Teaching English Abroad: What You Need to Know
If you’re a native English speaker, teaching English abroad can be a wonderful way for you to live and work in another country. English teachers are in demand in places like Japan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and beyond. There are many jobs that pay good salaries, and that help you with everything from visas to rent and health insurance.
Yet before you decide to jet off to teach English in China or elsewhere, take a few moments to consider your choices. Do you want to find a job through an official government program or a private company? Would you prefer to go it alone and search for a job on your own? In addition, consider your qualifications: not only are native English speakers preferred, some areas only want teachers from countries in which English is the primary language (i.e. the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, etc.) It’s also easier to get a teaching placement if you have no criminal record and a bachelor’s degree (or the equivalent from other countries). Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification is another bonus.
People of all ages head off to teach English in South Korea, Taiwan, China and elsewhere. This work allows them to earn money that can be used for travel or to increase their bank accounts. These teachers also build lasting connections with another country that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. You too can enjoy the experience of teaching English abroad!
Where Can You Teach English Abroad?
One of the most exciting things about planning to teach English abroad is deciding where you want to go. Many countries have residents who want to learn English because it will boost their careers or make it easier to travel abroad themselves.
Here are some of the most popular countries for teaching English:
- Costa Rica
- South Korea
- The United Arab Emirates
Keep in mind that many teacher placements are made at the discretion of a coordinating organization or employer. You may end up in a small seaside town or tranquil suburb instead of a city with endless options for amusement.
You’ll usually have to apply for a visa before heading to your country of choice. The visa process can involve a background check and a medical exam. Your pay might range from US$1,000 a month to $5,000 and up, depending on your location and the number of hours you’ll be working.
You should also remember that your teaching situation can change quickly. The COVID-19 pandemic saw many language schools close down as people stayed home to avoid infection. And many instructors teaching English in China were affected when the Chinese government banned after-school and weekend tutoring on subjects taught in Chinese schools, which include English.
However, good English teachers are always in demand. Should the country you’re working in change its rules, your teaching skills and experience will help you find another job.
There Are a Variety of English Teacher Jobs
If you decide to teach English in South Korea via the government-associated English Program in Korea (EPIK), you’ll have assistance with everything from getting a visa to housing. On the downside, you may be assigned to teach in a location that’s not your first choice. The JET Program is a similar way to teach English in Japan. This program offers relatively high salaries and assistance with finding a place to live – but there’s no guarantee you’ll end up living where you desire.
If you prefer the flexibility of searching for your own teaching job vs. the stability of going to a government-connected organization, you’ll likely be working for a private employer. Some private companies assign you to public schools, and you can opt not to take a job if you don’t like the location. There are also jobs in private schools.
Many jobs in the private sector are at tutoring academies. You could be tutoring children, or even adults, but you’ll have to work around their schedules. This means you’ll be teaching during the afternoons when children aren’t at school, as well as evenings and weekends. Finding these positions may require you to sift through and evaluate various offers on job boards.
What Are the Requirements for English Teacher Jobs?
Requirements can vary, but in general you need to have no criminal record. This will help you obtain the proper visa. You may get into legal trouble if you start working while holding a tourist visa.
Most countries want English teachers to be native English speakers. Some not only require you to have English proficiency but also require that you be a citizen of a primarily English-speaking country. For example, South Korea’s EPIK only works with citizens of Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
There are teaching jobs that do not require you to have a university degree, but you’ll find it easier to get a job with a bachelor’s degree. Holding this qualification may be a condition of receiving your work visa. Your degree does not have to be in a subject like English or education.
You may also face age requirements. Some organizations prefer teachers who are between 20 and 40 years old.
TEFL Certification Can Help You Land English Teacher Jobs
Receiving certification in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) is not always necessary. For example, if you teach English in Japan via the JET Program, you don’t need to have TEFL certification.
Yet it’s difficult to step into a classroom and command attention from students, so techniques learned in a TEFL course can be a big help. Plus this qualification can help you find English teaching jobs. And getting certified does not need to be difficult or very expensive. There are online programs with 100 hours of training that cost around US$200. This 100-hour training is a minimum; teaching English in China requires 120 hours.
