Teaching English Abroad: Live, Work, And Travel In Your Dream Country

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Shorter Version

Est. Reading Time: 1 Minute

Teaching English abroad is the easiest way for native English speakers to earn money and live abroad for a year or more at a time. Almost every country that does not use English as its primary language hires foreign English teachers to work and live legally.

So, what’s required for teaching English abroad?

Finding a job teaching English abroad can require nothing more than your passport, although having a bachelor’s degree and TEFL certification can open up more doors to higher-paying work.

Finding the right job means asking relevant questions during your interview, contacting the current and former teachers at the school, and ensuring your teaching hours, salary, and benefits are stated clearly in your contract. While many job boards exist, such as Dave’s ESL Cafe and tefl.com, the best and most direct method is to join Facebook groups related to teaching abroad, preferably in your favored country.

Make it happen

You don’t need to be a professional grammarian to get a job teaching English abroad, nor do you need any teaching experience. The right attitude and willingness to adapt to life abroad are key. If you keep an open mind and do your best, you’ll have a fantastic experience in your year working abroad.

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Longer Version

Est. Reading Time: 10 Minutes

If you’ve ever dreamed of living and working in a foreign country, teaching English is the easiest way to get your visa and experience a new culture. You’ll make a salary equal to or higher than that of a local college graduate, work full-time with learners of all ages, and have ample opportunity to travel the region during and after your contract.

Finding the right job can be difficult.

On any forum or facebook group, you’ll hear stories of teachers overloaded with work or caught in circumstances they didn’t expect when they arrived. While unsatisfying jobs exist in every country, the stress is compounded when you’re working abroad.

To find the best teaching jobs, you’ll have to hunt a bit and apply to several positions before you sign a contract. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know so you can fly out knowing you’re about to embark on an exciting adventure – while making money and building for your future.

A primer on terminology

Every specialized field has its own jargon, and TEFL is no different. Here are some of the acronyms you’ll need to know.

  • TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language. This is what you’ll be doing when you move abroad.
  • TESL – Teaching English as a Second Language. If you teach English in your home country to immigrants or refugees, for example, you’re not teaching English as a foreign language. It’s only TEFL if you’re teaching English somewhere where English isn’t the lingua franca.
  • TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. This term encompasses both TEFL and TESL, though it’s less common than both.
  • TOEFL – Test of English as a Foreign Language. At some point, many of your future students will take this test, which assesses their English proficiency. It’s the English learner’s equivalent of the SAT or ACT.
  • ELL/ELT – English Language Learner and English Language Teacher, respectively. You may also see NET, Native English Teacher, used instead of ELT.

These are the main terms you’ll see on job postings and forums. Using terminology correctly shows you’ve done your research and adds a layer of professionalism your coworkers and employers will respect. For a full list of terms, Go Overseas offers a list that’s both global and country-specific.

What you’ll (probably) need

Requirements vary depending on where you go. Some countries have few requirements for hiring ELTs, meaning you can find a job at a reputable school with no more than a passport. Other countries require more.

In general, the requirements in Asia are stricter than the rest of the world. Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam all require:

  • A passport from an Anglophone country (USA, UK, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, NZ, or Australia).
  • A clean criminal record, proven by a background check. In the US, you’ll get one from the FBI.
  • A bachelor’s degree or higher in any field. You’ll also need sealed copies of your transcripts.
  • The ability to work and live abroad for a full year. A few programs hire for six months, but the vast majority require a full year’s stay.

These are legal requirements to secure a visa, meaning all (legal) schools abide by these rules. Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar are exceptions; you can teach in these countries without a bachelor’s.

In Latin America, the requirements aren’t as strict.

You can secure a job and visa without a bachelor’s degree, although having one means a higher salary.

Of course, you don’t actually need any of this if you want to fly to your dream country and just teach on a tourist visa, working under-the-table and hoping you don’t get caught. We don’t recommend this. Without a legal contract you have no recourse if your employer acts in bad faith, and getting caught can mean heavy fines and deportation. It’s just not worth the risk.

Do I need to be certified?

With the boom in demand for teaching English abroad, dozens of companies now offer certifications in TEFL. These vary from online weekend courses for $100 or less to rigorous in-class certifications costing thousands. Which ones will help you find a job?

If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree or higher then you’ll want a TEFL certificate. With a bachelor’s, you can find a job that doesn’t require a TEFL certificate. If you find a job offer you like that requires one, tell the hiring manager you’ll do the course after you sign the teaching contract. Any online TEFL course is largely the same as the next. The only important factor is in the length of study.

120 hours or above is standard for employers who want TEFL-certified teachers. Anything below that isn’t worth much.

You may see blogs online that recommend one particular online course as the best. These sites get commissions on your tuition fee. We don’t recommend any particular website for this reason.

The only name-brand TEFL certification course is the CELTA, or Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. Developed by the University of Cambridge, this course offers rigorous instruction and a required practicum, where you teach English to actual students under the supervision of an experienced teacher. There’s also the related DELTA, which takes over a year of study, and is designed for career TEFL teachers.

A CELTA can open doors and act as a major boon to your resume. It’s also expensive and time-consuming, often costing close to $1,000 US and requiring nearly a month of full-time study.

Unless you’re particularly serious about teaching, don’t get a CELTA before you start working. If you have a bachelor’s, try finding work without spending needlessly on an online course. If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, or if you want something new to put on your resume, find a course that suits your budget and availability.

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Where are you going?

The center of the TEFL world is in Asia, particularly East Asia. South Korea, China, Japan, and Taiwan have a massive need for English teachers. Most of the hiring is done through language centers and after-school programs, although you can find public school jobs as well. The salaries for a first-time job are quite high compared to the local wages, and many programs offer free housing, meals, and travel expenses. Every legal teacher in these countries has access to public healthcare, a pension, and a severance bonus. Airfare is usually covered.

