Teach Abroad

How Old Is Too Old To Teach English Abroad?

Steve Patton

Steve calls Boston home, though he spends as much time on the road as he does in any one place these days.

Most people seem to think that teaching English abroad is only for recent college grads. People in their early or mid twenties who aren’t quite ready to start a “real” career are probably what comes to mind when you envision the typical profile. And while it’s true that recent grads in their 20s and thirties still make up the majority of English teachers abroad, at LanguageCorps, we’ve seen an increasingly wide variety of ages and backgrounds participating in our programs as of late, and it seems to be becoming more and more diverse with each passing year.

More and more people are looking at teaching abroad as an option later in life.

From people in their thirties or forties that have been laid off and are looking for a change of pace, to recent retirees that are looking for a way to give back and stay active while living abroad, more and more people are looking at teaching abroad as an option later in life. And while I’ve spoken with participants that have had amazing experiences in their sixties and even seventies, age often times does factor into the job market, and especially in some regions, discrimination is an unfortunate part of life.

But, as long as you are flexible and serious about teaching abroad, you can most likely find a situation that works for you no matter what your age. There are definitely some factors that you will want to weigh before making any commitments, and whatever your age, you should take the time to think carefully about whether or not teaching English abroad is the right lifestyle choice for you.

Requirements Vary By Location

First, you’ll need to consider the specific requirements that you might need to meet for the location you are interested in. In addition to credentials like a four year college degree and prior teaching experience, some countries do have maximum and/or minimum age limits.

These requirements tend to be most stringent in parts of Asia and The Middle East, but vary from region to region or even school to school, so you’ll want to specifically research the areas that you are looking at. Bear in mind that some countries are better for older travelers wanting to teach English abroad.

For example, in Thailand it can be hard for people over the age of 50 to secure a work visa and gain employment, but I’ve seen people in their 70s teach in Cambodia with great success. Latin America and Europe seem to generally be fairly accepting of different age groups, but you’ll still want to check with your particular provider or hiring school to make sure that there are no age requirements you are overlooking.

Age Discrimination

Even when there aren’t any firm age specifications outlined in the visa or hiring process, age discrimination is an unfortunate reality of the job market in many parts of the world. Even in Western countries, some companies discretely discriminate against older applicants, but some schools abroad will be a lot more blatant about it.

If you know what to expect going in, you’ll be a lot better equipped to deal with discrimination if and when you do encounter it. The unfortunate reality is that many countries don’t have the same laws to protect employees and applicants that we’ve become used to in the West, so understand that if you are in your 50s or beyond, finding work might take more persistence than it does for someone in their 20s or 30s. Just try to be enthusiastic and prepared for every interview, and even if it takes a little longer than ideal, you will be able to find work eventually.

Suggested Teach Abroad Programs

Volunteer Teaching

Volunteer teaching is another great option to consider for older teachers. If you don’t meet the age requirements to work as a paid teacher in a given country, you may very well still be able to teach on a volunteer basis. Especially if you're not in it to make bank teaching ESL abroad, volunteer teaching may very well even be the preferable scenario. You’ll have the opportunity to travel and give back to areas in need, and you can often times still become TESOL/TEFL certified. Volunteer positions can also be an excellent option for those that aren’t looking for a huge time commitment. If you are interested in teaching abroad, but don’t want to spend more than a month or two away from home, or more than 10 or 15 hours a week at work, volunteer teaching might be your best bet for a flexible schedule.

Experience Is An Asset

Being an older applicant can also have an upside! If you are looking at teaching English abroad on your career break or as something of a bridge between your career and retirement, use your experience to your advantage. If your career was related to teaching or linguistics, that's great! But even substantial work experience in any industry (especially business or medicine) can definitely bolster your job prospects and lead to increased pay and benefits when you do get hired.

Use what you’ve learned throughout your years in the workforce and make yourself stand out from the pool of younger applicants!

In fact, find the right job and they may even require that you have previous experience in a certain field other than teaching. Don’t be afraid to talk up your experience on your resume and during interviews -- use what you’ve learned throughout your years in the workforce and make yourself stand out from the pool of younger applicants.

Is Teaching Abroad Right For You?

Age requirements aside, you’ll want to think carefully about whether or not teaching English abroad is the right path for you. As with any job, working as an ESL teacher presents unique challenges, and it requires a great deal of energy, patience and optimism.

It’s not uncommon for experienced teachers of every age from any home country to feel overwhelmed at first when presented with the prospect of leading a classroom full of non-native speakers. Don’t let the challenges of working and living abroad scare you, but don’t expect it to be a piece of cake either. If you stick with it and persevere, you are sure to enjoy so many rewarding and unforgettable experiences, but just be aware that it’s going to be a lot of hard work too!

The Bottom Line

No matter what your age, there is a good chance that you can successfully teach abroad. As long as you feel enthusiastic and up to the task of leading a classroom full of enthusiastic students day in and day out, you can most likely find a situation that works for you. Not every location in the world might be an option, but as long as you are flexible, patient, prepared and persistent there is no reason why you should let your age deter you from teaching English abroad.