TEFL Courses

How to Choose a TEFL Certification Program

If you've never taught abroad before, it can be hard to figure out where to start. Getting a TEFL certification is a fantastic and necessary first step. Here's everything you need to know before choosing a TEFL course to get certified as an English teacher abroad.

Looking to move overseas and experience the international adventure of a lifetime while getting paid to teach English abroad in a great foreign country like Italy, China or Argentina?

Virtually any English speaker can teach English abroad, even without prior teaching experience or a background in education, or even a college degree but unless you hold a degree in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL, aka TESOL), earning a quality, accredited TEFL certification will be key to ensuring your success.

A high-quality TEFL certification will provide you with the skills you need to become an effective teacher and a qualification that tens of thousands of schools and language institutes around the world require and seek when they hire English teachers. The bottom line is that taking a TEFL class will qualify you for better paying jobs teaching English abroad, and it will enable you to provide your students with the quality educational experience that they deserve.

However, if you spend 5 minutes looking up “TEFL certification” or “teaching English abroad” on Google, you will quickly find yourself swallowed up by a confusing myriad of different TEFL training programs and courses. So, what do you need to actually look for and how do you know if a TEFL certification course will provide you with the training and qualification you need to get the best possible job teaching English abroad? And what about job placement assistance?

Let's go over the top questions to ask yourself to find the right TEFL program for you.

Note: Unsure what some of the acronyms in this article mean? Check out our guide to ESL and TEFL terminology.

Should you get your TEFL certification online or in-person?

Person using laptop to video call with friends

There are plenty of quality online and in-person TEFL courses out there, and both can train you on the basic methods and theories of teaching English as a foreign language. However, the major difference is that online courses offer more flexibility and convenience, whereas on-site courses are typically more hands-on and intensive. In addition, if you are in a hurry to complete your certification most accredited on-site TEFL courses are four weeks (full-time, intensive), while most online TEFL courses are part-time over 2-4 months.

However, with the world changing, virtual courses are evolving as well. It used to be that online courses wouldn't always have what we call a practicum component -- or a section of the course where you practice teaching actual ESL students in front of an experienced teacher and get feedback.

This is changing, though. As Marcella of CIEE TEFL says, "Our course and some other online providers do, in fact, offer a hands-on assessed teaching practicum. Ours is 20 hours. It used to be a major drawback, but some of us online providers are working hard to make sure our trainees have a meaningful practicum experience."

In short, a practicum is essential for newbie teachers -- it's where you grow the most as a teacher and get to test out those theories. It’s also essential for gaining a base level of confidence and comfort in a live teaching environment. It's not always as necessary for experienced teachers who want to supplement their prior education.

Overall, though, whether you choose an online or on-site certification comes down to your personal goals and circumstances. Online courses tend to be more affordable and flexible, but on-site courses, especially those in the country you want to eventually teach in, can help you build connections, network for jobs, and stay focused. Not everyone is independent enough to learn something new online and needs in-person instruction. We get that!

We also have a more in-depth article on the difference between online and on site courses to help you decide this question.

Recommended online TEFL courses

As the name implies, these courses are completed online and and typically offer more convenience and flexibility in terms of completing your coursework, according to your own schedule and convenience. Be aware that some online TEFL courses primarily cover the theory of teaching and don't always offer any hands-on classroom experience that is required for top level accredited certification required by many employers. Online courses are ideal for those looking to earn their TEFL certification from home while working or going to school full-time.

Course length varies from 20 to 120+ hours and may include a variety of teaching materials. Although a 20-hour course may suit your needs, most teachers -- especially newbies -- will want to look for something with at least 100+ hours, and preferably 120+ hours OR 100 hours of instruction and 20 hours of practice teaching. The vast majority of schools that employ TEFL-certified English teachers require TEFL certification that meet these standards and include a practicum.

