Traveling to Save: How to Get Paid to Live Overseas

This is a guest post from Cassie Browne. Cassie writes about discovering food in Japan at Eaten in Translation.

J.D. has written about how to save for an overseas trip and how to have a vacation on a budget, but if you have time on your hands and like the idea of living in another culture, traveling overseas can be a financial opportunity, rather than a liability.

I've spent the last two years working in Japan as an English teacher, an opportunity open to anyone with a college degree. During that time I've taken four overseas vacations and several trips within Japan, paid off a small debt and saved another $20,000AU (roughly $15,000 US). Not only have I had the time of my life discovering Asia and studying Japanese cooking, I've built up a financial cushion that will give me options later. Meanwhile, friends from college who took out a loan for their first overseas vacation two years ago are still paying it off.

Christina, my coworker from Seattle, is putting the money she earns in Japan towards a housing deposit. “In two years I have saved one year's salary, which I'm quite happy about,” she says.  “While living in Japan I've traveled, had fun, and experienced a new culture. Saving money is just the icing on the cake.” We meet a lot of other expatriates who came to Japan specifically to make a dent in their student loans. So why does living abroad make good financial sense?

  • Jobs and programs targeted at foreign workers often include subsidized housing and other benefits. My Japanese employer paid for my airfare,  excellent health insurance, and a third of the rent on my Tokyo apartment. When I was backpacking in college, a 6-month bartending stint in London came with a free two-bedroom apartment in the West End, above the pub.
  • A favorable currency exchange rate or low cost of living can work in your favor. In England I met South Africans saving enough pounds on their working holiday to purchase a house outright back home.
  • Most of your friends will be saving for their next trip, and it's a lot easier to live cheaply when you're not trying to keep up with your mates' lifestyle.

If you're lucky, you might even find a job that pays you to travel. A friend from high school spun his pure maths major into a London-based job auditing multinational companies, spending three weeks each month traveling to European capitals on his employer's dime. Cruise ships and tour companies are always looking for staff, and international friendship or peace programs can pay your travel costs and give you an insight into local life you might have missed from behind a guidebook.

As with any aspect of personal finance, be sure to do your research. Here are a few starting points:

  • Do investigate which countries you can legally work in, including those with working holiday programs. If your parents or grandparents were born abroad, you may be eligible for a special visa in their home country too.
  • Do ask an overseas employer to sponsor a visa for you, but be aware that if you leave your job, you'll lose the right to work in that country.
  • Do consider what your salary will be worth in your home currency, if saving is your goal, and make sure it's enough to live on.
  • Do investigate your tax and pension situation before you leave, and make sure you get all the refunds you're entitled to when you return home.
  • Do make local friends — they'll show you a new side to their country (and they know where all the good deals are).
  • Don't move to a place in which you have no interest just to save money — you'll be miserable and spend more than you budgeted just to stay sane.
  • Don't commit to a contract you don't intend to finish.
  • Don't pass up new experiences just to save a few bucks — memories are important, too.
  • Don't quit your dream job if you haven't been there for long. Get some experience first.

Be careful. If you were bad at managing money back home, you won't suddenly improve in new surroundings. “Saving money in Japan, like saving money anywhere, is based on your style of living,” says Christina. You might be able to save as much back home, but it's a lot more fun doing it while you're seeing the world.

If you have any questions about working in Japan, you can contact Cassie via her Japanese cooking blog, or through the comments on this article.

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Pippin
Pippin
12 years ago

(edited). good advice, but a really basic thing to consider (before savings, etc), is that migrant labourers generally earn the worst pay. Even skilled foreign labourers need to put effort into working out the local conditions which will optimise their pay. one small example is that in Australia, agency workers generally get paid more per hour than those on the payroll (to reflect the fact that agency staff don’t get pension/leave/etc), but it took me years to realise that there’s no ‘loading’ for agency staff in the UK (costing me loads!). Another plus of living overseas is that education might… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

I like my life. I’m happy with what I do and where I am. But if I were to go back and change some things, one of those would be my lack of travel when I was younger. Looking back with the benefit of age, I can see that traveling when you’re young and unencumbered is ideal, and for a number of reasons.

