How to Avoid TEFL Scams and Bad Employers

Sadly, there are people out there looking to take advantage of newly-qualified EFL teachers excited to land their first teaching position. Regardless of what industry you’re in it’s always important to exercise caution when sharing details online.

While it’s understandable to be worried about TEFL scams the reality is there are very few out there in comparison to the thousands of legitimate jobs advertised. Nonetheless, it’s important to be aware of the signs of a scam or a bad employer, which is why we’ve put together some tips to help you stay safe during your job search!

Online TEFL scams to watch out for

While the online teaching industry has been growing year-on-year, it’s currently experiencing a boom like never before. With more students and teachers currently moving online there are some unscrupulous characters out there seeking to exploit teachers seeking out online work.

Here are some things to watch out for when applying for online teaching jobs:

  • There is no website. What online teaching company doesn’t have a website?
  • No reviews. If you can’t find any Glassdoor reviews from other teachers or reviews from students then that can be a good indication that it isn’t a real company.
  • Unreasonable penalties and fines. A number of legitimate companies will have penalties for teachers who miss lessons that have been booked, which is understandable. But pay close attention to the terms, because there are some out there that have penalty rules that are so unreasonable it’s almost inevitable that you’ll lose a chunk of your pay to them on a regular basis.
  • No payment for first lessons with students. Some companies will offer students a free first lesson. But this offer to entice students shouldn’t be at the expense of you as teacher. We have heard reports about some companies using this as a way to avoid paying teachers altogether, who find themselves never offered lessons beyond the initial “free” lesson.
  • Interviewer requests remote access. This is a scam a course graduate recently alerted us to. If you’re interviewing for what you believe to be a job and you’re told that there is a “technical fault” and they need to remotely access your computer to fix it you should end the interview immediately. There is no reason a legitimate interviewer would ever do this. Be wary.

A woman in a leather jacket looking online and writing something in a notepad


When to immediately walk away – TEFL scam alert!

Whether you’re applying for an online job or a position abroad the below are almost definite signs of either a TEFL scam or a bad employer/recruiter.

  • You’re asked for money upfront. You should never have to pay to get a job. Often the “employer” will request it’s sent by Western Union or a similar service that is impossible to trace back to them. While there can be a number of costs involved in taking up work abroad – such as visas, background checks, and flights – you shouldn’t be paying any of this to an individual.
  • The terms of the contract change. If you’re being asked to sign a contract that is very different to the terms advertised when you applied then avoid. Only ever sign a contract if you’re happy with it!
  • No digital footprint. Can’t find any details about the employer/recruiter online outside of job adverts? That’s usually a sure sign of a TEFL scam.
  • Negative reviews and warnings. If you Google the employer and all you can find are negative reviews and people warning others that it’s either a scam or the employer is exploitative then it’s best avoided.
  • No interview. Legitimate employers are not going to offer you a job without an interview and having only seen your CV.
  • You’re not allowed to speak to a current employee. If the employer has nothing to hide they won’t have a problem putting you in touch with a current or past employee.
  • No address. You can’t find an address for the employer or it’s just a PO Box.

When to exercise caution

If you come across any of the below we strongly recommend further research or to avoid completely.

  • You’re offered a job in a country where you don’t meet the requirements for a work visa. Working illegally in a country leaves you incredibly vulnerable to exploitation by an employer. If you’re looking for a good TEFL experience don’t do this.
  • Despite having no qualifications or experience you’re offered a job. While this isn’t completely unheard of, it’s getting rarer and rarer for employers to not at the very least require teachers to have a TEFL qualification.
  • The pay is too good to be true. Is the salary and benefits offered significantly better than comparable jobs in the same country? If this is the case proceed with caution, TEFL scams frequently offer above-average pay to lure you in.
  • Poor online presence. If a school doesn’t have much of an online presence and uses a lot of stock images rather than photos of actual students and teachers this can be a cause for concern.
  • You’re offered a job in a country it’s typically very difficult for you to secure work in. This is particularly relevant for non-EU citizens looking for full-time positions in Europe. Working in Europe as a non-EU citizen can be tricky so you need to be certain that everything’s above board.
  • Poor English. If the job advert is written in poor English then you’ve got to ask the question why were they not able to consult an English speaker before posting it?
  • You’re being pressured into accepting a job. Recruiters may be pushy because a commission is in it for them but don’t let yourself be rushed into making any decisions.
  • You’re told your working visa will be provided when you arrive. Arranging a visa in-country can be common in South America but in many other countries it’s illegal so make sure to do your research into visa If you’re unsure do not simply trust what you’re being told by an employer/recruiter – verify it elsewhere.

