Each and every year, thousands of people make their way to Japan to start jobs as English teachers. They may work at language schools (eikaiwa), as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) in public or private schools, at universities or colleges or at international kindergartens.
I have been messaged in the past by people wondering if they can make a living or even support a salary on an English teacher’s salary.
The answer is “yes” and “no”?
If you go to a website like GaijinPot in the prime hiring season for Japan (November-January), you will see a wide spectrum of salaries being offered to English teachers. Occasionally you will see private Japanese schools offering upwards of 350-400,000 yen a month, but you’ll have to be really qualified to land one of those. You’ll see ones that will offer such a low salary that you’ll have to read the ad two or three times to believe it. I have seen some offering as little at 180,000 yen a month for a full-time teaching position.
Seems that the average salary offered would be about 240-260,000 yen per month.
Can someone live on that? Yes, they can. A single person could live on that salary, but is not likely they would be able to save much money each month. For those coming to Japan with big student loans, hoping to pay them off easily, they may be disappointed.
Of course, where you live in Japan will make a difference as well. If you live in a larger urban area, your monthly rent will be higher as will some other amenities. If you live in a more rural area the cost of living will be lower, but you may have the additional expense of having a car (many small-town teachers need cars to get around).
If you have a family, supporting them on that salary may be a real challenge. Friends of mine who had families and were working in the English teaching game often had to do a lot of side hustles to make ends meet. Some friends who were ALTs in the day would also teach classes at night at private English academies. Others would work on weekends at other schools or teach private lessons any chance they could.
Although I only spent 7 months as an English teacher in Japan, for many years (as a teacher in a small English kindergarten) I was forced to work six days a week and even then, my family and I were still slowly digging ourselves into a financial hole. We didn’t even have a car and rarely travelled, but could barely make ends meet. I was frustrated and bitter because no matter how hard I worked, the pay was simply never very good. I was paying for rent, food, clothing and utilities bills as well as kindergarten tutition for two children. It was rough.
I’m not writing this post to discourage people from coming to Japan to teach. It is an amazing experience. It is an opportunity that allows you to live in and experience Japanese culture daily.
Teaching English is a great “ticket to Japan”, but it often isn’t an easy job and realistically, the pay tends not to be good.
Options like the JET program are great, but the pay is only somewhat better than a typical English-teaching position and the number of years you can work for this government-funded program is limited. That of course means it really isn’t a career option. It’s a short-term one.
I completely encourage anyone who wants to give it a try to do so. Just be aware of the fact that you are going to be working in a job that offers a lower-middle class salary.
My family and I actually had to leave Japan in order to jumpstart my career and enter the world of tier one international schools.
Now we are financially comfortable for the first time in years. Now we can save and travel.
We are also planning to call Japan home again in a few years. Next time that happens however, we won’t be worrying about money like we did in the past (fingers crossed).
Pull the trigger and come to Japan if you want to. If teaching is your Golden Ticket to getting a visa, awesome. Once you get here, learn the lay of the land and things you can do to maximize your income. Also, learn Japanese. If you can speak, read and write Japanese, an entire new world of possibilities may open up to you!
Kevin O’Shea is the host of the Just Japan Podcast. He is also the guy behind JustJapanStuff.com. Kevin is a Canadian educator who lives in Beijing, China with his family. Kevin called Kobe, Japan home for 10 years.
Follow him on Twitter: @jlandkev