And to live overseas while being paid for it? Awesome. I would love to do that.

I’ll just have to live vicariously through Cassie, I guess…

Patrick Szalapski
Patrick Szalapski
12 years ago

My brother-in-law is an American teaching English in Japan. A couple of his tips:

– Live like the citizens do: learn to like the daily food that they eat, live in a small apartment, walk and take the train, etc. (He lost a lot of weight, is healthier, and enjoys the food).

– Get involved: Don’t surround yourself in an American bubble–assimilate. Find a hobby where you can associate with Japanese. (He plays futsal/soccer with a rec team there, and meets with a church that has some Americans but not all).

Joe
Joe
12 years ago

I was also a high school English teacher in Japan, and enjoyed the entirety of my experiences there. Like Cassie, I was able to save and travel inland and abroad. Working in Japan affords you two strong financial advantages: * The US-Japan tax treaty allows you to work tax free (in //both// countries). See IRS form 2555-EZ. * The Japanese government takes pension (social security) out of your paycheck, but will refund it to you once you leave Japan. For each year you work in Japan you get a full month’s salary back. In addition, I found a local bank… Read more »

Stephanie
Stephanie
12 years ago

Thanks so much for this wonderful article – this is something I have been very interested in for the last few years. I just graduated in May, and so I’m now at a point that I could conceivably do this. My problem is that I don’t know where to start looking – I know I need to get certified before I could teach English, and the only places I can find are online, and I don’t know what are scams and what aren’t.

Any suggestions?

Cindy
Cindy
12 years ago

Yay! I spent 2003-2006 living and working in the UK. I had a sweet grant with the NSF that not only paid me more than my superiors there, but also paid for significant amounts of travel (to improve US/UK research relations). Like the other commenter above, I also got away tax free from both countries… the UK considered my tax home the US because that’s where my money originated, and the US considered my tax home the UK, because I lived there 100% of the time. We saved up enough for a down payment on a house when we moved… Read more »

sfordinarygirl@gmail.com
12 years ago

@Stephanie: Look at the alternative weeklies or newspaper classified ads for teaching English abroad opportunities. If you’re interested in teaching English in Japan, email me and I can send you a list. Quite a few of my friends have taught in Japan and different companies have different pay scales.

Tom
Tom
12 years ago

A very interesting read. While I could never leave the good old US of A, the contract part is really important. I would highly recommend scouting out the job and getting a feel for the area, etc before committing.

Rika
Rika
12 years ago

Japan’s great, I liked it so much I settled here and now have a family and a business. Patrick makes a very good point about living like the locals, especially regarding the food. I do everything like his brother – eat small portions of healthy Japanese food, and walk everywhere. I don’t own a car, and don’t need one. I am always shocked when I meet up with relatives and friends from home and see how overweight and unhealthy they are. We all started out same size, but over the years they have gained in girth, and I have stayed… Read more »

RJ
RJ
12 years ago

Does anyone know how common it is for older people (55+) to do this? I’m in my early 40s and happily established in a career in the States, but when I retire (at 55? 60? 65?) I might like to teach abroad. I realize this is 15-25 years away for me, but hey, I like to dream big.

Chad F
Chad F
12 years ago

I’ve been living abroad for a few years now and I’ve encountered some people over age 50 who are doing it as well.

Especially if they’re English teachers, I can’t help but think of them like they’re the old guy at a nightclub, trying hard to look cool and young but just not getting it at all.

Terra Andersen
Terra Andersen
12 years ago

I’ve always wanted to live in Japan. This was a very informative post.. good stuff!

