When I moved to Australia on a working holiday visa, I assumed I would find employment in the hospitality sector. Having recently finished a year in Spain as a North American Language and Cultural Assistant, I loved teaching but was ready for a new adventure. Australia isn't the first country that comes to mind when speaking about teaching English abroad. But after a few weeks of searching and still without a job, I shifted my focus and decided to put my English teaching experience and TEFL certification to use.
Since I had missed the hiring season for most Melbourne academies, I opted to go at it on my own. As a freelance English teacher, I advertised on Gumtree.com (a listings website) and started teaching private lessons to adults hoping to pass their Cambridge First Certificate or enhance their pronunciation. I taught students from Saudi Arabia to Spain and we met at spots throughout the city, using places like Queen Victoria Market and Chapel Street as our classroom.
Though Australia is a country of native English speakers, the influx of newcomers from around the globe -- either permanently or on short-term visas to learn English -- make English teaching a high-demand skill. Whether it’s by word of mouth, freelance or through a language academy or school, English teachers will find many opportunities.
What level of English fluency do you need?
Because Australia’s primary language is English and there are so many qualified teachers, you are expected to have a native-level efficiency. Nearly all of the English teachers at academies I knew in Melbourne were Australian.
If you give freelance classes as I did, students can choose the teacher based on their characteristics - nationality, gender, age, experience, and so on. Not being a native speaker might hinder some students from contracting you.
If you do not have an Australian accent, some students might either avoid you or especially seek you depending on the variety of English they wish to learn. I even had some students who saw that I was from the U.S. and asked if I could teach them both -- Australian and U.S. English -- so I did a lot of research and study before those lessons.
Regardless of which English accent you have, you will still find students interested in learning from you.
Do you need a degree?
While whether or not you need a degree depends on the type of English teaching you’ll be pursuing, you will overwhelmingly need at least a bachelor’s degree in any subject, if not a bachelor’s in education. Many English teachers at private academies in Melbourne held degrees in other fields but had years of teaching experience either domestically or abroad to make up for it.
You will need a teaching degree to work at private and government-run Australian schools, while at some language academies a Bachelors degree combined with a TEFL Certification and experience is often sufficient. There are also many volunteer opportunities for ESL in which you do not need a degree.
Do You need a TEFL certification?
If you don’t hold a bachelors in ESL education, you will be required to have a TEFL certification to work in language academies. If teaching on a private tutoring or freelance basis as I did, there will be no management to require you to hold a certificate. However, I found that my qualifications made me a stronger teacher and gave my students peace of mind I was guiding them in the right direction.
Language academies and institutes, private school and government-run schools all hold different requirements for hiring. Visit the states’ teaching websites:
For updated information on jobs and requirements. U.S.-based teachers should also see if they qualify for a U.S. Fulbright position.
What other requirements are there to teach in Australia?
As I've mentioned, Australia is a country already full of qualified English teachers and native speakers. Through various bilateral visa agreements with countries around the world, the country-continent attracts thousands of foreigners each year for both short-term and long-term stays.
Though in my case my students did not mind I was not Australian, keep in mind most students go to Australia to learn about Australia, not the U.S. In many teaching abroad positions in countries in Europe and Asia, you're expected to also incorporate cultural and historical knowledge. If you plan to teach at a government-run school or academy for adults, you should have a firm grasp of Australian history and culture. It would be difficult to give a lesson on fairy bread or ANZAC Day had you never heard of it!
Visa requirements to teach in Australia
With so many government exchange programs for teachers and options for other native speakers to migrate to Australia without visas, it is not likely that a school will sponsor your long-term visa. The easiest option for U.S., Canadian and U.K. citizens is to acquire a working holiday visa. This allows you to work for 1-2 years legally in Australia.
Putting it all together
Teaching English in Australia is a hard-won task that requires maneuvering visas and demonstrating your skills as a professional. For native speakers with a bachelor’s degree, TEFL certificate and a lot of enthusiasm, it’s possible to find the right job for you -- and maybe even stick around long-term.
Finding a teaching job in Australia might be a challenge, but once you stroll through the laneways and arcades of Melbourne or watch the sunset in Perth with your English teaching salary, it will all be worth it.