As a career international teacher, I have had to learn the hard way about international school finances and savings. As an established teaching nomad, I have made the conscious choice of forgoing my national teachers’ pension and accepting the reality that when retirement comes, I will be fully responsible.
Having worked in 4 schools, on 4 different continents, I have learned that work contracts never tell you enough about the real cost of living. Many international teachers find it hard to save money, as the cost of an expat-lifestyle can be more costly than our home country.
It is possible to save ANYWHERE, but it does require a plan and some helpful hints from teachers that have worked in the international teaching circuit for a number of years.
Helpful Hint #1: Save 70% of your Salary (Anywhere)!!!!
In every country, I have always saved at least 70% of my salary.
For countries around the Indian subcontinent of South Asia, that is very easy because of an exceptionally low cost of living. I managed to save 97% of my salary simply by eating locally, avoiding restaurants that never agreed with my gastrointestinal tract, and only succumbing to the $9 bag of Doritos on super special occasions.
While working in China, the online food applications were a lifesaver, as the food was at your door faster than you could walk to the grocery store. A little help from locals with a basic understanding of Chinese was needed, but after the learning curve was mastered, the savings were exponential.
Many of my colleagues would shop exclusively at the expat grocery store and spend more on one meal than I would for an entire week. The high cost of expat food is justified in the name of organic, natural, GMO-free food, that was grown with the same soil and water as everything else. Yes, you can buy the $5 green pepper if it makes you feel better and safer, but that security is mostly an illusion. In China, you can easily spend half your salary on food and daily living. Starbucks can be delivered to your school, but the local apps are just as good and less than half the price.
Anywhere you live, saving 70% of your salary is not only possible but easy to achieve.
Stay tuned next month for Part 2 on Save $$$ ANYWHERE!
This article was submitted by an ISC member and veteran international school teacher. If you are interested in being a guest author on our blog, please contact us here.
My name is Sorcha Coyle and I’ve been teaching in the Gulf (Qatar and Dubai) for the last 8 years. I have always taught local students and I love the unique cultural insight that this has given me. Outside work, I love travelling (not at the moment, of course! #flattenthecurve) and the sunny expat lifestyle! In my time abroad, I have been fortunate enough to save six figures, which I have used to purchase 2 properties (a 4-bedroomed house in my home country and a 3-bed apartment in Spain), start a profitable investment portfolio, complete my Masters, set up a side business, and travel the world. Today I will talk about my “why” and how it pushes me to save more and more each year. Then I will share my “how” with you, so you can boost your savings too!
9 years ago, when I lived in the UK, I was working at a lovely school but because of my long hours and low pay, I was incredibly stressed and overwhelmed. I was spending well over 50% of my salary on rent (in a shared apartment) and after council tax and bills; I was barely breaking even each month. Meanwhile back in my home country of Ireland, we were facing our worst economic crash. In 2008, the construction industry collapsed. Businesses went bankrupt. Property values plummeted. Almost overnight, hundreds of thousands of citizens lost their jobs. Honest hardworking people couldn’t repay their mortgages. Many lost their homes. From that moment on, I swore to myself that I would be financially empowered. I wanted to have peace of mind no matter the state of the economy. Soon I realised that I had to take a drastic step to fulfill this goal, so after much research, I moved to the Gulf region in 2011. As an expat there, I have job security, a great salary, zero rent, and zero tax- what is not to love about it?
It is true that the expat life has so many wonderful aspects- the high salary, the job security, the sun, and the standard of living. However, it has one downside- it is unpredictable. We might plan to teach here forever with its tax-free salary and perks, but life here can change in the blink of an eye. We might lose our job (sadly more common since COVID reared its ugly head), do something silly and get deported, or we may have to go home for family reasons. Whatever the reason, we want to have something to show for all our hard work.
Moreover, many of us are no longer paying into our private teaching pension at home, which means we must have alternative methods to fund a comfortable retirement that will allow us to lead the kind of life we have now. Speaking of pensions, right now we have longer to work before retirement (until 68 instead of 65) to qualify for the state pension. Unfortunately, by the time we get closer to retirement, the state pension age may even have been pushed up to 74 years.
From the day I began teaching abroad, I realised the incredible saving potential that this situation gave me and made a decision there and then to maximise it to its fullest.
