If the opportunity to live abroad, travel regularly, and make money at the same time sounds like a fantasy come true to you, you’re not alone. Social media is filled with people who left their home behind, got an overseas teaching job, and are now living their international best lives... and, it’s also full of people who envy them.
It’s important to realize that the reality of getting a teaching job abroad to finance those Instagram photos might not be as simple as the captions and blog posts make it out to be. It takes a lot of time, research, financial planning, the right qualifications, and knowing yourself enough to know if you’re truly ready for this experience.
That’s not to say the dream isn’t possible. Whether you’re already a passionate teacher or someone studying to become a teacher one day, it’s entirely possible to find a position overseas that can take you on that life-changing international journey. The key is to be prepared. This comprehensive guide to getting a teaching job abroad lays out everything you need to know to prepare for your next adventure.
Different Kinds of Teaching Jobs Abroad
You may have only heard about teaching English abroad, as especially in western countries, this seems to be the most popular choice. However, depending on your qualifications, you might have more options than you think.
Public School Teacher
Looking for a job that will allow you to work with local people and maybe even practice a new language? A public school may be the right choice for you.
Teaching at a public school often means that you will be required to speak the local language, as these schools may not be fully immersion based. However, it is possible to find a job using your native language schools in a public setting. The salary will vary greatly, as it will be very dependent on the school itself and the region where the school is located. You could teach at a public school in Spain in the English department and make around $990-$1,100 per month. Or teach at a government school in South Korea and make anywhere from $1,790-$2,400 per month, depending on your qualifications.
Private School Teacher
If you’re looking for a program that would almost certainly require little to no knowledge of the local language, a private school may be your best bet. There are many different types of private school settings, such as an international school, a religious or faith-based school (often a volunteer position), or even a military school.
International School Teacher
Can you see yourself with a classroom full of Kindergarteners in Johannesburg or educating High School students in Brunei? Many international schools are looking for qualified, native English speakers (or those fluent in English) to teach grades from Pre-K through High School. These schools are typically fully immersive, meaning you may not need to have any knowledge of the local language in order to teach in that country. Often, private international schools will pay a stipend for living expenses or provide housing as well as airfare from your home country, paid vacation, insurance, and even low-cost or free education for any dependents. This depends entirely on the school, however, and keep in mind that your income will be subject to local taxes.
In regions such as the Middle East or Asia, you’re likely to make the most money -- often $2,000-$6,000 per month. In some areas of Europe, the pay may be higher -- such as an average of $7,500 per month in Switzerland. However, the cost of living is significantly higher, as well as the tax rate, making your take-home pay much less. In Central or South America, the pay is often much lower -- around $400-$1,000 a month -- but the cost of living is also lower, meaning you can save a lot more of your salary, especially if living expenses are included.
Many short and long-term positions are available for those looking to volunteer their time overseas, especially when it comes to teaching English. Often, the requirements are less than for paid, full-time teachings jobs. You could spend four months teaching English in Costa Rica or three weeks teaching at an English camp in Poland. Many faith-based schools offer volunteer positions, as well, including those that require raising your own support fees. Keep in mind that with any volunteer position, along with receiving no pay, you will most likely have a large upfront cost due for flights, housing, meal, and program fees.
Military School Teacher
Despite what you might think, you don’t have to be a member of the military to teach at a military base (and receive the same military benefits). U.S. military bases hire American teachers at bases around the world. Information about these schools can be found through the Department of Defense. You will need to be a certified teacher, licensed in your home state. The pay is around the same as if you were teaching in the United States (the Department of Defense lists the pay range as around $48,000-$92,000), and includes housing allowance, relocation expenses, paid vacation, insurance, and retirement funds.
These schools will follow the typical American style of education and will be taught entirely in English. There is, however, less interaction with the local people and culture, as these schools educate only American children living abroad.
Teaching Through the Peace Corps
A more long-term volunteer solution would involve partnering with the Peace Corps to teach abroad. You must be 18 years or older to apply and a U.S. citizen. The application process is long and rigorous -- most programs require a 4-year degree, as well as a demonstration of skills and experience that match the program you are applying to.
If accepted, however, the Peace Corps will pay your monthly in-country living expenses, and you’ll receive a readjustment allowance once you complete your service. There are even programs available that combine studying for a Master’s Degree with a Peace Corps placement and will lower the cost of your tuition based on your Peace Corps service.
Teaching Through the Fulbright Program
For those who already teachers with several years’ experience and expertise, the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Semester Research Program offers the chance to teach abroad for 3-6 months. Fulbright emphasizes the fact that they are looking for “expert” teachers -- not those new to this career.
