How to Start Teaching English Abroad
Have you ever thought about teaching English abroad?
Maybe you want to live overseas for a year, start a career in the education industry, or have an adventure.
Maybe you want to change your life.
No matter what your why is, teaching English as a foreign language is a great way to finance your travels. It also gives you an opportunity to immerse yourself in other cultures and make an impact on students across the globe.
We’re here to guide you on your journey, and to help you find the TEFL job of your dreams.
What is TEFL?
TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language.
As you might have guessed, it refers to the practice of teaching English to anyone whose first language isn’t English. It’s also the name of the certification people get to teach English abroad.
If that isn’t confusing enough, there are a handful of other terms that people use to describe teaching abroad, English language learners, and ESL teaching certifications.
We won’t go into the details of each acronym right now, but this handy primer will help you recognize and understand them when you see them in the wild:
- BML = Bilingual & Multilingual Learners
- CELTA = Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults
- ESL = English as a Second Language
- EFL = English as a Foreign Language
- ELL = English Language Learners
- LET = Limited English Proficiency
- TEFL = Teaching English as a Foreign Language
- TESOL = Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
Why Should You Teach English Abroad?
Teaching English abroad has a number of benefits.
For starters, when you teach abroad you’re getting paid to travel!
That’s not all you get out of the deal though. You also gain valuable skills like international work experience, cultural awareness and language proficiency, and a global community.
You get to educate people and help them become global citizens while becoming more worldly yourself -- what’s better than that?
Oh, yeah -- getting paid for it.
Seriously, though, teaching English abroad is rewarding on all fronts -- and is well worth your time.
Who Can Teach English Abroad?
While some people assume that only recent graduates or certified teachers can teach English abroad, the truth is that almost any fluent speaker of the English language can get a job teaching English overseas!
You can teach English abroad for a season, a couple of years, or a lifetime.
People teach abroad for all sorts of different reasons, and there are programs to fit most anyone.
Read the post Is Teaching English Abroad a Good Idea for YOU? for more information on how to figure out whether or not you should teach English abroad -- and what questions you should ask yourself to find out.
Learn more about the requirements to teach English abroad in the following section.
Why Do People Teach English Abroad?
- To teach in summer camps
- To take a gap year or take a break after college
- To learn about a different culture
- To become fluent in a different language
- To take the first step toward moving abroad
- To learn about teaching ESL
- To make a difference by volunteering
What Requirements Do You Need to Teach English Abroad?
Some countries have stricter requirements for English teachers, while others welcome just about anyone with open arms.
General Qualifications for Teaching English Abroad:
- A passport from an English-speaking country and/or English “native-level” fluency
- A bachelor’s degree
- A TEFL certificate
Don’t meet some of these requirements? Don’t worry! You can definitely get a job without having a bachelor’s degree or being a native English speaker -- just prepare for a more challenging job hunt.
Besides the hard requirements, a number of personal traits will help you to "survive" in a classroom and in a country far away from home.
Personality Traits of Successful ESL Teachers:
- An outgoing personality
- Cultural sensitivity
- An independent spirit
- Good problem-solving skills
You don’t need all of these traits, but think about what it will be like to set foot in a foreign country and then suddenly be put into a leadership role there.
If that sounds exciting to you, you’ll probably be an amazing ESL teacher. If it scares the bejeezus out of you, though, you might want to look for a job that plays to your strengths more.
And if you’re totally worried that you’re not cut out to teach abroad, here are some things you don’t need to teach English abroad:
- A teaching degree
- Wads of cash
- Fluency in the language they speak in your destination
We know that the requirements we’ve listed might sound like a lot, but at the end of the day: if you’re excited to teach English abroad and have a willing spirit, you’ll be able to find a job and make your way somehow or another -- we guarantee it.
Still wondering whether you meet the requirements for ESL teachers? Check out What are the Requirements to Teach English Abroad? to find out whether or not you’ve got the right stuff.
What Job Opportunities Are Out There?
There are hordes of people all over the world who want to learn ESL -- and each of those people needs a teacher.
So whether you like working with toddlers, teenagers, or adults, in small groups, large classes, or one-on-one, you’ll find a job that corresponds with your interests and needs.
You can teach in universities, at businesses, in schools or training centers, or at people’s homes.
You can opt for a snazzy high-paying job in a wealthier area or make just enough to cover your needs and work with a more disadvantaged population.
You can even teach English online to generate some income as you travel from place to place!
We’ve compiled a list of the 12 best online teaching companies to work for to help you get started if you choose to go that route.
There are tons and tons of job opportunities out there -- enough that it can get overwhelming. But don’t worry -- you can always start with one type of job and then move to a different one if it doesn’t fit you.
Or join our Facebook group if you’re struggling to figure out which job is best for you -- it’s full of new and veteran ESL teachers who can give you advice and help you on your journey!
Where Can You Go to Teach English Abroad?
