How to Save $22,000 in One Year Teaching English in South Korea

Yes, you read that number right. And yes, that is how much we saved PER PERSON. I’ll spell it out one more time to avoid any confusion. We saved $22,000 US dollars EACH during one year of teaching in South Korea… Just over $44,000 between the two of us. And we could have saved more if we traveled less and didn’t eat so much. But hey, no regrets here!

If you're considering teaching English in South Korea, you already know the money is good. The promise of a free plane ticket and rent-free apartment are benefits enough to move across the world. Add to that a decent salary and a relatively low cost of living, and you have a surefire way to save a ton of money, right? Wrong.

If you come to Korea expecting to double your bank account but have no real budgeting plan, you won't save any money. We watched many people arrive in Korea with dollar signs in their eyes, but halfway through the year they looked at their bank account only to realize they had saved hardly any money. But we've also had friends completely pay off their debt, or save up enough money to travel long-term. And we are pretty proud of the little "nest" we built in just one year that's allowing us to travel the world and pay off student loans. 

PLEASE READ: We are not sharing this information to be boastful, but instead to answer the many questions we have received about how we afford to travel. Additionally, we hope this information is helpful to others who choose to teach English in South Korea with the goal of earning money along the way. We believe that with discipline, anyone can reach their saving goals. 

So how did we do it? How can you save $22,000 teaching in South Korea too? Keep reading for a breakdown of just how much life in Korea will cost you, and how much you should expect to save. Then read on for some exclusive tips that helped us save money in South Korea, and we'll even reward you with a FREE DOWNLOAD of the exact same spreadsheet that helped us stick to our budget.

Are you ready? Okay, here we go...

How much will you earn teaching English in South Korea?

We’ve had countless emails and Facebook messages from old friends and new readers all wondering the same thing… How can we afford to travel? We have lots of tips we’ll be sharing soon, but one of the biggest ways we were able to save money was by teaching in South Korea. So how much, exactly, did we earn? And how much were we able to save?

Drumroll, please… Here come the numbers everyone is excited about. We have them all broken them down for you.

(Please note: All figures are for ONE PERSON during ONE YEAR as an EPIK English teacher.)

Salary: 2,400,000 won per month ($2,143 USD*)

Your salary, as with many things in Korea, depends on many things. EPIK salaries start at 2,000,000 won per month, but many teachers take home more. Your salary can be influenced by factors such as: previous teaching experience, level of degree in university, number of schools you teach at and location of your placement. Furthermore, teachers will receive a raise in salary for each year they renew their contract. So if you plan to stay in Korea a while, you can really roll in the dough!

I had two years of previous teaching experience, and Ben taught at more than one school plus he has his Master's degree, so each of us earned more than the starting salary.

*The salary listed above is the average of both Ben's and my salaries. Depending on your qualifications, your salary may be slightly higher or lower.

Further breakdown:

Previous Teaching Experience: If you have 2 or more years teaching experience, your starting salary will be 2,500,000 won per month. Note that you will need written proof, and your experience will need to meet certain requirements.

Multiple Schools: Most of the EPIK teachers we know taught at more than one school. While this may seem overwhelming at first, it is actually a good thing! That's right, you'll earn an additional 100,000 won (about $89 USD*) per month. And if you are at more than 2 schools, you'll rack up 150,000 won each month.

Rural Placement: If you are placed in a rural region, you will receive a stipend of 100,000 won per month. This is often necessary, as travel from the more remote towns can add up.

Entry Allowance: 1-time payment of 300,000 won ($268 USD*)

This is kind of a “get you started” bonus that you'll receive as soon as you get to your city. 

Tip: It might be tempting to spend it all at once furnishing your apartment with cute coffee mugs and throw pillows, but try to only get the essentials – a few pots and pans, toilet paper, and all that fun stuff – and pocket the rest. If you're lucky, the previous teacher will have left some items behind, so take advantage of that.

Take a look at our South Korea packing list so that you are prepared when you arrive and don’t have to purchase too much to get on your feet.