If you are a U.S. citizen, you are currently employed at a U.S. K-12 school, have a Master’s Degree, and can demonstrate the ability to lead professional development activities, then this opportunity could be perfect for you! You will be doing more research and professional development rather than teaching but will have the opportunity to lead courses most likely at the university level. Fulbright will issue a grant for your participation in this program.
Other School Positions
Interested in working for a school overseas but not necessarily as a teacher? There may still be a place for you! Many international schools hire overseas job seekers for administrative staff positions, or for roles such as a house/dorm “parent” for private boarding schools. Take a look at the job postings section of any international school you may be particularly interested in in order to find these postings, or search our teach abroad job database.
Requirements for Teaching Abroad
Arguably the most important part of applying for a teaching job abroad is making sure you have the right qualifications. For most teaching jobs abroad, there are a few universal qualifications you will need:
- Bachelor’s Degree
- TEFL/TESL/TESOL Certification (if teaching English)
- Language Fluency
If you’re planning on teaching English, you will need to be a native English speaker or be able to demonstrate fluency in English. If you plan to teach in a public school abroad, you may be required to be fluent in the local language. Beyond these qualifications and depending on the job you are applying for, you might also need any of the following:
- Master’s Degree
- Teaching License
- Teaching Experience
- Degree specific to your field, if not English, i.e. a history degree if you plan to teach social studies, etc.
- Administrative Certification (if applying for a job as a school administrator)
Preparing Mentally for a Teaching Job Abroad
While many of the above positions above may sound appealing, it’s important to think about whether or not you’re actually ready to take on the responsibility of leading a classroom full of students overseas. You will be stepping into a new culture, leaving everything familiar behind, and communicating with students with a possible language barrier who come from a different cultural background. This is not an easy role and not one that should be considered lightly. You must be intellectually, emotionally, and financially prepared.
Remember that you may not know anyone at first, and it can take time to meet new people. Aneesa Mohamed, who has taught in South Korea, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, says you should consider that feelings of loneliness will arise at some point. “If you aren't someone that is okay spending time alone,” she advises, “then this might not be the experience for you … it forces you to become very independent, very fast.” Aneesa also brought up the fact that you might be missing potentially important milestones in your family and friends’ lives while you’re overseas, and you have to be prepared for that.
Being ready also includes making sure that you have the proper training. If you plan on teaching English, research different TEFL/TESL/TESOL certification courses. If you would like to teach at a public or private school abroad, be sure that you have the degree you need and are willing and able to obtain the necessary experience – an average of two years for most international schools.
Lena Papadopoulos, an international educator, consultant, and facilitator who has taught in Tanzania and China, recommends anyone interested in a teaching job obtain the right certifications. “Many people assume teaching English will be a natural, easy job as long as they're a native English speaker,” Lena says. “This isn't really the case, however. Training and certification will give you the theoretical and pedagogical knowledge to understand how and why certain things should be taught in certain ways.”
You might be thinking that you can still get around this requirement for a short-term or volunteer position. Many people do find a teaching job with absolutely no experience, but the most important part of any teaching experience is not the job itself or the teacher – it’s the students. Entering a classroom without any formal training or experience can actually be harmful to the students you’re hoping to teach.
Lena shares that during her first teaching experience, she was looking for the “cheapest voluntourism” experience she could find. She admits that was not prepared for her role, other than by being a native English speaker with a Bachelor’s Degree. Her situation is similar to many -- and the ones who suffer are the students, who are receiving a subpar education from someone is not qualified for their role. This is why Lena now urges anyone looking to teach to make sure they’re prepared. She recommends taking a class on intercultural communication, as well, to further prepare you for a teaching abroad role.
Sara Blair, who currently teaches high school English language and literature in Vietnam and has taught in Thailand, Canada, the Marshall Islands, and Niger, also recommends that if you’re interested in teaching as a career, you pursue some sort of formal training or have a background in education. Sara admits that without this, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be a horrible teacher -- just that you will be less prepared for a classroom environment. “There is so much involved in teaching,” she says, “that even if you teach at a language center where they give you everything you need to teach, and you don’t have to plan lessons, you still have to deal with behavior management and teaching the material in an engaging way.”
And if you try teaching overseas and you find out that it may not be for you? It’s better to leave your position (obviously waiting until the end of your contract, if possible) than to continue in a job that will only bring misery to yourself and potentially harm your students. “I know people who have gotten into teaching abroad that have hated it,” Sarah tells us. “Most don’t realize how much work actually goes into teaching and how exhausting it can be. But when it is something you actually want to do, it is worth it and it can be the most rewarding thing you ever do with your life.”