Here are some of the best online TEFL certification programs recommended by the Go Overseas community:

  • International TEFL Academy: If you want options, International TEFL Academy is a great choice. With over 5,000 graduates per year who teach in over 80 countries, you can unlock the world with a TEFL certification from International TEFL Academy. The course includes 150 hours of coursework and 20 hours of practicum for a total of 170 hours.
  • TEFL Online from the University of Toronto OISE: The TEFL Certification from University of Toronto has an advantage in that it's affiliated with a top-ranked global university (the University of Toronto) -- and the program was designed by professors from the university.
  • UNI-Prep 120-hour Online TEFL Certification: The online TEFL from UNI-Prep is one of the most-reviewed TEFL courses on Go Overseas, and one affordable option if you have your heart set on online TEFL certification.

Recommended on-site TEFL courses

These courses are completed in a classroom setting and are taught by a qualified ESL instructor. Course length varies from 20-hour weekend programs to 4-weeks of full-time training or training stretched out over several months. Usually, a practicum is the main advantage of these courses (though not all on-site courses have this, so look for it), but some students just learn better from in-person instruction.

Note: Most employers seek to hire TEFL-certified teachers who have completed a 4-week course (or equivalent part-time) that includes at least 100 hours of coursework and six-hour minimum of live practice teaching (practicum).

If you get certified in the country you want to teach in, you'll also have an opportunity to land with a support network in place and network to find a job while you're getting certified. Look for job placement assistance as a perk for your TEFL course if this is one of the main draws for an in-person course for you.

Here are some of the best in-person TEFL certification programs recommended by the Go Overseas community:

  • i-to-i and LoveTEFL Vietnam Supported TEFL Job: Nearly 200,000 people have graduated from i-to-i and LoveTEFL programs globally, and their TEFL certification in Vietnam is one of their best-rated. They also offer TEFL internships to give you a crash course in teaching English.
  • The Language House TEFL Certification in Prague: Prague has become a hotspot to earn your TEFL thanks to affordable cost of living and the whole of Europe at your doorstep (plus exploring Prague!). The Language House TEFL certification is a 130-hour course that sets you up to teach in the Czech Republic or elsewhere if you choose.

Is the TEFL certification accredited & recognized?

Two travelers holding fans and wearing traditional South Korean dresses

We get a lot of questions from the Go Overseas community about TEFL certifications, but one of the biggest questions prospective teachers tend to have is whether or not the TEFL certification they receive will be recognized by the school/program they choose to teach through later.

The vast majority of schools and language institutes around the world looking to hire you as an English teacher will not only look to see that you have a TEFL certification, but that it is accredited by a recognized, independent body within the field. This is to verify that your TEFL class meets certain quality standards with regards to its curriculum, hours of training, practice teaching and the level of instructions.

A website may claim that its self-taught, online class with no practicum is 120 hours, but unless it is accredited as such by a recognized independent body, that is virtually meaningless.

In short, three factors will contribute to whether your TEFL certification is recognized:

  1. Is the TEFL certification a brand name or affiliated with a recognizable university? (i.e. CELTA, Trinity)
  2. Is the company that provides your TEFL certification accredited through a reputable accreditation body?
  3. Does your TEFL certification prove you have received enough hours of instruction and practice to become a successful teacher? The international standard is typically 100 hours of coursework and instruction, and at least six hours of live practice teaching (practicum).

To ensure your organization is well-recognized and accredited, or affiliated with a reputable university, explore this list of TEFL accreditation bodies.

Top TEFL accreditation bodies around the world

You can check each of these websites to see if the TEFL provider you're considering is on their list(s) -- this will help you understand if your certification will be accredited by one of these bodies.

Which type of TEFL certification will you receive?

Photo by Maria P., TEFL Madrid Academy Alum

Another common question we receive on a regular basis: what's the difference between TEFL, TESOL, and CELTA? Heck, we even have unique pages for each of these acronyms here on Go Overseas!

You can think of "TEFL" as the general acronym for training to teach English as a foreign language, "CELTA" a brand of TEFL certification, and "TESOL" as a slight variation that includes some other teaching opportunities. It’s also worth noting that “TESOL” is the term typically used in the U.S. for training to teach English domestically to non-native speakers. For example, a ESL teacher in a public school in the U.S. typically holds a degree or certification in “TESOL," while TEFL is the more prominent term for teaching English abroad.

They're all essentially the same thing, but we have more details on the difference between CELTA and TEFL in another article for those of you who want more light shed on this question.

