What to Look for in Government Programs to Teach English Abroad

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So you want to teach English abroad, and you’re a little overwhelmed by all the options. Maybe you’ve heard a lot about some of these big, popular government programs—teaching assistants in Spain! Volunteering in Chile! EPIK in South Korea! JET in Japan!

The acronyms are confusing by themselves, let alone weighing all of the choices. What should you look for in a government program to teach English abroad? Government programs have their pros and cons.  Let’s first look at how they differ from private programs. 

Adult woman wearing backpack facing building

Get ready to shine your apples when you join a Government Program to Teach English Abroad! 🍎🍎🍎

How do government programs differ from other agencies for teaching overseas programs?

That can be hard to say—every government program  differs. But in general they differ in….

  • Application process. Government programs often have more extensive application process than a private school. They can take quite a long time too, and some people  even recommend applying a year in advance!
  • Finding a placement. With a government programs to teach English abroad, you apply to the program and then the program finds a placement for you. You won’t necessarily receive your preference—they will place teachers where there is the most need.  
  • Permits and visas. Government programs will almost always take care of work permits and visas for you, which is great! If you’re looking for a job on your own, you’ll likely be going through the hassle of applying for a visa or permit (and paying for it….) on your own, which is not such a fun time. 
  • Set contract. Working for a private organization will differ on contracts. Usually you’ll sign something for a semester, but it could be “at will” (meaning you can leave whenever) if you’re teaching adults, or you could have a probation period or something similar.. With a government program there is almost always a very standard contract every teacher signs, for either a semester or a year or even more. 
  • There’s often more support in general. Government programs to teach english abroad will usually have a solid support network set up for you. Regional contacts to call, doctors they employ, emergency procedures, networking opportunities...you name it, they’ll often provide it to make sure that you are safe and stable in your job. They want teachers who will stay through their contract and that means making sure they have the support system they need. 
Granada building in Spain with sunset cast over it

Fiestas, siestas, tapas, oh my! I can’t even Ex-Spain to you how much you’ll love this country! 🇪🇸

Considerations before choosing a government programs to teach English abroad 

Like with any study or work abroad program, you need to take careful stock of where you are and what you want when looking at government programs to teach english abroad. Programs differ widely in the sort of support, salary, and experience they offer. And of course, they also can differ widely in what they're looking for in terms of staff. Check out the questions below to get you thinking while you research programs. 

1. What’s your experience level?

Each government program is different when it comes to on-the-job expectations. Often you’re a teaching assistant or co-teacher, which is great if you are new to teaching! But if you aren’t new then that could be an exercise in frustration as you might not be able to do much of the planning. Then again, some of the programs, like Fellows program, require years of experience and want you to be able to help teach the teachers. 

[What to Look for in ESL Teaching Jobs]

2. Language exposure

What language do you want to learn? How do you want to learn it? Some programs provide some language lessons, especially at the beginning of the semester. Some don’t. And if you’re working with teachers that speak English, and being asked to only speak English to students and potential host family (to help them learn) you might not get to learn much of the local language yourself!

3. Salary

Many of these teach english abroad government programs pay less than working at a private school, so if you’re looking to save some money, maybe shy away. This especially holds true for the volunteer based programs or the ones with rural placements. The experience may be life changing, but it’s not wallet filling! 

[The 10 Best Places to Teach English Abroad in 2018—GoAbroad Report]

4. Cultural immersion opportunities 

What sort of cultural experience do you want - a peaceful town in the mountains where you learn about rural traditions? One in a bustling urban center? Well, it doesn’t really matter because you probably won’t get to choose where you go if you apply to a government teaching program. They are going to send you where the need is greatest, and that’s not always in your first choice location. 

Shibuya crossing in Japan

Bring it on with those teaching skills! #ShibuyaRollCall 🇯🇵

5. Do you have the time to apply? 

That might seem like a silly question, but really, have you already missed the deadline for applications? Some of these government programs to teach english abroad need you to apply up to a year in advance! The application process can be very involved and require a lot of waiting and patience. Do you have time for that? 

But caveat - this isn’t always the case, as my own experience with TLG was super quick and smooth. 

[Preparing to Teach English Abroad: 13 Things You Need to Know]

6. It’s competitive!

Depending on the program, these government programs to teach english abroad can be super hard to get into. The JET program alone gets up to 5,000 or so applicants a year! Do you have what it takes? Probably, but you have to be prepared to bring all of that to the table.

