Start Teaching English Abroad: The 3-Step Guide

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.

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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.

Start Teaching English Abroad:  The 3-Step Guide

Step 1: Learn About Your Opportunities

First, you should gain some basic knowledge about what teaching English abroad is all about, where you can teach, what requirements you need and what jobs are available.

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 start their teaching career.

Easy like that!

At the moment, TEFL is probably the world’s fastest-growing educational field, and as such opportunities abound for certified professionals to teach English online and around the world.

Read our guide on the best available online TEFL courses.

What Requirements Do You Need to 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!

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

Read the in-depth guide to the requirements to teach English abroad.

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.

And if you’re totally worried that you’re not cut out to teach abroad, here are some things you absolutely don’t need to teach English abroad:

  • A teaching degree
  • Wads of cash
  • Fluency in the language they speak in your destination

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.

Find out whether teaching English abroad is a good idea for you here.

What Job Opportunities Are Out There?

Common Types of Jobs for ESL Teachers Abroad

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.

Here’s a quick overview of the common type of jobs:

School Teacher

Whether you work at a university or in a public or private school, you’ll be in charge of a group of students. More often than not you’ll be in charge of designing your lessons and curriculum.

School teachers generally need to be native English speakers with a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate.

If you teach at a private school, you’ll probably make a good salary and receive healthy benefits. If you teach at a public school, you’ll probably receive a lower salary. However, many public schools offer teachers housing.

Teacher in a Training Center or Business

You may be able to find a job in a training center even if you’re not a native English speaker. Training center teachers typically work in the afternoon and evening after school is done, and they often need to teach on the weekend as well.

Some training centers have their teachers lead classes to business people at workplaces around the city. In that case, you’ll work normal daytime hours but will have to spend time getting from location to location to teach classes.

Training centers almost always provide teachers with curriculum and lesson plans.

Teachers at training centers usually get paid less than school teachers, but they have more flexibility in terms of working hours and time off.

Private Tutor

There are no requirements for being a private tutor.

As your own boss, you set your own hours and choose who you want to teach and how much you want to charge.

However, as a private tutor, you’re also solely responsible for recruiting clients, devising lesson plans, and every other aspect of your business.

In What Countries Can You Teach English?

Just like there’s an almost infinite number of ESL jobs you can do, there is an endless number of places you can go to teach. However, teaching English abroad doesn’t look exactly the same the world over.

Get a headstart with our list of the best places to teach English abroad here.

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.

Popular Countries to Teach English in Asia

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 other countries in Asia you should consider.

Latin America

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.

Popular Countries to Teach English in Latin America

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 English 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, fantastic benefits, and a caring community.

Popular Countries to Teach English in the Middle East


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.

Popular Countries to Teach English in Europe

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.

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.

Check out our guide to the countries paying teachers the highest salaries to teach English abroad to find out where to go for a trendy wallet bulge.

Step 2: Take a TEFL Training Course And Become Certified

A TEFL course is a class that teaches you how to TEFL or teach English as a foreign language.

The vast majority of ESL jobs require TEFL certification, and even those that don’t will favor teachers who are TEFL certified.

Looking for in-depth information on TEFL certification? Go this way!

What Will You Learn in a TEFL Course?

In a TEFL course, you’ll learn how to teach grammar and language skills, how to plan lessons and curriculum, and how to accommodate different learning styles. 

You’ll also learn about classroom management, time management, and how to structure the flow of your classes.

TEFL courses also discuss cultural sensitivity, and courses which are held on location in different countries often include material about teaching in those places specifically. 

Most importantly, your TEFL course will include a mock lesson that you must plan and teach. This experience is extremely valuable when you start teaching in the classroom.

Getting TEFL certified will make you feel more confident as a teacher, and it will also give you valuable teaching skills to help you be a more effective teacher for English language learners in a foreign country or online.

On the fence about getting certified? This blog post about the pros and cons of enrolling in a TEFL course may help you make up your mind.

The Course Options and Costs

You’ll find three TEFL course formats:

  • in person,
  • online,
  • or combination.

As long as the course is 120 hours long and provided by a reputable institution, all three of these are perfectly acceptable.

Each format has pros and cons, so it’s up to you to figure out which one is right for you.

IMPORTANT: Choose a 120-Hour Course!

You’ll find all kinds of TEFL courses out there: 60-hour certifications, 240-hour certifications, you name it.

Here’s the deal: ignore any course that’s shorter than 120 hours. That’s the industry standard for course length, and it’s the certification schools are looking for.

Anything shorter is a waste of time and money because the certification won’t get you hired. You can take a longer course if you want extra practice, but it’s not necessary to find work.

Remember: 120 hours. That’s the length to shoot for.

You can find an online course for anywhere from $200-$1,500, while an in-person course will run you $1,000-$2,800. 

