If you are looking to teach English abroad this article is a must-read. I have gathered all the information I was seeking out when I first wanted to be an ESL teacher abroad. I had to spend hours researching and it felt like a second job at one point. It is scary to move abroad and then finding a job on top of that- even scarier. I had wished there was a more detailed guide to help me be better prepared, so I tried to do that here for you.
I have done tons of research, like an ungodly amount of hours over the years, and have met and spoke with ESL teachers around the world. With that said, I surely don’t know everything about every country. In this article you won’t find information about each specific country. This guide is exactly what it says, a guide. A guide to help point you in the right direction to choose the best continent to teach on, to give you an idea of the money you can make, and to give you some tips, steps, and things to follow to get you there.
I have a lot of information here, but if there is anything that you are still wondering about or think I missed, feel free to let me know in the comments below.
Why teach English Abroad?
Help and Grow:
Our world is becoming more global everyday. English is the way we communicate with others and it is needed by people in countries all over the world. Help these eager students communicate with anyone in the world by sharing your knowledge of English.
Experience and Travel:
In turn of teaching others English, you will learn about their language, culture, lifestyle, and food. You can immerse yourself in a country on the opposite side of the world, live and work like they do and experience something different. While teaching English abroad you will have the opportunity to travel to other nearby or not-so-nearby places. You can choose to do what you want while you are on the other side of the world.
Challenge and Change:
If you are tired of living in the same routine and aren’t getting challenged enough by your work, or if you are looking for an exciting and different way to spend a year abroad while making some money, teaching English is a great way to accomplish this. Change your everyday routine and challenge yourself to pick up and move to some do something great in a foreign country of your choice.
Can I be an ESL Teacher?
Things to think about first:
What I can tell you is that you should be doing it for the right reasons. You have to have some interest in helping others learn. You have to have the right attitude and an open mind. Not only are you working in a different country, you will of course be living there. You will need to immerse yourself in a society different that your own. Just keep that in mind.
Do you qualify to be an English teacher?
There are the three general requirements:
- Native English Speaker
- Bachelor’s Degree in any subject
- TESOL certification
Now these three requirements change with each country and even school. If you volunteer, you might get away with not having one or more of these. If you are from Europe and have awesome English skills, you might still be considered for a position. However, these three requirements are generally what’s required to teach English abroad.
Anything else I need to qualify to teach English abroad?
If you have experience, that would be fabulous but not necessary. Depending on the country you teach in, you might need other documents such as a background check and university transcripts. Sometimes age limits do apply according to some schools. Usually over 18 and under 55-60 years of age is the norm.
What is a TESOL Degree? And what about a TEFL/ TESL? Help!
TEFL and TESL are the certifications to Teach English as Foreign Language (abroad) / Teach English as a Second Language (taught in an English-speaking country to secondary language students). The term TESOL, Teach English to Speakers of Other Languages, is the blanket term used. You can find certifications for either TESOL or TEFL, both terms are used and are appropriate certifications to teach English abroad.
Do you really need this certification to teach English abroad?
Yes and No. It depends which school is hiring you. I will say most will want you to have this, and if not, at least some experience instead. You will need to look into the specific country further to see if it’s necessary. Keep in mind some countries require proof of this certification so you can obtain a work permit. It would certainly look better if you had this certification and more and more countries are making it a requirement. It’s not a difficult certification to get and nearly anyone can do it.
If you already have experience teaching ESL or teaching period, you might get away without needing one of these. If you don’t have a degree, it might be wise to think about getting certified.
OK, so how do I get one of these certifications?
You have two choices: Abroad or Online. Let me elaborate:
Abroad: You can obtain this certification nearly anywhere in the world. What better way to get your feet wet in another culture than to move there, get certified THEN start teaching English? It’s a path chosen by many and it can end up with you getting a better chance of finding a job, making friends, and I’m sure having an awesome experience. The biggest downfall is that you will be spending more money. You will be in training for weeks (usually 6 or so weeks) with no pay and shelling out cash for accommodation, food, fun, and whatever else you want. You also have to go to class rather than just working online at times that are convenient for you.
