Brett from Niche Laboratory here.
As well as the creator of the Niche Laboratory keyword tool I’m also an English teacher. Right now I’m teaching English at a University in China.
I’ve done pretty well financially while being here. In fact I’ve saved around 80% of my salary. Sure, I’m fairly frugal, but a lot of my savings come down to additional passive income sources I have.
In this post I’ll explore how you can teach English AND make money from passive income.
1. Invest in Rental Property
OK so while you’re teaching English in Asia, South America, the Middle East or elsewhere it’s crucial to get whatever assets you have back home working hard for you.
I’m fortunate in that I bought an apartment 12 years ago and I rent it out while I am living overseas.
What I would tell my younger self is this…
Get on the property ladder as soon as you can!
Never mind bitcoins or gold – property is an asset you can rent out and gain a steady income from.
In fact I calculate that my rental property will eventually pay back the entire costs of purchasing the property – including the mortgage costs. So I’ve effectively gained a useful asset for nothing.
2. Make Your Home Assets Work Harder
If you have money at home then it’s essential to get these financial assets working as hard as possible.
I keep 2 months salary in cash in my checking account. The rest is invested in the following:
- High income paying funds. Most fo these are invested in stocks, but some are in high yield bonds. Since 2009 my annual return has been 8.5%.
- P2P investments. I’ve been winding down these to be honest, but I had a really good run with them.
- Commercial property funds. I don’t have so much invested in these either, but they can pay fairly decent dividends.
In fact if you invest at an early age and make sure to invest as much as you can each month then you’ll end up with significant assets over time. You might even be able to retire years earlier than usual.
I’m not yet at the retirement stage. However last year my investment income surpassed my online business income for the first time ever. My friend is also in the same situation. He was smart to invest his website income in rental property. Now his property portfolio is way more valuable than his well known website.
By the way remember to keep some cash in a deposit account. You never know when you might need some emergency funds while you’re abroad. As an ESL teacher you’ll probably also need a rainy day fund for when your teaching contract ends.
I’m currently teaching in China. Contracts generally run from September to June, so you’ll have to factor in enough cash to survive in July and August.
The good news is that if you enjoy teaching then this is the peak demand season for EFL teachers to work in summer camps.
3. Send Money Home, Then Invest It
I’m half way through my current year’s teaching contract. Of all the passive income opportunities I have tried, this one is the most successful!
Put very simply, I live a relatively frugal life in China. I don’t spend most of my monthly salary. So I try to send home as much money as I can each month.
This is actually pretty hard as sending money out of China is a real nightmare. Read about my attempts to do so here.
The good news is that the money I managed to wire transfer back to my home country is now invested in stocks that are paying me around 7% a year.
How much of your TEFL teaching salary could you save?
If you want to save money while teaching then absolutely the best places to go and teach are in China, Japan or the Middle East.
Here in China I get a free apartment and free utilities. Since housing is generally the most expensive monthly outgoing you’ll have, that’s a huge benefit.
My school also has a subsidised canteen. The food in the staff canteen is so cheap (around $0.30 a meal) it’s practically free. Well that’s great way to save money, but only if you like school dinners type food.
I spend very little on entertainment. I download movies onto a USB stick to watch in my room. I don’t socialise much. I don’t really get on with my fellow expat teachers, and they hardly socialise at all. It’s disappointing but it’s been the same throughout my entire 20+ year working career. Some jobs are fun, some leave you feeling lonely and isolated.
I haven’t bought much for my room. I bought a small fan heater but that was less than $20. I bought one saucepan and a frying pan and that’s about it. I’ve been living frugally for so long I’ve learnt how to cook cheap and nutritious one pot meals.
Travel costs are also pretty low in China. The bus costs 2RMB and those coins are just the loose change from my other shopping. The metro costs twice as much but it saves time. Of course my school paid for my flight to and from China.
Here’s a detailed look at the perks and benefits of teaching at a university in China. Incidentally you can earn even more money if you teach at a school (particularly a kindergarten). But then the work can be a lot harder!
4. Make Money from Blogging
The good news is that while you’re teaching overseas you’re likely to have plenty of spare time.
Sure you could go out and explore your new country. But if you’re working somewhere hot and humid like Southern China, Vietnam or Thailand then it can be really draining to go out every day.
Teaching is also physically demanding. If you want your students to speak English all the time in class, then you’ll never achieve this by standing in front of the blackboard.
So can you make money from blogging?
The answer is yes and, er, no.
It’s often better to make money from blogging if you already have an established website and you know what to write about. Being overseas will probably give you all sorts of fresh ideas for how to expand your site.
If you think that blogging about travel or teaching English then bear in mind that both of these topics are pretty tough to crack.
Travel is fairly saturated, especially if you’re going to teach English in a popular tourist destination like Spain or Thailand. Thailand is full of digital nomads who try to make a living from blogging about the great time they’re having in Thailand.
