Flexibility and convenience are the name of the game when it comes to teaching English online. If you’ve ever dreamt of teaching overseas but have been hesitant because of costly international flights or the stress and financial burden of quitting a job and starting over, then teaching English online could be a great alternative.
There are certainly both pros and cons when it comes to teaching ESL remotely, and we’ll outline those a little later, but to start, let’s look at the numbers. Before committing to an online teaching contract, it’s important to get a sense of what typical pay structures look like so that you can negotiate and make sure you’re getting the best deal possible. There are also a few different ways to teach online, so read on to get a full picture of the possible salaries you could earn teaching English online.
How Much Can You Earn Teaching ESL online?
When it comes to teaching online, there are three different methods for connecting with students around the world. You can either work through a tutoring company, list your services with a marketplace, or start your own tutoring business. Here’s what you need to know about each of these options:
Teach with a Tutoring Company
The hardest part about becoming an online teacher or tutor is finding clients, i.e. students (and their parents who will typically be footing the bill). If you don’t already have a network of students to reach out to, it’s difficult to market your services, especially to an international audience. That’s why teaching and tutoring companies can be so enticing, because they do all of that leg work on your behalf, so all you have to do is teach.
The downside of working with a company is that you do not get to set your own rates. Your pay will be assigned based on your experience and qualifications, and will typically fall between $12-$25 per hour. While this may be lower than what you could make on the open market, most companies also offer an incentivised pay structure, meaning that if you meet certain benchmarks you could be eligible for bonuses and pay jumps.
Increase your pay
Some companies may have higher base rates than others, but here are a few ways to increase your pay beyond the minimum offer:
- Get TEFL certified: Many companies want teachers to have a 100 or 120 hour TEFL (or equivalent) certification. This is an investment, but will probably pay off in the long term. Many top companies offer online programs, so you can earn a certificate without uprooting your life.
- Hold a university degree: While not required by all companies, you’ll most likely be eligible for higher pay if you already hold a degree.
- Have previous experience: Experience is key in this industry so employers like to see that you already have taught and ideally have taught online. Many TEFL courses include a practicum as part of the program which is a great way to get classroom experience.
- Offer to teach during peak hours: Since you’ll be able to set your own schedule, you can determine if you’d rather stick to a traditional 9-5 schedule or offer after-hours classes. Often, companies will prefer teachers who are willing to work after the normal school day is over, since that is when there is highest demand. You might even get a $1 or $2 per hour pay bump during peak hours.
- Follow through with all scheduled classes: Some companies offer “attendance bonuses” if you don’t cancel any of your scheduled appointments for each week. These bonuses are typically an additional $1-$2 per hour.
- Request feedback from parents: Many companies will also offer “feedback bonuses” if parents leave you positive reviews (since that reflects well on the company overall). Encourage parents to leave feedback, as this could turn into an extra $1-$2 per hour for you.
What does this all add up to?
On the lower end of the spectrum, if you don’t have a TEFL certificate, you don’t have much experience, and you don’t receive bonuses, you may end up making $12 per hour. On the other hand, if you are certified, experienced, teach during peak hours, and follow through on all commitments so as to receive bonuses, you might make close to $30 per hour.
However, it’s likely that in your first year or two of teaching English online you’ll end up on the lower end of the spectrum. You may not be saving tons of money each month on this salary, but the work will be steady and the convenience is hard to beat.
List Your Services on an Online Marketplace
When it comes to the online teaching world, marketplaces fall somewhere between working with a company and going it on your own. A marketplace is a company that connects ESL students with teachers who have profiles listed on their website. You can kind of think of it like TaskRabbit: if you need someone to help you move, you can look for someone on their site. They may not own their own moving company, but they’re qualified and capable, and it’s easy for all parties, since the website does the legwork of connecting movers with people who are moving.
As a teacher, you’d create a profile with your experience and qualifications, the demographics of students you’re interested in working with, your specialties, etc. You won’t have to pound the pavement to find clients, but you also won’t automatically be assigned students like you would through a company. You’ll have to figure out how to sell your first class to start getting good reviews and build a client-base.
One of the potential upsides or downsides is that you set your own rate. This autonomy can mean that you make money faster than you would with a company, but be careful of setting your rate too high. If a potential student could find a tutor for half the price (often through a company), how will you convince them that your services are worth it? A reasonable range to consider is $12-$40 per hour, depending on your qualifications.
