Heather Millet

How much money can you make when teaching abroad – more than cooking in a deli! Great, the answer is done.

Just kidding, but this was what mattered to me at first. Well, technically it wasn’t the amount that mattered as much as how far my money could go. This was important to me since I was someone who left university in the States with a hefty debt. People who came over without any debt, well, they saved or lived it up!

Let me be very honest here, no minced words, minced pies, or sugary lyrics on this, that without experience or certifications, most people don’t make a lot of money when they start teaching English abroad. Expect decent money or comfortable money. I had my nights out and my new shoes, but I also had my packed lunches and my budget plans that year in China. I had a few vacations but kept my western food nights to buy-one-get-one burger deals. My focus was on enjoying the experience of being in an unknown country, doing well in a new field of work, and keeping on top of the finances at home.

Before I break things down in a potentially TMI fashion, I want to brag a little by saying that I sent home – bold, larger font here 30-40 % of my salary every month (yasss queen).

If that sounds intense to you, you’re right! I started in the smallest of the big 4 cities in China, Guangzhou, and didn’t go out on nights I worked unless it was for Chinese food. Let’s face it a lot of people want to party abroad, but it was still teaching kids and let’s just say a classroom of 10 kids is a party within itself. I needed to show up at full capacity. It took a little effort, but I was still figuring things out, so I made mistakes as well. I had those hazy nights at “Perry’s” bar with buckets of Chinese beer, and I had my quiet weekends that I didn’t go out, by decision, or by bank account restriction. Balancing wasn’t always easy.

To be fair, housing was provided by the company, equivalent to 3000rmb for me to share a great apartment with two other girls. That could throw off the calculation a little, but you get the big picture.

Here it is, years ago now:

Salary - 9000rmb monthly
Flight allowance – 667rmb monthly
Taxation – 1500rmb monthly, approximately

With this, I aimed to send home 3000-4000rmb a month, but some months dipped a bit low and other months I was admittedly too ambitious and sent more than that. Summarized, I was living comfortably on less than 700-1000 USD monthly in one of “the big four.”

If I sent home too much, I’d eat 2rmb tea eggs on salad greens from the local market, and cook my own chicken soup, or have 10-15rmb noodles and rice lunches from mom ‘n’ pop, hole-in-the-wall restaurants. (Side note: the Muslim-halal food in Guangzhou is amazing – fresh noodles, chili oil, mushrooms, savory pastry, probably ate way too much in year one).

TIP: Local fruit and veg markets are crazy cheap! I’d take photos and send them to friends back home teasing about how much fresh food I could get for cheap! There are the classics like your carrots, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, and then your lesser-knowns like kohlrabi, daikon, cumin greens (not delicious), water chestnuts, edamame - don’t be afraid of the local markets!

This is the smart way to live your first year in China: cook at home or eat all the dumplings and noodles. Go out on occasion but be reasonable and make a full recovery from the city nights before you’re back to work after your days off.

If you want to make an even more lucrative standing, stick around to progress in one company or to new cities and bigger budgets.

Bish, Bash Bosh. Or should I say, Bish, Bosh Cash!

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