This will focus on how much money you should have saved to bring with you to Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan to teach English. These prices and amounts do not include airfare.
Depending on the country and situation you would need anywhere from $500-5000 or so to get started. We'll take a look at some general expenses you'll probably have and then what you'll need for each country.
Expenses - Moving to Asia to get a job
If you don't have a job lined up here are some expenses that you will most likely have.
- Visa run: At some point after you have found a job you are going to want to change your tourist visa to a work visa. To do that you are most likely going to have to leave the country and go to a neighboring country with your documents to get a new visa.
For example, if you are in Taiwan you will probably go to Hong Kong to do that. I have read that you no longer have to do this in Japan. This is going to cost you a plane ticket+a night of accommodation+visa fee+food. A ticket out of the country and to a neighboring country can cost anywhere from $150-300 or so.
Food: It depends where you are and what you eat. If you eat street food, in the cheapest restaurants or buy groceries you'll probably save money.
Accommodation: Unless you have friends there or do couch surfing you'll have to pay for hostels until you have a found a home to rent. Once you find a rental you'll need a months rent and then at least another for a deposit or key money.
- Other fees: You might also need money for health checks or other expenses like a scooter.
Korea - how much money do I bring?
I'd say in Korea you'll need a minimum of about $500 USD. That's if you have a job and housing lined up already. Which most of you will. If you are going to be working in a private school then you might not see payday until 40-45 days later.
Private schools pay typically around the 10th or 15th. That's a pretty normal practice in China and Taiwan as well. Public schools usually pay at the end of the month.
You should ask the school about what the apartment has for pots, pans and such. Sheets (the thin ones), bed covers and stuff like that can be pricey too. You may want to bring those from home. $500 should cover food, transportation and miscellaneous living expenses for a month.
You should also find out if your school will cover the health check or not.
In Taiwan $2000 USD should be plenty. Most people don't have jobs lined up when they go over there, so it's best to bring as much as possible. I got by with that amount until I found a job and I had to take three visa runs to HK.
You may only need to take one visa run to Hong Kong. Those can cost a few hundred dollars just for the flight.
In China $2000 USD should be plenty as well. However, in some cases you wouldn't need this much. It will depend on if you have a job lined up, free housing and if you enter on a Z visa or not.
If you enter on an L visa then you are going to have to take a visa run to HK to get a Z visa. Those can cost a few hundred dollars depending on where you are in China, where you're from and if your school will cover any of these expenses. If you are an US citizen then you'll pay around $140 just for the visa.
Living expenses in China can be pretty inexpensive as well.
Japan is considered by many to be an expensive place to live and get started teaching. However, I am here now to update what I previously said as I currently live in Japan and I have to say that it's partly a myth.
If you are savvy and do what I mention in this article you can get started in Japan fairly cheaply (like closer to $2000).
ECC (Eikaiwa chain) in Japan recommends bringing at least $3,000 USD. That would be if you're hired through them, so basically the minimum amount you would need if you have a job lined up. Some say it's possible with less - if you have a job and visa lined up.
Here's a video on the cost of living in Japan.
Key money is an extra expense on top of the rent and deposit. For example, you could pay $500 for rent, $500 for a deposit and $500 for the key money which you may not get back. In Tokyo you would likely pay much more for rent.
I mention here how much I pay for housing in Japan (and it's not much).
Japan is good for visas. The visa (residence card) in Japan gives you more freedom and independence than those in the other countries mentioned here. In the other countries your visa is tied to your employer so if you quit or lose your job you lose your visa.
Also if you find a job probably within 6 weeks and submit your COE in time you won't have to leave the country to be issued a residence card. That means you won't have to do a visa run.
See this article for more on visas in Japan.
When do you get paid?
It could be almost a couple of months after you start working before you receive a check. In my experience teaching in private schools in China, Korea and Taiwan most schools pay a month and about a week later.
So if you start on January 1st then you probably won't see any cash until 7th-10th or so of February.
When I taught in a public school I got paid at the end of the month.
If you are broke you might be able to get a loan
I would only mention your financial situation after you have a job not before if you are short on cash. I have had employers in China, Korea and Taiwan that have all advanced me some money when I needed it when I was getting started. I can't say this is regular practice, but some employers will do that.
There are a few ways that you can minimize start up costs. You can stay in hostels which would be cheaper than hotels. Or you can try to make a friend on Global Freeloaders and maybe find a free place to stay while you find an apartment. If you just arrived in the country you can look for subbing jobs to get some cash.