The Middle East is a vibrant region, full of incredible people, art, history, and culture. Wandering through souks full of leather and spices, sipping tea on a roof terrace by the light of a dozen glass lanterns, camping with a Bedouin family in the desert…these are just a few of the experiences to explore when pursuing your TEFL or CELTA certification in the Middle East. Add in delicious local cuisine, plenty of sunshine, and a culture of warm hospitality, and you just might discover that you never want to leave!
Despite parts of the Middle East appearing frequently in the news, the region as a whole is very safe. Options for obtaining TEFL / TESOL or CELTA certifications are slightly more limited in the Middle East than they are in other global regions, but there are still numerous possible programs to choose from. Explore your options in this guide!
TEFL + Teach
TEFL + Teach programs are ideal for anyone looking to kick-start their career. These combined TEFL course and teacher placement programs typically take place during an intensive four week ‘block’, and they can be invaluable if you plan to teach in the same country where you complete your training. Many but not all TEFL + Teach programs include accommodation, social activities, and basic lessons in the local language as well.
120-Hour TEFL Courses
The 120-hour TEFL courses can be conducted completely on-site, or they can be combination classes with online coursework and in-person supervised practice teaching. Classes that are completely on site can be more intensely scheduled, usually in a 4 week block, while combination classes can give a little bit more scheduling flexibility. Classes can vary wildly in terms of how much support they give in terms of finding accommodations and/or organizing social or extracurricular activities. The 120 hour TEFL programs are the most common in the Middle East.
This is one specific type of English teaching certification, and it’s generally considered equivalent to the TEFL/ TESOL. It usually is conducted in a 4-week block intensive (though there are extended versions of the classes that take place over 16 weeks). There are fewer places offering CELTA classes in the Middle East than there are offering 120 hour TEFL classes, but if this is your preferred certification there are definitely options.
When & Where to Get Your TEFL
Depending on the country and the type of certification that you’re getting, you can find courses pretty much year round. That said, TEFL + Teach and CELTA classes are offered less frequently in the region than the 120 hour TEFL courses, mainly because there are fewer companies offering those specific programs.
Strategically, it makes the most sense to get your certification right before a hiring season in your country of choice. While some hiring in the Middle East takes place year-round, most hiring for classroom English teachers takes place during the summer for jobs that start in the fall, and in winter for jobs that start in the spring.
In general, you’ll only find English teaching certification classes in the larger cities in the region, including Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt, and Istanbul in Turkey. In most countries, you can assume that the vast majority of classes will be available in the capital city of your country of interest.
What to Look for in a TEFL Course
When choosing a course, check first to make sure that the entity giving the course is accredited and will provide you with a recognized certification. Most intensive courses are 4 weeks long, so be wary of courses that are shorter in duration. Look for a minimum of at least 100 course hours of instruction time, plus at least 6 hours of supervised teaching time. In addition, look for courses that have plenty of positive reviews from previous students.
Very few programs will provide housing, but many will help you find housing by providing you with a list of resources including preferred neighborhoods and expected price ranges. Some may also put you in touch with other students in your cohort so that you can look for roommates in advance. Rent in most Middle Eastern countries will be significantly less than rent in the US, Canada, or Western Europe, but it can vary greatly between countries.
For many countries in the Middle East, travelers from the US, Canada, and the EU can obtain tourist visas on arrival. These visas are typically valid for three months, which is long enough to complete most certification courses. For some countries, including Turkey, you’ll need to arrange your tourist visa in advance. It’s important to check with the embassy of the country where you’d like to take your certification classes to determine the most up-to-date visa requirements for citizens of your country, as the rules do occasionally change. You should also check with your certification program to see their visa recommendations as well.
Health & Safety
The Middle East region is generally safe, despite the recent upheavals of the Arab Spring. That said, when in Cairo or Istanbul you’ll want to use the same basic street smarts that you would use in any other large city in the world. In addition, it’s a good idea to follow local customs when it comes to attire—at minimum, everything from the neck to the knees should be covered for both men and women. Dress codes can vary in strictness depending on the country or city you’re in, so take your cues from the locals.
For health, you’ll want to make sure that you have all of the World Health Organization’s recommended vaccines for whichever country you’re visiting. You should also bring enough of any prescription medications to last throughout the duration of your planned stay. You may wish to purchase travelers’ health insurance, and know the name and location of the nearest international hospital.
It’s normal to experience an upset stomach during your first few weeks in any new country, so plan on bringing your remedy of choice with you just in case. In addition, it’s recommended to drink bottled water rather than tap water in most of the Middle East.
Following your TEFL certification, your next priority is finding a job. Ideally, your course will assist you with job hunting tips for the specific country in which you are looking for teaching jobs. In general, it's a good idea to think about what type of school you'd like to work at (public or private), and what your preferred age range is for students so that you can look strategically at the options that are available. Your course instructors will likely have recommendations for where to look for the types of jobs you would prefer, and may even be able to help you network!
Salaries for teaching English can vary widely within the MENA region. In Turkey and in Egypt, for example, salaries for English teachers are generally mid-level and will allow you to live comfortably. In countries like UAE or Kuwait, salaries are generally higher and may allow you to save money beyond your cost of living.