How to Teach English Abroad
Do you dream of living in another country long enough to truly explore the depths of its culture, but haven’t figured out a way to do it without draining your bank account?
If you answered “yes” to that question, then I have the solution for you. It’s one of the best ways to earn abroad, integrate quickly into a culture, and live like a local—teaching English as a second language.
English teachers and tutors are in demand all over the world, in virtually every country. Plus, this work often pays well and feels rewarding. You’re helping other people improve their lives, educations, and careers by sharing something that comes naturally to you—speaking, reading, and writing in English.
Your native English skills can be the ticket to living the life of your dreams overseas.
Do You Have to Be Young to Teach Abroad?
Perhaps the most common misconception about teaching English overseas is that it’s solely a young person’s game. Nothing could be further from the truth. Demand for English teachers is booming globally, and most schools, language institutes, and universities around the world look for reliable, experienced professionals to fill their teaching positions.
The rationale for this is simple: Professionals with decades of experience under their belts tend to show up on time and get the job done. They have the work ethic and stick-to-itiveness young people sometimes lack, not to mention diverse knowledge and industry expertise to share with their students.
From my many years of teaching English overseas, I’ve found that serious employers hire career professionals over “just-out-of-college, gap-year, I’m-exploring-the-world” twentysomethings every time.
Do You Need a College Degree to Teach Abroad?
Speaking of college, don’t think that you have to have a degree to get hired as an English teacher abroad. That’s simply not the case. While some employers prefer candidates with a college degree, most hire teachers based on their native English abilities.
I know of teachers who have secured positions without any degrees, training, or experience. However, if you don’t have a degree or any experience, it’s often advisable to get training in teaching English as a foreign language.
Do You Need a TEFL or Other Certification Before Teaching Abroad?
While it is not absolutely necessary to get a certification before you apply for jobs teaching English abroad, it is generally a good idea, since it will open more doors for you and give you the training, confidence, and strategies to succeed in your overseas position.
Certification options vary dramatically. The most expensive, “gold standard” option is the CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Developed by Cambridge English, this is offered at a variety of locations in countries around the world. And now, because of COVID-19, for the first time ever you can get this training entirely online too.
While the CELTA is offered as an in-class certification, an online certification, and a hybrid certification (combining both distance and on-location training), it doesn’t always fit everyone’s budget or timeline. The price of the certification ranges from $1,500 up to $4,000 depending on the organization offering the training. And the program typically last for at least four weeks.
There are many other options that are less expensive and offer comparable training. These include the TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). The TESOL is intended for teachers who wish to teach English in their home country to speakers of other languages, though it can also be used online or abroad.
The most common option for people wishing to teach overseas is the TEFL. This certification is accepted by the vast majority of schools and language institutes around the world. Quality online TEFL courses can cost as little as a few hundred dollars. Meanwhile, on-site, in-person training courses can cost in the hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Because there are many different options for certification to choose from, you’ll easily be able to find a viable option that fits both your budget and your timeline.
However, whether you decide to take an online or in-person training program, make sure the one you choose is accredited by an organization such as NCFE—Northern Council for Further Education; the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET); Distance Education and Training Council (DETC); and U.S. Distance Learning Association (USDLA).
Do You Need Teaching Experience to Teach Abroad?
One of the great things about a CELTA certification is that teaching experience is built into the program, so you are automatically able to say you have classroom teaching experience. This is one of the main reasons I recommend taking this certification.
Some employers will require you to have teaching experience, but many will understand if you have not taught in English in a classroom before. Many teachers do not have a background in education or any formal teaching experience when they first go overseas. If you apply for a job, just be prepared to teach a demo class.
Also, remember to highlight relevant experience from your career. If you’ve ever held a position that required you to train new employees, write a training manual of any kind, or present new facts and information to peers, customers, or clients, you can leverage that as teaching experience.
If you have taught somebody something they did not know before and guided them through a series of steps to help them gain the knowledge they needed to be successful, that’s teaching. So outline any such experience to a prospective employer.
