So you’re interested in teaching English abroad, but feeling a little bit overwhelmed by the whole process? Don’t worry -- you’re not alone.
Teaching abroad is an appealing lifestyle for many people, from recent college grads to baby boomers, but the one trait that just about everyone has in common is confusion on how to get a job in the first place. With so much information out there about teaching abroad, it’s no wonder many people become overwhelmed and walk away from the idea before they ever really get started.
Go Overseas is going to break down the process of landing a job teaching English abroad.
But fear not, you have come to the right place! Go Overseas is here to help, and in this article, we’re going to break down the process of landing a job teaching English abroad into 10 straightforward, easy to follow steps. Use this checklist as a guide when you start doing your research, and you’ll be well on your way to working overseas!
1. Decide That You Are Going to Teach English Abroad
The first step in the process is making the decision to teach English abroad, no ifs ands or buts about it.
If living and working overseas is something you really want to do, then decide that you’re going to make it happen, and get to work! If you’re wishy washy from the get go, then odds are you’ll back out before you ever really anywhere.
That’s not to say that teaching abroad is something you should just jump into all willy nilly though. Think long and hard about whether or not this is really the lifestyle for you. Can you deal with uncomfortable situations? Do you have patience (or are you willing to develop it at least)? Can you get by with basic necessities and deal without many of the comforts of home? Teaching abroad isn’t for everyone, and there’s no shame in admitting that.
2. Choose Where You Want to Go
You might already have a destination in mind, somewhere where you’ve been dying to live for your entire life, but deciding on a destination to teach is a bit more complicated than just picking a country that “sounds cool”.
For example, how important is money to you? Are you okay with just breaking even, or do you need to be able to save? Do you have a nest egg that you can use to supplement your income?
If you need to make money while teaching abroad, understand that some locations are more lucrative than others. You can always start out somewhere with a strong job market and low cost of living -- Southeast Asia, China, or South Korea for example -- and then transition somewhere more expensive (i.e. Western Europe or Japan) when you have built up your savings and qualifications a bit more. If not, feel free to aim for that dream destination, just so long as you focus on one or two places.
Choosing where to go before you get started on the next steps is incredibly important, because the ESL industry isn't universally the same everywhere. Different destinations have different requirements, and it's easier to answer "how can I get a job teaching English in [insert country here]" than "how can I get a job teaching English"?
Some Regional Specifications to Consider
Asia -- In general, Asia is the best region for newbie teachers. You can find a decent paying job with no teaching experience or certification (though we still recommend getting TEFL certified at least), and cost of living is relatively low. South Korea and China are classic destinations with strong markets, but Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, and Cambodia are good choices as well.
Western Europe -- There are some great government sponsored teaching programs in Western Europe for newbie teachers, but for most non-Europeans, the tricky part about landing a job in Western Europe will be the visa. Plan to apply for jobs in person and -- depending on the country -- going home to apply for a work visa before beginning your job.
Eastern Europe -- For teachers who don't want to deal with the complicated work visa process of Western Europe, but still want to teach on the continent, Eastern European countries like Russia and Czech Republic tend to have less barriers.
Middle East -- Jobs in this region are notoriously well paid, but the requirements for jobs in the Middle East tend to be the highest as well. Most positions will demand years of experience, higher education, and certifications. This isn't the best region to begin your career as an ESL teacher. The one exception is Turkey, which has lots of opportunities for inexperienced teachers (though these positions definitely don't pay as well).
Sub-Saharan Africa -- For the most part, positions within Sub-Saharan Africa are volunteer positions. If you can find a good one, however, you will be provided with a stipend and housing at least. The one advantage here, however, is that qualifications needed for these jobs tend to be basic.
South America and Central America -- Like Asia, the qualifications you'll need to teach in South and Central America vary from position to position. You can find jobs that need nothing more than a TEFL certificate and native-fluency, as well as those that demand years of experience or further education. Keep in mind that in most countries, you won't save money as you would in Asia (you're most likely to break even), and it's best to find jobs in person, rather than before you leave.
3. Go To School
You’ll need a high school diploma, minimum, to realistically be able to teach English abroad. Having a university degree is a minimum requirement in most locations (especially for competitive areas like the Middle East and Western Europe).
[A degree] is always useful... but it’s not a definite must for all teach abroad positions.
It’s always useful when it comes to maximizing your job prospects, but it’s not a definite must for all teach abroad positions. Volunteer teaching, for example, tends to be more lenient on requirements, and there are definitely opportunities for teaching without a degree.
4. Balance Your Check Book
I know, I know, you probably don’t even have a checkbook anymore, but you get the gist of it. You have a location in mind and you’ve finished school, so now it’s time to start making a financial plan and save up before you go teach abroad.
There are a lot of expenses to think about when planning a transition abroad, and you’re going to need at least a little bit of money saved up to get started. Some examples of things you need to think about are: certification costs, airfare, and initial housing and living expenses.
Of course, how much money you need to save depends on a wide variety of variables, so do some research into the route that looks most practical for you, make a rough budget, and start saving. In addition to getting a job and cutting your expenses as much as possible, you might consider borrowing from friends/family, low interest credit cards, student loan deferral and/or crowd funding as options to hit your financial goals sooner.
