Living in Asia

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Where should I teach ESL? A breakdown of the Pros and Cons of teaching in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Mainland China


Teaching ESL Overseas

I’ve lived in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Mainland China over the last 5 years. Recently I’ve been getting a lot of emails from friends and friends of friends asking me the differences between the four main stops for English teachers overseas. Teaching English overseas is quite a daunting experience. As jobs become more scarce in North America, recent graduates will be opting to teach English in Asia. I have spent 16 months in Osaka (Japan), 12 months in Seoul (South Korea), 16 months in Taipei (Taiwan) and now currently live in Beijing (China). I have seen or experienced nearly every possible scenario you can have teaching English in Asia and I would like to share my knowledge and experience with the rest of the world. Teaching ESL overseas is a big step and I will impart on you my 5 years of knowledge so you can make the best decision possible when choosing your overseas destination. I will be breaking the Pros and Cons of each country into five categories…………..Money, Teaching, Nightlife, Language, Landmarks.


The main reason, other than gaining a life changing experience, for most people coming to Asia is to make a little change ($). Each country has its pros and cons for earning wages and I will outline them in this post. Obviously depending on the city you living in, the cost of living will vary. If you live in a bigger city, expect to the cost of living to be higher, like everywhere else in the world. For me personality, I like the comforts of a big city so I am willing to sacrifice a few dollars to keep sane.


In Japan you can expect to make anywhere from 2-3 thousand USD a month (230,000 Yen) as an ESL teacher. On average, its one of the best salaries you can get teaching English overseas. BUT Japan is also EASILY the most expensive place to live in Asia. I lived in Osaka and I was pulling in $2500 USD/month but it seemed like $1500 USD/month. I lived in a room the size of a shoebox, 6 stops away from the downtown Osaka and still paid over $550 USD/month for rent. I have friends that live in Tokyo and it’s even worse there. If you are frugal you can save around 1000 USD/month but it will be hard. Your money won’t stretch very far in this country. From food to transportation, everything is expensive. Be prepared to spend most of your salary on everyday life.

South Korea

In Seoul you can expect to make from $2000-2500 USD/month. Your money stretches a lot more here when compared to Japan. I made $2500 USD/month and it was more than enough to get by. My company was prompt on payments and I was able to live very comfortably after I paid off the advance from my school. The prices for taxis and public transportation are decent. Food is delicious and affordable.


In Taipei the average salary you can expect to make is from 1200-1600 USD/month. But, when based on actual hours teaching it’s a pretty good deal. Taiwan is cheaper than Seoul and Japan so your dollar will go very far on this tropical island. Transportation is cheap. Most teachers buy a scooter but you are perfectly capable of zipping around the city via bus or subway. Food is much cheaper here than in South Korea or Japan so that wont be a large part of your expenses.

Mainland China

The typical salary for an English Teacher is from $1000-1500 USD/month, the lowest of the four most popular English teaching destinations. BUT the cost of living in mainland China is extremely low. The average salary for a Chinese person in Beijing or Shanghai is $300-500/month. So, as an English teacher you will be making a lot more money than the average Chinese person. The cost of food and transportation is ridiculously low. In Beijing you can take the subway anywhere in the city for around 30 cents. You can get almost anywhere in city via taxi for around 15 USD.

Money Winner: South Korea

If your main objective is to make money teaching ESL, South Korea is the best option. Most companies will pay for your accommodations and if you are making $2000-2500 USD/month you can save a lot of money. Many companies also offer an end of the year bonus as well as paying for a round trip plane ticket. I have friends that have saved over $20,000 USD in one year in Korea. If you want to make some real cash, South Korea is the place to go.

Teaching/Working Environment

Teaching ESL overseas can be an intimidating idea to wrap your head around but all you have to remember is YOU ARE AN EXPERT IN SPEAKING ENGLISH. That’s what the recruiter for the first company I worked for said to me and it has made me a more confident teacher.


Teaching in Japan was a great experience. My company was prompt when it came to paying my salary, well, until it went bankrupt! I haven’t heard too many stories about companies being late or not paying there employees in Japan. There are many different avenues to teaching in Japan. You can go the public school route (safest bet). A good program to look into is the JET program. It is offered by the Canadian and United States Government. They will place you in a public school in Japan. The down side is you can’t choose the location of your placement. If you teach at a private school your odds for living in a big city are higher. I have friends that teach private lessons and do corporate training which are also good options.

