Teach English Abroad with Student Loans: Is it Possible?

In short, yes, it absolutely is possible to teach English abroad with student loans! Being straddled with debt is a commonplace thing nowadays—especially for students who have sought higher education. But what happens when you’ve got student loan debt holding you back from making career decisions, such as whether or not to teach English abroad? Well, it’s all about strategy! If you need a good reason to teach English abroad but don’t know the first thing about securing your financial plan beforehand, this blog post will give you great pointers. These are not one-size-fits-all options, but a combination of these efforts—or at least one of these options—will suit you.

What are My Options for Student Loans While I Teach English Abroad?

teach english abroad with student loans

  • Defer for a year 

This basically means putting your loan aside and not making payments on it for a year while you take a gap year abroad to teach English. There are a few things to keep in mind if you feel that this option works for you:

1) It requires an easy application process, but you must get approved.

2) Depending on the loan, there are rules for what constitutes a deferment. Usually unsubsidized loans cannot be deferred, whereas subsidized loans can be.

2) Making zero payments on the loan for a year does not mean the loan stops accruing interest.

3) Depending on the loan, you can usually defer it only once, so make it count!


  • Income-driven repayment (IDR) plans with as low as $0 payments per month

Choosing this option will depend if you have federal loans, and it has several stipulations, requiring a full financial analysis:

1) It takes an often-lengthy application process, so be sure to give yourself enough time to complete it before your year abroad (processing often takes up to 3 months, but it’s worth the wait).

2) There are several types of IDR repayment plans, including income-based repayment (IBR), Revised Pay as You Earn (REPAYE), or Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR), and they all require their own research based on your marital status, monthly family income, etc.

3) You will need to renew your application every 12 months. One of the benefits of IDR plans is this: if your income is low enough to qualify for $0 payments the first year, and not much changes in the following year, reapplying is easy.

4) Interest still accrues on your loan while it’s temporarily under an IDR plan.

5) A word of caution: this should be treated as a temporary solution, so don’t get too comfortable with making $0 payments! (Also, see Loan Forgiveness below).

teach english abroad with student loans

  • Forbearance

Similar to deferment, forbearance allows you to stop or reduce payments on your loans for 12 months or less. It of course depends on the rules your loan servicer has set, so be sure to look into this option based on your individual loans.

1) It requires an easy application process, but you must get approved.

2) Making zero payments on the loan for a year does not mean the loan stops accruing interest.


  • Start by paying off your smallest loan

If you’ve already secured a job teaching English abroad or are close, congratulations! Once you’ve figured out how much per month you can set aside for debt payoff by analyzing your salary, begin by applying some (or all) of that amount to the smallest loan you have. For example, if you can apply some or one of the above options to your other hefty loans, take this opportunity to leave your smallest loan for pay-off while you teach English abroad. This will not only boost your confidence when you see that loan whittle down to $0, but it’s also one of the most feasible options if you have several loans to take care, all with varying balances.


  • Pay them off while you teach abroad 

Hear us out—there are opportunities out there that allow you to slowly pay off debt while you teach abroad! Let’s say you’re teaching in Thailand, and take another job to supplement your income while abroad—private tutoring or teaching English online perhaps? Many countries have potential savings embedded in your salary due to very low cost of living. It takes discipline to pay off your student loans in this way, but it’s doable with the right opportunity.

teach english overseas
The author with her students. Photo courtesy of Kristina Manente.

Is Loan Consolidation Worth it?

We think this option is based solely on personal preference, given you have federal loans. If you’re having trouble keeping track of your private versus public loans, have a spreadsheet full of different loan servicers, and want to simplify things: then this option may be for you. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1) Consolidation helps you get to a single monthly payment.

2) Like all other options for student loans, consolidation requires a great deal of research; for example, to determine which borrower benefits you may lose due to consolidation, how it may affect your payback period and interest rates, how it affects income-driven repayment plans, etc.

3) Note that you may not be able to apply an IDR plan (see above) after consolidating loans, depending on the kinds of loans you have. Do your research!

teach english abroad with student debt

Is Loan Forgiveness an Option for Me?

You may have heard that getting your student loans totally forgiven is possible. It’s true, but it requires dedication and an understanding about your future career goals. You are able to get your student loans forgiven in two different ways:

  • Work for the public sector or as an NGO for 10 years or more.
  • Make full or reduced payments for 20 years and then go through the process of getting them forgiven.

If you’d like to play the long game with loan forgiveness, applying for income-driven repayment plans on your loans could help alleviate the stress of finding an immediate pay-off plan so that you can wait it out. Let’s be real: teachers (who are not in the public sector) or those who work for non-governmental organizations do not rake in big bucks. But should you be punished for doing hard and fulfilling work by having a crushing amount of debt to take care of? Absolutely not!


Which Option Should I Choose?

Of course, the answer to this question is up to you, and what your current financial situation looks like. It also completely depends on your type of loans and the stipulations your loan servicers have already set, but be sure to do this:

  • Tailor a payment plan to your comfort level

If doing a combination of these options or selecting just one make you feel at ease about your decision to teach English abroad, that’s great! Don’t take someone else’s advice if it makes you feel uncomfortable—this is your money and the decision is yours.

  • Let go of the guilt and chase your dreams!

If you’re still worried about the condition of your student loans after taking a year abroad to teach English, well, good! That only means you care about your finances and don’t want to make a mistake. But let’s drop a truth bomb: you will be dealing with your student loans for a decade or more. They are most likely a part of your future, no matter where you end up. Decide how you want to handle them, but don’t discount your dreams in the process!


Bonus Option (because we want you to GO FOR IT!):

Before you leave to teach English abroad, become an absolute work horse! If you’re worried about not making enough money during your time abroad, plan it out enough time in advance so that you can enact a serious savings plan beforehand. Have one job but could squeeze in another part-timer? Keep seeing jobs based online that you qualify for? Go for them! Earn as much as you can before you leave so you have the ability to make student loan payments while teaching abroad.


We hope these options have provided some comfort in answering the question that has been looming over your head: can I teach English abroad if I have student loans? We encourage you to do thorough research before making any decision, but we hope you’ll make 2018 (and every year after) a year to chase your dreams and make teaching English abroad a reality!

Do you have any other tips/tricks for how to teach English abroad with student loans? 

Words by Jayla Rae Ardelean