How to Save $20,000+ Teaching English in Korea for 1 Year

If TEFL in the ROK is anywhere on your life radar,  you may have wondered, besides custom-engraved chopsticks and accidental pregnancy, what can I get out of my year teaching abroad? Besides being part of a powerfully weird culture and having some dank new experiences, it’s actually super doable to save $20,000 or more teaching English as a second language in South Korea. Here’s how:

The trick is to budget about ₩50,000 per week on groceries and ₩100,000 on alcohol, cigarettes and partying on the weekend, for a total of ₩600,000 per month. I’ve yet to stay home a single weekend this year because there’s too much to do, but if you went introvert mode you could roll in it.

Lunches are provided at school, and people don’t eat breakfast in Korea. That includes you. Welcome to the Land of the Morning Calm, you can have pancakes next year. Don’t tell me you can’t feed yourself dinner for ₩10,000 a night.

For the weekends: one tall can, or the 640ml glass bottles of  beer are about ₩2,500 or $2.50, meaning you could theoretically drink 40 beers in one weekend and keep your budget. Or, stay home one weekend and drink 80 beers the next. Don’t bother with imports, they’re brewed in Korea in the same bathtubs with the same exact ingredients as Cass. I’ve never seen someone crack what they think is  Asahi and not wince at the first sip. A bottle of soju is just over a dollar if you really wanna scrimp, and that’s all you need to turn up for 4 hours.

More likely than smashing 40 Klouds, however, is sharing meals at the local hof, traveling around the country to festivals, hijinks in arcades, baseball games in the summer, bar hopping, grabbing a few cabs, chain smoking on strangers’ balconies, hiking, picnics, clubbing and destroying the noraebang at sunrise. Shared experiences like this with a big group of people pooling money together are a steal. Crashing at your friends’ places is generally half the price of going out.

One thing I would never recommend in terms of rail transportation, is just don’t pay because sometimes they’ll issue you a regular ticket with a small surcharge and more often than not, they won’t. I strongly condemn this practice.

You’ll make ₩2 million a month with zero experience, which is around $2,350 Canadian dollars. Various factors upgrade your pay; this is the bare minimum, but this is what I’m discussing. Rent is free and you’ll make an extra ₩100K a month if you’re not within the official Seoul borders, a sweet deal if you’re a Mugunghwa ride from the heart of the city. Various bonuses like settlements, flights, pension and contract completion total ₩6,000,000 on top of your yearly salary, leaving you with a ₩30 million sum before subtracting ₩6,000,000 for your sickly lifestyle as a piece of human garbage.

Subtract ₩500K for bills for the year. This varies but mine were well below that. $0 is necessary for a phone plan, as there’s wifi networks distributed like roads. Connecting to ‘KakaoTalk’, the Koreanized ‘WhatsApp’ used by everyone in the country is as easy as sauntering into three bars of iptime. A camel can go days without water; you can live a year without a phone plan in Korea.

Subtract whatever you spend on toiletries and beauty products. For me this was about ₩50K all year. Shampoo isn’t necessary. Google it.

This leaves you with ₩3,500,000 to spend on travel and shopping, and you already get paid vacations. As long as you stay at hostels you shouldn’t blow through too much when you travel. So factor it into international flights, cultural experiences and bloat your weekend + grocery budgets and BOOM, that’s ₩20,000,000 in ya pocket. With all that wiggle room you could finally win that elusive Lapras from the claw machines, drink a single cocktail in a Gangnam lounge, or pull out some matches and light your money on fire.

Of course, there are always unexpected expenses. Like that coworker “bachelor party” where you literally just get Shanghai’d into a ‘room salon’ (Konglish tautology for ‘brothel’) and find yourself paying ₩300K to chat with a Korean prostitute, Holden Caulfield style, while the gym teacher bros bang some hookers. Happens to the best of us.

Keep your wits around toilet bowls and taxis, they’re known to swallow cell phones whole. Be careful of losing every single thing you own. It’s known to happen.

Photo by Jisu Han



      1. Hcmc. With experience you could probably enter at $25-$30 in some schools, particularly ones that specialize in IELTS or TOEFL. Private lessons can get you quite a bit too. I’m sure there are some things you’ll have to give up. Public transportation is crap. Corruption everywhere. Petty crime. But the bang you get for your buck on food and everything else makes it worth it imho.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Aside from being extremely informative, this was a hysterical read. Really considering ditching my current job once my visa expires here in Ireland and either going back to Spain to teach or trying out Korea. Have to say, this piece has really nudged me toward the latter. Thanks, man!

    Liked by 1 person

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