Here’s a video I made about the travel niche:
TEFL and teaching English overseas is also very competitive. I started my English teaching blog last month and it’s really not had much traffic so far. That’s despite having the connections to get some good links to it to start it off. Total blog earnings to date: $0.02.
So that hardly paid for the cost of the electricity to power my laptop.
Will the blog become successful?
But thankfully blogging isn’t the only way to make some passive income these days.
Anyway, if you are interested in blogging them my tip is to choose a topic that you know well but is also not too competitive.
For example, if you previously worked in a particular business then that could be a topic.
I used to be a professional software developer and that’s a pretty good niche. Advertising income is high in this niche. Plus I have less competition from bloggers because they lack the specialist knowledge to write convincingly about the topic.
If you fancy a go at blogging in a particular niche then remember Niche Laboratory is a great tool for exploring a particular niche and coming up with stuff you should be blogging about.
Here’s a video I made about the umbrellas niche for example. If you’re teaching English in Southern China or in Vietnam then you’ll get through plenty of umbrellas while fending off monsoon rains.
5. Make Money from YouTube
YouTube is hot right now and I’ve just launched my own channel, NicheLaboratory.TV.
I’m really pleased with the progress to date. 10 days in and I’m not far from getting at least one view every hour.
That’s much more success than I’ve achieved in the first 10 days of launching a written word blog.
People love watching videos on YouTube! In fact I watch more YouTube than I watch TV shows these day, and I’m not alone.
So what can you vlog about?
Again travel is fairly saturated if you’re living in a country like Spain or Thailand. However here in China I find endless things worth posting online. For example here’s a blog post about some Lego German World War 2 soldiers I found for sale in my local mall. That would have been a really great thing to do an unboxing video about.
What videos do I usually watch? I’m interested in ASMR, music, gaming, improving my teaching, INFJ psychology and learning foreign languages. There are plenty of producers in these niches who regularly get 1 million views of their videos.
My top tip with YouTube is to make sure your channel is about one topic. When I subscribe to channels I hate it when the computer gamer I follow starts randomly posting new videos about dieting or his pet cat.
Also remember there are plenty of other ways of making money from YouTube aside from vlogging. For example my friend makes these popular animations:
On the downside it’s harder to make money from YouTube these days. You can’t generate an income from advertising shown to your viewers unless you have at least 1000 subscribers and 4000 hours of annual hours watched.
I’m not sure my channel will reach this level of engagement. However I am more interested in growing the Niche Laboratory brand than making a few cents from advertisements.
How much could you potentially make from YouTube? The ballpark figure is $2 for every 1000 video views. The exact figure depends on what niche your channel is about and where your viewers are located. I reckon you could make a lot of money targeting the Korean market. When I use my Korean VPN location to view YouTube I’m always bombarded with adverts!
One further tip (from bitter experience)… Never rely on a single source of passive income.
If you have a successful YouTube channel and you get banned overnight…. What will you do then? Always have fingers in pies, eggs in baskets and many contingency plans to cover every eventuality.
As I said earlier, the smartest people will always invest their online income into other more sustainable sources of passive income.
I had mixed results on these. I got a few freelance programming gigs on Upwork. However competition from Indian developers who will build an entire facebook clone for $10 is intense. Also the customers were really demanding. I had to fix some really tough sites that other developers had made a mess of. One really awful woman expected me to bill her for 5 minutes work if the job actually took 5 minutes. Never mind that it would take 10 minutes to turn on my PC, connect to her website as well as the time taken to read the project brief.
I’ve never looked for work on Fiverr. However I’m really pleased with the Niche Laboratory logo that I got made on there for $5.
If you’re an artist, can do voiceovers, can code or have some other skill then freelancing might be a way to make a few extra bucks. Again it’s not really passive income though.
Finally the good thing about doing a little freelancing is that you can keep your main career up to speed. Although I am an English teacher right now, I like to make sure that my IT skills are bang up to date. Freelancing is one way of achieving this.
7. Work During the Vacations
I work as an English teacher in a Chinese university. There’s a long break of almost two months between the Autumn and Spring semesters. So I found myself with plenty of time on my hands.
One of the staff at the university told me of a lucrative week’s work that I could do at a high school while the university was closed. I was really interested in the idea.
Unfortunately I told too many people about it and I got told that I couldn’t do it due to work visa issues.
It was disappointing but rules are rules I guess.
Of course this is not really passive income either as working as a teacher is anything but passive.
Anyway, depending on where you’re teaching you might be able to find other vacation gigs. Just check your work permit regulations as you don’t want to get in trouble and jeopardise your main job for the sake of a bit of side income.
As a general rule though, if you want to make a bit of extra money then stick to private tuition and insist of being paid in cash.
So those were a few ideas about generating a passive income while you’re working as a teacher overseas.
I’ll give the last word to Ben from Ben Teaches English Overseas:
Got any more tips for making some passive income while teaching overseas? Leave your suggestions in the comments section below.