Increase your pay
As with a company, holding a TEFL certificate and a degree, combined with previous experience will make you a much more enticing teacher. Here are some other ways to make sure you’re getting the most per hour that you can:
- Make your profile stand out: If you list your services on a marketplace, you’ll be in direct competition with all the other tutors on the site. Stand out by making your profile warm, engaging, welcoming, and clear. Sell yourself! Check out a bunch of profiles to see what you like and what you don’t, and base your own profile on what you think works.
- Offer introductory pricing: Getting people in the door is often the first goal in marketing, and for you that means convincing students to sign up with you even if you don’t have any reviews. Set your rates low or offer the first session free to encourage students to sign up and start leaving reviews.
- Market yourself: Make sure everyone in your network knows you’re offering services through a marketplace! Send out an email blast, ask friends to spread the word, and rely on any clients you have to invite their friends by offering discounts.
What does this all add up to?
With a marketplace, unfortunately there is no guarantee that you’ll even get students to sign up. This means that on the lower end of the pay spectrum, you could have very few hours scheduled per week at $12 per hour. But on the higher end, if you’ve figured out a marketing plan and incentivize clients to refer other students, you might find yourself working 20+ hours a week at $40 an hour.
Your take home pay each month will be directly correlated to the amount of time and effort you put into building your client-base, so the harder you work, the better the pay off!
Start Your Own Tutoring Business
Last but certainly not least, you can always start your own tutoring business. This is perhaps the most challenging, but also has the potential for the biggest reward.
If you decide to go it on your own, you’ll be responsible for everything from start to finish. You’ll have to find clients (marketing, building a website, reaching out to schools, getting your name circulating), create your own lesson plans (that will result in prep time that you aren’t paid for), and set your own rate and figure out a payment method (a cash transfer app such as Venmo or Paypal might work best for this).
But apart from all of this start up work, you’ll also have the possibility of earning quite a bit of money. On the high end, a certified teacher with loads of experience could make up to $75 per hour! On the low end, you might set your rate around $20 per hour. You don’t want to go too low as that might indicate to potential clients that you’re not confident in your abilities.
Increase your pay
In addition to experience and qualifications, there are a few ways to boost your hourly rate and find more clients:
- Market yourself: Just like on a marketplace, you’re going to need to make sure potential clients 1) find you and 2) choose you as their teacher. Post on neighborhood Facebook groups, reach out to local schools and libraries, or even reach out to an international school that you already have a relationship with. It might feel uncomfortable to put yourself out there, but it’s the #1 way you’ll find new students.
- Find a niche: There are thousands and thousands of English teachers out there, so how are you going to make yourself stand out? Perhaps you market yourself as offering business English, English for medicine, or conversational English. If you find a niche, your clients will be more likely to trust your expertise in that area and you’ll be able to more accurately target potential audiences than if you stay super broad with your offerings.
- Start low: It might be tempting to set your rate high from the start since, after all, you are experienced and qualified and that’s what your time is worth! However, it might be a more realistic business strategy to start low and incrementally increase over time. You need to get people interested before you start charging the big bucks.
What does this all add up to?
Just as with a marketplace, if you start your own business you’ll have no guarantee of the number of students you’ll be meeting with each week or month. It’s reasonable to assume that for the first few months and maybe even year, you may not meet your goal number of clients. But the flip side is that your time will be worth more money.
On the low end you should anticipate making $20 per hour and on the high end, you might take home $75 per hour. In either case, you should be prepared to only have 5-10 hours scheduled per week for at least the first few months.
Other Factors to Take into Consideration
As mentioned above, there are many pros and cons to teaching English online. The benefits are the flexibility, convenience, ease, and accessibility of this type of teaching. The negatives are that it can be hard to replicate a full-time income with online teaching and that it all depends on how many clients you successfully recruit.
But remember that with online teaching, you don’t need to drastically change your current life. Rather than buying an international place ticket, finding housing abroad (not to mention all of the start-up costs of moving and furnishing an apartment), and giving up your current day job, you can teach online from your own couch (that you already own). The start-up costs will be virtually zero, and if you already have a part-time job or a full-time job that you can easily manage, you’ll be able to supplement your income with online teaching, rather than relying on it for a full salary.
Read more: How to Become an Online ESL Teacher in China
Is Teaching English Online Worth it?
The answer to this question really depends on what you’re looking for. Online teaching is a great option for folks with a little teaching experience who want to supplement their income and put their free time to use. It’s a great way to boost your monthly pay (hey, maybe you’re saving for a big trip!).
But if you are hoping for teaching to be a big adventure with a steady, stable income, then you may want to explore in-person teaching options abroad.
Online English teaching may not work for everyone, but if you’re considering it, then it’s probably worth a try. What do you have to lose?