There is growing interest in people from all backgrounds looking to travel overseas and teach English. The prospect of getting paid to teach English abroad is enticing, whether it's just for a year of passion work or as the start lifelong career. But do you need a degree to teach abroad, and if not, what are the requirements and employment options?
Fortunately, it is possible to teach English without a degree. With over a billion people worldwide -- 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 warm and tropical Cambodia or the Andes of Peru, you'll surely be able to find a position for which you are suitable.
Though requirements vary based on country, and many do require a college degree, there are more than enough countries and opportunities open to those with no degree. Additionally, there are steps you can take to maximize your education and experience and land a rewarding position teaching English abroad.
Step 1. Understand Your Options
While some countries are fairly lax with their teaching requirements, others aren't. Some countries strictly require a four-year college degree for an English teaching position. In short, standards will vary depending on where you go. Additionally, as a general rule of thumb, the countries with the highest hiring standards also tend to pay the most. That said, you should always compare the cost of living when evaluating your options.
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, many countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America allow schools to hire teachers without a four-year degree, especially if they have a TEFL certification or prior teaching experience. Searching for teaching jobs in 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 will likely have their own standards, so be sure to check the listings thoroughly before applying.
Step 2. Get Certified to Teach English (TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA)
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 certification, individual schools may insist that teachers are certified or have teaching experience to be eligible for employment. A TEFL certificate will expand the options for which you qualify to teach English, including in: Cambodia to Argentina to Nicaragua. These certifications will also help prepare you for the job so you know what to expect and how to be successful on your first day. Additonally, TEFL certification providers may even help you find a position in your desired country.
That's not to say that you can't teach without a certification. For some positions, prior 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 two or more years of college. Apply to positions and programs whose hiring requirements suit your background.
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Step 3. Search for Teaching Jobs in These Top Destinations
You'll have an easier time finding a position if you narrow your job search to countries hiring teachers with 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 have a national requirement of a four-year degree to teach English. 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. 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 from which to choose.
Cambodia is a warm and friendly country with a growing demand for English teachers. Cambodia is often overlooked because so many English teachers choose to go to Vietnam or Thailand. To compete, Cambodia has adjusted its standards, allowing English speakers to teach without a four-year degree. That said, schools do prefer a degree or certificate, so consider getting a TEFL certificate to give your application an extra boost.
You can also head off the beaten path 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. Still, the competition is so high that schools look for one anyway, especially in popular Western European countries like 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 is high. If you have a TEFL certificate, Romania and Georgia are also great options.
Although salaries for teaching positions in Latin America tend to be relatively low, 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, 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.
Step 4. Apply for Non-Traditional 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 are 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 as a teacher regardless of your level of education.
If you’re looking for an immersive 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 on a specific country, but they require a four-year degree, check if any programs have exceptions to the rule.
Even countries like Spain and France, which typically require a college degree, have special assistantship programs that waive the standard 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. However, do keep in mind 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 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 always pay well, particularly in Latin America and Europe. You'll likely 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 word of the local language and find a job, it could be helpful to know at least a few basic phrases to help you get by and communicate with your coworkers and new friends.
Don't Give Up
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 English will open your eyes to different cultures, landscapes, and ways of life. A little research will help you to find a position in no time, getting you started on an unforgettable, life-changing experience.
This article was originally published in July 2013 and was updated in April 2021.
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