Be an English Teacher Abroad: The Cost

This post has been a long time coming. In this post, I will give a full break down of how much it has taken me to be an English teacher in Spain. I’ve waited to write this post until I felt like I was practically settled here and financially independent. Thus, no longer using the money saved pre-departure. This way it can give you a realistic estimation of the cost of being an ESL teacher in Europe. At the same time, the information here can apply to any country. I also waited to write this because I wanted to wait until I was legally a resident in Spain. I can now call myself an English teacher here in the E.U. Which; I now can do after three months. The cost of becoming an English teacher can be separated into pre-departure expenses and start-up costs once you arrive in your new home. My case being Spain.

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On an unimportant note to the topic, I am currently writing this first draft at the beach while drinking a 40 of San Miguel and eating jamon and Dorito sandwich. Doritos in sandwiches are amazing, try to change my mind. (One-month later....finally back to editing). I found a perfect perch along the cliff at the beach. There are a few small trees, and covered in grass. Perfect for lunch and working on a computer at the beach. Also, during March and now April I've had extreme ups and downs. Culture shock and living abroad has difficult; hence, why it's been a month since writing on this platform.

For people who want to figure it out on their own or don’t care to read my advice, read the next two paragraphs, and you’ll be okay.

If you want the short and easy answer, expect to save anywhere between 6-9k in-order to become an English teacher abroad. I imagine you can do it with less. The $9,000 is on the high side for pre and start-up costs, but will give you a nice cushion. It also varies from country to country depending on requirements for teaching jobs and cost of living. I would recommend saving as much as possible before you go abroad. I did it with about 6k.

Most ESL teachers need to worry about are their certification, visas, travel insurance (depending on if you have a job before you leave and the country you go to), FBI background check and start-up costs for rent/living once you arrive. Also, I would recommend for all big purchases for using a rewards credit card, if you can pay it all off at once even better. You can then use those travel reward points on more travel. I love using my Chase Preferred card. See "Be rewarded for Spending Money" about the perks of travel reward cards.

If you just started the process and have followed my footsteps, welcome to the family. Teaching abroad has taught me so many essential life lessons so far.

I've had a fantastic time teaching so far, and it has only been roughly 6-8 months since I dove into the ESL career. So without further or duo here is my list of necessary expenses for a new ESL teacher abroad.

Pre-Departure Expenses

My Teaching English as a Foreign Langauge Certificate (TEFL)- $1,395

Any credible certificate program will be between 1,000-1,500. I went through the International TEFL Academy based in Chicago. I was able to complete the course work in four months while also working full time, ~40 hours a week. The International TEFL Academy has given me all the tools short of actually handing me a job to be a successful ESL Teacher. See “Be TEFL Certified” to learn more about International TEFL Academy.

CA Real ID-$28

If you are from California and haven’t done so already, I would make sure you get your Real ID before leaving the country. If you are like me and don’t know when exactly you will be returning if, at all to the States, you will need a CA Real ID to re-enter the U.S starting 2020.

Plane ticket to Spain- $237

If I wanted and will most likely do at some point is cover this subject in an entire post. If you pay more than $500 to get from the U.S to Europe, you are doing something wrong. If you are planning on coming during peak travel season, that might be a different story. On the other hand, Condé Nast Traveler said this might be the cheapest summer to fly to Europe. However, the best time to fly to Spain is during January or the shoulder season. It worked out perfectly for me because I knew I wanted to arrive at the beginning of January.

If you don’t know already the cheapest days to fly are Wednesdays and Thursdays. With these two factors in mind, I was able to find a flight for a little over $300 and was able to use my points from my Chase rewards card to decrease it to $237 with Iberia. Mind you I came only with a carry-on.

