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 was seeking out teaching jobs abroad and I was totally clueless!
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 general guide on how to teach abroad, the best places to teach abroad, and how to find jobs. There wasn’t as much info over a decade ago when I was looking to do this, so I’ve compiled everything here so you are more prepared than I was.
I have done tons of research, like an ungodly amount of hours over the years, and have met and spoken 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 but more of a guide on teaching anywhere in general.
This is a guide to help point you in the right direction to choose the best teaching opportunities abroad, the best places to teach English abroad, everything needed to get an teaching job, and what it’s like being an English teacher!
How to Teach Abroad – The Guide to English Teaching Anywhere
Why Teach English Abroad?
Help and Grow
Our world is becoming more global every day. English is the way we communicate with others, and it’s 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, by 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, getting a teaching job is a great way to accomplish this.
Change your everyday routine and challenge yourself to pick up and move to do something great in a foreign country of your choice!
Qualifications for Teaching English Abroad
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 from your own. Just keep that in mind. This is beyond the “paper requirements.” This is a special mindset you have to be prepared to embrace, otherwise, you’re going to hate being an English teacher.
Other than that, there are a few things you’ll need to teach English abroad.
Native or Near Native English
If you’re teaching English abroad, one of the main requirements is that you are fluent yourself. Not just able to converse, but native or darn near close to it.
In some countries, you might be able to squeak by even if you’re not a native English speaker, but you’ll likely be tested. Brush up on your skills and make sure you’re at a C2 level if you hope to land a job teaching English abroad.
A Bachelor’s Degree in Any Subject
Many schools require their teachers to have a bachelor’s degree. Now, this doesn’t have to be anything that relates to teaching, but a shiny degree will be your ticket in for most places.
It is possible to teach English abroad without a degree, but you may have a harder time securing a position (or at least a position that pays well) depending on which country you want to teach in.
A Teaching Certificate—TEFL
You don’t need a bachelor’s degree in teaching to teach English abroad, but you will need a teaching certificate. Get a TEFL certification so you can get a preview and tips on HOW to teach English abroad.
Don’t worry, they are cheap and easy to get.
TEFL vs TESOL
TEFL and TESL are the certifications to Teach English as a 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 get an ESL job?
Yes and no. It depends on 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 in general, you might get away without needing one of these. If you don’t have a degree, it would be massively beneficial to get this certificate.
OK, so how do I get one of these certifications?
You have two choices: Abroad or Online. Let me elaborate:
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.
You can check some of these programs here. Many times they help you get set up with a job after the program!
The good thing about doing it online is you get to save a bit of money (the online course is significantly cheaper), and you can do it at your own pace. You can live anywhere and even continue to work and save while doing this course.
This one isn’t always required, but if you have experience, it will give you a leg up when you’re job hunting (and it will likely give you more room to negotiate a good salary).
Experience also helps you feel prepared when going in front of a class, which can be pretty nerve-wracking if you’ve never done it before.
Other Requirements for Teaching English Abroad
Remember that the above is just a general overview, and these requirements are subject to 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 requirements are generally what’s required to obtain ESL jobs teaching anywhere.
Depending on the country you teach in, you might need other documents like a background check and university transcripts. Sometimes, age limits apply according to some schools. Usually, over 18 and under 55-60 years of age is the norm.
The Best Places to Teach English Abroad
I’m sure you want to know the best places to teach English abroad, which might as well translate to the best-paying ESL jobs out there… right? Everyone wants to make a decent buck while teaching abroad.
This will be hard to sum up quickly, but I will try my best to keep it brief.
First, pay will depend on 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 the city and type of school. So take the averages as just that, an average. You could earn more, and you could earn less.
Really, the best places to teach English abroad will depend on you and where you’re comfortable living. If you’re getting paid well, but you hate the place you’re living, is it worth it? Keep this in mind!
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.
(All estimates are provided in USD)
Teaching English 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 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. Generally speaking, competition is stiff.
The pay in these countries varies 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. You probably don’t want to head to Venezuela, but otherwise, the continent is pretty open to having teachers.
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. They may even provide very modest housing so you won’t have to spend too much.
Teachers can expect to get paid in the thousands in the Middle East. These may be some of the best places to teach English abroad pay-wise. Upwards of $2000 to $3000 seems to be the average, although opportunities for more, depending on your experience, are available.
The ability to save while living in these countries is 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.
Please note that depending on the country, you may need a higher level of experience, so if it’s your first gig, carefully look into which countries are strict with their requirements and experience.
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 higher.
In Southeast Asia, where the cost of living is the lowest, you can expect to get around $800-$1200. Teaching in Vietnam can earn you more and is probably the best paying out of the region.
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 northern countries often do.
