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What's The Best Way to Apply for ESL Jobs Abroad?

What's the best way to apply for ESL jobs abroad?

Whether you're dreaming of a year long stint teaching English in China or a short term tutoring position in Barcelona, your first step to making this dream real is the job hunt. However, the best way to apply for ESL jobs abroad varies from country to country; region to region. In this article, each of the following different strategies will be discussed:

Ways to Apply for ESL Jobs Abroad
  1. Apply online
  2. Apply in person
  3. Use a recruiter
  4. Word of mouth / networking

So which of these methods should you use? Which way is the best way to apply for your dream teaching job abroad? Below are the details on when to use each, and tips for applying via these methods.

Option 1: Apply to ESL Teaching Jobs Online

  • Where to use it: Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East
  • Pros: Job security before you leave.
  • Cons: More risk of low job quality or scams.

In locations like Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, demand is strong enough that schools don't always feel the need to conduct in person interviews, so applying for ESL jobs online can be a good route to take. You can find these jobs using a teaching job board. Often, these job boards will include a variety of ads directly from schools and recruiters.

In addition to Go Overseas, many individual schools will often post jobs on their own sites. If you've already found a school or two you're interested in working at, bookmark them and check back often.

Teach abroad in Costa Rica

From there, the process is pretty similar to applying for a job back home -- send in your cover letter and CV, or apply via an application form they may have provided. Do note that many of these schools will also ask for a headshot. Though unusual in the U.S. it's totally normal in other countries.

They may possibly ask for a scan of your college diploma, passport, and TEFL Certificate, so it's always a good idea to have these documents readily accessible. You don't want to be sending out scans of your personal information all over the internet though, so it's generally a good idea to have a formal conversation first, like a phone or Skype interview, not just an email exchange.

The main difference between applying for a job abroad and applying for job online at home is communication. You’ll likely be dealing with different time zones and/or a language barrier, so be patient and don’t be alarmed if you don’t hear back right away. It’s okay to follow up with another email in a week or two to make sure you didn’t get lost in the shuffle, but if you still don’t get a reply after following up, it’s probably time to move on to the next school.

Are there any downsides to applying to ESL jobs online?

Applying to jobs online from afar can be tricky. It’s a bit of a risk to commit to a job before visiting with the school, meeting people face to face, and seeing first hand where you will be working. Make sure that the terms of your employment are laid out as clearly as possible in your contract: salary, hours, length of commitment, and termination situations. You want all of these factors explained as clearly as possible. You might also want to try and talk with a current or former teacher to get their opinion on how it was working there.

Also, be wary of teach abroad scams when negotiating with potential employers from afar. Though 99% of the jobs out there are legit, there are a few scammers out there. If a hiring school asks for any form of payment up front (things like visa / passport processing, background check, etc), move on.

With all that said though, applying online is often the best option to apply for ESL jobs abroad if you're nervous about moving abroad with nothing lined up, or want to use this job as a way to get your foot in the door teaching in a specific country -- you can always build up connections to get a job at a different school later on if this job isn't quite what you were looking for.

Option 2: Apply to ESL Jobs Locally

  • Where to use it: Everywhere, but especially Europe and Latin America.
  • Pros: Better chance of getting hired and making sure the school is legit before signing a contract.
  • Cons: Moving to a new country without a job isn't for everyone.

Another option is applying for ESL jobs locally, after arriving in your new destination. Applying locally is obviously the less secure option, as you won’t have a job lined up pre-departure like you would when applying online. However, you'll have more options available to you, and schools will feel more confident hiring someone they've met face to face with. Likewise, you'll feel more confident in the school's standards.

Furthermore, in some regions, it's basically the only way. For ESL teaching jobs in Latin America, it's extremely difficult to find jobs online in advance of arrival (unless you go through a government sponsored program like Chile's English Opens Doors program.) Applying locally is the best way to get hired there.

In Asia, you can definitely find jobs online, but some will specify that they want teachers already in country. You'll also just simply have more options applying in person. Same with jobs in Europe.

Not certified? Use a certification program

A very common route is to opt for an onsite TEFL certification program in the region where you hope to teach. Most onsite courses will also include some kind of job search assistance, allowing you to spend a month or so getting situated in your new environment as you begin to look for work, maximizing your chances of finding a job successfully.

Onsite TEFL course options:

Onsite TEFL courses are generally a bit more expensive than online courses, and you’ll also need some savings to get you by until you start working and getting paid. But if you can afford the upfront investment, for many people, it's worth it in the long run.