How can you do further research if you’re feeling unsure?

Google

First things first, use Google to check out the employer/recruiter’s online presence. Find out if there are any reviews, although be wary as it’s possible for these to be faked. If it’s a TEFL scam or the employer is awful to work for then someone may have posted about it online to warn others.

Google tip: use quotation marks to return more accurate search results. For example, if you search The TEFL Org on Google you’ll get 1.5 million results but if you search “The TEFL Org” with quotation marks you’ll get a somewhat more manageable 10,400 results.

A woman holding up a magnifying glass to her eye


Check out the email address

You’ve been receiving emails from “greatschool@gmail.com” but you look up the school on Google and the email listed on the site is “recruitment@greatschool.com” – something seems a bit dodgy.

Email the address listed on the website to ask about the position to find out if there is actually a job or if you’ve been emailing someone posing as a legitimate school. A Gmail or Yahoo email address is not always dodgy as some schools do use these but you just need to make sure it matches up with what’s on their website.

Ask to speak to a current employee

This is never going to be a problem for a legitimate employer who treats their staff well. If they refuse then either they don’t have any employees to put you in touch with or they don’t want you talking to their current – likely disgruntled – employees. Big red flag.

Look up other job adverts

Have a look at a range of job adverts in the same country order to get an idea of what to expect regarding salary and benefits. If you’ve come across a job offering a salary and benefits way over everything else you’ve seen then it’s quite probably too good to be true.

When a degree is a visa requirement for legally working in a country then job adverts are going to list a degree as essential. If you’ve come across an employer saying it isn’t necessary then we’d advise extreme caution. Ask yourself: is someone willing to employ teachers illegally going to be good to work for? What else do they get up to? If you’re working illegally it’s incredibly easy for your employer to exploit you and change the terms of your contract when they please.

Similarly, if the employer doesn’t care if you have a TEFL qualification or not then that’s something to be wary of. Years back it wasn’t too hard for someone completely unqualified to find a teaching position, but these days it’s a lot more difficult. If you see a position advertised that requires no TEFL qualification (and the position doesn’t include training) then it’s almost certainly either a scam or a sign of a bad employer. Avoid!

Trust your instincts

If you’ve followed all the above tips and it still doesn’t sit right with you then trust your instincts. Don’t rush into any decisions, take your time. You can always get in touch with us and we’ll take a look over the job and offer our opinion or ask for advice from our student community on Facebook.

While TEFL scams are important to be aware of, there are so many great, legitimate TEFL jobs out there! Keep applying for positions listed on reputable jobs boards and you’ll be sure to find the ideal position for you!

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2 thoughts on “How to Avoid TEFL Scams and Bad Employers

  1. I’d like to add another thing, avoid at all costs being recruited by a third party (particularly china) such as a school franchise or agency even if the company is well known and has a nice snazzy website. According to Chinese law, a school must be open 12 months before they can get clearance to hire foreigners, schools get around this by signing up to a franchise which gets the visa sponsored by another school, sometimes in another province, also as well as nicking half your paycheck, teaching agencies (not to be confused with recruiters who just put you in touch with schools) will also do the same and will then send you off to any school but should the police come calling and see you teaching in a school which has no clearance for foreign teachers you’ll be due a big fine and possibly deportation. Only the school you will be working in can get you legally documented to work there.

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