How to Pay for Teaching English Abroad

by Published

Okay, so you’re already sold on the idea of teaching English abroad. You’ve heard about all the potential benefits: a chance to travel meaningfully, meet the locals in an authentic setting, make a real difference in the lives of young and mature students, develop a new perspective, and get out of your comfort zone.  Now this is going to sound ironic, but how do you pay for teaching English abroad? 

If you’re thinking about volunteering to teach English abroad, this is non-negotiable. You won’t be getting a salary while you’re there so how do you finance the trip abroad to share your teaching skills with those who need it most? Also, even if you’ve already lined up a job teaching English abroad, you’ll find that you can’t just show up and demand your salary up front. Before you get there, you’ll need to stockpile some cash to keep you afloat for the first month or so before you get your first paycheck. This is where you have to learn how to pay for teaching English abroad.

[If you haven’t found one yet—get matched with affordable teach abroad programs!]

hand raised in class

Put your hand down. This article will answer all your questions about how to pay for teaching English abroad. And no, you can’t go to the bathroom right now.

Things you need to consider as an ESL teacher

Teaching abroad isn’t as simple as getting on a plane and heading straight for the classroom. Here are few things you should think about as you figure out how to pay for teaching English abroad. 

1. You’re getting paid.

As an ESL teacher abroad, the first thing you need to sort out is how much you’re gonna get paid. This is muy importante because you don’t want to struggle to pay your bills at the end of the month and only eat instant ramen for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That’s just sad. 

Make sure you know the cost of living in the location you’re going to teach in so you can estimate whether your expected salary can cover your living expenses and whether you’ll still have money left over to enjoy yourself or pay off debts back home.

2. What benefits do you get? Free meals/lessons/flights?

Besides salary, be sure to check with your employer about whether you’re eligible for certain benefits. For example, do you have health and accident coverage? If not, you might end up paying a small fortune out of pocket. If you want to learn the local language, does your employer provide free/subsidized language lessons? 

Will the school help pay for your flight to get over there or at least reimburse you in some way? What about a transport stipend on the ground to get to work and back? Free meals are also an added bonus to many ESL jobs which means you buy less at the grocery and don’t have to do meal prep for the week! Score!

[Preparing to Teach English Abroad: 13 Things You Need to Know]

Group of people studying and lesson planning

Before you can hit the books and start lesson planning, you need to make a budget. Seriously.

3. Are your accommodations paid for?

Another major benefit you should ask about is whether your school will help you pay for your accommodation. Some ESL jobs have great perks like free housing or a housing allowance in addition to your base salary. This is a huge bonus because finding an apartment or house in some countries requires considerable set up costs like security deposits and at least 1-2 months’ rent upfront. Also, check whether your school will pay any of your utilities and furnish your apartment, saving you oodles of cash in the long run!

4. Are you teaching abroad in a rural area or urban city center?

For some ESL teachers, it doesn’t matter where they teach but for some, location can be a huge deal breaker. If you’re more of a country mouse, you may find yourself dreaming of cute little schools in the middle of green fields. If you do choose a rural placement, remember that you have to figure out how you’re going to commute, whether it’s walking to school, taking the bus, or biking it. 

[Download this ebook: The Best Advice Across the Web for New ESL Teachers]

If you’re more after the bright lights, big city vibes, then be sure to choose or specify an urban placement with your employer or teaching recruitment agency. Urban schools are great for meeting a more diverse group of students and a more international flavor. Also, teaching at an urban school means that you will have access to better transportation systems although you will have to deal with rush hour crowds on morning and evening trains.

5. What are your expected monthly costs? Make a budget.

Put on your big boy/big girl boots and make a monthly budget for your time teaching overseas. This means writing a comprehensive list of your expected expenses. These could include:

  • Rent
  • Grocery shopping
  • Utility bills (electricity, gas, water, internet, phone etc.)
  • Transportation costs
  • Gym membership/club fees
  • Fun money: eating out, traveling, entertainment

Pile of single dollar bills 

Start saving that paper—anything you can find. It’ll add up!