Our article breaking down the costs of TEFL certification will help you figure out more about the specifics of what different TEFL course options will cost you, and it even includes links to some reasonably priced courses!

When you’re considering TEFL courses, it’s important to see what all they actually come with.

Many TEFL courses offer job placement assistance and career guidance, as well as access to alumni networks and helpful resources.

These benefits can make a huge difference as you look for jobs and wade through all the options out there.

If you’re taking a TEFL course in person, it’s also important to note whether it includes accommodation and transportation from the airport.

While the lack of benefits like these isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, it’s important to keep in mind that a budget course might quickly turn into an expensive one once you’ve paid a bunch of fees out of pocket.

Recommended TEFL Course Providers

There are infinite TEFL providers out there, and it can be hard to tell which ones are the real deal.

Here are our favorites:

Let’s TEFL Online Training

If you’re looking for an affordable online TEFL course, you’re in the right place.

You can get certified through Let’s TEFL for as low as $200, and their courses come with job placement assistance should you choose to use it.

International TEFL Academy (ITA)

International TEFL Academy offers TEFL courses around the world and online.

Completion of an ITA course comes with one-on-one career guidance from experienced professionals as well as lifetime job search guidance.

Step 3: Apply for Jobs And Get Hired

There’s no one set formula for finding a job: people get work all over using a number of different methods, and in the end, whichever one works for you is perfect!

As long as you end up employed, you’ve done it correctly.

The first step of finding a job is always to start thinking about what kind of teaching you’d like to be doing and where.

It’s okay if you’re not sure of your answer to either of these questions yet, but starting to zero in on what you want your experience abroad to look like will help you narrow down your job search and focus on applying for jobs that fit your goals.

Looking at the different options out there will help you figure out what sounds good to you and what kind of setup suits you best.

Where Can You Find Jobs?

It can be hard to even figure out where to look for jobs. These methods are a good place to start:

Job Guidance From Your TEFL Course Provider

If you’ve taken a TEFL course, you can use their career guidance program or job placement assistance to get work with one of their partner schools.

Usually, when you are new to the TEFL world and don’t have a clear idea about where to start teaching, your TEFL provider is the number one resource to find a job to teach English abroad.

Learn more about job guidance and placement from Let’s TEFL.

Online Forums and Groups

Browse online forums to look for jobs. Dave’s ESL Cafe is by far the most popular forum for ESL jobs, but Teachaway, ESLbase, and Go Abroad are among other platforms that have tons and tons of listings for legitimate ESL jobs. If you know what country you’re going to, search for “country ESL jobs” to find Facebook groups and forums specific to there.


Contact a recruiter to match you with jobs. You can find a recruiter through a Google search, a forum or Facebook group, or if you know anyone living in your destination already they may be able to put you in touch with one.

Knock Doors

In some countries, the best thing to do is just show up and start going from school to school with your resume until you find work.

The Application And Hiring Process

Once you’ve gotten leads on jobs, the next step is to apply.

Thankfully, applying for ESL jobs isn’t like applying for grad school. Once you’ve created your application materials, you can pretty much bulk send them to different places without doing much editing or altering.

The first step of applying, then, is to get your application materials together.

Resume and Documents

First off, you’ll need a resume geared toward teaching.

You may also need a short cover letter introducing yourself and explaining why you’d be a good fit for the job.

At some point in the application process, you’ll also need to deliver some documents to your future employer, including:

Documents You Will Need for Your Application


Once you’ve submitted your documents, you’ll probably be asked to interview over Skype (or another video call tool).

One of the main goals of the interview is to make sure you’re professional and qualified, so make sure to speak slowly, enunciate, be enthusiastic, and look professional.

You want to show that you have crisp, easy-to-understand English and that you have a personality that would appeal to the students (especially when you will be teaching kids).

After you’ve interviewed, the school will probably send over a contract.

Look it over fully, sign it, send it back, and get ready to go teach abroad!!

Learn how to answer the top6 ESL job interview questions here.

How Do You Obtain a Work Visa?

With your contract signed and your starting date set, it’s finally time to move abroad!

This is the exciting part: starting your new life as an ESL teacher in a foreign country. But like any big life event, this milestone doesn’t come without paperwork.

Your employer will help you figure out what documents you need for the steps in this process, but you’ll probably need stamps on your bachelor’s degree and FBI Criminal Background Check to prove their veracity, and a health check to get your work visa.

Read our primer on getting a criminal background check to find out what to do — and not to do — when you’re getting yours.

Note: For some countries, you can enter the country on a tourist visa and apply for your work visa locally once you’ve signed a work contract. Your employer will assist you in the process as well.

After you’ve gotten your work visa, it’s time to buy a ticket and set off on your journey!

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