How teaching in South Korea helped me reach my financial goals

After finishing 5 years of university, I knew I wanted to travel more but didn’t have the initial funds to make it happen. Teaching abroad was my answer. In August 2012, I moved to South Korea to teach English for a year. An amazing experience, it provided me with the chance to travel extensively, make lifelong friends, immerse myself in another culture and, best of all, save money. While teaching abroad is a great way to enhance your resume and travel, it’s also a great way to reach your financial goals. Here’s why:

1. You make a competitive salary. Compared to Canadian standards, making about $13 an hour seems outrageous. When you’re living in a country with a lower cost of living and only have to pay for personal expenses such as food, transportation, and entertainment, you can stretch your dollar that much further.

2. The cost of living is extremely low. As noted above, day to day expenses are generally very cheap, especially if you live like a local. Your average meal costs $3, all drinks are never more than $2, and transportation is exceptionally cheap: I once travelled for 2.5 hours by subway and only paid $3 for the entire ride.

3. Your accommodation is paid for and furnished. One of the biggest pluses about teaching in South Korea is the subsidized housing – in most other countries, you’re on your own. Your living situation will vary depending on your employer, but for me, my school was in charge of my accommodation.

4. Your utilities are cheap. Unlike house bills here, your bills are very cheap because you’re living in a small space. I don’t think my bill was ever over $60 dollars a month, including electricity, internet, water and gas.

5. You could get bonus pay. After successfully completing my one-year contract I was given an extra month of salary. Although I worked for the Korean government, I’ve noticed most employers include this as an incentive in their signing contracts.

6. You could qualify for a pension. As long as you’re not a U.K. citizen, a pension will be automatically set up for you, your school will match the monthly contributions, and you’ll get the money when you leave. In my case, my pension was deducted automatically from my pay each month. A terrific savings plan, I left with an extra $2100 dollars on top of my bonus and salary.

7. In most cases, you’ll be given a lump sum for your flights to and from South Korea. This isn’t the case for everyone (some employers personally book the flights for you), but if you’re lucky, your employer will give you a set amount of money toward your arrival and return flights. “Why is this awesome?” you ask? Well, if you take the time, you can find a cheap flight that’s significantly lower than the bulk sum they’re giving you – the remaining money is yours! I did this both times, and was able to bank $800 overall!

8. You don’t pay Canadian taxes on your salary. Instead, I paid Korean taxes, which not only ended up being cheaper, but I also didn’t have to manage the paperwork – my school looked after everything for me.

9. Taking a vacation (especially if it’s within Korea) is very affordable. Even if your main goal during your time in Korea is to save money, you can still take a mini getaway without feeling blowing your budget. Great flight deals to Hong Kong, China, and Japan can be found. Another bonus to teaching in Korea, depending on your employer, is the vacation days. Including statutory holidays, I had 28 days off (18 paid, 12 statutory scattered throughout the year).

10. Going out with friends will cost pennies compared to a night out in Canada. Korean night life will barely make a dent in your wallet. Most people buy their drinks at convenience stores and meals out (as long as it’s not Western fare) are generally around $3 -$7 maximum each.

Please note: The above conditions are for a public teaching job in South Korea only and are based on my personal experience between August 2012 and September 2013. Depending on the country, city, and whether you work for the government or private companies, and the conditions of your contract and its benefits, your experience/costs may vary.

Whether your financial goals are to pay off debt, save up for graduate school, travel, or save for bigger ticket items, such as a car or a house, teaching abroad in a country such as South Korea is an amazing avenue to help you get there. If you’re interested in teaching abroad, TeachAway.com, Canadian Connections, Gone2Korea.com and EduConUS.com are great resources to start you off.

Would you consider teaching abroad to help you reach your savings goals? Why or why not? Tell us in the comment section.

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