If you follow a budget, you’ll find that you’re more aware about how you’re spending your salary and also find loopholes where you can save and splurge accordingly. It all adds up in the end, my friend, and budgeting for your expenses in advance can make your life abroad much less complicated.

[The Truth Behind your Teaching Abroad Salary]

Are you eligible for teaching scholarships/fellowships?

If you’re doing a Fulbright or any other formal government program, luck might be on your side. For instance, with the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program, Americans get paid to help local English teachers in classrooms from primary to secondary school level or even at universities all over the world. Some of these positions will require some kind of language proficiency, depending on the country or region you’d like to teach in. As a Fulbright scholar, you also act as a US cultural ambassador in the country of your choice.

Even if you aren’t even qualified to teach, there are scholarships out there to get you on the road to your first TEFL teaching job! For example, Premier TEFL, in partnership with Angloville, offers Anglo-TEFL scholarships to native English speakers from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Europe, Britain, and Ireland. Sign up to get the industry-recommended 120 hours of TEFL classes and a whopping 130 hours of hands-on training in Europe! 

[Scour the GoAbroad Scholarships Directory for more funding opportunities]


You know what they say, an apple a day keeps the teacher’s food budget in check! Seriously though, if you want to pay for teaching English abroad, you’ve got to start stashing that cash asap in a savings account, under your mattress, whatever works for you! Depending on where you want to go, your expected salary and perks, and potential cost of living abroad, it could take up to a year to save up for your time abroad. 

woman holding wrapped christmas gift 

Instead of your usual Christmas list, why not ask for donations to your FundMyTravel campaign?

Make a Budget (Again) 

You thought you’d get away this time but sorry, no can do! Think of this as a practice run before you start budgeting abroad. As they say, it takes at least 21 days to make something a new habit so better start now! Bonus: budgeting from this moment will also help you save money for your teach English abroad adventure! Huzzah!

Get a Side Hustle

If your current salary isn’t going to cut it, why not set up a side hustle? Can you whip up cakes like a boss? Are you an amateur photog who does really great photo booths? Someone who makes words sound great on paper or online? Monetize those skills, yo! Even if you don’t have any of these mad skills, get a part-time job at the mall, son! It all adds up! 

Cut Unnecessary Spending

Remember that one time you got gym membership for a whole year and only went once or twice? Or the time you got Netflix for a whole month and only watched The Office on repeat? Stop wasting money like this! Instead, trim the fat and use the money you’d usually spend on these things (and movie tickets, unlimited data phone plans etc.) to finance your teaching abroad adventure.  

[10 Highest Paid Teaching Jobs Abroad]

Ask for Gifts in Cash

If you’ve got a birthday coming up, tell everyone you know that you don’t need any more books, clothes, jewelry, shoes, and gag gifts. All you want is cold, hard cash. Okay, no need to be so brash but you should drop ever so subtle hints to your family and friends for gifts you can use to reach your teach abroad goal asap.

class in session in Lagos, Nigeria

Once you’ve sorted how to pay for teaching English abroad comes the fun part: ACTUALLY TEACHING!

Fundraise online!

We’re so lucky to live in an age where strangers can actually give you money to pursue your dreams! Pay for teaching English abroad by setting up a personal page on crowdfunding platforms like FundMyTravel and watch the dough roll in. 

Of course, it isn’t as easy as demanding “Money, please!” à la Mona Lisa Saperstein so you’d better craft a compelling story so people don’t feel duped into giving you free cash. Show them how your teaching journey progresses by setting up a blog/vlog/Youtube channel, whatever avenue gives you credibility and shows your backers that their investment isn’t going down the drain.

Money, money, money 

So there you have it. Now is not the time to hold your head and bawl, “I ain’t got no money to pay for teaching English abroad!” Financing an ESL job abroad doesn’t have to be rocket science. With these practical tips, make that teaching dream a reality one step (and dime) at a time. You’ll certainly be glad you did!

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