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What Are the Requirements to Teach English Abroad?

requirements teaching English abroad

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Have you been dreaming about teaching English abroad?

Or maybe you just heard about someone else’s fabulous experience teaching in an exotic country and now you want to do it, too.

How hard is it to break into the industry?

Of course, you need to meet a few requirements to teach English abroad.

Read on to find out whether or not you’re eligible for one of the most amazing and life-changing jobs on this planet!

Basic Requirements

In today’s globalized world, there are ESL jobs (ESL = English as a second language) of every kind in every place imaginable. Because of the abundance of jobs, pretty much everyone can get a job teaching English somewhere.

However, many of the countries where ESL is most in-demand do have certain requirements of teachers.

We’ll outline some of the requirements and note some common exceptions here.

Visa

visa application to teach abroad

As you probably already know, you need a work visa in order to work in most countries. While some countries are generally lax about work visas, by and large you’re always safest doing what’s legal.

Refer to our in-depth country guides to find out more about what the visa process will be like in your destination.

Speak English Well

If you’re a non-native English speaker, have no fear: there are plenty of jobs to be had as long your English is good. However, you will have to narrow down your search a bit.

Many schools prioritize native English speakers because they want their students to learn from someone who speaks “radio” English, and some countries will only issue work visas to teachers who are native English speakers.

Usually this means having a passport from one of the seven English speaking countries:

  • the United States
  • the United Kingdom
  • Ireland
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Canada
  • South Africa

However, if you’re not a native English speaker or you just aren’t a citizen of one of the countries listed above, you can still find plenty of jobs — you just might have to look a little harder.

Scroll down to the Regional Requirements section of this article to find places that will let you teach ESL without being a native English speaker.

Whether or not you’re a native English speaker, you should speak fluent English with good grammar and an accent that doesn’t obfuscate your speech if you want to teach abroad. After all, that’s why people hire foreign English teachers in the first place!

TEFL Certificate

tefl certification

The number one way to up your chances of getting an ESL job is to get TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA certified. Many — but not all — countries and schools require teachers to be certified, and even the ones that don’t will prioritize teachers who’ve taken a TEFL course.

If you’ve never taught before (or just never taught abroad), the TEFL will give you tools to help you communicate with and teach language learners effectively.

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We highly recommend getting TEFL certified as the first step on your ESL journey. Your TEFL course will give you more insight into what teaching abroad is like and it will connect you with other ESL teachers.

For more information about TEFL courses, check out our totally comprehensive starter guide to TEFL certification!

Bachelor’s Degree

marketable-courses-kenya

Do you absolutely need a bachelor’s degree to teach English abroad? No.

Will it help you? Yes.

Many countries require teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, but there are places you can teach without one! Not having a degree just might narrow down your search.

The Regional Requirements section of this article mentions some countries where you can teach without a bachelor’s.

Personal Traits You Will Need

teach-english-china-no-experience

Outside of the requirements we’ve listed above, you should make sure you have what it takes to live abroad before you become a foreign teacher. Living and working abroad is an amazing, life-changing experience, but it’s not for everyone.

Here are some of the traits that will help you not only survive but thrive as an English teacher abroad:

Ability to Adapt to New Cultures Easily

Just because you’ve spent a week traveling in a different country doesn’t mean living abroad is going to be really different from your life at home in some major ways — and it’s a lot different than just traveling somewhere for a week.

As an expat you’ll need to get used to a different language, different toilets and foods and clothing, different cultural norms, and more.

If this all sounds exciting to you, GREAT! If it’s giving you pause, though, you may want to reconsider your decision to teach abroad.

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Hard-Working Nature

You’ll have so much fun living in a new country, but you’ll also have to work hard.

Going into it knowing that you’re an English teacher and not just someone on a crazy romp around the world will make your job more meaningful — and it will lead to a better education for your students.

A Positive Attitude

Sometimes things are really not going to go your way, and sometimes you’re going to have to advocate for yourself as someone in a foreign country.

Being able to make the best out of a bad situation and not let every little thing get you down will help you have a great time abroad instead of being sad and missing home every second.

This list of questions to ask yourself will help you decide whether teaching abroad is a good idea for you, too.

Special Regional Requirements

Some countries are super lax on requirements for foreign teachers, while others are annoyingly strict.

Let’s dig into some special requirements different countries have.

China

Aerial view of Shanghai skyline
Shanghai, China

Alright. So most countries require you to get an apostille (it’s just a fancy stamp) on your diploma and a few other documents in order to give you a visa. And China looooves stamps.

But they’re not part of this thing called the Hague Apostille Convention. Basically, what this means is that we (the U.S.) have an agreement with some countries that we trust their stamps and they trust ours, but China needs to verify American stamps independently.

So when you go to China you’ll need to get everything apostilled twice: once at an American Secretary of State and once at a Chinese consulate.

It’s kind of a headache but don’t worry: it’s all less complicated when you’re actually doing it (I mean, isn’t everything?)

In order to teach in China, you’ll also need a passport from one of the seven English-speaking countries as well as a Bachelor’s Degree.

Read the guide on teaching English in China.

Korea

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Busan, South Korea
Busan, South Korea

More on the pesky apostille thing (seriously, most boring topic in the world). For some reason, Korea also needs a different stamp than other countries. Thankfully they only need one, though.

When you go to the Secretary of State’s office to get things apostilled just let them know you’re going to Korea — they’ll know which stamp to use.

Teachers living in Korea also must have a passport from one of the seven English-speaking countries.

Read the guide on teaching English in South Korea.

Japan

guide-teaching-english-in-japan
Mount Fuji, Japan

The JET program is one of the most highly advertised programs in Japan, but don’t be fooled: there are other programs you can go through, too. Some of them require only fluent English — not native status.

