If you’ve ever wondered how you can afford to travel long-term or pondered what life would be like in a new country, here’s everything you need to know about teaching English abroad. A guest post from legendary travel blogger Nomadic Matt.
The first time I moved abroad was to teach English. I wanted to deepen my travel experience and live life as a local somewhere new. Since I had studied to be a teacher in college, doing so abroad seemed a reasonable choice.
I packed my bags and moved to Thailand. There I settled into life as a local and started teaching English. It was a challenging but rewarding job — and one that allowed me to save money for future trips. Later I also taught in Taiwan before using my savings to travel the world.
To this day, I consider teaching English abroad one of the best decisions of my life. Not only did it help me afford to travel but it gave me the opportunity to experience a new culture much more deeply than I would have as a tourist. I made friends and learned how to survive on my own in a new place.
While it’s not always glamorous, teaching English overseas is a rewarding job, and I loved my time doing it.
If you’ve ever wondered how you can afford to travel long-term or pondered what life would be like in a new country, here’s everything you need to know about teaching English abroad:
1. Review your qualifications
Requirements vary from country to country. Depending on where you go and what type of job you want, the skills and degrees you need can be very different.
The general minimum requirements to teach English abroad are as follows:
- Be a native English speaker from an English-speaking country
- Have a bachelor’s degree (doesn’t matter what you studied)
- Have a TEFL certificate
Most countries require you to be a native English speaker from one of the following countries: the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, or South Africa. While some countries might hire people from other countries where English is fluently spoken, schools and educational organizations typically prefer teachers from those listed above.
If you’re not a native speaker, you can still find work, but you’ll have a much more challenging time. If your English is fluent, try to get your prospective employers on the phone so they can hear you speak. That’s the best way to demonstrate your skills and get your foot in the door.
2. Is a TEFL course necessary?
TEFL stands for “Teaching English as a Foreign Language.” It’s a course you take to get certified as an English teacher to non-native speakers.
In a nutshell, a TEFL course is a crash course in the skills you’ll need and one of the best ways to learn what it takes to succeed — especially if you don’t have any previous teaching experience.
If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, you’ll need a TEFL certificate. It will open a lot more doors than not having one.
These days, there are tons of options when it comes to TEFL courses: in-person, online, and those that mix both. Expect to pay $150–300 USD for a course.
Here are some of the best TEFL companies you can use to get started:
What should you be looking for in a course? At a minimum, you want a comprehensive program of at least 120 hours. Additionally, here are some things to look for in a good TEFL program:
- In-person lessons or live digital lessons
- Job placement support/resources
- Post-course support (in case you have questions or need help)
- Support from a tutor in case you have trouble or additional questions
3. What kind of jobs are available?
In the ESL field, there are all kinds of positions: corporate language instructor, tutor, public school teacher, university lecturer — the list goes on.
To help you get a sense of what kind of jobs are out there (and what kind of requirements they have), here’s a list of the most common ESL positions you’ll encounter:
- International schools – These positions sit at the top of the job ladder, as they have the best salaries and perks. However, they are also the most competitive. Applicants will need a bachelor’s degree and a teaching degree. Having teaching experience will go a long way as well, since the jobs are usually quite competitive. TEFL certificates usually aren’t necessary since you’ll be teaching English classes to English-speaking expat students.
- Government (public) schools – In a public school, you’ll plan lessons, teach classes (often with a local instructor), and grade students’ work. You’ll be paid a salary and get vacation days (just like back home). A bachelor’s degree is required, and a TEFL degree is usually advised since these can be competitive positions.
- Private schools – Private schools are like public schools, but the salaries are usually higher and the perks a bit better. Naturally, the competition is usually more rigorous too, so experience will help get you ahead.
- Corporate training – This is what I did in Thailand. Jobs are usually contract-based and take place after work. A degree and TEFL certificate are usually necessary. Business experience or a business degree will give you a huge advantage.
- Language schools – Language schools are at the bottom of the teaching food chain. The pay isn’t great and the hours can be rough, but it’s the best way to get started if you’re lacking qualifications. Turnover is high, so there are usually lots of opportunities.