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Swap-a-Lease- $300

If you want to move abroad, but are concerned about car lease, do not worry. While this was my biggest headache pre-departure and took almost the longest to settle, it worked out in the end. Swap-a Lease is an excellent company that helps advertise your leased car to people that are looking to take over a car lease. The more time you give yourself to find someone to take it over the better because you'll end up paying less. For example, if you are hoping to get out of your lease in one month, you will pay a premium for the increased advertisement of your car. I started my advertisement on Swap-a-Lease in September and finally found a suitable candidate a few weeks before I left for Spain. Thus, I had a slightly complicated process of dealing with the lease swap while in Spain. I couldn’t have done this without the help from my dad, and for that, I am very grateful. Everything worked out, and I only had to pay one more month of my car payment while in Spain.

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FBI Criminal Background Check: $22, Mailing expedited: $6.70

Before leaving for Spain, I was trying to go on a few programs so I could start legally teaching as soon as I arrived. Many of these programs require an FBI background check. You can get your fingerprints taken at most local police stations, and it is quick and easy.

While it was a fail on coming here to Spain on a program, the online ESL company I work for, DaDa ABC, now requires an FBI background check.

The background check needs to start as soon as possible because it can take 3-4 months. If you have sent in your fingerprints and haven’t got your report back yet and you leave in two or so months, call the 1-800 number. If you tell them your sob story, it's possible they will help you out getting it expedited. Also, make sure to check the box for a pdf copy. It does not cost any extra.


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Apostle Expedite Service- $88.40

If you are going on an official visa or plan on going with a formal government ESL program, you will need to get your background check Apostilled by the State Department. Depending on the country, many ESL jobs around the world require a few documents to be Apostilled or notarized, for example, your university degree, TEFL certificate, and birth certificate. Thankfully I was only concerned about my background check.

If you are about to leave, time is not your best friend. Bite the bullet and get it expedited and you won't have to worry. If you have the time, you won't have to worry about this expense. However, many ESL teachers use this service because of the waiting process from the background check or job application deadlines.

There are many different services you can use, but I used Monument Visa, and it worked out perfectly. All you need to do is upload the pdf copy of your background check, and the company has a representative that turns in your background check in-person in D.C and picks it up the stamped copy the following day. Depending on when you need your Asopostled background check you can pay standard or rushed mail service. The whole process from start to finish took me a week and a half, only because of Memorial Day. This service is very convenient for people who don’t live in the D.C area, and I had excellent customer service. At every point, a women named Nicole let me know the status of my Apostiled document.


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International Driving Permit- $20

While I don’t know if I will be driving, it is always smart to get one. You can get an International driving permit at AAA for only $20. It is valid for one year from the day you want it to start and can be used all around the world. The permit is vital for anyone traveling out of the U.S, not just teachers.

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It is crucial to have in case you ever want to rent a car abroad. Also, while I haven’t heard of this happening in Europe, there are stories of corrupt police abroad who will steal your US drivers license. If you find yourself in the unlucky experience of being pulled over overseas, use your International driving permit. If they take it, at least it's not your hard copy of your ID or passport, and it's only $20. I heard this can happen in SEA. Though it will mean 8 hours of your life at the DMV if you're in the Bay Area when you come home...

International Travel Insurance-$319 for 3 months(premium)

I highly recommend international travel insurance for the long term traveler, the single week vacation, or still establishing yourself in a new country. Many insurance companies don’t cover you if you are abroad. If you are like me, you quit your job and are no longer covered, period. So insurance is essential.

If you are going to teach with a program and getting a long term visa or student visa for Europe, you will need to show proof of independent health insurance. Since I'm not an expert on government programs, I would consult a different blog. I do not know exactly how insurance works in that case. However, the safest route coming to Spain without a program or ability to get an EU country passport is to go on a student visa. If you apply for the student visa, you will need to show proof of insurance with your application. You can apply for a student visa by signing up for Spanish courses (~1,200 euros for six months of classes).

There are many companies out there offering international health plans, but I chose World Nomads. Travel sites such as Eurail, Lonely Planet, and travel blogger Nomadic Matt, all recommend World Nomads as an excellent company to go through. One of the activities covered under insurance for the premium plan is Running of the Bulls. World Nomads not only covers you if you get sick or hurt but also if you have flight problems with lost luggage or if you get robbed. Just make sure you aren't drunk and use protection ;). Emergencies or illnesses that happen under those circumstances won't be covered.