The Best Places to Teach English Abroad
When it comes to the best countries for teaching English overseas, it all depends on your “why.” Some people pursue teaching for income, some for adventure, and others for impact.
There are those who view teaching English as a way to live comfortably in another country and save for their future, and there are those whose see teaching as a way to give back and stay sharp. Whatever your reason, in every region of the world there is an opportunity to teach English.
However, it is important to remember that each country has its own unique visa requirements and you will want to make sure you qualify to work there legally before you start submitting applications. In general, most employers will help you navigate their government’s system and assist you in filling all the right paperwork to secure your work visa. Some employers will even pay for all the costs involved, as well.
Here are some popular English teaching destinations to consider:
Costa Rica—If you dream of living in a tropical paradise with a laidback way of life, Costa Rica is a great option. The entire country embraces a national creed of pura vida, which directly translated to English means “the pure life,” but more loosely translated means “live well” or “embrace life.”
Nestled in the heart of Latin America, Costa Rica makes for a great home base to explore the rest of the region. And as a fast developing, up-and-coming country, English is in high demand in every corner of this peaceful nation.
Mexico—Commerce and tourism drive the demand for English in Mexico. Within major tourist destinations like Cancún, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas, you’ll find plenty of locals eager to learn English to capitalize on the multibillion dollar tourism industry.
Moreover, because of its rich natural resources and relatively cheap labor force, hundreds of major multinational companies now have factories and corporate offices in Mexico, which is driving the demand to learn business English. So, whether you prefer the beach life or the rich nightlife of an urban environment, you’ll find opportunities for earning as an English teacher abound in Mexico.
Colombia—Don’t dismiss the vast opportunities in Colombia just because of perceived low salaries. Most native English speakers in Colombia live very comfortable lifestyles, with many making three times the average cost of living.
A university professor who trains English teachers in the country told me that Colombia reported a shortfall of 37,000 English teachers last year. So demand for teachers is huge. Then there are the lifestyle benefits. Colombia offers some of the most temperate year-round climates you will find anywhere in the world. One of its largest cities, Medellín, is an expat hub and known as the City of Eternal Spring.
Brazil—The largest country in South America, Brazil offers almost as much diversity in teaching English as it does in natural beauty. You can teach at private bilingual schools, at universities, or in the corporate environment.
The best ways to scout opportunities in Brazil is to go there. Employers prefer to hire through word of mouth rather than post jobs online. So, don’t get discouraged if you don’t see a lot of opportunities on job boards.
Cambodia/Vietnam—These are amongthe fastest emerging markets in Asia. Recent economic growth and large populations of students and young business professionals mean that these are great places to teach.
Because Cambodia has not been on the map, so to speak, for English teachers until recently, it’s a great place to begin for those with no degrees or previous teaching experience. The same can be said of Vietnam, though to a lesser degree. The biggest demand for teachers is in private language institutes serving school students and young adults learning business English.
Owing to their locations, both countries provide great jumping off points to explore the rest of Southeast Asia. Salaries will tend to be slightly higher in Vietnam, while Cambodia boasts the most public holidays of any country in the world—28 per year.
Japan—With its fascinating culture and cuisine, Japan has long been a preferred destination for English teachers. It’s also among the top locations when it comes to salary in Asia.
Teaching opportunities here fall into two major categories, working as an assistant language teacher in public schools or working for private language institutes that specialize in conversational English.
The Japanese government also has a sponsorship program that places teachers in schools in more rural areas of Japan. So if you’re keen to explore the diverse and exquisitely beautiful countryside and truly live like a native in Japan, the JET program is worth looking into. Applicants are typically younger, but the program doesn’t have an age limit.
South Korea—If your teaching for income, South Korea is the place to teach in Asia. Contracts can include reimbursement of airfare, paid accommodations, and paid vacations. Add that on top of the high salaries and you have one of the best countries in the world for teaching English.
