Teach Abroad 101: What to Know as a First-Time Teacher Abroad

by Briana Aragon

Preparing for your first teaching job abroad can be an overwhelming process - in fact, many people aren’t sure where to start! You’ve got to decide on a country or program, coordinate transportation, create a budget, raise initial funds, locate accommodation, oh, and secure a job!

To help you out, we’ve compiled a crash course for first time teachers heading abroad that will take you step-by-step through everything you need to know before you teach abroad.

Foreign teacher in front of a class of elementary students

1. Choose Your Location Wisely 

Where you teach abroad will have the largest impact on your experience and personal goals. Different regions offer different opportunities. For instance, if you’re looking to earn more money and increase your savings, some of the highest paying teaching jobs abroad are found in Asia or the Middle East, but hiring can be competitive. On the other hand, regions like Africa and South America have more volunteer teaching opportunities and fewer paid teaching jobs, but that is not to say there isn’t a high demand for quality teachers. Other things to consider when selecting a location for your teaching job abroad are climate, culture, religion, and cuisine.

2. Consider Teaching Certification 

Whether it’s TEFL, TESOL, ESL, CELTA, or what have you, most higher paying teaching jobs abroad are going to require some sort of certification. Many of teaching certification programs also require individuals to have an undergraduate degree, whether in education or another field.

Keep in mind that you do not necessarily have to have a degree or teaching certificate in order to teach abroad, but it will most definitely make you a more competitive job candidate. 

Picking the teacher training program that is right for you is one of the keys to successfully teaching abroad. Be sure you read all the rules and requirements, and make sure you are comfortable with what will be expected of you. Not all programs are created equal, so do your homework, and always read reviews! Some certification or training programs will be more expensive than others, and every program will offer different amenities, like job placement assistance or included accommodation. 

3. Browse Teaching Jobs & Placements

Familiarize yourself with the different types of international teaching jobs available. When you decide to go abroad, you will find that a variety of institutions accept international teachers, including government schools, private schools, international schools, language academies, universities, corporations, and private families or individuals seeking private lessons.

Each type of teaching job abroad has its own challenges and rewards. If you choose right, the rewards of your teaching experience abroad will greatly outweigh the challenges.

You may also want to consider what age group you prefer working with, and which subjects you are qualified to teach, whether it be English, math, science, art, or another even more specific subject. Many higher paying teaching jobs abroad require applicants to sign one or two-year contracts, which often offer bonuses and return airfare reimbursement.

Don’t be afraid to make a change and commit! But, just in case you don’t like the position or school you are in, make sure you understand what it will take to get out of your contract before you sign. You won’t want to (and you shouldn’t!) waste time in a place that makes you unhappy. There are plenty of teaching jobs available all over the world, so you can surely find a school or company that fits your goals and desire for working abroad. 

Foreign teacher with Korean students

4. Be Culturally Aware 

You may not be familiar with the cultural traditions and lifestyles that other people subscribe to. Be sure to read up on the cultural do’s and don’ts of the country you choose for your teaching job abroad. If you understand some of the history behind social practices, it will make adapting, and the transition as a whole, much easier.

For example, you should know which religion the majority of citizens follow, and then make sure you understand the basic principles and history of that religion so you don’t seem uninformed (or end up committing a cultural faux pa!). 

Are you familiar with the laws of the country? For instance, Singapore has incredibly strict laws compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. Research common offenses and be sure you understand your rights as a foreigner and a teacher. You should be familiar with passport regulations and traffic laws (if you will be driving or getting your own motorbike). Many teaching jobs abroad require that you secure a visa before entering the country, so allow yourself enough time to apply for and receive a visa before the beginning of your contract. You won’t want to get busted for something silly because you didn’t do the research! Make a cheat sheet if you need to so you can always comply with the local way of life. 

5. Know What You’re Getting Into

There’s no better way to learn about the kind of experience you may have than by hearing the stories of others. Reach out to other people who have already taught in your country of choice. Long story short, you need to network. Read blogs and articles on teaching abroad and start conversations in the comments section, or take a gander at public forums.

If there’s an established expat community, tap into it and get all your questions answered by those in the know. What is their day like? How are the students? What kind of challenges do they face in the classroom? You may find oodles of great advice before you ever set foot on the ground. 

6. Keep Your Expectations in Check

Expectations can sometimes get the best of us. It’s great to be prepared for what you may encounter, but having high or unrealistic expectations of your teaching job abroad can sometimes prevent you from experiencing the full quality of your adventure. The reality is often so much more than what we expect. Keep an open mind and try to remain flexible and adaptable when it comes to your students, co-workers, and new life abroad.

7. Embrace Your Mistakes as well as Your Success 

You will make mistakes, especially if you have no previous teaching experience. You will inevitably have some bad days, but go easy on yourself. Learn from your mishaps and grow from each one; never stop improving your teaching methods. Sometimes it helps to keep a diary of your teaching experiences, which may serve as an excellent memoir of your journey when you arrive back home! 

8. Pack Light, But Be Prepared

Traveling abroad is so much more than just getting there. During your teaching job abroad, you will most likely want to visit all of the amazing neighboring cities and countries around you, so the last thing you want is to be bogged down by too much stuff. Plus, you have to save some room for all the clothes, trinkets, and gifts to bring home with you!

Foreign teacher with students in Africa

9. Bring Enough Money

Many people have made the mistake of not creating a budget, or not sticking to the one they do create. Research the cost of living in the country before you go; make a list of common items and their general prices. Set goals and limits for your spending. How much will you be making? How much can you afford to spend on housing, food, transportation, and other basic needs? What kind of spending money will you have and how will you spend it?

Remember that transferring money to your home country usually costs a hefty fee, and there are also repercussions depending on currency rates. If you plan on teaching abroad long-term, consider opening a bank account (if you have to wire money home).

10. Make Sure Your Resume is Up To Date.

When you are applying for teaching jobs abroad, read tips to make sure that your resume stands out. How will you answer the most common questions asked in an interview? What should YOU ask when interviewing for a job? Do you need to include a cover letter and references? Is it common for job applications in your destination of choice to include photos?

Make sure you leave nothing out of your application, not even your passport (how-do-I-look-so-bad-in-this-photo?!) headshots.

After reading this article, you can almost not consider yourself a first timer anymore. You are now prepared with all the basics, so it is time to start your search for a teaching job abroad!