Teach English Abroad: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

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How can I teach English abroad?

It seems that today, everyone’s doing it, from Grandma to little cousin Eric. Teaching English abroad is now a popular venture for several reasons. First off, it’s a sensible way to travel, give back to the local community, immerse yourself in a new language and culture, and get some classroom experience under your belt. Not only that, this form of meaningful travel will definitely expand how you see the world and help you develop into a better and stronger human being. 

Now here’s the burning question: how can I teach English abroad?

Black backpack, blue jeans, grey sneakers, red brick wall

It’s time to go back to school!

Step 1: Know what kinds of jobs are out there / get a scope of the industry.

Oooh baby, baby, it’s a wild world when it comes to the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) industry. The majority of ESL teachers teach overseas, but some teach in their home countries. It all depends on what you want to be teaching, who you want to be teaching, how long you want to be teaching, and where you want to be teaching! The sky’s the limit!

Contracts can range from a few weeks to a year or more. However, it’s a lot easier to find teaching jobs (and actually get paid to do it) if you can make a longer-term commitment— semesters at a minimum, but ideally you want to teach for a year or more. You can teach English abroad in a variety of contexts: commercial language schools, NGOs, public schools, international schools, English camps, universities, volunteer organizations, one-on-one tutoring, business English classes, the list goes on! 

Start thinking about your goals and interests. If kids just aren’t your thing, a job teaching English at a private language school and/or one-on-one tutoring might be the better gigs for you. If you just can’t get enough of the kiddos and educational coloring pages – looking for jobs in local public schools and international schools will be the perfect fit. 

Step 2: Create your very own teach English abroad timeline.

One of the first things you need to do is create a realistic timeline before you teach English abroad. For example, if you want to commit to teaching for one year in Taiwan, you have to start planning well in advance – at least six to 12 months – to cover major ground like getting TEFL certified, researching jobs, getting an interview, waiting for your visa, and saving money for flights and other expenses.

Everyone’s timeline might look a little different depending on your experience level, where you want to teach, and how long, but you can use this as a template for your planning: 

* 6-9 months before departure: Lay the groundwork 

  • Sign up for a TEFL course if you’re not already certified
  • Study up and ACE that course
  • Don’t have a passport? GET ON IT! 
  • Decide on a location for your future teaching position 
  • Research available jobs in-country

* 3-6 months before departure: Commence the job hunt & finalize your placement

  • Reach out to your TEFL alumni network for advice on job placement
  • Use any offered job placement services through your TEFL provider to start applying for teaching positions
  • Polish your resume
  • Apply, apply, apply! 
  • Nail your interview
  • Sign your teaching contract
  • Breathe
  • Do a happy dance!

* 0-3 months before departure: Getting ready to move abroad

  • Check out work-visa requirements with your embassy here 
  • Work with your school to get your visa paperwork filled out and submitted
  • If you need to find your own housing abroad, now’s the time to do it! 
  • Read everything you can get your hands on about your host country
  • Start making a few lesson plans
  • Brush up on your foreign language skills if you need to
  • Get packin’! 
  • Board that plane & have the time of your life!

You can ultimately adjust this timeline based on a lot of factors – namely, how far ahead you are in the planning process – but these bulleted items need to be addressed nonetheless. 

[Let us do your homework for you — get matched with teaching programs!]

White desk with notebook, pen, smartphone, and small timer

Set your own timeline for your teach English abroad adventure.

Step 3: Research TEFL organizations and decide if you want to get TEFL certified.

Online or in person? 

In-person TEFL courses are highly recommended if you have zero classroom experience because you get the chance to teach real students. However, these courses can be quite expensive (with flights, accommodation, visa fees etc.) and can take up a lot of time. 

On the other hand, if you want to save money and time, why not sign up for an online TEFL course? These are flexible enough so you can study at anytime and anywhere in the world. Online TEFL courses are great if you’re not sure you want to commit to teaching full-time just yet. Top tip: for the best of both worlds, there are courses that combine online classes with significant hours of real-life classroom experience.

Read reviews. 

Technically, you can sign up for a TEFL program with no reviews, but wouldn’t you like to know what other people have to say about it? Reviews provide a snapshot of other people’s firsthand experiences of the course you’re seeking and can help you make the right decision to commit or not. 

What to look for in TEFL courses. 

Picking the right TEFL course can be overwhelming, but here are a few things you should DEFINITELY be looking for: Is the program provider accredited by a reputable organization? How long is the course? For a typical TEFL course, 120 hours is the industry standard and should include 6-10 hours of observed teaching practice. Are the course tutors properly qualified to teach the course? How long have they been teaching it? Have they taught abroad? How much tutorial support can you expect? Is the price fair or too good to be true? 

Choose your course.

Now that you know what’s out there, it’s time to select the best one for you, your goals, and your budget. Reach out to your new advisor and get your course started!

