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Teach English abroad requirements

Though there are various requirements for different areas in terms of visas, experience and qualifications, the TEFL marketplace is thriving, especially for those with TEFL certification.

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When we say TEFL is for anyone, we really do mean it.

However, it’s not hard to see why people might be put off from changing their career, or venturing into the world of TEFL immediately after school or university. From the off, it can look as though there are barriers in the way, especially with regards to certain sets of circumstances.

For example, costs can be prohibitive. What about visa applications? Do I need a degree? What if I’ve never worked as a teacher before, or I don’t have a TEFL certificate?

These are all good questions, and like us, you probably wish there were catch-all answers. However, the truth is that every country in every region has its own visa requirements, its own English demands, and its own infrastructure for teachers to thrive on the international stage.

The good news, though, is that much of the world is calling out for qualified TEFL teachers, with TEFL jobs aplenty across the globe. Salaries, of course, differ. So, too, do requirements and expectations of teachers, but regardless of any potential barriers, the marketplace for English teachers is thriving.

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Is a degree needed to teach English abroad?

If you don’t have a degree, don’t worry - it’s possible to teach English without a degree abroad. Ultimately, it varies from country to country, and the issue lies in the visa application process.

To attain a visa, some countries will insist upon a Bachelor’s degree - usually in any discipline. Most of Asia, with the exception of Cambodia, and everywhere in the Middle East, will require EFL teachers to have a degree.

However, there are exceptions. Europe and Latin America - in general - are more lenient about teaching TEFL abroad without a degree. Alternatively, some internship and voluntary programmes offer a route to teaching in countries that normally require a degree for those who don’t have one. And working holiday visas - such as Japan’s - can be another option worth investigating. 

So, it’s a big question without a firm answer. Ultimately, it depends on the country you want to go to and we always recommend researching visa requirements early in your TEFL journey. 

Do you need previous experience to teach abroad?

For a lot of jobs, in a lot of countries, you don’t need teaching experience to TEFL abroad. In fact, vast swathes of countries across different continents are looking for new teachers to take up roles. 

It’s probably easier to say where experience is required first, and that of course, ties somewhat into our discussion on visa requirements. While previous experience typically isn’t a visa requirement, there are some countries where the majority of employers will request it. 

In Asia, employers in Malaysia, Myanmar and Hong Kong generally require teaching experience for new applicants. In Europe, it is possible to get a job without prior experience, and there aren’t necessarily hard rules in place, but newbie teachers will find it tough to secure jobs in countries with high levels of English proficiency, such as the Netherlands and Scandinavian nations. 

The top destinations in the Middle East, though, will almost certainly require some teaching experience. Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all require experienced teachers for English jobs. The high (and typically tax-free!) salaries in the Middle East means there can be stiff competition for jobs, so employers can be picky when it comes to recruitment.

It’s worth considering, though, that each job is different. Some schools may require a teacher who doesn’t need too much time to transition into a classroom environment. Others may be looking for fresh teaching talent, and are willing to show patience while a TEFL teacher learns their new culture, as well as how to coordinate classes. And it’s often about supply and demand - new TEFL teachers would do well to focus on countries where they’re crying out for qualified EFL teachers. 

Do you need a TEFL certificate to teach English abroad?

Again, this varies by role, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll be considered for jobs teaching English abroad without TEFL certification.

For many jobs, it’ll be a mandatory requirement. Others might describe TEFL certification as at least “desirable”, if not essential. TEFL certification is demonstrable proof that you can teach English as a foreign language.

The question becomes then, why wouldn’t a TEFL certificate be a requirement? Of course, a university degree in teaching and demonstrable English abilities might see an applicant skirt the need for a TEFL certificate, but having at least a 120-hour certificate proves that an individual can get to grips with a classroom environment right away, while having the necessary skills to teach English to non-native speakers.

So technically, you could. Whether you should is an entirely different question.

Can non-native English speakers teach abroad?

Yes, absolutely!

Strictly speaking (no pun intended), yes, non-native English speakers can teach English abroad. In an ideal world, if you have the skills and the natural flair for the language, there shouldn’t be any barriers when it comes to TEFL jobs overseas.

However, not every country is amenable to this. Generally speaking, it’s easier to gain a visa abroad if you speak English as a first language, and come from one of the “big 7”; the UK, USA, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Visas aren’t negotiable. You could be the best TEFL teacher in the world, even if it’s your second or third language, and certain countries might not let you in to teach English due to the passport you hold.

That said, there are absolutely opportunities for non-native English speakers to teach abroad. In Asia, some countries like Indonesia, Myanmar, South Korea and Taiwan won’t accept non-native English speakers, but there are still plenty of countries that do. In Europe, it’s not an issue, nor will it bar you from teaching English in Latin America. 

The Middle East tends to be stricter, but you can still teach English as a non-native speaker in Jordan, Kuwait, and Lebanon.

So, generally speaking - absolutely, yes, and you should feel encouraged to do so. There are, however, some limitations and some employers can have a bias towards native speakers. As always, it’s worth checking with embassies and using governmental resources to get the full picture.

