Five Cardinal Rules for Teaching English Abroad

a picture of shanghai skyline

At any given time, there are over 250,000 Westerners teaching English abroad. China alone will need 100,000 teachers by 2015 to meet its rapid demand for English education. There is no doubt that English is the world’s most spoken and studied language. In the developed parts of Asia and Latin America, English education has become deeply embedded into the curriculum at each level. Students vary from small children, working professionals and even individuals over forty. Motivations to study English could be to secure a better job, enter a decent university, live abroad or merely to travel and communicate with other nationalities. It is no wonder that English as a second langauge has become big business and the catalyst for thousands of companies and jobs. This is particularly true in Asia.

Although it is certainly possible to teach throughout Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and in parts of Africa, the vast majority of jobs are in Asia. There are positions available with private language institutes and through public channels as well. Private language institutes exist in abundance in countries,such as China, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand and to a lesser extent in Colombia, Chile and Argentina. These types of schools tend to hire year round while public teaching positions in elementary, secondary or post-secondary hire in conjunction with the start of school semesters. You might be wondering how to go about getting a job teaching abroad. Most likely, you’ve got a friend, relative or co-worker who has done it, so you’ve gathered some loose information. In reality, there remain plenty of jobs, but there is also a great deal of misinformation and misconceptions about teaching English overseas. While requirements can vary from country to country, here are some general guidelines that you should follow.

1. Get a TESOL or TEFL Certificate to Teach English Abroad

Either a TESOL or TEFL along with a university degree will qualify you to teach abroad. In some parts of China and Latin America, you might be able to teach without a university degree, but you will need a TESOL or TEFL. There is also the CELTA certificate, which will qualify you to teach abroad. A CELTA, however, may require more hours to complete and cost additional money. When registering for a TESOL/TEFL course, make sure that it is 120 hours,which is the standard throughout most of the world. There are hundreds of companies that offer TESOL/TEFL certificates and prices vary from $100 to $2000. I would be wary of anything that cost less than $200 as it probably isn’t accredited,legitimate nor 120 hours.

It is possible to teach without a TEFL/TESOL in private langauge institutes in South Korea and Japan, but you will need one to teach in public schools there. Keep in mind that many of the better private langauge institutes in Japan and South Korea prefer a teacher with a TEFL or TESOL. If you want to teach in China, Vietnam or Thailand, remember that all reputable schools (ones that pay on time) require at TEFL or TESOL. The same can be said for Latin America. You may not want to invest the money in a TEFL or TESOL, but it pays dividends in the long run and trying to teach without one may give you headaches.

There are face to face and online TEFL/TESOL courses. Some are good enough to get your foot in the door in places like China, Vietnam and Thailand. These types of courses can also be done online and cost $300 or $400. However, if you are serious about teaching and want to have the chance to teach anywhere in the world, including your home country, then it is advisable to invest $1200 to $2000 on a top of the line TEFL/TESOL course. The International TEFL Academy is the most recognized TEFL/TESOL course in the ESL industry. Remember that obtaining a TESOL or TEFL is not just about filing a requirement, but a way to build a foundation of knowledge before you step into the classroom. If you think you are going to just waltz into a classroom and everyone will love you because you are a Westerner, then you are wrong. The ESL industry is becoming regulated and competitive. Being a native English speaker alone is no longer good enough.

2. Have Some Money Saved for Teaching English Abroad

In my opinion, this is an important factor that is overlooked by individuals interested in teaching abroad. As a recruiter for schools in China, it can be quite frustrating. Everyone wants to teach English abroad, but they don’t want to invest in the start-up cost of paying for an airline ticket, getting a TEFL/TESOL and surviving for the first month before the first paycheck arrives. First off, if you want to teach English abroad, your main motivations should be to experience something foreign, live abroad, learn a langauge and add something new to your life. Of course you need to be able to earn money and potentially save, but the vast majority of teachers are not making a lot of money. There seems to be an idea that most schools will pay for your airline ticket and provide you with a free apartment. This is the case in only three countries; South Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

While schools in South Korea will pay for your airline ticket and cover your rent, the market there is becoming highly competitive as the employment rate in the West continues to rise. Consequently, schools are becoming increasingly picky and there are strict visa regulations, such as the fact that must have a squeaky clean criminal record to get a visa for Korea. Even a DUI will disqualify you to teach there. As far as Saudi Arabia and UAE, it is quite difficult to get a job there  and most schools prefer teachers over 35 and with years of teaching experience. In a nutshell, if you think you are going to save a ton of money and have everything paid for because you are young, beautiful and Western, think again. It is possible, but highly unlikely. So keep your expectations low and prepare to have at least $3000 to $5000 of start-up cost.  In my opinion, China is really the best place to teach now since schools there will pay for your rent and offer a decent contract completion bonus. It is expected that 100,000 English teaching positions will need to be filled in China by the end of 2015.