[Pros & Cons of Online TEFL Courses vs. On-Site TEFL Courses]

colorful chalk on butcher paper, purple chalk is broken

Chalk it up to hard work and dedication— but you WILL be a teacher abroad.

Step 4: Choose where you want to teach English abroad and decide how long you want to stay there.

This ultimately depends on your personal preferences and needs. Before settling on a location, ask yourself these simple questions.

  • Do you want to teach in a country where you can speak the native language or is this a deal breaker? 
  • Do you want to live with the conveniences of a developed country or rough it in a developing country? 
  • Do you prefer to live in a city or is a local village or town more your style? 
  • Are the ESL salaries in your chosen country high enough for you to live comfortably or will you be skating in the red at the end of each month? 
  • How long do you want to teach English abroad? A couple of weeks? A couple of months? A couple of years? It all depends on how much time and money you are willing to dedicate to this goal. 

Popular places to teach English abroad include Thailand, South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Spain, and Colombia. To learn more about where you should teach, check out the best places to teach abroad in 2018 or watch our guide video on the top 10 countries to teach abroad in 2018! 

Step 5: Confirm you are qualified to teach English in that country.

This is muy importante but often overlooked by many wannabe ESL teachers. Each country has its own requirements for English teachers, so you need to research before you even send out a resume. For example, the majority of schools in South Korea require English teachers to have citizenship from these countries only: US, Canada, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Also, many countries will only allow you to teach English if you have a bachelor’s degree (in any subject) at minimum. 

[6 Countries to Make (SERIOUS) Money Teaching English]

Instead of throwing in the towel, consider investing in completing the steps necessary to make you eligible to teach abroad in your dream country. If there’s really no possible way (it can be hard to change your nationality…), consider alternative destinations where native English proficiency is not required.

Step 6: Understand the types of teaching jobs within that country.

Teaching jobs will vary in your chosen country. For example, in Japan, you can become an assistant language teacher (ALT) in a public school or a Native English Teacher (NET) in a private language school. You can also lecture and teach English classes at Japanese universities or become a business English teacher, international school English teacher, or a kindergarten English teacher. 

The type of teaching job you take will depend on how long you can commit to a contract, your experience teaching, and your own interests and goals as a teacher. Your contract will vary depending on where you end up working. If you’re looking to build a career as an ESL teacher, definitely look for full time, long-term contracts. If you want some more flexibility and the ability to move from country to country, look for freelance, shorter-term contracts or jobs as an ESL tutor. If money isn’t your be-all-end-all and you’re looking for a way to make a summer abroad or sabbatical more meaningful— check out volunteer teaching

Step 7: Research the cost of living and your ability to save while working in country.

A country’s real cost of living is how much it will cost you to live in that particular place. Numbeo and Expatistan are two tools you can use to find out or compare cost of living rates in several countries around the world.

You can also check out this handy-dandy chart from International TEFL Academy, that breaks down average teaching salary, cost of living, potential savings, and any other perks or benefits (housing, flights, etc.), by country. If you’re looking to make bank, teaching in the Middle East is the way to go. If you want to help pay off student loans while only eating noodles, teaching positions in East Asia and Southeast Asia will satisfy both appetites. 

You’ll want to take all of this into consideration as you pick a teach abroad destination and program. Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know! 

[Save & compare programs side-by-side with MyGoAbroad]

decorated school stairwell

You’re certainly going to need to brush up on arts and crafts before you start teaching kiddos.

Step 8: Read reviews of programs, reach out to different organizations, talk to alumni.

Much like when you were sussing out the best TEFL certification course for you, when it comes to teaching English abroad, research is a no-brainer. Don’t commit to anything unless you thoroughly read program reviews, reach out to the actual organizations, and talk to program alumni. It’s better to over-research than travel all the way there and experience a hellish letdown.

Step 9: Pick a program and start preparing for travel.

Sign up and get the thumbs up

After you’ve done all that research to suss out the deets about different jobs, salaries/perks, employers, and locations, it’s time to a make a choice. Remember not all teach English abroad jobs are equal. Pick a program you really love and feel comfortable with and with the touch of a button or a swipe of your index finger, sign up!

Get ready to move abroad! 

Start prepping for your teaching adventure by getting any required immunizations, visas, flight tickets, and other important documents. If you’re a newbie teacher, now is also a good time to get your TEFL certificate so you’re raring to go when you enter the classroom for the first time. 

You can even start thinking of ideas and collecting materials for your self-introduction lesson (when you meet your students for the first time). Great intro stuff include pictures of you and your family, your hometown, your country, your favorite pet, anything that allows your students to get to know you better. Also, don’t forget to pack cool lesson plans, teaching supplies, stationery, cute teacher stamps, and small presents for your principal and co-teachers.

Step 10: Pack your bags and teach English abroad, already!

This can be the most exciting or the most frustrating part of the process. If you’ve never taught English abroad or lived abroad before, you may be tempted to pack everything for your time away. Please don’t! Excess baggage fees can rack up. Plus, if you’re traveling alone, remember you have to lug around those bags so pack sensibly. 

