Teaching English as a Foreign Language is a highly mobile career that can take you all around the world. If you dream of living in another country (or three), traveling on the weekends, and immersing yourself in a new culture, working as a TEFL teacher can get you there.
Any significant life change can be overwhelming but breaking the process down makes it seem a whole lot more attainable. In this article, we’ve done just that!
Follow these seven steps and progress through the research phase to landing that first position and securing your visa. Get ready to take that first step – you won’t regret it!
1. Get TEFL certified
While it’s true that there are countries that hire teachers without TEFL qualifications, we recommend this invaluable training for anyone planning to teach English abroad. Speaking English at a native or near-native level is one thing, but knowing how to teach and explain grammar is another.
A lot of language knowledge is innate knowledge that we’ve picked up naturally since early childhood. If a question about the 1st conditional vs. 2nd conditional would leave you scratching your head, it’s a good idea to look into pursuing a TEFL certificate. Start your teaching career with confidence!
In-person vs. online TEFL certificates
Most employers will require a certificate that includes a minimum of 120 classroom hours, though 160 hours are recommended if you’re looking to gain more comprehensive training and experience Some may also look for practicum hours (observed teaching practice) to be included in the certificate though this will vary by country and organization.
TEFL vs. CELTA vs. CertTESOL: What’s the difference?
You will come to learn that the world of overseas English teaching is full of acronyms. When looking for a teaching certificate, you may be confused to see acronyms like TEFL/TESOL, CELTA, or CertTESOL and wonder what the difference is between them.
In a nutshell, all are certifications geared toward training future English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers. However, they differ in the organizations that deliver them as well as their format, curriculum, and requirements.
- TEFL: acronym for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. TEFL courses are usually geared toward teaching English to non-native speakers in their home country.
- TESOL: acronym for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. TESOL certificates focus on teaching English to non-native speakers in an English-speaking country.
- CELTA: short for Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, this qualification is offered by Cambridge English, a worldwide leader in ESL
- CertTESOL: administered by Trinity College London, the CertTESOL is equal to a Level 5 on Ofqual's Regulated Qualifications Framework (second year of undergraduate degree)
2. Decide where you want to teach
It’s a great big world out there for prospective English teachers. Positions for TEFL professionals exist in nearly every country. Below, we dive into the TEFL market worldwide to give you an idea of the available opportunities.
Read more: How Much Money Can You Save Teaching Abroad?
Teach English in Asia
In general, Asia is the best region for newbie teachers. You can find a decent-paying job with no teaching experience and the cost of living is relatively low. With proper budgeting, teachers who work in this region can manage to save thousands, pay off student loan debt, or buy a car back home.
Read more about teaching English in Asia:
Teach English in Western Europe
There are some great government-sponsored teaching programs in Western Europe for first-time teachers, but for most non-Europeans, the tricky part about landing a job in Western Europe will be the visa.
Nonetheless, Western Europe is a popular destination for aspiring teachers. Even though salaries aren't generally high, the comfortable standard of living and access to familiar amenities make it an attractive region.
Read more about teaching English in Western Europe:
Teach English in 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 Bulgaria and Poland tend to have fewer barriers.
Although many Eastern European countries are in the EU, some are more open to sponsoring a work permit for qualified non-EU candidates.
Teach English in the Middle East and North Africa
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. The one exception is Turkey, which has lots of opportunities for inexperienced teachers (though these positions definitely don't pay as well).
Although this isn't the best region to begin your career as an ESL teacher, it's a future to shoot for!
Read more about teaching English in the Middle East:
Teach English in 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 the qualifications needed for these jobs tend to be basic.
Read more about teaching English in Sub-Saharan Africa:
Teach English in South America and Central America
Like Asia, the qualifications you'll need to teach in South America 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 more likely to break even.
