In some senses, the world of TEFL might look like a young person’s game. Certainly, the reputation of teaching English abroad - entirely undeservedly we may add - is that TEFL is for students on a gap year, or an excursion before choosing a career. It couldn’t be further from the truth.
Experience counts for a great deal. Not only will you have the wherewithal to avoid scam recruiters, but you’ll also have a respectable CV, an obvious passion for language (given you’ve chosen to do a TEFL course to change your career), and transferable skills from prior pursuits.
If you want to become TEFL qualified and get a job, you’ll find most countries don’t have upper age limits for ESL teachers. In fact, there are some absolutely ideal destinations to move to. However, not all countries are accommodating to prospective teachers over a certain age.
On the other end of the scale, there can be minimum age requirements to teach. While the ambition of a 16 or 17-year-old who wants to teach English abroad can’t be dismissed, it can be extremely hard to secure paid work as an English teacher under the age of 18.
Let’s delve into the world of age and TEFL - where is age a problem, and where can it be a major boost?
So, why would there be age restrictions for teaching English as a foreign language? Some of it’s forged in technicalities, and sometimes, it’s plain discrimination.
In terms of technicalities, it’s all about the world of working visas. Some countries just won’t issue work visas to English teachers if they’ve reached a certain age. As we’ll explore a bit later on, some countries rule out applicants who are over 55, 60 or 62.
Given the medical systems in place in different countries, health insurance can be a factor. As harsh as it sounds, some employers don’t want to risk liability for older teachers. That can play a role in some of the age discrimination seen in the TEFL industry.Another factor is the degree requirements of certain countries. Essentially, that rules out the majority of teaching candidates under 21 or so - unless you start university peculiarly early, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll be able to teach English abroad in a country where you need a degree until you’re into your twenties.
No degree? Thankfully, you can still start your teaching career and find great teaching jobs abroad without a degree
While, sadly, it’s true that some countries and their visa requirements can be an obstacle, we can’t stress this enough: no, you are not too old to TEFL.
We believe that everyone should have opportunities to teach English as a foreign language if they have the skills to do so. Age is not a barrier if you want to take the first steps - that is, gaining a TEFL qualification - and most employers with a grain of common sense will realize there are inherent advantages to having teachers of different ages.
The online teaching sphere is can be very important here. Are TEFL employers not considering you because of your age? Prove ‘em wrong! Setting up your own TEFL business in the internet age couldn’t be easier, and you could easily find yourself tutoring eager students and running the show on your own.
Experience is so valuable. If you have the energy, the wherewithal and the ability to go off the beaten track, you are not too old to TEFL. Far from it - you’re likely to have an extensive list of transferable skills and great ideas that make you perfect for teaching English.
One route of particular interest is tutoring to prepare students for exams like the IELTS, which helps English learners find work and study in English-speaking countries. Alternatively, the world of volunteering is a fantastic opportunity if you’re an older English teacher - finding opportunities locally to help refugees, for example, is a fantastic endeavor.
The options are certainly there. If some closed-minded employers are closing the doors, open new ones.
There are numerous advantages to being an older TEFL teacher. Throughout your career to date, you’ll have developed some valuable professional experience, whether it’s teaching-related or not. If you’re new to teaching, you’ll still more than likely have a whole range of skills and ideas you can use in the classroom.
If you have retired from teaching, you have twice the advantage over many other TEFL teachers. People of all ages are keen to learn English, and having classroom management on your CV is a real asset. It also means you come pre-loaded with patience - an absolutely crucial skill to have!
Consider your working history thus far. Can you use it to specialize within the TEFL industry?
Business English is a popular specialist area, for example, and finding your niche can help you to stand out and, potentially, earn a more substantial living from teaching. Or, as mentioned prior, helping students to pass exams like the IELTS is extremely rewarding, and it’s also a sought-after specialty within the TEFL industry.
You might also have children of your own, as an older teacher. There is no course that can provide the skills that brings, there is no job that’s remotely like it. Using the experience of teaching your own kids to read, write and speak in English is something that cannot be bought.
Unfortunately, due to strict visa requirements, Asia is full of age restrictions for TEFL teachers. In China, teachers over 55 aren’t considered, whereas, in Myanmar, 52 is the cut-off point.
It’s a bit more lenient elsewhere; Hong Kong accepts teaching applicants up to the age of 60, the same as Indonesia and Vietnam. 62 is the upper limit in South Korea, and it’s 65 in Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, and Cambodia.
There are no age restrictions in India, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Nepal, or Mongolia, all of which are underrated and exciting TEFL options for older teachers.
