People of all backgrounds want to teach abroad. It’s not hard to see why -- the prospect of getting paid to teach English in a foreign country is enticing, whether it’s just for a year or as the start lifelong career and passion. But can you teach abroad if you don’t have a four-year college degree? If so, what are your options and what can you do to make the most of it?
Fortunately, it is totally possible to teach English without a degree. With over a billion people all around the world -- children and adults alike -- learning English, native speakers who are willing to teach are in high demand, regardless of educational background. Whether you find yourself in the warm and tropical Cambodia or in the Andes of Peru, you’ll surely be able to find a position for which you are suitable.
Though not having a degree can be a disadvantage when looking for a position in certain countries, there are more than enough countries and opportunities that are open to you. Additionally, there steps you can take to make the most of the experience and education you do have to help you land a position.
Step 1. Understand Your Options
While some countries are quite lax with their teaching requirements, others aren’t. Some countries absolutely require a four-year degree. In short, standards will vary depending on where you go.
A four-year college degree is a legal requirement for many teaching positions, especially in countries that offer the most pay and benefits. For example, most Persian Gulf countries -- including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia -- typically require that English teachers have a four-year degree. Major Asian nations such as South Korea and Japan also have this requirement. Other countries that previously allowed teachers to work in their schools without a degree -- such as Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia -- have tightened up their standards and now require that teachers have a college diploma.
Despite these changes, however, there are still many countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America that allow schools to hire teachers without a four-year degree, especially if they have TEFL certification and/or prior teaching experience. Sticking to these regions will help you narrow down your options and are great places to start your job search. Just keep in mind that individual schools might have their own standards, so be sure to check the listings thoroughly.
Step 2. Get Any Other Necessary Certifications
Some countries that do not require English teachers to have a college degree, such as Mexico, legally require at least a TEFL certificate. In other countries where there is no legal requirement to have a TEFL, individual schools may insist that teachers have some sort of certification or teaching experience to be eligible to teach. A TEFL certificate will give you a wider variety of options to choose from, from Cambodia to Argentina to Nicaragua.
However, that’s not to say that you can’t teach without one. For some positions, teaching experience or simply being a native English speaker will suffice. You’ll have additional options if you have at least an A.A. degree or have completed at least two years of college. Apply to positions and programs whose hiring requirements suit your background.
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3. Search for Jobs in these Top Destinations
You’ll have an easier time finding a position if you narrow your job search to countries that have plenty of opportunities for teachers of your level of education and teaching experience. Asia, Latin America, and parts of Europe all have great destinations for English speakers without a four-year degree.
English teachers are in high demand all over the continent. Though the most popular countries -- South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand -- require a college degree, Asia is a massive continent and has plenty of other opportunities.
China is the largest job market for English teachers in the world and does not require a four-year degree. Some jobs in China will also provide housing and airfare, which is an added bonus. However, most jobs in China require at least a TEFL certificate or previous teaching experience. Also, the most popular destinations, like Beijing or Shanghai, will require that teachers have a four-year degree, so try searching in other major cities. Luckily, China is so big that you’ll have plenty of locations to choose from.
Cambodia is a warm and friendly country that is quickly picking up on the English-learning wave. Cambodia is often overlooked because so many English teachers choose to go to Vietnam or Thailand, so it has opened its doors to native English speakers even if they don’t have a four-year degree. That being said, schools do prefer some sort of degree or certificate, so consider getting a TEFL certificate to give your application an extra boost.
You can also head off the beaten track to countries such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, or Laos, which also don’t require a four-year degree. Do note that having a TEFL certificate is necessary to teach in these countries.
Europe is an ever-popular destination for aspiring English teachers, from small pueblos in Spain to the grand and picturesque St. Petersburg. Most European countries do not legally require a four-year degree, but the competition is so high that schools look for one anyway, especially in popular Western European countries such as Italy and Germany. However, if you have TEFL certification and teaching experience, you might be able to find a job once on the ground.
That being said, you can still find a position in Europe if you know where to look. Eastern Europe -- including Russia and Ukraine -- has many opportunities for English teachers without a degree, and the demand for native English speakers is high. If you have a TEFL certificate, Romania and Georgia are also great options.
Though teaching positions in Latin America do not necessarily pay well, the opportunities for teachers without a degree are plentiful and the experience of living in one of these countries more than makes up for it. Whether you’re in Peru or Ecuador or Colombia, you’ll have a fantastic experience and your Spanish-speaking skills will improve dramatically. Some countries, such as Mexico and Argentina, require that you at least have a TEFL certificate.
4. Apply for Certain Teaching Positions
Though it’s nice to be paid for your work, it’s also possible to teach English abroad as a volunteer. Volunteer positions typically don’t require a college degree, and they’re a great opportunity to get your foot in the door and gain teaching experience. More importantly, you’ll be making a big difference in your students’ lives and create unforgettable memories. Even countries like Vietnam, where paid English teachers are required to have a degree, will allow you to volunteer there regardless of your level of education.
If you’re looking for a really authentic experience, you might also want to consider participating in a homestay program. In these programs, you’ll stay with a family while either teaching them English or volunteering as an English teacher at a school nearby.
If you have your heart set out on a certain country but they require a four-year degree, check if there are any programs that are any exceptions to the rule. For example, the government-run TaLK Program in South Korea allows you to participate so long as you have an Associates (two-year) degree or are currently enrolled in your third year of college.
Even countries like as Spain and France, which typically require a college degree, have special assistantship programs that waive the traditional four-year degree requirement. The popular Cultural Ambassadors program in Spain only requires two years of higher education, while the French-run TAPIF program requires three. Do keep in mind, however, that these are teaching assistant positions that offer little-to-no job training, so going through a TEFL certification course beforehand would help you find your footing.
Other Things to Consider
As you search for a teaching job, here are other things to keep in mind:
- Have realistic expectations. Don’t land in Japan, a country known to require a four-year degree, expecting to land a position just because you speak English. Teaching English is an increasingly popular career choice, and applicants with training and experience will have an advantage. Look for positions in countries that you know are open to applicants of your experience.
- Search on the ground. Many schools eschew online interviews and prefer to hire locally, so being at the right place and the right time is important. This is especially true in Latin America and Europe.
- Know when to apply. You might not have much luck in applying for positions in Europe in the middle of March. In Europe, schools tend to hire in September and January, while South American countries tend to hire teachers in March and February. Places where the demand for teachers is really high, such as Mexico and China, will hire year-round.
- Save some startup expenses. Pay usually comes at the end of the month, so make sure you have enough money to cover your living expenses while you look for a job and get through your first month of work. The amount you’ll need can vary depending on where you choose to live, but startup costs can range from $1000 - $1500.
- Consider getting a second job. Teaching English doesn’t pay well, particularly in Latin America and Europe. You’ll probably be hired part-time, so think about looking for a second position or giving private lessons to fill up the rest of your time and to give you a little extra spending money.
- Be mindful of any additional requirements. This could be teaching experience, medical clearance, or language requirements. While sometimes you can show up not speaking a lick of the local language and find a job, it could be helpful to know at least a few basic words to help you get by and communicate with your coworkers and new friends.
Just because you don’t have a college degree, doesn’t mean that you can’t teach English abroad. If you put your mind to it and do your research, you’ll find that there’s a world of opportunities for you as an English teacher.
Whether it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience or the start of an exciting, lifelong career, going overseas to teach will open your eyes to different cultures, landscapes, and ways of life. A little research and a touch of adventure will help you to find a position in no time, getting you standard on an unforgettable, life-changing experience.
This article was originally published in July 2013, and was updated in October 2018.