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How much can I save teaching English in Korea?

By TDD - Posted on 26 December 2006

I am thinking about teaching English in Korea or Japan. I have heard that you cannot save money in Japan and that it is easy to save money teaching English in Korea.

So, how much money can you save teaching in Korea? Some exact numbers of what people teaching in Korea are saving per month would be helpful.


Ogedei's picture

I go by the motto of "Live simply, live cheaply."

My salary is 2,000,000 won a month, which is over $2000 US (probably more now that the US currency is on the decline). Extra classes would fetch me an extra 300k won per month, but I don't have extra classes yet due to lack of demand here (small-town middle school boys don't like extra study ;) ). I spend around 30k for utilities (this includes water, gas, and electricity) and 34,700 won for high-speed internet and the rent for the modem. Electricity is remarkably cheap here. Food costs me at most 250k won per month (since I almost always cook and hardly ever eat out; if you eat out, it can be as cheap as 3-4k won per person) or sometimes as low as 150k won per month. I spend 70k won for Taekwondo lessons a month. So my total per month is usually around 300-400k won per month. What is not included is housing; this was included in my contract. Bus and taxi fares are pretty inexpensive. It's only 4,800 won to go to Jinju from Namhae-eup, which is a 1 and a half hour bus ride. It's 20k won to go to Seoul, which is a 6 hour bus ride. Goods can be pretty inexpensive here as well; there's a shop near my apartment that sells clothes of all sorts for only 5k won (around $5).

Basically, at the end of my contract, I will still have around 20,000,000 won left over. I don't need to pay taxes because of the tax treaty between the US and South Korea.

lizm's picture


i make 1.9 million won per month. after deductions - tax, pension, health insurance - i take home around 1.7 M (i still think they're screwing me there somehow...). the first thing i do every month when i get paid is send home 1 million. it usually turns out to be just over $1200 Canadian.

my apartment costs me 17,000W, internet is 34,000W, electricity 7-8,000W, my gas bill killed me last month but averages to about 50,000W in winter and WAY less other times of the year (i like a toasty apartment)... i think it would be less than half of that without the heat. i also put about 25,000W a month on my bus card, but sometimes less depending on how much is left from the month before. so my actual expenses without food come to around 130,000 for the month.

i have a pretty active social life. i like to go out with my friends... so that's where i spend a lot (mostly the rest) of my money every month... taxis, bars, restaurants, and cigs(which are cheap anyway, but still an expense). i do cook at home most days during the week, but i tend to splurge on foreign stuff like spaghetti sauce, nachos, salsa, and cheese... food isn't as cheap as you think it would be. sometimes it seems like it would almost be cheaper to eat out all the time. you can get a really decent korean meal for around 4-5,000W, which usually turns out cheaper and faster than cooking yourself. this of course, depends on where you live.

really, if you want to save money, you can. O and i have very different lifestyles and live in very different places, so our expenses are very different... hope you just got the best of both with his post and mine... point is, it's up to you how much of that pay check you send home at the end of the month.

lizm :)

I's picture

I came here in September, 2006. I live in Jeju, which is an island off the southern coast of the Korean Peninsula.

You can easily live off of 500,000 won per month, even with going out on the weekend. Add 30,000 - 80,000 won/month for heat and electricity; getting an electric heater or even two would bring your heating costs below 30,000/month in the winter. Then, add 100,000 won for miscellaneous expenses like books, clothes, picking up a tab, etc.

Round it up to 700,000 won/month or 800,000 if you go out for drinks several times a week and you can live very comfortably. Salaries on the EPIK program start at 1.9 million won/month and go up to 2.8 million depending on your educational background, teaching experience, and how long you have been teaching in Jeju on the EPIK Program.

Take out taxes, pension, and health insurance and you sill have about 1 million won left over at the end of the month for people with the starting salary. Multiply that by 12 months and you have 12 million won. Then, figure you will do some traveling both inside Korea and abroad and take out another 2-3 million for the year.

This leaves you with a minimum of 9 million won in the bank when your year is up. But, you get another two months salary (3.5 million won), one month's severance pay plus another month for pension refund.

