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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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!