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Is Teaching English Abroad a Good Idea for YOU?

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You’ve probably seen stories online of people who live abroad and lead glamorous sun-soaked lives.

Now you want to move abroad, too, but you’re scared.

Becoming an English teacher is a great way to live abroad, but it’s also hard work.

How do you decide whether teaching English abroad is a good idea FOR YOU?

You have to do some soul-searching to find your path.

This article will help you work through some of the most important considerations to make when you’re deciding whether or not you should teach abroad.

Should I Teach English Abroad? Ask Yourself These Questions

Deciding to teach abroad is a giant life choice, and there’s no one path that’s right for everyone.

The following questions will help you begin considering your personal situation to find out about whether teaching abroad is a good idea for you right now.

Do I Meet the Requirements for Teaching Abroad?

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Before you spend too much time daydreaming about life in a far-off land and worrying about logistics, make sure it’s even a possibility for you to teach abroad.

There are opportunities for most everyone, but there are three things you absolutely need to teach abroad: fluent English, a little money to get where you’re going, and a TEFL certification.

Learn more about how to obtain TEFL certification here.

And if you’re a native speaker with a bachelor’s degree, the possibilities are endless.

To find out more about the requirements for teaching abroad, refer to our in-depth guide to the general and specific requirements different countries have for ESL teachers.

Will I Be Happy Living Abroad?

This is perhaps the most important question to ask, and it’s also the hardest. In order to answer it, you need to dig deep and really be honest with yourself.

Asking yourself the following questions will help you determine whether living abroad will make you happy or not:

  • Are you in a long-term relationship, and if so do you want to do long-distance?
  • Do you love learning languages?
  • Do you feel excited or stressed out in new situations?
  • Do you crave adventure or stability?
  • Have you lived away from home before?

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When you’re thinking about what your life will be like abroad, also consider that different places have different cultures. If you’re very clean and want to live by the ocean, consider going to Japan or Ecuador. If you want to hike and save money, maybe Peru is the place for you.

Also consider what you don’t like: for example, lots of people love teaching English in China. But if you’re uncomfortable in crowded, dirty places, you’ll probably have a hard time living there.

Is Teaching English Abroad A Good Idea for Me Financially?

financial considerations

The good news is that almost anyone can find a way to teach abroad, but you might have to make more compromises if you’re on a tight budget.

For example, you might decide to teach in the place where you’ll make the most money instead of the place you want to live in most, or you might go with a program that pays for your startup costs and in turn give up some independence.

Consider what compromises you’re willing to make financially and whether you’d rather be in the place that seems the best experientially or the place where you can make and save the most money.

And remember, money isn’t everything. No amount of money is worth being miserable and isolated for a year or more of your life — I promise.

When you’re figuring out what kind of situation makes the most sense for you financially, think about the following potential expenses:

  • A plane flight to your destination.
  • A TEFL course. Our ultimate guide to TEFL course costs will help you find out how much money you can expect to spend on getting TEFL certified.
  • Startup costs in your destination, i.e. housing and money for groceries and other expenses before you receive your first paycheck.

5 Reasons Why You Should Teach English Abroad

1. It Will Change Your Life. Period.

Living abroad is an amazing, eye-opening, totally worthwhile experience. No matter what, there are going to be times when it’s hard. But life abroad will give you invaluable insight into the world.

As a teacher living abroad you’ll see sights you’d never get to see otherwise, you’ll meet incredible people, and you’ll gain a deep understanding of yourself and the world around you.

If that little voice inside you is whispering to you to go, listen. We promise you won’t regret it.

2. It Gives You The Means to Travel

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If you’ve been wanting to travel but just don’t have the time or money to do it, teaching ESL is a fantastic solution.

Working abroad gives you income and a visa, and once you’re in another place it’ll be easy to travel around there.

For example, if you’re in Poland you can easily travel around Europe, or if you’re in Ecuador now you can travel all around Central and South America — and you’ll have local and foreign friends to travel with!

3. Teaching Abroad Can Be Really Lucrative

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…depending on where you go.

