ESL Teacher Salary: Which countries pay the most? (With Budgets!)

Let's talk ESL salaries and budgets. How much does an English teaching job pay? How much can you hope to save from your salary? Which countries pay well? 


We'll look at three things:


  • What is the average English teacher salary in different countries?
  • How much is the salary worth in that country (i.e. cost of living)?
  • What does an example budget look like?


If you've already decided on a country or you just want the budgets then head to the end.


They're reasonably in-depth and include tax calculations and insurance.


Average ESL Teacher Salaries by Country


The numbers below are for entry level positions in private language schools with the notable exception of Taiwan which is government funded public schools (still an entry level position).


  1. UAE - $2200 - $3200
  2. Saudi Arabia - $2200 - $3200
  3. Japan - $2400 - $2600
  4. Taiwan - $2100 - $2400
  5. Korea - $1900 - $2100
  6. China - $1600 - $2300
  7. Malaysia - $1000 - $1500
  8. Vietnam - $1000 - $1200
  9. Thailand - $700 - $1200


Now let's mention the obvious problem with average salaries. They vary a lot; kindergarten, university, big city, rural town, all of these things are going to change your salary.


If you've got more experience or are a professional teacher then international schools and universities will pay higher salaries across all the countries.


Private language schools tend to work you the hardest and you can often trade off some of the salary for less working hours and less intense positions.


For example in Korea, public school jobs pay less, but have less hours and more vacation.


This list doesn't take into account benefits like paid accomodation or bonuses and it doesn't account for tax. (But it's in the spreadsheets!)


How much is my salary worth?


Different countries have different costs of living. If we were to take our salaries relative to the cost of living in our country this is what we'd be earning. 


(We're using the excellent free cost of living index over at Expatisan to compare.)


  1. Taiwan - $2050
  2. Saudi Arabia - $1750
  3. UAE - $1650
  4. China - $1570
  5. Vietnam - $1400
  6. Japan - $1260
  7. Korea - $1170
  8. Malaysia - $1160
  9. Thailand - $830


We can see that now the top countries for salary have switched around. For example Taiwan and Japan have similar salaries but the cost of living is so much higher in Japan, the salary in Taiwan ends up being worth almost twice as much.


This list mostly agrees with my experience, the big exception being Japan and Korea. They're both typically regarded as good places to save for money, so...


What happened to Japan and Korea?


Both Korea and Japan have a lot of extra bonuses that aren't straight up salary, bonuses and possibly pension refunds  can add another month or two's worth of income at the end (in Korea your airfare and apartment will be free too).


Vietnam is higher because it pays really quite well if you have a private school teaching job (with ILA or VUS for example) however they're not hugely common. Public schools will pay a lot less well. So although I've given Vietnam a higher rating if you're not in a private school it may not be so useful.


Too many qualifications, I hear you. You want to know exactly what you're you'll make, you want detail? Fine let's bring out the detail, onto the budget spreadsheets!


Sample ESL Teacher Budgets


Spreadsheet time. This time we're going into as much depth as possible to get an accurate guess of what our budget will be like as a teacher and how much we can save.


We'll take into consideration, bonuses, taxes, airfare and all that good stuff. 


How to view an example budget for an ESL teacher in a country


1. Download the spreadsheet for your country. Go to File -> Download As.

2. Open it on your computer. Fill in the yellow boxes. The spreadsheet will calculate the rest.

3. All of the important numbers, like salary after tax etc. are in purple. Now you can see what your budget will be like.

4. If you don't agree with the numbers, feel free to change anything which isn't a formula. Usually that's anything to do with tax or rent. 


Create your own budget


1. Download the spreadsheet for your country.

2. Open the second page of the spreadsheet.

3. Fill in all the yellow cells. The spreadsheet will calculate the rest.


(Note: I've found that in downloading the spreadsheet you can lose the currency formatting. The numbers are still correct but you might have to add the currency sign's back in)





Countries Coming in the Future:

  • Thailand
  • Saudi Arabia
  • UAE
  • Hong Kong
  • Indonesia


This post is a work in progress, some of the countries I was struggling to find reliable numbers for and so I'm still trying to research them.


If you've taught in any country that doesn't have a spreadsheet and want to share your budget I'd love to know. Drop me an email at [email protected].


Also if you disagree with anything or want me to research another country I've missed leave a comment and we'll work it out.