Highest-Paying Countries for TEFL-Certified English Teachers in 2023

Are you a prospective teacher interested in teaching English as a second language (ESL)? Have you already earned your certification to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL)?

The next step in your journey is narrowing down their list of potential destinations to begin their careers.

Pay for ESL work varies widely by region and can even differ dramatically between countries within the same region.

Here, we’ll explore where you can make the most money as an ESL teacher in 2023 and where you can expect the lowest salary. We’ll also discuss important considerations in the way of cost of living that you should factor into the equation.

What are the highest-paying countries for ESL teachers?

Let’s survey a few of the most lucrative destinations for ESL teachers:

  • United Arab Emirates (UAE). Many of the highest-paying ESL destinations are located in the Middle East. This is primarily for two reasons: these oil-rich countries have the economic resources to support these high salaries and they feel that they have to offer more money to attract qualified teachers due to the often-strict cultural restrictions that foreigners must abide by while in the country.
    The average pay for ESL teachers in the UAE is $3,500-$5,500. In addition to higher salaries, many institutions in the UAE also offer free housing, airfare reimbursement, national health insurance, and other benefits.
    With the generous salary, though, come more strict teacher requirements. Most of these schools require TEFL certification and prior teaching experience.
  • Qatar. Also located in the oil-rich Middle East, Qatar is another well-paying ESL destination. The average teacher salary in Qatar is $2,400-$4,5000/month.
  • South Korea. South Korea has long been one of the largest, most dominant ESL markets. In the last few decades, the South Korean government and education authorities have invested a large sum of money into ESL education as a means to boost the economy in the globalized business world.
    Pay for ESL teachers in South Korea is $1,700-$2,650 USD/month. Many schools offer housing and airfare reimbursement as well.
  • Taiwan. South of the Korean Peninsula, with a beautiful subtropical climate, Taiwan is a favorite destination for ESL teachers for many reasons – the average salary of $2,000-$3,000/month being just one.

What are the lowest-paying countries for ESL teachers?

Certain regions of the world generally pay less for ESL work. There may be a variety of reasons for this, but the main one is that these countries have fewer financial resources than others.

Rather than listing individual countries with low pay rates, let’s conduct the analysis on a regional basis:

  • Latin America. With a few exceptions like Argentina and Chile, most countries in Latin America aren’t very lucrative. For example, the average teacher salary in Peru is $500-$800/month. In Colombia, it’s about $500-$1,000/month.
  • Southeast Asia. It’s possible to land high-paying work in Southeast Asia – for instance, at international schools in Bangkok, Thailand it’s possible to clear $3,000/month. However, most of the region is relatively poor compared to giants to the North like Japan and South Korea. Accordingly, the average teacher salary in Thailand is $1,000-$1,200/month.

A note on the cost of living across the world

We would be remiss if we did not touch upon cost of living to round out your analysis.

When you’re comparing and contrasting ESL salaries between countries and regions, it’s important that you factor in cost of living into the equation.

It’s not just about how much money you’re pulling in – equally relevant is how much money you’re spending on a monthly basis.

If your cost of living is lower, obviously that means your salary will go further, and vice-versa if your cost of living is higher.

So, in the end, if you make $2,000/month in a big city like Madrid, the spending power might be equivalent to that of a $1,400/month position in a small town just outside Madrid like Tres Cantos. (Those figures are just examples; don’t take them literally).

One super handy tool that you can use to get a baseline idea of a city or country’s cost of living is Numbeo. To use it, you simply enter a destination and the software generates a complete cost-of-living analysis broken down by specific common expenses such as rent, eggs, and a bottle of beer.

Teach English Abroad Salary

You can also use Numbeo’s comparison tool for a side-by-side matchup of cost of living between two areas – for example, between your hometown and your ESL destination.

As an example, Spain’s cost of living is 30.8% lower than in the United States. That means your monthly expenses – rent, food, transportation etc. – will likely cost, on average, about 2/3 of what they would be back home.

As we alluded to previously, cost of living can be further delineated between rural and urban environments. The cost of living in big cities – which, in Spain, would mean Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville – is generally higher than the cost of living in small-to-medium size cities and towns.

Factoring in the monetary value of employment benefits

When you’re considering salary, you should also weigh the financial value of various employment benefits commonly offered by schools. These include:

  • Accommodation. Rent is, for most people, the single largest monthly expense. Many schools provide apartments or other forms of housing for their teachers, which potentially has a value of over $500/month depending on the local rental rates.
  • Airfare. Overseas flights can cost upwards of a thousand dollars. Some schools will cover this cost upfront, but most offer airfare reimbursement, which means that once you’ve completed your contract they will pay you back for the cost of your flight.
  • Free meals. Contrary to the ancient adage, there is such a thing as free lunch! Lots of schools offer free lunch to their teachers, which could save you several dollars on a daily basis that you would otherwise spend at a local eatery.
  • Healthcare. Even though healthcare costs are generally lower abroad than they are in the United States, having employer-provided health insurance or enrollment in a national healthcare program can be a lifesaver – no pun intended – for your wallet if you get sick or hurt.

What is the average ESL pay in Spain?

At RVF International, we help place teachers in competitive-paying positions throughout Spain. The average foreign English teacher salary in Spain is $800-$1,250 USD/month – which puts it somewhere in the middle range for ESL salaries compared to the global market.

Of course, that’s just the average to give you a ballpark figure. The exact salary you can expect in Europe will depend on a few factors such as:

  • Your education level
  • Your prior experience
  • The type of school (international schools, for instance, pay far higher salaries than public schools)
  • Your TEFL certification status

RVF International has also developed our very own fully accredited TEFL course that focuses on preparing North American teachers to thrive in Spain as ESL teachers.

You can find more info here.

In the meantime, check out our authoritative blog post on the benefits of living and working in Spain as an ESL teacher, 10 Reasons Why You Should Choose a Teach Abroad Program in Spain.

Contact RVF International to learn more about the global ESL industry and teacher salaries

If you have your heart set on teaching abroad but aren’t sure exactly where or in what capacity is best for you, we’re here to help.

Contact us with any questions or concerns and our friendly team will get back to you in a timely manner.

Deciding on your ultimate ESL destination is a big decision that requires planning and research. Salary is just one factor among many to weigh. We’re always available to answer any questions you might have.

If you decide that Spain is where you want to be – and we can’t blame you – consider letting us be your bridge to an adventure in Spain.

Ben Bartee is a Bangkok-based American journalist, grant writer, political essayist, researcher, travel blogger, and amateur philosopher. Contact him on Linkedin and check out his portfolio.

Cover photo credit: Kari Bjorn Photography