Can You Teach English Abroad Without a Degree?

Many countries gradually put into place more stringent regulations for ESL teachers looking to get work visas.

That being said, there are still some places that accept teachers who hold no four-year degree. Please note, that if you fall into this category, that you are at a severe disadvantage in your hunt for work. You will have to be much more patient and much less selective than teachers who do hold a university degree.

However, if you really do want to teach English abroad, nevertheless, you’ll find all the start-up information in this post. We won’t sugar-coat the situation, but we’ll provide tips on how and in which countries you can find ESL jobs without a degree.

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Teaching English Without a Degree: Where is it possible?

Hiring Standards Raise Almost Anywhere

In the past, it was much easier to teach English without a degree. However, the ESL industry in many countries has come under increased scrutiny from their respective governments and the hiring standards and practices have become much more regulated and stringent, along with tighter regulations for obtaining the proper visas and permits.

In countries like Japan, it isn’t even possible to secure a work permit without a degree that has been validated in your own country and then sent in for validation by the respective Japanese governing body.

Countries that in the past used to be havens for teachers that either didn’t have degrees or lacked qualifications for teaching are now imposing greater regulations on schools looking to secure work permits for the teachers they hire.

Thailand is a great example of such a country. It was well-known for having relaxed employment standards but has begun cracking down hard on foreigners working illegally (though the article linked to is from 2007 it paints a grim picture of what could potentially happen if you are caught).

This is a trend that is not going to change as the economies of many developing nations improve and the infrastructure and laws improve with it.

For a long time, China was a job magnet for ESL teachers without a degree (lots of them “under the table“). They tightened the visa requirements in 2019 and stopped hiring foreign teachers in summer 2021 at all, due to new legislation.

Also read: What are the requirements to teach English abroad?

Don’t Try to Teach Abroad Illegally

To be clear: If you manage to land an ESL job in a country, although you don’t meet the requirements for a work visa, you are working there illegally. Period.

There is a lot of conflicting advice about this topic online. Some schools with unscrupulous business practices who are having trouble hiring teachers may even try to convince you that it is perfectly fine working without a degree or work permit and that no one will ever check your papers.

However, a quick search online will reveal countless articles about foreign teachers being arrested for working illegally. They had to spend time in prison before having to pay large fines and then eventually being deported with a long-term ban being stamped into their passport.

Many countries are actively working to crack down on teachers working illegally. Despite what you may read online or what other expats may tell you, your chances of getting caught while working illegally are increasing every year. Police step up raids of schools, and governments improve their screening of teachers applying for work permits.

You will also be working without the proper visa and will most likely be on a tourist visa in whatever country you are in. This will mean that you will be doing visa runs every so often, which can become expensive over a long period of time and will no doubt arise suspicion from customs and immigration officials.

Besides, many of the schools and companies that are willing to employ teachers who are working illegally are usually less than scrupulous. If they decide to break the contract or decide they want to stop paying you, then there will be absolutely no recourse available to you, as you are not supposed to be working in the first place.

For these reasons, we heavily advise you do not attempt to work illegally in any country, regardless of how attractive this option might look for you.

The Best Countries to Teach English Abroad Without a Degree

As mentioned, most countries which are the top of the list of ESL teachers have very strict rules about working as a teacher without a university degree. However, just because you can’t get a job in your first or second choice country, doesn’t mean there aren’t a number of equally good alternatives.

There are still countries where you can teach English without a degree. The primary thing to be aware of is that most of these countries don’t require a degree for a reason. Many of the countries on the list are developing nations with less government regulation and oversight. Typically, the pay for these jobs will be much less than what could be expected with a four-year degree in a more optimal location.

That does not have to mean, that you won’t have a great time teaching there and won’t be able to make a decent living. Some of these countries are even traveler favorites.

We’ll take a look at a few of these places and discuss the upsides and downsides of each location to give you a better idea. This list is non-exhaustive, so just because we don’t talk about a country doesn’t mean that it is off the list if you do not hold a degree.

Cambodia

Teachers who are looking to work in a tropical location would do well to consider Cambodia. A large variety of terrain from pristine beaches to mountain ranges that hide ancient temples can be found in this country of over fifteen million.

Due to its proximity to Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia is often not the first location that teachers looking to work in Southeast Asia choose. However, this is a major benefit for non-degree holders who are looking to secure work, as it means that the number of students looking to learn English is outpacing schools’ abilities to hire teachers. This coupled with the countries more relaxed visa laws makes it an ideal location to work in (it should be noted that this will likely change in the future).

Read the full guide on teaching English in Cambodia.