Regardless of where we work, us single teachers have a great opportunity to save tonnes and set ourselves up for life, financially.
How much you save all depends on 2 factors:
1) How much you want and plan to save
2) Your desire to do extra to save as much as you can
Let me go into more detail…
1) How much you want and plan to save
Saving does not happen by chance; you must absolutely plan for it. You need to set a financial goal, make a budget, and then work hard to stick to it to achieve it. I highly recommend setting SMART financial goals. This means that your goals are:
From Day 1 in Qatar, I told myself I’d save €100,000 before I turned 30. I don’t even know where I plucked that number from- it just seemed like a nice round number! By having this SMART financial goal, I was focused and knew that I had to save a certain amount each month. It also continuously motivated me as I would have a competition with myself and try to beat my previous month’s savings! I was 25 when I moved to Doha and I managed to smash that goal when I left 4 years later at the grand old age of 29. However, I didn’t reach my savings goal just from sticking to a budget and saving as much of my teaching salary as possible. I knew that if I wanted to accelerate my ability to save, I would have to increase my (streams of) income! Read more below….
2) Your desire to do extra to save as much as you can
In addition to saving as much of my teaching salary as possible, I do a few more things too…
All those actions above have helped me reach my target of saving six figures in 8 years, so these small “sacrifices” are 100% worth it! What can you do this year to boost your savings?
As well as teaching full-time, I am also the founder of Empowering Expat Teachers and my mission is to empower future and current expat teachers to lead personally, professionally, and financially rewarding lives! Follow me on Facebook, IG, and my blog for lots of helpful tips and advice to help you become an empowered expat teacher too! I have recently set up the Financially Empowered Expat IG that focuses exclusively on saving more, earning more, and retiring with more and you can find me @thefinanciallyempoweredexpat on IG!continue reading
A lot of us have the idea that working at international school is a way to work and then save way more money than we used to working in our home countries.
Is that reality or fantasy?
We have seen and read many discussion boards, Facebook groups, review websites, published books all discussing this topic, and the reality of this savings potential gets confusing and complicating to fully understand or predict.
There are some people that state they are saving upwards of USD 60000 a year at certain international schools. Many other people are stating that they are struggling to save USD 1000 or even USD 500 a month working at their international school. Even others state that they are saving USD 0!
Of course there are many factors at play. Veteran international school teachers will state that if you limit the number of times you go out to eat, travel during your many vacations, ect. then the possibility of saving money is higher. That is obvious, but a large number of us aren’t always willing to do that, at least not in the first few years of teaching abroad.
Another main factor for savings potential is the amount of money you are getting in your take-home salary versus the cost of living where you are stationed. Seems like fewer and fewer schools are getting that “amazing salary and benefits package” that we all hear about, and landing a job at one of those schools is getting increasingly difficult.
There are also many, many other ways to NOT save money while working abroad; many of these factors having nothing directly to do with the school’s salary and benefits package. We have a whole ISC blog series about that here.
But if one of the main goals of teaching abroad is saving some money, then we need something to help us figure out how it all works and how we can set up an opportunity that will help us actually save.
ISC has done their best to create an online community that can help us figure things out easier with regards to saving money while teaching abroad. Besides the comments that members submit about the savings potential on the school profile pages at their international schools, premium members are also able to compare these comments on savings potential using our unique Compare Schools page on our website. The Compare Schools page is really helping prospective teachers figure out exactly how much teachers are saving at those international schools and which school that they would prefer working at in the future.
Luckily, International School Community has a comment topic on our school profile pages related to this topic of saving money while work at international schools. Our members can share what their experience has been working at various international schools around the world. There are a total of 630 comments (July 2019) that have been submitted by our veteran international school teachers in one of the 66 comment topics called – “Average amount of money that is left to be saved.”