Read more about teaching in South and Central America:
3. Prepare your resume/CV
Having an up-to-date and polished resume or curriculum vitae (CV) is crucial to job searching in any industry. Even if you have no teaching experience, you can highlight transferable skills from previous positions that will help you in the classroom. This is also a great place to showcase that TEFL certificate you worked so hard for!
Be aware that the expectations for what is on a CV and how they are presented differ by country. Some employers in certain countries will be surprised if you don’t include a headshot with your resume. Others will be surprised if you do. Make sure to research the country where you want to teach to understand the norms.
4. Explore types of teaching jobs available
You may be surprised to know just how many different teaching jobs are out there. Positions exist within all ages and ability levels and formal and informal settings. In the beginning, new teachers go through a bit of trial and error experimenting with these different variables to find the best fit for them. Teaching a wide range of students will give you invaluable ESL experience!
Public schools in most countries consist of kindergarten through 12th grade, generally comprising ages 5 or 6 to 17 or 18. The curriculum is usually set by the government’s department of education. National teaching programs like EPIK in South Korea or NALCAP in Spain place teachers in public schools.
✅ Pros of teaching in public schools: daily schedules are usually shorter than in private schools; you may have better job security; salaries tend to be higher than in private schools.
❌Cons of teaching in public schools: curriculum can sometimes be rigid with not much room for creativity; class sizes may be very large.
Private schools may be semi-private (charter) or fully private (funded by student tuition). These schools might be broken up by level or you may find schools that include both primary and secondary school students under one roof.
✅ Pros of teaching in private schools: curriculum may be more flexible than at public schools; class sizes could be smaller; parents may be more involved and supportive.
❌ Cons of teaching in private schools: some private schools may be affiliated with a particular religion that could be different from your own beliefs; working days may be longer than in public schools.
Read more: 10 Essential ESL Teaching Tools
Preschools and kindergartens
Science tells us that young children acquire language differently than adults and in some ways have an easier time doing so. Exposing kids to another language at an early age is becoming popular in many countries around the world. For example, in public preschools in Spain, known as infantil, children as young as 3 years old begin learning English in the classroom.
✅ Pros of teaching in preschools and kindergartens: kids in these age groups tend to be fearless and enthusiastic about trying out their new language; gains may be small but are apparent more quickly; lots of singing, dancing, and games.
❌ Cons of teaching in preschools and kindergartens: these age groups require a lot of repetition of the materials, sometimes for weeks or months at a time; attention spans are also short so activities should be engaging and dynamic but quick and varied; classroom management is chaotic at times.
University jobs are a bit harder to come by for new teachers but it is possible. Most universities will want you to have at least a master’s degree although some may take applicants with a bachelor’s and TEFL such as a CELTA.
✅ Pros of teaching in universities: you generally don’t have to worry about classroom management issues at the university level; pay is generally good.
❌ Cons of teaching in universities: there may not be as much job security with a university contract; positions may require advanced degrees and/or teaching experience which makes it hard for new teachers to secure a role.
In-company business English
Business English classes are usually based in-company. Teachers travel to organizations to teach adult staff during the work day or in the evening.
✅ Pros of teaching in in-company business English: teaching adults can be more fun and interactive since you can relate better to them; topics may be more interesting to you as a teacher than children’s curriculum.
❌ Cons of teaching in in-company business English: working at various workplaces may have you spending a good portion of your day traveling around the city; students may be required to attend classes by their employer meaning they are not taking classes because of their own interest – engagement may be different among busy working professionals.
Teaching assistant positions
If you aren’t ready to be the main classroom teachers, several countries run language assistant programs. You may be conducting classes on your own at times but there will be a local teacher in the room to assist with classroom management and other activities.
✅ Pros of teaching assistant positions: schedules tend to be part-time; most programs are established and easy to apply to; it’s a good way to enter into teaching abroad.
❌ Cons of teaching assistant positions: programs can be disorganized; you may be used as the main teacher; pay may not be enough to live on alone.