- Tutoring – Tutoring is the easiest way to get your foot in the door. The pay isn’t great but it’s a flexible option for anyone looking for some part-time income. These are usually “under the table” jobs, though, so you’ll need to keep that in mind, as you won’t have any legal standing to work. If you just need to make some spending money for travel, this is the job for you.
4. What are the easiest countries to find work in?
The great thing about being an ESL teacher is that there is a huge variety of destinations you can find work in. From massive cities to rural towns and villages, there are all kinds of opportunities out there if you’re willing to put in the time and look for them.
South and Central America and Southeast Asia offer the most opportunities for people without a bachelor’s degree. While you won’t see a lot of perks or high salaries in these destinations, they are good places to get started if you’re new to the industry and lacking some qualifications.
For those with a bachelor’s degree, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Spain are some of the best places to find work. In these countries, having a TEFL certificate will give you an added boost since competition can be tough.
If you’re a qualified teacher, the Middle East has lots of international schools, and major international hubs like Shanghai and Hong Kong have many opportunities as well.
5. Where can I look for jobs?
While being in the country can help you connect in person and find jobs via word-of-mouth, it’s definitely not necessary. Here are some websites you can use to help you in your job hunt:
Many TEFL courses also include job boards and job support, so don’t hesitate to ask the company you work with for help there. They want you to succeed and will likely be able to provide some assistance when it comes to finding work.
6. Make sure you avoid scams and bad schools
How do you know a school is legit? How do you avoid scams? Where can you find information on schools to make sure they are aboveboard?
The best way for you to avoid a scammy recruiter or a bad school is to do your research. These days, everything is online. Some of it is true, some of it isn’t. Most of it is really out of date.
You know what isn’t out of date? LinkedIn and Facebook. Most government programs, schools, and recruiters know that these two sites are the quickest and easiest ways to prove that they are what they say they are. If an organization or school doesn’t post anything on its Facebook page, proceed at your own risk. If that organization or school doesn’t even have a Facebook or LinkedIn page, use extreme caution.
Look at the number of likes the page has, look how often the school or agent posts, check out the photo albums, and be sure to read the Facebook reviews.
If your recruiter or school is straightforward, they shouldn’t have any issues providing you with an email address or two for the school. I suggest using these to contact a past and a current employee at the school you are considering. That way, you can get recent (and accurate) information about what working there is like.
7. Prepare for the interview
Most interviews are online over Skype or Zoom. While these are more convenient than having to travel somewhere for an interview, there is still a lot you need to consider and prepare:
- Make sure your Skype/Zoom app is updated, so you aren’t delayed by mandatory app updates. Employers have hundreds of interviews to attend. Don’t make them wait.
- Test your head headphones and camera before the call to ensure they work.
- Dress for the job. Wear work-appropriate clothing for your interview. First impressions are everything
- Prepare the room. Make sure your background space is clear and organized. Don’t let a messy room ruin your first impression.
- Make sure you’re ready to answer questions about teaching. Even if you have no teaching experience, you’ll still be asked about teaching and classroom management. Be ready.
You won’t have a lot of time to make a good first impression, so it’s important to be prepared so you can stand out, make a good first impression, and secure a second interview.
Teaching English abroad changed my life. I made amazing friends, deepened my travel experiences, saved up money for travel, and learned a ton about new cultures. While the hours can be grueling, it’s a rewarding field to work in. The bar to entry is low, and the skills you learn will pay dividends for years to come.
Whether looking for a new career or just wanting to earn some spending money for travel, teaching English can help. It’s the perfect job for long-term travelers. With a little training and research, you could be living and working abroad in no time.
About Nomadic Matt
Matt Kepnes runs the award-winning travel site nomadicmatt.com, which helps people travel the world on a budget. He’s the author of the NYT best-seller How to Travel the World on $50 a Day and the travel memoir Ten Years a Nomad. His writings and advice have been featured on CNN and the BBC and in the New York Times, The Guardian, Lifehacker, Budget Travel, Time, and countless other publications. You can follow him on Instagram at @nomadicmatt. When he’s not on the road, he lives in Austin.