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


This story is a part of CNBC Make It is Millennial Cash sequence, which particulars how folks all over the world earn, spend and save their cash.

Not everybody can say they’re dwelling out their childhood dream, however Michaela Cricchio can.

Nowadays, Cricchio, 26, calls Seoul, South Korea, residence. She wakes up each morning in an condo within the metropolis, hops on the subway and will get to high school to show English to elementary college college students. On the weekends, she meets up with different expat mates to discover Seoul’s cafes, eating places, artwork galleries and metropolis life.

She’s known as South Korea residence since November 2019, when she left her hometown outdoors of Washington, D.C., to stay and work overseas.

“Residing overseas is nice since you get to expertise an entire new tradition, customs, meals, meet unbelievable folks,” Cricchio tells CNBC Make It. “I’ve created such robust friendships right here. I’ve seen so many wonderful issues that I’d have by no means been uncovered to if I made a decision to remain residence.”

Here is how Cricchio made the leap from debt-saddled faculty graduate to cruise-ship employee to English trainer dwelling overseas on $24,000 a yr.

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

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Fulfilling a life-long dream

Cricchio was obsessive about the concept of touring as a child — she counts Samantha Brown and the late Anthony Bourdain as a few of her childhood idols. However her mother and father and three older siblings weren’t as and the household solely took home journeys to see relations within the U.S.

However whereas Cricchio was learning worldwide relations at Virginia Commonwealth College, a professor launched her to the concept of instructing English overseas as a solution to see the world whereas incomes cash. She researched a couple of packages, however could not afford the $1,000 price ticket to hitch a program, get licensed and apply for a visa.

Earlier than she may look into different, extra inexpensive choices, Cricchio obtained a monetary wakeup name: In 2018, “three days earlier than I graduated, my dad gave me a spreadsheet and was like, ‘These are all of your payments it’s important to pay now that I am not serving to you anymore.'”

One large invoice she was on the hook for: round $16,000 in pupil loans.

Cricchio took the “tough-love” lesson to coronary heart and obtained a job on a cruise ship as a kitchen steward and server, the place she may earn $2,000 each two weeks and stay rent-free. Throughout her second contract, she was capable of save up $13,000, so she determined to revisit her instructing overseas plans.

Michaela Cricchio’s college pays for her lease on a studio condo in Seoul.

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Cricchio took an 11-week course on-line with the Worldwide TEFL, or Educating English as a International Language, Academy to turn into licensed to show English. She selected to show in South Korea as a result of she heard the price of dwelling there was very low. All informed, she spent about $1,300 to get her instructing certification and dealing visa, then booked a one-way ticket to Incheon Worldwide Airport outdoors of Seoul.

“I bear in mind getting on the airplane my first yr and pondering, ‘What am I doing? I am loopy. Who informed me this was a good suggestion?'” Cricchio remembers. “However actually, the chance was all value it due to the rewards that I obtained out of it.”

How she spends her cash

Cricchio is at the moment on her second year-long contract instructing English in South Korea. She works with elementary college college students at a hagwon, or a personal academy, and earns $24,000 a yr.

Here is a take a look at how Cricchio usually spends her cash, as of Might 2021:

Elham Ataeiazar for CNBC Make It

  • Financial savings and Roth IRA: $650
  • Meals: $391 for groceries and eating out
  • Discretionary: $193 for leisure, journey and buying
  • Utilities: $154 for electrical energy, warmth, water and Wi-Fi
  • Transportation: $108 for a subway cross and cabs
  • Scholar loans: $100
  • Medical health insurance: $73
  • Cellphone: $61
  • Apple Music: $10

Cricchio will get paid in South Korean gained right into a Korean checking account. Every payday, she sends a portion of her paycheck to her U.S. financial institution accounts, the place she retains her financial savings and investments and pays recurring payments. Something left over in her Korean account is “enjoyable cash” for on a regular basis spending.

The most important purpose Cricchio can stay comfortably in Seoul on her wage is as a result of her college covers her month-to-month lease for a fully-furnished studio condo within the metropolis. She says lease is usually coated for international English academics within the nation, although some folks want to get a housing stipend and select their very own lodging. She covers her personal utilities, which are not too costly — her Wi-Fi invoice is simply $15 a month.