Places like Japan pay well, but the cost of living is also high. Teaching English in Taiwan can provide decent money, and the cost of living isn’t as high as some of its neighbors. South Korea is another awesome choice for good pay and benefits.
I would vote Southeast Asia as one of the best places to teach English abroad simply because the living costs are cheap, the attitude is laid back, and the work is pretty easy.
Check out what it’s like to teach in Thailand!
What’s the Cost of Living Compared to My Salary as an ESL Teacher Abroad?
There are far too many countries for me to go into detail about the cost of living. Obviously, it goes without saying countries vary greatly in prices, so a nifty tool that I have used 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. Use this to get a baseline cost.
How to Find a Job Teaching English Abroad
Once you’ve got your TEFL in hand and an idea about where you want to teach English abroad, you can start job hunting!
Do Some Research About Schools and Programs and Start Applying for Jobs
The internet is going to be your best friend for this part of the process. Get to know the requirements for schools and visas, the cost of living, the average pay, and when the semester starts. That way, you’ll know when you need to apply and buy a plane ticket for …etc.
Here are a few sites to get you started:
- ESL Cafe
- ESL Employment
- Dave’s ESL Cafe
- Ajarn – This is a job board for Thailand, other countries will have their own, too, so it’s worth Googling depending on the country you’re going for.
Save Up Some Money for an Emergency Fund
No matter why or how you’re moving out of the US, I always recommend building up a pretty hefty emergency fund before you leave. Moving abroad is scary no matter what, and there’s no way you can account for every last expense or situation.
Having a good emergency fund that you can rely on takes a lot of stress out of unpredictable situations, so don’t quit your job until you feel ready financially! Oh, and grab some travel insurance too!
Make Sure You’re Covered Abroad!
Get Your Documents in Order
It would be smart to mention a few things regarding documentation needed for teaching English abroad.
In addition to your passport, visa, and travel insurance, there are a few other things you might need to have with you once you arrive.
Something that I didn’t know when I arrived in Thailand to teach English abroad was that I needed my original degree to get a work permit.
This caused a huge problem, and long story short, I had to fly to Singapore (which was totally fun) to renew my current visa, and my poor mother had to rummage through all my junk in her attic to find my degree and send it priority to me to get my visa!
Here is a list of some potential documents you might need to bring.
- Original apostilled degree (mine came back home mangled, so maybe get an official copy!)
- Original TEFL 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 have at least two years left would be smart. Also, make sure you have enough pages. Some visas can take up a page alone, plus another half a page of stamps!
- 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 tourist visa first. Some countries require you to 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. (I’m not talking about a work permit/visa, that comes later)
- University transcripts. I brought one just in case and didn’t use 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.
FAQ for Teaching English Abroad
What can you expect living and teaching English abroad?
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.
You can read my story of teaching and living in Thailand, though!
Probably the most awesome thing about teaching abroad is that it’s not just about 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 other cultures and travel.
You can expect to work regular hours Monday through Friday. Many countries keep their 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. You can expect to work nights and weekends if you end up getting hired at a tutoring school or some kind of after-school program or extracurricular school.
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!
How long are the contracts?
Contracts vary in length. It depends on the school. Some schools offer 4-5 month contracts, some require you to 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 a 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 to 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, that 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 and then decide to apply for jobs there should you like the place.
Also, another brilliant way of getting a job is through word of mouth. Walk into a language school and see if they have a teaching job open, let them know you are in town, and leave your number. Hopefully, you can get lucky and meet a fellow English teacher at the local café who can tell you about a school that’s hiring… You never know!
Do I need to know the local language?
A common question, and the answer is NO! You don’t! They are taught English by a local teacher, but you are the “extra” teacher who helps with conversation and accents.
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 beforehand.
There are plenty more questions that could be asked, you could have multiple interviews, you might even get the job with a simple Zoom 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.
Can anyone get a job teaching English abroad anywhere?!
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 being paid for.
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 TEFL 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 every day. 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.
Tips on How to Teach English Abroad
- Research the country’s 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 and mostly focus on conversational English
- 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.
- Learning CAN and SHOULD be fun. Playing games is a popular way to teach English and are 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 (Ehem….my school.)
- Conversational English is often a main focus so don’t be terrified if you aren’t an English grammar wiz!
- On that same note, most ESL jobs 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 that 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. This one is mega important!
I know it can be quite confusing, so I hope this guide helped clear up some questions you might have had about how to teach abroad!
Nina Ragusa is an adventurer, messy bun master, breakfast fan, and full-time travel blogger. She’s been abroad since 2011 and blogging on Where in the World is Nina? for nearly as long. Nina helps people like you move around the world while making money. She loves talking about how to work abroad and online to travel longer!