So, someone who lives it up in Jeju, travels around Korea several times and abroad once or twice, goes out to eat several times a week, goes out for drinks on the weekend, and makes little effort to save, they will have the following left over depending on their salary:

  • Level 3 - 1.9 million/month: 12.5 million won (US$ 13,000)
  • Level 2 - 2.1 million/month: 15.3 million won (US$ 16,000)
  • Level 1 - 2.4 million/month: 17.5 million won (US$ 18,000+)
  • Level 1+ - 2.6 million/month: 20.3 million won (US$ 21,000+)
  • Level 1+ w/special allowance - 2.8 million/month: 23.1 million won ($US 24,000)


This is a VERY reasonable average for someone who is interested in doing lots of things while in Korea and doesn't make much effort to save money. If you want to go out partying 5 times a week and not cook any meals at home, knock of a extra grand or two and vice versa.

leelalka's picture

You came in September 2006, :) 

Lee Lalka



website: Specifically orientated to my students and teachers in Uljin and Jukbyeon. Hopefully useful to all.

I's picture

Thanks for the correction.

What have your expenses looked like so far? 

prey4wind's picture

I recently compared our salaries and the cost of living in Korea versus that of the United States, which made me realize how well foreign teachers are paid. The EPIK base salary, 1.8 million won currently translates to $1914 us dollars a month, or just under $23,000 (Excluding severance pay, the pension refund, and the settlement allowance). Every month, teachers typically receive 93% of that salary, the other 7% goes into health care, the pension, and taxes. So first, all the benefits from EPIK to figure out the net income:

Base net salary (93% of $23000) $21360

Severance pay $1780

Pension refund (end of contract) $960

Total net income: $24100

However, this figure does not take into account the value of our provided housing. Add the value of the housing, 0.3M a month, for twelve months, which comes out to $3800 for a year, and the net income jumps up to $27,900.

That figure still isn’t accurate, because it hasn’t been compared to the cost of housing in the United States. Tell me if I’m wrong, but most people in the United States would probably have difficulty finding a furnished studio apartment for $318 a month. In the northern part of San Diego County, studio apartments under $800 are almost impossible to find, but I won’t use the price of a studio apartment for comparison. Most people my age on their own, who don't have half a million dollars to throw down on a house, share a two or three bedroom apartment, where monthly rent is typically $600 per person, or $7200 for the year. So, on top of the $3800 value of the provided housing, you have to add another $3400 ($7200-$3800) to the annual income above to get an apparent net income of $32,300.

Another thing that saves you in Korea is that, in most cases, you don’t need a car. I live in a rural area about 20 minutes outside Jeju city and it is still very possible to get by without a car. Back home, having the cheapest, oldest (and ugliest) car, the cheapest insurance, doing car repairs myself, living close to work, and having a car that gets excellent mileage, transportation costs me about $2400 a year. Here in Jeju, between buses and taxis, I pay on average about $60 a month, or roughly $700 a year. So, that’s an extra $1700 a year I don’t have to spend on transport. Where I’m from, I need a car, as do so most Americans. Anyone living in a big American city without the need of a car would probably pay additional costs of living elsewhere that would offset this figure.

I didn’t add the airfare reimbursement, as it wouldn’t be an applied expense while working at home.

So the final figure I come up for the annual net income, taking into account the difference in the cost of living between Korea and the USA, at the EPIK base salary, is $34,000. In other words, to save the same amount of money as we do in Korea, in the USA you would need to take home $34,000 after taxes, unless you live with parents. I’m guessing that a net income of $34,000 would be yielded from a gross income around $45,000-$50,000, depending on tax deductions. Does this sound like a reasonable estimate?

I's picture

This is a good comparison.

Another thing to think about is that the cost of living in Korea is significantly less than in the US, both in countryside-countryside and city-city comparisons. Although Seoul is the most expensive place in Korea, the average price of things is nothing compared to New York, LA, or other big cities in the States.

In other words, South Korea is a good place to come for making money. Whether you enjoy your time here or your job is another issue...

Jeju youth hostels

leelalka's picture

Well, income-wise, I get about 1,868,000 Won per month, net. Some months are more. I am fortunate because I get paid extra for some extra classes. 

 My Internet is expensive here in Uljin (Gyeongsangbuk-do), close to 60,000/month, but that is because I chose to have the fastest speed. Electric (including tv, and some other thing, can't recall now off-hand) runs between 10,000 to 80,000, depending on what I am using during the month. Oil is for heat and hot water, and that is dependent on how cold it is out, but maybe another 85,000 won a month avg in the fall-winter-early spring.  Water is 10,000. There probably is a LPG expense for cooking, but as of yet I haven't had to buy that. That is pretty much it for household expenses.