Latin America also has a large TEFL industry in almost every nation. The downside is in the salary. Most schools will not offer airfare or housing. The wages are good for the region but far lower than in East Asia or your home country.

For example, a job posting for a first-time teacher in Colombia offers 3,000,000 pesos per month – roughly $730 USD. In South Korea, a new teacher can expect to make 2,200,000 won – about $2,000 USD, plus a free apartment, reimbursed airfare, and a severance equal to one month’s salary. While Seoul’s cost of living is higher than Bogota, you can still easily save $1,000 per month. You won’t make that much in South America.

If money isn’t your chief concern then Latin America can be a fantastic choice.

Many teachers here supplement their income by teaching online through a company like VIPKid, where the hourly pay is around $20 USD.

Southeast Asia is a middle ground between Latin America and East Asia (literally!). Thailand does not offer flight reimbursement or free housing to teachers, although the high demand allows for decent salaries. Vietnam’s TEFL industry is one of the largest in Asia, and schools offer higher compensation packages as well as airfare. Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar don’t have TEFL industries as robust as other nations, but they usually don’t require a degree. They’re also highly underrated travel destinations.

Teaching in Europe requires an EU passport in most cases. There are some opportunities for non-EU citizens, like Spain’s North American Teaching Assistant program, but if your dream is to move to Paris or Berlin and work as a TEFL teacher, you’ll be out of luck if you’re not from the UK or Ireland. For nations outside of the EU, like Russia, you can likely find a job with just a TEFL certificate.

In Africa, and farther-flung destinations like central Asia, teaching jobs can be harder to come by compared to east Asia and Latin America. Africa, in particular, has more volunteer opportunities than paying jobs, but you’ll be able to find something in any nation if you look hard enough and stay open-minded about salaries and requirements.

Finding the right job for you

Given the worldwide demand for TEFL instructors, you can start looking for a job in the morning and have several offers by the next day.

Don’t take them.

Finding a job you’ll enjoy means taking it slow and researching each offer carefully. Keep the following tips in mind when looking for a job online:

Avoid recruiters

They’re paid the equivalent of one month of your salary to send you over quickly and without much hassle. Communicating with schools directly is your best option. Make sure you get to speak with your future boss.

Talk to the current and former teachers

This is the most essential step in the job hunt. After your first interview, ask to be put in contact with a current ELT. Ideally, you’ll speak with someone who’ll be working there alongside you (any teacher signed to a second contract is a good sign) and the person you’re replacing. Be polite, but ask direct questions. If they seem wary to say anything but pleasant generalities, they may have been coached by their boss to self-censor. Walk away if you suspect something amiss.

Use reputable job boards

Dave’s ESL Cafe is a good place to start, with job postings from virtually every nation. You can get a good overview of requirements and salary here and perhaps find a job, but a better place to find leads is on Facebook. Run a search for “[Country] TEFL jobs” and join relevant groups. You’ll get more direct responses and have a place to ask specific questions when needed.

Consider a government-run teaching program

Japan began this style of teacher recruitment in 1987 with their JET program, which runs to this day. Korea’s equivalent, EPIK, offers four weeks of paid vacation compared to the for-profit cram schools (known locally as ‘hagwons’) that only offer two weeks. These types of programs are stable and have teachers working in public schools. They’re among the more popular programs for teaching English abroad.

Be realistic

The best teaching jobs abroad are at Universities, international schools, and in-house corporate roles. These are also the jobs with the highest requirements – most teachers will have a Master’s degree or higher, years of experience, publications, and more. For your first job, you’ll most likely teach at a public school or private language center working with K-12 students.

Your future is here

Your year teaching English abroad will be one of the highlights of your 20s. Any time spent traveling long-term, however, can come at a cost. Think about what you would consider your ideal career path. If it’s teaching English, great! You’re on the right track to a fulfilling future. If you’d like to teach for a year or two but have a different career in mind, don’t worry.

Most people you’ll meet teaching abroad aren’t in it for the long-term either.

Some teachers save money to go to grad or law school after their contract is up. Others transition into other types of teaching that require advanced degrees and licenses. Some focus on learning the local language and networking to find a different job in the host country.

It’s okay if your goals change as you live abroad. That’s part of being in your 20s. The important thing is to have an idea of where you want to go next. If you have a goal, you’ll spend your year abroad the way it’s meant to be – enjoyed.

Actionable Steps


Make sure you are ready

You’ll have at least two months between starting your job search and arriving in country. Don’t rush. Make sure you have all of the required documents for your destination and are fully capable of getting a legal visa.


Find the right location

Urban, suburban, or rural? Asia, Africa, Europe, or Latin America? Have an ideal location in mind, then be flexible. Living 30 minutes outside of the capital can offer you better job opportunities at a lower cost of living. If you’re interested in a certain country, don’t overlook other nations in the region that have more benefits or a higher demand.


Check job listings

Check job postings on Dave’s ESL Cafe, especially if you’re interested in China or South Korea. Join Facebook groups for TEFL jobs in individual countries. These are the best places to find work and get advice.


Plan for your return

What do you want your life to look like after TEFL? Just because you’re teaching English abroad doesn’t mean you’ve put your life on hold. You might end up enjoying it so much that you decide to stay longer. Otherwise, you’ll want to keep your future plans in mind as you’re teaching and traveling.

About the Author

Michael Power

Michael Power

World-Traveling Expatriate

Since 2012, Michael has been living abroad full-time as a world-traveling expatriate. He spent his early 20s as an international high school teacher in South Korea. After visiting over 20 countries he’s excited to share what he’s learned with other aspiring nomads. You can currently find him in South America, probably at the nearest salsa club.
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