Ways to Teach Abroad Without a TEFL Certification

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Teaching abroad in a foreign country.
Teaching abroad allows you to experience the culture of a foreign country while furthering your own skills.

Many students study, volunteer, or otherwise travel abroad and return home bitten by the travel bug. Restless and filled with the desire to continue wandering, what's a traveler to do? Ding ding ding - teach English, of course! Teaching English is a typical way to live abroad while earning an income. You'll be able to live extensively in another country while gaining new experience.

Teaching English is popular amongst recent graduates, those taking a gap year or needing a career break, and even with retirees. While not all countries require candidates to have a TEFL certificate, those who do will stand a better chance of being hired in academic institutions and can earn a higher income.

Before you jump in and decide to get certified, there are three important things to consider: how long it will take to become certified, how much it will cost, and if becoming certified is the right path for you. Decent professional certification programs usually require at least one hundred hours of instruction in addition to practice teaching, and in-person instruction can cost close to $1000 USD (usually more).

If you aren't completely sure that you want (or need) to be TEFL-certified prior to moving abroad to teach English, there are several options for teaching without a TEFL certificate.

Teaching small children abroad as a volunteer
Volunteer teaching gives you more flexibility with lessons and doesn't require TEFL

Volunteer Teaching

Volunteering teaching is a fantastic way to teach English informally in a different environment. As a volunteer, you typically do not teach in a traditional classroom. You may be volunteering in a rural area with a small group, teaching people of various ages and English language abilities. No salary or stipend is given, but instead you will oftentimes receive free room and board.

By volunteering, you will have more flexibility with the lessons you are teaching and can incorporate more nontraditional methods. You may even get to live alongside your students in the local area.

Another option is to volunteer through Peace Corps, where education volunteers teach a variety of subjects in addition to English (certain degrees required, ie: math). Please note that a 27-month commitment and some previous teaching experience is typically required.

Language Exchange Homestays

If you're looking for a short-term position or if you aren't yet sure of your teaching abilities, consider participating in a language exchange homestay. In these positions, which typically last one to three months, you will live with a local family in your country of choice. In exchange for your room and board, you will teach English to your host family for roughly 15-20 hours each week. These positions do not require any TEFL certification, and some do not even require a completed bachelor's degree. Living in a homestay is a great experience because you will have the opportunity to learn about another culture from an insider's perspective, gain full cultural immersion, improve your foreign language abilities, and spend your free weekends exploring and making friends.

From a non-TEFL certification standpoint, this opportunity will allow you to "test the waters" of living abroad as a teacher before jumping into ESL work. If you find after that you want to make this ESL party a more longterm shindig, an ideal time to formalize your accreditation with TEFL certification.

Paid ESL Jobs via Recruitment Companies

A more formal classroom environment for ESL
Consider using a recruiter to find paid ESL teaching jobs with extra support.

If you're nervous about venturing off on your own, having the support of an organization behind you can help calm the jitters. For a fee, many companies will help you secure a teaching position abroad before you depart, guide you through the entire pre-departure process, and provide on-site support for the duration of your stay.

Benefits typically include guaranteed placement, visa assistance, a pre-departure handbook and orientation, travel medical insurance, and personal support in case of emergency. Other benefits may include partial housing, flight reimbursement, or a discount on language classes/TEFL certification program.

Eligibility requirements depend on the country you wish to work in and who you will be teaching. Generally, fluency in English is required, in addition to a bachelor's degree in any field. Some positions will not require a TEFL certificate or prior teaching experience, although having both is beneficial and sometimes preferred. In many cases, you will likely teach for fewer hours each week and earn a lower salary than if you were certified.

Independent Placements

If you're feeling brave and confident in your teaching and relocating abilities, why not find a teaching position on your own? There are many job boards on the internet that focus on TESL and TEFL positions. Google search for websites unique to your anticipated destination, and check out any/all classifieds sections for job boards. Even Twitter can be useful, such as this feed for teaching jobs in Beijing.

Securing your own job is the cheapest option because you don't have to pay program fees to get set up. The downside to this route is that there is no guaranteed placement, visa support, or pre-departure orientation to help you transition into your new position, all of which are generally included when you apply through a program.

Always exercise caution when considering a job offer; remember that if it sounds suspicious or too good to be true, it probably is!


Happy job hunting! Even without a TEFL certification, there are many opportunities for you to teach abroad. Regardless of the route you choose to go abroad and teach English, you have an incredible and invaluable life-changing experience ahead of you.

From a non-TEFL certification standpoint, these opportunities will allow you to "test the waters" of living abroad as a teacher before jumping into ESL work. If you find after that you want to make this ESL party a more longterm shindig, formalize your accreditation with a TEFL certification.

Photo Credits: ijiwaru jimbo, Children's Organization of Southeast Asia, and reinholdbehringer.

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