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Ask a Teacher: Can You Teach Abroad as a Non-Native Speaker?

Can You Teach Abroad as a Non-Native Speaker?

Hi Richelle!

I'm from Italy and I speak English fluently -- I grew up speaking it and went to English language schools from primary on. However, all the jobs I look at say that I need to be a native English speaker. Is this true? Can I still teach abroad? What are my options?

Thanks,
Near-native speaker

Teaching abroad is one of the best ways for native speakers to work abroad, save money, and explore a new culture. But what happens when you're not a native English speaker? Can you still teach English abroad?

While I'm a native English speaker myself, I can assure you that I know many non-native speakers who have taught English abroad, and today I'm going to give you the tools and information you need to find a job of your own!

While many of the most popular and highest paying destinations like South Korea, Japan, China, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia all require native speakers, there are still plenty of incredible destinations that will let you teach English abroad.

Firstly, who counts as a native speaker? Typically, those from the USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand qualify. Many of you from the Caribbean, Philippines, India, and elsewhere may speak English as your first language, but, unfortunately, most countries do not count those countries among its list of native speakers.

However, there are plenty of countries that will still hire you if you speak English proficiently. If English is your second language there are also many places willing to hire you as well.

Where Can I Teach?

Where can you teach abroad?

While many of the most popular and highest paying destinations like South Korea, Japan, China, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia all require native speakers, there are still plenty of incredible destinations that will let you teach English abroad. Here I'll break down the specific countries where you can apply for a job.

1. Thailand

Thailand is one of the best places to teach abroad as a non-native speaker. As long as you possess an OEIC score of 600+ or an IELTS score of 5+ and a four-year college degree, you are eligible. While the government does not require a TEFL certificate or equivalent, as a non-native speaker, you may want to get a TEFL to improve your chances of finding a job (and yes, you can take a TEFL course as a non-native speaker). You can also read more about how to teach legally in Thailand here.

The pay in Thailand may not be as high as South Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf countries, the cost of living is very low, especially in the North. Spend your spare time laying on the beach, hiking waterfalls, or gorging on pad thai.

2. Cambodia

Out of all the countries in Southeast Asia, Cambodia is the easiest place to find a job teaching English. Cambodia's requirements are much less strict than its neighbors. The government does not require a TEFL, four-year college degree, or proof of native-speaker residence to find a job. However, since you're not a native speaker, a degree and a TEFL will definitely help you land a position.

Unfortunately, since Cambodia has lower barriers to entry than its neighbors Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodian teaching salaries are also lower. Even so, the cost of living isn't very high in Cambodia and you should be able to support yourself with your Cambodian teaching salary, with a little leftover to travel around SE Asia during your vacation time.

3. Central and South America

Latin America is one region where generally speaking, citizenship from a native English speaking country is not as much of a factor in determining whether you can get hired to teach English. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, and Peru are some of the best places to start.

However, you will need a TESOL, TEFL, or CELTA certificate to teach just about anywhere in Latin America. Many employers will accept an online TEFL Certificate, but the best option is generally an in-country, in-person certification course that includes job search assistance.

4. Turkey

If you have a four-year degree, teaching abroad in Turkey is an option for certain nationalities. EU citizens will have the easiest time working in Turkey, however, teachers from non-member European nations can apply as well.

Thailand is one of the best places to teach abroad as a non-native speaker. As long as you possess an OEIC score of 600+ or an IELTS score of 5+ and a four-year college degree, you are eligible.

Finally, Turkey may also accept teachers from Central and South America. If you're a non-native speaker from outside the EU, it's best to have some sort of teaching experience or participate in a Skype call to convince schools to hire you.

5. Europe

For teachers, such as yourself, who are a member of the EU, you may be able to find a job teaching an another EU country. This is because schools won't need to worry about visas. Most EU citizens can work legally in other EU nations, provided they possess excellent English skills.

If you're from the EU you may also be able to get a job in non-member countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics.

6. Japan

Wait, didn't you tell me it's impossible to find a job in Japan as a non-native speaker? Well, I lied.

