- Teaching English online through a third-party tutoring company is the easiest and most consistent way to find clients
- Online marketplaces connect teachers with students through classified ads, allowing teachers to set their own rates and hours
- Starting your own online English teaching company requires significant upfront work, but may pay off for the right person
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?
Teach with a tutoring company
Average salary: $12-25/hour
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 isn’t easy to market your services, especially to an international audience. Tutoring companies provide the service of connecting teachers with clients, making it much quicker and easier to start teaching.
The downside of working with a company is that you may not get to set your own rates or hours, depending on the tutor company's policies. Pay is often based on your experience and qualifications and will typically fall within the range of $12-$25 per hour. While this may be lower than what you could make on the open market, most companies also offer an incentivized pay structure, meaning that if you meet specific benchmarks, you could be eligible for bonuses and pay jumps. Additionally, your work will be more certain than managing clients independently.
How to 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 (ideally 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 the highest demand. During peak hours, you might even get a $1 or $2 per hour pay bump.
- 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 is the expected monthly salary?
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 $1,920 per month ($12 per hour) working full time. On the other hand, if you are certified, experienced, teach during peak hours, and follow through on all commitments to receive bonuses, you might make close to $4,800 per month ($30 per hour).
However, it’s likely that you’ll end up on the lower end of the spectrum in your first year or two of teaching English online. 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
Average salary: $25-30/hour
When it comes to the online teaching world, marketplaces fall somewhere between working with a company and being independent. A marketplace is a company that connects ESL students with teachers who have profiles listed on their websites.
As a teacher, you can create a profile with your experience and qualifications, the demographics of students you’re interested in working with, your specialties, etc. You will then manage your listing and likely can increase your rate as you accumulate positive reviews.
Since you control your ad, 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 $15-40 per hour, depending on your qualifications.
The downside of using a marketplace to find clients, when compared to a tutoring company, is the uncertainty and additional work required. When just starting out, you will be competing with other classifieds with more reviews, meaning you will likely need to offer your services at a discount relative to their pricing. Additionally, all of the administrative work of managing clients will fall onto you, as the marketplace is just connecting them with you.
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 is the expected monthly salary?
With a marketplace, unfortunately, there is no guarantee that you’ll even get students to sign up. This means that you could have very few hours scheduled per week at $15 per hour. When starting out and building your client base, expect to bring in up to $600 a month, as much of your time will be spent on unpaid work spent acquiring clients. If you can get established, have repeat customers, and develop a successful marketing plan that incentivizes clients to refer other students, you might find yourself making $3,200 or more 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!
Looking for a marketplace?: Preply is a popular online teaching marketplace that operates in 180 countries.
Start your own tutoring business
Average salary: $40-50/hour
Your final option is to start your own tutoring business. This is perhaps the most challenging path but has the potential for the biggest reward, as once you're established, you are in complete control.
On the high end, a certified teacher with loads of experience and a stellar reputation can make up to $75 per hour! You won't be giving a third party a cut of your revenue, either. Still, your rate needs to reflect more than just the time you spend with students, as you have more overhead with this method.
If you decide to go for it entirely 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 establish a payment method, which will likely come with fees. Square or Paypal are popular options for small businesses.
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 neighbourhood Facebook groups, reach out to local schools and libraries or even reach out to an international school with which you already have a relationship. 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 is the expected monthly salary?
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 $2,000 a month ($20 per hour), and on the high end, you might gross up to $6,000 per month after years of building your reputation. You should be prepared only to have 5-10 hours scheduled per week for at least the first six months.
Other considerations when becoming an online English teacher
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. With the transition to work-from-home and remote jobs becoming more popular over the last few years, online English teaching has become popular for those looking to supplement their income from the comfort of their own home. Due to this, teachers are having to accept less and less per hour for their services to get consistent clients, especially when starting out. Remember this if you become discouraged in the early stages of building your business.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to change your current life drastically with online teaching. Rather than buying an international plane 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 couch. The start-up costs can be virtually zero. 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 an excellent option for folks with a bit of 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!). It can also be incredibly rewarding to work with students from across the globe.
That said, 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 get out there and give it a try -- but manage your expectations.