How to Save Money While Teaching English in Asia: Tips for Living Cheaply
If you are moving to Asia to teach English, saving money from your job may not be foremost in your mind. That’s because you’re probably teaching English in Asia for the experience, as well as to learn about another culture.
If, however, you plan on moving back to your own country eventually, you may want to have some savings when you do as, in essence, you’ll be re-establishing your life — going to graduate school, getting a new job and any number of other things that require money.
Luckily, it is possible to save money while teaching in Asia and, over the 10 years I’ve lived in Thailand, I’ve saved quite a bit. Follow these few tips and you can too.
Buy Health Insurance Locally – One common way western teachers in Asia waste money is by buying health insurance in their own country before they leave. A typical health insurance policy bought in America and for use in Thailand, China or Vietnam can cost you five times or more the cost of a locally bought health insurance package and, if you do get sick and try to claim on it, you may be surprised when you can’t.
Don’t spend thousands of dollars on a western-issued health insurance policy, when one bought in Asia may only cost you a few hundred.
Buy your health insurance in Thailand, Singapore, China, Malaysia or wherever else in Asia you will be teaching. Local policies are cheap, they can cover everything you could possibly need depending on what coverage you choose, and local hospitals are often just as good if not better than in the US and Europe.
Don’t Waste Money on an Expensive Apartment – During my time in Thailand, I’ve met a few Americans, Australians and Europeans that were spending ridiculous amounts of money on their monthly rent. That’s because they wanted a western-style apartment in an expat neighborhood, so paid three or four times more than the same apartment would go for away from the city center and in a Thai neighborhood.
Remember, if you’re just planning on teaching English in Asia for a year or two, you’ll want to be out and about meeting people, going places and enjoying the foreign culture. You won’t want to waste all your time sitting in your apartment because your rent is so expensive you can’t afford to do anything else.
Rent a studio apartment or a small one-bedroom in a neighborhood that’s away from the expat places and tourist spots. You’ll soon find you make so many new friends and find so many interesting places to visit, you’ll hardly do anything at your apartment anyway except sleep there.
Don’t forget to ask fellow teachers about their monthly living expenses in Thailand or elsewhere in Asia, including the rent they pay. Some can be an enormous help when it comes to you saving money.
Go Native – One of the easiest ways to save money while teaching English in Asia is to ‘go native’. That means as much as possible, live how the locals do.
If you’re in Thailand take public buses or boats to work to save money on fares. In Japan, eat and drink at chain isakaya restaurants where food and drink is cheap, and in Malaysia rent an apartment away from the expat areas in a local neighborhood.
Eat Local Food – When I first moved to Thailand, the biggest mistake I made was eating too much western food and too little Thai. Not only was most of the food I ate not particularly good and extremely unhealthy, the cost was also four times the price of a typical Thai meal.
If you want to save money while teaching English in Asia, one of the easiest and fastest ways to do it is only to eat the local cuisine. It’s usually delicious, hugely varied and far cheaper than the western-type meals you may be tempted to eat instead.
Accept Invitations from the Locals – During my first few years teaching in Thailand, I saw a lot of Bangkok and even more of Thailand as I accepted invitations to travel from Thai teachers, student’s parents, school authorities and other Thais I met along the way.
Not only did I see so much of Thailand and learn all about it and the culture from the Thais who took me, I also saved a lot of money as I traveled ‘Thai-style’ instead of staying in expensive hotels or taking costly transportation. I learned more about the country and the people as well, and had a fabulous time while doing so.
Accept Private Students – One of my friends in Thailand taught in Japan for ten years before he moved to Bangkok. During that time, he taught private students several evenings a week and on Saturdays and managed to save enough money while he did so to be able to buy an apartment outright when he moved to Bangkok.
While you might not make that much money in just a year or two, students all over Asia do pay well for private English lessons and it’s not unheard of for teachers to be able to save many thousands of dollars a year teaching them.