Teaching abroad was how we started our seven-year journey abroad. And, although it seems like a lifetime ago, we never forget to thank the universe for letting the stars align in such a way that we were able to do this.
The reality is, though, that you don't have to be an astrologer to teach abroad, either. There are so many ways to do it, depending on your level of experience and/or credentials, where you're willing to travel to, how much money you want to earn, and how flexible you are with job options.
Teaching abroad can be one of the most amazing experiences you'll have in your life (though, hopefully, like us, it will just be a pathway into a lifetime of adventures!). You'll have incredible experiences, meet awesome people, and have memories that will last forever. And, best of all, you'll likely have some money in your pocket for doing it.
We realize that because there are so many different directions to go with teaching abroad (no pun intended), that the whole process can seem extremely daunting. That's why we're here to help. This guide should help walk you through the basics of teaching abroad.
And, as always, if you have any questions, feel free to get in touch!
What is Teaching Abroad?
There's teaching in your home country, and then there's teaching abroad. All over the world, children (and adults) go to school. Those schools and the type of education the pupils are getting may look different to what you're used to, but the framework of it—a teacher teaching the students—is pretty much the same wherever you go in the world.
Teaching abroad is an opportunity that allows people to not just travel abroad, but to get to know the local culture by teaching its students.
Perhaps you've been teaching in your home country and now you want to see what it's like to do it in a foreign country. Or, maybe you've heard of friends teaching English abroad as a way to travel and make money, and you're interested in how you can jump on the bandwagon.
Where To Teach Abroad?
So, where to teach? Well, the options are truly endless. First, you should narrow it down by the type of school you'd want to teach at. A lot of teachers may be dreaming about teaching in a specific country, but you'll open yourself up to way more job offers if you're open-minded. These are some examples of institutions where you can teach English abroad.
Colleges and universities (typically, you would need a Ph.D. or at least a master's degree in order to teach your given subject area abroad).
Next, you'll have to think about which country you'll want to travel to. Though, we recommend thinking about a region instead. For instance, do you want to teach in Latin America or Europe? Asia or Africa? Then, you can start to narrow it down based on what jobs you're finding in those regions.
Do I Need a Teaching Certification to Teach Abroad?
The first question that many people have when they begin to consider the possibility of teaching abroad is, "Do I need a teaching certificate to teach abroad?" The quick answer is "no", but a lot of that depends on what type of job you're hoping to get. For example, if you're looking to teach in an international school abroad, then you will most likely need a teaching certification of some kind. When we taught in Mexico at the American School, however, we were just about the only two certified teachers at the school. Of course, there were problems associated with that, which we'll get to later on.
In any case, having a teaching credential will definitely not hurt your chances of finding a good job abroad, and in many instances, it can help you find higher-paying and more reliable opportunities. But, in general, it is absolutely not a requirement, especially if you're looking to teach English. However, teaching English abroad does have other requirements altogether, which we'll also discuss.
Do I Need a Master's Degree to Teach Abroad?
Generally, in order to teach abroad, a bachelor's degree is favorable. There are certainly ways to find a teaching job abroad without having one. For instance, our friend Hailey taught in Poland and still made $500 a month and had her housing covered.
If you have a teaching credential and/or a bachelor's degree (or, even if you don't), you might be wondering, "Do I need a master's degree to teach abroad?" In most well-known, prestigious international schools, they certainly prefer a master's degree, which is not too different than how it might be in your home country. But, if you have enough experience, they'll likely still consider you, especially because it usually means they can pay you a little less.
How To Get Your Alternate Route Teaching Certification
If you're interested in finding those international school jobs—which, again are often higher-paying and more similar to a regular teaching job in your home country—then you'll likely need a teaching certificate. (Unless, of course, you're interested in teaching English at an international school, and you have the credentials for that role.)
Max who did not study Education but got his B.A in History was was able to get his teaching certificate from the State of New Jersey (his home state) through the alternate route program. This program helps people who wish to become teachers that did not traditionally go through an education program but would like to enter this field using the college credits they already have. Look up options in other states.