How to Get a Teaching Job Abroad
Once you understand the type of position you’re interested, what qualifications you need, and whether or not teaching abroad is right for you, it’s time to jump into the process of finding the right job. Although it may seem daunting, the following steps will help you make sure you’re prepared for this possible new career.
1. Decide Whether to Apply through a Program, Recruiter, or Independently
Once you’ve made sure that you’re prepared, you’ll need to think about whether you would like to find a job on your own, or partner with a larger organization. Prestigious volunteer programs like Fulbright and the Peace Corps can be advantageous as they will guide your placement, expenses, living situation, and provide any support that you may need.
Other volunteer organizations can provide the same (usually for an upfront fee), such as Volunteer Solutions, who offers placements in 26 different countries, and iSpiice, who offers placements in India that combine education and social programs.
If you decide that you would like to find a job on your own, know that you may not have the same support in place as with more official organizations or recruiters. Because of this, you should be prepared to have enough savings if any emergency arises, and the ability to secure your own housing, insurance, and cover flight costs. However, many international schools will provide assistance in these areas.
Take a look at the job openings on the school websites of the places you’re interested in, and you should find a list of benefits as well as their application requirements. You can always find available teaching abroad job postings on the Go Overseas Teaching Job Board, as well.
2. Choose a Country to Teach In
Choosing the country you want to teach in may be the most fun part of the process!
You might be dreaming of exploring Kenya after your spending your week your adorable Kindergarteners, or learning to speak Chinese while you teach your students English in China, or sharing stories with your fellow teachers over a glass of wine in France. You could travel to the United Arab Emirates and make a very high salary at a private school based on your teaching experience, or apply for a teaching job on a military base in Italy. Your decision may be based on the salary and cost of living in a particular country, especially if you have current debt, or simply on the language and culture you would like to immerse yourself in.
Once you’ve decided on the type of teaching job you’re looking for, you can start thinking about the right country for you while checking available job postings. Allowing yourself to remain open to many possibilities will increase your chances of success. You may not find a job in the first country on your list, but the one you find could be better than you could have ever imagined!
3. Prepare Your Resume/CV
Writing a resume can be a daunting task for anyone -- particular if you’re applying overseas. The first step is to know the format that is expected. In North America, standard resumes are used, whereas in Europe, CVs are used. In Australia, they use both.
The main difference between these formats is the length and detail -- resumes are very concise documents with an abbreviated education and employment history (usually only bullet points are used). CVs, on the other hand, can be multiple pages long, and go into great detail about your prior education, employment, skills, and achievements. If you’re unsure which format to use, contact the organization you’re applying to and ask them which they prefer.
No matter the format, here are some universal tips for writing a Resume/CV for teaching:
- Be sure you check for grammar and spelling mistakes
- Use a professional format – most word processing programs will provide a template for free, or you can purchase a template online on sites like Etsy
- Be sure your resume/CV is easy to read and easy to follow
- Check with your references to make sure you have the most updated contact information -- you might even want to ask them to write a letter of recommendation to make your application even stronger
- Relate your Resume/CV to the specific job you’re applying for: highlight the work experience, awards, and skills that relate to the specific job description you’re responding to, and make sure your accomplishments stand out
- Include a professional photo of yourself (many job postings will ask for this), however, avoid using too many other graphics as they may be distracting and may not format correctly once sent to potential employers
4. Apply for Teaching Jobs
Once you’ve browsed any potential school websites and taken a look at current job postings, it’s time to begin the process of applying. Even if a school doesn’t seem to have any openings, you can always reach out to them to see if there are any vacancies and to ask if you can send them your resume just in case they have any future openings. You never know!
Applying for multiple positions that you’re qualified for will increase your chances of finding a job. Aneesa stresses the importance, however, of only accepting interviews from schools that meet the criteria you are looking for and being clear about your salary expectations. Be sure to follow up on your applications, and don’t be discouraged if you don’t find anything right away. As with any job search, it may take time and patience. In the meantime, you can always make your application stronger through the right certifications, gaining experience, and obtaining more training and skills related to education.
Aneesa also says that at times, you may not be chosen for the grade or level you want and are qualified for. “Sometimes,” she says, “it's about filling a need where there is a vacancy at a school so you may be challenged and have to learn new things.” Being flexible and open-minded will lead to greater success during the application process, and during your teaching placement.
