Countries Where You Can Make the Most Bank Teaching English

Cesky Krumlov, Czech republic
Cesky Krumlov, Czech republic | Veronika Galkina/Shutterstock
Cesky Krumlov, Czech republic | Veronika Galkina/Shutterstock

Let’s say you want to travel abroad -- for years, even -- but you don’t want to drain your bank account or leave any huge gaps on your resume. Let’s say, too, that you’re a native English speaker. Turns out, as English continues its rise as the world’s lingua franca, schools in countries around the world are hiring people like you, often at competitive salaries.

What awaits may be a legit adventure that can make you bilingual and help you further a career when you return to the States.

Adjusting to a new language and a new culture in a faraway country makes TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) instructors more rounded people -- and valuable educators. “When you come back, it makes you more marketable,” said M. Sedique Popal, an adjunct faculty member and program coordinator for the University of San Francisco’s TESOL department.

There are a number of ways to teach overseas based on your experience. Universities such as USF, NYU, and Columbia offer masters degrees in TESOL, while organizations such as The International TEFL Academy offer credentialing programs to people without teaching experience. Whichever way you decide to get out there and spread knowledge, how do you choose where in the world to go? Your mileage may vary, obviously, but here are some suggestions depending on your end-goal.

Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam | Vichy Deal/shutterstock

To get out of your comfort zone and save some serious cash

A massive number of people are heading to this southeast Asian destination for its stunning scenery, colorful street markets, 2,000 miles of picturesque coastline, and a remarkable food scene that’s gotten the nod from both Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama. The market for English teachers is growing in parallel with its tourism. Ho Chi Minh City is home to hundreds of language schools that regularly hire international teachers.

The International TEFL Academy credits Vietnam for good salaries ($1,100 to $1,700) and a low cost of living ($650 to $900), allowing most visiting English teachers to sack away $500 each month. Vietnamese schools prefer teachers with a bachelor's degree and an accredited TEFL certification; most job interviews are conducted in person. Instructors are typically responsible for their own airfare and the very affordable housing expenses.

Popal offered a caveat about taking the leap into Asia: “There are a lot of fake or private institutions that will usually get people with a certificate and make them really really work hard and not get much money in return.”

Taipei, Taiwan
Taipei, Taiwan | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

If you want to be a world away but aren’t too concerned about saving money

Japan & Taiwan
Most jobs in Taiwan are in major cities such as Taipei, which is bursting with museums, skyscrapers, and night markets. Peak hiring season comes just after the lunar new year and salaries run between $1,400 and $2,100, while the average cost of living is between $1,000 and $1,400. Companies typically do not pay for airfare or housing.

The country is also an outdoor paradise with amazing beaches and watersports, as well as mountains stocked with natural hot springs and great trails for hiking and cycling. You’ll have a blast if you don’t go broke along the way -- and probably even if you do.

Japan offers a wide variety of salaries depending on experience. TEFL Academy estimates your salary will be around $2,250 and $2,600 with a cost of living between $1,700 and $2,600. Private companies such as Westgate Corporation may pay for your flight and provide housing at a cost.

Karah Parks, an instructor in San Francisco who taught in Japan twice -- once with a TESOL certificate and once with a master’s degree in TESOL -- said she was also able to see her students’ attitudes change during the course of the class.

“Generally, I liked seeing how my students evolved from people shy to share opinions or express emotion into laughing, expressive individuals when they spoke English,” Parks said. “It wasn't that their Japanese identities were wrong or the shyness unnatural, but it was fun to see them find new identities in English, and to see how language informs identity in that way. Our cultures are very different and the structure of the language is very different, so these changes were incredibly apparent.”

ABU DHABI, UAE | Patryk Kosmider/Shutterstock

If your resume and making bank are the most important

United Arab Emirates & Saudi Arabia
Some of the highest paying ESL jobs are in UAE’s Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with salaries ranging between $2,400 and $4,000 a month; salaries in Saudi Arabia are more like $1,000 to $3,000. Many companies there have strict requirements for teachers, including certification in their home country and/or several years of teaching experience. While there are wildly luxurious accommodations should you want them, TEFL Academy estimates the cost of living between $700 and $1,000 monthly for both countries. Many of these companies will offer free housing or a subsidy for educators.

“Not many people want to go to Saudi Arabia or Dubai because of the weather and the restrictions that they have on teachers mingling with the local population,” Popal said. “People who want to just make money and are in so much debt because of student loans, they can go there for a year or two and make a bunch of money and have a down payment for a house.”

If you have the skills, can stand the heat, and don’t mind living in a wealthy but conservative country, UAE can be a Disneyland for the right teacher. Abu Dhabi once had a rollercoaster restaurant, after all.

Jiangxi, China
Students in China | humphery/Shutterstock

If you want to work hard and play hard

China, South Korea & Singapore
China has a huge market for English language teachers in both private and public sectors, as many students are required to have English skills in order to enter higher education. Educators who go to China can earn anywhere between $1,000 and $2,000 a month and pay maybe half of what they’d spend in the US for cost of living. Many companies also pay for housing.

South Korea hires ESL educators at every experience level to model speaking and pronunciation, and schools pay well. With salaries between $1,800 and $2,000, often paid-for housing, and living expenses that will run less than a grand, teachers will have plenty of extra cash to visit South Korea’s beaches, spas, and hip boutiques.

