How Much Can You REALLY Save as an English Teacher in Korea pt.2

If you haven’t read part one of this post, do so now or this will make very little sense.

Okay, so it is time to tackle question #2:

How much money can I ACTUALLY SAVE working as an English teacher in Korea?

Like I said before, it all depends on your spending habits, so I will show some examples of what I spent and the prices of typical things in Korea.

If you refer back to the first post, I said that a rock bottom starting job was 2.2 million won with full benefits. Accounting for severance pay and pension, that is 2.2 million x 12 months + 4.4 million won a year. But you won’t get the severance or pension until the end, so let’s consider that a bonus savings account (which it virtually is). If you recall, 2.2 million won is roughly $2000 USD.

Out of that $2000 USD, 100 goes to taxes, 20 to internet, 20 to electricity, and another 20 to natural gas (floor heating and stove). A cell phone plan will run you about 30 dollars with unlimited 3G or 2GB of LTE (far superior to any US carrier). If you want to add basic cable, that’s another 10 USD. You will also have to pay about $50 for medical insurance.

So that leaves you with $1750 take home USD. That my friend, is a lot of loot. How much would you need to make in the US to take come $1750 USD post taxes and post bills? Recall that rent is paid for by the employer for English teachers in Korea. I have some friends who make twice as much as me in the US, and have significantly less spending money.

Anyways, here are the 5 main sources of spending in your everyday life in Korea.

 

Food

This is one of the most amazing kimbaps ever and runs you about 2.50.
This is one of the most amazing kimbaps ever and is only $2.50.

Food is something you have to buy whether you like it or not. Eating out is relatively cheap in Korea, if you eat Korean food. Where you will spend a lot of money is if you typically buy lots of fruit and foreign food. If you love fruit, find a local marketplace and shop there for fruits and vegetables instead of at large supermarkets with set prices. As for the foreign food, keep it to special occasions, about once a week is fine.

 

Going Out

Jonggsk - save in korea
For this New Year’s, instead of clubbing, we decided to go to Jonggak square. It is a huge celebration much likes Time’s Square, all for free!

Hitting up the local bar or even a club from time to time will NOT set you back. I’ve spoken to some of my friends in the states who say nights out cost them  $200-300 a night if they drink a lot. These prices are unheard of in South Korea. Soju goes for a dollar in stores or three dollars in bars, beers can go from 2.50-4.00 for local drafts, and mixed drinks 5.00-10.00. However, there is no tipping, cabs are cheap, transportation is readily available on subways and buses, and clubs are free, cheap, or offer drinks as part of the cover (unless you frequent Gangnam, which I never did).

 

Traveling

Andong - save in korea
The Andong Mask Festival is probably Korea’s best. Andong is easily accessible by train for about $30 round trip from Seoul and the festival itself is free.

One of the biggest hobbies of expats in Korea is traveling. Since most foreigners have similar schedules, planning trips together is very easy and affordable. Budget airlines go to South East Asia (a prime destination) where everything is even cheaper once you get there. Expect to go abroad about 1-4 times a year.

Traveling within Korea can be cheap as well. There are dozens of amazing places to see, and a weekend out of the main cities will rarely run you more than $150.

 

Shopping

Myeongdong - save in Korea
Myeongdong is one of Seoul’s most popular shopping districts. Shop responsibly.

If this is you’re vice, and you like brand names, you’re kind of screwed in Korea. ANYTHING brand name is more expensive: clothes, electronics,.. cars, I’m drawing blanks here… what else do people shop for? As you might have guessed, I rarely shop, and neither do most of my friends. You see, most expats are here only for a limited time, so why buy stuff you will have to get rid of in a few months? Living abroad really puts into perspective what you really need, which isn’t much.

I suggest you buy computers, and any major electronics in the US. If you thought Samsung would be cheaper here, you’re in for a big surprise! Furthermore, for some reason, electronics are released first in the US (even Samsung products), so you are overspending for outdated stuff!