What is Teaching English Abroad?
Students around the world learn English as a Second Language, or English as a Foreign Language (you may hear these terms, as well as other terms, be used interchangeably). Teaching English abroad is an opportunity to teach English to these students around the world.
Teaching English abroad is a little different than teaching at a "regular school" as a "regular teacher", and if you have experience teaching in a classroom as a "regular teacher"—and you're interested in teaching English abroad—know that it's quite different. Though you can take some things from your teaching experience and apply them to teaching English abroad, you'll have to be prepared for different materials, different students, different curriculum, etc.
Where To Teach English Abroad?
Theoretically, one could teach English abroad anywhere in the world where it's being taught as a second language. However, you'll find the majority of jobs in places where there's a huge demand for this. First, though, understand examples of which type of schools are looking for this type of role:
Colleges and universities (typically, you'll need at least a master's degree to teach English in these institutions).
Asia is a hot spot for English jobs, particularly in China, South Korea, Japan, and Thailand, and the salary tends to be higher in these countries than in other places. But, there's also a demand in South America and Europe, but Americans may find it hard to get a job in Europe due to visa requirements. Again, we'll touch about this later.
Do I Need a Bachelor's Degree to Teach English Abroad?
If you're wondering, "Do I need a bachelor's degree to teach abroad?" the answer is, it depends. If you want to teach in a place like South Korea as we did, you will need your bachelor's as it's a requirement for this visa.
That being said, we did know people who taught, anyway. We're not recommending you do this (especially if it's against the law), but there are ways to find jobs that do not require a bachelor's, as long as you're a native English speaker. And, even then, if English is not your first language but you've mastered it, there will be jobs for you, too.
What is TEFL/TESOL?
TEFL/TESOL is a "Teacher of English as a Foreign Language" and "Teacher of English as a Second Language" and the terms are usually used to refer to the type of certification that's preferred by institutions hiring language teachers. Generally, they are more or less the same when your speaking in terms of the certification, though if you add this to your resume/cover letter, stay consistent.
How To Get a TEFL Certification?
So, here's where things can get a bit confusing. A TEFL certification is not always required to teach English abroad, but it can certainly help. And, if you don't have your bachelor's and you want to be a more desirable candidate despite that, having a TEFL/TESOL will definitely help you stand out, as it demonstrates you took the required coursework that makes you competent in this area.
Typically, a TEFL/TESOL certification course can either be done online, in-person or half-and-half. There are many ways to get it easily online, including looking at Groupon which oftentimes has discounts. We did ours at ITTT, and it was 120+ hours (some schools will indicate how many hours they want you to have). You'll want to make sure the course is accredited.
Other English Teaching Certifications
If you decide you like teaching English and you want to make yourself stand out as much as possible, then usually, your experience will speak to that. But, some people feel that extra credentials never hurt and may come in handy if this is a career you want to stay in (it can be a very rewarding career—get to teach and make money traveling the world for the rest of your life? Pshh, yeah). Some other English teaching certifications are:
Teaching Abroad Versus Teaching English Abroad
Let's say you're qualified to teach abroad in a "regular" school and you're qualified to teach English abroad. Or, let's say you're interested in pursuing this as a career/way of life, and you just want to know which path you should head down as it will be a bit of a time/financial investment. This is why it can be beneficial to understand teaching abroad versus teaching English abroad.
Note: Here we use the term "teach/teaching abroad" to refer to non-English teaching jobs.
Teaching abroad usually has more credential requirements than teaching English abroad.
Teaching English abroad can sometimes be more flexible than teaching abroad, but it can also be more demanding.
While teaching English abroad hires throughout the year, teaching abroad may only have yearly hiring periods.
Teaching abroad may pay more than teaching English, however, teaching English in China, Japan, or South Korea will pay more than teaching abroad in a place like Latin America.
