How much do I get paid to teach English on Italki?

NOTE: Please read my article “Why I am leaving Italki” first before continuing with this article. There have been some changes in the way Italki does business, which makes this article somewhat outdated.

In September of 2018, I decided to leave my profession. I had worked in politics for over 28 years, and I was absolutely tired of it. I didn’t like the backstabbing, the attitudes, and, yes, the politics.

I was finally liberated! I wanted to see the world. I wanted to be a digital nomad. See new places and experience new things. Mark things off of my bucket list that I had been wanting to see since I was a child. Yes, my list is quite odd (like visiting the location of the execution of Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu), but that is for another article.

But how was I going to pay for it?

As a former teaching assistant at McGill University, I knew that I wanted to teach again. And what better way than to teach English. Not only was it a subject I knew (or so I though), but I could start right away with the proper training. So, I headed to Montreal, received my CELTA teaching certificate, and headed to Murmansk, Russia, where I landed my first teaching gig. It was quite an experience to live the Arctic Circle, and the school paid me a handsome salary for the region, and provided an apartment to boot. But it in the end, I knew that the 45,ooo ruble salary wasn’t going to cut it unless I stayed in Russia permanently.

Greeted by the Northern Lights in my first week in Murmansk. Never saw then again! (Credit:Dave Trotter)

Therefore, I turned to teaching online. I had heard about teaching kids from China online, as well as the nightmare stories that went with those experiences. Also, I wanted to teach adults. In the ended, I signed up with two websites where I can do my own thing: Italki and Verbling.

Over the first few months, I could tell that Verbling wasn’t the best platform for getting students. So, in July of 2019 (when I returned to the US from Russia), I spent all of my time trying to build my Italki teaching business. This allowed me to start travelling Europe, and visiting places like Bucharest, Athens, and Paris. However, I returned in early 2020 because of the global pandemic, and to start a PhD in Canada.

So, enough of the backstory. I know that you are interested in how much I actually make on Italki, and to help you determine whether Italki is right for you. But before we get into the numbers, I should stress that Italki is not passive income! In fact, it is very active. You always need to prepare before your lessons. On a busy day, you can spend up to an hour or two preparing for five to six lessons, depending on the type of lesson. Therefore, if you are looking for passive income, this isn’t the place.

Additionally, I take my job very seriously. I just don’t “talk” to students. I want to make sure that they are actually learning. This isn’t just a “talking” job. If you aren’t in this to help people learn a new language, then you will probably fail.

When I first started on Italki, it was very slow. In fact, Italki recommends that you start charging a low amount to get new students and then work your way up. Unfortunately, this creates a “race to the bottom” mentality on Italki, with a number of teachers charging as little as $8 for a one-hour lesson (and the quality tells). This is one the the downsides of Italki. Anyways, I pulled in $87.55 in my first month, working 6.5 hours. This works out to $13.47 dollars an hour. It’s not minimum wage in my state, but it’s also not paying my bills.

Views of my introduction video on Italki from YouTube. Unfortunately, this option is no longer available.

In the second month, it wasn’t much better, with only $182.75 for 11.25 hours worth of work. In the third month, $351.90 for 20 hours of work. While my hourly rate went up by $4.13, I still wasn’t working enough hours to make this a full-time job. What was wrong? Was it my video? Was it my profile?

Then came October.

That month, I worked 83 hours for a total of $1,421.73. While my hourly rates didn’t go up, my salary sure did. This was enough for me to leave the United States and start travelling abroad. First stop, Athens!

My Italki salary between July 1st, 2019 and May 20th, 2020.

Since then the income has been pretty steady (with the chart above showing my income since I started in July 2019 to today, May 20th, 2020). Overall, the trend has been looking good. The only significant dips in my income were due to the holiday season in December and my hard drive crashing in April. Otherwise, I have been able to sustain an hourly rate of around $19, and am looking to be over $20 an hour from this point forward.

If I was to work on the weekends (Friday and Saturday), I think that I could easily make over $2,000 a month on Italki. However, people need to recharge, and I am no different. Still, having a 25-hour work week is pretty much the norm and not the exception.

My schedule over the last two weeks. This is a typical two-week period.

So, can you make money from Italki? Yes. Is it enough for you to travel around the world? Yes (though knowing your way around websites like AirBnB helps). But if you are living in the United States or Canada, this is not the best source of primary income. If I was able to work on Italki for 40 hours a week at my current hourly rate, I would make about $39,000 a year. Yes, this isn’t chump change, but it’s not far from ramen noodle territory, especially when you live alone. To date, the most hours I have worked in a week has been 32. Some teachers have been able to teach 40 hours a week, but usually at a substantially reduced price.

Italki can be the perfect job for a digital nomad. When I was living in Athens, I was able to save a significant amount of money. With my AirBnb being only $500 a month (as well as in a safe and convenient part of Athens), I was able to go to any restaurant that I wanted, see all of the sites, and visit some of the Greek Islands on my days off. Also, I never had to keep up with any sort of business. I looked at my schedule, did my lessons, then went out to have dinner, leaving my work behind. It was that easy. I was able to stretch that dollar even further in Bucharest. But in Paris, not so much.

If you are living in the United States or Canada, however, Italki (and other teaching platforms) basically provide supplemental income. The income that I am currently making doesn’t completely pay for my current living situation and lifestyle. However, the 20 hours a week I put into Italki actually pays for my rent and my car payment and insurance. So, while it might be supplemental income, it is pretty good supplemental income indeed.

If you decide to work on Italki, make sure you take it seriously. Meeting new students from around the world can be very rewarding. You can meet students from all backgrounds, such as IT specialists, lawyers, fitness instructors, and YouTube celebrities (one of which is a current regular student of mine). You can also live a digital nomad life, or even make decent money to pay most of your bills. But, in the end, it is an active job, and you need to love to teach. I love the job that I am doing, and don’t regret leaving my old profession one bit! It has been rewarding, even if it hasn’t been very profitable.

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Professional English Teacher. Founder of Just Say It English.

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Dave Trotter

Dave Trotter

Professional English Teacher. Founder of Just Say It English.

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