Teach Abroad

10 Ways to Get Started Teaching Abroad

Lauren Salisbury

A California native, Lauren has worked, taught, and lived in four countries, including the United States, Australia, Spain, and Costa Rica.

10 Ways to Teach English Abroad
Photo credit: worak via Flickr

If you’ve stumbled across this article in your research for teaching English abroad, you’re in the right place. There’s a gap between your daydreams of quitting your day job and jetting off to live and teach in an exotic location, and actually teaching English abroad. It can be confusing to understand how to turn this fantasy into reality.

The good news is there’s a wealth of options, and Go Overseas is here to help you sort through all the information available and narrow down the best options so that you can determine which approach will be best for you. We’ve even listed the pros and cons of each option for you to simplify the process.

We've organized this post into three sections, each offers ways you can jumpstart your teaching career at different stages:

  • Pre-Job Search Activities
  • Job Search Activities
  • Gaining Experience Activities

Without further ado, here are ten ways to get started teaching English abroad.

Pre-Job Search Activities

10 Ways to Teach English Abroad: Pre-Job Search Activities
Photo credit: Children's Organization of Southeast Asia via Flickr

Before you start looking for jobs, there are steps you can take to help make the rest of the process easier.

1. Enroll in a Local On-site Certification Course

You may be able to complete an on-site certification course in your hometown. There are a wealth of colleges and universities throughout the country that offer TEFL certification programs either for college credit or as an elective. These types of programs will prepare you not only to teach English overseas, but also help with students who are learning English in the United States as immigrants or refugees.

Pros: Your TEFL certificate never expires, so you can complete a course whenever it is convenient for you, and then head overseas to teach English when the timing is right. Additionally, hiring schools will look more favorably upon an in-classroom degree than an online degree, so if you have the time, an on-site course at home might be preferable to an online certification.

Cons: As with an online certification course, the downside is that you won’t be establishing yourself in your destination country during training, so finding the perfect job might be more difficult than with an in-country program.

2. Attend An Online Certification Program

Instead of getting training in-country, another option is obtaining your TEFL certificate online by participating in a virtual classroom. Most online TEFL certification programs can be taken from the comfort of your own home, at your own pace. Like an on-site program, you will receive your TEFL certificate after passing a final exam and, depending on the program, may also receive assistance with securing a placement.

Pros: The big advantage of an online TEFL certification is flexibility as the course can be completed from anywhere and at your own pace. If you’re considering teaching English abroad, but aren’t sure exactly when or where you want to teach, this could also be the option for you as it doesn’t limit your location upon completion. Finally, the price point of online courses is often lower than those that are run in-destination on-site. If keeping your upfront costs low is very important to you, online programs are definitely worth exploring.

Cons: There may be no guarantee of placement following your program.

Active Job Searching Activities

10 Ways to Teach English Abroad: Active Job Searching Activities
Photo credit: greg westfall via Flickr

Once you start looking for a job, there are several ways you can go about finding one. Here are four popular options to get started teaching abroad... you can do any (or all) of these to find the right teaching job for you and your career.

3. Utilize Job Placement Programs

Perhaps the most direct route to successfully teaching English abroad is through a TEFL certification that includes a job placement program. For an upfront fee, usually starting at around $1,500 USD, these programs will provide you with everything you need to teach English abroad.

You’ll start with a training course on location in the destination country where you will be teaching. At the conclusion of the course upon completing a final exam you will receive your TEFL certificate. TEFL, or Teaching English as a Second Language, is the main credential most schools look for when hiring English teachers.

As part of your program fees, staff will help you find a paid teaching placement. As a general guideline, you’ll want to make sure that your training program offers at least 120 hours of classroom time (industry standard for a TEFL certificate). Some supervised practice teaching will also improve your chances for finding a desirable job.

