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Teaching English Abroad: Are You Qualified?

Teachers and their class

Want to see the world and get paid to live in a foreign country (and make a handsome salary while doing it?!)? Perhaps you’ve heard that teaching English abroad offers thousands of opportunities for fluent English speakers to gain employment and live as a local in countries like Spain, China, Argentina and Turkey – and it’s true! Almost any fluent English speaker can teach English abroad.

Given that there are 1 billion people around the world taking English classes every year, demand for English teachers is so high that you don’t need prior teaching experience, a degree in English, or even a college degree to gain employment as a professional English teacher overseas. However, hiring requirements for teaching English abroad as a professional vary from country to country and from school to school.

Here are 5 frequently asked questions from prospective ESL teachers to determine if you fulfill the teaching English abroad requirements.

1. What if I Don’t Have a Background as a Teacher?

TEFL classroom

Approximately 250,000 English speakers work abroad teaching English every year and the vast majority embark on their international adventure with little or no background in teaching. Certainly there are schools that look to hire experienced certified teachers but tens of thousands of schools and language institutes will hire teachers without prior experience, especially those who hold a TEFL certification, which you can earn by taking an accredited TEFL certification class.

There are also some countries like the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and Singapore where it can be extremely challenging for those without a background in teaching, but from China and Turkey to Chile and Spain, there are approximately 100 nations around the globe where first-time English teachers can get hired to teach English professionally and make a livable income or better.

2. Can Non-Native Speakers Teach English Abroad?

Yes, but again requirements vary from country to country. Major Asian nations like South Korea, China, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand all give strong preference to hiring native English speakers and some countries even require citizenship from a native English speaking country to issue a work visa for teaching English. The same is true in Persian Gulf countries like Qatar and the U.A.E. In addition, there other factors that can determine where and if you can teach English abroad including:

  • How fluent is your English and do you speak with a thick non-native accent?
  • Those with a university degree, a TEFL certification and perhaps prior teaching experience will have more opportunities to gain employment as an English teacher.
  • Citizenship and access to visas can be a crucial factor. For example, citizens of EU nations possessing excellent English skills, a university degree, a TEFL certification and perhaps prior teaching experience will find opportunities in many nations throughout Europe that will not be open to non-Europeans. Also, if through marriage or some other circumstance, a non-native speaker also holds a work or residency visa in a particular country, it will be far easier for them to get hired to teach English in that nation.
  • Latin America is one region where generally speaking, citizenship from a native English speaking country is not as much of a factor in determining whether you can get hired to teach English professionally.
College graduation

3. What if I Don’t Have a College Degree?

It is true that a college degree is required by law or by practice in most western European nations, Asian countries like Korea and Japan, and Persian Gulf states like the U.A.E. Also, many individual schools maintain their own policies regarding degree requirements, however, English speakers without a four-year degree can still gain professional English teaching jobs in dozens of countries around the world. These include most nations in Latin America, such as Mexico, Argentina, Peru and Costa Rica. Good teaching opportunities can also be found in Asian nations like China and Cambodia, and some European countries, especially those in Eastern Europe like Russia and the Ukraine.

A great resource for learning more regarding degree requirements for teaching English in countries all over the globe is this Country Chart, which compares various aspects of teaching English in more than 50 countries worldwide, including hiring requirements, salaries, interview seasons and visas.

4. What is TEFL Certification & Do I Need it to Teach English Abroad?

A TEFL certification course provides training to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL). Some schools in some countries will hire native English speakers with no training or teaching experience; however, if you want to teach English abroad professionally and do not an advanced degree in teaching English as a foreign language, it would be a huge benefit to take an accredited TEFL certification course. Although a TEFL certification is often not required, It is highly recommended to take into consideration for the following reasons:

  • It will provide you with the skills and tools you need to become an effective teacher who can provide a quality educational experience for your students.
  • Tens of thousands of schools and language institutes worldwide require a TEFL certification when hiring new teachers, and in some countries it is even a legal requirement.
  • In addition, a quality TEFL training school will also provide comprehensive job search guidance to assist with the process of finding and then applying and interviewing for English teaching jobs around the world.
  • A professional level TEFL certification course will incorporate at least 100 hours of coursework and 6-20 hours of live practice teaching and should be accredited by a recognized independent body within the field and be taught by an experienced, university-level instructor. Such a course is typically equivalent to a full-time, intensive four-week class, or 11-13 weeks online or part-time.
  • A TEFL certification is not required for most volunteer opportunities to teach English abroad.

5. Are There Age Requirements to Teach English Abroad?

People of all ages can teach English abroad, though practices do vary around the world and there may be restrictions in some cases. Those under the age of 20 will find it challenging to gain full-time employment teaching English on a professional level, but will find many exciting volunteer opportunities across the globe and in some cases can gain work teaching English in venues like summer camps. For older travelers looking to teach abroad, your ability to gain employment will often depend on your background and qualifications. Countries like Cambodia and Thailand in Asia, and Latin American nations like Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama, in particular offer thousands of opportunities for those in the 50+ demographic.

If you want to teach English, you can! The keys are to conduct as much research as possible and to broaden your horizons, based on your background and qualifications. The more options in more countries you consider, you more opportunities will come your way, and remember that gaining a TEFL certification will significantly enhance your opportunities as well. If you fill the requirements to teach English abroad, get going!

Given that there are 1 billion people around the world taking English classes every year, demand for English teachers is so high that you don’t need prior teaching experience, a degree in English, or even a college degree to gain employment as a professional English teacher overseas.

Disclaimer: We have paid relationships with some of the companies linked to within this article.
John Bentley

John is a Senior Admissions Advisor at the International TEFL Academy. He holds a BA from Harvard University in Middle Eastern studies and a master’s in Journalism. John was an author for the Egypt-Israel edition of the Let's Go! travel guide series. He grew up in Egypt and has traveled to more than 50 countries. Find John on Google+.