It is possible to get a job in Japan as a non-native speaker, but it's not easy. If you can prove you've received twelve consecutive years of English-only education, and you have a four-year college degree (in English), you may be eligible for a job in Japan. This is great for those who have grown up attending international schools and possibly received their degree abroad in the US, Canada, or UK.

7. China

Last but not least, we have China. Having lived in China for the last three years, I can tell you China is a complicated country. Can you legally teach English as a non-native speaker in China? No. Can you teach English as a non-native speaker in China? Yes.

I've met people teaching English in China who hail from France, the Philippines, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, and more. You can definitely find a job teaching English in China, but you won't qualify for a work visa.

At the same time, the ESL market in China is booming, and there are too few qualified teachers to fill positions. Because of this, many schools will hire non-native speakers and host you on a business visa. You can also find part-time jobs as a student, or teach for a few months on a tourist visa.

Just keep in mind that you are working illegally, and there is a chance you may have to leave the country if you're discovered. Many schools may also lie to parents and tell them you are a native speaker. This is so that they can charge parents the same price they would for a native speaker while paying you less and pocketing the difference.

Unfortunately, it's also easier to get a job as a non-native speaker if you're white because you "look like a native speaker." Thankfully, these perceptions are slowly changing, but they do still exist.

Tips for Finding a Job

Teaching jobs

Now that you have a long list of countries to consider, here are my top tips for finding a job as a non-native speaker.

1. Get experience

Schools want to know that you'll be a good teacher, and without the native-speaker guarantee, experience is the best proof. The more experience you have teaching the better. How do you get experience if no one will hire you? Get a job volunteer teaching for a few months. You can volunteer abroad or at a local community center before leaving home.

Keep in mind, a company looking to hire a business English teacher will not be impressed that you worked in a kindergarten, and after-school English programs for kids don't care that you tutored high schoolers in ESL. Make sure your experience lines up with the kind of teaching job you eventually want to have.

2. Network, network, network

One of my top tips for finding a job as a non-native speaker is to network your butt off. Consider moving to the country you want to teach English in and make connections with people who are already teaching English. Last year I had more requests to teach English than I knew what to do with. Why? Because I had a lot of Chinese friends who knew I have experience teaching English. So when someone's cousin's co-worker needs a teacher, they'd call me.

Since I couldn't teach everyone, I was constantly giving away part-time jobs to my friends. While some families and schools were adamant about wanting a native speaker, others were happy to hire my Nigerian and Russian friends.

Schools want to know that you'll be a good teacher, and without the native-speaker guarantee, experience is the best proof.

Just be sure to let your new contacts know you're in the market for a job, and they'll do the rest.

3. Take the TOEFL or an equivalent

In order to prove your grasp of the language, I recommend taking the IELTs or TOEFL test. These are accredited tests that employers in the TEFL industry are familiar with. If you can get a score that shows you are fluent, this will help prove your legitimacy as having the same level of English as a native speaker.

4. Get TEFL certified

While not every country requires a TEFL, getting certified will help prove to employers that you're a qualified candidate. Not only is the TEFL a valuable tool that will help you learn how to teach English abroad, it will give schools one more reason to hire you! You can find a full list of in-country and online TEFL courses here.

5. Request a Skype interview

If you can't interview in person, Skype is the next best thing. Letting an employer hear your voice is the best way to convince them that you have a firm grasp of the English language. It may also calm any concerns that your accent may pose an issue.

While it may not be as easy finding a job teaching abroad as a non-native speaker, you can still definitely find a job teaching abroad. If you're confident in your grasp of the English language, there are plenty of places looking to use your skills and expertise. In my opinion, non-native speakers can make amazing teachers. They sometimes better understand how to explain English grammar, and can better relate to their students' mistakes.

Don't let your nationality hold you back. Apply to teach English abroad today!

Photo Credit: Lucy Martin
Photo of Richelle Gamlam

Traveler, blogger and serial expat, Richelle has been living and working in China for the last four years. From high school English teacher to college admissions consultant, Richelle has tried her hand at many different jobs in China. She spends all of her vacation days traveling Asia off the beaten path, and in her spare time, she loves to scuba dive, salsa dance and try weird foods no one else will eat. For more of Richelle's crazy misadventures, check out her blog Adventures Around Asia.