Pros: Completing your TEFL training course on location in the area where you will ultimately be teaching allows you to grow accustomed to your new environment ahead of time so that you will have less of a transition upon entering the classroom. You’ll also make valuable contacts who will help you secure a teaching placement, making the job search process much easier. This built in support network will not only help you finding

Cons: Generally speaking, the higher the cost of the program, the more comprehensive the support and services you’ll receive – it can definitely get expensive. If you are highly independent and like to do things on your own, you may feel the level of support here is too high for the experience you are looking for.

4. Use A Recruiter

Recruiters can help employees find jobs in all lines of work and teaching is no exception. In countries such as China, South Korea, Japan, or the Middle East recruiting teachers is a highly common practice. Contact a recruiting firm to get placed in paid teaching position where this practice is common. Some recruiters will work only with those who already have a TEFL certificate, while others are more flexible.

Pros: Using a recruiter can be a great way to get your foot in the door and find your first TEFL job, as recruiters are hired for the specific purpose of finding qualified applicants such as yourself to serve in classrooms overseas. Because recruiters know the landscape of the destination so well, they can also cut down on the complications of applications and extensive paperwork.

Cons: Depending on the firm you use, you may or may not have total control over where you are placed, so make sure to do your due diligence and read reviews (which you can find on Go Overseas) before making a decision. You may also have to pay a fee to be placed.

10 Ways to Teach English Abroad: Active Job Searching Activities

5. Enlist in Government Programs

While you may take your abilities for granted as a native speaker, it should not be lost on you that English skills are highly coveted around the world. Several countries, including Spain, France and Japan, offer government-subsidized programs available for people looking to teach English abroad.

With these programs foreign governments have set up formal programs to receive, train and place teachers in local classrooms throughout communities in need. Most programs will require you to have a college degree and some relevant work experience – especially involving teaching/education. If you can meet the requirements and secure a spot in a program like JET in Japan, TAPIF in France, or English Opens Doors in Chile, you could find yourself teaching English in an exciting location. For a full list of government sponsored programs around the world, head on over to our list of government teaching jobs abroad.

Pros: Once accepted into a government programs you will automatically receive a placement so you won’t need to do any work to find a job once overseas. Many government-sponsored programs offer competitive salaries and/or stipends, and some will also provide housing and reimburse expenses like airfare, visas, and other living expenses.

Cons: There is usually a fairly extensive application and interview process, so you’ll want to make sure to plan well in advance. You’ll need to start your research early and be prepared to apply to programs a year in advance of when you would ideally like to be teaching abroad.

6. Find a Job Independently

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous and having a support network is not all that important to you, it’s possible to teach English abroad without help from anyone: find a job independently, either by searching on teaching job boards or by getting in touch with language schools once you're arrived in your host country. In some regions of the world, such as Latin America, this is the best way to go about finding jobs.

Pros: The upside is that doing it all yourself is definitely the cheapest option. All you need is a plane ticket.

Cons: The obvious downside is that with no support network, training, or credentials, finding a job isn’t going to be easy, you probably won’t get paid as much, and you won’t be as effective in the classroom. But if you’re up for the challenge, there’s no law saying that you can’t teach English abroad without a certificate or training.

7. Network via Social Networks

As with any career, who you know is often more important than what you know. If you want to find a job teaching English abroad but don’t want to go through any of the services outlined above, your best bet is keeping up with your friends that are already ESL teachers. If somebody has to leave a job unexpectedly, the school will be eager to fill the position quickly, and you may be able to fill the void just by knowing that the vacancy exists.

Of course, having a TEFL certificate and some relevant experience will still be helpful, but if the school really needs someone in the position quickly, you may even be able to get by without credentials. Even if you do go through a certification and/or placement program, keep your eyes and ears peeled for new opportunities.You might hear about a school or location that is a better fit for you just by keeping in touch with your TEFL friends.

Pros: Sometimes the greatest opportunities are the ones that are un-posted and you find through social contacts.

Cons: This option is only as good as your social network. If you are new to this landscape you may need to work to broaden your network before any opportunities come your way.

