TEFL jobs abroad: are employers still recruiting? The TEFL market in 2020

We recently took a look at the current state of the online teaching market, which has seen a huge spike in interest this year as more people seek out work-from-home opportunities. But what about TEFL jobs abroad?

By the time we got to April this year almost half of the world’s population was under lockdown. We’ve since seen restrictions lifted and then reimposed in a number of countries, so it doesn’t seem like we’re going to return to a time of uncomplicated travel anytime soon. This obviously has implications for the TEFL industry, since thousands of roles are filled every year via recruitment from abroad.

To get a clearer idea of the current state of the market and how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the TEFL industry we talked to a number of employers and recruiters. We spoke with: Alex Millington, Director of Studies, Speak, Slovakia; Idoia Sánchez from Meddeas; Alistair Wery from Korean Horizons; Greg Delazeri from United Study; and Darren Povey from EF English First.

How the pandemic has affected the market so far

Many of the employers we spoke to talked about the difficulties created by the pandemic when recruiting from abroad. Getting teachers through visa processes has been challenging due to delays and ever-changing government policies. Teachers wanting to find a TEFL job abroad ASAP will need a bit of patience – some things might not go to plan and there may be delays.

TEFL jobs in Asia

EF English First run over 300 schools in China, which meant they were among the first to feel the disruptive effects of the virus. Recruitment in China has certainly been tough, but Darren told us they’ve managed to secure visas for over 100 teachers starting by the end of the year:

“While the Western world was largely disconnected from the initial stages of the pandemic, at EF we had to deal with the crisis as early as January. We have spent the last ten months navigating many obstacles, but we are finally at a stage where we can obtain visas for our teachers to live and work in China. While there were many discouraging moments, we’ve always had confidence in ourselves to roll with the punches. We are now being rewarded for our hard work and patience, and have over 100 teachers set to arrive in China by the end of this year.”

While EF have succeeded in recruiting teachers to start in China in the coming months, not all employers in the country are as keen to continue recruiting from abroad at the moment. Greg from United Study told us that many employers are looking for applicants already working in the country to avoid arranging visas from abroad:

“The beginning date is highly speculative and something not even the schools or training centres are aware of. So a select number are willing to wait but most others will only consider viable candidates that can take the job within the country.”

And Alistair from Korean Horizons has found that there’s actually been a surge in applicants this year, despite everything going on, and while recruitment ceased at the beginning of the pandemic it’s now fully open:

“South Korea is a very popular location, and the number of applicants received during the coronavirus has actually increased compared to previous years. This is because of how well South Korea is managing the virus, and teachers believe they will be looked after. Also, the positions we offer are amongst the best in the industry.”

A man and a woman shaking hands

TEFL jobs in Europe

Some employers and recruiters in Europe have seen a benefit to the current situation. Freedom of movement within the EU means that teachers with an EU passport don’t need to go through the process of acquiring a visa, which can make working in Europe a lot more attractive presently. As a result, highly qualified and experienced teachers have been seeking work closer to home, which has meant employers can afford to be more selective. Alex, the Director of Studies of Speak in Slovakia, told us:

“The pandemic has had an incredible effect on recruitment to Europe – this year we have received a much more varied and exciting field of applicants, due to the fact that many people have written off Asia and the Gulf states ‘until later’ in light of Coronavirus restrictions that were applied there.”

Newly-qualified British and Irish EFL teachers aiming to work in Europe should take note: with more competition for positions it’s important to ensure your CV is as strong as possible.

Changes and challenges for employers and recruiters

Some employers and recruiters currently have a preference for teachers already based in the country. This is because they can avoid the uncertainty and potential delays involved with arranging visas from abroad. Teachers in this position who are looking to move on from their current job may find that they’re in a position where they can negotiate a higher salary.

However, the demand in countries like China is so high that it simply wouldn’t be possible to fill all positions with teachers already there. And keep in mind that many have returned home since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Patience is going to be key here, and if you meet the visa requirements and have all the necessary documents at the ready then there opportunities out there and recruiters willing to help.