Online: Your other choice is to get certified via an online course. It’s usually around 120+ hours in total. This is the route I chose simply because I needed to save up more money before leaving the USA. The course is essentially an online class in which you need complete assignments and participate in everything that is needed to complete the course. The good thing about doing it online is you get to save a bit of money (the online course is significantly cheaper), and do it at your own pace. You could choose to live in the new country while you do this option too. It’s far more flexible.
There are plenty of online schools/schools abroad to get certified through. There are even agencies that can help you sign up for an online/abroad TESOL course and then help you find a job after as well. The one thing to remember is to make sure the certification is accredited. A simple Google search will help you find a good and accredited school to sign up with. Many schools offer both the online and abroad options as well. So just take your pick.
If you are wondering where I got certified, I did it online with teflinstitute.com. I have heard of some cheaper programs out there, but I don’t know the quality of the course or institution. I liked my course, but I feel that there might be an equally good yet cheaper option out there now since I did mine over three years ago. Just compare prices and choose the one that best fits you.
Let’s Talk Money
So what does an English teacher abroad make?
This will be hard to sum up quickly, but I will try my best to keep it brief.
First, pay will depend by the country, then by the city, then by the school and level (private, public, government, university, grade school…). Pay could vary greatly even in the same country depending on city and type of school. So take the averages as just that, an average. You could earn more, and you could earn less.
Depending on the country, you can earn anywhere from a few hundred bucks a month to thousands of dollars. Benefits sometimes are included as well. Let’s separate the world into sections:
(All estimates are provided in USD)
Teaching in Europe is desired by many as it’s a nice change without being such a drastic change (compared to living in Asia or Africa for example). The pay is averaged around $1000-$1500 or so a month. Please keep in mind the relativity high cost of living in these countries. Your ability to save any money will be low. Accommodation, airfare, and visa costs are rarely provided by the school.
The pay in these countries vary but are averaged around $500-$1000 per month. While the cost of living is quite low, the opportunities to save aren’t too great here either. Accommodation, airfare, and visa costs are rarely provided.
It was difficult to find an average pay for Africa. The majority of positions are volunteer positions due to the high level of poverty these countries face. There are some more opportunities for paid positions in countries like Egypt and Morocco. Consider volunteering as an English teacher should you want to travel through these parts. Many schools are happy to welcome a teacher even if it’s only for a few weeks.
Teachers can expect to get paid in the thousands in the Middle East. Upwards of $2000 to $3000 seems to be the average, although opportunities for more depending on your experience are available. The ability of saving while living in these countries are quite high and you can expect to save a good chunk each month. Accommodation, airfare, and visa costs are more likely to be paid for by the school as well.
Asia is another spot where you could save some money. Although you won’t be getting paid as much as you would in the Middle East, the cost of living is lower so the ability to save is quite high. In Southeast Asia, where the cost of living is the lowest, you can expect to get around $800-$1200. In the northern regions of Asia, you can get paid $1300- $2500+. In terms of accommodation, airfare, and visa costs, Southeast Asian countries don’t often provide this, but the norther countries often do.
It’s worth mentioning that the pay again, varies between the country and the school. Also, the amount saved depends on your lifestyle and living conditions. It could be easy to spend all your cash no matter where you are if you are shopping, drinking, and wanting to life lavishly. If you can keep it simple, you can definitely save in some of these countries!
What’s the cost of living compared to my salary as an ESL teacher?
There are far too many countries for me to go into details about the cost of living. Obviously it goes without saying countries vary greatly in prices, so a nifty tool that I have use many times in the past is Numbeo.com. It’s a huge database with average prices of things like rent, the cost of bread, and a cup of coffee from countries all around the world.
OK so where can I make the most money teaching English abroad?
Like we discussed above, the Middle East and northern Asia will be your best bet for making the most cash. Look here for the most lucrative countries to teach abroad at.
