular countries to teach English and their average English teacher salaries:
According to GoAbroad, teachers in Korea can expect to earn around $1800 per month. There’s a notable difference between public and private school teachers, though.
Public teachers earn quite a bit less than private school teachers, but they do also get more holiday leave.
Your pay package also usually includes free or subsidized accommodation and sponsored flights, though, which brings the value up a lot more!
However, if you’re a fully qualified teacher with experience, you can work at private bilingual and international schools and demand much higher rates.
For bilingual schools, expect to earn up to $2500 per month. For international schools, it can be anywhere from $3000 right the way up to $5,500 per month.
Japan has the national minimum wage for English teachers set at 3.4 million JPY per year (just under $30,000), which works out at around $2,500 per month.
Entry-level jobs will start at around this much but will increase based on experience and qualifications. University teachers can earn around $3,600 per month.
Teaching in the UAE is highly lucrative. ESL teacher paychecks here are typically much larger than anywhere else on the planet. Expect between $3300 and $5000 per month, plus free accommodation and airfare.
The best bit? Your income is completely untaxed!
Pay for ESL teachers in China can vary dramatically and can be anywhere from $1000 to $2500 per month, depending on experience, qualifications, and where you work.
Jobs in so-called ‘tier 1’ cities will pay more and entry-level jobs will fall towards the lower end of the pay range. You’ll also often get accommodation included in your pay package.
Vietnam teachers are usually paid by the hour, at around $20 per hour. Teachers who have more experience can demand a little more, and some can earn $25 per hour or more.
If you work just 20 hours per week, this means you can expect to earn between $1600 – $2000 per month.
Mexico has one of the lowest average English teacher pay rates. Pay varies a lot depending on the type of school you work for. At the lowest end of the pay range in language schools and private bilingual schools, teachers will earn just $5 per hour.
At the higher end, teachers can earn around $15 per hour. Expect a monthly salary of between $500 and $1500.
How Cost of Living Will Affect Your Savings
As I said, pay isn’t all that matters when it comes to making savings as an ESL teacher. What’s more important is the cost of living in the country you teach in.
Cost of basic necessities like food, accommodation, and transport can be literally worlds apart across two different countries.
Just look at this table comparing average costs in Vietnam and Japan, according to data taken from Numbeo:
|Type of Cost||Japan||Vietnam|
|Rent (1 bedroom in the city)||$761.44||$385.63|
|Local beer (0.5l)||$3.21||$0.86|
|Taxi fare (1km journey)||$3.60||$0.52|
|A meal at a cheap restaurant||$7.03||$1.72|
|A meal at an average restaurant||$35.13||$17.22|
As you can see, the differences can be massive.
Ultimately, though, it all depends on your lifestyle. Here are some tips for keeping costs down when teaching English overseas:
- Use local transportation options
- Eat local food as imported ingredients are often more expensive
- Cook in whenever possible
- Consider staying in shared accommodation
If you do all of the above and live a modest or frugal lifestyle, you should be able to save at least half your paycheck.
Of course, to do that, you’ll still need to make sure your teaching in somewhere with a low cost of living, which brings us on to my next point…
The Best Places to Teach English
If you’re teaching English online in America, you’ll probably struggle to make a decent amount of savings. You’ll probably be earning around $2000 per month.
With the average rent at $1405, that doesn’t leave a lot of room to make savings if you’re teaching English in the states.
Fortunately, you don’t have to – you can teach ESL from pretty much anywhere.
Below is what we consider to be the top three places to teach English to save money – both online and offline – based on the ratio between average pay and cost of living.
- UAE (Dubai, specifically)
Teaching English in any of the above countries will allow you to seriously make bank.
Now, I’m going to teach you how to work out exactly how much you’ll save.
How to Calculate Your Saving Potential
Grab a pen and paper because below, I’ve outlined a step-by-step guide to calculating how much you’ll save working as an ESL teacher.
