You really want to immerse yourself in a foreign culture, learn a new language, and experience a different way of life. On top of this, you have a passion for teaching and a wanderlust that’s difficult to satisfy plus you’re on a long term trip and, oh no, it looks like you’re about to run out of money. Well, teaching English abroad can be a way out. In teaching, you’ll have the pleasure of a salary, weekends and public holidays off, and the opportunity to explore a different part of the world.
Here are the steps to help you land a teaching job abroad:
Step 1: Get Certified
First, make sure you have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent. 90% of the jobs you’ll find will require a bachelor’s degree. If you don’t have one and still have decent English, you can still find tutoring jobs, but plan on these being in dark alleys and you being paid in something other than currency. In all seriousness, these tutoring jobs aren’t bad and are a great way to get experience. But also note that many TEFL jobs prefer people from English speaking countries.
After that, try and get a TEFL or TESOL or CELTA. You can get these at an acronym store or by taking classes. If you go the class route, TEFL stands for teach English as a foreign language, while TESOL is teach English as a second language. Basically, the TEFL is for teaching English outside an English speaking country but TESOL, by definition, includes TEFL. CELTA is a top end certificate, requiring intensive study. It generally isn’t required for a basic first job. Classroom courses for these cost about $1000 (a CELTA will run a bit more) while the going rate for an online certificate is about $250. Some schools will require your certification to have included hours inside the classroom while others will simply look for the certificate. An online course will let you do lessons at your own pace, so you could conceivably finish it in a couple of weeks or less. An on site course will likely take about a month. A great place to sift through TEFL or TESOL courses is TEFL Course Review.
If you don’t have the money for either one of those options, don’t be frightened. You can still find somewhere to teach English. It’ll just have to be in a job that’s rather lax on requirements. On the whole, it seems like countries in the Far East, such as Korea, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Thailand are more open to individuals without TEFL certificates. If you decide to choose this route, just know that a TEFL course will not only open more doors for you, it will also help you structure your lessons and be a more effective teacher. It’ll lower your stress levels too because you’ll have a better base of teaching knowledge.
Step 2: Trawl Job Boards
After, making the first key decisions, your task is now to endlessly harass school officials and recruiters. You can find TEFL jobs on Dave’s ESL Cafe, TEFL, Waygook, and ajarn (Ajarn is specifically for Thailand). All of these sites will list actual schools you can contact and recruitment agencies. Either way, you should note the contact details in the post and begin to send out cover letters. You can create a separate cover letter for each job, or you can create a generic one describing why you want to teach with spaces in the letter for personalisation. Each job posting will ask for different documents with your query, but most seem to ask for your resume, a recent headshot, a copy of your diploma, a copy of your passport, and a copy of your teaching certificate (if you have one). They may also ask for a letter of recommendation or two and a criminal record check. Attach these documents to your email and send it off.
- Recruitment Agencies
A word about recruitment agencies. They’re all well and good and they act as a nice middle man, helping connect English teachers with a foreign school and also helping you in your visa process. They can cut down on the stress of applying for job after job personally, as they’ll push your application forward to various institutions. But the problem with them is that, just like with any intermediary, they extend the process. For instance, if you want a teaching job in a Korean public school, the best way to apply directly through the Korean government’s website (named EPIK). That will take the least amount of time for you to get a decision. If you can find jobs in your chosen country without a recruitment agency, you might as well just apply to them directly. The different job boards listed above will usually distinguish between recruitment agencies and actual jobs.
Step 3: Interview
You’ve gotten an interview! Dance a jig and scream into your pillow. Then, take a breath and realise that there are two things at play here: as long as you put in a little bit of preparation every day in the lead up, you’ll breeze through, and also that you’re as much interviewing your interviewer as they are you. You need to see if this organization is a good match for you. So prepare responses to basic questions, like why you want to teach, why you want to teach in that specific country, as well as your relevant experiences. If you don’t have teaching experiences, you can just talk about different life experiences you’ve had that demonstrate common teaching competencies, like initiative, resilience, creativity, etc.
