Teaching English abroad is an easy way to travel the world—you don’t need thousands of dollars in savings, and you don’t need years of teaching experience. All you need is the ability to speak English and a TEFL certification. Once you tick those boxes, the rest is cake.
When you start teaching English abroad, you can then use your weekends to explore your new territory. If you choose China as your teaching destination, for example, you can discover more of East Asia, such as Japan, Taiwan, or South Korea.
Teaching English abroad can also be very lucrative, so you may even be able to save thousands of dollars, which can be reinvested into more travel. You don’t have to live frugally either, as the cost of living in many of the popular teaching destinations is rather low.
So how do you start? Just follow these four steps.
Step 1: Get Qualified to Teach English Abroad
Before you do anything, you need to get qualified. Most teaching positions will require you to have a degree and a teaching qualification such as a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate or a CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults).
That said, there are some positions that require only one of the two or, in some cases, neither, but they’re rare and don’t usually pay as much.
The most common and easiest qualification for those interested in teaching English abroad is the TEFL. The minimum is a 120-hour online course, which I recommend doing through i-to-i because it’s reasonably priced and it gives you access to an extensive job board upon completion.
Courses for a CELTA are notably more expensive and have a fairly high dropout rate because they’re more demanding. But, if you can handle it, it will open up even more teaching opportunities. You can find more information about the CELTA here.
You’ll also want to decide how you want to take your classes.
All TEFL courses have an online element, but many of them also have the option to do your learning from a classroom.
If you choose to enroll in online classes, you’ll have the complete flexibility to do them wherever and whenever you want. You can learn at your own pace devoid of distractions, and online classes also tend to be cheaper.
You may decide that you’d prefer to study from a classroom, though. Some people focus better in a classroom than when they’re left to their own devices, and you’ll be able to ask your teacher questions, compare notes with classmates and bounce ideas off one another. Besides, you know you’ll be teaching in a classroom, so you might as well get used to being in one.
If a full teaching certification isn’t the type of gig you’re looking for, you may want to look at Worldpackers, a platform that connects you to NGOs, startups, schools, and homestays in 140 countries, all looking for experienced and inexperienced native English speakers to help them achieve their goals. For more information, check out our full review of Worldpackers.
Step 2: Choose a Destination to Teach English Overseas
Once you’ve decided that you want to try teaching English abroad, and you’ve earned your qualification, you need to choose a country. The kind of destination you choose will depend on your own preferences.
Here are some of the factors you might want to take into account.
Factor 1: Language
Some languages are easier to learn than others. For example, English speakers tend to pick up Spanish and French relatively quickly because all three languages use the same alphabet. Japanese, Chinese and Korean, on the contrary, may prove more difficult to develop.
If you are interested in learning a specific language, choose a country that speaks it. If you’ve always wanted to learn Russian, teaching English in Russia is a surefire way to do just that.
However, it’s good to note, learning the local language fluently is not obligatory but you will need to learn some if you plan on embracing the country as a home and want to blend in.
Factor 2: Cultural Differences
Culture shock is defined as “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.” For some people, the adrenaline is thrilling. For others, it’s anxiety-inducing and can affect their work.
If you’re excited about being completely outside of your comfort zone, consider countries in Asia that practice cultures vastly different than America. If you’re nervous, however, you may want to stick to Europe, which tends to be a lot more similar to the States with regards to everything from food to sports. The Czech Republic and Spain both have high demands for English teachers, so they may be smart places to consider.
Factor 3: The Cost of Living
Is money the root of all evil or the root of some serious fun? For many people contemplating teaching English abroad, salary is a big factor. There are some countries that pay higher English teacher salaries than others. Generally speaking, Japan and South Korea are the most financially lucrative destinations and they come with the best perks. Many include housing, flights and large bonuses.
That said, some countries may pay less but their costs of living are lower, so you can survive (if not thrive) on lesser pay.
My advice is to do some thorough research before you lock yourself into a destination. Look at the culture, lifestyle and money situation and make sure it all suits you as an individual.
Step 3: Find a Job Teaching English Abroad
You’ve got your qualification, you’ve singled out a country and you’re tantalizingly close to being ready. All that’s left to do is, you know, get a job.
Fortunately, there is an abundance of open English teaching positions and sources to help you find, apply for and land them.
First, you should narrow down your hunt. How old are the students you’d like to teach? Do you want to deal with young children, teenagers or adults? Also, consider the type of school in which you want to teach—public or private. Private school jobs are typically harder to get and can be more demanding if you do get one, but they tend to pay better.
Once you’ve picked out your preferences, you can use job boards like:
Should you get certified with i-to-i, you’ll be provided with an in-house job board, too.
If you want to supplement your income while teaching overseas (and you’ve got the energy), you might also want to consider private tutoring gigs. I’d suggest getting used to teaching at school (and getting used to the country) before taking on extra hours, though; don’t overwhelm yourself right off the bat.
Step 4: Prepare Yourself with Practical Tips for Teaching English Overseas
Now that you’ve got everything sorted, here are a few handy tips to help you get ready to teach English abroad.
Save a bit of money to take out there with you. You’ll need some savings to tide you over before your first paycheck. Depending on the country, $1,000 to $1,500 should be sufficient. There are helpful budgeting apps like Mint to help you do this.
Try and learn some basic language skills for the country in which you’ll be teaching. It may be useful to know how to say things like “Hello,” “Thank you” and “One more beer, please.” Language apps like Rosetta Stone are the best place to start.
Scope out local events, organizations, and activities. You might get lonely, which is completely normal; don’t let it get you down. Use Facebook or Couchsurfing to look for local events, and don’t be afraid to attend them alone. You’re sure to meet people, have fun and kick the loneliness this way.
Pack appropriate clothes. You will very quickly work out what is suitable clothing for teachers in your destination, according to local customs. Do some research on how they dress ahead of time, so you can better assimilate.
By now you should be feeling confident about getting started teaching English abroad.
The idea of moving across the world to teach can be incredibly daunting. It certainly doesn’t come without its challenges. But teaching English overseas will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Not only that, but it’s one of the easiest and most financially feasible ways to see the world.