Demand is high, for teaching everyone from small children all the way up to business executives. Most big language companies in South Korea expect their employees to have training and strong written and verbal skills in English. Major cities like Seoul and Busan are vibrant and modern with lively expat populations. And they offer the same amenities that you would find in large European cities.
Spain—Spain offers many opportunities to teach both in a formal and informal setting. And, like Japan, the Spanish government has a sponsorship program to enable teachers who do not hold an EU passport to become teaching assistants in public schools: Conversa Spain. The program has an upper age limit of 60.
Working in a public school means you get to take advantage of all the public holidays to explore the Spanish countryside or visit France and Portugal, which are just a train ride away. If you want to test the waters of teaching in Spain, you can check out this volunteer opportunity, Vaughan Town, which offers four-star accommodations for free in exchange for speaking English with Spanish business professionals. Similar programs include PuebloIngles and Estación Inglesa.
France—Many people dream of living in Paris and spending their days sipping strong café au lait and eating buttery croissants. But there is more to France than just Paris, and teaching English is a great way to experience what living in France is truly all about. Imagine teaching English in the wine country or along France’s beautiful Mediterranean coast. It’s all possible.
It is easier for EU passport holders to secure jobs in any EU nation, though private language institutes also regularly hire North Americans. And like Spain above, France has a special program for non-EU passport holders: the Teaching Assistant Program in France, though the program is only open to those aged 20 to 30.
Italy—If you’re not yet ready to dive into a completely unfamiliar culture, Italy is a great option. Different enough to keep things interesting, but familiar enough to provide many of the comforts of home…along with lots and lots of comfort food.
Urban centers like Milan, Naples, Rome, and Turin offer the most opportunities. Here you will find local language institutes, both public and private schools, and private clients looking for tutors. Some companies even hire in-house teachers for their employees.
Beyond its historic cities, Italy also boasts an incredible diversity of landscapes and micro-cultures. Winter skiing in the mountainous regions of the north can quickly be traded in for a sun-soaked beach in the south for little more than the cost of a night on the town. Both cheap in-country flights and low-cost train travel are abundant throughout Italy. And if you like the idea of traveling from city to city, Italy has some very interesting home-stay programs where you live with locals in exchange for in-home English lessons.
United Arab Emirates (Dubai)/Kuwait/Saudi Arabia—If you’re interested in teaching to make the most money possible, the Middle East should definitely be on your list. Some employers in Dubai offer up to $70,000 per year and a normal salary would be anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 per month. But, because of these higher salaries, the market can be quite competitive and having a master’s degree and some teaching experience can really help you beat out the competition.
How Much Can You Earn Teaching English Abroad?
How much you can earn teaching English has a lot to do with the region of the world you choose. Salaries in Latin America are far lower than those in Asia and the Middle East, but so is the cost of living. It is important to keep this in mind when considering what country might be the best fit for you.
Teachers in countries like Dubai and South Korea can make enough to live a comfortable lifestyle and also save money every month or pay down debt. Whereas, in countries like Costa Rica and Mexico, you will make enough to live comfortably and pay your monthly bills but may not be socking away as much cash as you would in other parts of the world.
In most countries, local English teachers live comfortable, middle-class lifestyles and, as a native English speaker, you will likely make more than your non-native speaking colleagues. So, depending on where you decide to teach, if you live like a local, you will live a moderately comfortable to luxurious lifestyle.
Often, those living abroad miss out on many of the cultural opportunities that make a country unique because they don’t have much contact with locals. As an English teacher, from day one, you are immersed in the local culture and begin building a social network.
Teaching English allows you instant access to local residents who are eager to share their culture and get to know you. You will never feel isolated for not speaking the local language, because you will have a built-in support network of people who speak at least some English.
Moreover, in many if not most cultures, teachers are highly respected. No matter where you teach, you will be the recipient of gratitude and appreciation for helping fellow community members learn a skill that will change their lives for the better
By Kary Vannice