Teaching abroad usually has more protections and clear expectations in place than teaching English abroad (particularly at a private academy where it's run more like a business). However, there are English-teaching programs like EPIK that are through the government which can mitigate some of these concerns.
You may have more of a choice of jobs if you teach English as the demand is so high. But, with this comes to a lot of jobs that won't be vetted properly nor a good fit. There may be more limitations with teaching abroad jobs, but they will likely be much more secure/reliable.
With teach abroad jobs, you'll usually get more vacations.
The Pros and Cons of Teaching Abroad
Teaching English abroad was one of the best experiences we ever had, and it led us to start a seven-year journey of living abroad. But, it's important to understand that as amazing as this opportunity can be, it may not be everyone. At the very least, there are several pros and cons to consider.
You get to live abroad while making money (in most cases).
The school typically pays for some of your expenses, like your flight, housing, meals, etc.
You'll usually get access to health insurance and other benefits that the locals have access to, and depending on where you're coming from, this can be a major perk.
You'll get to experience living in another culture, and maybe pick up another language, while trying to food, exploring new places, meeting new people, etc.
You'll have many skills to add to your resume, like "ability to adapt well" or "open to new challenges".
You'll likely get to save a lot of money (if your housing is covered), which means you can travel, pay off debt, save for the future, etc.
You'll be able to travel to new places. For instance, when we lived in Korea, we took our vacations to Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, China, and Japan, which are just a few hours by plane.
Visiting a country with a culture that's completely different than your own can be difficult enough. But, working in it can be extremely difficult.
Ultimately, you're taking a risk by going to work for an employer abroad. You have to make sure to vet them properly, and just be always be cautious. Our first year in Korea, we had many issues with our employer, many of which we could not have even known to ask about.
In many cases, your housing will be provided. While this sounds like a sweet deal, there can be issues with the housing, which can make your living situation unbearable.
Typically, the law is not in your favor if something goes wrong, and if you're not able to speak the local language or you can't afford a lawyer, it can put you in a tight spot. Of course, this is an extreme situation, but it's important to recognize.
You're far away from friends, family, and maybe all that you've ever known. Feeling homesick can and will happen.
How Much Do Teaching Jobs Abroad Pay?
The big question for many people is "How much do teaching jobs abroad pay?" Well, that's a great question. And, again, it depends. This is because wherever you go, you'll likely be getting paid in the local currency, and your salary will be relative to what local teachers make (though, we found that we often got paid double what locals got paid, which often created tension at our workplace). It'll also depend on your level of experience, how long you stay with the school, and ultimately, how much you negotiate.
In the spirit of being totally transparent, our first year in Korea, Hana got paid 2.2 million KRW, which at the time was about $1,900. Max got paid 2.1 million KRW, which came out to about $100 less. This was due to the fact that Hana had studied education and had a teaching certification. But, as we both had our TEFL certifications, there wasn't too much of a discrepancy (though, Hana feels that theoretically, she should have gotten a lot more!)
In Mexico, Hana got paid 14,000 MXN with some change (about $1,100 at the time) and Max got paid 13,000 MXN (about $1,000). At this point, Max already had his Alternative Route Certification, but Hana still had more experience in the classroom. As you can see, even though this was at an international school and a "regular" teaching job, the pay was much less than when we taught English in South Korea due to the wages in Mexico.
Finally, by our second year in Korea, we had a lot of negotiating power. We knew our worth, and we knew what other teachers were able to get paid. This year, we each got paid the same—2.4 million KRW, which was about $2,200 each at the time. Best of all, all these years we had our housing covered and our health insurance, so it was a great way to pay off debt and save money—just another perk of teaching abroad!
Getting a Visa to Teach Abroad
So, what about getting a visa? What is a visa? Isn't that a necessary part of teaching abroad?
Yes, usually. Though, some people find jobs without one. (Again, not advising this, but it happens.)
No need to worry, though. If you're working with a (legitimate) school or program, they will take care of the visa process for you (for the most part). You may have to get some paperwork on your end, but they should walk you through it and help you with the process. There will also likely be a plethora of information online to guide you.