Requirements for teaching English in Asia

Asia has always been, and remains, one of the premier destinations to teach English abroad. Several countries, including Thailand, China and Vietnam, have made learning English a priority, with the aim of being more competitive in international markets. Seeing as English is most commonly used as the language of business, it stands to reason that growing and aspirational economies will put emphasis on learning English.

It is, however, a mixed bag in terms of requirements for teaching English as a foreign language. Often - and it varies by country, of course - a degree is required to teach in Asian schools and universities, although there are outliers.

Let’s dive into what’s needed if you’re going to teach English in Asia.

Degree or no degree?

Largely speaking, a Bachelor’s degree is required to teach in Asia. It doesn’t necessarily matter what subject the degree is in.

Due to the often strenuous visa requirements - which we’ll get to - and the competition for TEFL jobs in Asia as a booming industry for English language teachers, a degree is a necessary part of the process in much of the continent.

There are, however, outliers. Cambodia and Nepal are exceptions; you don’t need a degree to teach English in either country, though of course, it helps with the application process if you do have one.

Experience

Although a degree is required for English teaching jobs in much of Asia, experience isn’t. Various countries across the continent are willing to take on newly-qualified teachers, while there are programmes such as JET in Japan and EPIK in South Korea for inexperienced teachers.

It’s probably easier to say where experience is required; schools, colleges and universities in India, Kazakhstan and Mongolia all generally require experience.

Otherwise, it’s largely a blank canvas to get started in teaching English abroad.

Visas

Getting a working visa to work in Asia obviously depends on the country you choose, and their own immigration rules.

It is possible, in some countries (usually in Southeast Asia) to get a tourist visa and switch to a work visa when you have settled in a specific country. However, while this is possible in many nations, it’s not necessarily recommended as a first course of action.

Some countries, especially China, have very strict visa requirements, and falling foul of these can be extremely serious. If you have specific questions, it’s best to refer to the relevant embassy. 

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Requirements for teaching English in Europe

Though much of Europe has excellent English proficiency, there are still plenty of opportunities across the continent.

For British TEFL teachers, of course, there are a raft of new rules and hurdles due to Brexit. Freedom of movement had allowed English teachers ease of access around the continent, however, a lot has changed in that regard.

Even though some TEFL teachers will find it harder to attain residence in certain European destinations, it’s still very much worth trying. Europe is a richly diverse continent, but one where English is a priority language. According to the European Commission, 96% of students in the EU at upper secondary level were learning English. Nearly all primary school pupils in Cyprus, Malta, Spain and Austria were learning English as a foreign language in 2019.

This means two things; English teachers are needed across Europe, but they have to be really on top of their game. Competition is rife, so having experience and the right qualifications will certainly help.

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Degree or no degree?

Generally speaking, you won’t need a degree to teach English in Europe. However, there are five big exceptions to this rule. France, Greece, Poland, Portugal and Turkey all require a bachelor’s degree - in any subject - to consider applications.

Given the immense popularity of these countries in terms of both tourism and as TEFL destinations, it’s likely that demand for jobs has created the need for degrees. Cities such as Paris, Athens, Warsaw, Lisbon and Istanbul speak for themselves as historic cities and wonderful places to live.

Experience

As with any role, anywhere, experience is preferred. That said, in Georgia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey and Ukraine, inexperienced teachers are encouraged to apply for TEFL roles.

Visas

For UK residents, the visa process has, of course, become trickier in the advent of Brexit. Freedom of Movement for UK citizens across the EU no longer exists. However, for anyone from across the world hoping to land a visa for a European country, there are ways.

Meddeas, for example, is a scheme in which training TEFL teachers can work on a student visa. In France, TAPIF runs along similar lines, while the British Council also place TEFL teachers across Europe and help with visa applications.

Requirements for teaching English in Latin America

Latin America remains supremely underrated as a TEFL location.

There are the big hitters; Brazil and Argentina are popular tourist and TEFL destinations. Brazil, in particular, is enormous -  in 2022, its population was around 212 million. And there are big opportunities, with only around 5% of the Brazilian population able to speak English.

This is a common thread across Latin America. There’s a willingness to learn English, and it’s a growing market. For TEFL teachers, it’s a great part of the world to get started, and for the more extroverted, there are a range of exciting and welcoming cultures to get involved with; Uruguay and Chile, for example, are two fascinating countries with a welcoming atmosphere.

For non-native English speakers, as well as newly-qualified and inexperienced TEFL teachers, Latin America represents the best job chances. While a couple of countries require a degree - we’ll get to that - Latin America could be the perfect place to launch your TEFL career.

Degree or no degree?

Generally speaking, Latin America is full of TEFL opportunities, even without a Bachelor’s degree. Candidates without that kind of further education experience can still find themselves starting anew in a range of South American locations.

In Chile and Peru, a degree is required to land a TEFL job. However, it’s not a strict requirement in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil or Colombia, four of the biggest populaces in South America. Additionally, other nations may “prefer” a degree but it isn’t necessarily a mandatory requirement.