3. Apply through a recruiter or get hired directly from your country

The tricky part can be securing a position before you leave your country. How to go about finding a job can vary from country to country. If you want to teach in Asia, it is advisable to go through a recruiter with the exception of Japan since there are some Japanese corporate chain schools, such as AEON and ECC that will hire teachers from their home countries. You pretty much have no choice, but to go through a recruiter for South Korea because of the visa process, It is possible to fly into other parts of Asia, such as China, Vietnam and Thailand on a tourist visa, but the process to convert to a working visa can be complicated and you can easily find yourself in a desperate situation. There seems to be a perception out there that recruiters will get a percentage of your paycheck. This is absolutely not true and if any recruiter ask you for a fee,then it is definitely a scam. Recruiters like myself are paid directly by the schools and your salary remains the same regardless if you go through a recruiter or not. In reality, it’s cheaper and easier  for schools to pay commissions to recruiters rather than hiring extra employees to find teachers. Also be wary of recruiters that sugar-coat everything and paint unrealistic expectations. A good recruiter will be upfront with you and honest.

If you want to teach in Latin America or Europe, then your best bet is to fly there on a tourist visa and find a job. Although it is possible, it is difficult to find a job from your home country in either Latin America or Europe. However, there are some programs available and occasionally you will see an ad for schools in Europe of South America that hire from abroad.

4. Get your resume and documents in order

It’s not 1995 anymore when you could literally just sleepwalk into Asia and land a job in a week simply because you were a native English speaker. The industry is becoming regulated and more competitive and there are requirements that need to be met. Just like any other job, you need to be formal and treat it as if you were applying for a job in your home country. Update your resume and make sure it is well-written and highlight any teaching experience, awards, honors or certificates that will make you stand out for the better paying positions. Surprisingly, I receive emails everyday from individuals who are too casual and send incomplete resumes. These are usually from young White, Western Males with blond hair or young, attractive, white Western Females who seem to think that they are doing the world a favor by teaching English abroad. Again, it’s not 1995.  You need to make an effort and be professional regardless of your skin color.

You also need a professionally looking photo head shot of yourself. Do not send in goofy pictures or pictures with your friends in which you try to be cool or fashionable. It can be a photo taken from a smart phone, but wear business attire, shave and do not show any piercings or tattoos. It is also best to be smiling in the photograph. Although requirements vary from country to country, you should also prepare documents, such as your university diploma, transcripts, a criminal background check if necessary and read up on the visa application and process for the country in which you are applying  to.

5. Prepare yourself mentally and physically to Teach English Abroad

This is a factor that is overlooked too often. Teaching English sounds great, particularly if there aren’t too many job prospects back home. You need to really think about if teaching abroad is for you and what your motivations are. Again, if your only incentive is to make money, then it isn’t a wise choice. As a former teacher, I can tell you that teaching abroad is an amazing experience primarily because it affords you the opportunity to live abroad. However, it requires a certain mental toughness that you need to begin preparing yourself for before leaving your country. Keep in mind that even for the more adventurous types, homesickness is inevitable. Personally, I loved living in Japan for four years,  but I experienced some fairly intense bouts of homesickness.You will also face instances of discrimination regardless of your skin color and you will have to sacrifice those things that are precious to you back home. Be also prepared for culture shock and seeing things that run counter to your world perspective and values. If you are a Western woman in Asia, you need to accept the fact that many of the Western men there will be more interested in the local girls. If not, you will slowly become bitter and jaded. I witnessed this personally.  Living abroad is a great opportunity regardless of gender, so enjoy life and don’t care about what others are doing.

If you want to teach abroad, get yourself into good physical shape before you leave your country as well, which is also beneficial to your mental well-being. This is important regardless of your age or gender. Your body and mind will endure some strain during your first few months abroad. You need to be in good shape to handle that.  If you are used to regular exercise in your home country, keep in mind that it might be a couple of months before you get back into your normal workout routine. When you arrive in a country, everything you will seem so new and at times complicated, so even getting in a workout at first can be a hassle. However, once you become adjusted, this should be no problem.

 

 

 

About JT 71 Articles

JT taught English for four years in Japan. He also has extensive experience teaching ESL in the United States. JT has also traveled throughout Asia and South America. He began JimmyESL in 2014 as a way to provide honest information for those interested in teaching English abroad. These days, he spends most of his time building Wordpress sites, blogging and teaching others the nuances of digital marketing.