Greg from United Study told us that while they’re happy to put those willing to wait on a waiting list they have been focusing on teachers already in country for filling positions:

“We are happy to work with our teachers in finding them a position or being placed on a waiting list. We have for the moment targeted mostly in-country applicants.”

And Alex told us that not much has changed to his recruitment process but there are now certain areas he pays close attention to when hiring:

“We have not changed an awful lot – we have always recruited using a 2-stage interview process over Skype, so Coronavirus itself has not really changed that, however we obviously raised our requirements in light of the field of candidates that applied, as well as spending a lot more time assessing candidates’ computer skills, attitudes towards Covid management strategies (Anti-Vaxx/ Anti-Mask and conspiracy-minded candidates were FORCEFULLY rejected in light of my disinterest in watching our staff get arrested, or our center ending up on the news for not following simple government restrictions.)”

A teacher delivering an online lesson

Advice from employers

Most of the employers we talked to stressed that in these times adaptability and resilience are key qualities they look for when recruiting. Life can be unpredictable at the moment as restrictions ease and tighten in response to local virus rates. It’s impossible to predict how everything will pan out, and teachers need to be prepared for things not going to plan and be capable of adapting at short notice.

Idoia from Meddeas told us:

“We are focusing even more on the candidates’ ability to adapt to unforeseen situations, plus their resilience amidst an uncomfortable scenario. Also, as we have always done, we highly value initiative and proactivity.”

This was seconded by Darren from EF: “Things can change very quickly these days, so we and our teachers need to be adaptable and understanding of that.”

The importance of online skills

Another area that repeatedly came up with the employers we talked to was the ability to teach online. Alex from Speak told us that while his school was able to begin the September term with in-person classes, the situation in Slovakia has recently changed and they are now back to online teaching like at the beginning of the pandemic. Going back and forth between in-person and online teaching is likely to be a reality in many countries, so it’s important that teachers have the necessary skills to successfully conduct lessons in both environments. His advice is:

“Learn online teaching, inside and out. We want evidence that you understand a variety of online  and IT systems, that you won’t panic when integrating into our company’s remote management and video conferencing software (Slack and Zoom, currently) and that you are able to easily and confidently use IT technology to enhance your teaching abilities.”

And Idoia had this to say:

“We are indeed aware of the increasing importance of online teaching. This is not something that would substitute face-to-face education, but we do value online skills and innovative ideas on how to teach that way, just in case they are needed.”

A teacher holding up cards for a young student

Should you wait to get TEFL qualified?

Based on what employers have told us we wouldn’t recommend waiting for the current situation to pass before getting TEFL qualified. There are a few reasons for this.

Firstly, visa processes can be costly and time-consuming – both for applicants and employers. Employers want to minimise risk as much as possible, so they’ll expect you to be able to produce all the necessary documents for the visa process without delay. Not being able to do so can easily rule you out. It used to be common for employers to consider applicants who were still in the process of gaining their TEFL qualification or in their final year of university, but we’re seeing some indications that this is no longer the case. Getting TEFL qualified sooner rather than later will put you in a better position for finding work.

Secondly, as you’ll have read above, online skills are becoming a must. By getting your TEFL qualification now you’ll be able to start teaching English online and gain experience in this area. When you start applying for jobs abroad, you’ll be able to demonstrate your ability to adjust to remote teaching were it required. Our 40-hour Teaching English Online course is a good option to help bring you up to speed.

And, finally, depending on where you want to teach the market may be more competitive. Qualifying now and getting experience and doing further learning is only going to stand you in good stead. There are lots of areas you can focus on increasing your skills in after gaining your initial TEFL qualification. You can teach online or tutor locally to gain some practical experience, you can work on becoming confident with grammar (“teachers who know (and crucially can REALLY teach) English grammar are worth their weight in gold,” said Alex), learn about proficiency tests like the IELTS, and complete additional training, for example. Teachers never stop learning!

Take a look at our range of TEFL courses and get certified to teach English abroad or online!

Share this page:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *