Teachers Can Save A Small Fortune At These Schools Abroad



Last year, elementary school counselor Nathan Schelble bought a $280,000 home in East Aurora, New York. 

He paid cash.  It took him just three years to save the money.

No, he wasn’t running a drug business like the teacher in Breaking Bad. 

Instead, he and his wife, Stacie , had worked for 6 years at Singapore American School (SAS).  Their nine-year old daughter attended for free. 

It’s one of a few dozen international schools where teachers might be able to save as much as the average doctor or lawyer.  

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Read the rest of the article.

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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24 Responses

  1. Neil says:

    Geez, thanks for making my school feel so inferior. 🙂 If I saved 100% of my salary after taxes, I would have $48,000 USD and I am at almost the top of the pay scale. Taxes are high in China but these schools must be paying massive amounts over the norm for overseas. My friend taught at a private school with Ontario curriculum in Hong Kong and he was taking home the same as me (after he paid the rent). His cost of living in HK was much higher than mine in China. Do you have access to their monthly salaries? The numbers in the article only show their savings, not their salary after taxes. I have a hard time believing some of these numbers, especially for the ones for HK.

  2. Neil says:

    See, I would think it would be relevant. For example, do these schools pay $100,000 US per person after taxes? That means that some of these teachers only saved 50% of their take-home salary (assuming couples get paid the same). With some of the numbers in the article, these schools must pay a fortune. I can understand the single man in Thailand being able to live his lifestyle due to the low cost of living there but for the teachers in HK, the numbers just don’t add up. A 700 square foot apartment in Hong Kong? My friend’s crappy 250 square foot apartment cost 10,000 HKD ($1287 USD) a month. Spain, France, Italy and 4-star beach holidays? And they still save more than $100,000 a year? Should I be quitting my crappy, minimum-wage job and go look at real schools? I just wish there would have been a bit more information in the article. If they each get paid $200,000 USD a year, it’s not so impressive. If they get paid $80,000, it seems impossible.

    • You’re right Neil, I could certainly expand on this. But AssetBuilder has a word limit–and I exceeded it with this piece. If I have time, I’ll extend the article and post it directly on my own blog, adding some more examples, and giving some more details. But you should trust these people. There are some exceptionally high paying schools out there. Singapore American School, for example, also pays for accommodation. Based on the current exchange rate, teaching couples at SAS receive a housing allowance of $3,382 USD per month. Those with kids receive more. And what you don’t spend, you get to keep. I’m glad I wrote this article because many international teachers aren’t aware there are schools that pay this much. Others, through just dumb luck, land at the top paying schools on their first international gig, and they think they’re all like this. Last year, for example, SAS hired at least 3 teachers straight out of college. Most are living the life of Riley with no idea how lucky they are.

  3. Neil says:

    I think I might have to pull out the old resume and start looking around. My school is a high paying one (for China) and one can save a lot here but it’s not even close to some of these other schools, or so it seems. Singapore can’t be that humid, could it? 🙂

    • Singapore is awesome Neil.

      On a related note, it surprises me that nobody has compiled accurate comparative data on benefits, taxes, costs of living and savings potential of international schools. What’s even more surprising is that many international teachers have no clue that some schools pay the kinds of packages that can enable massive savings.

      That’s why I thought this article might be useful. Other schools that pay very well include Zurich International (possibly the highest paid school in Europe) where I have been told numerous times that frugal teaching couples can save $100,000 USD per year. After a few years at ASIJ (Japan) some great salaries really kick in. Salaries and benefits are also outstanding at Tapei American School. You are right. I need to expand this article, at some point. But perhaps I can convince you to help me in a team effort. Now that you’re starting to dig, you could be my research assistant!


  4. Neil says:

    Interesting. My plan has always been to finish up one more year at my current school and then start a new job search. I have been frustrated by the lack of salary information at some schools and this might make for an interesting website. We can talk. 🙂

    On a side note, I went to an interview at another international school a few years back (nothing serious, just wanted to see what other schools had to offer) and they took my long period at my current school as a negative. He was somewhat implying that I was at my current school for so long, unlike many other international teachers, since I could not get a job anywhere else. I would have thought that showing long-term stability at a single school would be an asset, not a liability. Ever hear of things like that?

    • Neil, I think many schools would like a teacher who doesn’t play musical chairs with his employers.


    • Mark says:

      The information is already out there…it’s called Search Associates (or ISS). Their extensive database compiles the approximate salaries and savings potential for a single teacher, couple, single teaches with MA, etc. They have been doing this for years. Also, many large schools (including mine) put the salary scales on their website.

      The only downside is the savings potential is subjective and done by recruiting administrators who can not always give accurate numbers.

      • Hi Mark,

        The data on Search Associates (for SAS, anyway) isn’t even close. And after being at SAS for 11 years, I can tell you that nobody has profiled the teachers to ask what they save.


      • Owen says:


        I too had heard about Search Associates posting these figure, but wonder where they get their data from. We’ve never registered with them, but friends of ours did and said that they listed Singapore American as a school where you could save 30% – that seems very low to me.

        Like Andrew said, I also don’t know how they come up with that figure. Singapore is what you make of it – can be the most expensive city in the world if you choose to live that lifestyle, or can be relatively cheap with some spending discipline.

