While coming to terms with my obsession with travel after volunteering in Poland, I started to wonder how I could keep my adventure going while (legally) making money. I knew that I wanted something that was semi-permanent and wouldn’t require a super significant time commitment, all while enabling me to experience the country. A friend encouraged me to look into teaching English, and the next several years of my professional and personal life took off from there.
Teaching English abroad is arguably one of the best (and most accessible) ways to travel the world and make money at the same time. Instead of making a short visit to all the tourist hot spots, becoming a language teacher allows you to spend an extended period of time actually living overseas, thus giving you the opportunity to get a true feel for living like a local. Plus, although you could easily work and save up money to travel in your own country, going abroad provides you with a financially stable way to skip that step. Why wait a working lifetime to start your adventures when you could do it now? Additionally, it looks pretty great on a resume/CV to have international employment experience- it makes you look versatile, which you certainly will be if you jump in to this experience.
Beginning the process might seem a bit daunting and overwhelming with the plethora of information available on the internet. Words like TEFL, CELTA, and TESOL (to name just a few) start popping up everywhere, and you might not know where to start with all the letter combinations. You might be wondering how it could possibly be so complicated? Well, it isn’t. All of these combos relate to teaching English to a person or group for whom it is not their native 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 grew up speaking different native languages. Basically, this enables you (the “Golden Native Speaker”) to go anywhere in the world and teach English, despite not knowing a single word from the country that you will be teaching in.
- 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. Institutions in other countries highly value this as an indicator of a person’s eligibility to get certain jobs or enter certain higher education institutions.
- CELTA (certificate of English language teaching to adults) is a certification awarded to an English teacher by the University of Cambridge ESOL after successfully completing their training course. These courses are taught around the world, are a bit on the pricey side, and are highly revered by schools in non-native speaking countries.
One of the first questions people consider is, “What qualifications do I need to teach English?” This is completely dependent upon which country it is that you wish to teach in. Schools and companies in some areas, such as the Middle East and Japan, have notably stricter education and experience requirements when hiring teachers. In other countries, such as Indonesia, it is the visa regulations created by the government, not the schools, that require you to have certain qualifications. The following things, in order of importance, help with getting a job teaching English.
- Speaking English fluently. This should go without saying, but, unfortunately, it is not unheard of for people who aren’t so fluent themselves trying to teach others a language. Good intentions, maybe, but horrible results. If you speak English well enough, you can find positions teaching English, even if you don’t have any qualifications, but it does help to be at an advanced level.
- Being a native speaker. Unfortunately, this is one thing that you do not have control of. Even if you speak fluently, even if you speak BETTER than many native speakers, many countries will not allow you to be hired. Being a native speaker means having a native accent, and this is something that most schools rank highly on their list of priorities. 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- hence the “Golden Native Speaker” joke. However, even if you’re not a native speaker, all hope is not lost. If you’re confident in your skills, try to find a test that you can sit to demonstrate this. It might make all the difference on your subsequent visa applications.
- Having a degree from an English speaking university. This is the most prized indicator of aptitude and English ability, regardless of what country you are from. If you hold a degree from an English speaking university (preferably in a Western country), you can find an English teaching job in most countries around the world. This will often trump teaching qualifications and experience, too.
- Experience. Having any teaching experience, regardless of subject, will make a huge difference when you try to apply. It is not always a crucial requirement to have experience, but of course schools will have a little bit more faith in a person who has stood at the front of a class before. They want to hire people who will not take up loads of time getting the feel for teaching and needing to learn a lot themselves. You can get experience anywhere from private tutoring to volunteer work. If you put in a little bit of work in this area, it will help you no end when it comes to making applications.
- Teaching qualifications. Having any type of teaching qualification (degree in education or ESL teaching certificate) will definitely help you get a job. However, I’m a believer that these qualifications do not necessarily make you a good teacher and, likewise, not having one does not make you a bad one. Certain techniques can certainly be learned and come in handy as a teacher, but a bit of ingenuity, creativity, and overall common sense go a lot further. Some countries, though, value qualifications and education above all else and others require certificates before they will grant visas to foreigners.
To make it short and sweet, do you need a TEFL/TESOL/ESL qualification or teaching degree to teach English overseas? No. However, the more qualifications you have, the more options you will have and the more employable you will seem.
Where Can You Teach?
For you as a traveler, the location of your employment is probably pretty high up on your list of priorities. Where can you teach English overseas? You can teach pretty much anywhere, as most countries value both youth and adults learning the language for business and education advancement. However, these are a few generalizations about the most popular teaching destinations in the world in order to help you siphon out your options.
- The Middle East. This is financial promised land of English teaching right now. However, it is very unlikely that a first timer will get a job there, as it is both competitive and strict on its applicants. Most positions require at least two years of experience in addition to an internationally recognized teaching qualification.
- Europe. Beautiful cities and vibrant culture attract people to this continent from all over the world. Competition is high, life is expensive, and there really isn’t a reason (apart from accent preference) to hire anyone who doesn’t have an EU passport- it creates unnecessary visa paperwork for the employer. 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.
- East Asia. This is without a doubt the mecca for first time teachers. The financial benefits reign supreme, often including free round-trip flights, accommodation, and a bonus upon completion of contract. Salaries are fairly 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. It’s a great place to save money while still traveling to different countries. Plus, there’s also a large expat community to offer you a cushion of comfort.