They have two different plans for coverage. For the first installment, I chose the more expensive policy because of the gear I was traveling with and included my journey over here to Spain. I also didn’t know for sure if I would be staying here and had a plan B of going to somewhere in Asia. I have since bought one more month of insurance but with the basic plan until I get onto the Spanish health care system.

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Those are all the big and expenses I believe are necessary for Long-term travel and being an ESL teacher abroad that you need to purchase before you go. There are a few more things I recommend if you are thinking of starting a blog of your adventures.

My backpack- 65L Osprey duplex $200

If you don’t have luggage or the right luggage for your goals abroad, you might need to get a different backpack or suitcase. For me, I have a high-quality day-trip/work backpack the Osprey Ozone 35L. It worked great when I studied abroad. I also have an 85L (blank) bag for overnight backpacking trips. I took this snowshoeing but thought it was overkill and too big for carry-on only flight.

I knew I wanted to come to Europe with a minimal lifestyle in mind. Thus, I wanted to purchase a backpack that I could fit everything I needed for carry-on for my flight. My ticket also was also carry-on only, hence why I got a great deal. I looked at many different backpacks, but chose the 65L Osprey Duplex. It has worked out perfectly. I use the day-pack portion almost every day.

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Square Space-$124/ Domaine Name- $20: 1 year

I run this blog on Square Space. I have had a fantastic time using Square Space, not only is it super easy to use because of their custom layouts meaning not knowing how to code but also using and learning about analytics. I can track every post and see the location of my readers. I have been surprised to see where I have readers from my friends abroad to other people from around the world who have stumbled on my blog. I have also learned many useful skills working on the blog that I can take away from this experience if I were ever to make a career jump.

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Portable 2 TB Lacie drive- $200

I take many photos. I also shoot them in a RAW format allowing me to store all the details of the images I take. Thus they take up more room on my hard drive. Therefore, with this blog and my hobby of taking photos, I deemed it a necessary expense for all my pictures from my adventures abroad teaching English.

Start-Up Costs

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If you do not have a job before you go, try to budget roughly$1,200 per month. That's also on the high side, but always leave room for any hiccups you might experience abroad in your first months while figuring out living in your new country. $1,200 will be plenty for housing, food, and transportation. Also, don't forget about the exchange rate. For the euro at least right now it's about $1 to .89 euro. It doesn't seem that bad, but when you look at $10 means 8 euros, you can start to see how it adds up. You might have to start in a hostel or Air BnB before you find an apartment, which can add up. I was fortunate and was able to stay with my host mom, Carmen from when I studied abroad here in Bilbao/Getxo.

Another expense I would say that can be high when you first arrive is nightlife and exploring. Get to know your new home and become a local. I wouldn't even call this a drinking budget, think it more as a networking budget. In Spain, midday wines are part of the culture, heck wine at any time of the day is popular! Creating your network and meeting other ESL teachers you will learn what it takes to be successful in the country. Who knows maybe that wine will turn into a job opportunity. Just remember to not get completely trashed.

If you plan to come to Europe without the intention of being legal (not recommended but people do it), set yourself up with a job teaching English online before you go. One of the things I wish I had done earlier. Then you will be able to keep more of your savings. I burned through quite a bit of my savings before my first full month paycheck. Then again, I wasn’t careful on my trip to London and Paris.

An easy monthly budget for Spain can look like this:

  • Rent: 250-450 euros per room in 3 bedroom apartment

  • Bills(water, gas, wifi): 30-60 euros

  • Food/eating out: 150-200 euros

  • Nightlife: 100 euros

  • Transportation: 25-50 euros

  • Local phone plan: 10-20 euros

  • Random things: 100 euros

Be curious. Be courageous. Be chivalrous.

B.E.