Paul
Paul
12 years ago

Hello, I’ve enjoyed reading this site for some time now and thought I’d contribute. I’ve been living and teaching English in South Korea now for almost a year and it’s awesome. Almost all schools will pay for your airfare, apartment’s rent(not utilities), and will give a month’s salary bonus upon completing the contract. Beginning salaries usually range from about $2000 to $2500 a month with less than 6% taxes. I strongly considered going to Japan, especially since I studied the language for a year after graduating; but found Korea to be the better choice for financial reasons. A good website… Read more »

Kathy
Kathy
12 years ago

Ok, I will be 62 tomorrow. I don’t look it act it or feel it. I need the truth though, would it be out of the question for someone my age to try this? My husband, 72, says no way – he’s not going. But he says try it for a year without him and he will hold down the fort stateside. I guess I need a realistic awnser. Thanks!

Dave
Dave
12 years ago

Great article! I actually lived in Germany for 3 years, as a contractor supporting the US military. Because I wasn’t civil service or military and I lived overseas for at least 11 months, I paid no income tax on my earnings during that time. Between the tax savings and a per diem amount, I got about a 50% increase in my take home pay. However, I went over there thinking that I was going to save a big pile of money, but the reality was different. We (my wife went along also) did save some, but the costs were significantly… Read more »

sfordinarygirl
sfordinarygirl
12 years ago

One of my friends is teaching with a company called GEOS in Tokyo right now. It’s pretty cool and for someone who loves Japanese culture, the job works out great.

http://www.geoscareer.com/

check it out if you’re interested.

RedSeven02
RedSeven02
12 years ago

I met a very close friend of mine while I was stationed near Tokyo, and she was teaching in Fukuoka, Japan. She had the greatest time while there (a few years) and has had lasting friendships. I’m envious of her experience, and am trying to convince my wife to live overseas (her having lived in or around East Peoria her entire life), and this may be one way to convince her. From what my friend told me, a college diploma was the biggest criteria. Knowing Japanese wasn’t an issue, but my friend is fluent, so it was a big plus… Read more »

stavrosthewonderchicken
stavrosthewonderchicken
12 years ago

I’ve been in Korea most of the last 11 years, and I coincidentally posted a ‘Dos and Don’ts for Getting and Keeping a job in Korea’ to one of my sites just the other day. It’s here.

Interested readers might also find this article useful as well.

Anna
Anna
12 years ago

These are all great responses and yes, I think anyone of any age could move overseas to teach. While we lived in Korea some of our closest friends were retired South Africans who taught in the international school. If I were older, I woulnd’t want to go without a teaching degree and peprhaps a more established job with an international school rather than a job teaching English in a foreign school. Although there has been a lot of discussion about the positives, there has not been much about the negatives. Most of the English teachers I encountered in my two… Read more »

Las
Las
12 years ago

People have mentioned Japan and Korea a lot, but there’s also Taiwan. It doesn’t have as high pay as either of those places, or the killer exchange rate Korea’s enjoying right now, but from all that I’ve heard, I consider it a better place to live (I also work as a hostel manager, so play host to many vacationing teachers). Most Korean expats told me they preferred Taiwan after their visit, while Japanese teacher’s were split. Some things Taiwan’s got going for it are: -Much cheaper living expenses -More friendly and open people -Slower, more relaxed pace -Bosses are less… Read more »

clarice
clarice
12 years ago

i am also interested in working and living in japan. what do i do to start? is there a specific website i need to go to?

Shar
Shar
12 years ago

I have been living and working as a teacher in Southern England- in the rough equivalent of a USA reform school- since August 2007 and have just been offered to be kept on another year; though the cost of housing is astronomical here, and I do miss the California sunshine, I have managed to save about 7,000 US dollars so far and am going to stay on the additional year! I had never thought about Japan, I am a trained Special Education teacher, but now think I may research that as my next destination! Thanks to all for the great… Read more »

Patricia
Patricia
12 years ago

Great information! I plan to go overseas to teach soon – want to save money and travel and yes I am over 50 – but I want to do this long term and make a career out of it.

Manie Dickinson
Manie Dickinson
7 years ago

FM: Maybe you could do a post dedicated to Staples UR bonus points that we could use as a focal point for tracking what is going on. There may be a pattern that we can uncover…

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