5 Places Where You’ll Earn the Big Bucks Teaching English Abroad

by Laura Jelich

Who says you can’t make money teaching English abroad? While it's true that there are many travelers who choose to teach on the side as a way to wisely cover their wanderlust expenses, there is, in reality, a full spectrum of people teaching English abroad – some in the highest paid ESL jobs around the the world. Those seriously hoping to make a living teaching English abroad will find there are actually many places where you can expect to do much more than just “break even.” But who wants to just break even? Scroll below to discover the countries where ESL teacher salaries are the highest for 2016-2017.

Han River, Seoul, South Korea
Keep your Seoul and your wallet happy teaching in South Korea.

**Disclaimer: before jumping right in and assuming any English teaching position within these top five locations guarantees a money-making salary, it is important to understand that every program is different. Making the big bucks requires first looking in the right places (check), and then using a bit of critical thinking and common sense (check). Always read the fine print, understand the complete costs and benefits, and compare several programs to catch any outliers or inconsistencies that show up as red flags.

First Things First

It should be so inherently ingrained that I don’t even have to say it, but you get out what you put in. Do the leg work required before you even step up to the starting blocks. If you want to snag the highest paying English teaching jobs abroad, you have to offer something in return. Here are a few tips to boosting your worth and earning the big bucks while teaching English abroad:

It’s true that there are many inexpensive ways to become a certified ESL teacher. Sometimes simply having that certification can mean the difference between the next salary tier, and sometimes it is even more specific than that. Many English teaching job opportunities will simply want that checklist qualifier, but some will require the full-on classroom course with 40 hour practicum version. Something to keep in mind when weighing your TEFL curriculum options.

Shanghai, China cityscape at night
Teaching English in China won’t shanghai your budget.

Experience comes in many shapes and forms. You don’t have to have a teaching degree to get teaching experience (or an English teaching job), and you don’t have to be narrowed in on ESL when looking for teaching opportunities abroad. There are many resume and confidence boosters to be found once you get creative in looking. Volunteer tutoring in any subject, for example, is a great way to practice your teaching tactics and accumulate experience hours. Plus, the one-on-one skills may come in handy if you chose to generously supplement your teaching salary while abroad by additionally giving private lessons on the side!

Networking can never be overrated. And especially in today’s technological age (ok, grandma), it has never been easier. Reconnect with that old high school buddy who you stalked on FB during their teach abroad stint last year, join a social media group, and read program-alumni reviews and interviews. Ask questions and speaking directly with those who have already done the research, made the mistakes, and gone through the experience often provides the most accurate depiction. Not only may it lead to an opportunity you may not have otherwise known about nor had access to, but there are just some things you just cannot know until you’ve learned them by doing.

And The Winners Are...

Asia consistently tops lists of places with the best paid English teaching jobs, and the Middle East has salary packages that should likewise be thoroughly considered by teachers seeking out the highest paid ESL jobs around the world!

1. South Korea

South Korea is an extremely attractive place to live and work, with an emphasis on education and a landscape that includes everything from uninhabited mountains to sunny beaches. With friendly people of high integrity and an abundance of ESL jobs for every teaching-skill level, South Korea earns its place as one of the countries with the highest paying English teaching jobs abroad.

With an average monthly earning of $2,000 (a number which often increases the longer you teach) and a dirt-cheap cost of living (relatively speaking), one can quickly make bank teaching abroad in South Korea. Not to mention, the perks and bonuses generally include a contract completion bonus, healthcare, housing, and airfare.

south korean sunset
There's more (way more!) to South Korea than the city hustle. Use your extra money to take weekend trips!

2. China

The vast amount of paid teaching jobs available in China alone are enough to warrant it a spot on any list of best places to teach in the world. With so many options comes a range of teaching job placements, so no matter what audience or setting you wish to teach in you can likely find it in China.

The average monthly income for teaching jobs in China ranges from $1,000 to $2,500,but likewise includes incredible bonuses, such as a contract completion bonus, housing, food, and airfare.

serene temple in china
Collect kuai, Renminbi, AND yuan as you teach English in the Middle Kingdom.

3. Japan

With both rural and city teaching jobs, the government JET program, incredibly polite people, gourmet food, and a close-knit culture, Japan completes this trio of the most closely competitive Asian countries with the highest paying ESL jobs.

With average starting monthly incomes similar to South Korea and China, those willing to stay for over a year in Japan can expect to make a whopping $3,000 per month, plus the full spectrum of perks. The cost of living (especially in larger cities) can, however, take a significant chunk out of the seemingly higher long-term income, and the lack of immediate bonuses outside of housing further bump Japan down just slightly. All the more reason to teach in a smaller city in Japan.

two japanese people walking in a city garden
The life of an ESL teacher in Japan is a sweet one.

4. Saudi Arabia (and the other gulf Arab states)

Besides Asia, the Middle East is definitely a household name when it comes to the highest paying English teaching jobs abroad, with all the pay and perks you could dream of. So while many Middle Eastern countries frequent lists of countries with the highest paying ESL jobs, Saudi Arabia takes the cake with its incredible salary packages and earns itself a spot on our top five list.

The bonuses of Saudi Arabia rival those found in Asia, including healthcare, housing, and flights, with the best part being the tax free average monthly income of $3,000. The cost of living is affordable, but ESL teaching jobs are often very competitive, therefore potentially requiring a higher investment to qualify. Teachers, especially women, should also take safety precautions and prepare themselves for a bit of culture shock and segregation when teaching abroad in Saudi Arabia.

Mosque in Saudi Arabia
ESL placements in Saudi Arabia are highly competitive, and with the pay and benefits we know why!

5. Taiwan 

Taiwan sometimes flies under the radar as an awesome Asian teaching destination, but it should not be overlooked. It is a beautiful island, with pleasant weather and locals who live up to their friendly reputation.

The perks of teaching in Taiwan don’t quite live up to the top four places on our list, but teaching jobs generally offer assistance with housing and the potential to earn a completion bonus and return airfare. Plus, with a slightly lower cost of living, the average monthly salary of $2,000 pulls opportunities up to bookend our list of places with the best paid English teaching jobs.

Taipei at the golden hour
You won’t Taipei too much out of pocket in Taiwan.

Honorable Mentions

The key word in this article is “earn,” and these five locations do indeed offer some of the highest paying English teaching jobs abroad. However, we all know that gross income isn’t everything. So while many Central and South American countries may not provide comparable compensation for teachers, the generally lower cost of living can sometimes be enough to make the net income very competitive to places with much higher paying salaries.

Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile are each worth noting. While the cost-of-living and teacher compensation may vary from city to city and program to program within these three Latin American countries, their growing economies and increasing need for English-language acquisition offers many opportunities for teachers to align a respectable pay with low expenses and earn a decent wage teaching English abroad. Plus, the pure lifestyle alone may provide perk enough to justify a slight pay-cut in exchange for a more laid-back Latino way of life.

So, Now What?

Now, use the information you've gained and the resources available to you to guide your program-finding quest. It’s no secret that money is important not only for survival, but also for quality of life. There is no shame in admitting you need to make at or above a set minimum amount for your own personal preference and lifestyle. However, don’t forget to take into account that wherever you choose to teach abroad, you will also be living abroad 24/7. So become familiar with your destination options. Not only will it help you decide which job to take, but by learning a bit of the local languages, cultures, customs, etiquette, and teaching style, it will help you to be more connected and successful in your teaching abroad venture.