Good questions to ask your interviewer include the atmosphere of the school you’ll be teaching in, the age spectrum, if you will receive airfare reimbursement, an apartment, or any other perks. Also ask about the curriculum, performance reviews, the textbook and then also how much leeway you have in your classroom. Also make sure to dress the part, even if your interview is just through Skype.
If you’re interviewing with a recruitment agency, if they like you they’ll then push your application to a particular school according to your preferences. You’ll then have to interview again with the school they’ve chosen. At that point, you can easily just perform the same answers to a string of questions that will be very similar to the recruitment agency’s.
Step 4: Visa and Work Permit
If you ace your interview and get a job offer, it’s time for the worst and most stressful part of your TEFL adventure: your visa and work permit. This experience will likely scar your soul and make you question why we have borders. Visa rules all around the world are unnecessarily complicated and heavily depend on what passport you carry. If you’re from one of the G-7 mafia, the economic clout of your home country will give you an easier time. If you’re from Tanzania, best of luck.
For whatever country you apply to, you should personally read up on what it means for you to work there and how to get a work permit. Read the country’s immigration site so you can be informed about how exactly you will need to proceed. That’s really the best way to get visa and work permit information. I’ve had different recruitment agencies tell me different things about different countries. One agency told me I couldn’t get a work permit in China since I had to be at least 24, while another agency told me my age wasn’t a problem. Some countries will require an apostilled degree and background check while others will only require a copy of your degree. What is an apostille? It’s essentially official notarisation you can get done at UPS or at some post offices.
Typically, you’ll apply for your visa at a nearby embassy of your future country before you go to your new home. You’ll likely need a special class of visa that allows you to work as a non immigrant foreigner. Once you get to your new country, you and your school will apply for your work permit together.
Once you do all that, you’re in! Welcome to the halls of Teacherdom.
TEFL Characteristics by Region
If you’re an experienced teacher and want to teach abroad, I would say that you should immediately apply for the Holy Grail of foreign teaching jobs: the Middle East. In Dubai, TEFL jobs have a really great tax free salary and you will be given a host of goodies, like free housing, a car, and free meals. But note that such jobs will require a CELTA or perhaps even the fabled DELTA (a University of Cambridge Diploma in TEFL).
- - Far East
If you’re just starting out, the Far East is a really good place to begin. The salaries aren’t bad, with Taiwan, Vietnam, and China all being fairly comparable while also offering a low cost of living. Japan offers a good salary as well but has a high cost of living. Korea is a fantastic place to teach English: the Korean government operates the main TEFL recruitment program and airfare is reimbursed, you get a free apartment, and you’re paid fairly well.
- - Thailand
Thailand typically has lower wages (or as some recruitment agencies put it, you’re paid a ‘living salary’) but some jobs will give you free accommodation. Thailand is also pretty popular as a tourist spot, so you’ll have a lot of fun. If you teach children in the East, you’ll likely have rather respectful classrooms as well. Adults will demand afternoon or evening working hours, but they’ll offer even less distractions than the children do. Also note that the Far East has a really well developed tourist system, since it’s been the place twenty somethings have been finding themselves since the 60s.
- - Europe, South America and Africa
If you’re on the intermediary level, then the world’s your oyster. Consider Europe or South America or Africa. Europe has a well oiled tourist machine as well, making your job of assimilation a bit easier.
In South America, you’ll have a low wage but you can still have a rich gamut of experiences. Latin American hotspots include Brazil and Peru, but note that Colombia and Argentina have rather low costs of living and excellent year round weather.
In Africa, you’ll have the luxury of experiencing the rapid growth of a new middle class. The cultures of Africa are extremely diverse though, so it’ll be important for you to research different regions. Antarctica also has a thriving TEFL scene, as we humans continue to preach the tenants of language to infidel penguins.
All in all, if you want to travel consistently throughout your life, outfitting yourself with some teaching experience and a teaching certificate is probably the way to go. It’s a great way to become a global citizen.