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Top 10 Countries to Teach English Abroad for Recent College Grads

Are you joining the ranks of new college graduates facing the prospect of entering the toughest job market in generations? Do you want to live abroad, see the world and get paid? Can you see yourself spending your weekends on a beach in Costa Rica or in beer halls in Prague? How about getting international professional experience on your resume?

As nearly 1 billion people worldwide seek English language instruction, a recent college graduate from the U.S. or Canada, particularly if you earn a TEFL certification, can viably gain employment as an English teacher in up to 100 countries worldwide.

In some countries, first-time English teachers receive benefits like free airfare and housing, and salaries that most entry-level jobs in the States and enable savings ideal for paying off student loans and enjoying extra travel. Others may not offer the same financial benefits, but you can make enough to pay the bills, and hey, doesn’t living in Spain or Vietnam beat the heck out of sitting in a cubicle or working as a barista? Here are ten great choices selected the strength of local job markets and/or potential financial benefits, in addition to offering the international experience of a lifetime.

1. Spain

From the legendary nightlfe of Ibiza and the sparkling beaches of the Costa del Sol to tapas, paella and the best futbol on the planet, the list of reasons to live and teach English in Spain never ends. Each year, the Spanish government recruits more than 1,000 Americans to work as teaching assistants in Spanish state schools, while thousands more gain employment in private language institutes that cater primarily to adults.

  • Why go? Discover Europe, and eat jamon (out-of-this-world Spanish ham). Besides this may be your last chance not to let those 4 years of high school Spanish go to waste.
  • Pay: Break-even (but hey, you’re living in Spain!).
  • Any catches? Work visas are hard to come by, so many Americans teach in the private sector on an expired tourist visa, which is routine, but not technically legal.
  • Suggested programs: CIEE.
  • Find more ESL jobs in Spain

2. Costa Rica

Known for its lush, tropical rainforests, sun-splashed coastlines and the generous Pura Vida (“Pure Life”) spirit of Ticos, as the locals are known, Costa Rica offers English teachers a fantastic Latin American experience. A relatively strong economy and a huge tourism industry translate into strong demand for English teachers, particularly in major cities like San Jose.

  • Why Go? Live as a local in a tropical paradise where it’s like spring break year-round (and pay less than $300 a month in rent).
  • Pay: Break-even, but low cost of living means low start-up costs.
  • Any catches? Most hiring is local.
  • Suggested programs: Projects Abroad, EVOLC.
  • Find more ESL teaching jobs in Costa Rica

3. Vietnam

Want to live in a dynamic Asian country offering thousands of years of history, old colonial charm and a bit of Third World color and adventure? Vietnam offers a classic Asian experience, thousands of job opportunities for teaching English and a combination of good salaries and a low cost of living that enables many English teachers to save for extra travel and making student loan payments.

  • Why Go? You can enjoy world class sandwiches and coffee on nearly every corner and never lay eyes on a Starbucks or a Subway.
  • Pay: Many teachers make enough to save $400-$600 a month, which beats the heck out of punching a cash register in a box store.
  • Any catches? Be prepared to provide internationally notarized copies of academic records and a criminal background check.
  • Suggested programs: IVHQ (volunteer teaching), ILA Vietnam, LanguageCorps.
  • Find more ESL teaching jobs in Vietnam

4. Chile

Thousands of miles of coastline, hip cities with great nightlife, alluring wine country and majestic mountain ranges may have you mistaking this oft-forgotten South American country for California, but Chile is a top South American job market for teaching English. If you want to work on your Spanish, the Ministry of Education offers volunteer placements in public schools that include a homestay with local families, and many opportunities are available in the private sector as well.

5. Turkey

From the vast Ottoman palaces of Istanbul to the Classical cities of Troy and Ephesus, Turkey is world-renowned as a treasure trove of grand historical monuments, but for young college graduates looking to teach English abroad, it is a true hidden gem. Not only was Istanbul recently listed by Lonely Planet as the “World’s hippest city,” the job market is huge, you can line up a job in advance and Americans don’t face work visa obstacles encountered in many European Union nations.