Flight Allowance To and From Korea: Two 1-time payments of 1,300,000 won = 2,600,000 won total ($2,321 USD*)

Your school pays for your way to and from Korea. Your entry flight allowance will be paid to you in your first month’s pay, and your exit flight allowance will be given to you on your last month’s pay.

Tip: Stalk your flights and get the cheapest one possible. Your school will give you the same amount regardless of how much you pay for your flight. For example, our return flights to the US were just $430 (we booked our August flights in January), but we still received nearly $1,160 USD from our schools.

Severance: 1-time payment of 2,400,000 won or equivalent of 1-month's salary ($2,143 USD*)

If you successfully complete your 1-year contract, you will be given an additional month's salary. So it's like 13 months of pay for 12 months of work. Wahoo!

Pension: 1-time payment of 2,600,000 won ($2,321 USD*) 

A portion of your monthly salary is deposited into the Korean National Pension system, and the government will match what you put in. You’ll receive this money about one month after you complete your contract.

Note: Unfortunately, South African citizens are not eligible for this payment as this time.

Extra Income

There are chances for you to earn extra income during the year if you choose. We only took advantage of a couple such opportunities, but certainly could have found more. 

Note: The following payments are for one person. 

Weekend English Camps: 1-time payment of 800,000 won ($714 USD*) 

Every year there are opportunities to do weekend, winter, or summer English camps. Ask your school or get in contact with you regional EPIK coordinator and request to be considered these extra money-making gigs. 

EPIK Life Video Contest Winner: 1-time payment of 500,000 won ($446 USD*) 

Each year, EPIK holds a competition for videos that showcase what life is like teaching in Korea. I submitted my video, and guess what?! I was selected as the grand prize winner! The reward? A cool 500,000 won. Try out your video editing skills, even if you are a novice like me... you might just surprise yourself! And keep a lookout for other contests hosted by EPIK throughout the year.

Total Income: 38,000,000 won ($33,929 USD*)

This number is the total earnings of salary, entry allowance, flight allowances, severance and pension, as well as some additional money we earned.

*All conversions use the average rate of 1,120 won = $1 USD (throughout August 2014 to August 2015)

How much will life in Korea cost?

Okay, now that you know how much each of us earned over the course of the year, let's talk expenses. How much did we spend exactly? Well lucky for you, we kept track of every single won!

(All expenses below are monthly averages for ONE PERSON)

Housing: 0 won per month ($0 USD*)

One of the biggest perks about teaching in Korea is that your school will pay your housing cost! See what a typical home looks like in a video tour of our Korean apartment.

Internet: 0 won per month ($0 USD*)

Internet is also typically provided by your school.

Bills: Electric, Gas, Phone, and School Lunches – 143,000 won per month ($128 USD*)

Electric and gas: This cost will vary per month depending on how you use A/C, ondol floor heating (which we barely touched because it took 4 hours to heat our apartment), and your stove. We generally paid more in the hot summer months because we used our air conditioning. Gas and electric fluxuated from 20,000 won to 80,000 won, but the average was about 40,000 won per month ($36 USD*).

Phone: We both had phone plans through Olleh that each cost 38,000 won per month ($34 USD*).

Tip #1: We rarely used minutes on our phone, and would have preferred to have a cheaper plan that had fewer minutes. We learned that once you sign a contract it is very difficult to change until the contract's end date.
Tip #2: DO NOT sign up for a phone contract through The Arrival Store. Their plans are much more expensive than you will find elsewhere. Our advice is to wait until you move to your assigned city and go with your co-teacher to find a plan that works for you. And yes, you will be just fine without data during orientation!

Lunch: You will pay for lunches at school that you eat right alongside your students and co-teachers. Each school charges a different price and there’s not any negotiation. Unless you are a vegetarian, we highly recommend eating your school’s lunch. It can be seen as disrespectful if you opt out. Plus, it’s much simpler than preparing your own lunch every day and is a way to try different Korean foods. The cost varied depending on the number of school days in the month, but the average cost was about 65,000 won per month ($58 USD*).

