If you’re reading this it means you’ve probably thought about – or are planning to – move abroad, most likely to become a TEFL teacher.
We won’t lie to you, this is an exciting time. The world is brimming with opportunities, whether you’re freshly TEFL certified or you’re just looking for that next step in your career teaching English. Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle, but either way, it’s a time when a range of emotions come into play: anticipation mixed with a helpful dollop of stress.
Well, it’s the anticipation we want to encourage while removing some of the stress. Yes, The TEFL Org is here to help you plan everything you need to move abroad. Perhaps you’re chasing tropical weather, maybe it’s a buzzing city brimming with life that you want, or you’re pretty keen on the idea of topping up your tan on a beach after work every day. There are no wrong answers.
So let’s get into what you’ll need to prepare for that move abroad. You might want to create your own checklist and tick things off as this article progresses.
Gaining a TEFL certificate
This is probably the most crucial thing of all. If you’re wanting to find work abroad, you need to complete a high-quality TEFL course. To get anywhere in the TEFL industry – anywhere in the world – you’ll need at least 120 hours of training from a highly-accredited TEFL course provider.
Accreditation shows that the TEFL certificate you have is of real value. It shows that it came from somewhere with a reputation for quality and the provider has passed a number of rigorous checks by external organisations.
In some parts of the world, you’ll also need a bachelor’s degree to gain a working visa. However, at the very least, having a TEFL certificate will open up the world to you – we can’t recommend or emphasise this enough.
Picking where to go: things to consider
So you’ve got your TEFL certification and sheer enthusiasm to go and try your luck being an English teacher somewhere far from home.
What aspects, though, does one need to consider before applying to jobs – or, indeed, just flying out and applying for roles in person?
The first thing, of course, is where you actually want to go. You might’ve had long-held ideas about where you see yourself living. It might be that you have family members out in far reaches of the globe, or you’ve been on holiday to somewhere and fallen in love. You’d be amazed how often the latter is given as a reason for a move by TEFL teachers.
What are the other factors to consider, though? Let’s dive in.
Demand for English
It’s not necessarily a hard-and-fast rule, this, but checking the English Proficiency Index is always a good idea before narrowing down a country you want to teach in. The chances are, the lower a country is on the EPI, the more demand there is for teachers. Or, there might not be a great English teaching infrastructure in place, and your likelihood of being able to shape curricula and have a lasting impact is higher.
Again, that’s not necessarily always the case, but the EPI is a good indicator of where there’s demand for English. Governments with competitive or aspirational economies need to have people with English skills, given the language’s status as the lingua franca of business and strategic importance.
The more demand there is for English, the better your chances of employment are as a qualified TEFL teacher.
Most competitive marketplaces
Where are you most likely to find a job? How qualified are you, and what kind of experience do you have?
These things matter if you’re looking at the most competitive marketplaces on the planet. English learning is extremely commonplace and taught to an excellent standard in parts of Western and Northern Europe. Meanwhile, you need a lofty list of qualifications and some decent experience to land the most lucrative jobs, such as those in the Middle East, which has extremely strict working visa requirements.
So, consider where the jobs are and what your level of experience is. The TEFL Org’s Job Centre is always a good indicator of where the biggest number of roles are at any given moment.
Cost of living
The joy of teaching and the desire to make a tangible impact on the lives of others is, obviously, the primary motivation of any teacher worth their salt. Let’s face it, though, you’ll need to be able to live.
Salary is a big consideration, but perhaps more pertinent is the cost of living around the world. That’ll impact how much you need to save up. You might find that the rent you’re paying right now is enormous compared to somewhere like Bali, Taiwan, or Colombia. That’ll affect the kind of salary you’re interested in.
Alternatively, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to save a bit of money where you can. Times are hard, after all. So, picking somewhere where your salary would stretch much further is never a bad idea – provided it works for you, and you can see yourself living in a particular locale.
It’s not just accommodation, travel, etc – you need to know the price of a can of cola, how much bike hire costs, the gym, and all that stuff you need to actually have a life. Luckily, there are resources like Numbeo which will help you identify how much everyday things cost, as well as the bigger purchases like rent, a car, or travel.
It almost goes without saying, but the geopolitical landscape is always changing, and safety is really important.
Everyone has their own notions of what makes them feel safe, and where they feel safe. It’s always useful to have data, though, and you can easily search for crime statistics and the like for any given nation, city or town. If you’ve been a victim of crime in the past, and you’re moving country to get a fresh start, you don’t want to find yourself somewhere with a reputation for crime or violence.
And – again, it almost goes without saying – but there are parts of the world engulfed by conflict or natural disaster. This would be true regardless of the time of writing, sadly, but it’s obviously something to consider before you make a commitment to moving somewhere.
Packing & moving belongings
Yes, we know: packing is a chore.
Does anyone enjoy that part of moving? Anyone who’s moved house, moved into halls for university or whatever else will feel an immense sense of dread at the word “moving” in itself.
