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

by Published | Updated

Teaching English abroad is the new vogue. Fun, profitable, and in hot demand, teaching abroad is a great way to explore a new part of the world without breaking the bank. Those who can, do. Those who can’t (wait to see the world), teach! 

close up of crayons and student coloring

Before you can start coloring outside the lines, there have to be lines! Start preparing to teach English abroad early.

But how to prepare to teach English abroad?? With the right preparations, the whole process can be downright easy. But don’t take that to mean “I’ll just sit back on my laurels, and my perfect teaching abroad opportunity will fall into my lap.” Education is serious(ly fun) business, and students deserve teachers who see it that way, and throw their hearts into preparing to teach English abroad.

Without further ado, 13 valuable tidbits on how to prepare to teach English abroad:

1. There’s a difference between being a native English speaker and being an English teacher. 

That difference is called training. Sure, you grew up blabbering away in English, and chya, your slang vocabulary is totally the bee’s knees, mate! But do you know the difference between present perfect and past continuous? Can you get students excited about conditional sentences and comparative forms? Are you ready for the emotional roller coaster of standing in front of a room full of pupils and doing education?

[Preparing to teach English abroad? We’ll match you with programs]

This is where training comes in. CELTA and TEFL certifications are the generally-accepted international standard of English teaching qualifications. And the good news? You can get CELTA or TEFL certified almost anywhere in the world. Don’t you just love when education and travel go together? Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you browse TEFL programs around the world.

2. If you’re not sure how to teach English abroad, coordinated programs are a nice way to ease into your next adventure.

For DIY teachers, you can certainly teach English abroad without the aid of a program. But there’s no shame in seeking out an extra layer of support as you prepare to move abroad. Going through an established program can have many benefits, including in-country logistical support and screening potential schools. 

Finding programs to go teach English abroad is easy as pie with abundant resources like GoAbroad’s Online Advisor and helpful guides on everything from “What to Look for in ESL Teaching Jobs”, “Teach English Abroad: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners” and “The Truth Behind Your Teaching Abroad Salary”.

3. If you can read this, you might make a extraordinary English teacher abroad.

Contrary to popular belief, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Or a middle-aged dog. Or a former accountant or fresh political science grad. The secret potion that makes a great teacher is made up of passion, knowledge, and patience. Don’t sell yourself short by assuming that all teachers must look like the magical Ms. Honey from Matilda (swoon). 

[Save and compare teach abroad programs side-by-side with MyGoAbroad]

backpack, book, open notebook on picnic table

If you want your students to do their homework, you better do yours.

Different students learn in different ways, and respond well to different kinds of characters. More diversity at the front of the classroom is definitely a good thing. So, if not many people that look like you / share your background go teach abroad—all the more reason to lead the pack!

4. Expect some trial-and-error in the international interview processes.

As with cuisines, cultures, and languages, interview and hiring processes vary considerably around the world. Some schools do most of their hiring in the summer for a full school year, while others bring in new teachers quarterly or even year-round. In some regions, online recruitment is such an established norm you would never dream of walking in looking for a job. In others, in-person interviews are required, and locally-based teachers are much more likely to get hired. For a few universal tips, check out these ESL Teacher Interview Questions and the Answers to Get You Hired.

5. Don’t let far away schools pull the wool over your eyes.

Do your due diligence! When preparing to teach English abroad—especially in the age of the interwebs at everyone’s fingertips—there’s no excuse not to thoroughly vet the schools you receive job offers from. If you receive an unsolicited email inviting you to become the personal English teacher of the Prince of Scamistan, under no circumstance should you respond with your resume and credit card details. While there are a lot of spectacular opportunities to teach English abroad, if it sounds like a fairy tale, it might be.

[First time teachers preparing to teach English abroad need to download this ebook]

When you see an opportunity or receive an offer to teach English overseas, start by popping the school’s name into Google. If everything looks legit, delve into the details of your contract: How many hours do they expect you to work? What’s the salary offer after taxes? How much does it cost to live in the area? Is housing or airfare provided? Will the school assist you in acquiring a visa? How many students will be in your class? Do they provided curriculum and/or teaching materials? Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Any top-notch teacher like yourself would want to set these things straight before signing the dotted line and flying across the world.