I don't like cooking much anymore, so during school I eat lunch at school, and that is my main meal of the day. At night I eat simply, either a sandwich, ramyeon, eggs, or fast food, or the like. Thus, I might spend a total of 100,000 a month on food and going out. It could be more, but not much more.

I have had to buy a few clothes here, such as some socks, and a winter coat. Oh, and new shoes. And some exercise clothes that I still haven't used yet, :) so, I came in August, and it has been about 5 months now, and I have spent 250,000 on clothes. Comes to around 50,000 a month.

The largest expense here so far for me has been buying a cell phone, which costs about 300,000, a real shock if you are from the States and are used to having phones free or a minimal price if you get a plan. Pro-rated, with 20,000 a month added each month to the phone, comes out to be 45,000 a month.

I guess I blow about 100,000 on just other stuff like buying kids meals at Lotteria, or, ice cream. I buy coffee packets for the teachers' room usually twice a month.

I buy things now on the Internet, so that ranges too, but I would say easily another 100,000 for everything (Itunes, books, Skype, etc.)

So, let's see:

Internet                            60,000 

Electric                             80,000 

Oil                                     85,000 

Water                                10,000 

eating out                       100,000 

Clothing                            50,000 

Cell phone                        45,000 

Stupid spending              100,000 

Internet spending           100,000 

Total Spending/mo.         630,000 

Net income/month        1,868,000 

Total spending/month      630,000

Remaining                      1,238,000 

However, care must be taken about my expenses. I don't drink often and rarely go out. I guess even if I do, I rarely end up paying, though I have on occasion. I am 54 years old this year, according to Korean counting, so I don't go clubbing or party or things like that on a regular basis.

Also, for me I will not be receiving the pension money in one lump sum, as I plan on spending the remainder of my life here in Korea. So, I actually will get the pension later, hehe, maybe when I feel like retiring, like 70 or so. :)

I wish all a Happy New Year, and hope for better times ahead for all.

Lee Lalka



website: Specifically orientated to my students and teachers in Uljin and Jukbyeon. Hopefully useful to all.

Pakigirl's picture

Im a Pakistani who lives in the UAE. Im going to do a MAsters in TESOL from a UK university here. So i was thinking, can i move to Korea and teach English there. As a non-native speaker, how much salary can i get? Are there tourist attractive in Korea and shopping malls and everything?

bill's picture

In all fairness, we should add that living and working in America is a little like going to a favorite bar or restaurant; you are paying for the environment. And, although your estimates are pretty much on the mark, we must remember that part of the American pay goes to Social Security Benefits which in the long run far outstrips anything Korea has to offer. In addition, as a full-time teacher in America, you have recourse when disputes arise. I assure you, too, that with a gross income of 45-50,000 dollars that my credit rating jumps up. Also, do not assume that one can not live frugally in America. One does not have to be a miser to be astute. Lastly, I personally say that if the only reason one arrives in Korea is to make and save money, then that person would fare much better in one of the safer Middle East countries. And, by the way, Korea should actually pay more for us to put up with their classroom culture. This is all opinion, mind you, but as a last thought, who wants severance, we want renewal. I welcome your rejoinders. 

Ogedei's picture

It all depends on where you live in the United States. If you live in Los Angeles area where I lived, prices for basic utilities are ridiculous. We have some of the highest average costs of living in the United States. Our electrical power is mostly supplied by oil and you should already know the problems surrounding that. What clinics and hospitals in Southern California charge you is simply highway robbery. Health insurance only reduces the costs slightly. If it isn't the health costs, then it'd be the housing costs that'll really kill your savings. This is not to say that you can't save while living in SoCal (you can save a lot just shopping in Chinatown); it's just takes a lot more effort and you'd have to sacrifice a lot of simple luxuries.

If you choose to teach in Los Angeles area, you'd likely end up needing therapy, aspirin, or a bulletproof vest - or maybe all three at the same time. SoCal students aren't exactly the nicest bunch, schools are typically underfunded, and district administrations (and the bloody "Governator" himself) tend to give teachers a hard time.

I very much prefer the classroom culture in Korea; there is much more respect for the teacher and students are more inclined to respect each other (at least, that is the way it is in Namhae). As for recourse for disputes, it again depends on where you are and what type of institution you work for. Some schools in Korea treat their foreign teachers very well. Another consideration is your own ability to adapt to new surroundings.