6. Czech Republic

Think you learned about drinking beer in college? HA! Wait until you spend a Friday night in a beer hall in Prague. In addition, for those seeking to teach English in the heart of Europe amidst medieval castles, cobblestone streets and rolling hills dotted with traditional villages, Czech Republic is it! Major cities like Prague and Brno are some of the most picturesque on the continent and a fast-growing economy has generated huge demand for English teachers.

7. U.A.E. & Other Persian Gulf Countries

From camel safaris with Bedouin nomads to indoor skiing in a shopping mall, the Persian Gulf offers a myriad of experiences that can be had nowhere else. Fantastic salaries, free airfare, furnished housing and other great benefits like health insurance and paid vacation make the United Arab Emirates and other Arab nations in the region (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc.) great if you’re looking to save $1,000-$2,000 a month after expenses. In addition, a city like Dubai offers a unique combination of traditional Arab culture, a huge expat community (great for making friends) and a super-modern, cosmopolitan environment all in one locale.

  • Why Go? Learn Arabic, make money and take advantage of great travel opportunities throughout the Middle East, South Asia, East Africa and even Europe.
  • Pay: Free airfare, housing, and great salaries make it possible to save for extra travel and student loans.
  • Any catches? A competitive job market means that many positions require a degree in education and/or prior teaching experience.
  • Suggested programs: Teach Away, Footprints Recruiting.
  • Find more ESL teaching jobs in the UAE

8. China

From the soaring skyscrapers of Shanghai and epic shopping malls of Guangzhou to the ancient stonework of the Great Wall and the mystique of the Forbidden City, China is a vast tapestry of contrasts and contradictions. It is also the largest job market in the world for teaching English abroad as an estimated 300 million Chinese take English classes annually. Besides if you’re looking towards a future in international business, finance or diplomacy, this is one country you’ll want to become familiar with.

9. Japan

The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (famously known as JET) recruits 4,000 Americans annually to teach English in Japan and language schools and institutes offer tens of thousands of additional teaching jobs. Teaching English in Japan provides a great opportunity for those with a strong interest in Japanese language and history to live and support themselves both in cities and rural communities.

  • Why Go? Sumo, sake, sushi and Shinto shrines.
  • Pay? Japan is known for its high cost of living but many teachers make enough to save up to $500 a month or more.
  • Any Catches? The interview process can be long and if you don’t receive free housing, start-up costs can be high.
  • Suggested programs: Gaba Corporation, Berlitz, AEON Corporation.
  • Find more teaching jobs in Japan

10. South Korea

Twenty-five thousand English teachers in South Korea can’t be wrong can they? Combining an uber prosperous high-tech economy with thousands of years of tradition and history, South Korea offers the ultimate 21st-century Asian experience. First-time English teachers can line up jobs in advance from home and can count on reimbursed airfare, free furnished housing and salaries enabling monthly savings of up to $1,000 or more after expenses.

  • Why Go? Easy travel throughout Asia, “Gangnam Style” nightlife and awesome barbecue.
  • Pay? Many teachers save $10,000 - $12,000 a year, which beats the heck out of most entry level positions you’ll be offered at home.
  • Any Catches? Way too much karaoke. Also, any blemishes on a criminal background check will disqualify you from receiving a work visa.
  • Suggested programs: EPIK, Greenheart Travel, Reach To Teach.
  • Find more teaching jobs in South Korea

These are just ten out of hundreds of locations around the world where you can land great jobs teaching English that provide once-in-a-lifetime-opportunities to live as a local in a foreign country while experiencing personal and professional growth that will serve you for the rest of your life. Two final pieces of advice:

  • Open your mind to countries and regions that you may never have considered. Just because you don’t get a job teaching English in Paris on the Champs Elysees doesn’t you mean you can’t have the time of your life teaching in Spain, Turkey, Taiwan or in anywhere else you set your sights on.
  • Take a quality TEFL certification course. It will provide you with the skills and training you need to become a professional level English teacher abroad, and it will provide you with a qualification that most schools and language institutes around the world seek when hiring new English teachers.

Think of this new teaching job, wherever it may be, as a new learning experience. As you teach your students, they will also teach you about their culture and values in this new place. You will most likely never get to experience this again, so soak it all in and enjoy the perks of teaching abroad!

Photo Credits: John Bentley.
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+.