TEFL certification options include classes from TEFL.org. Another highly respected course is Cambridge English’s Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CELTA). You can go through CELTA training online or in person. Costs start at around $2,450 and up for a CELTA course. The certification is expensive, but it is also held in high regard and is usually a requirement for high-paying English teacher jobs in the Middle East.
What Do English Teacher Jobs Pay?
There is a wide range in pay for jobs to teach English abroad, so think about your goals. If you want to live somewhere like France, your pay may, at most, allow you to break even. If you want to save money while living in a new country, you can find teaching jobs with good salaries that will allow you to build up your bank account.
Even if your salary is lower, some of the costs of living abroad may be covered by your job. There are organizations that pay for your housing and transportation expenses, leaving you with more money in your pocket. You may also have low-cost medical insurance. Consider all these items while calculating your budget.
Here are monthly English teacher salaries, in U.S. dollars, for several countries:
- The U.A.E.: $3,500 to $5,500
- Saudi Arabia: $3,000 to $4,000
- Hong Kong: $3,000 to $6,500
- Kuwait: $2,600 to $4,000
- Taiwan: $2,000 per month
- Oman: $2,000 to $3,500
- South Korea: $1,800 to $2,200
- China: $1,400 to $2,200
- France: $890 (as an assistante de langue)
- Thailand: $740
- Japan: $1,600 to $3,000
You should also think about your work schedule when calculating your salary. For example, English teachers in Japan don’t have to work on 23 national holidays, in addition to their annual leave. Private Japanese companies often pay their teachers lower salaries, but may expect you to work fewer days.
How Can You Find English Teacher Jobs?
You can apply to programs like EPIK and the JET Program if you’re interested in teaching English in Japan or South Korea. TEFL.org has a “Jobs Centre” which helps connect graduates with teaching placements across the globe. You can use this database to connect with others and learn more about the jobs that are available. Other online job boards include Dave’s ESL Café.
Your Living and Working Conditions
If your contract says you’ll be provided with an apartment, it’s okay to ask for details about this housing. If flights or health insurance are advertised or promised verbally, make sure those perks are included in your contract. You can ask how many hours you’ll be in the classroom, and if you’ll be paid for lesson preparation. You should not have to hand over your passport to your contracting organization.
Schools in Spain have sometimes underpaid or avoided making social security contributions for their English teachers. If that should happen to you, you will end up with fewer benefits (e.g., less sick leave than you otherwise would have been entitled to).
You may be excited to have a 29-hour workweek, yet in some countries, schools do this so you will not be considered a full-time employee. A 29-hour workweek in Japan means your employer does not have to contribute to social programs on your behalf. When those responsibilities fall on your shoulders, your shorter workweek can end up being quite expensive.
Teaching abroad means you may be working without speaking the local language or understanding cultural norms. For those who sign up as English teachers via a government program or private employer, you should be able to turn to this organization when you have concerns. If you are not associated with any organization, you may want to reach out to local expat groups or fellow English teachers for support should you need it.
Remember You’ll Be Living Abroad, Not Visiting
Teaching English abroad is a great way for you to earn money while being able to experience a new country and culture. But consider that you’re usually signing up to live in a new place for at least a year. You may want to learn some of the native language of your new country so you can do everything from go to the movies to buying groceries.
As you’ll be separated from friends and family back home, how will you keep in touch? And consider what to do if you’re assigned a spot in an isolated village. Will you thrive on your own, or should you try to build a local support network? Some teachers learn new skills and make new friends by taking language classes, or via courses in other areas like cooking, flower arranging, and photography.
Teaching English Abroad Is Hard Work, But It Is Also Hugely Rewarding
Teaching is challenging work, no matter the subject. You may have to spend hours coming up with classroom activities. As an English teacher abroad, you’ll face additional challenges, such as the difficulties of communicating with students or being confronted with unfamiliar cultural norms.
Yet the challenges do not erase the benefits and opportunities of being able to teach English abroad. Many teachers are delighted they had the opportunity to enjoy new experiences, face fears and challenges, and even cope with culture shock when living abroad. And at the end of their teaching jobs, they were proud of the work they did with their students. If this sounds compelling to you, the world of teaching English abroad awaits.