Teach Abroad

What are the Requirements to Teach English Abroad?

Raneem Taleb-Agha
Topic Expert

Raneem is a Syrian-American editor, writer, teacher, and occasional singer. After graduating from UC Berkeley, she taught English in Spain for two years, from which her solo travel adventures began.

Living in a foreign country, working as a teacher, and making money -- teaching abroad sounds nice, doesn’t it?

It almost sounds too good to be true, but luckily it’s an opportunity available to people of various backgrounds, education levels, and experience. Teaching abroad is an incredible experience that gives you the chance to immerse yourself in a different culture, learn a new language, explore new frontiers, and forge wonderful new friendships.

There are over 1 billion people learning English as a second language worldwide, so the demand for English teachers is high. You don’t need a degree in English, prior teaching experience, or even a college degree at all to find a position. So what’s the catch? Well, it’s important to remember that hiring requirements are different in each country and school, so you need to find a job that works for your level of education and expertise. Here are some frequently asked questions about the requirements needed to teach abroad.

Do You Need a College Degree to Teach Abroad?

In some countries -- especially in western Europe, the Persian Gulf, and parts of Asia -- a college degree is officially (and sometimes unofficially) required to be hired as a teacher. Other times, individual schools may have their own requirements, depending on whether they are public, private, or follow a particular teaching methodology.

However, there are plenty of other countries where English speakers without a four-year degree can be paid to teach English, including most of Latin America, Eastern Europe, and certain countries in Asia, such as Cambodia and China.

There is plenty of information available online that compares the degree requirements for teaching English in over 50 countries around the world. You can also find additional information, such as salary expectations, hiring seasons, and visa requirements, that will help you decide where to go.

Do You Need a TEFL Certificate before Teaching Abroad?

A TEFL certificate verifies that you’ve completed training to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL). Though it is possible to find a position without training or prior experience, a TEFL certificate will make the job search easier by opening the door to more opportunities in more countries; otherwise, you’ll have to restrict your search to certain areas. Without a TEFL certificate, you can also work as a volunteer.

Regardless of whether or not it’s required, a TEFL certificate is still recommended. There is rarely any training prior to getting started as a teacher, so the course will teach you the skills you need to provide a good English education to your students. Additionally, it is a requirement for many schools and it is even a legal requirement in some countries. As an added bonus, most TEFL courses will help you find and apply to jobs based on your interests and background.

Do You Need Teaching Experience before Teaching Abroad?

Though teaching experience is useful and it’s what some schools are looking for, the only way to gain experience is to work! Luckily, having teaching experience is not required by most schools, and thousands of English speakers find work every year without prior experience.

However, having a TEFL certificate will make your application more attractive to potential employers and will give you an edge over other applicants. Countries as diverse as Turkey, Mexico, and Kazakhstan will hire teachers with a TEFL certificate but with no experience.

Countries with the most lucrative teaching positions, such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, require prior teaching experience, but those countries make up the minority.

Do You Have to be a Native English Speaker to Teach English Abroad?

Whether you need to be a native English speaker to teach abroad depends on where you want to go. Latin American countries do not usually care if you are a native English speaker or not, but the Gulf countries and many major Asian countries -- such as China, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam -- prefer to hire native English speakers. For some programs, such as the Cultural Ambassador program in Spain, being a citizen of a native English-speaking country is a requirement.

For European citizens, you may have an easier time of finding positions if you're not a native English speaker by working within the European Union, where there are many positions that are not open to non-Europeans.

If you want to teach English abroad but are not a native speaker, you must consider:

  • Your level of fluency
  • Your accent and comprehensibility
  • Your training and experience. Finding a job will be easier if you have a university degree, TEFL certification, or prior teaching experience.
  • Your passport. Citizens of certain countries may have a harder time finding a teaching position due to different visa requirements, though things can be easier if you are already a permanent resident of the country you wish to teach in.

Do You Have to be Young to Teach Abroad?

Some teaching programs are restricted to certain age groups -- for example, the French TAPIF assistantship program is only open to people between the ages of 20-35. However, there are so many opportunities out there that people of all ages can teach abroad.

If you’re younger than 20, you may have trouble finding a full-time teaching job, but you can still gain experience in the meantime by volunteering overseas or working at summer camps. If you're older and are looking to go overseas, you should be able to find work depending on your experience. Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as many Latin American countries have plenty of opportunities for older adults.

Do You Have to Have "Startup Money" before Teaching Abroad?

You certainly do not have to pay to teach. Just make sure that you have enough money to cover your flights and the first month of living expenses. Though there are some positions that will cover your flights and "startup costs," in the Gulf countries, in particular, it’s better to have an emergency fund just in case. The specific amount you’ll need depends on the cost of living where you are teaching, but between $1,000-$2,000 would be a good idea.

Those participating in a volunteer program may have to pay tuition to cover housing and program costs. There are also organizations such as CIEE that will help you obtain a visa, find accommodation, and secure a position in exchange for a reasonable fee.

What Else Do You Need to Teach Abroad?

Teaching English abroad is an exciting way to immerse yourself in a new culture while building your resume. It's not always easy, but it certainly can be very rewarding.

Though requirements may differ from country to country and school to school, what’s most important is to keep an open mind and a spirit of adventure. Having a TEFL certificate will certainly help expand your options as well. However, if you meet the requirements and you have the motivation and desire to go overseas and make a difference in both your and your students’ lives then you’re all set to begin this eye-opening journey!

This article was originally published in April 2013 and was updated in October 2018 and May 2020.

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