5. Ace the Interview
Once you land an interview, you'll want to do some pre-interview prep to ensure that you nail it. Start by thoroughly researching the school and the position you applied for. Showing up with some knowledge about the place that's interviewing you shows you're taking the opportunity seriously.
On that note, when your interviewer asks if you have any questions at the end of the interview, your answer should never be "no." Come ready with a list of questions about the position. Some questions that will help you better understand the position while also demonstrating your interest and commitment include:
- When you think about your most successful teachers, what qualities helped them succeed in this position?
- What is the most challenging aspect of this job, and do you think I'd be in a position to confront that challenge?
- How do you measure performance in this role, and how often is performance assessed?
- What opportunities are there for continuing education, training, and growth in this position?
- What are your school's the top values and priorities?
Finally, when answering the interviewer's questions, try to refer to specific accomplishments and results as much as possible, and focus on experience over your studies. While your degree is important, they can see what you studied on your resume. Interviewers want to hear what you've done. If you just graduated, you can talk about student teaching experience, internships, jobs you had while in school, or even specific class projects or extracurricular activities.
6. Negotiate Your Salary & Contract
While you're researching potential employers, make sure to look into salary information for similar positions or even previous employees at that school. That way, if you're offered a position, you'll know exactly what salary to look for and how much you can negotiate.
It's worth it to practice negotiating salary with each job offer. Don't be afraid that negotiating or asking for a higher salary than what's offered will lead them to retract your offer. The worst that can happen is they'll say no, and you can still accept their original offer.
Glassdoor is a great website for researching salaries and employee reviews, and they also have some excellent salary negotiation tips. They recommend being clear that you're excited about the offer and want to accept, but are looking for a higher salary. Use your research and experience to back up your negotiation: for example, reference the average salary for a teaching job in that country, or explain that you have three years of experience and the position only requires two. According to Glassdoor, you should also wait as long as possible to begin discussing salary. The more time they've invested in your interview process, the more committed they are to hiring you.
Finally, make sure to take into account more than just the number they offer you, as benefits are valuable as well, and teaching hours vary by position. Make sure you fully understand your teaching contract before signing and try negotiating any terms that aren't what you were hoping for.
7. Accept Your New Teaching Job
Keep in mind that things like pay, working conditions, and job requirements can vary greatly by country. The following job terms should be completely clear:
- Pay and benefits
- Hours and working conditions
- Subject and ages you'll be teaching
- Whether accommodations or housing assistance is included (if not, know how you're going to find a place to live and how much it will cost)
- How to get a visa and what the conditions of your visa will be
Once you've figured out logistics, it's time to look inside and ask yourself whether or not you truly feel good about this employer and opportunity, whether it will help you get to where you want to be in life, and conversely, whether you can truly serve the school and its students. If you've received the offer of your dreams and decided it's a good fit, congratulations! It's time to accept your new teaching job abroad.
8. Prepare Financially Before You Depart
Unlike finding a job in your own country, there can be a very high relocation cost that comes with teaching overseas. For a volunteer position, you’ll need to be able to cover all of your expenses, including flights, housing, food, program fees, insurance, and activity fees. For any job overseas, you should have an emergency fund, as well.
Volunteer organizations like the Peace Corps and Fulbright will cover these expenses, but any outstanding debt or financial commitments must be paid by you. You might be able to find a public or private school, as well as a military placement, that covers all upfront costs or will provide a housing stipend. Sometimes, these benefits are given as reimbursements, so you must still be able to cover the initial cost.
It’s also important to research the cost of living in the country you’re applying to and compare that with your expected salary before accepting a job. A modest apartment in Chile costs an average of $670 per month, while the same size apartment in Hong Kong can cost an average of $3,000 per month! Taking time to research the cost of housing, food, and other goods and services before you start a new job will ensure that you’re prepared in case your salary isn’t enough. Also keep in mind other expenses, such as traveling around the area or taking trips back to your home country.
Teaching overseas can be a dream come true, but it’s important that you look for a job for the right reasons. As Lena states, “Teaching young people is a profound responsibility that requires dedication, patience, and intent. You must care about this work, and you must be invested in those you serve. A young person's access to quality education should not be compromised for the sake of someone else's ‘cool’ experience.” Preparing yourself for this experience through training and research can help you gain the right mindset for teaching abroad.
Teaching abroad requires, above all else, a passion for your students and the desire to create change. If you share that passion and possess the right qualifications to work with students abroad, there are so many opportunities available for you. All it takes is a little flexibility, openness, and determination -- and you can absolutely find the right teaching job for you.