6. Network, network, network.

Your college career counselor has said it before, and she’ll say it again: networking is an essential part of professional success! Have questions about how to prepare to teach English abroad? Wondering about a particular destination? Who better to talk to than the experts?! With a bit of googling, you can dig up contact information for other teachers who are already doing what you want to do. As you’ll soon learn, teachers are busy, so show you respect their time with thank you’s and clear questions.

When you’re planning to move across the world, networking also extends into your personal life. Living well abroad means building a new community from scratch. While your immediate school network is a great place to start, catching a wider net, even before you arrive, can do wonders in making sure you’re connected.

girl with short blond hair writing in workbook

Your students are prepared, you should be too.

7. Read up on your destination, and nail down the basics of the local language.

A quick list of know-before-you-go essentials:

  • How to get from the airport to where you’re staying
  • What local dishes you must try (Food is always a priority.)
  • What the weather’s like throughout the year (Should you show up in flip-flops or fur?)
  • What the local currency is, and the conversion rate
  • Any cultural sensitivities you should keep in mind

In the classroom, you will likely to be asked NOT to speak anything other than English. Even if you’re fluent in the local language, keeping to a strict English-only rule in the classroom speeds up learning, and pushes students to use what they know to communicate.

[What to Look for in ESL Teaching Jobs]

Outside the classroom, however, you’ll need to finagle groceries, navigate around a new city, and make some friends! Knowing a few words of the local language can do wonders in all three departments. Plus, you’ll get a taste of the challenging task of learning a new language that your students are undertaking. Empathetic teachers are the best teachers.

8. Make sure your affairs are in order.

Don’t weigh yourself down with a long to-do list when you first arrive in a new country to teach English. Handling the boring adult-y stuff before you leave will remove so much stress from your first weeks and months abroad. Errands like routine doctor’s check-ups, filling prescriptions, and writing that long email to your grandma are just easier to deal with while you’re on home turf. Get ‘em done, so you can start your new job with a fresh slate.

9. Make yourself digital copies of everything.

Okay, maybe not everything. (If only furry friends could join us across the world with a simple cat scan!) But you’ll thank yourself later if you make a quick scan of important medical, educational, and financial documents. Things like your:

  • Passport
  • Driver’s license or domestic ID
  • Birth certificate
  • Medical history
  • Immunization records
  • Degree(s) (Most schools want copies of the original.)
  • TEFL/CELTA certificate(s)
  • Resume or CV
  • Bank account information

Inevitably, when you go teach abroad, you will be asked for copies of your documentation - whether it’s by government officials, embassy diplomats, school administrators, insurance folks, or rental car providers. Having a copy on hand will spare your parents from digging through the garage to find that Bachelors degree you’re “pretty sure” you “put in a box somewhere” after graduation. When you fall in love with teaching abroad, these documents will also make it easy to apply for your next gig in a new destination!

[These ESL Games for Kids Will Make You Their Fave Teacher]

stack of books and planner with to-go coffee cup

Preparing to teach English abroad will include a lot of coffee and to-do lists.

10. For optimum results, go with a plan.

Like most things in life, going in with a clear picture of what you want to get out of teaching English abroad will help you make the most of your time. Have a heart-to-heart with yourself before you leave, and decide how this experience fits into where you want to be in five years. Is teaching a stepping stone into other fields of work abroad? Or are you a die-hard educator hoping to expand your international credentials? Perhaps your main goal is to become fluent in Spanish, and teaching is just a way to fund a long-term stay in Spain. Whatever your motivations, clearly identifying them beforehand will ensure a more fulfilling experience.

11. Teaching English abroad can be lucrative, if you play your cards right (and pick the right destination).

If you followed Point 10, you’ve already got a goal in mind—Awesome, teech! Does your go teach abroad goal involve making beaucoup cash? If so, you’ll want to choose your teaching destination accordingly. If, however, your main goal is to see the world and get some teaching experience under your belt without spending your life savings: there are plenty of opportunities to suit you as well.