As for clothes, there are way better deals in the US. I don’t know why, but I have rarely found a good pair of jeans for less than 70 bucks, it’s ridiculous! I do love Korean fashion, but unless there is an amazing sale, I wait till I’m state-side for all my clothing requirements.

 

Transportation

272 - save in korea
The legendary 272 bus in Seoul. It goes to Gwanghwamun square, my house, my girlfriend’s house, Costco, is there anywhere it doesn’t go!?

Very few expats I ever met bothered to buy a car. It is simply not necessary in Korea where public transportation takes you to 95% of the country, and taxis to another 3%. If you just must get to that final 2%, by all means go ahead, but buy a domestic car.

Personally, I bought a motorcycle my first year which cost me around $500 USD. Despite gas being $8 a gallon, the relatively short distances meant I only filled up about once every other month ($30). Once I moved to Seoul, I moved around in the subway more and averaged about 25 bucks of subways a month since I lived next to my workplace. Overall, very very cheap.

 

Wrapping it Up

Out of that $1750, I would say, if you are a big spender, you might use up $1450. I am talking partying every weekend, traveling 4 times a year, and throwing money at people because you feel that you are rich enough to do that. If you are relatively frugal, you can live comfortably with about $850 a month.

My first year in Korea, I averaged about $1450 a month because I went to China twice, Cambodia, and Vietnam in one year. I saved about 300 a month in addition to my severance (I was scammed out of pension my first year) which amounted to leaving Korea with a whopping (but not really) 6,000 USD. I subsequently blew it all and was back to square one after four months without work and a 2 month trip to Mexico.

My second-fourth years in Korea, I averaged about $1050 of spending a month, traveling about 2.5 times a year and (given my higher salary) saved $55,000 USD in three years (average of $18,000 savings a year). That is not to say I sat around my house all day being as cheap as possible. In those four years, I learned to ski, salsa, scuba, play the piano, and explored almost every nook and cranny that Korea has to offer.

 

So, to answer the question:

You can realistically save anywhere from $5,000 (absolute rock bottom) to $10,000 with a STARTING salary as an English teacher in South Korea while having an extremely comfortable living. With a higher paid job, or some extra work, you could save up to $20,000 a year.

 

If you have any more questions about the economic side of living in Korea, leave it in the comments!

Follow Me

Julio Moreno

Julio is a California native who has lived abroad since 2009 as an expat in South Korea and New Zealand. He is especially passionate about experiencing other cultures and visiting as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible.
Follow Me

21 thoughts on “How Much Can You REALLY Save as an English Teacher in Korea pt.2

  • June 6, 2014 at 9:52 am
    Permalink

    Great information! I’ve been finding it easier and easier to save lately. I had an expensive phone bill but I stopped using that. I was frequently buying 4000 won coffees but I stopped doing that.

    Sometimes I catch myself thinking that the cost of living in Korea combined with my salary and free housing is too good to be true. Another thing I really like is that drinks in bars are not usually marked up to be too much more than drinks you could buy at a convenience store. It really is so easy to save here if you make it a point to do so.

    Reply
    • June 6, 2014 at 2:47 pm
      Permalink

      I occasionally still buy a coffee for 3500, but I am rather tight with my money. I just think too much about the value of money.
      You have actually inspired a new post for me (maybe in 2 weeks or so) “Cost of Living, US vs Korea” I gotta brain storm this but I think it will work.

      Reply
  • October 19, 2015 at 4:44 pm
    Permalink

    I’ve been in Korea for the past 10 years and think your post is an accurate reflection of the financial reality here. I think most people can save $1000 a month without a lot of effort, but it’s getting harder as time goes by because the cost of living keeps increasing.
    ESL recently posted…Apples to Apples Vocabulary GameMy Profile

    Reply
  • October 22, 2015 at 3:18 pm
    Permalink

    I think it’s possible to save a lot of of money if you can get a uni job that has overtime opportunities. If that’s the case, it’s not so uncommon to make 4-5 million a month. Of course, those jobs aren’t that easy to come by.
    Wealthy English Teacher recently posted…High Salary Teaching JobsMy Profile

    Reply
  • January 9, 2016 at 8:23 am
    Permalink

    Interested to hear about this:

    ” I saved about 300 a month in addition to my severance (I was scammed out of pension my first year)”

    What happened to your pension? How were you “scammed”?