With out the expense of lease, Cricchio is ready to save about half of her paycheck. She sends $650 on to her U.S. financial savings account each month, then transfers $50 a month right into a Roth IRA.

Michaela Cricchio saves cash by cooking for herself through the week so she will splurge on weekends out.

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Cricchio nonetheless has $15,220 left to pay on her pupil loans. She’s at the moment making the most of Covid reduction that permits her to pause her funds with out accruing curiosity by means of September. She places $100 per thirty days towards her debt and contributes just a little further, round $30 to $50, if she has cash left over on the finish of the month. She hopes to repay the steadiness inside 4 years, however must get extra intentional along with her funds to achieve that purpose.

As a trainer, Cricchio will get paid simply as soon as per thirty days. “I do know that sounds loopy to lots of people — it sounded loopy to me, too,” Cricchio admits.

Cricchio was “unhealthy at budgeting,” she says, however working with only one month-to-month paycheck pressured her to be frugal and plan forward. She makes use of a budgeting device constructed into her Korean financial institution app to maintain observe of her spending: “It is helped me price range since you’re like, ‘OK, I’ve to attend all the way in which till the subsequent month to even get any extra money.'”

“It is positively helped me turn into extra acutely aware of how I spend my cash,” she says.

Residing in Seoul

Michaela Cricchio’s weekend plans usually revolve round visiting distinctive coffeeshops across the metropolis. “I do a number of cafe hopping as a result of espresso tradition may be very large right here,” she says

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Cricchio and her mates may spend the afternoon visiting a pop-up artwork exhibit or going to a buying district, then finish the night at a bar or restaurant.

Planning actions across the metropolis is frequent and essential to socialize, Cricchio says, since many individuals stay in smaller flats and may’t entertain teams at residence. Fortunately, it may be performed fairly cheaply. A full day may run Cricchio simply $35, and for an important day like somebody’s birthday or going away social gathering, she will count on to spend as much as $50 on meals, drinks and actions.

“We will get quite a bit for [$50],” Cricchio says. “The wonderful thing about dwelling in South Korea is that going out to eating places and going to cafes, it isn’t as costly as I believed it will be. Consuming out here’s a lot cheaper than within the states.” And because of a sprawling road meals scene, she will usually get a full meal for lower than $10.

There’s quite a bit to do outside in and across the metropolis, like bike using or going for a ship experience at Ttukseom Han River Park. In Might, Cricchio and her mates took a day journey to Gangneung, a metropolis on the east facet of the nation well-known for its seashores, the place they spent the day ziplining, going to an artwork museum and having fun with ocean views from a restaurant proper on the cliffs. The entire journey price round $65.

Michaela Cricchio lately took a day journey to Gangneung, South Korea, which is legendary for its seashores.

Courtesy of Michaela Cricchio

Cricchio says folks again residence will usually ask how she will afford her life-style. After all, not having to pay for lease or a automobile frees up a number of her paycheck. However she additionally finds that the general price of dwelling is far decrease — whereas high quality of life is larger — in South Korea in contrast with different locations on this planet. It is one thing she and fellow foreigners have observed no matter the place they arrive from.

“I couldn’t afford this life-style if I used to be dwelling within the U.S.,” Cricchio says.

Trying forward

Although Cricchio arrived in South Korea figuring out little or no in regards to the tradition, she says the expertise has been life-changing: “Residing in Korea has modified the way in which I take a look at my future,” Cricchio says. “Earlier than, I used to be tremendous afraid of the world, tremendous shy. I wasn’t actually certain about what path I used to be getting in.”

Within the final yr and a half, as she’s lived on her personal and discovered a primary stage of the Korean language, her confidence has skyrocketed. “It is helped me develop up quite a bit. I 100% depend on myself right here. I do have the assistance of my mates and faculty, however total, I depend on myself quite a bit: financially, mentally, emotionally. I am all I’ve.”

Michaela Cricchio makes use of apps to satisfy mates and fellow expats in Seoul.

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