Pros:

Cambodia has a very low cost of living in comparison to many countries around the world, and even when compared to other Southeast Asian nations. The average monthly rental price for a one-bedroom apartment in Phnom Penh city center, Cambodia’s capital city, is $475 according to numbeo. Most expats can expect to pay $200 – $300 for modest accommodations outside the city center.

Salaries that a teacher can command in the city start out at around $1,000 to $1,200. This is for both teachers with and without degrees, though teachers with a degree or a TEFL certificate can potentially earn more. If you can manage your money well, then this allows you to comfortably get by with the low cost of living. Especially if you are willing to take on other work such as private tutoring or working online.

Due to the beautiful country, there will always be somewhere to travel during holidays and time off. If you are in Phnom Penh, then you will cheaply and easily be able to travel from the airport to surrounding countries. The bus system in Cambodia is also straightforward to use and extremely cheap.

Cons:

Though the visa situation is fairly relaxed, this is something that could change at any moment. Already, new regulations have been implemented for certain types of visas and there are proposals for tighter scrutiny on work permits and long-term visas. Though, new regulation doesn’t necessarily guarantee enforcement. It is important to note that while it is possible to teach English without a degree in Cambodia at the moment the situation could be completely different in a year.

Years of civil war left Cambodia decimated both economically and socially. While things have improved greatly since the end of the Khmer Rouge, the impacts of this period are still present as the country has recovered from complete economic shutdown and genocide.

Because of this, there are many places in Cambodia where you may teach that are still steeped impoverished and where the infrastructure may be lacking. Some villages still do not have running water and electricity, and internet may be unstable if present at all. It is not guaranteed that you will find a job in Phnom Penh, and you should be prepared to teach in a smaller village in the countryside.

Many schools and companies in Cambodia prefer to hire tutors who are already on the ground, so if you are not already in Cambodia or you are not willing to travel to Cambodia, then you may find it harder to find a job.

Average Monthly ESL Teacher Salary in Cambodia:

AreaMonthly Salary (USD)
Phnom Penh$1,000 – $1,200
Other Areas$800 – $1,000

Russia

Because Russia is an extremely large country with a massive population spread out over 6,000,000 square miles, the demand for ESL teachers is great. So great, in fact, that it is often quite easy to find jobs even if you do not have a university degree.

Russia is a country that is rich in history and boasts an extremely diverse landscape that teachers can explore. However, if you are more inclined to warmer weather, you may be put off by the extreme winters. The coldest inhabited place on earth is located in the far east of Russia and while not all the country is this extreme it is still an icy place throughout much of the year. You will need to be prepared for this if you plan on living and teaching in the country for any length of time.

Read the full guide on teaching English in Russia.

Pros:

As mentioned, there is a great demand for native English speakers who can teach English to the large and widely distributed population of the country. Russia isn’t necessarily at the top of the list for teaching ESL. That means, you will no doubt have better odds of securing a job than in a location where the competition is greater and schools have a wide selection of candidates to choose from.

Some schools in Russia offer to house teachers which can be a huge benefit due to the higher cost of living in the major cities in comparison to other countries that hire teachers with no degree. Looking for one of these schools when you are applying for jobs can be helpful for keeping your finances in order and the cost of living down.

The rich history of the country and the diverse landscape ensure that you will not be bored. During your free time, there will always be something or somewhere to explore, and it is more than possible that you will never really get to see everything the country has to offer.

Cons:

The cost of living in the major cities of Russia is quite a bit higher than many other places, which are popular with ESL teachers. Because of this, if you cannot secure a job with decent pay or provided housing, then you will most likely be living in a shared housing situation on a tight budget.

Other expenses like food and utilities and transportation can also run higher here. Make sure that you have worked out the math before accepting any offers to make sure you will be able to cover your expenses.

As mentioned, the weather in Russia is quite extreme and may be unfavorable to many potential ESL teachers. If you are more accustomed to warmer climates or if snow and cold weather are a major turn-off to you, then Russia may not be the best place for you. The winter begins in November, and true warmth does not begin to appear until around April.

Because the country is so large, there is a high demand for teachers who are willing to work in remote locations where it is harder to fill teaching positions. If you are looking to teach English without a degree in Russia you may have to settle for a job in one of these smaller towns or villages. The competition may be too great in Moscow or St. Petersburg, or the schools there may only be looking for teachers with degrees.

Average Monthly ESL Teacher Salary in Russia: $800 – $1,200+

Mexico

Like Cambodia, Mexico has great appeal for teachers who are looking to work in a tropical climate with a lower cost of living. With over 32 million children enrolled in public and private schools in Mexico, there is great demand for English speakers to teach students.

Like the other countries on this list, this heavy demand coupled with the fact that many teachers overlook Mexico for countries with more favorable pay. This makes Mexico a great place for teachers who do not have a degree but are still looking to teach English.

Read the full guide on teaching English in Mexico.