Just like there’s an almost infinite number of ESL jobs you can do, there are an endless number of places you can go to teach. However, teaching English abroad doesn’t look exactly the same the world over.
Here’s a quick overview of some of the more popular regions for teaching ESL:
There are tons of ESL jobs in Asia. China, in particular, is one of the most popular destinations for people who want to teach English abroad (and one of the highest paying job markets), but you’ll find jobs all over the region.
If you like adventure and super different cultural experiences, you should definitely give Asia a shot.
And read our guide to teaching English in Asia to find out more about what it’s like living there, how to find work, and which countries in Asia you should consider.
Latin America is the place to go if you want to improve your Spanish, love salsa dancing, or want to eat tamales and barbacoa every day.
It’s not the highest-paying region for ESL teachers, but it’s a worthy destination all the same.
After all, teaching ESL in a Latin American country is one of the best ways to really get acquainted with the culture and learn about life there -- you’re getting a more in-depth look than you would as a tourist.
And don’t worry -- we’ve of course got a guide to teaching abroad in Latin America to help you figure out how to teach there and more!
The Middle East
If you want to ride a camel, hike through the desert, eat bucketloads of hummus, then set your sights on teaching in the Middle East. You should also consider here if you’re seeking a high salary.
This region tends to have relatively strict requirements for ESL teachers, but if you meet them you’ll be rewarded with a healthy paycheck, really good benefits, and a caring community.
Many ESL teachers want to go to Europe because they want to see the Trevi Fountain, go to clubs in East Berlin, or stuff their faces with pizza and pasta all day. You can definitely get a job in Europe if you want, but be warned that teaching here won’t make you a millionaire.
Our guide to teaching English in Europe goes further into what the requirements for ESL teachers are here, which countries have the most job opportunities for English teachers, and more.
There are options the world over, including Africa and North America.
English-speaking countries generally have much fewer ESL positions and tend to really only have positions for nationals who have some type of higher teaching certification.
Many countries in Africa only offer volunteer ESL positions -- you might try going through the Peace Corps or a similar organization if you’re interested in a position like that.
If you’re interested in teaching English in a specific place, check out our complete list of country guides -- they’ll give you the inside scoop on almost anywhere to save you some personal research.
How Much Money Can You Make Teaching English Abroad?
There’s no one answer to this question because a number of factors affect how much money people tend to make as ESL teachers.
You can volunteer and get compensated with free housing and food, or you can teach in the Middle East or China and make $2,000-$4,000 a month.
Or you can go a middle way, teaching in Latin America or Southeast Asia and making somewhere around $800-$1,200 a month -- more than enough to live on in those countries, but not enough to save up much.
Figuring out how much money you want to make and how much money it’s realistic for you to make will help you choose a destination and job that suit your financial goals.
There are three factors that will help you make more money teaching English abroad:
Besides salary, though, it’s important to factor in the cost of living in different places. Some countries pay high salaries but are expensive to live in, meaning that all the money you make each month disappears faster than you might think.
Of course, your lifestyle also impacts how much money you’ll actually save. If you go out every night and travel all the time you’ll probably have a super fun time, but you might not save that much money.
Tip: As an ESL teacher, you will be needing to transfer money abroad on a regular basis, and that is costly and often time-consuming. There are simpler solutions for ESL teachers that you could be using. View the currency transfer guide to learn more.
Do You Need to Have Money Saved Up to Teach English Abroad?
You probably need a little money, but how much really depends on what your situation is and where you’re going.
Airfare, getting a visa, putting a deposit on rent, and surviving until your first paycheck can all add up.
If you procure a job before going abroad your costs will probably be manageable, but if you have to spend time searching for a job on the ground you might find yourself eating through your savings at an alarming rate.
So don’t worry if you don’t have a bunch of money saved up: there are tons of places where you can teach English abroad without having much savings.
No, really -- how much money do you need to teach abroad?
Recommended Start-up Money
$1,000 should generally cover you if you move to a destination where you already have a job.
$3,000 should do it if you’re looking for a job on the ground.
Note that these numbers are rough estimates, though, and they vary based on your situation and the cost of living where you’re going.
We’re here to help you pick out the right destination so you end up teaching in the place that’s right for your lifestyle and your wallet.
Side Hustles and Online Teaching Options Abound
Depending on where you live, your salary as an ESL teacher might not be enough to cover your living expenses, afford some extras and save money all at the same time.
One great way to make money from home or while traveling is by teaching English online.
Many online English teaching platforms, such as VIPKID, don’t even require a TEFL certificate, although you can make more money teaching on the platform if you have one. VIPKID teachers make $14-22 an hour, and full-time teachers report making as much as $3,000 a month on the platform.
And best of all, because it’s all online you can do it anywhere with a good Internet connection!
A lot of teachers pad their wallets with other side jobs, for example, they work for CustomWritings, an online custom essay writing service for ESL students. Writing an own blog, earning money from ads or affiliate marketing is a good option, too.
stay tuned for more info here in no time...