Teachers Making $4 million a year?

I get the impression that in South Korea, education is life’s most coveted asset. 

A colleague of mine left Korea to come to Singapore, and as he explained it, he was giving up the possibility of making lucrative sums as a tutor  in Seoul, to take a lower paying job at Singapore American School

That sounded a bit crazy to me, considering that SAS teachers are offered  very competitive salaries—far higher than what they would be making if they worked in Europe or North America.

Then I came across this online video story about teachers in Korea making up to $4 million a year.  South Korea’s Millionaire Teachers  Seriously???

Andrew Hallam

I’m a financial columnist for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail, as well as for AssetBuilder, a financial service firm based in Texas. I’m also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School and Millionaire Expat: How To Build Wealth Living Overseas. My mission is to educate, motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and best practices for investing, using evidence-based strategies. I'm happy to comment on your questions.

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14 Responses

  1. Jordan Flower says:

    Am I missing something? I looked at the website of SAS teachers and they do not seem to be making any more that Alberta school teachers. In fact, I think they make considerably less. Can you explain what is works out to in terms of gross pay?

  2. My sister fled SK and her 6 day a week 10 hr a day teaching job where she felt she was being spied on whenever she traveled and felt she was somewhat enslaved. She was making no where near $4million.

  3. Jordan Flower says:

    Look at the links….Even in Sask I am sure that teachers are doing just fine. I understand that it is n where near 4 mill but it is not too bad either.

  4. @Jordan Flower

    Hey Jordan,

    One of the things I've learned, when comparing salaries, is not to look at gross pay at all. Taxes and costs of living in different countries are factors that can make huge differences to net pay/net savings. And when employers cover expenses such as housing, the savings can really add up. I believe my single friend saves about $30,000 a year as a teacher here. So I was very surprised when he suggested that he would have likely made more money as a celebrity tutor in Korea–while saving more than that in the process.

    One thing an Albertan teacher does have going their way is a pension. And that can be very significant in the end.

  5. @Sustainable PF

    Hey Sustainable,

    When you watch the clip carefully, it's indicated that teachers in South Korea can make up to $4 million a year when accounting for their online "pay per view" tutorials. And of course, as with any self-initiated process, there are many factors contributing to that. People selling books (authors) can make millions a year. But I know of many authors (as I'm sure you do) who hardly make anything at all.

    In a place like South Korea, where attractive celebrity tutors have their faces plastered on city buses and other monstrous advertisements, the sky really can be the limit.

    It's probably worth more research and a further post. I have found the educational "celebrity tutor" concept over there to be quite fascinating. Tell us about your sister's experience, if you can. That sounds bizarre that she was being followed over there. But the more I learn about Korea, the more I realize I don't know.

  6. @Jordan Flower

    Hey Jordan,

    I agree that teachers can definitely do OK in Canada. And when you add in the pension, it can end up being a sweet gig–especially if you love doing it. What are house prices like in Saskatoon? In Vancouver, getting by on a single teacher's salary would probably be really tough, considering the costs of housing. I've heard that Saskatoon real estate has increased a fair amount, although I'd imagine that it is far more reasonable than Vancouver. What do you think?

  7. Jordan Flower says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I do agree that there are way more factors to consider than just salary. I would think that housing is much higher in Vancouver than Saskatoon as well. The only thing is that these are major centers, and being a teacher, I don't have to live in them. I live in Alberta outside Calgary. Housing is still pretty steep but it is affordable if you don't need a mansion. This coupled with other benefits (pension),stable income, job security, makes teaching a pretty good job to have.

    I think the one thing that you can't put a price tag on is the experience of teaching overseas. This experience to me usually outweighs any financial benefit. I am always curious of how competitive salaries are overseas, as both my wife and I would like to do this some day.

    Anyhow my 2.5 cents worth

  8. @Jordan Flower

    Hey Jordan,

    Shoot me an email if you'd like more financial details about teaching overseas. Benefits range, depending on the location and the school, but I could do my best to answer your questions.

  9. Hey Andrew,

    The Koreans take education very seriously, so I am not too surprised that there are millionaire teachers over there with 7 figure salaries. I believe that professor is one of the highest paid positions that you can have, and is certainly one of the most respectable.

    As for the spying, I never personally encountered such problems (that I know of), but I have heard of Koreans using pinhole cameras to spy on their foreign ESL teachers. The Koreans are very welcoming of Westerners on one hand (I never felt anything but warmth from them) but on the other hand they keep a watchful eye especially when it comes to their own children.

    I did enjoy my stay there, and it's the kind of society you can appreciate when you make some friends over there and get to experience the culture some more. If you go there as an outsider maybe you never see that side of things.

  10. bad credit says:

    So, I think may be some of them, but a few of them get that salary, that is 1% from 10%, this is just my point. I have never heard of a teacher that works that much.

  11. @Kevin@InvestItWisely

    Hey Kevin, did it ever tempt you to go for that "celebrity tutor" status? Did you know anyone who did that?

    A Korean friend of mine said that if an entrepreuneurial tutor didn't wear a Rolex and a variety of other uber-expensive accessories, they'd never make it as a high paid Korean tutor….based on the obsession with looks and materials in the big cities. If you wore a Rolex when you lived there, who knows? You might still be over there, with your mug plastered on the side of some bus!

  12. Yakezie says:

    Wow, that's nuts Andrew!

    What is awesome though is that you can save taxes on the first $91,500 of your income! For that, I'm highly jealous.

    BTW, I forget when started the Yakezie Challenge, but the sign up shee is now live at: http://yakezie.com/10181/personal-finance/welcome

    We need to make a push for your site to get to 200,000 or below in the next 2 months (as that's how long it wil take to publish all the Member Posts)! If not, Gamma Class perhaps?

    Regards, Sam

  13. @bad credit

    Hey Bad Credit,

    I think you're right. It has to be a very small minority that make that kind of income. But you have to admit: the fact that any of them do is quite extraordinary, don't you think?

  14. @Yakezie

    Thanks for the encouragement with this Sam.

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