Dreaming about teaching English abroad but don’t know where to start? Find out everything you need to know to get started on your own adventure abroad in this comprehensive guide.

Teach English Abroad: The Basics

What is TEFL?

TEFL stands for ‘Teaching English as a Foreign Language’. You might have heard other terms, such as TESOL, ESL, EFL, and TESL as well. All these acronyms mean the same thing: teaching English to English language learners.

TEFL is a lot of things. It’s the opportunity to share your knowledge and skills with others and make a real difference in their lives. To travel and work abroad. And to meet new people and expose yourself to different cultures. Simply put, TEFL is a rewarding job that opens up the world.

Why teach English abroad?

There are so many reasons to TEFL. Honestly, we could go on for hours about why you should do it, but if you’re reading this you likely already have a few reasons of your own.

Many are first drawn to TEFL because of the travel opportunities. Some are qualified teachers tired of stacks of paperwork and long working hours. And then there are others who are looking to make a change and do something different.

Where can I teach English abroad?

All over the world! There are jobs teaching English abroad, teaching English online, and in a teacher’s own country.

From young to old, beginner to advanced, EFL teachers work with a wide range of students. Just as there are many different reasons behind someone learning English, there are many different kinds of TEFL jobs.

These jobs can be found all over the world, from Spain to South Korea, Azerbaijan to Argentina. Currently, there’s a huge demand for EFL teachers in Asia, particularly in China, where the market is off the scale! But wherever there are people learning English there are jobs for English teachers.

What do I need to TEFL?

There are two basic things you need to TEFL: a native-level of English and a TEFL qualification. Simple? Well, nearly as simple as that. While you can absolutely find work teaching English with just a TEFL qualification, in certain parts of the world a university degree is also required.

This is why you need to do your research and keep reading. Before making the initial steps in your TEFL journey there are two essential things you need to do:

  1. Choose the right TEFL course
  2. Establish the visa requirements for any country you want to work in

Which TEFL course is right for me?

The world of TEFL courses and qualifications can be a bit overwhelming at first. There are a lot of companies offering various courses, so how do you choose the right one?

It’s important to be aware that not all TEFL courses are equal. Some hold a better reputation with employers than others and not all have been created by industry professionals with experience teaching English abroad.

Understanding how the TEFL market operates will help you make an informed decision and choose a course that fits your needs. So, let’s get into it!

What is TEFL accreditation and why is it important?

Accreditation ensures the quality of a course through assessment by an external authority.

The TEFL industry arguably has a problem when it comes to regulation. There is no over-arching accrediting body for TEFL and this lack of regulation means that anyone can set up and sell a TEFL course.

And to make things more confusing, just as anyone can sell a TEFL course, so too can anyone set up an accrediting body! This means that just because a provider claims to be accredited it doesn’t necessarily mean the course is up to scratch. It’s beginning to sound a bit like the Wild West, we know.

This is why good course providers seek accreditation from established and respected bodies that accredit a wide variety of courses. Without accreditation from such bodies, employers may not recognise the TEFL qualification because there’s nothing to indicate to them that the candidate has undergone adequate training.

Good and bad TEFL accreditation

So, how do you tell good from not-so-good accreditation? What you want to look out for is a TEFL course provider that has accreditation from government or government-affiliated bodies. In the UK this means Ofqual and SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) regulation.

Good accrediting bodies have vigorous standards a provider must meet. Going through this external assessment is no small undertaking for a course provider and their courses must be of high quality in order to earn the accreditation.

Not-so-good accrediting bodies aren’t as thorough (if they do any assessment at all) and can often be easily spotted when their list of accredited courses consists of only TEFL courses. Some operate more like a membership system simply to allow courses to claim they have accreditation than an actual accrediting body.

Groupon and budget TEFL courses

A cheap TEFL course might sound great for your wallet, but is it really? On sites like Groupon you can find TEFL courses at rock-bottom prices. As the old saying goes, if it’s too good to be true it probably is.

Cheap TEFL courses have no adequate accreditation and there are usually hidden costs. The cost of getting a physical copy of your certificate at the end of these courses can sometimes be several times more than what you paid for the actual course!

Ultimately, a cheap TEFL course can end up costing you a lot more than you first thought and if it’s not recognised by employers it really is a waste of both time and money.

The TEFL Org accreditation

The TEFL Org is the most accredited TEFL course provider in the UK. With no single accrediting body for TEFL courses, we recognised the need to gain the highest standard of accreditation from internationally recognised and established bodies.

Our courses have been entirely written and developed by highly experienced TEFL professionals. We’ve worked hard to create quality courses that adequately prepare you for getting started as an English teacher. The accreditation we’ve gained is your guarantee of this.

Types of qualifications for teaching English abroad

There are few main types of qualifications for teaching English. The one you choose can depend on factors such as time, budget, experience, and where you want to teach.

