Know Before You Go: Teaching English Abroad

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Congratulations: you’ve decided to take the plunge and teach English abroad! You’ve shaken off your apprehensions and fears of the unknown. You’re already dreaming of exciting ESL teaching destinations in far-flung locations and you’re itching to set off on your next great life adventure.

Of course, you might also be feeling overwhelmed by the thoughts of making a huge transition to teaching in a foreign country. This is to be expected - packing up your life to teach abroad is a huge endeavor and not to be taken lightly. So, how do you get started with teaching abroad? What important factors do you need to consider and what potential stumbling blocks lie ahead?

Moving to a foreign country to teach English requires lots of planning and research. To help you navigate the route to landing your dream teaching job abroad, we’ve got you covered with a handy four-point checklist.

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Ready, set, go! Our essential teach abroad advice.

Set a realistic timeline to teach abroad.

However excited you may feel, making the decision to move halfway across the world is a daunting task. While hiring cycles peak at different times, you should at least aim to give yourself three to six months before hopping on that plane. You’ll want to make sure you have the right credentials and that you have fully researched any specific hiring requirements. There are also important documents you’ll need to gather, as well as ensuring your passport will be in date for the duration of your time abroad.

You’re also going to need to get saving sooner rather than later: there are many upfront costs involved in teaching abroad. You’ll need to set aside funds for your TEFL certificate (more on that below!), which can be $1,000 and up, for any relocation costs, such as flights, accommodation, and travel insurance, that are not covered by your employer, and have enough money banked to see you through until you get your first teaching paycheck.

A laptop, passport, camera and a tea on top of a table
Thinking of heading abroad to teach English? Better get planning!

Find the right country for you.

Right now, the world is your oyster. The ESL job market is stronger than it has ever been and native English speaking teachers are in high demand worldwide. How will you decide which region and country is right for you? It’s worth being open minded and flexible; having your heart set on one country can really limit your chances of finding an English teaching job abroad (depending on where you want to teach, job opportunities may be limited or visa requirements too stringent).

Jotting down your top priorities for teaching abroad is a key first step toward figuring out which destination fits best with your personal goals and aspirations.

Perhaps you’ve always dreamed of living by the beach, in the countryside, or in a busy city. How about looking to immerse yourself and learn a certain language? Is making enough money to pay off student loans your primary motivation? Maybe you’re looking to save up enough to travel in your free time - you might even be planning an epic backpacking trip at the end of your teaching contract. Career advancement could be top of your list of priorities, too.

Taking the time to map out exactly what you hope to get out of your teach abroad experience will help you narrow down the list of countries. For ESL teachers with little-to-no experience, there are almost endless opportunities to teach English in China, South Korea, Japan, and Thailand. These countries have skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years, and a huge draw lies in the opportunities to travel the country and further travel across Asia.

If making money is your priority, then countries in the Middle East, such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait might appeal to you. These countries also have plenty of activities and cultural experiences to offer ESL teachers. On the flipside, requirements for ESL jobs in the Middle East are often higher, and many schools require that candidates have a teaching license and relevant teaching experience. 

There are plenty of resources online that provide valuable information on the realities of teaching in different countries, including working conditions, salaries and benefits, cost of living, and important visa considerations. Talking to former or present teachers abroad is also a great way to get some straightforward, honest advice on the pitfalls they encountered along the way.

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Researching online can help you figure out which countries offer the best experience and pay for English teachers abroad.

Research current ESL job postings.

For the regions you’re most drawn to, it’s important to undertake the necessary groundwork and investigate what kinds of teaching opportunities are available to you. You’re going to want to start your teaching job search - when the time comes - on the right footing. Make sure you know the qualifications for specific ESL jobs, and have these under your belt before you start applying for teaching jobs abroad.

Remember that requirements will vary across countries and schools. As a general rule, you will need to either be a native English speaker or have native English proficiency. You’ll also need to have a bachelor’s degree in any subject. Usually you won’t need to have a background in education or teaching experience; although, this isn't a hard-and-fast rule as some schools and countries have stricter requirements.

A man working on his laptop
Researching open job postings will help you pinpoint any gaps you might have on your teach abroad resume!

Make sure you get TEFL certified before you apply for English teaching jobs abroad.

Although you don’t need to have a teaching license or professional teaching experience, taking a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course is a crucial step when applying for teaching jobs abroad. Having a TEFL certification on your resume will not only give you an advantage over candidates who aren’t TEFL certified - schools abroad commonly make a TEFL certificate (with a minimum of 100 hours) a requirement for hiring new teachers. Without one, it can be difficult to land an ESL job at more reputable and better-paying schools abroad.

Most schools will not simply hire you because you speak English fluently. A TEFL certificate demonstrates to prospective employers that you have the essential skills required to teach English effectively to English language learners (ELLs). Having a TEFL certificate will also equip you with the skills you need to succeed in the foreign language classroom. The last thing you want when you step off the plane and enter your classroom on day one is to be totally unprepared for the challenges of ESL teaching - and there are many challenges ahead! You don’t want to spend the first few months in an exciting new country struggling in the classroom. Not only does a TEFL certificate look great on your resume: practically speaking, taking a TEFL course will make you a better ESL teacher. 

Some TEFL courses, like The University of Toronto TEFL Online, offer additional course modules that offer the option to tailor your qualification to certain regions or ESL teaching jobs. You can specialize in teaching English abroad to students whose native language is, say, Arabic or Chinese. Depending on the country you want to teach in, having a relevant specialization can boost your resume and make you a more marketable job candidate. Teachers can choose to get TEFL certified online or in person

With careful research - and a TEFL certificate in hand - teaching English abroad can be an amazing opportunity to experience a different culture as well as a fantastic career move. You have one of the most personally rewarding experiences possible ahead of you, so keep an open mind, start planning and most of all - get excited!

A teacher and her students inside a classroom
Teaching English abroad requires training and preparation. Getting TEFL certified is the best way to get ready for the ESL classroom.

This article was contributed by The University of Toronto TEFL Online, a self-directed online TEFL certification course designed by professors at the University of Toronto and offered by Teach Away. Teachers can can opt for a 100-hour, 120-hour, or 150-hour TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate to prepare for effective teaching abroad.

Topic:  Before You Go