If you have teaching experience or even corporate experience, there are some really exciting opportunities in Japan for you.

Read the guide on teaching English in Japan.

Thailand

teach-english-thailand
Driving in a Tuk Tuk in Thailand

If you’re a non-native speaker with fluent English, there are teaching opportunities for you in Thailand.

In order to get a work visa here, you need a passport from one of the seven English-speaking countries or a test score showing your fluency: 600 or above on the TOEIC, or at least five on the IELTS.

Read the guide on teaching English in Thailand.

Vietnam

teaching-english-vietnam-ha-long-bay
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

In order to teach English in Vietnam, you need a bachelor’s degree, TEFL certification, and an FBI criminal background check.

Read the guide on teaching English in Vietnam.

Cambodia

Lotus Plantation in Cambodia
Lotus Plantation in Cambodia

The need for English teachers is high in Cambodia right now!

That means that requirements are laxer: if you aren’t a native speaker or don’t have a bachelor’s degree, you might want to try getting a job in Cambodia.

As a bonus, the cost of living is low here, so you can save your teaching money!

Read the comprehensive guide on teaching English in Cambodia.

Russia

teach-english-russia
Moscow, Russia

You might be able to teach here without a bachelor’s degree! And the need for English teachers in Russia is high, so lots of schools offer pretty generous packages.

Read the comprehensive guide on teaching English in Russia.

The Middle East

teaching-english-dubai-uae
Dubai, UAE

The Middle East is a hot destination for teachers, but it’s also one with pretty strict requirements.

Many schools in the Middle East require teachers to have a British ESL certificate, like the CELTA. Lots of schools also want teachers with teaching certificates or two or more years of teaching experience.

Additionally, you’ll need a passport from one of the seven English-speaking countries to teach in a country like Dubai.

Turkey

teach-english-turkey
Istanbul, Turkey

Although a TEFL and bachelor’s degree are required to teach in Turkey, non-native speakers can find jobs here.

Europe

teach-english-europe-france
Paris, France

It’s hard for people that aren’t from the EU to get ESL jobs in much of Europe because there are already so many English speakers there.

However, Poland and Ukraine are exceptions to this — and both are exciting destinations!

Read the post about the best places to teach English in Europe.

Latin America

teaching-english-latin-america-peru
Machu Picchu, Peru

Many countries in Latin America have relatively lax requirements for teachers. If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree or aren’t a native English speaker this might be the place for you.

Many people also work in Latin America on a travel visa rather than a work visa.

And although salaries aren’t the highest in most places in Latin America, the cost of living here tends to be low.

Read the post about the best places to teach English in Latina America.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Requirements

Do I Really Need A Bachelor’s Degree to Teach Abroad?

There are places you can teach without a bachelor’s degree, but generally you do need one unless you have a visa or lots of teaching experience.

If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, look for jobs in Cambodia, Russia, or Latin America.

Does it Matter What My Degree Is in?

No! It doesn’t matter whether you majored in Physics or Philology — any bachelor’s degree will qualify you to teach ESL.

If you have additional teaching certification it will make you look better on applications (and qualify you for higher-paying jobs), and if you have a degree in a field like science you might be able to get a job teaching that subject in English in an international school.

Does My Age Matter?

No … and yes.

Many countries only accept teachers aged 21-55 (or 60; depends on the official retirement age in the respective country).

If you’re not 21 yet, you might want to try volunteering abroad or at home before applying for teaching jobs.

And if you’re over 55 but you have teaching experience, look for jobs in Asia. They’ll be harder to find, but there are opportunities out there.

Also, read: Is 34 too old to teach abroad?

Do I Need to Have Money Saved Up?

A little but not a lot.

No matter where you go, you’ll need money for a plane flight and visa, the cost of which will vary based on your destination.

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The rest of your financials depend on the situation you have set up with your recruiter or school. Some employers provide teachers with housing and even free TEFL courses, or at least a program through which you can pay them back once you’ve started working.

However, in other situations, you’ll need money to pay for your housing and TEFL upfront.

Do I Need a Teaching Certificate?

No! In fact, most ESL teachers don’t have teaching certificates. However, if you do have one you’ll be eligible for some pretty cushy jobs.

Do I Need Teaching Experience?

No! Even if you haven’t stepped into a classroom since you graduated college (or high school), you can totally be an English teacher.

Being nervous about teaching is totally understandable, but your TEFL course will give you the skills you need to be a fantastic ESL teacher!

Many schools provide teachers additional training as well, and there are tons of online forums you can use to ask current and former ESL teachers any questions you might have about classroom teaching or tutoring.

What If I’m Not a Native English Speaker?

Options are more limited, but there are still teaching opportunities for anyone who speaks English well.

As a non-native speaker, you’ll have more luck finding work in a country with a higher need for English teachers, like Russia, Thailand, Turkey, Cambodia, and Mexico.

Does My Accent Matter?

As long as your English is clear and intelligible, your accent doesn’t matter–there are plenty of jobs on the market for all English speakers.

If you have a standard American, British, or Australian accent you might be more favorable to schools who want to teach their students a specific kind of English.

I Still Have Questions…

We get it — figuring out what the requirements to teach English abroad are (and whether you meet them) can be difficult.

That’s why we’re on this journey with you. Leave a comment on this article with any questions or input, and browse our website for more articles about teaching abroad.

We’re happy to help you navigate this exciting journey, and we can’t wait to see where you end up!

About Molly Oberstein-Allen

Molly Oberstein-Allen spent a year and a half teaching ESL and STEAM in Shenzhen, China. She currently resides in Kansas, where she writes and teaches online. She's passionate about traveling, literature, and the outdoors.

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