For the most part, a TEFL qualification is enough to get started teaching English. With most salaries determined by experience, rather than qualifications, investing in an expensive course is unlikely to increase your earning potential if you’re just starting out.

TEFL

TEFL courses are typically measured in hours, with 120 hours being the industry standard. This is a qualification you can gain entirely online or combine with a short classroom course, if offered by the provider.

A TEFL qualification from a properly accredited provider is recognised worldwide. The majority of entry-level positions will ask for at least a 120-hour TEFL qualification, which is why it’s not recommended to sign up for a course with fewer hours.

CELTA

The CELTA is a month-long intensive course focused on teaching adult learners. Like a TEFL course, it’s an entry-level qualification, but at a much higher price-point. Typically, the course costs over £1,000.

CELTA qualifications hold a strong reputation worldwide, but they aren’t likely to secure you a better paid position. Teaching salaries are generally related to experience, so while a CELTA qualification can make your application more competitive it won’t necessarily give your salary a boost.

Trinity CertTESOL

The Trinity CertTESOL qualification is very similar to the CELTA. The main difference is the fact the Trinity CertTESOL includes a module focused on teaching English to young learners.

Both are month-long intensive courses, which means you can’t work alongside it as it involves full-time study. You might also have to factor in accommodation expenses if a course centre isn’t located nearby.

Delta

The Delta (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is an advanced qualification for experienced EFL teachers. Teachers need to have been teaching for at least a year in order to enrol on the course.

This is a qualification for serious EFL teachers who are looking to progress in their career.

Tutor support

Before you sign up for a TEFL course it’s important to find out the level of tutor support offered. You want to make sure you’re learning from tutors who are both qualified EFL teachers and experienced teacher trainers.

Whether you take an online or classroom course with The TEFL Org, you will be supported by a seasoned EFL tutor. You’re assigned the same online tutor from the beginning to end of your course rather than be passed around to different people who don’t get the chance to get to know you and your work.

When you’re working through your course you want to have a single point of contact who you can reach out to for advice and guidance. That’s what you get on a course with us. We don’t think this is an optional extra, or something you should have to pay more for, it’s a crucial part of your learning experience.

Visa requirements

We can’t stress this enough: it’s so important to research visa requirements. This is because requirements vary and you don’t want to complete your TEFL course with your heart set on a particular country only to find out you can’t get a visa.

There are a few main things to look out for when looking at visas.

Do you need a university/college degree to teach English abroad?

In many countries, yes. But don’t despair if you don’t have a degree because there are still options out there!

When a degree is a visa requirement this typically means that a BA degree (or equivalent) in any discipline is acceptable. You don’t need a degree in English or teaching.

But isn’t there a way round it?

If a degree is a requirement for a work visa there simply isn’t a way round it. To work in a country without a proper work visa is illegal and while some teachers choose to do this we strongly advise against it.

Working illegally in a country puts you at risk of at best being fined, at worst being arrested, deported, and banned from the country. It also means you have no rights, putting you in a prime position for exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

Where can you teach English without a degree?

There are a few options. Most of Asia is ruled out if you don’t have a degree, but thankfully Cambodia doesn’t require one, which makes it a great option.

Central & South America is also a great place to look for countries that don’t require a degree. The same is true of Europe if you’re an EU citizen – unfortunately, it’s very difficult for teachers outside of the EU to find work in Europe, even if they have a degree.

What if a degree isn’t a visa requirement but an employer still asks for one?

Even in countries where a degree isn’t a visa requirement you will likely come across jobs where one is asked for. Don’t be disheartened: while there’s no negotiating with visa regulations, there can be with employers.

Are there age restrictions for TEFL? 

Only in certain countries. We’ve trained EFL teachers from their teens to their 80s and there are certainly opportunities to be found regardless of your age.

There are countries, mainly in Asia, with mandatory retirement ages. These typically also apply to people applying for work visas, so if you’re over 60 this is something you need to research.

Will a criminal record prevent me from teaching?

It will in some places. In countries where a criminal background check is required in order to obtain a work visa then even a minor offence can dash your dreams of teaching English abroad.

It’s also important to note that, just like degrees, even if it isn’t a visa requirement employers can still request one. If this is the case then it can come down to the discretion of the employer, whereas visa regulations are completely inflexible.

What you don’t need to teach English abroad (usually)

Now we’ve covered what you do need to TEFL, let’s look at what you don’t.

You don’t need to speak another language

This is one of the biggest misconceptions about teaching English abroad. With TEFL you only use English in the classroom because it’s about providing an immersive experience for the learner.

You don’t need previous teaching experience

The demand for English teachers in many countries is so huge that in order to fill vacancies employers can’t afford to restrict themselves to experienced teachers. As long as you have a TEFL qualification and meet the relevant visa requirements then you should be able to find a job.

