Teaching English abroad is a great way to travel the world and make money (or cover your expenses) at the same time. By becoming an English teacher overseas, you get to spend an extended period of time in a location and learn what it feels like to actually live there, rather than just visiting as a tourist. If you are interested in learning the language, it is also a great opportunity to become fully immersed in the learning experience as you will have to use the language everyday, although not in your job.
Still you might be wondering why you should teach English abroad when you could do it in your own country. For me, the answer is simple. It provides me with a financially stable way to explore the world and to spend a long time in a place. I also find that the students who learn English outside of my typical British school system are far keener to learn English, making the experience more enjoyable. Also, in certain countries, financial benefits such as free accommodation, free flights, and bonuses upon completion of contracts ensure that you can actually make more money teaching in another country than in your own.
When you start thinking about teaching English abroad, you start encountering the terms TEFL, ESL, ESOL, TOEFL, TESL, TESOL, and CELTA amongst others. Then you ask, what is TEFL, what is ESL, what is ESOL, what is TOEFL, at which point you lose track of all the letters and wonder how it could possibly be so complicated. Simply put, it isn’t. All of these things relate to teaching English to people with whom you do not share a common language. Specifically, some are qualifications or certifications while others refer to the general idea of teaching someone who doesn’t speak your language.
- TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language), ESL (English as a second language), ESOL (English for speakers of other languages), TESL (teaching English as a second language), and TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) all relate to the studying of English between teachers and students who have different native languages. This means that you can go anywhere in the world and teach English, despite not knowing any words from the country that you are teaching in. Although the word second is used, the terms do not have to refer to the second language that a person is learning. It could be the third or fourth for example.
- TOEFL (test of English as a foreign language) is a product developed by the Educational Testing Service and offers online testing to determine a student’s level of English.
- CELTA (certificate of English language teaching to adults) is a certification awarded to a new teacher by University of Cambridge ESOL after successfully completing a training course.
One of the first questions people ask is what qualifications do I need to teach English? In short, none. However, this is dependent upon which country it is that you wish to teach in. Schools in some areas, such as the Middle East and Japan, have notably stricter requirements when hiring teachers. In other countries, it is the visa regulations that require you to have certain qualifications. The following factors will all help with getting a job teaching English.
- Speaking English fluently. It sounds ridiculous, but it is not uncommon for people to try and teach English when they do not actually have a good grasp of it themselves. If you speak good English, you can find positions teaching English, even if you don’t have any qualifications.
- Being a native speaker. Unfortunately, this is one thing that you do not have control of. If you hold a passport from a country that uses English as it’s native language, you have a much greater chance of finding a job and getting a visa. If you are not a native speaker, but you have a native level of English, it could be useful to sit an exam to demonstrate this. Without it, your visa application may hit a stumbling block.
- A degree from an English speaking university. This is a clear indicator of aptitude and English ability, regardless of what country you are from. If you hold a degree from an English speaking university, you can find an English teaching job in most countries around the world, regardless of teaching qualifications or experience.
- Experience. If you can demonstrate that you have experience teaching English in the past, this makes a huge difference when applying for teaching jobs. Schools and students want teachers who know what they are doing and do not take time to learn teaching. You can get experience anywhere from private tutoring in your own town through to volunteering around the world. Put a little bit of work in here and it will help you no end when it comes to making applications.
- Teaching qualifications. Having a teaching qualification can help you get a job easier and a higher salary, but it is dependent upon the school. A good teaching qualification can also be beneficial to your teaching abilities which is especially important to new teachers who have no experience of classroom management. Be warned, a 20 hour online course in teaching English does not make you a good teacher, but there are some great TEFL courses out there that you can do to improve your job prospects and teaching abilities. You should read about the benefits of a TEFL / TESOL certification, as well as my warning to be wary of TEFL companies that are looking to take your money. If you are pretty set on doing a teaching qualification, this page about which TEFL you should do will help. Obtaining a CELTA will be more beneficial to your teaching abilities than a TEFL, but it will cost thousands of dollars and take multiple weeks of full-time study. If you are not a native speaker or do not hold a degree, it is very advisable to do a TEFL certification.
