How I Live Abroad with $100,000 in Student Loans


One third of Americans have never been abroad. The number one reason Americans site for not leaving the “Land of the Free?” Money. 71% of those who have never left the country said that they could not afford to leave the country. The thing is living abroad is often much much cheaper than living in the U.S. especially in Asia. Traveling aboard costs can cost as much as you want it to, it all depends on what you do and how you budget.  The biggest cost is the flight after that it just depends on your choices but if your goal is to experience another culture, it is often much cheaper than staying home.

The Statistics on Student Loans

In 2013 69% of graduating seniors left school with an average of $28,400 in student loan debt. That number rose to an average of $37,172 this year.

A survey completed in 2013 set to find out how much impact having student loans had on the life decisions that borrowers make. They found that out of those with student loan debt:

  • 30% responded that their student loan debt had considerable impact on their choice of career field
  • 47% indicated it had considerable impact on their decision or ability to start a small business
  • 29% indicated that they have put off marriage as a result of their student loans
  • 43% said that student debt has delayed their decision to start a family.

In a country with rising student debt I can only imagine that this numbers are worse today. We, as a generation, are allowing our debt to define our lives. We are making life changing decisions that actually stop us from the life we want to live because of this debt. And I say screw it. I’m not putting my life on hold because I decided to go to college. Student loan debt is out of control but that’s not going to stop me from living my life.

My Situation

After high school I went straight into college at UC Santa Barbara, a great school, but an expensive one. I took out every loan they offered me that had lower than a 7% interest rate. I worked a few different jobs in college but mostly I budgeted and tried not to worry too much about money. I also didn’t think about how long or how much I’d have to pay back once I was finished. I never stopped to count up how much I had taken out since it was different each semester. As long as I had enough to make it through the next semester, I thought it was fine. Every semester there was another 10% tuition hike proposed and tons of protests throughout the campus. During my time in college, tuition had been raised by $4,000 a year. I got my Bachelor’s degree in 3 years, taking classes every summer, which meant one less year of tuition.

After I finished my degree I went straight into a 2 year master’s program at UC Berkeley. I entered UC Berkeley the year that Jerry Brown got rid of the California grant programs for Graduate students which means I took out loans for my entire master’s program and my living expenses for those two years (minus the summers).

I have over $100,000 in student loans. And I live in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and have enough money to travel within most of Asia.

How Do I Make Money?

I work for a private tutoring center teaching kids at all different ages and levels. Since I’ve started here my youngest student was 6 and my oldest was 22. I teach whoever walks in the door. I do primarily stick try to math but I dabble in Science and English when needed. I work with students with learning disabilities and I help the top students in Malaysia apply to Ivy League schools in the U.S. I really do a little bit of everything, including graphic design of any recent marketing materials. And then on weekends I travel and blog. I write and edit photos and market myself and this website.

Over a third of my paycheck (before taxes) goes straight to my student loans. But I have enough left over to pay my rent and travel within Asia. It’s definitely doable. My student loans do limit what country I can live in. I wouldn’t be able to afford to live in Thailand or Vietnam. The salaries there would barely cover my loans without any extra expenses but you can easily afford to live in the more wealthy countries and still make your monthly payments. Yes, I budget my trips and my monthly expenses and no, I’m not saving up for my future (which my uncle would be pissed to find out) but I’m living my life and doing what I want to do with it. I have put off traveling abroad for the last 7 years because of finances. But now I’m here. And I love it!

My Advice

My advice to you if you are thinking about moving out of the U.S. but can imagine living with a huge amount of loans is to stick to countries that will pay you well. And even better if you can get a job that will cover your living costs. Specifically teaching jobs in China, Korea, and Japan will usually pay for your housing. Jobs in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong usually won’t cover housing but some of them pay enough to cover your living expenses and your loan payments. All of these jobs should pay for your flight over and back to your home country and most of them only require a Bachelor’s degree. I have been told that Korea is the best for overall pay and perks. Also the UAE has pretty competitive salaries and housing stipends if you’re looking outside of Asia.

Budget and Research: Make a budget that includes your student loans. It’s completely okay to ask your possible future employer to send an estimated budget of living costs for the city you’re thinking about moving to. Also do the research, use to get an idea of how much it costs to live there.

Negotiate: I’m shocked to find out how many people who move to Asia without negotiating their salaries. EVERYTHING is negotiable here. The worse that could happen is the company says no. If you have student loans, and especially if you are more qualified because of those loans, you better be telling your employer that you’re worried about making your loan payments and make a counteroffer.

Overall as long as I’m not going into the red each month, I’m happy. Yes, it’s going to be harder to buy a house or a car one day. But you only live once right?

Have you been putting off doing something because of your student loan debt? Comment below and share your story!

If you’re interested in finding a teaching job abroad, English or otherwise, check out some of the websites below:

Read Next: Ultimate Guide to Teaching Abroad if You’re Already a Teacher



  1. Definitely an interesting read! I (thankfully) have loans no where near as high — but I live in China! I find it very easy to pay for my loans and live here — even though I have a relatively low salary for teaching!

    I just stumbled across your blog, and I look forward to reading more about your adventures!

    1. Thanks for your comment Lauren! I have a few friends also paying off loans in China. I’ve even thought about it myself!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Megan is from sunny California and is currently living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She funds her travels by teaching students with learning challenges and students applying to U.S. universities. She loves traveling like a local, eating amazing food and is always up for an adventure. Check out her about me section to learn more!

Follow me on Instagram
Something is wrong.
Instagram token error.