There are some countries where the market is extremely competitive and it’s very difficult to get a teaching job without previous experience, however. Notably, countries in the Middle East, where salaries are high typically require teachers to have at least two years’ experience.

You don’t need to have a teaching degree

The only teaching qualification you need for most TEFL jobs is a TEFL qualification! As we’ve mentioned before, however, you may need a degree (in any discipline) to be eligible for a work visa.

If you do have a teaching degree this doesn’t mean you don’t need a TEFL qualification. A teaching degree looks great on your CV, but an employer will expect you to hold a TEFL certificate alongside this

You don’t need to be in your 20s

We actually find that many people signing up for our TEFL courses are in their 30s+ and looking for a career change. While it’s always been a popular option for recent graduates, TEFL certainly isn’t just for the young!

Where can you teach English abroad?

Our course graduates have taught English all over the world. Wherever there are English language learners, there are TEFL jobs.

Where teachers are most in demand

The demand for English teachers can vary depending on the country.

Countries where there’s a huge demand for EFL teachers are a good place to start for newly-qualified teachers. Because demand outstrips supply in certain countries, employers would seriously struggle to recruit if they limited themselves to only experienced EFL teachers.

On the other hand, the more competitive the market in the country, the less likely you are to find a job without teaching experience. This is true particularly in countries where the English language curriculum in schools is excellent, which leads to less of a need for EFL teachers. The opportunities in such countries tend to be found in established language schools, which maintain high standards when recruiting.

So, let’s take a look at where English teachers are in the most demand and where it’s possible to find entry-level TEFL jobs.

Europe

The strongest jobs market in Europe can be found in Southern, Central and Eastern Europe. Countries such as Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Poland are great places to look for your first teaching position.

While there are opportunities to be found in Western Europe, it can be trickier for new teachers. Entry-level jobs do come up in Germany and France, but it’s quite rare for these to be full-time positions.

And in Northern Europe, jobs almost always go to very experienced EFL teachers. If it’s your dream to live and work as an English teacher in Scandinavia then you’ll need to build up your experience elsewhere first.

Something very important to note regarding jobs in Europe is freedom of movement. Freedom of movement, which allows all EU citizens to live and work in other EU countries without the need for a visa, means it is very difficult for non-EU citizens to teach English in Europe.

How this will change when the UK leaves the EU and freedom of movement ends for UK citizens at the end of 2020, we don’t know yet. But as it stands, if you don’t have a passport from an EU member state your options for teaching English in Europe are limited.

Asia

The world’s largest continent is where you’ll find the most TEFL jobs. Rapidly expanding economies, government investment in English language learning, and globalisation are just some of the reasons behind the massive demand for EFL teachers across Asia.

The demand is concentrated largely in East and Southeast Asia. For first-time teachers, what’s on offer can be very attractive. Good salaries, a low cost of living, and the opportunity to experience a culture entirely different to back home.

China represents the largest TEFL jobs market in the world, and it looks set to only continue growing. It’s quite staggering just how many teaching jobs are advertised in China every single day.

Further east, Japan and South Korea have long been popular destinations for EFL teachers. And in Southeast Asia there are jobs to be found across the region. Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, in particular, offer a lot for English teachers.

The Middle East

Some of the world’s most lucrative TEFL jobs can be found in the Middle East. There is significant demand for teachers in the region, but the high, tax-free salaries mean it’s a competitive market.

At least two years’ teaching experience is required for the majority of jobs in the Middle East. Most of these positions can be found in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Teaching English in the Middle East isn’t for everyone and can be particularly challenging for women. You need to be prepared for an extremely different way of life than you’re likely used to, and while this can be an exciting prospect for some it can be a hard pill to swallow for others.

Central and South America

There’s a huge demand for English teachers across Central and South America. Markets in Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, and Ecuador are particularly strong.

Don’t expect to get rich teaching English in this part of the world. In South America wages are typically quite low, although enough to get by on considering the low cost of living. But the draw to this continent really lies in its geographic diversity, the laid-back, hospitable people, and the vibrancy of life, rather than the money.

If you don’t have a university degree then Central and South America is a great place to find work. But standards are rising in the region, meaning it can be a bit more competitive for those without one.

The best places to TEFL in 2020

Every year we take a look at some of the best places to TEFL, based on the demand for teachers, salaries, and quality of living.

This year, we’ve identified four incredible countries to TEFL in, covering Europe, Asia, and Central America.

Spain

For many years, the strongest TEFL jobs market in Europe has been in Spain and this looks set to continue for many more.

The 2008-2014 financial crisis in Spain hit the country hard. Unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, was consequently staggeringly high and the country is still recovering. It was only at the end of 2019 when unemployment rates fell below 14% for the first time in 20 years.

