There are typical concerns for TEFL teachers looking to travel abroad; am I qualified? Do I have the right visa? Will I be able to plan engaging and constructive lessons?
For TEFL teachers in the LGBTQ+ community, though, there are more pressing concerns when picking a country to go and teach in. While vast swathes of the globe have slowly introduced more LGBTQ+ friendly policies and made their environment safer for marginalised communities, there is a litany of countries, and entire regions, where it’s unsafe, or even illegal, to be LGBTQ+.
There are, though, plenty of great destinations for LGBTQ+ TEFL teachers around the world. From some top destinations in South America, which have passed important legislature on equal marriage and self-ID, to some surprising TEFL picks you might not have considered before.
For this, we’ve used Asher & Lyric’s ground-breaking work in identifying, by nation, where the safest areas are for LGBTQ+ people. Their data is current as of May 2022, and features several countries that have made significant progress over the last 12 months alone.
To celebrate Pride Month, here are our top safest countries for LGBTQ+ TEFL teachers in 2022.
With good English literacy rates, the Netherlands might not seem like a prime pick for TEFL teachers in 2022. However, the home of tulips, Vincent van Gogh and Johan Cruijff looks specifically for highly-trained, well-qualified TEFL teachers to work with skilled students in universities, schools and colleges.
An EU country, the Netherlands is – to some degree – beholden by EU legislation on equality. However, the Netherlands absolutely excels in terms of tolerance and celebration of LGBTQ+ culture. Asher & Lyric named the Netherlands the 3rd safest country to be an LGBTQ+ person in 2022, with over 75% of respondents to a poll agreeing that it was a great place to live in terms of legal rights and tolerance.
In terms of TEFL, jobs are competitive but well-rewarded. A typical salary for a TEFL teacher is £1,900/$2,370 per month, with attractive freelancing hourly rates and solid career progression.
When Chile legalised same-sex marriage and adoption in 2021, it was a huge step forward. An absolute jewel in South America, Chile is as underrated as it gets for the prospective TEFL teacher, with a higher standard of living than much of the continent, excellent wages, a vibrant culture and beautiful views as far as the eye can see.
When Chile’s senate and lower house passed the bill to legalise same-sex marriage rights, it wasn’t a particularly close-run thing. Chilean public opinion was very much in favour, and it sparked scenes of jubilation from Santiago to Punta Arenas.
A coastal nation, Chile faces the Pacific Ocean to the west, bordering Bolivia and Argentina. If you’re into beaches, you’re in luck, and it’s also home to staggering nature and some of the most passionate football fans around – something for everyone then!
As a TEFL destination Chile remains underrated. Full of busy cities, the wages in Chile aren’t eye-watering from a Western perspective, but in terms of the cost of living locally, an English teacher will more than comfortably get by. Students can be boisterous, but there’s good-natured humour to the Chilean people that makes it perfect for any extrovert who’s unafraid to immerse themselves in the local culture.
Off the back of a big year for equality in Chile, expect to see more TEFL teachers head out that way in the near future.
In Asher & Lyric’s definitive study of all the nations on earth, only 5 countries got bona fide A grades for safety in terms of LGBTQ+ rights. Portugal was one of those.
A liberal country, even for a Western European nation, Portugal has really taken a lead on social issues since the turn of the 21st Century. Formerly comparatively strict, not decriminalising homosexuality until 1982, Portugal was one of the first 10 nations worldwide to legalise same-sex marriage, doing so in 2010.
Portugal’s two biggest cities do not mess about when it comes to Pride. Lisbon and Porto celebrate Pride in style annually, and are internationally-recognised for their gay club scene. In short, if you’re looking to party – while, of course, making a fine living as a TEFL teacher – Portugal should be on your list of destinations.
You’ll need a degree and at least a 120-hour TEFL certification to land a decent job there, given how seriously Portugal takes academics. However, you’ll be rewarded with one of the better salary packages in Europe for TEFL teachers, and one of the safest, most progressive and expressive cultures going.
Back to South America now, and if you want to talk about leaders in LGBTQ+ legislation and public support, you can’t miss out Uruguay.