South Korea

Teaching in South Korea is a great choice. It’s pretty easy to find a public school job if you don’t mind living outside of Seoul or Pusan. I chose the private school route because I don’t like teaching kids. I was always paid on time and the working environment was very professional. One downside to teaching in South Korea is the government frowns on private tutoring. I’m not exactly clear on the rules but I’ve heard that you can get fined for being a private tutor. There is actually a program set up where apartment building doormen get a reward for tipping the police off when people teach privates. Foreigners still teach private lessons but you have to be more cautious in South Korea.


Teaching in Taiwan is a little more laid back when compared the other Asian countries. I was able to teach in golf shirts and shorts which really made me feel like I was living in paradise. My students were pretty relaxed but serious about learning. Taiwanese students (as well as South Korean students) are a lot more serious when it comes to learning English than their Japanese counterparts. Japanese students look at studying English more as a hobby whereas Taiwanese students look at it as a necessity to be successful. Most ESL teachers in Taiwan have two or three part-time jobs. There are some bigger schools that will offer you a full-time salary but for the most part you will be scrounging around for teaching hours. When I lived in Taiwan I had three jobs. I taught kids at an elementary school, adults at a private school and was also a private tutor. It sounds a little hectic, and it was, but this is a very typical experience if you teach in Taiwan. Most schools will offer you 10-15 hours a week which will be enough to get by on but if you want to save money and live well you should find more hours. Teaching privates is the best way to go to make extra cash and it isn’t looked down upon by the Taiwanese government.

Mainland China

I have spent the least amount of time teaching in Mainland China but my experience has been positive so far. The company I work for is very professional and I haven’t had a problem with being paid on time. I work for a bigger company and I would recommend doing the same if you come here. There are many different teaching avenues to explore in Mainland China. It’s easy to find a university teaching position if you don’t mind living outside of Shanghai or Beijing. You will work around 15 hours a week but only make 1000 USD a month. A lot of teachers that live in big cities teach children. If you don’t mind teaching kids it’s pretty easy to find a job. I don’t hear much of people teaching privates but there is definitely an avenue to do that.

Teaching/Work Environment Winner: South Korea

I haven’t really heard any horrible stores of people losing out on wages or companies being shady with paying their employees in South Korea. Most of the teachers I met in Seoul didn’t have a problem with their companies and most people said their schools were very professional. Furthermore there are an abundance of jobs where you can make a great salary and, as I’ve stated before, most companies will pay for you accommodation which is a huge plus.


If your objective is to go out and party you can’t really go wrong in Asia. First of all it’s extremely safe. Secondly, there is no last call. Third of all, most bars don’t close until 4-6am. Asia is a great place to let loose and party into the morning.


Japan has a very vibrant nightlife. There are various types of venues to cater to your night time entertainment needs. Japanese people like to go out. Their culture is of the work hard, play hard variety. When I was in Osaka it felt as if every night of the week was a great night to hit the town. Every night of the week you can find clubs that play music from every genre. The thing I like most about Japanese nightlife is the concerts. In the other countries I’ve lived in, concerts with North American acts were few and far between. But it seemed like in Japan at least once a month a great artist was having a concert in Osaka or Tokyo. It is more expensive to go out in Japan but its worth it.

Osaka’s Top 5 Hip-Hop Clubs:

1. Grand Café
2. Pure
3. Sam & Dave
4. Candy
5. Giraffe

South Korea

The night life is Seoul is also excellent. There are tons of bars and clubs go to on various nights of the week. The best nights to go out are Thursdays and Saturdays. There are three main areas where people go to party in Seoul. Hongdae (Younger Crowd), Itaewon (Foreigner Crowd) and Kangnam (Business Crowd). Because of the US army base, many of Seoul’s night clubs are foreigner friendly. Some bars go as far as letting foreigners in for free. My favourite place to party was in Hongdae. Hongdae is located in North-West region of Seoul and, due to its proximity to several universities; there are around 50 bars within walking distance of each other. This makes bar hopping quite convenient. One stop away from Hongdae is Sinchon Subway stop. It’s more laid back than Hongdae but also a great place to party.

Seoul’s Top 5 Hip-Hop Clubs

1. NB
2. Harlem
3. TinPan 1
4. Helios
5. UN


I had a lot of fun in Taipei but I have to rate it the least exciting place to go out of the four cities. It does have some great clubs but they’re all spread out. It’s difficult to bar hop because of the distance between clubs. There are a lot of all you can drink spots which are fun but the majority of them serve fake alcohol. The next morning you will have the worst hangover in your life. The best place to party in Taipei is in Xinyi district, near the 101 building. As for music most clubs will play Top 40 songs from the previous year. There is not a lot of variation when it comes to the DJ’s playlists’ which makes the music scene lame.

Taiwan’s Top 5 Hip-hop Clubs

1. Room 18
2. Spark
3. Volar
4. Club W
5. Primo


Beijing’s nightlife is ok. Most of the bars fall into to the same trap as Taiwanese clubs, only playing Top 40 music at every venue. There is a little bit more variety in Beijing so I would put it a couple of notches above the nightlife in Taipei. There are a few areas that are great for partying. Sanlitun (Young Professionals, Students, and Locals) Wudaokuo (Students) and Nan lu guo xiang (Older crowd) are the main spots to hit if you are ever in Beijing. It’s really cheap to get around the city and the drinks are the most affordable out of the three cities I’ve discussed. Many bars don’t have an entrance fee which is another huge plus.

Beijing’s Top 5 Hip Hop Clubs

1. Mix
2. Juicy Spot
3. Vics
4. Propaganda
5. Solutions

Nightlife Winner: Japan

Some Japanese clubs play top-40 music but at the vast majority you can find any genre of music. Rock, Dance, Hip-hop, Reggae, you have it all in Japan. Even though it’s more expensive, I enjoyed the nightlife in Japan the most because of the diversity of music.


First and foremost I have to say all of these languages are really hard. I know a couple of people who have mastered them and it took years and years of study and practice to reach fluency. If your goal in teaching English overseas is to go back home with a second language there are many different ways to accomplish that. I have studied each of these languages and here is a break down of each one.


It is made up of three different types of script. Chinese characters called kanji (漢字?), and two syllabic (or moraic) scripts made of modified Chinese characters, hiragana (ひらがな or 平仮名?) and katakana (カタカナ or 片仮名?). The Latin alphabet, rōmaji (ローマ字?), is also often used in modern Japanese, especially for company names and logos, advertising, and when entering Japanese text into a computer. I studied Japanese for 8 months and I progressed pretty quickly. The level of English proficiency for Japanese people in Osaka wasn’t high and I dated a Japanese girl who helped me progress even more rapidly.


There are about 78 million Korean speakers worldwide. In the 15th century, a national writing system was commissioned by Sejong the Great, the system being currently called Hangul. This makes reading Korean a lot easier than the other languages. It has something of an alphabet which took me less than a week to learn.


All Chinese people are taught Mandarin but each region has its own dialect which makes Chinese the most difficult language to learn out of the three. The government has tried for thousands of years to standardize the language but their efforts have been unsuccessful. Many Chinese people from the North have difficultly understanding people form the South. If Chinese people have a difficult time understanding each other, imagine what it’s like for a foreigner! To make things even more complicated, Chinese people use two different sets of characters, traditional (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau) and simplified (Mainland China). A well-educated Chinese reader today recognizes approximately 5,000–7,000 characters; approximately 3,000 characters are required to read a Mainland newspaper. The PRC government defines literacy amongst workers as knowledge of 2,000 characters, though this would be only functional literacy. A large unabridged dictionary, like the Kangxi Dictionary, contains over 40,000 characters, including obscure, variant, rare, and archaic characters; fewer than a quarter of these characters are now commonly used.

Language Winner: China

If you want to learn another language why not learn the one that a fifth of the world speaks! Even though it’s the most difficult of the languages to learn (the tones are ridiculous), it gives you the opportunity to open doors that can only be opened through the art of language. As China continues to develop, more and more businesses will be attracted to hire Mandarin speakers.


Coming to Asia you will be bombarded with cultural landmarks. Many of these countries have been around for thousands of years so a lot of history comes with that. There is a lot to see and do so if you want to learn a little bit about Asian history it won’t be difficult.


Japan has a very long history with many cool places to visit. Living in Osaka gave me the opportunity to be around many historical landmarks. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting such landmarks as the Golden Temple, Osaka Castle, and Tokyo Tower etc. Another advantage of living in Osaka was its proximity to Kobe, Nara and Kyoto. With all of these cities within an hour train ride it made it a breeze to check out many ancient temples.


Korea has a long history as well but I wasn’t too interested in its historical landmarks. Most people visit Seoul to shop or to see a friend. The most popular places to visit are Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul Tower, Insadong, and Myeong-dong. There are all ok but are not of the mind-blowing variety.


I could really copy and paste what I said about Seoul and put it into this space. There is not much to see in Taipei either. My Taiwanese students said for cultural landmarks Tainan would be better because it used to be the old capital. 101 is the biggest tourist attraction because it used to be the tallest building in the world. Now it has been surpassed by a building in Dubai so it’s lost its claim to fame. Other popular landmarks include CKS Memorial Hall, Danshui and Sun-Yat San Memorial Hall.


Beijing, capital of China, has numerous historical landmarks including the Great Wall, Summer Place, Forbidden City, and The Temple of Heaven. I could go on but for you history buffs you would be hard pressed to find a place that could rival Beijing’s history. The Great Wall is probably the most amazing thing I’ve seen in my life. It just keeps going. It’s unreal. With over 5000 years of history Beijing takes the cake.

Landmarks Winner: Beijing

Beijing has the Great Wall and The Forbidden city and many other world famous landmarks. With all of them being in the same city, it would be really hard to top Beijing.

That is my run down on the four cities I’ve lived in Asia. As for the best place to live, that’s up to you. It depends on your reasons for coming here. Your ESL experience in Asia will only be as good as you allow it to be. Come here with an open mind and you will get everything you put into this place.

Here are some websites to get you started on your job hunt. There are thousands of sites but these are the ones I found most useful. (Japan)


Author: AsiaExpat

Welcome. This site is dedicated to people who live, breathe and appreciate Expat Life. I’ve lived in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Mainland China over the last 5 years. Recently, I've been getting a lot of emails from friends and friends of friends asking me the differences between the four main stops for expats in Asia. Living overseas is quite a daunting experience. As jobs become more scarce in North America, more recent graduates and working professionals will be opting to work in Asia. I have seen or experienced nearly every possible scenario you can have living in Asia and I would like to share my knowledge and experience with the rest of the world.

41 thoughts on “Where should I teach ESL? A breakdown of the Pros and Cons of teaching in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Mainland China

  1. Hi!
    My name is jeff and i enjoyed reading about your experience in asia! Thank You for taking the time to share. I’m concidering Thailand. Are their any Prerequsites you can recommend before entering in to a training course with job placement in asia.
    Thank You!
    Jeff Karr

    • Hey. Thanks. The best courses to take would be the Delta and Celta courses. They’re expensive but if you get those qualifications you can pretty much teach anywhere. If you’re a native speaker and don’t want to do any courses before you come here, I would advise you to brush up on your grammar. Most ESL student’s English grammar ability is very good. So in order to feel more confident in the classroom, make sure your grammar is on point.

  2. Hey,

    Thanks for sharing your adventures in Asia, as it provided great perspective into the the ESL teaching life. I am interested in teaching in South Korea and upon my research, I have found many different recruiters. With so many options out there, it can be quite overwhelming. Do you have any recommendations or advice on reliable and professional companies associated with South Korea?
    Thank you.


  3. Hey,
    Thanks so much for this article! It was extremely helpful. I’ve been contemplating teaching english in South Korea and China for a while now. I’ve researched a bunch of different organizations that send ESL teachers to different countries but it is very hard to narrow down which one to go through, do you have any suggestions on how you went about this process? And did you need a certification prior to going to any of these countries? Thank you!

    • Thank you for the comment. There are a lot of organizations that send teachers abroad. I found my first job at a university job fair. I didn’t need certification but times have changed since then. It also depends on the country that you want to teach in. If you do plan on getting certified, the best certifications to get would be CELTA or DELTA. If you have the time and or money to do one of those, you can teach anywhere in the world. Let me know when you make a decision on a country and I can help direct you the proper way to go.

  4. Fabulous write-up! I have just finished my ESL certification and am currently doing a TOEFL certification as well. Hoping to teach in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Continued success to you up in Beijing. . .look forward to bumping into you somewhere ‘out there.’ All the best–David.

  5. Really, really nice article. I normally hate reading but I read pretty much all of this and the information was extremely helpful. I still plan to teach in korea (I was happy my research was reflected in this article) but I read this to contemplate teaching elsewhere afterwards. I know this is really late for me to post this but why did you choose mandarin for the language winner? I realize more people speak it than any other language, but between different dialects and other perks each country has to offer, isn’t it extremely subjective to say mandarin is the winner? For instance, I have little interest in china and I extremely dislike mandarin (both pronunciation and writing), so learning mandarin would have little use for me. Iunno. Thanks for this anyways. I’m not sure if I’m going to get a response back, but if you see this, could you email me at ? I’d like to hear further advice.

    • Hey. Thank you for the response. I chose Mandarin as the winner because almost one third of the world speaks it and with the country poised to surpass the USA as the nation with the largest GDP, Mandarin will be the most useful to learn if you plan on doing international business. I agree with you that due to the various dialects across China it is a difficult language to pick up. However, I feel that because of China’s large population and the number of Chinese nationals living abroad it would be the most useful Asian language for foreigners to learn. Your thoughts? What perks do you believe Japanese/Korean have over Mandarin?

      • I’d agree that mandarin is the best business language overall, but in terms of what field you’re seeking, Japan or Korea is a lot more advanced in those respects. I feel like from a linguistic standpoint, Hangeul is vastly superior because of practicality and having a system that makes sense. As you know, mandarin/kanji suffers from a lot of problems. Namely the complexity (not good with computers) and the quantity. Hiragana and katakana is … okay, but I don’t there are no patterns whatsoever. Even characters like “sa” and “ki” that would expect to have some kind of pattern. I think mandarin is a language you have to really dedicate yourself to, but has more widespread use, while korean, inversely speaking, has less dedication but less use. I think it really depends on how serious an ESL teacher is about the country.

      • Yes. You are right on many points. Technology wise, China currently is far behind Japan and South Korea. But with companies such as Lenovo and Haier becoming more prevalent, I was just projecting for the future usage of the language.

  6. What a fabulous, all-encompassing overview of teaching options in Asia! I really enjoyed this & found a lot of new info 🙂 I’m thinking of teaching English once I finish my degree next summer & will definitely refer back to this article once I’m choosing my destination!

  7. Thanks so much for writing this, I’m having a hard time deciding between teaching in South Korea and japan. Based on what you wrote, I think I’ll teach in South Korea to save some money and then head over to japan afterwards. What are your recommendations between teaching in Pusan and Seoul?

    • Seoul is way more livelier than Pusan from what I’ve heard. I never visited Pusan but from what friends have told me its way more chill than Seoul. There are a lot more opportunities for teaching positions in Seoul as well. Pusan is a coastal city so that is an advantage if you like beaches. Pusan is also one of the biggest cities in the country so you shouldn’t be hard up to find some good entertainment. However, I lived in Seoul and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in South Korea.

  8. Thanks so much for your insight. I am also looking into teaching in Korea, however stories I have heard about the private schools have pushed me into thinking I should apply through the EPIK program. I would love to apply in time for the fall intake next year, however due to other things I may not make the March deadline in 2015.

    Do you have any advice or thoughts about going the private school route or how to even being since I am in the US?

    • Hey Shawna. I went the private school route and was lucky enough to be placed with an amazing company. I enjoyed teaching adults more than teaching children so that’s what ultimately lead to me going with a private school. I have some good friends that worked in the EPIK system and they all had good experiences. If you go with a private school, definitely do your research on the company before you sign anything. If you don’t mind teaching kids, EPIK is your safest bet. I hope that helped.

  9. Hi, I’m Chantelle from South Africa and are doing a TEFL course locally in South Africa starting in Dec 2014. Not doing it online as I am so cautious about these guys promising you the world and there are so many corrupt people, who do u really trust. So I went to local and practical course. I do not have a degree, but eager to teach. I am 35 so i do have atleast experience with regards to work environment, life experience and loads of short courses I attended during my working career. I was really interested in going to China, as the requirement for degree are not so stringent. But really want to go to South Korea as its atleast a balance place of structure and good standard of living. My question now is how difficult will it be for me to actually find a job in Korea without a degree…..I seriously need a change of scenery and want to learn more about other people and culture and ultimately learn more about me. I believe when ever you step out of your comfort zone, you embrace yourself much better, and are more patient because your comforts are not their to protect you, only your patience with yourself in order to know yourself better without the things you know. I dont want to know anymore…..i want learn…..ME…..
    So please inform me if its at all possible to find a job without a degree in Korea.

    • Hey. I am happy that you are considering leaving your comfort zone. Its a decision that you will never regret. To be frank, it is difficult to find a teaching job without a degree in South Korea. They are pretty strict on hiring foreigners without the requisite qualifications. There are those lucky ones that have found a job without a degree in South Korea but they are few and far between. However, if you are adamant about going to Korea, I suggest going to one of the smaller cities (Daegu, Incheon, Daejeon) to find work. They may be more lax and take into consideration your other work experience and TEFL certification. I hope that helps. Good Luck!

  10. I’ve taught English in South Korea and China. In Korea I taught children and in China I’m currently teaching adults (and some children). Overall, I’d say Chinese students are better (particularly at speaking but I have lived in Shenzhen and Guangzhou which are both close to Hong Kong). If you’re considering teaching in Asia though keep in mind that both countries have internet firewalls; in Korea the internet is still fast however Christian zealots have blocked most adult sites (this is easy to get around with a free VPN). In China however, to access blocked websites such as Youtube, Facebook, Google/gmail, twitter etc you need a far more potent and expensive VPN such as Astrill to unblock the ‘Golden Shield’ (or as we know it in the west, the ‘great firewall of China’).

    In China there are also far less western movies/TV/culture in general (even in tier 1 cities which are full of western consumer goods/food/bars etc) . I’d say if you’re young (under 30) , new to overseas travel/expat life go to Korea before it gets harder to get a job (the market has got worse with a slowing birthrate and economy much like Japan and Taiwan). Many Korean schools also discriminate on age, sex, skin colour and accents (pretty, young white North American girls with no experience are often preferred for E visas while F visas are becoming more common now).

    While I’d say Korea is easier with life in general, for my professional life I think China is better (from my experience). I just think for Chinese students there is a whole lot more incentive to learn English (along with many more richer people who can send their kids overseas at university age, to me Korea doesn’t seem to have an ‘uber-rich’ class like tier 1 Chinese cities). There’s also a much bigger adult market in China with language mills such as EF (in Korea teaching adults in private schools is ridiculous with split-shifts the norm). Outside of work you’re more likely to meet a mix of foreigners in China (particularly Guangzhou) while in Korea most foreigners are either teachers, US forces or mail order brides from SE Asia/Russia.

    Overall, I guess there are so many pros and cons for both countries. If you’re older though I think China is better for job choices (but Korea better if you’re younger and new to the ESL/EFL game, it’s easy to be too old in Korea now as so many oldies have stayed on).

    • Great insight Dave! I agree that the Chinese market is bigger and job opportunities are more plentiful for ESL teachers. What is your view on living conditions in China? Housing, pollution etc?

    • Hi Dave, awesome! thanks for sharing. I am from South Africa,27yrs of age (28 in January 2016). I am in a pickle regarding where to go, but at the moment have received plenty offers to start soon in China. Offers for South Korea are on table as well, but with start dates in March next year. I am quite keen to leave sooner before I lose the momentum and “spark” I have for going. I have heard a few odd stories regarding China especially with salaries, taxes and empty promises. (Contract is not honoured). Some have mentioned that Chinese are great cons men. Could you please share any information?

      And ideally I want to teach in a private school. This is the better choice, do you agree?

      Best Regards,

  11. This was great! Thank you so much for this, honestly haha. I’m nearly done my undergrad and was looking into teaching. From reading this, South Korea seems like a good place to start. I was looking into going to Japan and it does seem really expensive, but as a soon to be grad, my priority is to save. Do a lot of companies provide housing? I’ve seen mixed things so that’s something I need to look into. And as an English-only speaker, is it necessary to learn the languages of the country to get by or can someone manage without knowing Korean or Japanese (reading, conversational, writing) etc? That’s my main issue. Also, is it hard to get a job in South Korea in a city/urban setting? I’m looking into Seoul and other ‘big’ cities, but a lot of teaching opportunities (provided through my school) are offering in rural areas (but I don’t want to teach kids) and I’m not too sure about living in a rural area…what do you think based on your experience? With teaching adults, the schools are often located in cities, right? Anyway, thank you for reading this, it really is a help!

    • Hello Ess! Thank you for the comment. A lot of companies do provide housing in and outside of the bigger cities in South Korea. However, most of them would require you to teach children. It is also unnecessary for you to speak the native language in order to live comfortably in the countries mentioned in the post. I know many foreigners that have lived in either Japan, South Korea and China for over 10 years that have not mastered the language. BUT, it would be extremely beneficial for you to put in the time and effort to study the language of the country you decide to stay in. It will make your experience more authentic and you will understand the local culture/way of life a lot more. I never lived in a rural area during my time in Asia but it depends on what your goals are in moving out east. If you want to party and save a little money, I would recommend holding out until you get a position in Daegu, Seoul or Pusan. If your main objective is to just save, then jump on the rural opportunity and take trips into the city whenever you have a chance. I hope that helps.