7. Do you really want to teach?

Ok you just read this whole article, so of course you do, right? Sometimes, people just want an adventure abroad and don’t actually want to be put effort into the classroom. If that’s you, think hard about whether or not teaching would be the right path for you. Sure, many of these government programs don’t require many hours and are perfect for traveling, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to bring your A game in the classroom for the hours you do teach. Make sure you’re prepared for that.  

woman in korea

English teacher by day, Karaoke star by night? Fulfill your Seouls purpose!

9 much loved government programs to teach English abroad around the world

There are government programs for teaching English abroad all over the world! They vary in application process and how difficult to get into they are, but they are all great opportunities to teach and travel. 

1. North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain

Sponsored by the Spanish Ministry of Education, this teaching overseas program recruits Canadian and American citizens to serve as English (and sometimes French) teaching assistants. The pay isn’t very high, but often neither are the work hours (usually around 12 hours a week, according to former assistants. It can be difficult to get a work visa for the European Union, and a government program like this one is a way in! 

2. Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF)

The TAPIF program in France (so many great acronyms, guys) is fairly similar to the assistant program in Spain. Assistants teach 12 hours a week, in up to 3 different schools. Teaching contracts are 7 months and placements are all over France and in the overseas “departments” like French Guiana. Explore French language and culture for a semester! 

3. English Program in Korea (EPIK) 

EPIK is a popular teach English abroad government program in South Korea. You have to be a citizen of a country where English is the primary language and have a bachelor’s, among other requirements - most importantly, an ability and willingness to adapt to Korean life. With EPIK you’ll likely be placed in a school, but could also be in a training center or other educational institution. 

4. Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET)

More than 60,00 people have worked with the JET program according to their website, so it must be a fulfilling experience! They pride themselves on the network of teachers they create. Most of the teaching placements are outside of urban centers, in either small towns or suburban areas. Immerse yourself in Japanese language and culture through this competitive program. 

Easter Island monuments in Chile

It may get a little Chile in the mountains, but the rest of the country features some spicy culture! 🇨🇱🌶

5. Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Awards  

Run by the US government, the Fulbright is a prestigious award for US citizens to go teach English abroad via host country governments. It’s a highly competitive program, but they have placements all over the world - from Senegal to Vietnam. You can pick a preference for where you want to go, but you won’t necessarily receive that preference. 

6. Teach and Learn With Georgia (TLG)

(Full disclosure - this author taught with TLG back in 2012 and had a fantastic time!) TLG is run through the Georgian ministry of education, recruiting native English, French, and German speakers to co-teach with local teachers in public schools around the country. The pay is commensurate with local teacher pay and most foreign teachers live with Georgian host families. 

7. English Open Doors Volunteer Program in Chile

English Opens Doors is a government run English teaching volunteer program, rather than a job placement program. The stipend is small but usually housing and meals are provided by a host family. The program is looking for volunteers that will be committed teachers - not that just travelers on an adventure. But don’t worry, in a country as diverse and beautiful as Chile, it will certainly be an adventure!  

8. Teach and Learn in Korea (TaLK) program

Another South Korea based program, TaLK is one of the few government programs to teach english abroad that doesn’t require a completed bachelor’s degree. You must have an associate’s or be enrolled in university. Unlike EPIK, their placements are only in rural areas and only with elementary students. It’s a great way to try teaching early on in your academic career! 

9. English Language Fellow Program 

Opposite to the TaLK program, the English Language Fellow Program through the US State Department is for highly qualified US teachers who already have their teaching degrees. Working with US Embassies, the Fellows conduct projects in countries around the world, lending their English teaching expertise. 

BONUS: Teaching overseas on a military base

This might have never cross your mind, but did you know that military bases from your home country need teachers overseas? Of course you knew that. But, maybe you didn’t think that could be you. When it comes to the USA, the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity employs around 8,000 teachers as of 2013. Military spouses often apply to these coveted position, and there are also exchange programs to get them. 

The application process for teaching overseas on military base is lengthy, like many of these government programs, and you certainly have to have qualifications and usually some experience. Pay can be quite good, and the schools on military bases are often high performing! Of course, they are also very transitional as students come and go.  If you’re looking to work at a US military base, apply through the Department of Defense and see if teaching at a military base might be for you!  

fighter plane in the sky
Soar to new heights while teaching overseas on a military base

Ask not what government teaching overseas programs can do for you...

Government programs are a great option for teaching English abroad. There are pros and cons to teaching via a government program versus a private school, but these programs are competitive for a reason—people want to join them. They bring stability, great opportunity, and often a solid support network and some prestige to your resume. Add them to your list of English teaching opportunities to check out! 

Find government teaching programs abroad

Topic:  Before You Go