Pros:

Mexico has a low cost of living. Even its capital, Mexico City, is low in comparison to many cities around the world with a similar population. Food, rent, and transportation are also affordable, which will allow you to balance your budget more easily. Transportation around the country is affordable and easy by bus, and the metro in Mexico City makes it cheap and easy to get around for teachers who are located in the capital.

Because of the way that Mexico is situated, running longways from north to south, there is a wide variety of climates from desert mountains to rich tropical jungles. This means that teachers can easily find a climate that they will enjoy working in.

This also ensures that you can travel around the country during time off and holidays, and there will be a large diversity of climates and landscapes to choose from.

Unlike many other countries, in which teachers with no degree can teach English, the expat population of Mexico is large and very diverse. Because of this, it may be easier to meet new friends and to find people who can help you with settling in should you be unable to speak Spanish, the official language of Mexico.

Cons:

It should be mentioned that the crime rate in Mexico is higher than in many other parts of the world. While this doesn’t mean that Mexico is particularly dangerous, nor does it mean that you will necessarily have anything to worry about, it does mean that you should be more cautious about where you go and your surroundings.

Petty crime such as pickpocketing is quite common, and violent crimes like mugging can be more common than in some countries where teachers may come from. While this shouldn’t greatly impact your decision, it should be something you think about and read up on when choosing to work in Mexico.

Teachers can expect to make significantly less working in Mexico than in many other places in the world. Especially teachers who do not hold a university degree. Private schools in Mexico will hire teachers with no degree, and some will hire teachers without a TEFL certificate.

However, these jobs will pay very little and teachers who take these jobs may have trouble sustaining themselves even with the lower cost of living. Some jobs that do not require a TEFL or a university degree pay as little as $400 per month.

Many of the jobs that hire teachers with no degree will be located outside of major urban areas. This is similar in many other countries and is something that you should be prepared for in your hunt for teaching jobs. Having an open mind about working in a more rural area will significantly open the available jobs you can apply for not only in Mexico but other countries as well.

Average Monthly ESL Teacher Salary in Mexico: $300 to $700

Improving Your Odds of Teaching English Abroad Without a Degree

After reading the above, if you are still interested in teaching English abroad without a degree, then taking certain actions can dramatically improve your odds of securing a better job in a more desirable location.

The following three actionable steps can be easily taken to make sure that you are a more appealing candidate to schools and to make sure that your application stands out against other candidates who are applying for the same job.

1. Get a TEFL Certificate

Getting a TEFL certificate is an absolute must if you want to teach English abroad. Any school that will hire you without a degree and without a TEFL certificate is most likely not going to be a place you want to work for. It will certainly not pay what it will take to sustain yourself abroad.

By getting a TEFL certificate, you are demonstrating to schools that you have the proper understanding of exactly how to teach ESL students and have the practical knowledge of how to manage the classroom. A TEFL certificate will also be of great benefit if you have no prior teaching or tutoring experience, as you will get in class experience.

You need to make sure that you are getting, at the very least, a proper 120 hour TEFL certificate from an accredited and well-known program. This will be more expensive, however, without a degree, you are going to need to make sure that you have the highest quality certification available.

2. Polish Your Resume

Making sure that your résumé is airtight and tailored specifically for the ESL industry will keep your application from getting passed over. For the jobs available to teachers who do not hold a four-year degree, the best ones in prime locations will be more competitive. You may even be competing against candidates who do have university degrees.

The last thing that you want is for your application to be thrown in the trash because of some minor mistake or because you left out something that would have caught the eye of the employer. You need to first conduct the proper research into how to write a résumé for ESL jobs. If you feel uncomfortable creating your own resume, then it may be worthwhile to have your résumé crafted through a professional resume writing service.

3. Prepare for the Interview

You have the right certifications, your résumé is polished and perfect, and now that you’ve secured the interview you need to have the answers to the questions that are going to get you hired. Understanding the interview process and doing your due diligence to research the school and the country that you are looking to work in will go a long way.

Showing your potential employer that you are serious about working and that you are going to care about your job and the students you are tasked with educating.

You need to make sure that you are fully prepared and that you will be able to stand out from your competition. If you can impress your interviewer with quality answers and demonstrate that you can speak in a clear and easy to understand way, then you will dramatically increase your odds of securing the job you want.

Summing it all up

As discussed many times throughout this article, it is entirely possible to teach English abroad with no degree. However, not having a degree is going to significantly hinder your ability to find a quality ESL job and is going to make it impossible to legally work in the high-end ESL markets such as Japan, Korea, or Thailand.

It should also be noted that many online companies hire tutors with no degree who meet other standards such as holding a TEFL certificate, prior experience teaching students, or current university students who are working towards their degree.

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