We often get e-mails saying "I want to teach English overseas, possibly in Japan, is it possible to save any money on an average salary?"
In Japan, with a typical entry level teaching salary of 250,000 yen per month, saving money can be a bit challenging. In reality, just like everywhere else in the world, you can definitely spend more than you can make. But to avoid gross generalities on this subject and attempt to answer it to a somewhat accurate degree. (All of these figures on per month estimates.)
We'll cut straight to the heart of the matter and do the math for you!
Click here for our salary comparison chart to see how far that salary will go. Starting with an average teacher’s salary of 250,000 yen for a typical 5 day work week, the tax man takes about 10% right off the bat.
(Considering in most Western countries income taxes are considerably higher you’re money ahead in this respect for a typical entry level position. I digress again…) So we’re down to about 220,500 yen.
Teach English Overseas - Facing The Rent Gauntlet
Next comes rent. Expect to dish out around 70,000 yen per month for a roof over your head. Typically this would be a 1DK. (For example Osaka but if it were to be in Tokyo you can expect to pay another 20,000 yen per month) Some pay more than this, others pay less. The biggest factors that cause massive swings are how close you are to train stations, if your apartment has an elevator and if there is nice shopping nearby.
Those who choose to have roommates pay considerably less. Probably the cheapest way to get by is to share an apartment in a gaijin house or share house. But based on an average rental payment of 70,000, this leaves us with about 150,000 yen.
Let's Not Forget Those Utilities
Next up, electricity, gas and water. On average this will run you around 20,000 yen per month. Again depending on how frugal or wasteful you are with utilities your bottom line will change. There will be some swing on these numbers, but now we’re down to 130,000 yen.
Teach English Overseas - No Free Hot Lunch...
Next up food. Unlike utilities where the swing is really minimal this can’t be said of food. Those who attempt to duplicate a typical western diet in Japan get creamed right here. Buying imported foods can really take quite a chunk out of your salary. So our advice is that if you want a typical western diet, stay in your home country and eat there.
Although it is comforting to note that with the invasion of fast food coupled with an ever increasing number of import food shops like Costco the monster food store and tons of smaller ones you can get fairly close to a Western diet but be prepared to pay more.
If you choose the smarter and healthier road of eating like the locals you can get by pretty well on 50,000 yen per month. (This assumes that eating out is kept to a minimum and when you do decide to eat out that it’s not terribly extravagant. After all, you can eat many simple dishes out for less than 900 yen.) If you’re a bit thrifty with your cooking, you can pretty much squeeze health and beauty aids into this 50,000 yen food and personal items budget. So now we’re down to 80,000 yen.
Internet, TV and phone calls are the last stop on this train. Packages very but 10,000 yen will pretty much cover this. (Of course this assumes international calls are few and damn short or you’re using Skype most of the time to contain the bleeding. So we have around 70,000 yen left
You’re probably wondering, “What about alcohol?” If you like to drink, you’re going to have to cut what's left in half. If you like to drink out a lot, you’re going to have to give it all back. A beer at your favorite watering hole will run you in the neighborhood of 500 to 600 yen or 5 to 6 USD.
A “tachinomi” or standing bar where you stand and drink (no chairs) can help contain the damage. I’ve seen prices for a single draft beer as low as 250 yen. A beer at a grocery store will run you about 120 yen for a low malt beer (haposhu) or 220 yen for a full malt beer. In other words, a little self control goes a long way toward helping you save a bit of that hard earned salary.
So if you’re moderate and a bit frugal in this department, between both coffee and beer or sake, you might be able to get by on 10,000 yen for the month. So now we’re down to 60,000 yen. And this pretty much is the last stop on this train.
Teach English Overseas - Waiting on a Train
The last factor in this equation is transportation expenses for trains and buses. This can be a tremendous expense. Rates very beyond calculation as every situation is different. So make sure that your employer picks this up. If they don’t, you might consider looking for greener pastures.
Those who own their own cars can expect to fork over another 10,000 to 20,000 yen in gasoline expenses. Insurance must also be taken into account. This generally runs about 20,000 yen on the very low end.(Most people fork out 30,000 yen.) And let's not forget that you'll have to park the machine. Expect this to run about 10,000 yen per month and this is a conservative estimate.
(This pretty much is an unnecessary expense (and is best considered a luxury) as Japan has the most advanced mass transit system on the planet. So we’re not going to consider this in our final calculations.)
And The Bottom Line is...
If you're going to teach English overseas or more specifically in Japan, you can expect to save around 50,000 to 60,00 yen per month. Those who have their own private students, control their drinking habits, don't own a car have TEFL certifications and have roommates do considerably better in this department. Those who don't can't save squat.
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