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How a 26-year-old expat in Seoul, South Korea lives on $24,000 a year


This story is part of CNBC Make It Millennium money a series that describes how people around the world earn, spend and save their money.

Not everyone can say they are living their childhood dream, but Michaela Cricchio can.

These days, 26-year-old Cricchio is calling home to Seoul in South Korea. Every morning he wakes up in an apartment in the city, jumps into the subway and arrives at the school to teach English to elementary school students. On weekends, she meets with other immigrants to explore Seoul’s cafes, restaurants, art galleries and city life.

She has been calling South Korea home since November 2019, when she left her city outside Washington, to live and work abroad.

“Living abroad is great because you experience a whole new culture, customs, food, meet amazing people,” says Cricchio CNBC Make It. “I’ve made such strong friendships here. I’ve seen so many amazing things I would never have been exposed to if I decided to stay home.”

Here’s how Cricchio made the leap from an impoverished college student, college student, cruise ship worker to an English teacher living abroad with $ 24,000 a year.

Michaela Cricchio, 26, earns $ 24,000 as an English teacher in Seoul, South Korea.

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Fulfillment of life’s dream

Cricchio was obsessed with the idea of ​​traveling as a child – Samantha Brown and the late Anthony Bourdain are considered some of his childhood idols. Read also : Tax return vs. tax refund: How they’re different, what’s changed for 2021. But her parents and three older siblings weren’t that interested, and the family just took it domestic travel with relatives in the United States

But while Cricchio was studying international relations at Virginia Commonwealth University, the professor introduced her to the idea of ​​teaching English abroad as a way to see the world while making money. She researched several programs, but could not afford the $ 1,000 price to join the program, get a certificate, and apply for a visa.

Before she could look at other, more affordable options, Cricchio received a call for a financial awakening: in 2018, “three days before I graduated, my father gave me a spreadsheet and said,“ These are all your bills you need now pay I’m not helping you anymore. ‘”

One big bill she was on the hook for: about $ 16,000 in student loans.

Cricchio gave her heart a lesson from “heavy love” and got a job on a cruise ship as a kitchen manager and waiter, where she could earn $ 2,000 every two weeks and live without rent. During her second contract, she managed to save $ 13,000, so she decided to revisit her plans to lecture abroad.

Michaela Cricchio’s school pays her rent in a studio apartment in Seoul.

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Cricchio attended an 11-week online course with the International TEFL or the Academy for Teaching English as a Foreign Language obtain a certificate for teaching English. She decided to teach in South Korea because she heard that the cost of living there was very low. In all, she spent about $ 1,300 on a certificate for teaching and a work visa, and then booked a one-way ticket to Incheon International Airport outside Seoul.

“I remember the first year I got on a plane and thought, ‘What am I doing? I’m crazy. Who told me this was a good idea?'” Cricchio recalls. “But honestly, the risk all paid off because of the rewards I drew from it.”

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How he spends money

Cricchio is currently on his second annual contract and teaches English in South Korea. On the same subject : Here’s Suze Orman’s best advice for small business owners. She works with elementary school students at a hagwon or private academy and earns $ 24,000 a year.

Here’s a look at how Cricchio usually spends his money, from May 2021:

Elham Ataeiazar for CNBC Make It

  • Savings and Roth IRA: $ 650
  • Food: 391 USD for groceries and dinner
  • Discretionary: $ 193 for fun, travel and shopping
  • Utilities: $ 154 for electricity, heating, water and Wi-Fi
  • Transportation: $ 108 for subway and cabin passage
  • Student loans: $ 100
  • Health insurance: $ 73
  • Phone: 61 USD
  • Apple Music: $ 10

Cricchio was paid in South Korea and won it on a Korean current account. Every day of payouts, he pays out a portion of his earnings to his accounts in U.S. banks, where he keeps his savings and investments and pays recurring bills. All that remains on her Korean account is “fun money” for everyday consumption.

The biggest reason Cricchio can live comfortably in Seoul from his salary is that the school covers her monthly rent for a fully equipped studio in the city. He says rent is usually covered for foreign English teachers in the country, although some people prefer to receive a housing allowance and choose their accommodation. She covers her own utilities, which are not too expensive – her Wi-Fi bill is only $ 15 a month.