Already certified? This still might be the best option.

Even if you already have your TEFL Certification, looking for work locally might still be your best bet. In some locations, particularly competitive markets like Western Europe and Latin America, being available in person is practically a necessity.

Teach abroad in Colombia

Openings at language institutes often come up at the last minute, and many teachers find their way into full time work by filling in as a sub a few times, and being in the right place at the right time.

Teaching private lessons is also especially common in in locations like Spain and Italy, but finding tutoring work is all but impossible if you aren't actually on location to network and meet clients.

Of course, applying for ESL jobs in person is a risk, and it involves the upfront investment of a plane ticket and a few weeks of living expenses while you look for work. But if you're serious teaching English in a competitive market, it might be worth taking a chance.

Option 3: Use A Recruiter to Find a Job Abroad

  • Where to use it: Asia and the Middle East
  • Pros: Guaranteed job placement and lining up a job before leaving.
  • Cons: Quality can vary; make sure you research the recruiter before using them.

Using a recruiter or placement agency is common throughout Asia and the Middle East, particularly in locations like China, Taiwan, South Korea, and the UAE, where schools often use outside human resource managers to fulfill their consistent demand for teachers. Some of the bigger recruiters out there include:

The upside: You can find a guaranteed job placement, usually pretty quickly. You’ll have the added security of knowing that you have something lined up before moving abroad, and it can certainly eliminate some headaches during the job search process.

The downside: There are tons of recruiters and placement agencies out there. Many are reputable, high quality organization but unfortunately, some aren’t. Like you would when talking to a school directly, make sure the terms of your agreement with the recruiter are laid out clearly before you sign anything.

Some agencies are very selective regarding schools that they agree to work with, but some recruiters will work with anyone that pays them a finder’s fee, meaning there is always a chance that you are setup with a less than desirable employer.

Additionally, while most recruiters take a placement fee from the employer, some will ask for a commission from the teacher. It might be worth it in the long run if it’s a great job, but make sure that the commission/fee structure is clearly agreed upon beforehand.

Recruiters often have more stringent prerequisites than individual schools, so for most agencies, you'll probably need a four-year university degree in addition to a TEFL Certificate. Some previous teaching experience might also be required.

For ESL jobs in the Middle East, I strongly recommend using a recruiter.

Government sponsored programs

In the same vein as recruiting agencies, government sponsored teaching programs are also options for securing ESL jobs abroad. The JET Program in Japan is very popular, but also very competitive. Programs like EPIK in Korea and the Teaching Assistant Program in France are other popular examples of government sponsored teach abroad programs.

Option 4: Word of Mouth

  • Where to use it: Everywhere!
  • Pros: More trustworthy placement and you'll know someone before you go.
  • Cons: You've got to know someone (or someone who knows someone) teaching abroad.

Even after utilizing all of the strategies outlined above, you don’t want to forget the most important part of any job search: networking and the power of word of mouth recommendations.

Teach in South Africa

If you have friends that are already teaching ESL abroad, reach and out see if they can put you in touch with their employer. In the end, teaching English abroad isn’t much different from any other industry, and utilizing your social network can be the most effective gain an inside track on promising job opportunities.

Even after you start working abroad, networking continues to be very important. Maybe a friend will have to head home earlier than anticipated and your dream job will suddenly become available. Language institutes and schools often experience very high turnover rates with ESL teachers, so you should always keep an eye out for upcoming opportunities.

All of The Above

In the end, the best strategy for applying to ESL jobs might very well be some combination of the options we have discussed in this article.

For example, let’s say you want to teach English in Thailand. You could sign up for an onsite TEFL course in Southeast Asia, and then spend a few hours prior to your start date browsing job postings in Bangkok and sending out some CV’s.

Maybe even talk to a recruiter and see if there are any exciting job opportunities available that are worth looking into when you arrive in Thailand. Is your cousin’s college roommate currently teaching in Phuket? Send him a Facebook message and see how he likes the school he’s working at, and if he knows of any job leads in the area.

Your TEFL program may very well have some better opportunities available for you, but it certainly never hurts to have more options, and you never know where the perfect ESL job is going to come from!

Photo Credits: Audra Edmonson, WorldTeach, and Kaitlyn Singh.
Steve Patton

Steve calls Boston home, though he spends as much time on the road as he does in any one place these days. He's part of the marketing team at LanguageCorps and a freelance writer, in between playing drums in various touring bands and trying to be a better photographer. Follow him on Google+.