Dipping Into Savings Hurts

..Location, Location, Location! This real estate adage couldn’t be any more true than in the world of International Teaching. Depending on where you are in the world, you CAN literally starve on a salary considered fantastic back home. Or conversely, you CAN live like royalty on an income so low you wouldn’t even consider it back home.

..An important, but often overlooked step in considering a school and location is a cost-of-living Vs salary comparison. The last thing you want is to find yourself dipping into savings each month just to make ends meet.

..Before you say you can save money at your low-paying International School by living like the locals, you’d be wise to thoroughly check out what their lifestyle is truly like. Remember, you’re going to be there month after month after month. So, if you can survive in humid, 100+ degree weather without AC, subsist on rice & beans & you never need an icy cold beer on a Friday evening, or reliable transportation, or freedom from vermin/mosquitoes/snakes/cockroaches the size of a Volkswagen, this may be a viable plan.

..But be aware that life in most emerging nations is rich in cultural experiences but surprisingly expensive if you want even a humble but higher standard of living. Minor conveniences such as running a small window air conditioner, for example, can easily run the electric bill up to over U.S.$350. It can be quite expensive to make yourself comfortable in the emerging world.

..On the flip side, beautiful, cultured Western Europe can deplete a paycheck (and possibly a savings account) quickly. With loads of teachers looking for positions in this part of the world & the number of jobs proportionately low, Western European schools get away with offering salaries that are disproportionately low in relation to the cost-of-living. Some teachers even report having to take on part-time jobs to supplement their salary with no savings possible. But for many, the opportunity to live in Europe make the temporary “poverty” all worthwhile.

..Fortunately there ARE many schools where the salary allows teachers to live well & save way more money each month they they ever could back home. And, of course, there’s the opportunity to live & work around the world that may offset any inconveniences a salary dictates. What’s YOUR take on this? We’d like to hear about your situation:

..Where in the world are you? How do salaries Vs cost-of-living compare at your school? What’s the name of your school?  Are you saving money and living well? Here’s a chance for us to Share the good & the bad & the ugly truths.

15 thoughts on “Dipping Into Savings Hurts

  1. I’m in Germany, and though taxes take about 37% of my gross income, the cost of living is manageable. Groceries are cheaper in Germany than in the U.S. (when I first started in Germany and was “poor,” I lived on 20 euros a week for coffee, apples, bread, eggs, bottled water, etc.). I bought a car two springs ago, and that raised my expenses, but now at my new job, I’ll be living within a kilometer of school. Housing can be inexpensive in Germany, if you’re not too demanding. I’ve lived in some beautiful places where I could walk to grocery stores, bakeries, etc. I’ve also managed to travel to France, Spain, Italy, Ireland, England and Austria, all on my teacher’s salary. There isn’t much in savings, but there’s a chunk. I tend to live while I can. This summer I spent in the USA working at a busy restaurant to rebuild the coffers. Sadly, I make more as a waitress than a teacher, but it’s not as fulfilling.


  2. I lived in the DR Congo. The pay was very good but food and utilities were sky high. It all bordered on rediculous. In Pakistan and Thailand the salary was on par with a US school but the cost of living was very low and I saved a ton of money. You really do have to research because what looks good on paper can turn out to be quite the opposite.


  3. I have been teaching abroad for over a decade, so I really know how to weigh the pros and cons. I had a huge salary in Shanghai but the air quality and climate was horrible. Turkey was great as saved a lot of money but the quality of the school and professional training was dismal at best.
    At the moment, I am Central America. The salary is very low but at least the school makes a huge effort to stay current with the curriculum. The cost of living is high in my area since I am located in affluent suburb, I can buy very cheap food and clothes.
    I am also just an hour and half away from home!


  4. I am trying to save for retirement in Yangon where I teach. The rents are still quite high for a decent apartment but my schools allowance covers around half. Sharing allows you to save, which I have done but now prefer to live alone. Cost of food can be low if you eat locally but you can pay western prices for a western meal. The city is nowhere near a beach so most people pay around $20 for a day beside a hotel swimming pool and you always dip further for food. The advantage at the moment is I am paid cash, tax free in US dollars. Expats typically take the hour long flight to Bangkok every 10 weeks on a visa run, usually making a weekend of it. My salary is considerably lower than home but I enjoy living in Asia. Fresh food at the local market once a week, gets you through. Taxis are cheap and the people are mostly friendly.


  5. I taught at an international school in Germany. The salary was low, I earned much more in Australia, but rent on the school studio apartment in the centre of a big city was also low.I travelled a lot around Germany and to Brussels and Amsterdam, but did not eat out extensively, I saved 10 000 euros and have now retired and stayed in Germany. Health Insurance is the biggest expense followed by rail travel. I am now doing substitute work at another school, a top tier school, that pays well.


  6. I am living and teaching in Quito, Ecuador. For me, I am able to save a relatively significant amount each month. However, I do not have student loans or debt back in the USA, which makes my situation different from others that I know in the same city. Friends in Quito who still have student loans are barely making it month to month. I also live relatively modestly, shop at the local markets regularly (which can be much more inexpensive than a supermarket), and I do not go shopping for clothes and other imported items which could break my bank. Additionally, I have a roommate which saves costs on utilities and rent each month. It really depends on the lifestyle that people want here, but I find it possible to save… Which I then put toward travel and retirement plans.


