The Downside of “Awesome” Teaching Destinations

You have it all planned out. You’ve found a sweet TEFL job at a school next to the beach. Weekends off to go surfing or scuba diving and even though the pay may not be great the cost of living in the country you are looking at is low. So, everything will even out in the end. But will it? Have you really thought about the true cost of living in the country you are looking at? Have you looked at how easy or difficult the rules surrounding your visa will be to manage? Have you looked at all of the potential stressors you could be dealing with? Read on and find out why that awesome ESL teaching destination may not be as awesome as you think.

What are “awesome” destinations?

The idea of an awesome destination is going to be very subjective. For some, it is going to be countries with high pay. For others, it is going to be about culture and other lifestyle factors. For the sake of this article it is going to be places that have traditionally been considered as hotspots for both tourists and expats for various reasons such as a low cost of living or tropical destinations or countries which may have been great to work at in the past but which may not be so good now for one reason or another.

A great example of this is Thailand where I have lived. When many people think of Thailand they have an image of tropical beaches with crystal clear water and a low cost of living. They think of smiling locals and cheap pad thai. Many people who have visited here for a few weeks or a month may even make the leap that it would be a good place to teach English for the above-mentioned reasons.

Another place to think about is Japan. For many years Japan was considered one of the top destinations in the world for TEFL teachers to earn top dollar. Not only could you make quite a bit of money at the school but a lot of extra money could also be made with private lessons. Add to this that many people who might be interested in working in Japan may also have an interest in other aspects of the country such as anime or martial arts or the countries rich history.

Both of these countries hold a mass appeal for teachers looking to teach English abroad for various reasons. But, as you will read below, appearances can often be deceiving and places that may seem to be the perfect destination for a teacher or that once were great places to teach may not be all they are cracked up to be.

What are the downsides of these locations?

The downsides of these supposedly awesome places for TEFL teachers can be many. The best way to look at it is going to be the reward compared to the effort that it is going to take to reap that reward.

Let’s take the first example of Thailand into consideration. As a TEFL teacher in the country, the average salary is going to be around $1,100. For many jobs, you will not be provided with accommodation so between $300 and $500 are going to go towards housing (depending on where you are teaching this could be a little less or quite a bit more). You most likely won’t be provided with insurance so you will be paying for medical expenses out of pocket. If you are not living close by the school you are working at you will also be paying for transportation every day which could end up being an extra $80 or more each month. If you plan on eating like a local then you can probably get by on around $150 or a little more each month. However, if you want to indulge in western food then you are looking at significantly more. We won’t even go into drinking costs as this will be dependent on the person but can be quite high depending on where you are. All of this comes out to between $500 and $700 if you are eating like a local and keeping your transport costs down. This is before utilities and internet are factored in and personal expenses such as hygiene products have been added. Don’t even think about that weekend getaway or living by the beach (beach towns and islands are significantly more expensive than in the rest of the country not just for rent but also food and other items) or you are easily going over your monthly salary. Most teachers I’ve meet here use their savings from before they moved to Thailand to get by unless they can manage to snag some private lessons (which is illegal). Not an optimal situation.

This is just talking about the financial aspects. But what about other potential stressors. Well…how does sitting at an immigration office all day every three months sound? As part of a requirement for all visa holders in Thailand you are required to check in every 90 days to let immigration know you are still in the country, working at the same place, and living at the same place. The time it takes to do this is going to be different depending on where you are teaching in the country but if you are in the capital city of Bangkok you can look forward to getting up around 7 am to sit in traffic for an hour or more only to wait in a long line of other foreigners. You will probably finish sometime around 1 or 2 pm. Sounds fun right? 

These are the things you really have to look into before you decide on the perfect destination. Just because a country is nice or even if the pay is higher in a particular country than in others doesn’t necessarily make it a great location. If you have to pay a lot of money to keep your visa active and the school won’t reimburse you or if you have to jump through hoops to the point that you get stressed out trying to take care of everything is it really worth living in that country? That is a question you will have to ask yourself but remember that all that glitters is not gold. Sometimes those awesome destinations have a major suck factor that makes them not so awesome after all.

What should I look for instead?

You want to maximize the money you are making and minimize the stress that it takes to make that money. This is going to increase your peace of mind and ultimately your quality of life.

Think about it like this. Country A makes you jump through ten hoops in order to live and work there but they have awesome pay. Country B has a little less pay and may also be a little less appealing for lifestyle reasons but you only have to jump through three hoops to stay there and the cost of living is less. At the end of the day, country b is going to take less work to stay and even though you are making less money and it may not be as appealing lifestyle wise you are going to be less stressed and maybe even working fewer hours. Hours which you can fill teaching private lessons to supplement your income or working on another business venture you may be looking into.