It is important to remember when looking at the raw figures presented here for TESOL teacher pay that the figures are all relative to the cost of living in the country or region in question. A salary of US$2,000 a month in rural Cambodia is certainly not the equivalent of the same salary in Tokyo, Japan.
Additionally, the raw salary does not indicate other financial and non-financial benefits, such as who pays for your permits and licenses, who pays for your accommodation, do you get holiday pay or free flights, etc? So do not just take the figures at face value. Do some of your own research on the general living costs in the country you are interested in and scan the job adverts for additional benefits.
Five main factors related to TESOL teacher pay:
- Your CV or resume
- The type of teaching role
- The country you are teaching in
- Who pays for your accommodation?
- What taxation system exists?
Taking each of these in turn;
Your CV or resume
Your qualifications and experience will obviously have a bearing on which jobs you can apply for and this will have an effect on the salary range of positions open to you. As with any occupation, the higher your qualifications and the greater your relevant experience the higher the salary you can expect.
Most countries have a minimum requirement of a qualification in ESL (typically a 120-hour certification), although experience is not always required. Many online companies for example have their own learning platforms and are happy to take you on with no previous experience (or pre-conceptions).
The type of teaching role
Teaching roles vary in complexity and levels of responsibility. The more of each the particular job requires the more you are likely to get paid. Part time positions usually provide less salary than full time positions, though this is not always the case depending on the skill level of the role. Positions that have some additional management features often come with a higher salary level. Perhaps somewhat ironically, teaching positions which are almost entirely management based generally command higher salaries than pure teaching roles.
The country you are teaching in
The Middle East and some Asian countries (notably Japan) have much higher salaries in pure cash terms. However, these can be mitigated in some cases by the high cost of living (rent in Tokyo). One of the main attractions of the Middle East is the high salaries often come with additional benefits, which will be discussed in later sections. What on face value may appear to be a low salary, say US$1,500 a month, may in reality put you in a very high income bracket. If you are earning this salary in a country where the average salary is around US$5 a day, then that would give you ten times the average income, making you relatively ‘well-off’.
Who pays for your accommodation?
In many countries accommodation costs represent a significant proportion of income expenditure. It can be 30% (or higher), but is typically around 20% of your basic salary. If your contract gives you free or highly subsidized accommodation then this can therefore make your real salary much more attractive. Often in Middle Eastern countries subsidized housing adds further to the already attractive salaries. In Thailand for example, a regular teacher would expect to earn around 40,000 Thai baht a month and very reasonable accommodation would typically be around 8,000-10,000 Thai baht per month (20-25% of salary).
What taxation system exists?
Taxation systems vary around the world. It is very important that you comply with any government regulations concerning tax, as failure to do so may result in criminal proceedings and banishment from the country (if you are lucky). Some regions have no personal income tax meaning that savings are easier to achieve, while others vary between less than 10% income tax up to 40%. One additional problem may be dual taxation agreements. Some countries will tax your earnings even if they are derived in another country, which can mean you end up paying tax in two countries. This usually applies when you are not living in any one country for over six months of the year, but it is something to be aware of.