Experience is a well-recognized attribute in Europe. There are no upper age limits for TEFL teachers across the continent, which means you could feasibly pack up and move to France and teach English in retirement. The same is true of Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, and plenty more fascinating locales.
Read more about the Most popular countries to teach English in Europe
Central and South America are similarly lenient when it comes to age restrictions, although it’s not to say they don’t exist at all.
The good news is that fascinating, beautiful nations calling out for TEFL teachers, including Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and Mexico don’t have any age restrictions when considering applications for English teachers.
The bad news: Colombia’s age limit is 62, and Peru’s is 70.
Find out more about the laid-back teaching English in Latin America experience.
The Middle East and Northern Africa are similar to Latin America in terms of age restrictions. There are opportunities for teachers of all ages throughout much of the region, but there are some upper limits.
To teach in Bahrain, Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, you need to be under 60. In the UAE, the age limit is 65. Unfortunately, for anyone over 60 looking to add significantly to the retirement fund, these are the most lucrative places to teach English in the world.
However, as stated, there are opportunities there. Qatar is open to applicants without age restrictions, as is Morocco, Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria, and Jordan. If you’re looking to discover the northernmost parts of Africa and the Middle East, with an eye on retirement, there’s plenty to consider.
Teaching English online is a great way to avoid all upper-age restrictions because you can be your own boss.
Before doing that, though, it might be prudent to check for age limits on applications to online TEFL companies worldwide. Chances are, without travel being a factor, upper-age limitations won’t be a problem in the world of online English teaching. All you really need is a reliable internet connection, teaching materials, and a willing audience.
Even when you’re working for companies, you will likely find yourself being able to set your own hours, and working as much or as little as you want. In effect, you might not be self-employed, but it might feel similar!
Or, as mentioned, you can be entirely self-employed. Setting yourself up as a private English tutor can be an excellent source of income, and you can cast your net as widely as possible. It can be hard going to build up a client base, but after a while, you could be teaching students from Alaska to South Africa!
If you’re an older TEFL teacher, consider the following tips to get the most out of a teaching experience:
What if you’re in the 18 to 20 age range? You can TEFL, but it’s important to be aware of a few factors. Firstly, unless you started university very young then it’s unlikely you’ll have a degree at this age. Many countries outside of Europe and Latin America require a degree for visa reasons, so without one, these countries are ruled out for you. It’s always important to research the visa requirements for any country you’re interested in teaching in – this way you can find out if you’re ruled out due to age, education, or any other factors.
If you fall into this age bracket then we recommend looking into summer school work in Europe, teaching English online, considering jobs in Latin America, and volunteering, which will build up your experience and help you find a full-time position.
If you’re a student then be sure to take a look at our Guide to TEFL for Students for more tips and advice.
So, what are the best options for younger TEFL teachers who are looking to break into the English teaching industry?
Here are three of the best routes into the TEFL world!
Volunteering is a tremendous option for young TEFL teachers looking to get started. There are many opportunities to be found locally, whether through local councils, or organizations that help to integrate refugees into new communities.
Refugees and asylum seekers will, in most cases, have to exhibit a decent level of English before getting started on their own careers, or getting into local universities and colleges. Therefore, for the budding TEFL teacher, volunteer work is a brilliant chance to make a real difference in society. Not only that, the experience will look fantastic on your CV, and show future employers that you care about both the English language and the people around you. Not everyone can afford to learn English at a night school or some other kind of educational facility (particularly those who aren’t school-age). Doing some voluntary work, then, is mutually beneficial, and so rewarding.
If you’re looking to earn a living, teaching online might be the best way to go until you’re fully qualified, or age-appropriate, for opportunities abroad.
Similar to our guidance for older TEFL teachers, it’s all about what you’re able to do and when. You can fit TEFL lessons around school, college, university, or your day job, and build excellent experience doing so.
Whether you’re looking to join an established company or go solo, teaching online demonstrates the ability to research, devise your own lesson plans and take the challenges that spring your way. For employers in the future, that’s going to stand out, and make no mistake.
Online, you can take short-term contracts, so as not to limit yourself if your circumstances change. That’s pretty important, especially when it’s term time and you’re not sure what the break will bring.
If you’re really determined to get out there, Latin America is probably your best bet. If you can afford to get out there, you’ll find recruiters and employers are more amenable to young teachers, provided you’re fully TEFL qualified.
In vast swathes of Latin America, a degree is not a requirement. So if you’re focused on getting on the teaching ladder without going to University, it’s the perfect option. That said, if you ask us? There are plenty of perfect options within Latin America whether you’re a new or more experienced teacher!