Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

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Before I came to Korea, I always wondered what the real financial situation would be like.  I heard varying stories, but by and large I always heard that people could live cheaply and save some money.  Now that I'm closing out my first year I can actually speak to what income and expenses for the average ESL teacher will be like.  I also made a 2 part video on my Youtube Channel that also breaks down the basics of what my own personal finances are like.
 

Your Income:

Income as an ESL teacher is pretty straight forward.  It is based on a payscale through EPIK (English Program In Korea), or given Provincial Office of Education.  In my case, it is the Busan Metropolitan City Office of Education (BMCOE) in lieu of EPIK.  I'm not sure why it's dealt with separately, but they are really the same program.  I was trained in the EPIK orientation, but I receive my pay from the BMCOE. 

For the official job description, requirements and pay grades under the BMCOE, please follow the link below and download the MS Word document on the page.  It is the same as EPIK.

2011 BMCOE Job Description and Payscale

You are also eligible to be tax-exempt for the first two years of teaching.  This is a very nice thing!  To qualify for this exemption, you must provide a Residency Verification from the IRS (or similar agency if you're not from the USA).  You need to submit a Form 8802 to request the documentation.

As I mentioned in another post, if you should decide to stay another year, there are financial benefits.  If you stay within the same province, the 1.3 million won exit allowance that you would normally receive to fly home, now becomes a renewal bonus and gets bumped to 2 million won.  You also get an additional two weeks paid leave if you renew your contract.

This is all in addition to the salary severance bonus you receive upon satisfactory completion of your contract.  The bonus is equal to 1 month's salary.

For example, if your salary is 2.1 million won, you receive that as your salary severance bonus as well as the 2 million won renewal bonus.  That's 4.1 million won, which at the time of writing this blog is just under $3,540 USD.  That's a nice "thank you" from Korea for doing a good job and staying to do it again.


Your Expenses:

The old adage "it's not how much you make, it's how much you save" couldn't be exemplified any clearer than with teaching ESL in South Korea.  There is likely someone to speak to every scenario regarding the financial part of life here.  On one hand there are those that spend all their money.  On the other, there are married couples who live together (dual income), some with residual incomes from back home, and some with other income streams while teaching abroad.  They see a lot of money for teaching ESL.  Life is GOOD for them (if they love Korea that is).  Then there is everyone in between. 

I am single with one income stream at the moment.  I may be a good standard for most foreign teachers to consider for their own situation.

Expenses are usually different than back home as you won't need a car and your apartment is provided for free.  Those are the two biggest income drains for anyone, and they are not present while teaching.  That leaves food, utilities, transportation, and "going out" money as your big expenses.  The biggest variable is the "going out" money.

***Food

School lunches are available at your school.  You are required to pay (along with all other teachers at your school) approximately $50-60 per month for lunch each day.  The food is very Korean and some foreigners just can't adjust to it.  They end up bringing their own lunches each day.  At my school, if I brought my own lunch I would still have to pay the monthly lunch fee.

I shop at two main stores for food - Costco and HomePlus.  HomePlus is a Target-like department store chain all over Korea.  I get the smaller things there, and I buy my chicken breast and frozen veggies in bulk at Costco.

Three or four times a month I go storming down to my favorite fried chicken joint, pizza take out, Baskin Robbins or Krispy Kreme (or all of the above) to get my gorge on.  It has to be done, and those types of outings add up in addition to regular food bills.  See my video about my favorite comfort foods here.

Total food bill for me varies slightly month to month, but in general it comes out to about 500,000 won or a bit less than $500.

If you plan to party - I wish you all the best!  Saving is a little more difficult as you spend more nights out on the town.

*** Utilities

Utilities for every teacher is handled differently.  Some have to pay their bills separately.  Some, like myself, pay all utilities in one lump sum to the landlord.  My utility payment breaks down as follows:

 

> Internet/Cable TV - $30
> Gas - $10-15
> Electric - $50 (summer/spring/fall) and $100-150 (winter)
 

*** Transportation

This varies depending on whether or not you need to use public transportation to get to work each day.  In my case, I am within walking distance to my school, so I don't need to consider this.  In any event, to take a bus or subway train will cost you 1,100 won - less than a dollar.  Taxis are very cheap in comparison to a place like NYC or any other large city.  The flat fee for a cab ride is 2,200 won and that will be good for about a 5-10 minute cab ride.  If you start to cover greater distances, the meter kicks in.  It's still very cheap.  To get half way across a city like Busan will run you around $10-15.  I estimate I spend about $30-40 on transportation each month.  I live close to a major shopping district called Nampo-dong and I can either walk there, bus it, or cab it on late nights.  Because I live on an island without subway access, I always need to go to Nampo-dong first to catch a subway.  That trip is the brunt of my travel expenses each month.

