How to Avoid Common ESL Job Scams
If you're looking for teaching jobs abroad online, keep yourself protected with our list of common red flags to look out for and tips for avoiding ESL job scams.
- Research, research, research! Find out the average teaching salary, working hours, and visa requirements of the country you’d like to teach in. Once you know what to expect, you’ll be able to spot the ESL scams from a mile away.
- Use your best judgment. If the website or job description doesn’t feel professional or legitimate, don’t waste your time applying.
- Avoid making any upfront payments. Many ESL scam artists will request that you wire them money for a plane ticket, security deposit, visa, or any other number of things. Be especially wary of requests for Western Union transfers from would-be schools.
- If you catch yourself as the victim of a job scam, notify your bank immediately (if you sent any payments) and contact the job board where you found the listing.
There’s nothing worse than finding the teaching program of your dreams, packing your bags, planning out your itinerary, and then suddenly realizing you’ve actually been scammed.
I remember seeing a job posting for a school in Northern Italy that was offering North American teachers a visa along with a high salary and months of paid vacation. It was my dream job and something almost unheard of, as no schools in Italy want to deal with the bureaucratic nightmare that comes with hiring a non-European citizen.
The more I thought about it, the stranger it seemed. I'd spent years figuring out a way to teach legally in Italy and found nothing. Why would this school be different? I figured something weird was going on and decided to not send over my resume.
A few weeks later, I heard from a friend that the whole thing was a fraud. Though they had a website and reviews online, and the posting had been on many of the bigger ESL websites, the school didn’t actually exist and the hiring director was hiring people after only a few emails, asking for money upfront, and then quickly disappearing.
More often than not, the ESL job postings you come across online are completely legitimate. The quality of school and benefits may vary greatly, but the people behind the postings aren't usually trying to rip you off.
As with anything online though, there are a few people out there who want to take advantage of the anonymity of the online job hunting process. These ESL scam artists are most likely after your money and will do anything they can to prey on unsuspecting teachers.
Luckily, spotting scams are fairly easy! Keep yourself protected with our list of common red flags to look out for and tips for avoiding ESL job scams.
The biggest way to avoid being scammed is to do ample research on the teaching market in the country where you will be working.
What are some common red flags to look out for?
While not every job scam follows the same formula, let’s start by highlighting some of the major signs the ESL job posting could be a scam:
- The job description has obvious poor spelling/bad grammar
- INCLUDES AN ABUNDANCE OF CAPS LOCK
- Website seems sketchy, and misses important details such as salary amount or contact information
- Job requires you to pay a fee upfront, usually through an international money transfer service like Western Union
- A recruiter emails you the posting directly
Now that you know the red flags, here are a few other ways you can actively prevent the chances of being scammed, as you research ESL jobs abroad.
1. Research the country’s teaching market and requirements
The biggest way to avoid being scammed is to do ample research on the teaching market in the country where you will be working. Find out the average teaching salary, working hours, and visa requirements. Once you know what to expect, you’ll be able to spot the ESL scams from a mile away.
Is someone offering you double the average salary, for half the normal working hours? It’s probably a scam. Does the country require a teaching certification, but your prospective employer doesn’t care that you only have a high school diploma? Again, it’s probably a scam.
Additionally, if you’re actively interviewing with a school, take a few seconds to type the name into Google and read reviews.
Some of these scams are well known and will come up on blacklists or articles written by the ESL community. If the school's name doesn't come up but something still seems off, try searching their email address or phone number.
Read more on salary expectations in Saudi Arabia, China, Japan, Cambodia, Spain, Taiwan, or UAE.
2. Use a reputable job listing site
The Internet has allowed anyone to become a publisher, including scammers intending to rip off aspiring ESL teachers.
Using a reputable site, like Go Overseas' teaching job board, increases your chances of finding listings from reputable recruiters and schools. Many programs have reviews from past teachers, which is generally a good sign of the school's legitimacy.
While nothing is foolproof, well-known job listing sites often have screening processes that weed out the scam job postings. Most also charge schools to post their listings, which deters those only looking to make a buck from unsuspecting applicants.
Although some scam artists might get their postings listed, these sites will also take down any jobs that are reported to them as fraudulent. (If you ever notice a fishy posting on our site, let us know!)
3. Double check the email address listed on the ad or used by the recruiter
A common trick scammers will use is posting an ad and using the name of a reputable and well known company or school. So, Googling the school name will actually turn up a good amount of (positive) information.
You can usually spot these guys because of their email -- they'll use the name of the school and add “at gmail” rather than the official domain for that organization. For example, instead of using jobs[at]englishschool.com, they'll use englishschool[at]gmail.com.
Of course, some schools do have gmail or yahoo or qq email addresses. These domains are not a red flag in and of themselves, but if the school is well known enough, you'll be able to at least track down their info account on their website and make sure the email address domains match.
4. Avoid upfront payments
There are a few reputable programs out there that have a program fee, but besides that, you would be wise to avoid sending large sums of money before you arrive in the country. Many ESL scam artists will request that you wire them money for a plane ticket, security deposit, visa, or any other number of things. Be especially wary of requests for Western Union transfers from would-be schools.
While some schools or programs might have you buy your own flight and then reimburse you, you should never be asked to send money to your school prior to arrival.
Sometimes scammers will also ask you to pay far too much in visa fees (again, do a quick search to find out how much visa fees for your host country cost as a way to check if this is fishy). In both cases, you will most likely never see that money again and never hear from your so-called new employer either.
5. Always ask for a video interview, or to speak to a staff member
You probably won't be able to have an in-person interview with your new employer, but most everyone these days has access to at least one device capable of video chat or a cheap phone call.
If the school doesn’t want to give you the contact information of someone currently working there, take this as a major red flag. If your recruiter or school doesn't even want to schedule a phone call before offering you a job, it's because it's most likely a scam.
Most legitimate schools looking to hire an English teacher would at least want to determine if a candidate can, you know, speak English.
If the school doesn’t want to give you the contact information of someone currently working there take this as a red flag.
6. Ask for references or seek out alum on social media
Before accepting any teaching job, ask to speak to a current teacher. This teacher will be able to tell you about working conditions, housing, and if anything weird went on after the contract was signed.
If the school doesn’t want to give you the contact information of someone currently working there, take this as a red flag. If at this point you are suspicious it’s a scam, it most likely is. At the very least, it’s probably not a school where you’d want to work if they are scared to have you speak to a current employee.
Some schools may say no, in order to protect their teachers’ personal info or respect their privacy. In this case, it’s not necessarily a scam. However, if you explore the program’s official social media accounts (check their tagged page!), and still can’t find a current or past teacher to speak to, that may be a sign it’s not as real as it may seem.
What should I do if I’m the victim of an ESL job scam?
Though the goal is to avoid being scammed, in the case you do fall victim to a fake ESL job posting, here are some next steps to take.
- Notify your bank immediately, if you've sent any payments to the scammer.
- Contact the job board you found the fraudulent listing on.
- Report the job scam to the FTC and explore their job scam resources page.
Ultimately, if it seems too good to be true (or something feels off), it’s likely a scam.
While scams can be a pain to scope through and weed out, don’t let these posting discourage you. The legitimate jobs far outnumber the scam ones and finding the right school to start your ESL job is probably only a few clicks away.
If you use your best judgment, read real, verified reviews, and research the schools as much as you can, you’ll be sure to find the perfect ESL teaching job for you!