Budgeting for a Work Abroad Trip to Asia

Starting a Budget

You are probably wondering what kind of start-up budget you should establish for yourself before embarking on an English-teaching adventure in Asia. Your costs will vary depending on whether you find a job before you leave, whether housing is provided, how you choose to travel, how expensive your tastes in food and accommodations are, and on your spending habits. The following sample budget for getting set up is based on Thailand.

  • Airfare: This can be a pretty major cost, obviously. A roundtrip ticket will cost in the neighborhood of $1,000. Start checking around early.
  • Local transportation: At about US$12, the trip into downtown Bangkok from the airport will be the most expensive local ride you’ll take in Thailand. Regular buses cost a nominal amount, so even if you take ten trips each day, in one week you’ll only spend less than US$50 on transportation (including the trip from the airport). You may want to budget a bit more for the occasional taxi or air-conditioned bus ride.
  • Accommodations: Youth hostel prices range from US$10 to US$20 per night, and a decent non-luxury hotel room costs about US$35 per night. If your school doesn’t arrange housing for you, you should plan to spend at least a week in short-term accommodations while searching for an apartment. Once you find an apartment, you’ll be expected to put down about two months rent as a deposit, so plan to have at least US$500-700 or a bit more for that purpose.
  • Food: Meals in Thailand are as cheap as they come as long as you eat like a local. Night markets and small restaurants usually have the best prices. Unless you hate rice, you should be able to eat like royalty for seven days for less than $35. If you prepare some of your own food, you’ll spend even less.
  • Incidentals: No matter how carefully you plan your expenses, there are always incidental costs here and there. Maybe you want to go on a tour, or maybe your clothes aren’t quite right for the climate and you need to buy some new ones; no matter the reason, if you plan for these sort of expenses, you won’t run out of money at an inopportune time.

Saving Money

Although some people are able to amass a small fortune from their Asian teaching endeavors, many teachers don’t leave Asia with fabulous wealth. This is due to several factors:

  • Hourly wages can be very high, but few English teachers work a full day. Teaching is exhausting and requires a level of energy and enthusiasm that is difficult to maintain for eight hours. Moreover, many classes meet in the evening, so teaching forty hours a week is difficult.
  • A few countries in Asia – most notably Japan – maintain a higher cost of living than the United States or Canada, so although it may sound like a lot of money, hourly wages of $25, $35, and even $70 don’t go as far.
  • Asia is exotic and exciting, so most teachers spend much of their income on travel and entertainment. Many also study Asian languages, cooking, martial arts, or fine arts, the costs of which can add up.
  • Due to current economic setbacks, schools are becoming more selective about teaching qualifications, so job opportunities aren’t as abundant as they once were. This is especially true in Japan, but jobs are still plentiful for those willing to search.

Despite these difficulties, most budget-conscious teachers still manage to save between $8,000 and $15,000 after a year of teaching in Asia, though teachers in China, Thailand, and Indonesia can expect to save somewhat less.

Living in a foreign country can be expensive. Follow these tips to save money when overseas.

  • Use credit cards for major purchases (tickets, hotels, car rentals, etc.). When you make purchases with credit cards you will get the true currency exchange rate with little or no transaction fee. Credit card use is also advantageous when the value of your country’s currency is rising against the value of the currency of the country you are in. This is due to the “conversion float period,” which is the time between the purchase and the time your bank actually charges it to your card. This can take as long as six weeks.
  • Use ATMs (Cirrus, PLUS, American Express, Bank of America) and cash advances whenever possible. You will usually get the best exchange rate this way.
  • Carry traveler’s checks instead of cash.


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