    Thank you for any information you can provide.

    Reply
    • January 11, 2016 at 1:48 am
      Permalink

      Some shady employers try all kinds of tricks not to pay you pension. These days, it is harder for them to get away with it so I wouldn’t worry about it too much, but just be aware you are required to get pension by law.
      My employer called us into his office one day, one by one, and asked us to sign a fake, secondary contract stating that we were only part time employees. I was still paid for everything else, including severance, but was not paid pension. It would have equaled roughly 2m won.

      Reply
      • June 22, 2016 at 7:07 pm
        Permalink

        Wow… I’ve been keeping copy’s of my pay stub. Just I’m case. It includes my pension.

        Reply
    • January 23, 2017 at 11:10 pm
      Permalink

      There is in fact an online gig in Korea (and probably elsewhere) that pays very well. It was advertised on, of all places Daves ESL cafe, and I recognized it for what it was immediately. I competed and got it, and from that point I made sure I was the best I could be. Whereas you saved $55K in three years, I saved $1m in just under a decade. Because it’s 100% online, I can live in my home in the US (which I paid cash for) and do this job. The only drawback is that I work ALL the time. I don’t have to, but each week I ‘take off’ costs me around $3000 in lost pay. So far, I have not been willing to do it, but I have curtailed work when I travel (and I’ve been everywhere – like most who move abroad – we all love to travel).

      And that’s all I am going to say about that! You may believe me, or not, but these jobs EXIST. I am just past 11 years now and have saved (not earned) around $1.15m so far.

      Reply
      • January 23, 2017 at 11:57 pm
        Permalink

        I just did a little math. That would mean you would have to save (not make) a bit over 100k a year. Divide by 11 yrs and 52 weeks and 40 hrs, that would mean making 50 an hr all profit. If you live modestly, you’d have to make twice that to bank the profit, mostly because of taxes and the American cost of living. So either 100 an hr working 40 hrs every week (not even counting prep time). Or 50 an hour working 80 hrs a week. I haven’t calculated the time off you’re talking about.
        Not saying it’s impossible, but I check daves eso pretty religiously so I’m calling bullshit on this, especially because of the fake email. I would love to be proven otherwise though and would jump at the opportunity.

        Reply
  • April 22, 2017 at 7:05 am
    Permalink

    Is it possible to find jobs in Korea without a teaching license.

    Reply
  • July 7, 2017 at 12:30 am
    Permalink

    what about if you have a teaching license and nothing else?

    Reply
  • July 17, 2017 at 6:33 am
    Permalink

    How do African Americans fair in Korea? I will begin applying for teaching positions in August and I’m sure it will be more difficult for me. Any advice? Thanks.

    Reply
    • July 17, 2017 at 7:02 am
      Permalink

      You’ll be at a slight disadvantage but it’s really blown out of proportion online. Just be as qualified and professional as possible and you’ll be fine. Some hagwons just won’t hire African Americans but they are typically just bad places to work so dodged a bullet.
      You’re better off looking for a position that starts at the end of august/ early semester which is the beginning of the second semester here.

      Reply
  • October 25, 2018 at 8:04 pm
    Permalink

    I am considering a university job in South Korea. Any suggestions on where to begin?

    Reply
  • November 7, 2018 at 8:57 pm
    Permalink

    Hey. I have recently applied for EPIK (n South Korea). If I get a place, I’ll be going in Mid-Feb. I have never lived abroad before, so what general advice would you give me? I am worried about the isolation that I may experience, as I am yet to be told where my placement will be held. Are there parts of S. Korea where ex-pats tend to be limited?

    Reply
    • November 18, 2018 at 8:40 pm
      Permalink

      Tons of places where you will be unique, but from my own experience, I miss those days the most. Embrace it. Any major city will have expat teachers thought and a relevant FB group.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge