The Perks of Working Abroad

This article was first published on Expats Blog by Jenna Longoria

Hong Kong. Photograph by Dominic Le Croissette

The unemployment rate is 5.5% in the United States, 5.2% in England, and a whopping 10% in Ireland. In many countries, it’s the same sad tune. But this article is not about the politics of the situation, or who is to blame. This article is about finding a solution.

Luckily, the answer is simple: work abroad.

I graduated from university in 2008, which is right about the time the job market nose-dived. Every coffee house in my hometown of Austin, Texas had a barista behind the counter with an MA or a PhD. The average graduate was overwhelmed with debt, interning for no pay (minimum wage if lucky), and consequently, apprehensive and pessimistic about their future.

Most graduates couldn’t find work in their “field”. Oh the freedom to find work in your “field”. Tell us again Religious History major, what exactly is a job in your “field”? The bitter truth was and is, times are rough, and most of our generation doesn’t have the option of waiting for a job in our “field”.

Seeing as I was a bright-eyed optimist upon entering university in 2004, I made the decision, like thousands of others, to obtain a degree in the Humanities. Meaning, my degree was worth as much as a bag of rocks. On the bright side, it did give me the chance to explore my world in an open environment of creativity and free expression, which I’m happy and thankful for. It didn’t, however, prevent me from being another cliché; after graduation, I too joined the service industry world. I worked as a hostess, server, and even a bartender.

But I always had a goal in mind: Work, save, and travel the world.

So I did just that. I worked, I saved, and I invested in a 6 week TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) course. A year and a bit after graduating, I landed my first gig teaching English in Surabaya, Indonesia. Excited for the new adventure, and aware that Surabaya was a concrete jungle, I bought a one-way ticket. Although Surabaya isn’t the prettiest place in the world- actually, it’s more of the polar opposite-it was there that I learned the ins and outs of teaching, and became aware of the perks of working abroad.

On another note, working abroad is not for everyone. If you enjoy paying high taxes, working at a job that you are over-qualified for, have a passion for sitting at a desk all day, love staring at a computer screen until your eyes burn, couldn’t imagine a life working less than 40 hours a week, have a fetish for pretending to be busy, or are enthusiastic about paying 25% or more of your monthly paycheck for a decent health insurance plan, working abroad is not for you. If, on the other hand, you have a desire to see more of the world, explore new cultures and enrich the lives of some kids while you’re at it, then teaching abroad might be a nice fit.

All I know for certain, is that working abroad has suited my lifestyle perfectly. Between every one -year contract, I take time to visit new places, see my family, and enjoy life. I never thought I would be a long-term teacher, but after Indonesia, I taught another year in Honduras. I then taught for two years in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and starting this April I will move to Hanoi to seek employment opportunities there.

Streets of Kaohsiung

Taiwan is hands down the best place I have worked abroad. The quality of life for expats is excellent. The demand for teachers is high, and the compensation is more than generous. I worked 25 hours a week, and got paid as much as a teacher in the States working at least 40 hours a week. Also, add to the equation that the cost of living is about 30-50% of that in the U.S., health care is affordable, and the medical treatment is top notch. As an added bonus, I did not have to contribute taxes to a government that spends my money on wars and pushes policies that I disagree with. Finally, I was able to save, pay off my debts, and travel the world at the same time.

There are some minor annoyances about working abroad. My main qualm about working in Asia is the lack of communication between employer and employee. And no, this can’t be blamed on the language barrier, because my boss spoke English. It is completely cultural, and I have learned (or am learning) to accept their ways. So no, it is not peaches and cream all of the time, but hey, when is anything?

Regardless, after experiencing the adventurous and rewarding life of teaching abroad, I could never return to a world of fluorescent lighting, data entry, or one of serving food and drinks.

Answer the questions below to find out if teaching English abroad might be right for you:

1. Are you able to make a commitment to live away from home for a minimum of 1 year?
2. Do you have a University degree?
3. Do you love to travel?
4. Would you like to make a nice salary?
5. Are you able to put the norms of your home country on the backburner, and immerse yourself in a new culture?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, you are probably an ideal candidate. Below is a checklist to prepare for teaching abroad:

1. Take a TEFL or CELTA course. Oxford Seminars offers a 6 -week intensive TEFL option for those with busy schedules. The course is a little pricey, but it’s an investment worth making.
2. If you are planning to teach in Korea, and are from the United States, get your FBI background check ASAP. They take forever to process.
3. Photocopy all of your important documents (resume, transcripts, diploma, TEFL certificate, passport, headshots) and put them in one file on your computer so they are easily accessible whilst applying.
4. Make sure you have enough savings to survive on for one month until you receive your first paycheck.
5. Do your homework on the country you are thinking of moving to. This isn’t a light decision; so make sure you are well prepared.

Where to teach?

Hong Kong. Photograph by Dominic Le Croissette

Asia is a great place to make money, and is perfect for new teachers. South Korea, for

example, is willing to hire teachers with no experience, however it will be tougher to find a position in Taiwan for first timers.

Countries in the Middle East are known to pay the most, but they are usually looking for teachers with more experience, and prefer 2-year contracts.

ESL jobs in Latin America are harder to find, and usually do not compensate very well. I worked in Honduras for one year, and my salary was that of a paid volunteer. All though Latin America is an enriching experience, it is not lucrative.

Helpful links:

Daves ESL Cafe
Oxford Seminars


  1. Pauline Hammer says:

    Thanks for your blog post! My husband and I are planning to move to Taiwan at the end of July to look for work teaching English. I see that you taught in Kaohsiung which is one cities we have considered settling in. Can you tell me how the public transportation is in that city? My husband is gung-ho for getting around by scooter but that pretty much terrifies me, so I’ll be depending on public transport to get to work and around the city when I’m not with him. 🙂

    • Hi Pauline!

      The public transportation is AMAZING in Taiwan and it’s completely possible to get around solely on it. However, try to find work along the MRT lines. Also, the city is very bicycle friendly. I used my bike to get around most of the time. And as far as Asian cities go, Kaohsiung roads and traffic are very gentle when it comes to scooters- compared to where I am now in Hanoi! It’s crazy here! I would not get on a scooter here if my life depended on it.

      Good luck with the move! You would love Kaohsiung.

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