What? Where? When? How?
So what can you expect living and teaching English abroad?
I feel like a broken record, but for god-sakes our world is a vast place with many different ways of living life! Surely we can’t compare living and teaching in Dubai to Chiang Mai or Seoul to Santiago. I can’t give you everything here, although I wish I could.
Of course, if you want to know my story of teaching and living in Thailand, you can look through my older posts and of course read about my adventures in between teaching. You are also free to ask me any questions regarding teaching in Thailand. Most bloggers welcome questions, so feel free to do this to anyone else who blogs about teaching abroad.
Probably the most awesome thing about teaching abroad is that it’s not just about the teaching. It’s about the experiences after school and on the weekends. It’s about the time you share with your colleagues, local and foreign. It’s about sitting at a cafe and randomly getting invited out to do something around the city. It’s about immersing yourself in the culture, learning, and having fun. And of course, the ability to move around to neighboring cities, towns, villages, and even countries if you so choose. Teaching English abroad gives you the freedom to earn money while getting to know another culture and travel.
You can expect to work regular hours Monday through Friday. Many countries keep your teaching hours in the 25 hours per week range. This is of course teaching hours, not working hours. You may be required to stay at school for office hours. Another thing to keep in mind is getting paid holidays off. Many countries will include some paid holidays and you can feel free to roam to a nearby city for a long weekend if you so choose. In Thailand, I had at least one long weekend every month and I made the best of it!
What are my chances of getting a job?
As mentioned, European based teaching job can be quite competitive and not as easy to find an opening at. The majority of other places are quite easy especially the positions in Asia. It also depends on your experience and whether or not you have all the documentation required to work as an English teacher abroad. If you are applying and have at least some of the requirements, you will very likely get an offer somewhere.
Where can I look for jobs?
Online of course! This is your best source and certainly something you should research and look into before going. Get to know the requirements for schools and visas, the cost of living, the average pay, when the semester starts, so you know when you need to apply and buy a plane ticket for …etc.
Here are a few sites to get you started:
How long are the contracts?
Contracts vary in length. It depends on the school. Some schools offer 4-5 month contracts, some require you stay at least a year. Some schools offer bonuses for resigning your contract and working for another semester or year. Be sure to read everything in the contract like you would with any contract and ask questions if you have any.
When can I start?
Make sure to check the school schedules in the country you wish to teach in. When does the semester start? How soon should you arrive? In Thailand, I arrived one and half weeks before the semester started and got hired. Some other countries won’t be as last-minute, but a little research to at least find out the possible start date for most schools would be a good idea.
Do I need a job before I leave my home country?
No. You really don’t. I didn’t and I was employed a few days after landing in the Bangkok airport. Boom!
The majority of places will actually be more likely to hire you if you are in the country already. It only makes sense they choose you over the person “who promises to buy a plane ticket soon.” Do your research, have some contacts and reach out the them, get to the spot you want to be. You will be fine finding a job once you get there.
Some people might be scared to do this, and that’s OK. There is no problem with finding a job before you leave. Just keep in mind, everything will be a complete surprise. If you wait until you get to the country, you might have a few days to check the town out then decided to apply for jobs there should you like the place.
Also, another brilliant way of getting a job is through word of mouth. Walk in to a language school and see if they are hiring, let them know you are in town and leave your number. Hopefully you can get lucky and meet a fellow ESL teacher at the local café who can tell you of a school that’s hiring… You never know!
A Few Other Things…
What’s an interview like?
My interview consisted of a few general questions such as ‘why do you think you will be a good teacher?’ These are easy but I wasn’t really ready with answers for questions like:
What would you do with a badly behaved student?
How can you handle a class of 50 students?
Give us an example lesson for 5 minutes.
I thought of good answers on the fly, but it would have been nice to know before hand.
There are plenty more questions that could be asked, you could have multiple interviews, you might even get the job with a simple Skype interview. Research a few customs so you can be extra polite, don’t rock up in your street clothes, and make sure to have a C.V. on hand to turn in. Sometimes even a passport sized photo will be requested.