The more qualification that you have from the above list, the more likely you are to obtain a teaching job. If you speak English fluently, they are all easy to obtain with the exception of a degree which takes several years. Many people choose to teach English after graduating from university as a sort of career gap. Many of these people love it so much that they never ever stop and their career gap becomes their chosen career path.
Returning to the question, do I need a TEFL / TESOL / ESL teaching qualification to teach English overseas? The answer is, in short, no. However, it will make your life much easier with regards to being offered a position and being granted a visa. When I started teaching English, I looked around the vast market of teaching courses to see which teaching English course is the best. My conclusion was that doing a CELTA course gave you the best preparation for being an actual teacher. However, their courses cost multiple thousands of dollars and take a multiple weeks. By contrast, I found a great plethora of online teaching English qualifications that were much cheaper. They would not guarantee to make me a great teacher, but they would help me to get a job and a visa easier. As I indicated previously, I do not believe this is absolutely necessary, but it might make things easier or result in a small wage increase. I have taught English in several different countries with no teaching qualifications whatsoever, although I have found that some countries will not grant a visa without some form of a teaching qualification. I have covered this topic in other articles and recommend you read about the benefits of a TEFL certification, as well as my warning about dodgy companies.
Where Will You Teach?
You must also consider the location in which you wish to teach. Where can you teach English overseas? You can teach anywhere. Almost every country in the world is keen on learning English right now. However, here are a few generalisations about the most popular teaching destinations in the world in order to help you choose your location.
- The Middle East. Financially, this is the pinnacle of English teaching. However, it is very unlikely that a first timer will get a job in the Middle East. Most positions request two years of experience in addition to an internationally recognised teaching qualification.
- Europe. Beautiful cities and culture attract people to Europe from all over the world. Because of this, competition is high. Couple this with the high level of English that is already spoken in Europe and it is very hard to find teaching positions. If you do not already have a visa in advance, most schools will not be interested in hiring you. Costs of living in Europe are also very high and teacher salaries are not, so you may find your self struggling financially.
- East Asia. This is the mecca for first time teachers. Financial benefits often include free flights, accommodation, and a bonus upon completion of contract. Salaries are relatively high compared to the cost of living and jobs are easier to find than in other places around the world, irrelevant of experience and qualifications.
- South America. The dream location of many people from around the world. South America is not particularly affluent however, and you may find yourself having to spend more money than you earn while teaching English here.
- Indonesia and the Pacific Isles. Although natural paradises, teaching conditions are not financially viable for those travelling without money.
- Africa. Once again, money is an issue. Although people want to learn English, in many places there are more pressing issues. If you are looking for volunteering positions, this is a wonderful place to get experience.
The above generalisations come from my personal experience of looking for positions and that of friends and colleagues. They are based upon internet applications and do not take into account finding jobs when in a location. If you have the financial backing and guts to do it, going to a place that you want to teach is the best way to find a teaching position. It means that whoever is considering employing you can meet you in person and know that you are serious about a job in their country. When doing this, you can also start to network with people to help you find jobs and maybe even pick up private tutoring work. If you want more advice about which is the best country to teach English in or country specific advice, please scroll to the bottom of this page and follow the links to other pages on my site.
How Much Will You Earn?
Another big question is how much will you get paid and how much can you save when teaching English overseas? This varies upon experience, qualifications, and more often than not, luck. However I have put together a document which helps to give you an idea of how much you can hope to earn and save when teaching English in different locations around the world. You can view the How Much Will I Get Paid and How Much Can I Save When Teaching English Abroad? pdf file for free by following the link. You are free to share the link and document with others as you please. If you wish to host the document elsewhere, please notify me first.