Food: 175,000 won per month ($156 USD*)

We cooked many of our own meals at home and sometimes went out to eat with friends.

Tip: To save money and time, we typically bought produce at a local supermarket and cooked one big meal on Sunday night. It usually lasted until the weekend when we often times ate out with friends. 

Transportation: 40,000 won per month ($36 USD*)

Korea is fairly cheap to travel around. This category includes local bus and metro fees, taxis, and short trips to neighboring cities.

Tip: Avoid taxis as much as possible, and get to know your town's bus route instead. Many cities in Korea have a phone app with a map and timetables. The city bus may take a bit longer, but is far less expensive.

Entertainment: 95,000 won per month ($85 USD*)

Living in Korea is tons of fun! We bundled entrance fees, movie tickets, fancy dinners, coffee dates, bingsu cravings, karaoke, nights out at bars, and any alcohol purchases into our entertainments expenses.

Tip: Tons of coffee shops line just about every street in Korea, and it’s tempting to go several times a week. Try to limit yourself or brew your coffee at home, because a cup o’ joe is not cheap in this country.

Travel within Korea: 170,000 won per month ($152 USD*)

We traveled a ton. We actually went through our calendar as found that we traveled 67% of the weekends we lived in Korea. That’s 35 weekends! (Yeah, Ben is an Excel nerd!) From bare-hand fishing in Pyeong Chang, exploring sunny Busan, nights out in Seoul, and reveling in the island beauty of Jeju, we saw a lot of the country. 

Travel Outside of Korea: total of 3,472,000 won ($3,100 USD*)

While living in Korea, we visited 3 other countries. We traveled on a budget, though we had some vacation splurges here and there. You can check out the detailed budget breakdowns for each of our trips to the Philippines, Japan, and Indonesia.

Note: International flights to these destinations are included in this category and totaled $1,094 USD.

Miscellaneous: 50,000 won per month ($45 USD*)

There will always be those expenses that you just can’t plan for, such as random school activity fees or a co-worker’s wedding gift. We also had some purchases that don’t fit into any other category like clothes, home supplies and presents.

Flights to and from Korea: 1-time payment of 1,545,600 won ($1380 USD*)

Our flights TO Korea (in August) were $950 USD, and our flights BACK HOME to the US (in August) were $430 USD.

Note: If you are going through EPIK, you likely won’t have much time to research flights before purchasing, and like us, you’ll end up paying a little more than you should. The $1,300 flight allowance is generous though, and hopefully your ticket will be less than that. For your return flight, start researching 10 months before you plan on leaving for the best deals. In January, we found a flight from Seoul to Minneapolis for $430 total which we just couldn’t pass up!

Student Loans: $0...sorta...

What about student loans? Maybe you're lucky and don't have any debt from attending university (in which case, I'm super jealous!). But if you're like us, and have lots of student loans to pay, don't forget to include your monthly payment in your budget. We worked really hard to save enough money at our jobs back at home to cover our loan payments for the entire year. That is why our loan payments are not included in this calculation.

Total Expenses for the Year: 13,093,600 won ($11,691 USD*)

This number includes monthly bills, food, transportation, entertainment, travel within Korea, travel outside of Korea, miscellaneous cost and flights to and from Korea.   

Bottom Line: 

Total Profit for the Year (38,000,000 won) minus Total Expenses (13,093,600 won) = 24,906,400 won... that's equivalent to roughly $22,238 USD PER PERSON!!!

*All conversions use the average rate of 1,120 won = $1 USD (throughout August 2014 to August 2015)

READ MORE!!! Now that you have all the numbers, continue reading for some exclusive tips and tricks that helped us save $22,000 in one year!

We will even reward you with a FREE DOWNLOAD of the exact same budget spreadsheet we used to keep track of our budget! Subscribe to our email list below and we will personally send you our budget spreadsheet. 

Name *