Experience

Another factor in Latin America’s favour? You don’t necessarily need experience.

Again, it depends largely on the job, and who’s hiring. However, in terms of landing that first TEFL role in South America, you’ll find that a lack of experience is rarely a hindrance. This is especially true in popular locations in Latin and South America, including Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala and Chile.

Visas

Visa rules in South America can be tricky, especially for reaching “naturalised” status. Employers will generally look for TEFL teachers to stay at least a year, but you’ll usually need a job offer or a contract to assure work visa status. Therefore, it’s easiest to start with a tourist visa, and then reapplying once you’ve settled into a job.

Some countries’ embassies may be willing to dish out a “cultural exchange” visa, which requires a litany of tests and references. If you’re able to attain that kind of visa, that would absolutely help attain residence in the future.

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Requirements for teaching English in the Middle East & Africa

The Middle East and Africa are growing TEFL markets, just like Asia, where the needs of the marketplace have met with demand for English ability.

Of course, with oil-rich states such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE becoming major players in international markets, and with English being the language of business, governments in Northern Africa and the Middle East have prioritised English proficiency. Also, the Middle East is a popular spot for international schools, in places from Oman to Algeria, due to English speakers moving to this part of the world for careers in local industries.

With high demand and high wages, though, come high standards. A lot of the Middle East will require a teaching experience and a degree, while others need neither and welcome non-native speakers. In Africa, wages aren’t quite the same, and paid job availability tends to be towards the north of the continent.

A mixed bag, for sure - but if you can land a TEFL job, the salaries on offer are extremely competitive.

Degree or no degree?

In much of the Middle East and Northern Africa, a degree is required to make inroads into the TEFL market. While it’s simply “preferred” in Jordan and Lebanon, it’s essentially a requirement for the rest of the region, including lucrative markets like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar.

With the wages on offer in the Middle East and Northern Africa, schools, universities and private companies are particularly demanding in terms of applicants for TEFL jobs.  

Teach English in Africa and the Middle East

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Experience

A little experience in TEFL will go a long way in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

The good news first: Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco are looking for brand-new TEFL teachers. All of these locations prefer graduates, but the market is open for first-time TEFL applicants who are keen to try out the continent when starting their TEFL journey.

Otherwise, you’ll need experience to break into the more lucrative markets, as well as a degree.

Visas

Visa requirements in the Middle East can be as strict as they are in Asia. Saudi Arabia, for example, allows employment visas for up to a year, provided you have the right documentation and a valid passport with at least 6 months of further validation. 

It’s similar in the United Arab Emirates, though there’s more importance placed on sponsorships. Essentially, across the Middle East, you need to have the confidence of an employer, to act as a sponsor on your behalf.

A good rule to remember for visa requirements in the Middle East is that you need a valid passport, a contract of employment, and the employer’s endorsement. Each country’s individual requirements differ, but those are the substantial building blocks.

In terms of Africa, it’s largely the same in the north of the continent, where paid jobs tend to be. Further south, TEFL teachers are normally looking at voluntary roles, which require a different kind of visa process, normally as a tourist.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q. What qualifications do you need to teach English abroad?

    Nothing too stressful here - to teach abroad, the basic requirement is a 120-hour TEFL qualification. With that in your arsenal, you’ll find opportunities.

    For some roles, you may require a Bachelor’s degree - in any subject - to be considered. 

  • Q. How do I become an English teacher in a foreign country?

    There are many ways to become an English teacher in a foreign country, but the best - and easiest! - route is to first gain a TEFL qualification. 

    At least 120 hours of properly accredited TEFL training will help you on your way to becoming an English teacher in a foreign country. The right course providers will also provide tutoring, one-to-one advice and assistance with finding a job to help get you on the TEFL ladder!

  • Q. Can I teach English abroad without a degree?

    Yes, but it depends on where you go.

    Visa requirements are a factor here; sometimes entry to a country is incumbent on holding a Bachelor’s degree. This changes on a country-by-country basis, but there are plenty of countries out there where you can teach English without a degree.

    You will, though, need at least a high-quality TEFL certification to teach English abroad.

    To teach English online, though, a degree might not be necessary. You can still teach English in other countries, but in the comfort of your own home. If you feel like the teaching English abroad requirements are too restricting, this may be the best way to go.

  • Q. What TEFL certificate do I need to teach English abroad?

    120-hour TEFL qualifications are recognised as the industry standard for teaching abroad. However, each job can bring its own specific needs. If you’re unsure about what you might need, try out our Course Quiz to get to the right qualification!

  • Q. Which countries have the highest demand for English teachers?

    In terms of demand for English teachers, needs change all the time. However, it’s in growing economies where English teachers are most in-demand. Take for example Asia; countries including China, Japan and South Korea have enormous economies, and the need for a good level of English in order to be competitive in business. These are also great places for a TEFL teacher to start their career.

    This is also true of growing Asian nations such as Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam, which have governmental targets for English proficiency.

    However, there will always be demand for English teachers everywhere. Job markets change like the tides, so it’s always worth keeping an eye out for swathes of new jobs emerging across the globe.