Language academies run outside of normal school and work hours, normally during evenings and on weekends. You may teach young learners, kids, teens, and adults, or depending on the academy, you may specialize in one age group.
✅ Pros of teaching in language academies: curriculum can be a lot more flexible than in schools; more focus on games and activities rather than bookwork; most academies provide teachers with all materials.
❌ Cons of teaching in language academies: your schedule could include split hours (both morning and evening with a break in between) and weekends; you may be required to teach many different ages which could make planning harder; you could be asked to work at multiple locations.
English language summer camps are short-term teaching opportunities. They are usually run entirely in English with native counselors overseeing sports, arts and crafts, and other activities while speaking with campers in English.
✅ Pros of teaching in summer camps: laid-back atmosphere focusing on outdoor activities, games, and art; good weather; ability to bond with a small group of children.
❌ Cons of teaching in summer camps: time is shorter so programs generally do not include a visa; camp life tends to be full-on with counselors living among the campers.
Perhaps you only want to spend a month or two living abroad, and you want to do something to give back to your new community. Many providers, like IVHQ and Volunteering Solutions offer fantastic adventure travel programs that include volunteer ESL instruction as part of the package.
If you have enough savings to fund your life abroad without a steady income, definitely look into volunteer teaching. Your travel adventure will be that much richer, and you’ll leave with some fantastic teaching experience on your resume!
✅ Pros of volunteer teaching: it’s a good way to gain teaching experience overseas; volunteer teaching in low-resource areas can equip you with better creativity and adaptability; students unaccustomed to native English teachers may be more appreciative of your efforts.
❌ Cons of volunteer teaching: without proper savings, money can be an issue; volunteer posts are often in rural or underserved areas that lack access to technology or other resources.
5. Apply for jobs
Usually, when searching for a job in most industries you go to a job search engine like Indeed and apply directly to positions. Teaching English overseas is a little different though. You have several options for finding jobs.
Program providers are organizations who place you in a school or language academy within the network they work with. Teaching Nomad, CIEE, and Greenheart are examples of program providers who can get you a job abroad. Many program providers offer TEFL training, too!
In an attempt to raise the country’s level of English, overseas governments have official programs to bring in native speakers to work in local schools. Through these government programs, participants may either be language assistants or full teachers in their school.
Recruiters work with a network of schools and/or language academies with the goal of finding jobs for qualified candidates. When you work with a recruiter, you provide your CV and profile and then are matched with employers for interviews. They will often help you negotiate contracts and may provide visa assistance. You should never have to pay a recruiter if they are reputable. Recruiters are popular across Asia and the Middle East.
If you know where you’d like to teach, it’s possible to conduct your job search on your own. This is usually easiest for teachers hoping to work in a language academy, business English organization, or university rather than at a public or private school.
Read more: How to Find ESL Students as a Private Tutor
6. Understand your teaching contract
Never sign a contract until you understand and agree to all the terms. This is a legally binding document and signing it without being crystal clear on the contents could get you into trouble.
Here are some of the things you can expect to see in your contract:
- Visa sponsorship
- Benefits (housing, healthcare, etc.)
- Sick leave and holidays
- What happens if you resign before the contract ends
Should you not fully understand all of the terms presented in your contract, don’t be afraid to reach out to your recruiter, program provider, or even a local lawyer.
7. Apply for your visa
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 (background check, passport photos, college diploma or transcripts, etc.). You’ll need to apply for your visa at the country’s local consulate before departure.
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.
Once you have your passport and visa in hand, the real fun can begin. You’re now ready to get any necessary immunizations, book your airfare, and pack (but don’t overpack!) your suitcase!
Getting started is easier than you think!
Now that you have an idea of the steps involved in teaching English abroad, we hope you jump into the process! Making a big life and career change is always daunting but it will be worth the effort. Whether you’re planning to teach for the foreseeable future or just want to try it out for a year, follow this guide to kick your plans into gear and prepare yourself for your next big adventure.