Got one? Ok, here we go:
Step 1) Write down your expected monthly income (use the guidelines above)
Step 2) Add to it a rough estimate of any bonuses you expect to earn (if teaching online, you’ll usually earn some)
Step 3) Subtract any tax or currency conversion fees you might incur
Step 4) Subtract your expected monthly rent (use Numbeo for estimates if you’re unsure)
Step 5) Set yourself a daily budget for food ($10 per day is usually enough if you’re living frugally), multiply it by 30, and subtract it from the figure.
Step 6) Calculate how much you expect to spend on transportation each month (again, use Numbeo), and subtract it.
Step 7) Set yourself a monthly limit for spending on luxuries/leisure activities/entertainment and subtract it.
Step 8) Subtract any extra monthly debts/bills you have to pay (phone bills, loan debts, electricity, etc.)
Step 9) Take off 10% of what’s left for extra, unexpected costs.
The figure you’re left with is a good approximation of how much you can expect to save each month!
The best way to learn how much it’s possible to save is to look at real examples from people who’ve already done it.
Below are three case studies from English teachers who managed to save while working overseas, starting with yours truly.
My Saving Story
I worked as an ESL teacher online whilst living in Hanoi, Vietnam.
My girlfriend and I shared a 1 bedroom, modern, mid-range apartment in a popular expat area. Prices were a little higher here than in other areas, but our rent still only cost $400 per month, including all bills and cleaning twice a week.
We ate out every day at local Vietnamese restaurants and street food stalls, and typically spent around $5-7 each per day on food, but occasionally treated ourselves to more expensive meals.
Each of our total monthly paychecks was around $1800 on average, for a combined earning of around $3600. Of that, we spend around $400 on food, $400 on our apartment, and another $800 or so on other costs.
We managed to save around $1800 per month ($900 each), which was around $20,000 each over two years.
Nick and Dariece’s Saving Story
Nick and Dariece talk about how much they saved during their year working as ESL teaching in schools in China in this blog.
They went with the intention of saving as much money as possible and earned around $32,200 in the first year between them.
Their apartment was heavily subsidized by their school, so they spent less than $1200 on accommodation across the whole year! Their biggest expense was food, which cost them just under $7000.
After deducted all other expenses, they managed to save $21,000 between them in 12 months.
Nicole’s Saving Story
Nicole left the UK to teach in Korea well into her student overdraft and with a big outstanding balance on her credit card.
As Nicole puts it, South Korea is ‘a goldmine for confused twentysomethings’, so naturally, she headed there with the intention of clearing her debt.
As a new teacher, she earned around $1800 per month but also had her accommodation and flights paid by the school. Therefore, whilst living a modest but not-quite-frugal lifestyle, she managed to keep her monthly costs under $680.
With her settlement payment, she managed to save $11,500 in one year.
Jason’s Saving Story
Our very own Jason Wuerch managed to save $18,500 each year while teaching for 32 hours per week in Taiwan – after tax!
I won’t go into detail here, as he’s already written about his saving story elsewhere on this site, to see it, check out the post Pay Off Your Student Debt By Teaching in Taiwan.
How Can I Start Teaching English?
Feeling inspired to start teaching and save money?
Great, then let’s talk about the job requirements.
At the very least, to be an ESL teacher online or offline, you’ll need:
- A Bachelor’s degree (in any subject)
- To be a native English speaker
That’s pretty much it. Having the above will land you a job easily for most online companies and in schools in countries like Vietnam.
However, some countries, like the UAE, have more stringent requirements for English teachers, and you may also need:
- A TEFL certificate
- A teaching license from your home country.
The former is easy to get as there are lots of online TEFL providers which provide certification for under $100. The latter usually requires years of study, but will only be required in top-end schools.
To get started teaching English online, you can start by checking out some of our guides to making money by teaching online.
Other Ways to Save Money Fast
Don’t feel like teaching ESL is the right job for you?
Don’t worry – we’ve got plenty of other ideas for making and saving money that might be more up your street, like:
- This guide on fun jobs that pay well
- This list of 14 ways to save $1000 each month
- And this post on the best easy money apps
Good luck and remember – stay frugal!