Some countries offer lucrative financial benefits in order to attract teachers. These benefits typically include free accommodation and free flights. When you consider these factors, it makes teaching English a much more financially attractive option. Some areas, typically Asia and the Middle East offer a bonus for completing a full contract. Typically a contract lasts a year and a bonus may be a full months salary. See the above mentioned pdf for more details about which countries offer free accommodation and housing.
Who Will You Teach?
When you start to teach English, you have to think about what type of teaching you want to do. This ranges from government schools through to teaching private individuals, cash in hand. Below I have detailed some of the different teaching options that can be considered.
- Government Schools. These schools are the most reliable, but often the lowest paid. You will typically work a set number of hours per week and teach a set number of classes. When classes are running low, you will probably have to stay at school, sometimes just ‘desk warming.’ Although there is not much flexibility in these jobs, you will be around many other foreign teachers and you know that the school won’t unexpectedly close down and disappear without paying you.
- Private Schools. These schools are not dissimilar from government schools. However, as the students pay money to be there, your pay may be higher. Another plus is that you shouldn’t have to do any desk warming and the schools shouldn’t simply disappear.
- Language Academies. These schools typically run during the evenings to teach students or business people who are out of hours and often, they offer the best package. Pay should be higher, hours less, and there even may be some flexibility in the schedule. The major downside of these schools is that they may go under without warning, leaving you without pay or promised incentives. As a foreigner without a whole lot of money, you are unlikely to get any financial compensation if things go wrong. Saying that though, I worked for a private language academy for a year and got everything that I was promised for a very small number of hours. In short, my experience worked out really well. There are also ‘after school’ programmes in some countries which run from around lunchtime to mid-afternoon. These offer great money, short hours, and fun classes. If I was looking for a teaching job right now, this is probably what I would be looking for.
- University Jobs. Often considered the pinnacle position of a travelling teacher, these jobs offer large salaries for relatively low hours and a vast quantity of holidays. Due to the many benefits, the major downside of these jobs is that they are very difficult to get because everyone wants them.
- Private Lessons. This is the highest hourly rate for English teachers. However, you are on your own and jobs may be cancelled at any time. Also bare in mind that you have to incorporate your travel time into your total pay and that it is very difficult to get a visa to be a free-lance teacher, unless you marry a local. This is not recommended for visa purposes.
How to Find a Job
If you have a rough idea of what’s going on, next consider jobs. How do you find a teaching job abroad? There are three main ways.
- Network. Social media makes the world a small place. Message people. A friend of a friend might be able to hook you up. This doesn’t really need much explanation, but if you ask, it’s amazing how helpful people can be. When I went to teach in Korea, it turned out that I was teaching at the same school as a guy I played football with six years earlier. We hadn’t spoke in all that time. I come from a village of 700 people and then within a few days I met a second person who’s brother I played football with as a fourteen year old. The world isn’t quite as big as we think.
- Just Go. One of the best ways to find a job and have flexibility is to simply go to a place and start asking around. Look up things online, speak to people, and turn up at schools. This takes a bit of luck, but when a headteacher finds you in his office, he knows you’re serious. The only downside of this is that you might need some cash to keep you going before you find something. If you are already on the road and passing through a place, this is a great way to take the best jobs in town.
- Apply online. There are an innumerable number of online sites that help you to find a job. Google search ‘English teaching jobs’ and where you want to go and you will find something. Be warned that some of them do not keep to their promises. I am currently working on developing lists of my favourite recruiting companies and when I have done this, I will share it with you. For now, in Google we trust.
I have teamed up with an agency to help potential teachers find jobs teaching English. Apply here!
How to Get a Visa
Next you want to stay legal. How do you get a Visa? If you pre-arrange a job on the internet, wherever you are working will help you out. Ask them what they need and they will get everything going. If they don’t, they probably aren’t worth working for. If you decide to go it alone, you start out alone. Try your best, keep your fingers crossed, and smile. Nothing is impossible, but immigration around the world is synonymous with irrational. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.
Other Useful Resources
FAQs About Teaching English in South Korea (based upon an overwhelming number of emails)