A surprising consequence of the financial crisis is the increased demand for English language lessons. In the face of high unemployment rates, Spaniards set out to improve their English language skills in order to boost their employability.

This led to an explosion of TEFL jobs across the whole country, from the major cities to rural areas. There’s plenty of work to be found and with a low cost of living teachers are able to earn enough to enjoy life in Spain.

China

In the worldwide TEFL jobs market China is well and truly a behemoth. There is an estimated 400 million English language learners in the country and growing. With such a huge number of learners, employers and recruiters frequently struggle to hire quickly enough to meet the sheer demand.

China is hugely geographically and culturally diverse, making it an exciting destination for EFL teachers. Jobs can be found across with the length and breadth of the country so teachers can afford to be picky about where they work.

As well as being a fascinating country to live and work it, teachers are well compensated for their work. TEFL jobs in China offer attractive salaries and typically come with accommodation included, flight reimbursement, paid holidays, and more.

Vietnam

The fastest growing market in Southeast Asia can be found in Vietnam. The low cost of living, travel opportunities, warm climate, and friendly culture make it a great place to start your teaching career.

The Vietnamese government set very ambitious English proficiency targets for 2020. While it’s looking unlikely that these targets will be met, it has resulted in serious investment in English language training in the country. Good news for EFL teachers!

In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City alone there are around 450 English language centres. But there are jobs to be found right across the country in cities and rural towns alike.

Mexico

Mexico boasts vibrant cities, beautiful beaches, and a historical legacy that spans millennia. Its proximity to the USA has driven the English language market, which consists of around 24 million English language learners.

The Business English market is particularly strong. English is the language of business in Mexico, but only about 5% of the population speaks it. This means that for Mexicans looking to get ahead in business, learning English is a must.

Mexico offers EFL teachers a wide range of work. Those with experience teaching Business English will pick up work easily, but there are TEFL jobs to be found in language schools, public schools, and universities as well.

Who teaches English abroad?

What’s the typical profile of an EFL teacher? Well, we can reveal after over a decade of training teachers that… there isn’t really one.

Contrary to popular opinion, TEFL isn’t just for recent university graduates looking to spend a year or two abroad. We train such a wide range of people aiming to teach English abroad. From teenagers to retirees, office workers sick of the 9-to-5, trained teachers looking to use their skills to explore more of the world, we’ve trained them all.

If you’re wondering if you’re the right fit for TEFL then we’re here to tell you that all it comes down to is whether or not TEFL is the right fit for you. Anyone with a native level of English can TEFL!

Students and Graduates

Some people finish university and don’t know what they want to do, others do but want to experience more of the world before settling into a career. And then there are those who are considering getting into teaching but want to give it a try first before committing to a postgraduate teaching course.

TEFL offers university graduates the opportunity to see some of the world and gain international work experience. Even if you don’t think teaching is the line of work you want to pursue in the long run, living and working abroad as an EFL teacher builds up so many important transferable skills.

Teaching and living abroad have their own challenges, and learning to adapt and overcome then does wonders for personal development. TEFL really does change people for the better.

Even if you haven’t graduated yet there are opportunities to TEFL during the summer months. Summer schools recruit huge numbers of EFL teachers every year. So, if you’re looking to earn some money over the summer, spend some time abroad, and build up your CV and teaching experience then TEFL ticks all the boxes!

Career Changers

Feeling stuck? Watching the clock? Unsure if you’re going in the right direction?

You’re not alone. Nearly 40% of our students cite a career change as the main reason they signed up for a TEFL course.

It’s not a surprising statistic when you consider that a whopping 55% of workers in the UK are unhappy with their job. If this sounds like you then you might be wondering if TEFL is the answer – and it certainly can be!

Many of our students come to us later in their working life looking to make a change. There are so many different opportunities within TEFL, with jobs available worldwide teaching a wide variety of learners in all kinds of different environments.

Teaching English abroad might not be suitable for everyone. If you have a family and a mortgage to pay then jumping on a plane for a job on the other side of the world might not be an option, in which case teaching English online might make more sense.

Whatever your reason for wanting to change career, just know we’ve trained people from every background imaginable. Don’t stay miserable in a job you hate!

Seniors and Retirees

You’re never too old to TEFL and it’s never too late for an adventure abroad!

We’ve trained teachers of all ages, from those taking early retirement in their 50s to those well into their 80s. Some want to give back and work on a voluntary basis teaching English, while others want to retire abroad and supplement their pension.

TEFL isn’t just for the young and your life and work experience as an older person is something that many employers will value.

It’s true that there are many countries in Asia where strict retirement ages make it difficult for older teachers to secure a visa, but there are plenty of other countries in the world. South America and Europe, in particular, are great places to look for work if you’re older.

We’ve also seen teaching English online rise in popularity with retirees, so that’s another option to consider.

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