Not to editorialise, but it can be a gigantic pain. However, it doesn’t have to be if you’re organised. So, when it comes to preparing for that move abroad, what big things do you need to consider when you’re about to make that move to teach English abroad?
So, there’s a lot to consider, but the task doesn’t feel so gargantuan and scary when you have things written down.
What do you need on your checklist? We’d recommend, first of all, what worldly possessions you’ll need to take with you. It might be prudent to travel light, and utilise either independent storage or, if you’re lucky, a relative’s loft or spare room to put more weighty items you won’t need to take with you.
Then, clothes: if you have a specific location in mind, you’ll surely know what the weather is like. Again, it might be prudent to travel (relatively) light in this regard; clothes are universal, you’ll be able to buy plenty wherever you end up going. It’s 2022! The internet exists!
Talking of the internet, you’ll probably have standing orders and direct debits set up where you are now. Make sure you’re able to cancel them before you head out – it’s never fun getting charged for something you’re not using, especially if you’re thousands of miles away.
Scanning important documents is also a must. Take scans of your birth certificate, passport, visa – all the things you might need, especially when you start a new job. Again; through the internet, you could get someone to email you these things, but it’s never a bad idea to have physical copies of documents you might well need once you’ve arrived at an airport somewhere.
A list of emergency contacts is a must. While it’s useful to have it on your phone or laptop, for example, it’s also prudent to have a physical address book just in case. You never know; you might have technical difficulties with your hardware, or, even worse, it might get damaged in transit. Having an address book close to hand is always a good idea.
Things you may not have considered
The pandemic’s worst moments might be consigned to the past, but you might well need a physical certificate of vaccinations, just in case it becomes an issue while travelling. What’s more, you’ll need to get important immunisations or other injections before heading out to particular parts of the world – having evidence of that is utterly crucial. Make sure that’s on your checklist.
A spare mobile phone – a pay-as-you-go “brick” phone, for example – might also be a good idea. Again, you don’t know what could happen, and we’re not trying to scare you, but preparation is better than desperation.
And, of course, basic items for teaching will be important. Pads of paper, pencils, pens; it’s better to have this ready than scrambling around for a stationery shop when you’ve moved somewhere and have a million other things to get sorted.
Talking of documents, there are some specifics that are paramount to a successful move. These are all things we’d recommend having physical copies of, because it’s much better to have something and not need it than get into a panic later on.
So, what documents does one need for a big foreign move to take on the TEFL world?
Offer of employment: needed or not?
For a number of countries, your qualifications will be enough to get access into a country on a working visa. We’ll get to the working visa shortly, but firstly, some people like to get into a country and then apply for jobs once they’re there.
After all, it’s hard to get a feel of a workplace until you’re actually there. And, in some cases, some employers may present a really wonderful working environment, but the reality and the pictures online don’t quite match up.
However, for a lot of nations, an offer of employment before you travel is a prerequisite. From their perspective, there’s no risk attached; someone’s coming in and will immediately pay tax on their earnings, because they’ve got a job sorted out.
When you’re applying for your working visa, really do pay attention to whether an offer of employment is a must, or if isn’t necessary to be granted access past customs. If you’re in any doubt, an embassy will surely help you out. We’ll get to embassies in a little while.
There’ll be some cases where a visa isn’t necessary. For example, if you’re from an EU member country, and you’re moving to another member of the European Union, you won’t need a working visa.
However, the majority of the world will need you to have a working visa, or at least some form of visa. This can be an arduous process, sure, but it’s very much worth it if you’re planning to make a life somewhere else.
Luckily, there are a litany of great resources online to find out more about working visas, by country. For example, Visa Guide, which provides a great deal of depth into the visa process, even going into the history of the visa process, including frequently asked questions.
We’ve talked about the importance of hard-copy documents, and no matter where you go to live, there’ll be important addresses and phone numbers you’ll need.
When you get accommodation sorted, you’ll need a list of local utilities, from internet and phone access to plumbers, supermarkets and all the rest. Even if it’s a page of links to websites, it’s still useful, and not the kind of thing you want to lose access to.
Perhaps more importantly, though, you’ll need the phone number and address of your nearest Embassy. For anyone making a new home abroad, the Embassy can be your best friend, especially if you find yourself in any sort of employment dispute, or issues with residence.
Names, addresses and phone numbers for the Embassy/Consulate and local amenities really are crucial. Yes, there’s fun to be had in discovering things on the move, but before you head anywhere, it’s good to know.
Finding a place to live
Finding a place to live is, obviously, really important. Before you make plans to head over, get acquainted with the housing agencies or estate agents that are working locally. It’s also a good idea to read reviews and experiences others have had with these kinds of businesses – opinions count for a lot when it comes to finding a place to live.
Of course, accommodation might be arranged by your employer depending on what country you go to, and what kind of contract you’re offered. That being the case, it saves a great deal of hassle, but it might be the case that the accommodation is insufficient, or (for whatever reason), you don’t feel safe where you’ve been put, so some local housing knowledge pays dividends either way.