  7. I lived and taught in Turkey and was paid a much lower salary than I would have in Canada, but it was TAX free and housing was also free. My husband and I were able to save around $1000 US a month for four years and that was living on one salary! Plus we travelled to Europe every vacation. Now we are living in Singapore which is supposed to be one of the most expensive cities in the world, but we still save $3000 Sing dollars a month and we pay rent! And We travel every vacation! My salary here is more than Turkey, but we don’t live an extragant expat life style which means eating locally not in expensive western style restaurants! We are a mature childless couple so you might want to take that into consideration!


  8. I work at a second tier school in Yangon and the salary is low compared to other schools internationally and living costs in Yangon are rising especially if you want to eat the occasional Western dinner out and hit the local Western style supermarket. Two single sharing an apartment can save a lot of money in their pocket but it is much less for a married couple. Make sure you work for a school that also pays a salary based on credentials and years of experience not the same salary across the board from the newbie to the veteran. Can’t afford to run a car and actually, if not for the experience of working in this country, we’d be better off back in the USA.


  9. I find the benefits far outweigh the salary in helping me save. I look for school that provide housing and utilities at the very least. If the school covers your basic living expenses, you can live comfortably and save. My Kuwait school covered everything and my only expenses were food and entertainment/luxuries. Of course, everything was expensive, but after settling in the first year or two, I didn’t have that many things to buy. I thought Kuwait was the most expensive place in the world until I moved to Abuja. It was the only place where I couldn’t save money and had to leave after two years to avoid losing savings. I am currently in Lahore where cost of living can be pricey for a foreigner, but it is going to be hard to leave because of the benefits: house, car, petrol, even cell phone are all provided by my school. I can afford to live well, travel, and save money.


  10. You can live comfortably on different wages in different countries. Earning less than what might be thought livable in our homes. For me though the bottom line is what you can “save”. For example, if you can save 15% of your wage regardless, then saving 15% of 80K is a lot better than saving 15% of 20K.
    In addition, saving for holidays or retirement is limited when the income is less. An international flight and accommodation are expensive and are much easier to access when earning a higher wage. Yes, you can often travel internally or in the region often quite cheaply, but if you want to see family or do that tour of Europe you always wanted to do, then you do need money.
    On the other hand, working somewhere remote and exotic for a year or two adds flavour to both your resume and might get you that cold beer for a story or two when you talk about it.


  11. Some schools in Africa pay what looks like a big salary but depending upon the country you can be in a starvation situation if you have any bills to pay back home. Many countries import everything and charge high import duties and then you will also be paying a rich foreigner charge for everything like taxi, restaurants, etc. Plus in some African countries the cost of electric and gasoline are very, very high and you pay bribes everywhere you go and for almost everything you need. Street crime and crime against vehicles can be horrendous (people climbing trees over highway and dropping down onto your car to smash and grab items), parked cars that when you return do not even have tires on them–stripped bare. Then on top of it all you are taxed heavily since your salary puts you in the elite of the country whereas back home it would be a lower to middle class salary. So beware teachers and do all of your research!!!!!!! For me it wasn’t worth the disease risk (dengue, malaria, TB, ebola, hepatitis, etc.), flooding, power outages, high cost of living, and complete lack of personal safety. On the plus side there were some local folks who were absolutely wonderful people, warm and welcoming.


  12. You have to consider the whole package the school offers. Does it include roundtrip flights to your home of record, medical insurance, a stipend for apartment rent, maybe even utilities, funds for professional courses or do these come out of your pocket? What percentage of your income will be taken away in taxes? And as has been stated before, what is the cost of living where the school is located? In general large urban areas are more expensive. As to continents, Europe tends to be the most expensive with high taxes and the poorer the country, as in third World, generally the lower the cost of living. We live in Africa and the money on our small salaries goes a lot farther than when I was earning more in Europe.


  13. Because I am still recovering from a business failure and providing for retirement, I am motivated by money. I teach at ECNUAS (East China Normal University Affiliated School) in Shanghai and earn a salary similar to what I would earn back in New Zealand. But I get a free apartment and meals are free at the school too. A cooked meal with a beer at a local restaurant is about 30RMB (6.7RMB to the USD). So I live very cheaply. Tax is also lower here, and I save perhaps 90% of my net salary. I have bought a little house in NZ, and at this rate, I will be able to retire comfortably in 5 years.


  14. I work at a British school in SE Spain, and whilst I get a much lower salary than I ever did in the UK, my lifestyle is far better and the standard of living much lower. For example, my rent on a 3 bed house a 15 min walk from the sea is only 380 euros a month. Food is cheaper and it is cheaper to eat out ( an expensive meal is 20 euros and daily menus are 7-10 euros). I wouldn’t trade my lower salary for the higher one in the UK or Asia/ Middle East. I have saved 6000 euros this year, which I will put towards a house. It’s not loads compared to other places in the world but I am happy.


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