Save Money And Cover The Cost Of Moving Abroad12 min read

Teaching abroad can be expensive. You read that right. Short of a few job types in a select number of countries a large number of people who teach abroad are either freelancing on the side for extra money, barely scraping by at a subsistence level, or dipping into personal savings to get by. No matter what your reasons for wanting to teach abroad are, having a certain amount of money before you go is not only wise but can mean the difference between living at an almost poverty level or getting to actually enjoy the country you are teaching in.

Why should I save up before I go?

Aside from the obvious reason that having an emergency fund is a good decision no matter who you are, let’s look at some of the more compelling reasons for you to save up before you move abroad to teach English.

At the top of the list is the fact that when you are working in a foreign country, you have no security net. To put that more clearly, if you lose your job for whatever reason you are screwed. Losing your job in a foreign country isn’t like losing your job in your home country. You can’t just quickly go get a new job or get some part-time work to replace your income. You are bound by government regulations and the terms of your work permit. The only thing you will be able to do (legally) is teaching. So, while you may be able to easily go get another teaching job, in some cases you may not. This means if you don’t have savings to hold you over until you can find another job, or at the very least enough for a return flight to your home country, you are going to be in for some uncomfortable times. I’ve met many people here in South East Asia who lost their job as a teacher and didn’t have a backup plan or back up money and ended up looking for work in dodgy places for little more than room and board till they could get a return flight home. You don’t want that. Having money in the bank before you go can help you to avoid this experience.

Another reason to have money in the bank before you decide to teach abroad is that you never know what expenses could come up that your monthly paycheck won’t be enough for. If you want to know what a crappy month is, then try living off of a few hundred dollars for the entire month because the country you are living in can’t organize their animal control services and one of the many street dogs in your neighborhood got the wild urge to bite you in the leg. Maybe it has rabies or maybe it doesn’t but I wasn’t willing to bet my life on that. A thousand dollars and five or six shots had me living on instant noodles twice a day and refilling my water bottle in the water refill station down the street that may or may not have had its filter replaced when it was supposed to. This is just one example of an extreme situation that can wipe your monthly check in the span of a few minutes and if you don’t have a backup savings plan then you are going to be in for a tight month.

How much should I save before traveling abroad?

This short answer to this questions is as much as you possibly can save. No joke. You can’t have enough money before traveling abroad. But I realize that is neither the answer you are looking for nor is that answer going to be practical in giving you an idea of how much money to save. So, the long answer and the one we are going to examine more in-depth is that it is going to be heavily dependent on where you will be teaching and what is important to you before you. Someone who doesn’t drink or smoke and likes to cook at home living in Phnom Penh, for example, is going to have a lot less to think about then a party type person who wants to work in Hong Kong and is thinking about taking trips on the weekends to other countries. You need to be completely honest with yourself when you are coming up with your numbers of how you live and the types of things you are going to be doing. We will examine in this article the things you must absolutely prepare for as well as a few extras, however, you are going to need to take what we come up with and add anything that is applicable to your life before coming up with your final number. First, let’s take a look at things you have to take into consideration such as emergency living and any visa-related expenses you may have and then we’ll look at a few extras such as travel and nights out.

What should I take into consideration?

Mandatory Expenses

These are going to be the things you must absolutely no matter what without fail take into consideration. If you don’t have the money to cover these items in the event that you don’t get paid, lose your job, or end up having more expenses than you thought you would you are going to eat through your budget and leave you in a bad place. This isn’t an exhaustive list but it will touch on the most important and should give you a good idea of what is important when moving abroad to teach.