Gaining Experience While Job Searching

10 Ways to Teach English Abroad: Gaining Experience While Job Searching
Photo credit: Global Action Nepal via Flickr

While you're job searching, you can actually start gaining experience teaching -- which can help speed up your job search tremendously, and help you get started teaching abroad faster.

8. Teach Private Lessons

One very flexible way to teach English abroad is through private language lessons or tutoring sessions. Many ESL teachers supplement their full-time income by offering private language lessons on the side. With English rapidly becoming more and more ingrained in the international business world, there is a constant demand for lessons just about everywhere.

You don’t even have to be a full-time English teacher to offer private language lessons. Say you’re studying abroad for a semester in Spain and want to make a little bit of extra spending money every week. Why not put up some ads on Craigslist and local bulletin boards offering private English lessons for a couple of hours a week?

Many people even swap English lessons for local language lessons. Exchanging tutorials one-on-one or in a small group with locals is a great way to learn a new language and make some new friends.

Pros: By teaching private lessons, you can avoid applications and formal programs all together. This is the most flexible option and with a little drive and creativity, you can find students to teach English to no matter where you are in the world. You can also begin earning experience (and money) while looking for teach abroad jobs.

Cons: You will have to do all the work in finding students to teach as you will not receive a salary but an hourly wage per student. Teaching private lessons is also not a formal program, so you will not be able to acquire a long-term visa this way. Thus, if you are abroad in a country where you can only stay for 30 to 90 days this will not be a suitable long-term option.

9. Teach Online

Who says you even have to be abroad to teach foreign students? With video chatting and conferencing growing easier and more reliable every year, teaching English lessons online is another great way to fund your life abroad or at home.

There are several programs that will set you up with online students, or else you can find your own students by checking out Craigslist or a host of other classified sites. You might be surprised at just how many people are interested in learning English online.

Don’t be afraid to utilize your friend network. Your local bar or coffee shop can be a great resource for finding potential clients. Offer to give your local friends a weekly English lesson via Skype in exchange for lunch or a local language lesson!

Pros: Teaching English online can be done from anywhere around the world. You will have the opportunity to fund your life overseas no matter if you are based in a single city or backpacking across an entire continent. You'll also gain experience teaching, a big plus on your job applications and resume.

Cons: By teaching online you will not be immersed in a local classroom, meaning you will miss out on the opportunity to truly be immersed in a new culture and way of life. Additionally, you will have to find your own students and have your own functioning computer equipment so be prepared to get your hustle on.

10. Volunteer Teaching Abroad

If you don’t need to make a living teaching English abroad, then a volunteer position might be the way to go. Learning English is one of the most important things a person can do to break the poverty cycle, and there is never a shortage of demand for teachers in impoverished communities.

Perhaps you only want to spend a month or two living abroad, and you want to do something to give back to your new community. Many providers, like IVHQ and Volunteering Solutions offer fantastic adventure travel programs that include volunteer ESL instruction as part of the package.

If you have enough savings to fund your life abroad without a steady income, definitely look into volunteering. Your travel adventure will be that much richer, and you’ll leave with some fantastic teaching experience on your resume!

Pros: Volunteering can be a highly rewarding experience. By not limiting your experience teaching abroad to classrooms that can pay you, you open yourself up to helping communities that are truly in need and making a much bigger impact on the world.

Cons: As a volunteer you will not make an income, so this option requires you have enough savings to support yourself without teaching English being your primary source of funding.

Any or All of the Above

There really are countless ways to get started teaching English abroad. Though all the different options and paths one might take can definitely be confusing, a large part of the beauty of an online or on-site TEFL certificate is the flexibility it provides to choose any or all of the other options on this list.

Whether you’re looking for a long-term career path or a short-term travel adventure, the odds are that by teaching English abroad, you can find a situation that suits your personal goals and lifestyle design. So don’t be overwhelmed! Hopefully the little list we’ve compiled here will be a good starting point for prospective ESL teachers, and helps many more adventurous spirits embark on the path towards extended travel through teaching English.

This post was originally published in May 2012, and was updated in March 2018.