You Came to Korea for the Money, Right?

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Teaching English in Korea for the Money

You Came to Korea for the Money, Right?

Doesn’t everyone come to Korea to teach English for the money? I guess it’s not always true, but it’s often the case and anyone who says that they’re here for purely altruistic reasons, well treat with suspicion. Korea is a first world country.

Anyway, I’m not going to lie to you-the money is why I came to Korea to teach English after university. I wanted to pay off my student loans, save up a bit of money to hike the Appalachian Trail and see another part of the world.

Cha-ching! A simple 5-minute phone interview and then a plane ticket was headed my way in the mail. Who else would have given me a job so easily? Nobody, that’s who. Thank you Korea! Times are tougher these days, but back then it was just so easy.

After that initial year of traveling and paying off loans and then hiking the Appalachian Trail, I went to grad school where I missed Korea the entire time so I decided to come back for round two.

Cha-Ching! Payed off that grad school loan, saved up a big pool of money which I invested right after the crash in 2008, watched it double, collected my dividends and began hitting the passive income streams building, hard.

You Came Here for the Money? You’ve Found your Blogger!

All that to say, if you came to Korea to teach English mostly for the money, you’ve found your blogger. I’m going to tell you how to turn your time here into some financial awesome for your future. I’ll give it to you straight. Just the facts and none of the sugar-coated fluff.

Frugal Living: Get On It

If you’re serious about paying off debt, you’ll need to go frugal. I’m not talking about these half-hearted efforts like filing up your water bottle at work, or getting an Americano instead of a Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks that other people are going tell you. No, what I’m talking about here is far more serious than that.

Look at this list of 101 Frugal Living Tips in Korea, follow almost all of them and that’s what I’m talking about. You could start by ordering like 5 packages of black beans on Iherb and getting on the beans and rice, rice and beans diet. It’ll be good for your health, plus your bank account.

Worried you’re not going to have friends? Don’t worry. There are other frugal people out there. Remember this simple equation.

Frugal living + other frugal people = friends for you.

Onward and Upwards to Better Jobs

We all know that there’s a serious glass ceiling for foreigners and that working at a Korean university is basically the best dead-end job you’re ever going to have in your life. There’s a limit to how good your job can be and you’ll eventually max out, which has been my own experience after 10 years in Korea.

That said, working at a sweet university gig is certainly far better than some hagwon who is trying to rip you off each month, or a public school paying you 1.9 million Won a month for your troubles. I’d venture a guess and say at least 100x better.

So, if you’re serious about turning your time in Korea into some financial awesome, you’re going to need to get a university job. The base pay isn’t always necessarily higher than a hagwon, or even public school in some cases but where you can make a lot of money is with overtime.

See this post about whether or not my university job is too good to be true for more details about how much money you can actually make working in a uni in Korea. Of course, these lucrative jobs aren’t that easy to come by, especially these days.

University Gigs: How to Get OT

Once you have a university job, you’ll need to make it work for you. By make it work, I mean by actually being a good teacher, in the eyes of the Koreans around you. It helps if you’re really handsome or beautiful so consider your appearance carefully, and at the very least, be well-dressed and groomed and look like a “professor.”

You’ll also have to build yourself up a solid reputation as well-liked by the students, reliable, solid in the classroom and someone who won’t cause any stress for administration. Once you do these things, drop the word to anyone and everyone that you’re looking for some overtime work.

And also that you’re looking for promotions into something like the English department or teaching business English. Soon, you’ll have more OT coming your way than you know what to do with.

Teach Anything and Everything

But, of course you should be willing to teach anything. I’ve met so many foreign teachers during my time here who only want to teach “conversation.” This will severely limit your earnings potential; it’s just like leaving money on the table. For myself, I generally say yes to everything. TOIEC listening? Sure. TOEIC speaking? Love it. TOEFL? Why not? Public speaking and presentation? Awesome. Advanced academic writing? Great.

The secret is that there are a ton of excellent textbooks out there which will help you muddle through it your first time. Also, embrace the power of the Google, especially for things like exam preparation classes. You’ll learn everything you need to know in a few hours. And of course, the second and third time ’round is much easier.