With no rental costs, Cricchio is able to save about half his salary. She sends $ 650 each month directly to her U.S. savings account and then transfers $ 50 a month to the Roth IRA.

Michaela Cricchio saves money by cooking for herself during the week so she can pamper herself on the weekends.

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Cricchiou has another $ 15,220 left to pay off student loans. He is currently using it Covid relief which allows her to pause her payments without accumulating interest until September. She puts $ 100 a month on her debt and contributes a little more, about $ 30 to $ 50, if she has any money left at the end of the month. She hopes to repay the balance within four years, but will have to be more intentional with her payments to achieve that goal.

As a teacher, Cricchio receives a salary only once a month. “I know it sounds crazy to many – and it sounded crazy to me,” admits Cricchio.

Cricchio used to be “bad at budgeting,” she says, but working with just one monthly salary forced her to be frugal and plan ahead. She uses a budget tool built into her Korean banking app to track her spending: “It helped me in my budget because you say,‘ Okay, I have to wait until the end of the next month to get any more money at all. ‘”

“It definitely helped me become more aware of how I spend my money,” she says.

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I live in Seoul

Cricchi’s favorite way to spend money is exploring Seoul.

During the week, she maintains low food costs (the school provides her with lunch for free, and she works on her own on weekdays) so she can pamper herself a little more on the weekends. On the same subject : What’s a Roth IRA? How to pick the best retirement account.

A typical Saturday almost always involves going to a coffee shop for handmade drinks, pastries and brunches. “I jump a lot in cafes because the coffee culture here is very big,” Cricchio says. Trendy video she likes, Seoulism, is known for its rooftop view of the city.

Michaela Cricchio’s weekend plans often revolve around visiting unique cafes across the city. “I jump a lot in cafes because the coffee culture here is very big,” she says

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Cricchio and her friends can spend the afternoon visiting a pop art exhibition or going to the shopping district, and end the evening at a bar or restaurant.

Planning activities around the city is common and necessary for socializing, says Cricchio, because many people live in smaller apartments and cannot entertain groups at home. Fortunately, this can be done quite cheaply. An all-day Cricchio can cost as little as $ 35, and for special occasions like someone’s birthday or going to a party, they can expect to spend up to $ 50 on food, drink and activities.

“We can get a lot for [$50]”Cricchio says.” The great thing about life in South Korea is that going out to restaurants and cafes is not as expensive as I thought it would be. Eating here is much cheaper than in the states. “And thanks to the widespread street food scene, she can often get a full meal for less than $ 10.

There is a lot to do outdoors in and around the city, such as cycling or boating in the Ttukse Han River Park. In May, Cricchio and her friends embarked on a day trip to Gangneung, a city on the east side of the state known for its beaches, where they spent the day wearing shoes, going to an art museum and enjoying ocean views from a beachfront cafe. cliffs. The whole trip cost about $ 65.

Michaela Cricchio recently embarked on a day trip to Gangneung in South Korea, which is famous for its beaches.

Courtesy of Michaela Cricchio

Cricchio says people at home will often wonder how he can afford his lifestyle. Of course, not paying rent or a car frees up a lot of her salary. But she also reveals that the overall cost of living is much lower – while the quality of life is higher – in South Korea compared to other places in the world. It’s something she and fellow foreigners have noticed no matter where they come from.

“I couldn’t afford this way of life if I lived in the US,” Cricchio says.

Looking ahead

Although Cricchio arrived in South Korea knowing very little about the culture, she says that has changed in life: “Living in Korea has changed the way I look at my future,” Cricchio says. “I used to be super scared of the world, super shy. I wasn’t really sure which direction I was going.”

In the last year and a half, as she lived independently and learned a basic level of Korean, her self-esteem rose sharply. “It helped me a lot to grow up. I rely 100% here. I have the help of my friends and school, but overall I rely a lot on myself: financially, mentally, emotionally. I’m all I have.”

Michaela Cricchio uses apps to meet friends and fellow immigrants in Seoul.

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