3 Reasons Why Getting a TEFL First is Totally Worth It

There are an estimated 250,000 Westerners currently teaching English abroad. Demand for English teachers is expected to hold strong until at least 2025 and possibly longer. In most cases, one needs to have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university to teach English. Although it used to be unnecessary to have a TEFL or TESOL certificate, it is increasingly becoming necessary to have one.

Why a TEFL certificate is becoming more and more important

In addition to the job market to teach abroad becoming more competitive, governments throughout Asia, the Middle East, and even Latin America have imposed higher standards for Westerns seeking a visa to teach in their countries. While it is still a painless process in many countries, obtaining a visa to teach English in the Middle East, Europe and many parts of Asia is quite difficult or impossible without an accredited and recognized certificate.

Even in a country like China, where there is a lack of suitable teachers to meet demand, most provinces require you to have a TEFL or TESOL before they will issue a working visa. In fact, China has been cracking down lately on Westerners teaching without a proper visa and there is talk that every teacher will need to have at least a 120-hour TEFL, TESOL or CELTA before a visa can be issued.

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This isn’t me trying to sell you a certificate, but a changing tide in the industry. The reality is that a growing number of schools throughout the world are requiring a TESOL, TEFL or CELTA certificate. Keep in mind that each of these certificates qualifies one to teach ESL domestically or abroad and all three are generally recognized in most countries. However, you may come across an institute that prefers one.

In case you’re wondering, TESOL stands for “teaching English to speakers of other languages”. TEFL is teaching English as a Foreign  Language and CELTA stands for “certificate in English language teaching to adults”.

Costs for TEFL courses and certification

Accredited TESOL, TEFL or CELTA courses will run anywhere from $250 to $2,200. A course for around $250 may be enough to land an entry-level position in certain countries, while a course between $1000 to $2,000 will be widely recognized and allow you to teach almost anywhere in the world.  In the end, it is ultimately up to you as an individual as to what kind of teaching job you find. Paying $2,000 for a TEFL course doesn’t guarantee you will get one of the better positions, but it will better your chances. If you really want to boost your resume and secure a top position, have a master’s in Teaching English as a second language or in linguistics will go a long way.

But is it really necessary?

There still remains a fair amount of confusion about whether or not one needs a teaching certificate before going abroad. There is even a strong element of skepticism surrounding TEFL, TESOL, and CELTA programs and rightfully so. Teachers have been scammed in the past by signing up for non-accredited TEFL courses administered by fraudulent companies.

However, conditions for teaching English abroad, including those in China, have improved considerably in recent years. Consequently, requirements to teach have been raised to a higher standard. So, do you need a TESOL, TEFL or CELTA certificate to teach English abroad? While it is still possible to get a job without one, I recommend enrolling in a course. The answer is more or less ‘yes’ and here are three reasons why.

1. Getting a TEFL certificate first gives you more options for teaching English abroad

In many countries, it is necessary to have a TESOL, TEFL or CELTA and with really no exceptions. China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Turkey the United Arab Emirates, anywhere in Europe and Brazil are some destinations where you will need one. On top of that, your certificate should be at least 120 hours. A 120-hour TEFL, TESOL or CELTA has become the global standard.

Don’t waste your money on a course that is anything less than 120 hours. There are several companies out there marketing 40-, 60- and 80-hour certificates. I’ve even seen a 20-hour certificate course on Groupon for $30. You might as well just send your money to me before you pay for one of these courses. They might have gotten you by five years ago, but the industry is changing quickly.

If you go with an inexpensive 120-hour course, make sure it has some kind of accreditation. There is nothing wrong with an inexpensive $300 or $400 TEFL course, but it may limit you to parts of Asia, such as China and Thailand. Remember that a high-quality 120-hour TEFL, TESOL or CELTA course will cost at least $1200.

If you decide to teach without a certificate, then you are really only limiting yourself to a smaller pool of available positions. Let’s say you begin teaching English for one year in South Korea, but then decide to teach your second year in another country, such as Brazil, Spain or Saudi Arabia. Having that TEFL along with experience under your belt makes it a lot easier when you decide to make a move. You may find a position you really like in another country, but be disappointed find out that the same position requires a certificate.

You should keep in mind that having a certificate along with some experience would also qualify you to teach ESL domestically in your home country. That might not be your career path for the rest of your life, but it can be an enjoyable position for sometimes and a reliable backup in a sometimes sluggish economy.

2. Get a better paying job teaching English abroad

Ok, it is entirely possible to get a job teaching English in Japan, South Korea and in some parts of  Latin America without a certificate. However, things are changing as the industry has begun to regulate and organize itself in recent years. What you will see now is that some individual schools in these same countries ask for a TESOL, TEFL or CELTA. In addition, many of those schools offer better pay and working conditions.

If you are going to teach English abroad, then you should go for the best positions, which will probably require a teaching certificate. Even if a school in Japan or South Korea doesn’t require one, they will be more likely to hire you if you have one. That wasn’t the case 10 years ago, but circumstances have changed.

Let’s say you do spend anywhere from $300 to $2,000 for a TEFL certificate. If that certificate alone is the difference in you getting a job paying $200 more a month, you are looking at $2400 of additional income per year. If you are plan on teaching abroad for a few years, that TEFL certificate you had to fork up money for in the first place will provide a nice return investment. In the long run, it is a financially wise decision.

3. Gain experience before teaching English abroad

I went to Japan in 2007 to teach English without any experience, knowledge of the industry or teaching certificate. In hindsight, I wish I had gotten one before I went. I was completely clueless about teaching English during my first year in Japan and it was a struggle at times. I had no idea what to expect, support system or understanding of how to teach a language.

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The last one is important. Teaching a language is not like lecturing about history or mathematics. There is a certain approach to it that needs to be followed. A good TESOL, TEFL or CELTA course will not only introduce you to the correct methods of teaching English but provide insight to the industry and give advice as to what to expect and how to find a job.

If you simply cannot afford to shell out the money for a teaching certificate, then you have no choice, but to go ahead without one. However, if you can manage to pay, then I would do so. That is my advice as someone who knows the industry well. So does everyone else that you will speak to about teaching English abroad.

In reality, what was once a highly unregulated ESL industry and is becoming more regulated and competitive. Consequently, it is becoming necessary to have a certificate and work with the right people who can provide you with sound advice that speaks from experience.

Also read: Which TEFL course online should I choose?


Well, that is the low-down on getting a TEFL or TESOL. I’m not going to tell you that you absolutely have to get one because it’s not necessary in some cases. But it is a requirement for the majority of positions on the market today and that trend is growing. It also offers more flexibility if say you are teaching in South Korea for a year, but then decide to move on to China where it is absolutely required.

Most importantly, completing a TEFL or TESOL course before flying to the other side of the world to teach English abroad will better prepare you and negate a few headaches in the long run. If you want to add to the discussion or have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment.

2 thoughts on “3 Reasons Why Getting a TEFL First is Totally Worth It”

  1. I wonder if Japan will ever require this for English teachers (ALTs). With the pay getting lower and lower, I doubt it, but it would be nice to raise the standards a little! Nice post.

    • Hello ALTinsider,

      Thanks for checking out my post. I don’t think will ever require it. Although it seems strange that they wouldn’t considering that they can be so strict about things. But I guess that is Japan. They always keep you guessing. How longhave you been teaching as an ALT

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