All that being said, I'd suggest to anyone wanting to work abroad to think out their options and take note of factors and difficulties that may arise beforehand. Always think about WHY you want to teach abroad. If your reasons are mostly financial, then you'd likely find other (and possibly even better) options as Bill mentioned. ALWAYS think long and hard about what you will get yourself into.

AND- If you do want to stay and teach in the US and maintain your health and sanity without bankrupting yourself, steer clear of Los Angeles area. It's the most overrated place on the face of the planet.

By the way, I think a better analogy would have been a coffee shop (*coughStarbuckscough*); most people just pay for the ambience despite the absurd pricing of the coffee. My favorite restaurant doesn't really have a great environment; it's practically a dump - it's crowded, it's dirty, and it's noisy. I just go there for the great rice noodles.

prey4wind's picture

I'm curious as to how many teachers teaching in the USA, or Los Angeles better yet, would agree that living and working in America is like going to a favorite bar or restaurant. I'm sure many would agree more with the following, "working in the USA is like going to a favorite bar or restaurant...until you get the bill."

While we're on the subject of dining, I realize I neglected to include food costs in my original comparison. Does anyone remember how much it costs to get a decent meal stateside? Korean restaurants can serve a reasonable meal starting at around $4.00 to $4.50. Some of my favorite Korean dishes just happen to be 칼국수 and 돌솥비빔밥, and cost less than six inch sub. 김밥 is even cheaper. I know you can probably beat that price at the Golden Arches by a quarter or two, but they don't serve the free side dishes there. I don't think they serve water either, unless there's sugar in it. I'm not even going to talk about how bad the food is health wise, nor would I ever classify most American fast food anywhere but below the Korean dishes mentioned above. Those of you interested ought to read "Fast Food Nation." I'll stick to my rice and vegetables...and water!

Sorry to get off topic in the last para...but let's say someone can manage to live "frugally." (That's an oxymoron in Southern California) Really, how much better is it teaching American students than Koreans? I honestly don't know, but I can only imagine as I think back to middle school and how many of my teachers cried because the students were so rude, and I'm not even talking about the substitute teachers. High school wasn't much better. But I don't know for sure exactly how it is, I have never taught middle or high school in America.

In Korea, us foreign teachers put up with a lot in the classroom, but we are spared all the burdenous administrative bureaucracy that all Korean teachers have to deal with on a daily basis. Even if we did have to deal with all that, I would still agree that we are very well paid.

bill's picture

I've always thought of California as another country. I mean things are done out there that you could never get away with in Virginia. Maybe its a high, high cost of living in California, because the state is broke. The Feds are probably going to have to give everyone out there COLA. California has top-of-the-line universities, why can't the economists out there fix things. And, if the state's students aren't angels than you might try to instill some Southernisms in them. Ogedei is correct about the L.A. teaching scene, but that goes for most big cities.

Anonymous's picture

When Republicans are in power, California gets shafted, as a rule. If you are interested, read up on the California energy crises, where our Republican governor deregulated the energy system which was then preyed upon by Enron traders et al in Texas after he left office. Our then Democrat governor was given no help from the Federal Government, as Dick Cheney sat down with Enron leadership to draft new energy policy. California has been repeatedly and deliberately fu$#ed several times in the last ten years. We don't have anything to learn from the Southerners except how to defend ourselves from their corrupt businesspeople and the corrupt politicians they elect.

Anonymous's picture

I wanted to know can you bring your husband with you or do you just leave behind your family?

Anonymous's picture

This goes out to not just you but all the other teachers on here what ever that youre teaching esl,grammar,speaking,toefl,toeic None of ya probably got the mentality of a legit teacher and most of you are im guessing like what all under 30 coming from of what youre getting You cant do sh17 here making that amount I mean if youre from the state you might be left with some extra pocket cash but it aint going to last you and I bet most of you dont even have a car since nobody is really talking about paying for gas what you think just because you are a Foreiner you think you got something because ur in asia better think again and stop eating that 6k won food because not everything you eat here cost like that most well off ppl sometimes pay 600k won for a dinner and you dont see that happening too often in the state and i guess if u plan on keep making what youre making then guess there isnt much alternatives there for you is there Who am I on here making silly comments?? Someone who did the same thing as you all do or did for 4 yrs You are all fake teachers holding on to an untrue motivation that just needs a job while here in korea especially all you grammar teachers who learned a little bit of grammar and think that you have what it takes to teach english get the f()][k up out of here go learn real english then think about being an english teacher Now being retired from teaching am making 150,000,000 a month