Whether you find somewhere yourself, or you’re granted accommodation, there are important factors to consider. The first, perhaps, is noise: can you handle living somewhere within a busy city centre? How close is your accommodation to your work – is it a manageable commute, a short walk, or something more complicated?
Equally, think about your downtime. Does your accommodation make it easy to achieve your goals outside of work? Is there access to transport options, for example? A gym, a local football team, a cinema?
These things might seem trivial, but when you move country, it’s not all about work. You’ve got to consider if you’d enjoy living in the area you’ve either been assigned or are looking at. If you’re inclined to just stay home and watch TV every night, it’s probably not conducive to the best teaching abroad experience.
Financial & healthcare
Financial and healthcare concerns might be filed in the same list as actually moving all of your stuff: “arduous”.
It’s important, though. A lot of important things might seem like a pain in the neck at first glance, but they’re the kind of thing that, when sorted, save a lot of stress in the long run. So, in regard to financial and healthcare factors, what do TEFL teachers need to think about?
It’s easy to be deeply suspicious of people who save their money. However, if you’re going to travel abroad, even if you have an offer of work and everything sorted, you don’t know what could happen that might require a few pennies being spent.
So, without sounding like your parents, maybe save up some capital before moving abroad. The act of moving is expensive in itself, and you’ll likely need furniture, a big food shop and all sorts of smaller things to really get settled. Then, you’ll need to set up new standing orders and direct debits for utilities, which may require initial fees.
That’s life. It’s much easier having some money stored away for the annoying but very useful things you’ll need. In turn, you might find it easier to actually save money once you’ve started your new job, depending on where you’re based.
Health insurance – universal or private?
Not every country has universal healthcare. Handily, it’s easy to find out which nations do have that kind of infrastructure, but the place you’re going might not have it. Or, it might be a system that has elements of both. In any event, it’s important to figure out what the status is in the country you’re moving to, for obvious reasons.
There are some agreements in place across multi-nation memberships. For example, the European Health Insurance Card is a great help if you’re moving to an EU member state. It’s another thing to know for sure – your employer might help out with contributions to private healthcare facilities.
You’ll need your teeth, simply put. In some countries, dental care is included in universal healthcare. However, it might be of a lower standard, with extremely long waiting times and low numbers of spaces available.
So, it might not be the first thing you think of, but looking after your dental health is really important. You don’t want to develop a toothache and have no clue how to get it sorted out. You can trust us on that.
Nowadays, people are far more aware of how widespread and difficult living with a mental health condition can be. If you’re moving country but are undergoing therapy for a mental health condition, and you have the resources or a previous relationship already struck up, it might be the best idea to move to an online-based form of therapy. Nowadays, this can be quite easy to do.
Similarly, it’s important to find out whether you pay for prescriptions or not in your new home. Medications for a range of different mental health conditions are a common part of life these days, with the stigma around mental health being far reduced in large parts of the world. Along with considering healthcare options though, if you are taking any kind of regular prescription for any number of health conditions, prioritise having access to the right medicine.
Unfortunately, the stigma around mental health still exists in some parts of the world. Some employers might be more or less understanding of mental health conditions. It’s easy to say this should be covered in the application process and any job offer you receive, but it can be quite a daunting conversation to have. So, make sure you have local mental health treatment available locally if this affects you.
Connecting with people before moving
Finally, remember that loads of people have done this before you. You are not Magellan, but you are someone who’s excited to leave their comfort zone and try teaching English somewhere totally new.
So, what do we advise? Connecting with people who’ve done what you’re about to do. It’s really easy nowadays – people enjoy talking about their experiences, and anyone who’s ever moved into a new neighbourhood, let alone a new city or country, wants to recommend restaurants, bars and places to visit.
How is this done? Joining online communities on social media is a great help. Facebook is still a useful tool in this regard – see our own TEFL group!. A post asking about a particular part of the world will generate genuine responses.
Reddit is also a good resource. There are Reddit boards about pretty much everywhere in the world, where locals and people who’ve moved talk about local events, places to go, things to see and all the kinds of things you’d expect.
There are also ex-pat communities pretty much everywhere. Whether you’re needing advice on your move, from things to utilities and neighbourhoods to places to watch sport or even just talking in your native language for a bit, there are opportunities everywhere. Google is your friend here.
Yep – this is all a lot of information and a lot of things to consider. Many of these things are subjective to your experience; you will undoubtedly have different priorities to someone else moving to the same place.
However, with the advent of the internet, the world has become smaller, and it’s really not hard to find reliable information on everything from Visas to supermarkets and all in-between. That’s not to say it isn’t still a challenging prospect at times, but the world has become much smaller in recent decades.
Trust us; you’ll be fine. There are always road bumps and problems to fix when you move anywhere, whether it’s just down the road or the other side of the world.
You’ve got this, and remember your friends at The TEFL Org are always available to chat if you have any burning questions we’ve not covered here. Good luck!
Where do you want to to teach English abroad? Check out our handy teach abroad guide to find out more!