  • Monthly Rent – this is going to be your biggest expense. Many schools, especially if you are working for a good school, will cover this expense or will at the very least reimburse you for your monthly living expenses. However, you can’t guarantee that this will be the case for the school you are hired at or that they will follow through on the benefit even if it is promised. So, it is better to go ahead and prepare for this in order to make sure you are covered. The best thing to do is to take a look online at different places around the area you will be teaching. Don’t just look at the cheapest place either and take that for the cost as many times pictures can be deceiving and what you think you will be able to tolerate in order to save money may be a slum that you can’t stand. Find the average price for apartments in the area and then use that to get an idea. It is best to have at least three months to a year. Though, if you don’t have a job for that long you may not be able to stay in the country anywise. Also, don’t just think about the rent itself but the cost to move in which will be the security deposit and key money for countries that have it (more about that here).
  • Utilities – you are going to have to do a bit of homework on this one in order to find out what utilities are going to cost in order to get an idea. The best place to find this information is on expat forums. Every country has them such as ThaiVisa for Thailand. Find out the average cost for a month of water, electricity, sewage, trash, and any other utilities related expenses or taxes you may be charged. Again, don’t be cheap here lest you find yourself coming up short. Just as with the rent you want to have at least three months of utilities taken care of. Also, keep into consideration if you will have to pay to have the electricity or water put in your name or if it will be handled through the apartment building. This is different for each country and these hidden expenses can add up in the end.
  • Internet and phone – you are going to want the internet and you are going to need a phone. There is no getting around these two things in our modern era. Take a look at some various options for the city you will be living in and price these two things accordingly. For many countries, you can get by with a data package for your phone instead of using minutes as most people will be using instant messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, Line, WeChat, etc. This can help you to save some money.
  • Food – this is going to be your second biggest expense and the one that is going to be the hardest to pin down for the cost. This expense is going to be different for each person as everyone has different eating habits. The best thing I can recommend for this is to examine your current eating habits as they probably aren’t going to change too dramatically when you move abroad. If you like to eat out a lot you are probably going to find yourself doing that no matter where you move to. If you eat at home a lot then you will probably cook in your new place. Think about whether you are going to be able to adapt to the cuisine of your new country or if you are going to want food from your home country which may cost more. Take the average of what you spend in your home country for food and then add 20% for wiggle room. Again the rule of thumb here is at least three months of expenses.
  • Extras – this is a catch-all category and is going to differ for each person. If your company is going to pay for visa related expenses (any good school will) then you can probably minimize the extra money you need for this category. However, this will be where you add things like visa expenses, medicine if you need it, hygiene products, etc. Basically, anything that you use on a daily basis in your home country and know you will need when you are living abroad this is where it goes. Take a look at your current life and where your money goes and look at the things that you know you are going to be buying abroad and then add that to the money you need to save. Also, ask in the expat forums if anyone has any suggestions for extra expenses that are going to be mandatory that you haven’t’ thought of as these could be different for each country such as transportation.

Luxury Expenses

These are going to be extra things that you can live without but will be nice to have should you desire them. This list will be different for everyone but I’ve listed three major extras that each person should think about. Aside from these three, you are going to want to think about your current lifestyle and look at where your extra money goes to get a more clear picture of what luxury expenses you usually accumulate.

  • Travel – many people who teach abroad do so because they want to travel. So, it’s natural that you are probably going to travel to surrounding countries or within your country of choice when you have free time. Create an extra travel budget that includes airfare, hotels, and transportation so that your paycheck will go a lot further for the things you want.
  • Nightlife – this may or may not apply to you. If it doesn’t then you can substitute this with anything that does apply such as daily lattes at Starbucks, movie theater tickets, concerts, etc. Whatever you do for entertainment that is going to be a consistent drain on your monthly paycheck you need to add into this category. A word of caution, many people forego saving for things like this and end up blowing large chunks of their monthly paycheck on nights out and other entertainment. Having a bit of money already saved for this will go a long way towards making sure you don’t go broke each month and struggle in between paychecks.
  • Recreation – again, something that is going to be different for each person. For me, this consists of monthly gym fees for Jiu-jitsu and the occasional scuba diving trip. For others, it may be yoga classes, salsa dancing, kite surfing, video games, or anything else you are into. Just because you are in a new country doesn’t mean you are going to forego your hobbies. So, plan for them accordingly so you aren’t blindsided by those expenses when they come up.

What are some final tips?

The above list is a good starting point but is by no means exhaustive. You need to look at your current spending habits and take into consideration which of those habits are going to carry over with you when you move abroad. Be completely honest when you are doing this. Trying to skimp out on expenses or not including things just because you think you can live without them is just going to work against you in the end and leave you bored and homesick. As I mentioned before, you are going to want to have at least three months or more of expenses. If you lose your job and can’t find another in three months, there is a high probability you will have to leave the country because of your visa or, at the very least, move over to a tourist visa which will only allow you so long to shop for jobs before having to leave anywise. After you have your savings in place and have secured a job teaching abroad the next step will be getting your financial habits in order so that you can save money when teaching abroad.

I want to help you find an awesome job in the ESL industry and then excel at it. I’m a TESOL certified teacher with over two years of experience working both online and offline. I have worked with students ranging from young learners to advanced level university speakers and have worked in recruiting and hiring, teacher training, and content creation. I’ve seen the good and bad of the ESL industry and I’m here to tell you about it.