Cha-Ching! Get that overtime money flowing in.

You’re Rolling it in…Double-Down on the Savings

Hopefully you’re rolling in the Wons at your sweet university gig with plentiful overtime. This is not a time to spend freely. It’s time to double-down and continue to hit the frugal living hard. Pay off every single last cent of debt that you have. Then, save up a pool of money and begin investing in the stock market.

Unfortunately for you, it looks like the crash of 2008 kicked off a bull run and the market doesn’t look like it’s going to be going down any time soon. However, don’t let that dissuade you. Today is the second best day to invest. The best day was yesterday. Hit the investing, and hit it hard.

Clueless about investing as an expat? There’s a book for you that’s written for the total and absolute beginner: The Wealthy English Teacher: Teach, Travel, and Secure Your Financial Future

Cha-Ching, thank you stock market crash of 2008!

Getting Organized Can Save a Ton of Money

Wait? I Want to Travel During my 5 Months of Vacation Time!

I did too. And I most certainly did travel, a lot. I’d even sometimes do crazy things like go to Canada for Christmas and then take a wee jaunt around SE Asia for the rest of the 10 week winter vacation. It’s fun for a couple years and you should certainly take advantage of it. But, doing that every single vacation and not considering your future more carefully? It’s not smart, especially if you have debt and one of my biggest regrets during my time here is that I took so many vacations.

I certainly didn’t need to go to Thailand for the 5th and 6th time, nor did I need to take that 10 week trip to Europe instead of the 4 week one. Let’s just say that I could have used that time much more productively by writing a book, building a website, learning some serious skills like computer programming, or doing camps at my universities.

I wish I’d had a friend who talked some sense into me back then! Consider me your “friend” who is talking some sense into you right now, okay?

What’s your Plan for the Future?

I hope you’re not thinking to yourself, “Korea is my plan for the future.” As we all know, the English fever that gripped Korea for years is dead and not just dead, it’s attached to a lead-weight and it’s sunk down to the bottom of the sea of Japan. It’s time for you to make a plan for the future in a country with a future that’s a bit brighter than Korea.

A bit clueless about life, post Korea if that doesn’t involve teaching English in another country? Not to worry. Read this book: Life After ESL: Foreign Teachers Returning Home. It’s going to be the best $2.99 you’ve spent all year.

Don’t Waste Your Time in Korea

I try to encourage all my fellow teachers to use their time in Korea productively. I mean that you should be working a lot and paying off debt, or saving up money to invest in the stock market or to put a down payment on a house. Do a Master’s degree. Learn computer programming. Write a book and self-publish it. Build a website. Anything that will help you build an awesome future for yourself.

Check out: A Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Business

Check out: A Beginner’s Guide to Self-Publishing on Amazon

Also see a post on this website where I answer a reader question from someone looking to transition into copy writing after teaching English in Korea: Don’t Waste your Time in Korea.

Cha-Ching: Love that passive income.

Your Turn: What Do You Think?

Comment below and tell me how you’re turning your time in Korea into some financial awesome for your future. If you’re doing nothing, that’s okay. You can start today. Tell me what action you’re going to take.


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  1. Hey Jackie, perhaps you might tell people how to establish credit while living overseas. Lots of folks will end up going home and need to finance a mortgage, any ideas? Getting a credit card can be difficult once one has been here for a while. Cheers!

    1. admin

      That’s kind of a tricky one I think. But, I personally don’t believe in credit so I’m perhaps not the best one to ask. If I’m going to buy something, I’m going to buy it with cash, house included. Or, at least have a massive downpayment, enough that any bank would be willing to give me the rest of it.

  2. Mick

    I hear ya, Jackie~ I’m totally in it for the cash. Korea’s an okay place to live, but apart from the dosh and enormous amounts of free time to do (constructively, hopefully!) with as you please, I struggle to understand why anybody would be (at least teaching English) here, otherwise. For me, at least, it’s just not the kind of place to inspire western minds, at all; Other than the self-motivated kinds. But hell, mebbe that’s just me.

  3. Sharon

    As bad as it sounds I had to apply for credit cards along with my mom. I got approved and a higher credit limit than if I had applied on my own. Just pay it off completely every month.

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