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10 Ways To Teach English Abroad

Teach Abroad in MyanmarPhoto Credit: Greenheart Travel

If you’ve done any research at all into teaching English abroad, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re confused. You’ve thought long and hard about quitting your day job and jetting off to live in an exotic location, and teaching English seems like the perfect way to turn fantasy into reality. But it all just seems too complicated.

Ten Ways to Teach Abroad

  1. In-Country TESOL Certification Program
  2. Online Certification Program
  3. On-site Certification Program At Home
  4. Government Programs
  5. Use A Recruiter
  6. Teach Private Lessons
  7. Teach Online
  8. Bootstrap It
  9. Volunteer Abroad
  10. The Social Network

It’s understandable. There’s no doubt: the wealth of options and information available about the ESL industry is overwhelming. Many people can’t figure out where to begin, and as a result, teaching English abroad remains for them a pleasant dream.

So with that in mind, I’m going to attempt to break down—as simply as possible—ten ways in which a person can go about teaching English abroad. The reality is that teaching English overseas is a very attainable lifestyle, and there’s no reason why you can’t make it happen! So let’s cut through some of the confusion!

Note: for the sake of simplicity, the acronym “TESOL” (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) will be used for this article. Depending on the country you’ll be teaching in and the program you choose, you might receive a TESOL, TEFL, or CELTA certificate. Though there are some slight differences, all three acronyms are equally valid and essentially interchangeable at this point.

1. An On-Site, In-Country TESOL Certification and Job Placement Program

Perhaps the most direct route to successfully teaching English abroad is through an on-site, in-country TESOL certification and 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 (usually lasting about a month) on location in the destination country where you will be teaching. At the conclusion of the course—assuming you pass the final exam—you will receive your TESOL certificate (the main credential most schools look for when hiring English teachers), and the staff of your program will help you find a paid teaching job.

Each style or program has different specifications.

There are many advantages to route #1. Completing your TESOL training course on location in the area where you will ultimately be teaching allows you to grow accustomed to your new environment, meet valuable contacts, and make the job search process much easier. The staff at your training program will help you establish contact with hiring schools, and you’ll also have a built in social/support network of other new teachers who are in the same situation as you. Your prospects for finding a well-paying job at a reputable school will be better, and should anything unexpected happen, you won’t be totally on your own.

Generally speaking, the higher the cost of the program, the more comprehensive the support and services you’ll receive – it can definitely get expensive. But if you have some savings, or can raise the money through family, friends, Kickstarter, etc., an on-site certification and placement program may very well be the way to go.

There are many different certification and placement programs available, and they all have their advantages. 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 TESOL certificate). Some supervised practice teaching will also improve your chances for finding a desirable job.

2. An Online Certification Program

Another option is obtaining your TESOL certificate online. The idea is pretty much the same as an on-site course, with the notable exception being that you will complete your training course online. Most online TESOL 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 TESOL certificate after passing a final exam.

Should you decide to go the online route, you’ll probably want to make sure that the provider you choose still offers job placement assistance. Since you are taking the course online, job placement assistance will be more limited than with an on-site course. However, you should still make sure that your program will provide you with some contacts to get your job search started.

The big advantage of an online TESOL certification is flexibility. If you’re considering teaching English abroad, but aren’t sure exactly when or where you want to teach, this could be the option for you.

Online courses are usually cheaper than on-site courses as well. For example, Uni-prep's 120-hour online course costs $250, whereas most on-site CELTA courses run upwards of $2,000. So, if keeping your upfront costs low is very important to you, online programs are definitely worth exploring.

3. An On-site Certification Program At Home

Sometimes you can choose your location or students.

Many colleges and universities offer TESOL certification programs, so completing a certification course in your hometown is another option. Your TESOL 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.

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. However, 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.

4. Government Programs

There are many government-subsidized programs available for people looking to teach English abroad. There is usually a fairly extensive application and interview process, so you’ll want to make sure to plan well in advance.

You might also need a college degree and some relevant work experience (especially involving teaching/education), but 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 with a significant stipend or salary.

Many government-sponsored programs will also provide housing and reimburse expenses like airfare, visas, and other living expenses. I would recommend applying to programs a year in advance of when you would ideally like to be teaching abroad, so start your research early.

For a full list of government sponsored programs around the world, head on over to our list of government teaching jobs abroad.

5. Use A Recruiter

It's pretty common to use a recruiter if you're looking to teach in China, South Korea, Japan, or the Middle East, and most of them are very helpful.

A recruiting firm can place you in a paid teaching position, but you sometimes need to already have a TESOL certificate, and possibly (though not always) some relevant work experience. 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. In any case, using a recruiter can be a great way to get your foot in the door and find your first TESOL job.

6. Teach Private Lessons

Ultimately, teaching abroad is a worthwhile experience.

Another 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. It’s totally up to you! 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!

7. Teach Online

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. Again, check out Craigslist or a host of other classified sites. You might be surprised at just how many people are interested in learning English online! And 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!

Have you had success learning a new language during your time teaching abroad? Perhaps your friends back home would be interested in learning Spanish or Chinese from you via Skype. Just because you’re in the TESOL business doesn’t mean you can’t teach other languages too!

8. 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 Latin America, this is the best way to go about finding jobs).

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

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.

9. Volunteer Abroad

It's possible to volunteer and teach simultaneously!

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. So 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!

10. 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 TESOL 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 TESOL friends.

Wrapping Up

There really are countless ways to teach English abroad. Though all the different options and paths one might take can definitely be confusing, a large part of the beauty of TESOL is the flexibility it provides!

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!

Photo Credits: Greenheart Travel, Tulane Public Relations, Frontierofficial, Greg Westfall, and Children's Organization of Southeast Asia.
Steve Patton
Steve calls Boston home, though he spends as much time on the road as he does in any one place these days. He's part of the marketing team at...