China and the Middle East are good options if you’re trying to make a lot of money — but keep in mind that the cost of living is generally higher in places with higher salaries.

Also keep in mind that living abroad is a huge life change, and if you’re doing it for cash but don’t actually want to live where you are you’ll end up super depressed.

4. You’ve Been Wanting to Learn a Second Language

Yes, you need to speak English in the classroom when you’re living abroad. But you’ll have plenty of opportunities to speak the language you’re trying to learn with coworkers and on the street.

There’s no better way to learn a language than by living in the culture, and you can even invest in a tutor with your extra teaching money!

Living abroad gives you the opportunity to really immerse yourself in a different language — and if you’re teaching abroad you’ll actually be making money rather than paying money to do a language course somewhere.

5. You Think You Want to Be a Teacher

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If you don’t have your teacher’s certification yet but you want to be a classroom teacher, teaching abroad is a great way to feel out the classroom.

Your TEFL doesn’t give you license to teach at a public school in America — you’ll need to get a teacher’s certification for that. But you will gain valuable teaching skills and a leg up on your resume!

Also, teaching abroad can help you get a job teaching ESL in a non-school setting in your home country later on (for example, you could teach to refugees or immigrants — and be an important resource in the process!).

3 Reasons Not to Teach Abroad

1. You Don’t Actually Like Teaching

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Yes, teaching abroad gives you ample opportunity to explore a new country and experience a new culture. But you do also have to spend a lot of time, you know, teaching.

If you just don’t want to work with kids or don’t want to be a classroom teacher, you can find opportunities for teaching adults business English or tutoring small groups in a training center.

And if you’re worried that you won’t be a good teacher because you’ve never done it before, take a TEFL or volunteer somewhere in your community — or try being a substitute teacher for awhile! It’ll give you a better idea of whether you feel comfortable/happy teaching.

If you really don’t want to teach at all, though, save yourself a headache and don’t do it. You can find other opportunities to live abroad that won’t make you want to rip your hair out.

2. You Hate Going Outside Your Comfort Zone

teach english in japan

There’s nothing wrong with knowing your limits. If you don’t like trying new foods or being in new situations (or speaking a different language, getting accustomed to different cultural norms, or meeting different kinds of people) then living abroad probably isn’t for you.

Instead of putting yourself in a situation that makes you miserable, find something that won’t make you feel anxious and weirded out — or go somewhere in Europe where the culture and food aren’t too wildly different from at home.

Note: There will be expat bars and Western restaurants in any big city worldwide, so don’t think you’ll never get a taste of home as long as you’re abroad. If you’re planning on spending all your time trying to recreate your hometown, though, find a job at home. You’ll thank yourself for it.

3. You’re Only Doing it Because You’re Not Sure What Else to Do

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Honestly, this one isn’t a dealbreaker. I actually taught abroad after working at home for a year after graduation: I was unhappy and I wanted a BIG change. I ended up loving it and staying for an extra year.

If you’re just doing it to kill time or on an impulse, though, really consider whether it’s something you’ll enjoy.

It’s true that teaching abroad is really fun (and looks good on your resume). But there are a million wacky and amazing things you can do in the year after you graduate, so consider whether this is the one you want to do.

What Is “Abroad”, Anyway?

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The world is so so big! Teaching in Dubai looks different from teaching in Beijing, which looks different from teaching in a rural city in the hills of China.

The range of destinations gives you a range of experiences: you could wind up in expat central or a tiny village where you’re the only foreigner; a totally state-of-the-art apartment where the floors are made of iPads or a loft inside of an elementary school with really basic amenities.

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When you’re listening to other people talking about their experiences abroad, keep in mind how big the world is: people can give you valuable advice, but at the end of the day your experience is yours. Choose a place that makes you happy!

Know your “why”, and choose the school, country, and city based on that. And remember why you went abroad in the first place when you’re having low moments.

Discover the best places to teach English abroad here.

Most people end up having an amazing time no matter where they go, but if you end up in a situation you don’t like, don’t worry. You can always change schools or even go home if you realize that teaching abroad isn’t for you.

So go ahead, and get started on the adventure of a lifetime! We can’t wait to see where you land.

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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