Uruguay was the first Latin American country to allow civil unions, in a law called Ley de Unión Concubinaria. Then, in 2009, same-sex couples were allowed to adopt. Uruguay has consistently taken a lead on LGBTQ+ equality, and it’s no surprise to see the nation ranked in the top 20 worldwide for safety and legal protection.
In terms of TEFL, Uruguay is an underrated gem (a recurring theme!), with a high-quality education system and free university tuition. Wages aren’t brilliant, but opportunities abound – Uruguay ranks ‘moderate’ for English proficiency, so while standard wages at educational facilities won’t make you rich, you’ll find plenty of tutoring opportunities to top up your income.
A comparatively small country by South American standards, Uruguay is an interesting, diverse and – most crucially here – progressive country. It might not top the prospective TEFL teacher’s bucket list, but just like neighbouring Chile, Uruguay deserves consideration.
When it comes to equality, identity politics and politics at large, it’s hard to compete with the home of the European Union.
Belgium has boomed as a tourist destination over the last few decades, and it takes a fascinating slant, as both a beautifully preserved and historic country, and also one at the forefront of continental decision-making. For beer fans, of course, Belgium is a no-brainer, being home to more ludicrously tasty beverages than it’s possible to count.
The crux, though; Belgium is the 7th safest place to live for LGBTQ+ people worldwide. That really is something, but considering the EU’s focus on human rights and equality, it’s no huge surprise. Historically, Belgian LGBTQ+ rights have led the world – barring a 20-year window between 1965 and 1985, same-sex “activity” has been legal since 1795.
In 2000, Belgium was one of the first to legally recognise same-sex domestic partnerships, and was second on the planet to legalise same-sex marriage in 2003. There are also a range of political LGBTQ+ heroes in Belgian politics; former Prime Minister Elio de Rupo and minister Pascal Smet are openly gay, while Belgium also has the first trans minister in European politics, Petra de Sutter.
In terms of TEFL, like the Netherlands, Belgium has a high level of proficiency in English. That doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities, though. A land of polyglots, French, Dutch, German and Flemish are broadly spoken along with English, but native-level TEFL teachers are certainly in-demand – that is, if you have experience on your CV.
Popular TEFL destinations
You’ll notice that some very popular TEFL destinations are missing from the list. Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and North African nations, for example.
It isn’t to say that LGBTQ+ people haven’t travelled out to these destinations and had a fantastic time. On the contrary, plenty of LGBTQ+ TEFL teachers have thrived in programmes like JET (Japan) or EPIK (South Korea).
We wouldn’t actively discourage LGBTQ+ people from venturing out to these places. However, it’s inarguable that certain regions of the world lag behind in terms of recognition and equality for LGBTQ+ people. Taiwan, for example, ranks 44th in the world for LGBTQ+ rights and safety; violence against LGBTQ+ people isn’t treated as a specific hate crime, and adoption rights for same-sex couples are non-existent.
Japan, meanwhile, ranks 80th for LGBTQ+ safety. Same-sex marriage is not legal, and there is next to no legal protection against discrimination. For a TEFL teacher, that means a school or university could legally dismiss you for being LGBTQ+ and face no questions about it.
In China, “promotion” of LGBTQ+ issues can land people in prison. In Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is strictly illegal and can be punishable with death.
If you have a specific country in mind to teach TEFL abroad as an LGBTQ+ person, but don’t know what kind of legal and cultural protections you have, resources are available. American travellers can use state resources, while ILGA World, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, regularly update their suite of information about safety around the world.
A TEFL choice that works for you
Again, everyone has different experiences. LGBTQ+ people, despite the lack of legal safeguarding or cultural tolerance, can get on absolutely fine teaching English in Japan, for example.
Also, it’s worth pointing out that there is no “perfect” destination for LGBTQ+ people; we should be under no illusions that, everywhere, there is still immense progress that needs to be made.
The point is, it’s about your own personal comfort and safety. What works for one person might not work for another; that’s the nature of the human experience as a whole.
Whatever choice a TEFL teacher makes in terms of travelling to teach English, the most important thing is safety and being able to exist peacefully.
When you’re considering your first or next TEFL destination, why not download The TEFL Org Guide to the World, filled with great info on over 70 countries?