Here are a few of those submitted comments:
“The ability to save changes each day, and has dropped by 1/2 this year. With the current inflation rate, I hope to save about $10,000 this coming year…” –
Escuela Bella Vista Maracaibo (Maracaibo, Venezuela) – 25 Total Comments
“I would be surprised if you can save any money here. But on the other hand – you get to live on the one of the most beautiful islands in the world…” – Boracay European International School (Boracay, Philippines) – 17 Comments
“If staff leads a very humble lifestyle it is possible to save your dollars (approximately 23% of salary). The city provides so much to do, and there are so many travel opportunities and so much time given off that many teachers actually struggle to save any money at all…” – Columbus School Medellin (Medellin, Colombia) – 53 Total Comments
“While the money affords a very nice lifestyle in South-East Asia, saving money for a house or retirement in North America or Western Europe is nearly impossible…” – ELC International School (Selangor, Malaysia) – 48 Comments
“The package is based on the Canadian Dollar, so after you are deducted transfer fees to your bank in the West and you consider the conversion of the CAD to RMB, the savings is minimal…” – Canadian International School Kunshan (Kunshan, China) – 43 Commentscontinue reading
Occupation: Education Technology Coordinator
Industry: International Education
Location: Seoul, South Korea
Salary: $40,000 USD (not including severance)
Paycheck Amount (Monthly): $3,330 (pre tax and retirement)
Each day starts with the regular breakfast. A Vitamin C drink ($0.50 each (multipack)), a plain greek yoghurt (about $1 per yoghurt) and a protein bar ($2 each) . Ever since January I have been walking to work. Regardless the school has a free shuttle bus for staff, transportation in general doesn’t cost me much throughout the week as I prefer to walk everywhere (gotta get those 10,000 steps per day). Lunch at school is also free and there are two options. After school it is raining and I need to get home quick, so I get a local taxi. The ten minute ride cost $3.50. At home I relax with my family (wife and baby), watch Netflix ($10 per month) and eat a home cooked meal of Pork Stew.
The usual breakfast and then I walk to work again and have the free school lunch. I have a working meeting with a colleague and we decide to go to a local coffee shop. Coffee and a Bagel as a snack runs up to $7.50. I walk home, but on the way stop to get an artisan donut for my wife and I. Each one costs ($3) but they are so worth it. My wife is out with her friends for a meal and I have my son to myself. I order from Seouls Shuttle Delivery service, an app which delivers (for a small fee) food from most of the popular restaurants in the expat district of Yongsan-gu. A Moroccan Chicken sandwich costs $6 and $3 for delivery. My wifes meal at a fancy Italian restaurant with drinks costs $20.
I wake up early to go work out. The walk to work is a good 20-30 minutes mostly up hill and is a good warm up. Luckily the school weight room is free to staff as is the gym where twice weekly basketball games are played between staff, some parents and occasionally the odd HS student or two. Free lunch at school. Walk home back to a home cooked meal.
Thursday is our end of year party. I walk to work and then get ready for a big lunch. We head to a Brazilian churrasqueria (an all you can eat restaurant which has different cuts of a variety of meats, served via huge skewers. This is $35 per person and one of the more pricey options around, but luckily it is being paid for by the school. At home I don’t eat much and a fresh fruit smoothie is enough to fill me up.
Last day of work for the school year. The habit of walking to work has not changed and neither has the free lunch. I get a taxi home again (I had a lot of things to take home from school) which is a bit more expensive this time as we went the long way ($4). At home we decided to order pizza from the cheapest pizza restaurant around $12 + $3 delivery for two medium sized pizzas, its a bargain but definitely not the best pizza you can buy.
Our last full day in Seoul before the summer holidays. We have lunch at home again then we head to a new artisan ice cream shop. We walk the 30 minutes there, choose a Saturday Morning Cartoons Ice Cream (Breakfast Cereal (Fruity pebbles) flavour) and a Mixed Cookie. The two Scoops come to $5. I had previously ordered some frozen pies from an expat chef and heated that up for dinner, each one costs $10 but they are so worth it. My wife had a home made salad, with boxed mac and cheese.
We wake up early to make sure everything is ready for the summer. I have the usual breakfast then we head to the airport. We usually get the subway which costs $5 per person. But as we have our baby boy (6 months old, so first flight) we are getting a taxi, this costs $55 flat fee for an International Taxi, but we think it is worth it to not have the stress of getting on and off subways with a baby and multiple suitcases. We eat at the airport. Coffee and sandwiches for my wife and I comes to $16, then we head off on the flight to the USA.