One thing teachers forget to pack is an appropriate teacher’s wardrobe. Check with your employers before you go and stock up or you could be scrambling to find your shoe or pants size in a foreign country! Don’t forget your computer (for lesson planning and research) and a camera to beef up your Instagram feed while you’re there!

[Find a Teaching Job Abroad Summer 2018]

empty swings on school playground

All your favorite things about school are still there, don’t worry.

Extra Credit: Must-read articles before you teach English abroad

You didn’t think you’d get out of doing a little homework before teaching English abroad, did you? Surely not! You’ll want to read through all of these AWESOME resources before embarking on your adventure— trust us, you’re sure to ace this teaching thing. 

9 great companies to teach English abroad

Since there are so many TEFL jobs out there, we decided to do the legwork for you and have chosen the best companies to teach English abroad. Here are 10 awesome employers around the world that offer some really exciting international teaching experiences (you can also find more on our list of top TEFL organizations this year).

ita logo

1. Teach English Abroad with the International TEFL Academy

Teach abroad just about anywhere in the world (after you get that TEFL, of course!). The International TEFL Academy (ITA) is a leader in providing excellent placement and support for new ESL teachers.

  • Popular countries: China, South Korea, Japan
  • Salary range: Varies per destination
  • Related: Read Reviews of ITA
premier tefl logo

2. Paid teach abroad internships with PremierTEFL

PremierTEFL is making waves in the teach English abroad world with their paid TEFL internships. You can choose between 12 countries across three continents, with length of time varying from three weeks to nine months. Like most other program providers, you’ll make more money in their East Asian destinations than others.

3. Teach English with LoPair Au Pair China

au pair china logo

LoPair offers an au pair program that links you up with a Chinese host family or a foreign family that lives in a major Chinese city. As an au pair, you can expect to do things like language tutoring, childcare, and some light household tasks. You’ll also get the chance to experience real Chinese culture by attending Mandarin classes, culture courses, and more.

Close up of flipping through thick book

Hit the books, hard.

gocambio logo

4. Teach English to your host family with GoCambio

Teach your native language and learn the language of your host family in exchange. GoCambio promises a truly unique and independent travel experience for anyone who wants to learn or improve a foreign language. Stay abroad for free, learn a new language, and teach English in return. It’s that simple. 

  • Popular countries: Ireland, France
  • Salary range: None, but you’ll also pay $0 in living expenses!
  • Related: Read Reviews of GoCambio

5. Teach English Abroad with API 

api logo

Academic Programs International (API)I gives students the chance to teach English abroad in nine different countries. API is well-connected and has strong relationships with schools, language academies, and Ministries of Education globally. It offers teaching programs in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. 

  • Popular countries: Colombia, Italy, Costa Rica
  • Salary range: Not applicable
  • Related: Read Reviews of API

6. Teach in Colombia with Teach English:ESL

teach english esl logo

Want to teach English abroad in South America? This program is affiliated with governmental organizations to teach English to underprivileged kids in Colombia. Co-teach for 5 or 10 months and earn a monthly stipend of 1,500,000 Colombian pesos. There’s also a bonus once you complete your stint.

7. Teach in Thailand with MediaKids Academy

media kids logo

MediaKids Academy offer ESL teachers the opportunity to teach in primary and secondary schools through Thailand. Score a competitive salary which includes accident insurance, accommodation allowance, contract renewal bonus, and an opportunity to earn a raise. Also get 24/7 help from an English-speaking Thai consultant. 

office organizer with brightly colored paper, pens, and highlighters

Don’t forget to stock up on all your favorite school supplies! (We can smell that age-old Staples smell now… Mmmmmm. Nostalgia and liquid paper.)

8. Teach English abroad with TEFL Heaven

tefl heaven logo

TEFL Heaven offers paid teaching abroad programs in 10 countries. If you are a native or non-native English speaker, degree holder or not, this program provider will first train you in TEFL and offer you an English teaching program to suit your needs.

9. Teach English in Japan with Amity 

amity logo

When it comes to teaching young kids ESL, Amity Corporation is one of Japan’s leading private language schools. There are many branch schools across the country and you can choose your preferred location. Classes are very engaging and require teachers and students to use a lot of technology and other resources. 

Teach English abroad — we dare you

If you always dreamed about teaching ESL but haven’t really done anything about it, we hope this guide will gently lead you in the right direction. At first, teaching English abroad may seem like a vague or unattainable pipe dream but if you follow these practical and logical steps, you’re bound to get moving stat. 

When you get there, don’t expect it to be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. In many foreign countries, teaching remains a noble profession and students pay a lot of money to learn English so take it seriously, give it your best shot, and make it meaningful for yourself and your students. Take your time, be proactive, and have fun teaching and learning inside and outside the classroom (you never stop learning as a teacher). And most of all, get ready for the adventure of your lifetime.

Find English teaching abroad jobs right now!