Travelling and saving while teaching English in Hong Kong

Have you thought of teaching English in Hong Kong? Are you wondering how much it costs to live there, how much money can you make teaching in HK, and how much you need for living and travelling? This article is on just that.

As the financial capital of Asia, Hong Kong is a special place to be, and to teach. In it, you can enjoy the sights of the sea and hikes in the mountains. You can shop in western stores or Asian markets, and the standard of living you choose will determine how much travelling you can do around Asia when you are taking a break from the classroom.

If you’re travelling to Hong Kong to teach, the chances are that you’ll want the cosmopolitan lifestyle while also having the ability to travel easily in and around the city. The good news is that, in the capital that links the east to the west, the salary you earn can give you more than a shoestring budget to travel through the surrounding countries.

For specific information on the monthly salary, the cost of living, travelling on a teacher’s budget, and whether you can save or not, read this article on travelling and saving while teaching English in Hong Kong.

What is the salary of a teacher in Hong Kong?

As far as salaries go, you will be earning between USD 2,500 and USD 6,500 per month. How much you will earn will depend on your previous experience, qualifications and where you’ll work. Those with PhDs in TESOL, Linguistics, or English and with great academic credentials would command the highest salaries at the most distinguished universities.

However, if you are just getting started on your English teaching journey, then language centres are an excellent place to build on your experience so that you can work your way up.

Also, many teachers progress to managing language centres, which is another excellent way to increase your salary to fund your travels. Another option for many new and some experienced teachers is the NET (Native English Teacher) scheme schools and go on to get placements in international schools, where your salary will be about US$4000 per month.

So there are plenty of teaching options to choose from when starting your English teaching career in Hong Kong so that you can build up savings for your travels!

The Cost of Living

Shopping in Hong Kong means choosing between local shops and markets offering the best value for money, and ones that are pricier selling more international items.

To give you an idea, a litre of milk is about US$3, and a loaf of bread would be the same. A weekly shop could be between US$50 and $100, depending on how much you enjoy cooking and what products you like to buy in the supermarkets. Also, to find the best local prices, don’t forget to visit the food markets for fresh fruit, vegetables and meat!

Meals/Restaurants: For meals out, you’ll be looking at about US$10 at a more budget-friendly restaurant. Double or treble that amount if you want to eat out at western-oriented restaurants. So if you fancy treating yourself to some western food occasionally, make sure to include that in your monthly budget!

Utility Bills: This will depend on your living situation, but I would expect the average English Teacher in Hong Kong would spend about US$100 a month. A bonus of Hong Kong is that getting a local sim card and data for your phone is very cheap. You can get 30 days of unlimited data for less than US$5 a month with China Mobile, which is a very popular option among English Teachers when they first arrive in the city!

Transport: Getting around is not as expensive as you might imagine in a busy city like Hong Kong. A transport card for the month is US$64, but this does depend on where you live in Hong Kong, and how far you are willing to travel. As Hong Kong’s public transport is extremely well connected, there is no need for your own form of transportation such as a car! Which makes saving a lot easier in the city!

Accommodation: The most significant expense per month would be your accommodation in Hong Kong. A smaller studio or one-bedroom apartment in Hong Kong is around US$1200, which is typical of rentals in the capital and cosmopolitan cities. Unless you are in the higher earning bracket, a monthly rental of your own place could cost half to three-quarters of your salary!

Shared Accommodation: To save more money for travelling, the best option is to find a flat on sharing basis rather than rent an entire flat to yourself. Most teachers will rent a room in a flatshare and share communal areas such as the kitchen and bathroom. It does mean finding the right flatmates to live with, but that shouldn’t be too hard in a place like Hong Kong with a population of 7.5 million people!

Away from the city: To get the best value for money, looking for somewhere to live off Hong Kong island is likely to be cheaper. Kowloon is an excellent option with more affordable rents but still close to the centre of the city. If you are looking to live away from the hustle and bustle of central Hong Kong, then the New Territories or islands such as Lantau offer the most affordable places to live, and the best option to save more money for travelling across Asia.

Also, something else to consider is how far you want to live from your work, as the closer you live, the lower the cost your commute will be. Living in the same area that you work in is a great way to save money as your commuting costs will be 0! Many teachers do this to save money towards their travels if they teach in the more residential areas, which often have cheaper rents than central Hong Kong.

Travelling on a Teacher’s Budget

Compared to being in a rural area of mainland China, Hong Kong’s position makes travelling easy and affordable for teachers working in the city. Any city that offers what Hong Kong does would be expected to have an expensive transport system, but it is possible to get around on a budget, not just in the city itself, but to surrounding countries too.