You can find a compilation of great questions to expect here.
Documentation to bring:
It would be smart to mention a few things regarding documentation needed. Something that I didn’t know when I arrived in Thailand was that I needed my original degree to get a work permit. This caused a problem and long story short, I had to fly to Singapore (which was totally fun) and my poor mother had to rummage though all my junk in her attic to find my degree, send it priority and insured ($50) and jump through hoops while juggling puppies to get it over here in time. OK, obviously I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea- it was a pain!
Make sure you bring everything needed prior to getting to the country. Here is a list of some potential documents you might need to bring.
- Original degree
- Original TESOL certification
- Your passport (doh!) I am mentioning this because you should make sure it’s up to date. Most countries need at least 6 month validity left on your passport to even travel there so making sure you got at least two years left would be smart. Also, make sure you have enough pages. I ended up getting more pages added while in Ho Chi Minh City. It wasn’t a big deal, it was quick and easy in fact, but again, if you can do more while in your home country – do it.
- Don’t forget that if you’re hopping over to a country like Vietnam or China and hoping to get a job once you are there, that’s great, but you need a visa first. Some countries require you apply for a visa BEFORE you land in the country so just be sure to check up on that first so you’re not sent back on the first flight home.
- An apostilled degree (a common requirement I have seen for jobs in South Korea)
- University transcripts. I brought one just in case and haven’t used it. I have seen it as a requirement for some other positions though.
- Passport photos. You can get these anywhere, but bringing a few to start with couldn’t hurt.
Can anyone do this?
Essentially, yes. Even if you have no qualifications and aren’t a native English speaker, as long as you can speak English well, you still might be able to find an opportunity. Will it pay you all the riches in the world? No. You might be able to only volunteer, but that could end up with at least your accommodation begin paid for. You never know.
Just to give you an idea of what I have and how I got hired…
I have a Bachelor’s degree (completely unrelated to education and teaching) a TESOL certification, and my native English tongue. I landed in Thailand and immediately posted my new Thai number on Ajarn.com and I was receiving calls everyday. I turned down numerous positions after getting hired in Ayutthaya. I had no experience and people were requesting me to hop on a train and start the next day.
Last minute tips and thoughts:
– Make sure you don’t go empty-handed. You need SOME money in your pockets before moving to a new country, it’s quite obvious but you would be surprised how many people move with nearly nothing on them. It can be done, however you’re only making it harder and scarier for yourself.
– Research the countries customs so you don’t make an ass of yourself like I did. I obviously missed the part where it’s rude to cross your legs in Thailand. Read about my embarrassing day at my school here.
– Don’t bring your closet. Bring some teacher appropriate clothes that you can use for everyday wear as well to minimize your luggage. Think about the weather in that country and plan accordingly. Also don’t forget about certain customs that might be observed. For example, in Thailand female teachers don’t really wear pants. We were only allowed to wear dresses and skirts and they all had to be at least to the knee.
– You will need to make it fun. 1) The students are learning English from a person who doesn’t know their native language…. So you will need to put on a good show. 2) Learning CAN and SHOULD be fun. Playing games are a popular way to teach English and is what I would try to do for each class so I could capture and keep their attention. Get creative, sometimes you will really need to because not every school gives you guidelines, lesson plans, or any rules (Ehhem….my school.)
– On that same note, most teaching English abroad positions are for conversational English. You need to get them talking somehow and that’s why I feel (as well as most ESL teachers) that games work best. Plus, most kids love competing against their friends. So imagine a class who actually wants to participate. Who cares about the motive, they are speaking English!
– Check on specific visa requirements before embarking on your trip to find out about documentation and requirements.
I know it can be quite confusing, so I hope this guide helped cleared up some questions you might have had. Still have more questions about teaching English abroad? Feel free to ask me. Thinking of teaching in Thailand? Be sure to check this post out for more specific information.