Ten years ago, I hopped on a plane in Los Angeles and flew to Bangkok, Thailand to look for a job teaching English. Although I had a job within days of beginning my search, I still had to live for just over a month before I was given my first paycheck and that meant I had to have enough money with me for all my start-up costs and living expenses.
If you are also planning on teaching English in Asia, whether you already have a job or will be looking for one when you get here, you will also have start-up costs. Sure, they will differ in amount depending on which Asian country and which city you live in, but knowing up front what you will have to pay for will certainly help with your plans.
Here are some typical start-up costs most teachers will have when starting to teach English in Asia. If you can save enough money to cover all of them before you leave, you shouldn’t have any problems getting settled and comfortable.
Rental costs – In Thailand as well as most other Asian countries, you will be expected to pay first month’s rent, last month’s rent and a deposit. All told, that is usually a total of three month’s rent, one month of which you’ll get back when you leave. You will need to find out what the average rent is for the Asian country you will be teaching in, and then calculate three times that amount plus a little bit extra.
In Thailand, for instance, if you decided you didn’t want to pay more than $300 a month, which would rent a nice one-bedroom apartment in Bangkok or anywhere else in the country, If you brought $1,000 with you, you would have plenty for your rental costs. Don’t forget, however, you may be staying in a guest house or hotel for the first week or two until you find an apartment you like, so factor in those costs as well.
If, however, you end up teaching in Korea, China or Japan, a free apartment may be included in your contract, in which case the only thing you would have to pay is a deposit.
Transportation – You will need money for getting around town as well as for traveling backwards and forwards to school once you do start your new teaching job. In any city in Asia, you will find the public transportation is just as good as Europe and far better than in the US and, of course, cheaper, so don’t worry about not being able to find your way around or not being able to afford it.
For Thailand, $100 will easily pay for all your transportation costs for at least a month and for much longer if you avoid taxis and use public buses or boats.
Food – Don’t forget, you will also have to eat for at least a month before you get your first paycheck. Being in a new country as well, you won’t want to be only buying food at the supermarket and eating at home. Not with all those new restaurants to try out and new friends to eat out with.
In Thailand, $150 to $200 would be plenty of money for groceries for a month. Then add in an extra $60 (2,000 baht) and that will allow you to eat out at least 15 times during your first month — more if you eat at food stalls or in a food court. Once you get your first paycheck, you’ll be able to eat out a lot more.
Mobile phone – One thing you will probably want to get set up as soon as you arrive is a mobile phone. That way, you have a phone number prospective employers and your new school can contact you on. If you bring a phone with you from the US or Europe, you can get it unlocked at any IT mall for only a couple of hundred baht ($6). Then all you need is a sim card ($5) and a few minutes added to your phone. 300 baht or $10 will give you enough minutes for a month of short calls. Don’t forget too, in Asia unlike in America, you don’t pay for incoming calls. The person who calls you pays for those.
If you didn’t bring a mobile phone and don’t want to waste money on a smartphone, new and inexpensive mobile phones can be bought at any IT mall for as cheap as 500 baht ($16.50). Then just buy a sim card and add minutes like you would if you’d already brought your phone with you.
Teaching supplies – In every new teaching job I have started in Thailand, I have always had to spend a little money on teaching supplies. Whether it’s for whiteboard markers because the school doesn’t have any new ones, a teacher’s copy of the text book because the school’s has not arrived yet, or 3-ring binders to keep my lesson plans in, I always add in some extra money in my budget to take care of the costs. $30 to $50 should be plenty in any Asian country and, if you don’t need it, that’s just more money you’ll have left over to do a little sightseeing.
Seeing your new country, entertainment and miscellaneous – Of course, you don’t want to sit around for your first month in your new Asian country because you don’t have any money to do anything. That’s why an extra couple of hundred dollars for a little bit of sightseeing, going to watch a movie, or having a beer now and again with new friends or fellow teachers is useful.
Just remember, the more money you have the more cool new things you can do but, if you don’t have very much, don’t worry. Once you receive your first paycheck and your start-up costs are a thing of the past, you’ll soon be out there having fun with the best of them.