5. Get Your Credentials
You’ll need to have a CELTA, TESOL, or TEFL certificate before attempting to teach in most places. Even if it's not a requirement, it's a good idea to have so you know what you're getting in to and feel more confident your first day of class.
Getting TEFL certified in the country you’ve decided to teach abroad in will help you build connections and network with local schools.
There are many options to choose from, so take some time to research various providers, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Some certification providers will also help guide you through many of the above steps, providing benefits like job placement assistance, housing, and insurance. For this reason, getting TEFL certified in the country you’ve decided to teach abroad in will help you build connections and network with local schools so as to graduate with a job in hand.
Of course, you’ll also want to consider how much support you’re looking for. If you feel confident doing most of the leg work on your own, then a less expensive online certification might be okay. If you want more help with the whole process, then it’s probably worth spending some extra money on an onsite, in-country certification program.
6. Prepare Your Resume/CV
Different countries have different standards for what information should be included on a resume or CV. Research the local customs for your target destination, and make sure to have a friend or colleague proofread the final product before you start sending it out.
You will probably want to have a couple high quality photographs or head shots available since some countries require a photograph along with a CV.
Regardless of where you are looking to teach, you’ll want to include your education history, work experience (especially any teaching/tutoring/mentoring), volunteer experience, and any relevant skills or experiences (languages, interests, travel programs, etc.) on your resume. If you have a TEFL certificate, make sure you highlight that as well.
7. Contact Schools
Things are getting real now! It’s time to start getting in touch with hiring schools to land your first job. There are many databases out there that regularly update job postings throughout the world, such as the Go Overseas' Teaching Job Board.
For teaching jobs in destinations such as South Korea, China, Japan, and the Middle East, enlisting the help of a recruiter is both common and effective. Latin America and Europe, however -- not as much.
As we said earlier, your best bet for lining up a job in Latin American and Europe before you leave is to go through a government sponsored program (in France there's the Teaching Assistant Program, in Spain, the North American Language and Culture Assistants Program, in Colombia the Teach English Colombia (TEC) program, and in Chile English Opens Doors).
Like any field, building relationships is a crucial part of landing the job you want teaching abroad.
However, it’s not always possible -- or the best -- to line up a job before you leave. For some teaching jobs, the school will want you to already be in country and to apply in person. We understand that it can be a scary prospect, but sometimes it’s the only way.
However, if you’ve decided to get TEFL certified in that country and built up a savings account to allow yourself some start up funds, then landing with the intent of job hunting will be far less intimidating.
Either way, contacting schools directly will ultimately be more effective, and having personal relationships to get you started is even better. Have a friend teaching in the location where you want to be? See if they can get you in touch with someone to set up an interview. Like any field, building relationships is a crucial part of landing the job you want teaching abroad.
8. Nail The Interview
If you’re applying for jobs remotely, then your interview for your teaching job is likely going to be over the phone or Skype. Being over prepared is better than being underprepared, so find a friend to grill you beforehand.
If possible, try to do some research into common interview questions that are specific to the location you’re looking at. Different cultures have different processes, and you don’t want to be caught off guard.
I find it helps me to stand up and walk around during phone calls (makes me sound more enthusiastic), and if you’re doing an video interview, dress professionally just like you would for an in-person meeting. Appearance matters!
9. Find a Place to Live
Now that you have a job lined up, you’re going to need a place to sleep when you touch-down in your new home. If possible, arrange as many logistics before departure as you can, to make your arrival as stress free as possible. Some schools, especially those in China, Taiwan, and South Korea, will help you on this.
No matter what, don’t feel like you have to commit to something long term right away, even just a hostile or guest house will do while you get your bearings, but it’s definitely a good idea to have something lined beforehand.
10. Arrange Your Documents and Visas
Congratulations, you’re almost there! The last step before getting on an airplane is arranging the necessary documents to ensure a smooth transition.
Communicate with your employer or point of contact to make sure that you have everything you’ll need to obtain the proper visa (birth certificate, passport photos, college diploma, etc), and if possible, complete as much of the visa process as you can online before you leave.
Some questions to ask: Are you using a tourist visa? Is your school sponsoring you for a work visa? Should you be applying for a student visa? Make sure that you have a clear idea of the process you’re going to be going through before you depart.
Pro Tip: Visas are a common (and important!) question we get at Go Overseas, so we wrote a guide on how to get work visas for teaching abroad. We'll spare you the details for now, but head there to read about those more in depth.
Make sure that you complete any necessary immunizations, book your airfare, and pack (but don’t over pack!) your suitcase, and you are about to get started on the adventure of a lifetime!
There are countless different paths that you can take towards a rewarding experience teaching English abroad, and the above list is by no means all-inclusive. It might sound like a lot of work right now, but remember, a lot of providers will help you through some (or even all) of the steps above.
In the end, the first step is really the most important step. Decide that you are going to teach English abroad, be determined, and the rest of the details will fall into place!Photo Credits: Stephanie Heinrich, Madeleine Loney, Cody Thomas and Audra Edmonson.