Expat slave labor

I have been browsing some online job sites for expat jobs in Indonesia. Like many countries in Asia, teaching English is one area that is pretty accessible to westerners. It’s a job that is never going to make you rich, but for people looking for a lifestyle change, it is a fantastic way to travel to another and experience a different culture for an extended period.

One thing I noticed about the English teaching jobs here in Indonesia, especially on the famous ESL job site – ESL cafe is that the salaries are pretty low. They might be better than your local taxi driver, but they seem to be less than other Asian countries such as China and Vietnam.

Look at this one for example:

Economy return airfare, 6.6 million rupiah per month (net), – I know it’s not the highest of salaries, but the cost of living here is incredibly low, and our teachers actually save money each month; free modern shared housing (2 mins walk from school); 20 days holiday a year (not to mention at least 8 extra national holidays); 1 month salary bonus on completion of contract; medical cover; economy class return airfare. All visa/work permit costs are covered by the school.

The rupiah is taking a bit of a pounding right now, so 6.6 million works out to be around US$543.34 a month. The job does include “shared housing” and is only 2 minutes walk from the school. I like to live close to my work, but not that close and you better hope your roomie doesn’t snore.

Indonesia is a cheap place to live, especially if you only eat local food and don’t drink. I love Indonesian food, but I do like a bit of variety and occasionally want to enjoy a western meal. Duties on imported alcohol are ridiculous along with other imported food. English books are also more expensive. Internet can be relatively expensive (and slow if you are in a remote area.)

Also I know new graduates, especially from the U.S. probably have to pay back some money on their student loans. Travel in Indonesia is cheap, but unless you want to spend 20 hours riding on a bus or ferry you probably want to fly.

I honestly can’t see how their teachers could “save” money.


  1. Rob Said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 1:05 am

    The Wall Street Institute pay about IDR 15 million a month (so I am told). The last I heard on EF was that they were paying around IDR 10-12 million.

    A couple of years ago I answered an ad for an EF position and was offered IDR 7.2 million but that was premised on me living in the housing provided by the school for IDR 750K per month. SO, monthly take home was IDR 6.45 million.

    English teaching in Indonesia is very much a “gap year” activity. Nevertheless, the hours are generally good and there is usually the ability to supplement your income with “private” classes.

    That said, there are some schools such as National Plus and international schools who pay good salaries. However, in most cases you will need recognized teaching qualifications for these positions. In contrast, a small English language school will hire you if you are simply a native speaker.

    Although, I once met this Indonesian fella (by ancestry) who was born and raised in Australia but could not land a job at one private language school in Jakarta because he was not white and therefore he would be a hard sell to the parents.

    I have heard that Japan, Korea, and even Vietnam are paying the equivalent of IDR 20 million + for English teachers.

  2. admin Said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 1:11 am

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I will add your site to my blogroll.

    The salaries are more in Japan but living costs are about 10-20 times that of Indonesia (no joke).

    I have seen jobs in Vietnam for US$2500 a month and living costs there would be somewhat comparable to Indonesia.

  3. Travel Over 30s Said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 7:53 pm

    I think a lot of these jobs play on the naievitiy of the average gapper. To be honest I’d prefer the Vietnam deal – better beer there too – though the wine is rubbish. You are right -its easy to assume that local costs are low – which they are so long as you never want a subway for lunch or bacon for breakfast or a beer!

  4. Daryl Collins Said,

    April 10, 2009 @ 12:17 am

    I am a long term teacher, (6 years) in Medan. The wages at most of the language centres here pay to up to 11 million, some with extras, eg, bonus month, return air fares, accomodation allowance and medical. It is cheap labour for the school owners. The national plus schools and private schools pay more, but generally require a teaching degree.

  5. Bruce Pohlmann Said,

    July 7, 2009 @ 2:47 pm

    Indonesia is definitely not the best place in the world to teach English, but it’s really not much worse than Thailand these days in terms of pay. I’ve been teaching in international schools for the last 20 years, and I’m now teaching in a mixed international/national plus school. You can make quite good money in a number of national plus schools but, as several folks have said here, you generally need teaching credentials. In the long run, it makes sense to get a credential. The pay more than justifies the expense of going back to school for a short while to get certified.

  6. Abhinav Said,

    July 10, 2009 @ 2:37 am


    i am doing research on expats in S.E. Asia. I wanted to understand the kind of jobs most popular amongst expats in indonesia – i.e. banking, consulting, manufacturing, etc.

    hope you guys can help me out


  7. Chris Said,

    January 18, 2010 @ 11:50 am

    So, why would teaching ESL in Indonesia be considered a ‘gap year’ activity only? Quite a myopic view in my opinion.