As the gateway between the east and the west, what you have is an international flight hub. By keeping your living costs low, you can save a third of your salary. Call it the Travel Fund (so you are not tempted to use it for anything else!).

Save every month for travel: Every few months, you’ll be able to spend a week or two away exploring its neighbouring countries. I found setting aside money that went straight into my travel fund each month was the most helpful tool I used for budgeting. How much you put aside each month will depend on how much you earn and what your living costs are, but I managed to save about US$650 each month for my travel fund. It was the perfect way for me to save to fund my travelling in Asia, which took me to Thailand, Japan, Singapore and Macau!

Budget airlines: Many budget airlines fly out of Hong Kong to surrounding Asian countries. I even saw return flights to the Philippians being advertised at less than US$100! So make sure to look out for these deals! HK Express and Air Asia are two of the most popular budget airlines to fly out of Hong Kong, so keep an eye out for their flights along with checking Skyscanner to find the best value for money.

Beaware of your contract: The only thing that might hinder your travelling plans is your contract at work. Just skipping off for a few weeks at a time might get you in trouble at work, not to mention losing your job! Hong Kongers take their work seriously, so crucial to plan your travels around your annual leave and days off. What you could do quite easily is fly from Hong Kong to another country or city for a weekend or even a long weekend. That way you get to travel, and your school gets you full time.

Quick adventure to neighbouring countries: You might think quick adventures across the pond is for UK/European citizens only, but in fact, Hong Kong is to the rest of Asia, what London is to Europe. Places such as Taiwan and Vietnam are less than a 2-hour flight away! While the rest of South East Asia, Korea and Japan shouldn’t take more than 3-4 hours to fly to, giving endless possibilities for a long holiday or a quick weekend away!

Also, don’t forget to explore the city you will call home! Hong Kong has a lot of free activities on offer for your days off including hiking the peak, to a day on the beach and exploring the heritage, science, and art museums which are free on Wednesdays! Perfect for the budget-conscious teacher working in Hong Kong!

Is saving possible in Hong Kong?

If you are already keeping your costs down by sharing a flat, and you’ve found the best public transport for your needs, are you spending money on travelling? If so, you’d need to be strict about saving to make your travel goals a reality.

There are teachers out there who choose between travelling and saving. Some want to save for the duration of their contract, then spend it on travelling afterwards. On the other hand, some teachers only save to travel, and in Hong Kong, it is possible to save to travel. It’s a personal choice of how you want to travel using your Hong Kong earnings, so it’s best to plan how you want to use your salary to fund your travels.

The better you manage your finances, the more able you will be to do so. The responsibility is yours, but remember when you start in Hong Kong, you will have to give yourself time to find more budget restaurants and shops to free you to travel more. Also, going clubbing is an easy way to spend lots of money in the city!

So it’s essential to plan how often you like to go out and how much you can spend on a night out as part of your budgeting Also if you are female and want to go clubbing while budgeting, make use of ladies night where you won’t have to pay for entry or get some free drinks. Ladies nights are different depending on the bar or club. However, they are usually Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday night.

As long as you are prepared to save a certain amount each month and don’t live an extremely lavish lifestyle while working in Hong Kong, saving is achievable on a teacher’s salary. If you save well, you should be able to afford to travel every few months or take a long trip at the end of the school year.

Tips to help you save while in Hong Kong

  • Shop and eat local for the best value for money.
  • Start a travel fund and put a set amount in the fund each month.
  • Living close to work.
  • Share an apartment with flatmates.
  • Living outside central Hong Kong.
  • Take advantage of cheap public transport.
  • Try not to go clubbing too much.
  • Explore Hong Kong for free.
  • Use price comparison websites such as sky scanner for the cheapest flights.

Say Hello to Hong Kong

If you want to be based in a location from which you can travel easily, while not being stuck in rural areas, then consider the vibrant city of Hong Kong. Many new teachers are put off of it because it has a higher cost of living than other cities in Asia. Though that may be true, what you get for living there is significantly more than other Asian countries and makes up for any increase in the cost of living in the city.

You won’t be lonely for western comforts, nor will you be without a fast-paced lifestyle. Yet, at the same time, you are never far from the rest of Asia and all it has to offer, making Hong Kong the ideal teaching destination for travel-savvy English teachers wanting to explore Asia. Take advantage of Hong Kong travel connections with Asia by starting your English teaching journey today.

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This article was originally published on December 9, 2019 and was last updated on November 30, 2020.

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