How Much Money Can I Save Teaching in Korea?
People who come to Korea to teach English tend to be serious about saving money and/or paying off debt. And for good reason: Korea offers the most opportunities to make a lot and live on a little of any country hiring English teachers. So how much exactly can you expect to save?
Let’s look first at your earning potential. Salaries for full time jobs usually fall between 2.1-2.5 million won. We’ll use 2.3 million as a reference because that’s a very common salary (in fact it’s what Lindsey and I made our first year). In addition to your salary, your net income will include two more payments:
- A contract-completion bonus equal to one month’s pay
- Your school’s contribution to your government pension fund (4.5% of your monthly salary)
So let’s add it all up:
|Monthly salary x 12||27.6 million|
|Contract-completion bonus||2.3 million|
|Monthly pension contribution x 12||1.24 million|
On top of this, almost all full-time contracts include free housing and round trip transportation. Although these aren’t truly part of your income, they do bring us to the next element of saving money…
Unless you get a part time job or choose a special program with an hourly pay rate, your housing in Korea will be free. You will have to pay your own utilities, which vary depending on where you live. We lived in a rather expensive building in downtown Seoul our first year, and our bill was about 150,000 won for everything. We’ll use that for our calculations, but most people can expect to pay less.
Eating out in Korea can be very cheap, especially if you like Korean food (we love it!). Common restaurant meals range between 1,500 won for a roll of kimbab (“Korean sushi”, pictured) and 5,000 for a main dish like bulgogi (seasoned beef) and rice. Cooking at home is even cheaper. Staples like eggs, rice, and certain meats generally cost less than what you would pay back home: for example, eggs are 3,500 (≈$3USD) for a pack of 30 from the supermarket across the street from us. In-season fruits and vegetables can be found at markets (and most likely from the guy with his pickup truck parked on your street) for incredibly low prices. Our grocery bill is usually 50,000 a week combined. Just for the sake of making a generous estimate, we’ll use this as our estimate for a single person.
The only way to really blow your budget on food in Korea is to eat out too often at foreign restaurants. But basically, if keep your Outback Steak House visits to a minimum, your food expenses should be well under 300,000 won per month.
One nice thing about having your housing set up by your employer is that you won’t have to commute to work. Most people, though, will want to travel to different parts of the city a few times a week. A half-hour ride on the Seoul Metro (typical from most parts of the city to downtown) costs 1,000 won (≈90¢USD). Compare that to New York City’s flat rate of $2.25 or Tokyo’s 190 yen (≈$2.25) for the same ride! Taxis start at 2,400 won and are generally about half as expensive as in NYC or Tokyo (rough estimate alert!). Lindsey and I are pretty active–we ride the subway five-or-so times per week (round trip) and take a couple of cabs on the weekend. All of this adds up to roughly 80,000 per month.
Health Insurance and Taxes
These expenses are automatically deducted from your paycheck. Pension payments are deducted, too, but I haven’t included them here because you get them back in full at the end of the year (plus your employer’s matching payments!). During my first year, I paid 30,000 won in taxes and 60,000 won for health insurance each month.
So How Much Can You Expect to Save?
The expenses we’ve added up so far come to 620,000, which subtracted from 2.3 million leaves 1.68 million of discretionary income each month. How much of that you choose to spend on traveling, shopping, going out, etc. is of course up to you, but it is not too difficult to save at least 1 million from each paycheck. Add to that your year-end bonus + pension payout of 3.5 million, and you should be able to save 15.5 million or more by the end of your contract. To see what that means in your home currency today, check out the form below:
Any questions about saving money and/or paying off debt while working in Korea? Post them in the comments below and I’ll be sure to reply.