Schools in Singapore -- one of the world’s biggest financial centers, with a huge need for English teachers -- also pay well, with salaries between $2,800 and $3,500. The cost of living here is fairly high, so you’ll have to hustle to save up.

Krakow, Poland
Krakow, Poland | Sopotnicki/Shutterstock

If you’ve gotta get to Europe

Poland & Czech Republic
European Union countries typically do not hire non-EU residents, but a handful of countries that are less popular with tourists are hiring. It’s easier to get a legal work permit in Czech Republic as well -- interviews are typically done in-country and prospective educators can first enter with a tourist visa.

Average salaries are low here compared to the cost of living, so you’re likely going to end up dipping into your savings to teach here. If you can swing it, quintessentially European cities such as Prague offer gourmet dining, world-class museums, and Christmas markets. The country could also be a jumping-off point to visit Germany and Austria, or a few lesser-known cities locally.

Poland -- famous for its croissant museum, of all things -- is hiring tons of TEFL-certified English teachers. But you’re not going to make much dough. TEFL Academy estimates that the average salary only just covers the cost of living.

In an interview with TEFL Academy, English teacher Elizabeth Rippon said the pay was reasonable for the work rendered. “We work about 30 hours/week and sometimes on Saturday, but just for an hour or two. If we work Saturday, we get the following Friday off,” she said. “I have always found it to be enough to pay all bills and rent and also have money left over for travel and going out. It is a really cheap place to live!”

Some schools in Poland will sponsor a work visa for Americans and other non-European Union citizens.

Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena, Colombia | rocharibeiro/Shutterstock

If you’re doing it for the love of Latin America

Mexico, Brazil & Colombia
Most Latin America teaching jobs are at adult private language schools and don’t pay as well as some Middle Eastern and Asian countries. In Brazil, which has major demand for English language teachers following the World Cup and Olympics, average salary and the cost of living are equal; Popal suggested applying for a Fulbright teaching fellowship if you’re set on teaching in the region.

Jeff Moran, a PhD student at University of California-Davis and a community college teacher, received a Fulbright grant that funded his teaching on the Caribbean coast, in Cartagena, Colombia. “I absolutely loved my time there, after getting acclimated to the 95-degree heat and 85% humidity,” Moran said. “I could not recommend living and working in Colombia enough! It is such an immensely beautiful country and the people, particularly mis caribenos, are so loving and generous.”

With Colombia’s drug wars now past, the country’s among the fastest-growing economies in Latin America. Still, living in the region comes with risks. “Be aware that times are somewhat tumultuous -- as they are all over the globe,” Moran said, noting that Colombia shares a huge border with Venezuela, which is suffering an economic and governing crisis. “These issues are of most concern when traveling along the borders of Colombia, both east and west. However, in major urban areas like Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Cali, Colombia is a beautiful and peaceful place to live.”

If you want to teach in Mexico, Popal noted: “There is no money. If you have money and want to spend it and feel good about it, it’s a good place.” The cost of living is low, as are average salaries, so come prepared with savings to experience the enormous amount of underrated destinations Mexico can offer.

And if money isn't your first concern? You can always simply enjoy the culture. "I would 100% recommend teaching in Mexico," said Molly Mosher, who left a drab job at a Brooklyn real estate office to take a contract teaching English there. "The country has warm weather, warm people, and warm delicious homemade food you'll never forget. There's so much to enjoy there." 

Chefchaouen, Morocco
Chefchaouen, Morocco | Zzvet/Shutterstock

If you want to make a difference

Africa & Central America
First-time teachers will find more opportunities in north African countries such as Egypt and Morocco, where pay is low but the cultural history is enormous. Most jobs will be in private schools and language institutes.

Countries with former English colonial roots --  Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda, for instance -- hire fewer ESL teachers simply because English is already prevalent.

“Of course they hire teachers, but it’s the same story as south and central America -- there’s no money there,” Popal said. “Places colonized by France offer English as second language, but again there is no money.”

People interested in working in these countries may also consider humanitarian work, which often contains a large English teaching component, said Carol Lo, an applied linguistics and TESOL program associate at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “In that sense, it’s not just about teaching English but doing humanitarian work through teaching English,” she said.

Guangzhou, China
Guangzhou, China | HelloRF Zcool/Shutterstock

More pro tips on teaching abroad

Once you’ve figured out where to go, learn from those who came before you. Moran recommends asking very specific questions of your program and “be uber-prepared.”

“My biggest recommendation is to have some kind of structure in place to support you. I was extremely fortunate to be able to rely on the US and Colombian Fulbright commission,” he said. “They helped me on matters big and small -- when I had questions about the Colombian university system or just local survival tips and tricks.”

Moran also encouraged prospective educators to get out of their comfort zones by meeting new people, visiting new areas, and trying new things -- including avoiding English, even with students. “Try to immerse yourself in the new language. Yes, you will make mistakes. Yes, you will be frustrated because you can't fully express yourself. And yes, you will eventually hit the wall and need to watch some Netflix in English,” he said. “But this experience of struggling to communicate will really help you understand and empathize with your students. It will also make your experience in your new country a richer and more fulfilling.

“Getting the job,” he added, “is often the easy part.”

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Jessica Lipsky is a Thrillist contributor who would love to fine tune your syntax and dangling participle. Ask her how on Twitter at @JessicaLipsky