Will the TEFL course include sufficient instruction?

Person at a cafe studying and writing on a piece of paper

As we mentioned above, the length of your TEFL certification does matter. A short TEFL certification might sound great -- or seem more affordable -- but it may preclude you from landing a sweet teaching job later.

According to international standards recognized by leading accrediting bodies and thousands of language schools around the globe, a professional-level TEFL certification for teaching English abroad must incorporate at least 100 hours of class time and academic coursework as accredited by a recognized independent body. However, the industry standard is 120 hours of training.

That 120-hour course typically includes 100 hours of training and 20 hours of teaching practice (six hours is the absolute minimum). In many cases, you must prove you have had a certain amount of teaching practice as part of your TEFL certification, so look for TEFL courses that offer the minimum for any job you're considering.

Anything less - including weekend courses, two week courses, etc. are not going to meet international standards for a professional level TEFL certification.

Note: We commonly get questions about how long a TEFL course lasts. Typically, a fully accredited TEFL certification course will last anywhere from 4 weeks to 6 months. Shorter, 4-week long courses will generally run full-time (30-40 hours per week) and are very demanding. However, a longer 3 to 6 month-long course will let you get certified part-time and is a more realistic option for students who need to work or take care of other obligations while getting their certificate.

If you're taking an online TEFL certification, you may have the option to set the pace for yourself -- and move as quickly or slowly through the course material as you choose. However, upper tier online courses are more structured and follow a set calendar to incorporate more interactive aspects of the course like peer-to-peer interaction and live virtual lectures and discussions.

Does the course offer opportunities for live teaching practice?

Two teachers leading a classroom in Thailand

This is key! If you want to get qualified for top jobs and prepare yourself for the rigors of running an actual classroom you need to take a course that features live practice teaching (practicum). Period.

Working with actual ESL students is critical to providing you with hands-on experience teaching English, and allows you to gain the level of comfort and confidence necessary for you to succeed as a professional English teacher when you first walk into a classroom in Tokyo, Madrid or Buenos Aires.

Most schools and language institutes around the world, seeking to hire English teachers, as well as recognized accrediting bodies, require that any professional level TEFL certification course incorporate at least 6-20 hours of live practice teaching with actual non-native speakers.

Role-playing with other students in your TEFL class may be useful, but potential employers may not consider it to be true practicum and will likely not recognize any TEFL certification that does not incorporate live practice teaching with actual ESL students.

However, it's important not to assume that online classes do not incorporate real. hands-on teaching practice -- same actually do and vice versa! You cannot assume every in-person class will offer opportunities for live practice teaching.

Be sure to check whether any TEFL class you look into incorporates a practicum, because it is a critical element for any top level course. Hybrid online TEFL courses are a great way to ensure you'll get enough time teaching.

NOTE: Traditionally, practicum for accredited TEFL courses required practice teaching in a live, in-person classroom environment. However, with the onset of COVID-19, virtual practice teaching online has become more commonly accepted.

Are the instructors highly trained?

Person sitting on desk in classroom while using laptop

If you seek to be trained, qualified, and paid as a professional English teacher, you owe it to yourself to receive professional-level training from highly-qualified instructors.

Typically that means that any professional level TEFL certification course that you take should be taught by a university-level instructor with at least a master’s degree in TESOL or a related field, and extensive experience both teaching English as a foreign language and training teachers.

Be wary of TEFL classes, especially self-taught online classes that offer the services of a “tutor.” While some of these tutors may be qualified, (especially in the U.K.), they often do not lead classes or provide personalized feedback on assignments and they serve primarily in a support role. Also, very often they do not possess the credentials and experience of a university-level instructor.

Is the TEFL certification course reasonably priced?

person holding pen and writing on desk

As you'll quickly discover, TEFL programs come in a wide range of prices -- the good news is that it is a buyers market, and most are very affordable. Just keep your career goals in mind to ensure you're not taking a course that offers little long-term value or overpaying for training you may not need.

A quality TEFL course will commonly cost between $1,000 - $2,500 USD, though not always. For CELTA, you're in a sense paying for the 'brand name,' and maybe that's worth it for you. Perhaps it's not. Shop around.

