Have you ever considered teaching English abroad as a way to fund your travels? Teaching English in Thailand was almost everything I expected it would be. In its charming moments, it was sunny morning assemblies, Buddhist festivals, and spicy noodles at roadside stands. There were also the rarer moments that I seem to remember most — learning how to shower with a bucket and pee into a squat toilet, for example. Or chasing an 11-year old around my classroom to snatch a sketch of a penis. I’ll also never forget explaining the immaculate conception of Jesus Christ to a room full of Buddhist teenagers for a Christmas-time reenactment.
Maybe these are the parts of the experience people don’t really talk about, but they’re the best parts.
I can assuredly say it was one of the best and most ridiculous 6 months of my life. Not only did teaching English abroad enable me to really live in Thailand, but it also provided an opportunity to learn to teach, and grow up, and to travel before I had saved up the money to do it otherwise.
While teaching English abroad is often reveled as a backpackers opportunity for a no-stress job, I’d argue you can make it the experience what you want it to be. Want a way to make money on your travels? Want to get better at teaching? Want to learn a culture so intimately that you’ll never just be a byproduct of your home country again? Well then, here’s your little guide on how to teach English abroad.
Where do you start?
Pick a few countries where you’re interested in teaching. The best places to teach English abroad will offer a solid mix of compensation and quality of life. TEFL Jobs are particularly easy to come by in China, Japan, South Korea, Spain, and Thailand, but you might also consider placements in countries like Saudi Arabia, Czech Republic, Spain, Mexico, and Chile.
Once you’ve narrowed it down from the whole world of options, skim online job forums like Dave’s ESL Cafe to get an idea of local contracts, job requirements, and the range of offerings. Find out which countries have the best offers, if you meet the minimum English teacher requirements (education, certification, etc.), and learn what you still need to fulfill.
Certification and English Teacher Requirements
While English teacher requirements vary by country, schools typically require that, at minimum, ESL teachers are fluent in English (with preference towards native speakers), hold their bachelors degree, have some teaching experience, and have completed an English teaching certification program. While the first few are pretty straight forward, picking a certification program is often one of the trickiest parts of the process!
The main types of certification are TEFL, TESOL, and CELTA. While CELTA is the most rigorous of the three, it is also the most expensive and time consuming, requiring several weeks of full time instruction. If you’re not intent on career teaching, an accredited 120+ hour TEFL or TESOL course is sufficient credential for most countries. You can take these courses either online or on-site, and the cost can be anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. While it hurts to pay it up front, it almost always lends to higher paid teaching jobs and more confidence in the class room.
Things to consider when picking a job
- Location: Is this a place you can see yourself living long term? Do you prefer urban or rural? Is it easy to travel from here?
- Pay: Is the pay enough to enable you to live comfortably? Will you be able to save money? Is it fair relative to other schools in the area? Does the school cover your flights or accommodation?
- Workload: Do you know how many classes and levels you’ll be teaching? Does the school offer a fixed curriculum or will you be setting lessons yourself? Do you have the capacity to work this amount and still experience the things you want to?
- School Type: Are you better with young kids or adults? Do you prefer to work at a small school or a large school? What is the English proficiency of the students?
Of course, there are about one trillion other factors to consider, but those should give you a good place to start.
Got it. So should I find a job before I go?
Well, that depends on you, kid!
Before you go: There are lots of programs that will find you a teaching placement, arrange housing, negotiate your contract, and provide in country support. Some also offer in-country certification so you get your TEFL certificate before beginning your program. The trade offs are that you won’t have much control over your school or location, you will get paid a bit less, and there is a fee for the placement. If you do wish to have things lined up before you go, a few organizations that can help facilitate a TEFL job before you go are:
In-Country: Wait until you get there to find a job! This ensures you’re feelin’ the place before getting locked into a contract. You can find a school in your favorite city, pick out your own apartment, and probably get paid a bit more too. Take some time to travel and discover the places you like before committing to anything! The downside is that this can be mighty stressful if you’re a planner or need to find a job fast. While much of the searching can be done the old fashioned way (showing up to a school with resume in hand), a few job forums to consider to help with your search are:
Having done this both ways, I’d recommend waiting until you’re in-country to secure a job. The independence is worth the risk, and it’s probably a big part of why you’re traveling, after all!
What is the average teaching English abroad salary? The exact amount depends on the country, but you can expect to make from anywhere from $600-$4,000.
What do I do about visas? Some programs will require that you already have the correct paperwork, but most schools do offer visa support. If you’re going through a placement program or setting up your contract from home, be sure to ask!
How do I find a place to live? The school will often offer accommodation as part of your contract, but at the very least they can help you with it. You can also search online housing listings or show up at apartment buildings, but you may want to bring along someone who speaks the local language.