    • I should warn you that korea is very different now compared to what it was. ESL has gone in the shitter. Programs like EPIK have no funding anymore, so even if you do get in, you will be places in very rural areas, and the pay has gotten worse, etc. Only other option is hagwons which don’t provide housing or the other luxuries.

      • Hey Evan. I complete agree with you. It was similar when I lived there. It really depends on why you are going to teach in South Korea though. If it’s for the $, then where you make $ shouldn’t make a difference. You can go into the cities on the weekend and party if you need that fix. If you want the nightlife and the experience like I did, you can work in a hagwon, live in the city and sacrifice some savings.

      • Interesting. Definitely will be taking this into consideration! Thanks Evan.

  12. Great article! I have a question that I hope you will have an answer to. I have a DUI (fortunately was dropped to Reckless Driving) on my record. Meanwhile, I have a Bachelors degree in Education and I have been teaching high school inclusive special education for 2 years as well as coaching. From your experience, what are the chances of being able to find jobs or obtain a working visa in any of these 4 places with the blemish on my record? Thanks!

    • Hello Chris. You have some impressive credentials. I am not sure about your chances regarding employment because of your reckless driving charge. In all of the countries that are mentioned, you have to do a criminal background check before receiving employment. After that, it would be up to your potential employer’s discretion about the results. I would say the chances are higher to get employment in China or Taiwan but I am not sure. No hurt in trying. Best of luck.

  13. Hello: I’m Quia. I have a BA in Forensic Psychology with a minor in English. I have lived abroad in Australia and New Zealand, so far. I would love to continue living abroad. Is it absolutely necessary to obtain TEFL or CERTA? I would like to apply for a company that reimburses airfare and provides housing. What companies would you recommend for placement in China or South Korea?

    • Hello Quia. Thanks for visiting our blog. It isn’t absolutely necessary to be CELTA or TEFL certified to get hired for a teaching job abroad. I taught for years without either qualification. BUT, I would strongly recommend getting one of those certifications, they do open up a lot of doors. As for the companies that reimburse airfare and provide housing, it really depends on what age group you are looking to teach. Most schools where you teach young learners should provide airfare and housing. A popular organization that provides airfare and housing is EPIK in South Korea. In China, it varies, but EF and Wall Street English will reimburse your airfare in installments and may offer a housing stipend. Let me know if you have any more questions.

  14. Hi, I have been considering teaching ESL in Japan or Korea. I am concern to with others judging me since I am a Female with tattoos, even if I cover up with a long sleeve they can be a bit visible. Will this be a huge obstacle in either countries?

    • Hello Kat. Thanks for the question. To be honest, you will be viewed a certain way in either country but it shouldn’t hinder you from getting employment. I believe that if you are upfront with the school that you apply to, it shouldn’t be an issue if they are a bit visible. In Japan it may be more of an issue due to the Yakuza and the stigmatization that comes along with tattoos in that country. However, I believe Japan, along with many other Asian countries, is becoming more open-minded in that regard. Have tattoos is more an issue for the locals. Hope that helps.

  15. Hello, fantastic article. I taught in China for a year and had a great time. I know its not mentioned here but do you know anyone who has taught in Indonesia ? I am looking into EF there and though I have read about some problems with EF, any advice or anything about fair wages, accommodation, good places to teach etc . would be appreciated. All my best, Joshua.

    • Hello Joshua. Thanks for stopping by the Living in Asia blog. I haven’t heard a lot about EF in Indonesia but I have a couple friends that have worked for them in China. EF, from what they tell me, is a pretty good company. It’s well known in China and they always pay promptly. The thing you must look out for is working for a franchised EF branch. If you work for EF in one of the top tier Chinese cities (Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou) everything is usually up to standard because they are actually owned and operated by EF. The pay is decent by China standards (11,000RMB-12,000 RMB/per month). They don’t pay accommodation and they will reimburse your plane flight cost over the first 6 months of your contract. However, for the franchised schools, it’s a roll of the dice. From what I’ve heard, they run the schools basically however they want. In the larger cities, the training centres are under EF protocol. My advice to you would be to make sure the school you are considering is not a run by a EF franchisee, whether in China or in Indonesia. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  16. Hello, enjoyed the article, loaded with great information! I am single, 30 years old and live in Charlotte, N.C. I have worked in a Corporate job setting for about 8 years now and am looking to live/teach in either China or Japan for one year. My question is specific to the work/life balance in these 2 countries, based on your teaching experiences. Can you elaborate on which country/program had the best working hours/vacation time?