Again, every teacher is different and has different personal financial situations and obligations.  I believe you can come to Korean and thoroughly enjoy yourself, all while saving between $800 - 1,000 USD per month.  I think it is a reasonable goal for every new teacher to try and save between $12-15,000 per year from just the income provided by EPIK/Office of Education.

Here is the video I made about the same topic.  I made this in January, about one-third of the way through my first year.


 










the Red Dragon Diaries

ESL, Travel, and Judo!


Anonymous
Re: Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

IF your wanting to come here, also remember the exchange rate varies and right now is TERRIBLE compared to USD. And if you have student loans (You should with a new 4 year degree) paying them at home will remove most of the fun. Overall I lose about 300,000KRW per month transferring home after fees and exchange rate. Keep that is mind too cause it is not always as rosy as i feel this author portraits.

John Venerikson
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Re: Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

In 2003 2million WON worked out to 2300 a month Canadian. Now, your 2.2million people get is worth less than 2000 (American and Canadian).

Also, things were much cheaper years ago. SUbways and buses are still cheap but food prices have gone throught the roof. Basically, almost everything has doubled in cost over the last 8 years.

So while minimum wage in Korea has gone from 2200 to about 5000 during that time-double-teachers wages have actually really fallen behind. The average in 2003 was 2 mil. Now, what is it 2.2mil per month?

If you are here for fun and to travel around Asia, it is never a bad time for those activities, but airline prices have also flown out of control here. With all the taxes the airlines are adding on now, travelling is even getting difficult.

Anyway, these are the real numbers. Up until a few years ago things were great for saving and having fun. Now, you have to try and pick one and do the best you can. Good luck. 

Anonymous
Re: Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

This is only one perspective, based on public school employment.  Nice, but just one guy's take on things.  There's nothing straightforward about working in a public school or hagwon that doesn't follow rules and laws and contracts.  One can be promised many things in writing that don't materialize.  The safest system is the public one with respect to pay, because there is reliable oversight much (not all) of the time.  It is just really important to note that this guy's experience is one among many, as is his opinion.  There are schools, both public and private, that are great and reliable and pay what you are promised.  There are also schools - and LOTS of them in Busan - that make promises they don't keep, have no idea what they are doing, or know full well what they are doing and employ every tactic and loophole to rip teachers off (foreign and Korean).  CRAPSHOOT ........  and JVE is so correct in stating that wages have stagnated or gone down, prices have gone up ridiculously,  and teaching hours have gotten longer.  One man's treasure is another man's trash.

Anonymous
Re: Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

Trash :) and for people htat say its so cheap here they really must come from some terrible places to live. Withthe exception of cab fare, everything is at least double from where i lived int he states.

crudler
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Re: Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

"Withthe exception of cab fare, everything is at least double from where i lived int he states."

While it's certainly true that a lot of expenses have risen significantly over the past several years, most of the basic expenses here are still comparable to or less than what I was paying in the States (in a city of about half a million people).

Electricity, water, and heating are similar to what I paid in the States; phone and internet are considerably cheaper here.  In the past eight years, food costs have gone up about 50% for the lower-end restaurants and about 30% for slightly nicer places.  Even so, it's not hard to have a big, filling, relatively-healthy Korean meal for about $5.  Filling up on samgyeopsal and beer can still be done for less than $15 per person.  There are plenty of places to fill up on Western food for about $10 per meal.  When I last lived in America, there was no way to dine out that cheaply, and prices in America have also go up a lot in the past eight years.

I don't claim that Korea is a cheap place to live, but it's not difficult to save a significant portion of your salary and still have a comfortable, fun lifestyle.

Anonymous
Re: Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

I think that as long as white people are willing to come here to have a year of alcoholic bliss and abstain from becoming an adult at home; there will never be a reasonable pay increase. What they need to do if really look at the cost, not only of rent, utils and that. But of exchange rate, transfer fees, heavy bar tabs (for the children that get drunk nightly) and the rest of the fees as well. I think for more people that not, this has become a "Neverland" where as long as your here you dont have to grow up. Just go talk for a few hours and nurse a hangover.

tgates209
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Re: Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

Thanks crudler.  I find that I'm really able to save as well because I don't have a car.  That is such a huge expense with payments, gas, insurance and repairs.  

You won't get rich teaching in Korea most likely, but like you said it's not difficult to save here.

Btw - do you know of any "real" burger places in Busan??  lol.  That would end the year with an exclamation point!

John Venerikson
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Re: Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

I think if you are saving you are not really going out or living well. I think you also must be working part time jobs on the side. My post is about those who come over and think working a ft hagwon job at 2.2mil a monthj-which is the norm-is going to be enough for them. With inflation and the exchange rate-I dont think so. Hardly what it used to be.

teachkorea21
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Joined: 05/24/2010
Re: Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

Nights out(each): 40-50 considdering dinner, drinks and taxi home.

monthly bills(phone, internet, ect.): 120-200

Monthly rent: 0

Monthly food expense: 200-400

People who budget should be able to live well and save around U.S. $500 per month.

