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Edward Snowdon is a man of risk, teaching his way around Asia for a decade. In between gigs, he spent his savings on backpacking journeys in SE Asia and India. As his funds dwindled he would apply online for teaching jobs. Twice, he ran out of money before finding a job. He learned to survive. In this article, Edward offers a failsafe to help other expats who might run out of money while abroad. 

Teaching English doesn’t pay a lot anyway, so it’s not surprise I have often run out of money during my ten years living as an expat in Asia.

With teaching work, these days there are a lot more expats looking for teaching jobs. Living paycheck to paycheck, if disaster strikes (like if you get fired) you can find yourself in a real mess. No matter how nice your landlords are, if you can’t make rent their attitude will change in a hurry.

If money’s getting tight, cut expenses. Housing for less than $200 monthly exists in SE Asia, China and even Japan. Get out of the expat area, walk around local neighborhoods and have a local taxi guy find you a hovel.

This place cost me $100 in suburban Bangkok in 2014

This place cost me $100 in suburban Bangkok in 2014

You should always keep a laptop with you, and have access to internet. In the most desperate of times, the laptop and internet are your best weapons to find work.

Teaching English online

Aside from housing (a quiet controlled space), laptop and wired internet, you need a headset, video cam and clean background. Skype over wifi is very shaky for cross-country video conferencing, unusable for this gig.

Teach English to Chinese kinds using SKype

Teach English to Chinese kinds using SKype

If you have no teaching qualifications, it’s easy to say that you do. Just put it on a resume. If you can talk to little kids in a native accent, you can get the job. A few employers I’ve dabbled with in the past year include VIP Kid and Talk915. I also had good dealing with the people at Zamenhof, might use them at some point in the future.

About the job

You will earn enough to survive, but just barely. You will also risk your mental health.

In most cases, you work for China-based operations. Online teaching is hot these days, largely because it’s cheaper and more convenient than using live teachers. In China, the lowest you can expect for teaching is 100 RMB per hour. Online, you can expect around $12 for an hour of teaching (76 RMB).

These companies hire everyone: lots of teachers from the Philippines, blacks, Russians, you name it. They all pay via Paypal and I’ve never had an issue with pay. It’s legit.

Classes are 25 minutes long. Most of the students are Chinese kids between 3-6 years old, with a few surly teenagers mixed in. Moms often sit in on lessons and flirt with you. It’s a lot of pressure. You get a 5 minute break between classes and then do it again.

Teach little Chinese kids as their moms watch you

Teach little Chinese kids as their moms watch you

It’s really hard.

Torturous limbo survival

This gig will keep you alive, but that’s about it. Use it for a month or so to get out of your hole, but no longer than that. This Reddit post captures the horror succinctly enough:

Am burnt out from the dead-ended nature of teaching Chinese kids English everyday…

I cannot live without this job. It is in theory pretty sweet; I get to make my own hours, the classes are not intensive and the pay is about 10.50 USD per 25 min class. I never had too many payment issues, etc. It is just that this sucks to do everyday and I am not happy, but need it to survive.


If you go this route, you can start teaching within a week, and get paid at the end of the month through Paypal. On the downside, this job will suck your will to live. No matter, use your non-teaching time to apply for other jobs online.

Regarding freelancer job websites, I’ve actually gotten paid writing work on Upwork. Pay is very little ($2 per 500 word article) but can realistically bring in a hundred dollars a month.

Otherwise, browse Flexjobs for remote work leads, and search for Facebook employment groups for local leads in your area.

Then all you need to do is grind out the online teaching work, until the next real job materializes.