Doing your TEFL certification through an on-site course (especially in the country where you want to end up teaching) is another cost-saving option. For example, you can save anywhere from $500 to $1,000 by completing your on-site TEFL in a different country than the United States (though you may pay more for other expenses like travel).

Online courses tend to be less expensive, but as we've mentioned: be sure your online TEFL program includes practical teaching experience, or it may not be worth the money you've saved. Most online TEFL courses are between $500-$2,000 for a 120 to 150-hour certification, and the top courses typically begin at around $1,200.

For reference, a CELTA course in the U.S. can easily run about $2,500.

Is there job placement assistance?

Person studying outside on a laptop

While job placement assistance may not be featured in the actual curriculum and coursework of a quality TEFL class, if you are going to invest your time, money, and dreams in a TEFL certification course to teach English abroad, receiving quality job placement assistance is a critical element of any TEFL training program.

It’s one thing to take a great class and learn the fundamentals of running a classroom, but gaining guidance for navigating job markets, interviews, and recruiters is also crucial to making sure you land a great job teaching English abroad.

You'll greatly enhance your opportunities to land a great teaching job abroad if you receive training from an organization that can provide first-rate expertise and personal assistance with the interview process.

Many quality organizations even offer their students valuable resources such as contacts for schools and recruiters, referrals to top-level recruiters, and information about matters like visas, interviewing seasons and hiring requirements.

Does the TEFL certification course show any of these red flags?

Person looking at water with backpack on

Unfortunately, the TEFL industry is not without its unscrupulous characters that seemingly offer the world, but deliver nothing but frustration. $1000 is a lot of money to spend on a course that doesn't give you the skills you need or give you the qualifications to apply for a great job. With this in mind, follow these pointers to help you identify the good from the lousy:

  • Not accredited: Any program worth a grain of salt will be accredited. No accreditation? Move on.
  • Missing an about me page: Is it easy to identify and contact specific people from the organization when browsing their website? If not, you should ask yourself why they would want to hide their identities.
  • No alumni network: One of the first things you should do is try and get in touch with alumni from the program in which you are interested. Ask them about the pros and cons of the program and how it prepared them to teach English abroad. Bottom line; did this program help them get the job they wanted?

Quick tips for picking the right TEFL certification course

Teacher gluing classroom materials and making flash cards

Before you run out and send inquiries to every TEFL program online or elsewhere, keep these last bits of wisdom in mind.

  • Do your research & speak with any TEFL certification program before enrolling: If you’re going to invest your time, money and dreams of living and teaching abroad in a TEFL course, you need to make sure that it’s the real deal. Thoroughly check out their website and call them! Ask them about accreditation, practicum, and job placement assistance. Do you have to pay for a job placement? If they can’t answer basic questions about hiring requirements for South Korea or what the deal is with visas for teaching English in Spain, then you shouldn’t waste your time getting certified through such organization.
  • Be wary of ultra-cheap classes: While some training is typically better than no training, if you think that you’re going to earn an accredited, professional-level certification and receive the job placement assistance you need to navigate job markets in Thailand by taking an $89 self-paced online TEFL class that you bought on Groupon, you’re fooling yourself. If an offer or price seems too good to be true, it probably is and you will get what you pay for when it comes to the quality of training, the accreditation of the course, and services like job placement assistance.
  • Revel in your excitement: Finding the right TEFL course for you will take a bit of work, but don't let the added stress bog you down. It is all part of the journey that will land you abroad for the adventure of a lifetime. Keep the end goal in mind (your students and their needs, especially!), and enjoy the process from start to finish.
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Ready to find the right TEFL course for you?

Certainly taking a high quality TEFL certification class will require an investment of time and money. But when you consider that you are planning to move to a foreign country to live and work, and that you will receive a certification that will qualify you for tens of thousands of jobs worldwide and enable you to live and work overseas at virtually any point in the future, it may be the best investment you ever make.

If you're ready to find that perfect TEFL program, we suggest heading over to our list TEFL Courses, along with ratings and reviews from past alumni, and use your new knowledge to find the perfect course to fit your goals.