    There are plenty of individuals who teach for reasons other than to fill a gap year, and I would offer that they are, on the whole, better teachers than the average 23 year old looking for a temporary way to survive a gap year in indonesia. Most people cant save money in 1st world countries, and so whats the difference if they work at a job where they cant save much in Indonesia? Other than a probable better standard of living, for the money, than in the west.

    Unless you measure your life in material goods accumulated, there is no reason to diminish esl teaching in Indonesia. You cant take it with you anyhow, and many of these teachers would rather live a more exciting life teaching abroad than “measure up” to societies ridiculous standards of material success, while sacrificing their freedom in the process.

    Indonesia esl is comparable to ESL in many other countries, all which emply lifelong esl teachers.

  8. Pete Said,

    November 22, 2011 @ 12:08 am

    I left the UK three years ago looking for a new life in Asia. I took the 4 week TEFL Course in Thailand and found it very helpful in teaching methods and confidence building. I have no teaching certificates, I don’t even have a degree, all I have is a college diploma. In fact, I had never taught before. I read so many forums on the internet about ESL teachers now needing at least a BA Degree in any field to legally work in Asia. After my course in Thailand I was offered a job in a small city in China. I worked at a small school, money wasn’t great but I managed to save money within my first year. I then decided to come to Indonesia. I was offered a job working for a well known language school. I took this job, and had a happy year teaching picking up valuable experience. Again the money wasn’t great but I lived in a lovely 2 bedroom house, had a maid, and travelled around. When my contract was coming to an end I was getting more confident about my teaching. I was recommended to a very well known National Plus School in Indonesia. They employed me, but by now I had excellent references and great recommendations from local teachers that knew the owners of the National Plus School. I was lucky. I’ve now worked for the National Plus School, doubled my salary and even better, the Principle has just left, and the board of the school are considering me to become the new principle. This is a message to all ESL teachers without degrees, don’t let it put you off. Work hard, be prepared to start from the bottom, get great references and build a good professional work group. This is a job for life. You just have to have total commitment and passion for your job. Remember, the children should always come first. It’s hard work, but the most rewarding job I have ever done. I wish everyone the best of luck.

  9. soane Said,

    December 3, 2011 @ 3:48 am

    A lot of what Chris says is true, particularly the part about how people in developed countries are unable to save money. It’s also true that by teaching abroad many aspects of your quality of life will improve dramatically.

    However, I must caution those who are tempted to think of teaching English as a long term occupation. It might be an excellent way to fund other long term goals. For example, I met expats who were taking advantage of low costs of living and a relatively high pay to time commitment ratio in order to fund their studies, learn languages, or further their artistic/entrepreneurial/etc careers.

    However, in the end, when you go abroad you will entirely leave behind your support network. You won’t realize how much you relied on it until it’s gone. You leave behind your knowledge of the system and how to work it to your advantage or use it to stay afloat when things go wrong. As a foreigner in most countries you lose your basic rights to social programs like cheap nationalized healthcare or pensions or affordable tuition or unemployment benefits. Again, we don’t notice how much even the most independent of us relies upon these things, if only for piece of mind, until they are gone.

    Ordinary jobs, such as when a company asks you to relocate to a foreign country, will recognize what I mentioned above and generally provide you with adequate compensation and support of some kind. Ergo, you can live like a responsible adult and still be abroad, which makes you really lucky! Expat salaries are often inflated because of all the unimaginable extra expenses that come up whilst living abroad (I speak from personal experience). It’s not about going without an iphone, it’s about realizing you literally can’t afford to have your infected tooth extracted or coming to grips with the fact that earning the local wage you will never save up enough money to come home for Christmas. You though you went abroad to travel, right? Suddenly you find yourself trapped in what was meant to be an adventure and you can’t even afford a cheap holiday. You realize you actually travel much less than when you had a 9-5 job in your home country.

    Teaching abroad can give you so much. But, unless it’s a means to an end or the only way to support some obligation that keeps you in that country, it’s not the best long term solution. ESL schools operate on the assumption that you’ll be gone in a year and treat you accordingly. There’s nothing noble or sacred in it. The TEFL world boasts almost no integrity. These schools are businesses and they will nickel and dime you then kick you out to the curb if it’s what the bottom line requires. Additionally, you’ll find that the job has very little to do with teaching and much more to do with scamming already poor people out of their hard earned money with the promises that schools sell to them about how learning English will give them access to a better life. It’s just demoralizing all around.

    In short, do it to travel, to have fun, to explore, to make friends, to fund your retirement, to get a little teaching experience, but don’t fool yourself into believing it’s a career or that you’ll ever save much money doing it.

    I just want to end this message by stating my respect for teachers and the work they do. It’s not their fault that the TEFL industry is so shady.

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