- South America. Unfortunately, this is the dream location of many people from around the world, myself included. South America is not particularly affluent, however, and you may find yourself having to spend more money than you earn while teaching English here. If you get lucky, you might just break even. If it’s experience alone you seek, though, opportunities are pretty rampant.
- Indonesia and the Pacific Islands. Although these regions can certainly be considered natural paradises, teaching conditions are not financially viable for those traveling without money or on a strict budget. However, as is the case with South America, it is certainly possible to work to cover your expenses if finances aren’t an issue for you
- Africa. I’m beating a dead horse here, but once again, money is an issue. Although people want to learn English, in many places there are more pressing social issues. If you are looking for volunteering positions, however, this is a wonderful place to get that experience.
PLEASE note that the above information makes up generalizations from my own experiences, the stories I’ve heard from colleagues and friends, and the research I’ve done when searching for my own positions. Sometimes, packing your bags and showing up to a place can really work out in your favor, as it allows whoever is considering employing you to meet you in person- it also takes guts and shows that you’re pretty serious about getting a job in their country. Doing this might also allow you to network with people who can help you find jobs and maybe even pick up private tutoring work.
How Much Will You Earn?
Other questions of importance for most new teachers are, “How much will I get paid and how much can I save when teaching English overseas?” Unfortunately, there is no exact answer. It completely depends on the country you teach in, the school that employs you, your individual experience, and many other factors. As I said before, Asia offers the best salary-to-lifestyle ratio for the average teacher.
Some countries offer lucrative financial benefit packages in order to attract teachers. The Middle East is owning this category, but my personal package in South Korea was pretty awesome, as well. To receive all the benefits of this type of job typically requires the completion of a one or two year contract.
Who Will You Teach?
Before you accept a job, you need to think about what type of teaching you want to do. This ranges from public schools and private academies to tutoring individuals cash in hand. The age of the students is also a major factor that will impact your daily life, so think about it carefully. I have detailed some of the different teaching options that can be considered below.
- Public/Government Schools. These schools are conceivably the most reliable and come with job stability, but they are also often the lowest paid. Just like in a school in your home country, a public school teacher will typically work a set number of hours per week and teach a set number of classes. Although there is not a whole lot of flexibility and creative freedom involved 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 should be higher…but not necessarily.
- Language Academies. These schools usually run during the evenings and are welcome to after-school students and working professionals. In South Korea, this type of school offered me an excellent package, while friends who taught at these in Turkey didn’t receive as much. However, there will be a great variety in the students and the scheduling; plus, you should be able to plan your lessons and activities as you see fit. The major downside of these schools is that they can go under without warning, leaving you without pay or the promised incentives. This is known to happen fairly regularly in countries with fierce competition between the academies, such as in South Korea. As a foreigner without a whole lot of money or more than temporary resident status, you are unlikely to get any financial compensation if things go wrong.
- University Jobs. For most teachers, higher level education positions are the pinnacle of travelling teacher life. These jobs offer large salaries for relatively low hours and a vast quantity of holidays. However, don’t count on these unless you are truly qualified to teach at this level, as it is extremely competitive and often requires more than a single year contract.
- Private Lessons. This can be considered the highest hourly rate for English teachers, as you are the one who sets the price. However, you are literally on your own and jobs may be cancelled at any time. Also bare in mind that this is highly illegale in a lot of anal countries and is not recommended for visa purposes.
How to Find a Job
If you think you’ve got a grasp on what you’d like to do and where you’d like to go, next consider how to find a teaching job abroad. There are three mainstream paths to follow.
- Network. Social media has made the world a small place. Write a tweet with the appropriate hashtags. Put a Facebook status out there asking for hook-ups. Message people. A friend of a friend might come up and prove useful. It’s really amazing just how useful this can be. However, if that doesn’t work…
- 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 then turn up at schools. This is definitely a pricey risk and takes a bit of awesome luck, but when a headteacher finds you in his office, he knows you’re serious. The main downside of this is the financial commitment to uncertainty, but if you’re already on the road and passing through a place, this is a great way to steal the best jobs in town.
- Apply online. This is the most conventional and probably the most realistic way of getting a job. There are an innumerable number of online sites that help you to find a job. Google search ‘English teaching jobs’ or things of the like and where you want to go: you will find something. Be steadfast and remember that con artists are out there, but if the other options aren’t working out for you, it looks like you have to put your trust in Google.
I have teamed up with an agency to help potential teachers find jobs teaching English. Click here!
How to Get a Visa
Presumably, you want to keep your stay abroad legal. If not, ignore this section. For those who want to stay on the straight and narrow, continue reading.
If you pre-arrange a job on the internet, most employers will assist you with the legal mumbo jumbo. Ask them what they need (if they don’t tell you first) and they will get everything going. If they don’t, take that as a red flag and maybe reconsider your employment with them. If you decide to go at it alone, you obviously start out alone. Try your best and keep your fingers crossed (except when you are frantically Googling “how to get a visa in ____”). Nothing is impossible, but immigration around the world is typically synonymous with irrational and bureaucratic. Plus, you know the cheesy expression: if at first you don’t succeed, try try again.