All for 3 people (my wife and I and our baby boy)
$100/month baby items (diapers/clothes)
$10/month drinking water (comes in 10l jugs)
$100/month for bills (electricity, gas, water)
$30/month apartment maintenance fee
$300/month restaurants and meals out (including coffee)
$40/month Transportation (Taxis and Subway)
$250/month retirement fund
Savings potential on my (mid range for Seoul) salary, and lifestyle is about $1400 a month, this in the last 6 months has been reduced as my wife stopped working after the arrival of our first born (together with no baby we were saving around $3000 a month). The above $250 a month for retirement is matched by my employer
This article was submitted by an ISC member. Why not submit your Money Diary article for your area of the world and earn free premium membership to the ISC website? Contact us here if you are interested.continue reading
Our blog gets hundreds of views every day. One time we had over 2200 views in one day!
ISC writes and publishes many of the articles on our blog, but we also have a growing number of member-submitted articles. These articles are submitted by people new to international teaching, seasoned international school educators, and those people that have retired from international education. Member-submitted articles come from parents, authors, directors, teachers, students, companies, etc.
Since 2011, the ISC blog has been viewed over 250,000 times! But which blog articles were the ones that our readers wanted to check out and read the most? We’ll start with #10 and move down to the most popular article on our blog.
“So interesting, our top 40 school profiles with the most views page. It’s like, which school is the most popular amongst our 13K+ members? Before reading below or checking out the page, which schools do you think show up on this list? Are the ones at the top those “Tier one” international schools that we all hear about? You might be surprised which schools are really on this list then…”
“Not all teachers decide to move abroad because they have a sense for adventure. It is because they need to save some money to pay off their debts; which we all know is something hard to accomplish as a teacher back in your home country…”
“One of the best things about being an international school teacher is that we have the ability to travel, sometimes much more than if we were teaching in our home country. *Some items in this list are meant to be “tongue-in-cheek” and making fun of our “first world people problems” that we sometimes experience while traveling around the world. Of course we love this ability to travel and appreciate every minute of it…”
“The full salary is paid in RMB. The school adds an extra 500 RMB towards utility bills. The yearly pay is divided into 12 months. For newcomers, their first pay is in September 20th, although school starts early August. This is clearly stated in the contract but those new teachers coming in need to be aware of this that they won’t see money until September…”
“In 2012 the school implemented the Literacy by Design program for K3 – Grade 4, and the IB Diploma Programme in 2013. It also began scheduling more consistent weekly professional development meetings in 2013, including WASC focus and home group sessions, and grade-level meetings. As of 2012, it joined EARCOS and now regularly sends its staff to the annual conferences…”
“Yes, it is November and many international school teachers are already thinking about the next school year (18-19). Actually, many of these teachers started recruiting back in September or August! It is necessary to recruit this early because international schools seem to be hiring earlier and earlier every year. Additionally, the international school recruitment fairs are also requiring candidates to have already applied to attend their fairs by now; by November you are most likely too late to apply to attend one (especially the ones in Bangkok)…”
“The school’s workload is average. We certainly hear of neighboring (similar caliber) schools who expect a lot more out of their teaching staff. In addition to a normal teaching day, teachers also are expected to lead 2 after school activities (running 10 weeks long each) per year. Coaching satisfies this requirement. This is standard for international schools in Malaysia, as the government requires schools to offer ASAs. Some teachers work…”
“The 2 campuses are in the west side and east side of the city. The west side, Lakeside, is on the MRT line that will go into the city centre. The east coast campus, Tanjong Katong, you need to take a bus to the MRT which will then go into the city. The bus will also take you into downtown within about half an hour to 40 mins depending on where you live. Most…”
“Many international school teachers don’t think enough about retirement. And that’s understandable. The whole concept can seem confusing. Andrew Hallam, however, says it isn’t. He says that those who fail to plan are planning to fail. That could mean eating dog food instead of gourmet, during your golden years…”
“A seasoned international school teacher (SIST) has worked at 3+ international schools in more than three parts of the world (or more). They know the ins and outs of international schools. They now have many old friends (from international schools that they’ve worked at) that have since moved on and now live in all parts of the world. Many teachers say that they originally meant to be abroad for only 2-3 years, but once you get into the international school community, it is easy to get hooked…”
Keep checking out our blog every week. We typically post a new article every 3-6 days. If you are interested in submitting an article to our blog as a guest author, email us at editor @ internationalschoolcommunity.com . All guest authors receive between 6-12 months of free premium membership to our website!continue reading