I have a family, If I listed my expenses here you would cry... 2 mil a month is a joke for most of us who have have been here since 2002, but I agree, as long as this is neverland for drunk 22 year-old frat boys and girls wages will not go up.

tgates209
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Re: Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

My plan was to give some details about what the average teacher could expect if they come here.  I go out with friends for lunches and dinners on weekends every weekend.  I also practice judo which is another $80 per month. 

The biggest expense for someone here if they are single with no children will likely be drinking/partying money.  Back years ago in the States I also spent a lot of unnecessary money on going out.  No more.  So I do enjoy the savings from not going out drinking.

Every case will vary, but there's no reason why you can't save at least $12,000 during a contract.  That includes the bonus, the pension money and left over (if applicable) from the exit allowance.  These are very reasonable numbers you'll find.

Anonymous
Re: Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

It seems like people are finding your math to be suspect Tgates209. And again, people that have student loans (as many do) may actuallylose money here based on exchange rate and transfers home.

crudler
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Re: Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

do you know of any "real" burger places in Busan?

In Kyunsungdae, Aussie Burger has pretty good burgers, and HQ bar has the Big Greasy burger (lots of meat and cheese, nothing green on it).

crudler
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Re: Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

I think if you are saving you are not really going out or living well. I think you also must be working part time jobs on the side.

I don't have a significant part-time income, but my salary is slightly higher than a typical hagwon job.  I do live in a nice, 25-pyung apartment (-not- provided by my employer), I take month-long trips overseas two or three times a year, and I go out two to four times a week (though I usually don't drink heavily when I go out because I don't like getting drunk that often).  I consider that living well. I still manage to save about 9 million won per year. It's not that difficult.

tgates209
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Re: Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

HQ bar has the Big Greasy burger

Just the name says all I need to know.  Thanks!

John Venerikson
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Re: Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

Saving 12g a year is what I was told back on 2003. Then the exchange was favorable for us and the costs of produce and basic foods were not atronomical. Can you save 12g a year? Sure you can. But like i said, you cant travel and live well. You will be someone who stays home a great deal or goes out and does not spend any money. We know the type. You go out for dinner but then say you already ate so you wont pitch in for the meal but then still snack a little on the side dishes. 12g in 2003 was doable for sure. Now, I think not.

Again, like I said, if you are doing pt work on the side okay but saving 12g (over 13mil WON) a year on 2.2mil WON, I dont think so. Things here are just too expensive now and the exchange rate is terrible. I think you can live well, but not if you want to save. And again, living well is relative. I dont think going for greasy pork meals and drinking cheap-ass soju is living well.

But teaching in Korea provides you with an okay life. I have nothing bad t osay about teaching and living here. I just dont think saving 12g a year and living well while here is realistic. Before yes, but now you kind of have to chose between being frugal or having fun.

As for Crudler, who claims to take 3 long vacations a year and so on, but then says he makes more than most, then how is that relatable to others who are making 2.2mil? You quote me like I am wrong, but then say you make more than others. Very odd???

crudler
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Re: Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

As for Crudler, who claims to take 3 long vacations a year and so on, but then says he makes more than most, then how is that relatable to others who are making 2.2mil? You quote me like I am wrong, but then say you make more than others. Very odd???

 

I said I make slightly more than most typical hagwon jobs pay.  On the other hand, my apartment costs twice as much each month as I get for a housing allowance.  Subtracting my housing cost from my monthly earnings, I take home a bit less than most people (who are provided housing) make at hagwons. [I consider this a reasonable tradeoff--I enjoy my nice apartment.]

What's up with "who claims to" remark?  My experience with saving money in Korea is different than yours.  I know some people who don't save anything, but I know a lot of other people who also save a decent amount of money while enjoying a fun lifestyle. Maybe you can't enjoy life here without spending everything you make, but there are plenty of people who can.

John Venerikson
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Re: Income and Expenses of an ESL Teacher in South Korea

Korea is different for all. Some save, some spend. I am not sure where things went off beam here but I just stated I dont think it is reasonable to say you can save 12g a year working ft at a hagwon. Can you, yes. I said that. But you wont live well. If you disagree with this that is fine but I dont see many people who come over here for the first time saving that kind of money anymore. Maybe the 2nd or 3rd year after they have decided to stop partying, make their money and run, but not the first year. With the poor exchange rate and inflation (and without working pt jobs on the side), I just think 12g is unreasonable. In 2003, yes, but now no.

As for my saving money, I will just say this, I am doing just fine. Personally, my wife would divorce me if we saved only 9mil a year but being single as I assume you are, I think that is great. I did not save that much when I first came over and was single. I was the guy who spent. Anyway, I dont know you-or at least I do not know any Crudlers, so I will just wish you the best. Cheers!

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