The conventional wisdom in terms of where to teach English abroad (and get paid lots of money) boils down to:

  • Salaries are medium-to-low in Asia and Latin America, but with the lower cost of living, you can live well on a beginner ESL teacher’s salary. 
  • Salaries in Western Europe are higher, but given the higher cost-of-living, early-career teachers can expect to break even financially.
  • The most lucrative teaching positions are concentrated in Middle Eastern hubs like the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. Most teaching jobs in these destinations cover housing and travel expenses, in a generous salary—depending on experience, of course.

Keep in mind long vs. short-term expenses. Some teaching opportunities will require an initial investment in TEFL certifications, flights, and program fees. But these same opportunities can work out to be quite profitable in the long-run.

In all cases, how you spend and save makes all the difference! Especially with teaching contracts that cover housing and airfare, penny-pinching teachers can save a lot—even on a relatively small salary—by watching their spending.

[The Truth Behind Your Teaching Abroad Salary]

Students riding bikes home after school with their backpacks in Cambodia 

Since you took the time to be prepared, you and your students can go home with the satisfaction of a job well-done.

12. Visas are your friend, but can also be an uphill bureaucratic battle.

Visa schmeesa, you might say—but visa applications are a very significant part of preparing to teach English abroad! Nearly all countries require teachers to apply for a work visa, which is generally a more time-consuming and intensive process than applying for a tourist visa. Some countries’ requirements for teaching visas are even stricter than schools’. For example, they may require that you have a degree in Education or a set number of years of experience. Many schools and TEFL programs (such as those below) will apply for the visa on your behalf. In any case, check the GoAbroad Embassy Directory to confirm visa expectations with your local embassy.

13. Do your homework, teachers!

There are so many resources out there to help you prepare to teach abroad it will make your head spin. To help with sorting through it all, check out the links below to get started:

- Save and compare programs with MyGoAbroad

- Get matched with teaching abroad placements by a GoAbroad Online Advisor

[Download this free ebook for more tips on teaching abroad!]

- Study up: 

6 recommended programs so you can go teach abroad

good teachers union logo

1. Teach in China, no degree necessary plus free ticket offered!

Good Teachers Union helps entry-level teachers—including those without college degrees—find placement at schools across China. They offer a salary of $1500-$2500/month, roundtrip airfare to China, housing (or a stipend), lesson plans, and teacher training for six-month or one-year contracts.

language house tefl prague

2. Join the Language House TEFL community & teach in Prague

Beginning with a four-week TEFL certification program at their headquarters in Prague, The Language House programs pride themselves on in-class teaching practice and stellar job placement support. They also offer airport pick-up, housing coordination, and other logistical support services to help make the transition to life abroad as easy as possible.

close up of yellow school bus

Even Ms. Frizzle and her magic school bus had to prepare!

lopair aupair

3. Teaching English with LoPair Au Pair China in the Far East

A unique combination of cultural exchange, homestay, and TEFL program, LoPair places teachers in Chinese family homes for three to 12 month stays. In addition to private lessons and homework help, teachers look after the children as an au pair would.

i-to-i tefl logo

4. Teach abroad with an i-to-i TEFL Course around the world

i-to-i TEFL offers 120-, 200-, and 320-hour TEFL certifications, blending online and in-person learning to maximize affordability and skill development. With a strong reputation, i-to-i TEFL alumni teach in schools around the world.

meddeas logo

5. Teach English in Peru at private schools with Meddeas

MEDDEAS facilitates connections between TEFL teachers and private schools in Peru, who hire the teachers directly. There’s a fee of $900 for pre-departure and in-country program support, but teachers are guaranteed a salary of at least $1300/month.

ita logo

6. Teach English in Albania with a TEFL/TESOL Certification from ITA

The International TEFL Academy offers an accredited one month full-time teacher certification program or a three-month online alternative. Following completion, their career advising team helps graduates find a teaching position in the country of their dreams.

Now you know! Go teach abroad!

Armed with knowledge and passion, you’ll never be readier than you are today to go teach abroad. The world is your classroom, and the classroom is your entry to the world. Just make sure you’ve done your homework. Nothing more embarrassing than showing up to class with students who are more prepared than you are! Now you should be more than prepared to go teach English abroad. 

Find teaching jobs abroad now

Topic:  Before You Go