        • Mark says:

          They get their data directly from the school administrators who fill out the form. You are right that they rarely survey all teachers so they are just a guess. We have friends at SAS and other schools there and some things you can cut but others are difficult like rent, car, eating out, child care, groceries, etc. End of the day, it is just an average. Although we live well within our means and save well, we also like to enjoy life and not wait till we are retired to do so.

  5. Neil says:

    You would hope. 🙂

    I got a pretty good thing going here. I am on track to save 100% of my salary next year due to extra work and such and am highly motivated. China is nuts but it is interesting and we get an insane amount of holidays. Hard to leave a job with almost four months paid holiday a year.

    A webpage with details about international school salaries is interesting though. Will have to think more about that.

    Thanks Andrew. Hope traveling around the world is going well for you and your wife.

  6. Owen says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Another great article. We are at a well-paying school in Singapore and even with my wife off of teaching for the past 18 months (and next 6) we are saving money. Incredible that a family of 4 can be supported by a single teacher’s salary!

    We are into DBS Vickers and have 4 ETF’s each with equal weighting. XIC, VUN, XWD and XSB, all traded in Canada. Very easy to set up and deal with.

    I’d written before about your thoughts on Bonds. They seem to have been quite stagnant for some time now. We still have them in our portfolio but wondering if your viewpoint has changed at all. I guess stocks have been on the up for years now, so perhaps that’s why bonds don’t seem to be moving.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Hi Owen,

      You have a great portfolio. In case you are curious, here are the cumulative pre-tax returns for the bond ETF you own, including any capital appreciation and interest: http://www.blackrock.com/ca/individual/en/products/239491/

      Ending February 28th, 2015

      Past 1 year: +3.68%
      Past 3 years: +8.09%
      Past 5 years: +15.1%
      Past 10 years: +44.86

      Just so you know, bond prices don’t usually move. OK, they do move. But they make no net long term gains–unlike stocks Their prices will just move up and down. It’s the interest you count on.

      Bonds are boring. But they can be great dry powder when it’s time to rebalance your portfolio.

      Also, smart investors never change their views on bonds. They should always be a part of an investor’s portfolio. And by going with a short term bond index (as you have done) you will stay ahead of inflation, and the price will be far more stable than with a broad bond ETF with medium and longer term bond holding periods.


  7. Lindell Lucy says:

    I taught kindergarten in Hong Kong for 2.5 years, starting out at $20,000 HKD ($2,579 USD) per month, gradually raised to $23,000 HKD. When I quit last summer, I was earning approximately $35,586 USD per year BEFORE taxes were deducted. (Also note that I graduated from Stanford University, one of the world’s top universities.)

    I was required to work on Saturdays sometimes, and the summer holiday was about two weeks. The school did not pay my rent, so I had to pay it myself, which instantly devoured 1/3 of my pay. I lived in what was little more than a box.

    The fact that some teachers are earning three times what I was earning and getting free accommodation and longer holidays is an eye-opener, to say the least.

    I am wondering, do these people who earn such high salaries have masters degrees in education? (I do not.)

    • Hi Lindell,

      Singapore American School hired three inexperienced teachers this year, straight out of college. No, they don’t have master’s degrees. I have found that the top tier international schools prefer master’s degrees. But I don’t have one either. Don’t let what they advertise deter you from applying. You may be interested in HKIS. It’s a top tier, top paying school in Hong Kong.


  8. Lisa says:

    Hi Andrew,
    Thanks for all the great information and inspiration. I am an elementary school teacher in Canada who is interested in working abroad during summer breaks. I am having trouble finding info for this type of job and was wondering if you have any leads for me given your vast network. If not, no problem. I appreciate your time. Thanks!
    Take care,

    • Hi Lisa,

      I don’t know of any schools that offer summer teaching positions overseas. To my knowledge, the best paying schools do not. However, if you want to find a full time job at one of the great schools I mentioned in this article, signing up for Search Associates would help. Here’s the link: http://www.searchassociates.com/


  9. Lisa says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for the advice and the quick response. I will check out Search Associates and see what happens.

    I really appreciate your quick response and willingness to share your knowledge. I feel very lucky to have come across your book. I am in the final stages of setting up my E-Series investment with TD and have recommended your book to my network.

    Take care,

  10. Petra says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I am working in Hong Kong and will most likely retire in Europe. Therefore I followed your advise and opened an account at Internaxx. Now I am wondering: I am earning HK Dollars and I would like to follow the “European Couch Potato Portfolio” (Listed Currency Euro and US Dollars). Is it better to convert the money here in HK in Euro and Dollars and transfer the money to Luxemburg or do I transfer HK Dollars? I just want to save as much money as possible.
    Thanks for your advise

    • Hi Petra,

      You’ll need to look at your options to see what will give you the best deal, in terms of currency bid/ask spreads. Will Internaxx give you the best deal if you transfer HK dollars, or will a local bank give you a better bid/ask spread deal? I don’t know what your local banks will provide, so it’s not an answerable question from my end.


  11. Tim says:

    Taxes in Singapore have gone up a ton and the Singapore School mentioned has reduced their package since the Shelble’s have left. The Shelble’s also rented out rooms in their house to students at the school for extra income and were probably pretty frugal. Please don’t think you have it made by coming to Singapore. It takes quite a bit of work to save, especially if you have children. The Shelble’s worked hard at it, I am sure. If you have students at the school, this will add a considerable amount to taxes, as the tuition is considered income. Yes, it is a great school which is very demanding of its teachers and the pay is good, but it might not work for you as it has for others in the past.

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