Currency Info and Money Budgeting Tips for Teachers

No matter where you go in Eastern Europe, you undoubtedly will be surprised by the disparity between the cost of living you are accustomed to in North America and the remarkably low cost of living in the four countries under discussion here.

For example, dinner at a bustling pizza joint in the heart of Prague will only set you back the equivalent of a few dollars. A trip to the grocery store almost anywhere in East Europe will cost you a fraction of what you would pay back home. And traveling across the Czech Republic or Slovakia by train might cost you ten or fifteen dollars, roughly equivalent to a taxi fare across town in an American city.

Because you don’t have to worry so much about making as much money as possible to cover a high cost of living – as you would if you chose to teach English in Japan, for example – you can focus on the positive aspects of living in Eastern Europe, such as getting to know new people, learning about the culture and history, or tackling a new language. Don’t be surprised if low-cost living spoils you. After getting acclimated to life in Eastern Europe, you likely will cringe at the prospect of paying North American prices for a drink in a fancy hard-currency hotel in Warsaw, Prague, or Budapest. And returning home to North America will bring a whole new meaning to the words “sticker shock.”

Whether you end up teaching English or pursuing some other line of work, it is not hard to live well in Eastern Europe on a rate of pay that would have you waiting in line at the nearest soup kitchen in the United States or Canada. You will not have to work long hours as a teacher to be able to go out on the town in the evenings or take a few weeks’ vacation in a different part of the region. Be aware, though, that your ability to live well while you reside in any of the four countries discussed herein does not mean that you will be able to amass a sizable savings account.

Eastern European currencies (except the Czech crown) remain only internally convertible, which means you cannot easily exchange your Slovak crowns, zloty, or forints back into dollars when you leave these countries. And if you stay longer than six months or a year, inflation could work against you. Eastern European economies are struggling to catch up with the West. Instability within these economies can cause currencies to lose value, which often translates into rising prices.

For most people, a long stay in Eastern Europe is meant to be an enriching learning experience, not a means of filling the coffers. Those who aim to amass wealth should consider other options.

Even though Eastern Europe is so cheap when compared to the West, it’s still wise to keep track of your spending habits. There will likely come a time when you will make the transition from living off of the money that you brought with you to the money that you make from your employment. Though you can live quite comfortably if you work as a teacher, you will still need to make sure that your spending doesn’t exceed your earning capabilities. It’s especially easy to fall into the trap of assuming that since everything seems so cheap that you couldn’t possibly live beyond your means. Be particularly careful about keeping enough money around to pay your rent. Long-term accommodations don’t come as cheaply as you might imagine when you begin to look at what percentage of your monthly income they can consume.

Budgeting Tips

The following suggestions can help you manage your money and generally get along better financially during your stay in Eastern Europe:

  • Get to know what things cost early on in your trip so that you don’t get taken advantage of. If you get mistaken for a free-spending tourist, chances are you’ll end up putting more money into the local vendor’s pocket than you should.
  • Find out if there is a different price structure for locals and residents than there is for tourists and travelers. If you have a work permit and a resident’s card, you often won’t have to pay the higher prices that foreigners are usually subject to.
  • When you order from a restaurant menu, take note of the name and price for each item that you order so that you can match them with the tab you receive at the end of your meal. Stories abound about unsuspecting foreigners being taken advantage of by unscrupulous waiters.
  • Make sure that you know the different currency denominations and count your change.

The wage ranges listed in the following table are approximate ranges listed in United States dollars. In Eastern Europe, wages are paid in the local currency, usually in cash. Public school teaching positions typically pay at the lower end of the school wage range, while private schools tend to pay in the middle and sometimes upper end of the range. In general, well-qualified and experienced teachers are the only ones who can expect to be paid at the upper end of each pay range. Private tutoring usually commands the highest hourly wages, though students who can afford to pay at the upper end of the wage ranges are hard to find.

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