Is there money to be made teaching English? Well, yes and no. It will largely depend on where you teach, your lifestyle, motivation and qualifications.
Teaching English in Asia
The average salary for entry-level ESL teachers in Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan is anywhere between US$1500 and US$2500 per month.
In China, salaries will be at the lower end of the scale, but the cost of living is low and many employers will offer free living accommodation. In Korea and Taiwan, salaries are a little higher, but so is the cost of living. Japan pays the highest salaries and, until recently, US$2,500 per month was a set minimum for foreign language teachers. However, this is no longer the case, so be wary when negotiating a contract. Working in Japan will also incur the highest living expenses, particularly where accommodation is concerned. This does vary greatly between metropolitan and rural areas, though, so it would be wise to consider this when choosing your destination.
English teachers in any part of the world often take on private students outside of their regular employment. In Asia, you could expect to charge anything from US$25-US$70 per hour, depending upon the type of lessons you offer – business, conversation and exam preparation being the most common. Private lessons can be quite lucrative but it should be borne in mind that working schedules in Asia tend to be quite intense. In private language schools, the primary source of employment, you can expect to work 40 hours a week and teach up to six classes a day. Whether you decide to teach private classes in addition to your regular workload will largely depend upon your motivation for being in the country – to save money or to fully experience the culture.
As in any walk of life, higher qualifications will lead to better opportunities. Having a recognized TESOL qualification and, preferably, a relevant MA or PhD will enable you to land more lucrative positions with universities or large corporations. Salaries are likely to be 50-100% greater and, crucially, have much more relaxed schedules. University teachers in Japan, for example, often teach just 6 classes per week! Obviously, they have much more free time to teach private lessons, work on other projects or simply enjoy the lifestyle.
Having said that, there are teachers in Asia, in entry-level positions, who are quite able to save US$1000 per month living a frugal lifestyle, while others choose to live life to the full and don’t save a penny.
Teaching English in the Middle East
Without doubt, teaching in the Middle East provides the greatest opportunity for saving money. Average salaries are a little higher than Japan and are tax-free. On top of this, sumptuous living accommodation is provided free of charge along with excellent health-care and numerous other benefits. Teachers are often employed by universities and will live on-campus where they have access to facilities such as swimming pools, gyms, shops, restaurants and libraries, and will be provided with computers and free internet access.
Most employers will not only reimburse your travel expenses to and from their country, but will also pay for an additional round-trip flight to your home country during the summer vacation, usually about 12 weeks.
Working schedules are similar to those you would expect in Europe and North America, with numerous holidays and plenty of opportunities to teach private lessons.
However, there are few entry-level positions available in these countries. Most employers will be looking for a recognized TESOL qualification at the very least and, more often than not, a relevant MA.
Teaching English in Europe, North Africa and Latin America
Long gone are the days when you could make money and live the life of Riley in the traditional English teaching centers of Europe. Salaries and opportunities have been in sharp decline in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece for some time. Good positions and decent salaries are mostly only available to management-level teachers with considerable experience and qualifications. There are far more opportunities available in the former Eastern Bloc countries and Turkey. Although the cost of living is lower in these areas, salaries are also less than those to be found in western Europe.
North Africa, and Egypt in particular, has long been a popular destination for teachers and the demand for native-English speakers remains strong. Like Eastern Europe though, salaries are relatively low. However, your overall living costs will be tied much more closely to your lifestyle. Avoiding western restaurants and living as the locals do, you will find that the cost of living is extremely low. The same can be said for Latin America.
In any of these areas, it’s unlikely that you will save a great deal of money. Having said that, other than western Europe, you will probably be earning far more than average local salaries. This will enable you to live quite comfortably, enjoying better accommodation, eating out regularly, and have the time and money to explore the country where you are living.
Wherever you choose to work, and whatever your motivations, one thing remains constant. It’s vitally important to consider employment offers wisely. Be aware of average salaries and working conditions in the locality so that you have some basis by which to judge the offer. It’s important to pay close attention to the contract details before accepting a job. Read the small print before you sign anything! Make sure that your monthly salary, accommodation arrangements, teaching hours, holidays and benefits are clearly stated. There are an increasing number of unscrupulous employers and agencies throughout the world seeking to take advantage of inexperienced teachers, so it’s important to do some research.