    My goal (outside of the actual teaching) is to experience a new and exciting culture, an opportunity to meet both expats and locals (I only speak English), and live in a medium-large sized city with plenty of things to do/see both indoors and outdoors. My concern is not having enough free time/vacation to really experience the country I am in. In Japan, I’ve heard that if you go the private school route, you’re looking at 40 hours a week minimum plus some occasional overtime (per a friend who taught in Tokyo with AEON) and 2-3 weeks vacation. In China, I’ve heard the working hours required may be far less than a standard 40 hour work week.

    Any insight into the differences in work/life balance in China and Japan would be much appreciated!

  17. Hello, very informative post! I am a 30 year old single male living in Charlotte, NC and am looking to teach English in either China or Japan for a year as a break from my current corporate job. My question is about work/life balance. From your knowledge and teaching experiences, are there major differences in work hours required in these two countries based on work ethic standards and employer expectations?

    My goal of this experience is to be a successful teacher, but also to experience a new and unique culture, form relationships with expats and locals, travel around the country a bit, and enjoy life outside from just teaching. Don’t get me wrong, I do think teaching will be a rewarding and beneficial experience and I’m not necessarily looking for shortcuts. However, I have heard that depending on which route you take in Japan, you may be overworked. A friend who taught in Tokyo for AEON mentioned he worked a standard 40 hour week and often worked overtime. It seems like some folks get by in China only working 15-20 hours a week and still make enough to afford to live in the country.

    Any recommendations on private language companies to look into for teaching English in China or Japan? Also, do you know if it is possible/legal to work part-time in either China or Japan and still hold a Visa for one year? Thank you!

    • Hello Matt. Thank you for stopping by the blog. In both Japan and China, most private language institutions will have you in the office for 40 hours a week. 25 of those hours are teaching hours and the rest of the time will be spent on administrative work. You can definitely get by in China working 15-20 hours a week working in certain schools because the cost of living is a lot lower there. However, it really depends on the city you decide to move to. Most people I know that live in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen or Guangzhou have to work the amount of hours your friend outlined. As for your question about working part-time, WallStreet English offers a part-time contract in which you can obtain a one year visa and work around 20 hours a week. Some of the better known private language institutions in Japan are Aeon, Gaba, WallStreet and Nova. In China there is Wallstreet and EF. Those are schools that cater to adult learners. I am not too familiar with the language institutions that teach children. Any idea of which city you would like to go to? What age group you would like to teach? Salary expectations? I could give you more detailed answers with that information. Hope I helped answer some of your questions.



      • Hello, thank you for your response to my post! I have switched courses a bit, and am currently working with a recruiter for a teaching job in Taiwan (Taipei). After a good bit of research, Taiwan seems to be a solid ‘middle-of-the-road’ option for my first go at teaching/living in Asia. I see you have experience teaching in Taiwan – which private school did you teach with? The positions my recruiter has sent me so far are for a few of the ‘big’ chain schools – Hess and Shane. They seem to be mainly focused on teaching children, and I have mixed opinions on this, but nonetheless am open to it. I would prefer to teach a combination of elementary and above, and adults but I am not sure this exists.

        I would love to hear where you taught, and if you had any advice on the best/reputable schools in Taipei and surrounding.

        Thank you!


      • Hi Matt. Thanks for your comment and best of luck on your travels in Asia. Taiwan happens to be a flexible country that, if you’re coming from America or Canada, for example, will give you a 90-day visa that can be upgraded once you have found a tax-paying job, so you don’t necessarily have to take one in advance. You have 90 days to sort it out, if you have the courage or resources. Otherwise, accepting a contract in advance is also feasible. Generally, large chain schools, such as the two you mentioned, may require more work and commitment than some of the smaller names, at the same hourly rate. From experience, smaller companies tend to be more enjoyable to work with, but that is no guarantee. Additionally, foreign operated schools may provide a work environment that is more familiar to you. As of today, 600NTD is the standard starting hourly rate for teachers in private schools, so look for something in that range. Also, around 20 hours, give or take, is also quite standard, depending on what you’re looking for.

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