In some cases, the visa thing may come off a little strange. When we went to Korea the first time, we had to do a "visa run". Technically, you cannot get a visa for a given country in that country. That's why you have to leave to get it, and if there's not enough time for you to get it before you arrive at your job, they may send you on a visa run.
If anything is fishy, though, keep looking around until you find a situation more secure.
Which Type of Teaching Job is Right for Me?
To find out which teaching job is right for you, you may want to ask yourself a few questions:
What type of experience do I want to have?
Where do I want to live?
What am I hoping to get out of teaching abroad or teaching English abroad?
What kind of experience/credentials do I have and what will the school be looking for?
How much money am I hoping to make/save?
Do I want to be able to travel to other areas?
Am I hoping to meet more locals, more expats, or both?
How long do I want to commit to teaching? (Some programs are at least a two-year commitment?
Knowing this information about yourself can help you narrow down where to look for jobs and what type of jobs you should seek out. It can also help you understand whether or not you need to gain more credentials before beginning the job search.
How to Find Teaching Jobs Abroad
Now, the fun part! Finding teaching jobs abroad can be an exciting experience. Just dreaming of all the possibilities feels like a travel experience in itself! We really loved looking at jobs abroad and honestly, we sometimes just do it for fun.
Finding a job in our home country (the States) has always been a daunting experience, that usually leaves you feeling disappointed, anxious, and completely discouraged. But, when you see how much in demand you become for jobs abroad, it's such an ego-boost! So, here's where you look:
To Find Teaching Jobs Abroad
TieOnline: This is a website that lists all the international schools hiring. You can filter your search by continent, country, job type, etc. Membership is $39 a year, and worth it if you're thinking of working at a school like this.
International Schools Services: A non-profit organization that works with more than 500 international schools around the world and can help you find the perfect job. Membership is $75 for a year.
Job fairs: If you're looking for an abroad experience but don't know where to start, job fairs are a great place to start. Job fairs can help you get in direct contact with recruiters or schools that are looking to hire. You can find them in schools, conferences, and/or education institutions. ISS has one.
Teach Away: This is a great platform for people looking to teach abroad. If you're a first time teacher looking to get into your first abroad experience or looking to teach for the first time, Teach away offers teaching certificates in Hawaii or Arizona. They have loads of courses and jobs ready for you to apply for.
Your network: Maybe you know or head of someone that has made the leap and is now teaching abroad or you have a cool aunt that taught and traveled in China in her early 20's. Don't be afraid to get a cup of coffee and talk to them about their experience. They might be able to steer you in the right direction and give you good tips.
If you already have a specific country in mind and you're quite adamant about it, then we recommend going directly to those schools' websites to apply. Try to do this up to an entire school year in advance, so they have you ready when the time comes.
To Find English Teaching Jobs Abroad
Dave’s ESL Cafe: This is essentially the Mecca of teaching jobs abroad. Their job board is one of the best in the industry, with the best job listings for South Korea and China. You can sort by "Korean Job Board" and "China Job Board" as well as the "International Job Board". It's also a great option if you want to find a job with a partner or significant other. You'll be sure to find something here.
Go Abroad: This website offers visitors many types of travel programs, including teaching abroad. It's more of a database that connects you to other resources.
Go Overseas: This website has a fairly broad job board of various teaching jobs abroad, and the website is a great resource in general.
ESL Jobs Lounge: Excellent job board for finding English teaching jobs abroad.
ITTT International: This is a great place to get your TEFL certification by choosing a class that fits your needs. They also have a good job board that's filtered by country. (We got our TEFL certification here).
International TEFL Academy: This site has pretty much everything you could ever want to know about teaching English abroad, with information on specific countries. When we say to do additional research to get answers to your questions, this site should have those answers, along with information on how to find the job you want.
Your TEFL certification program: Wherever you get your TEFL/TESOL certification—even if it's not at one of the two places mentioned above—you can and should ask your program for job leads. Many in-person TEFL certification programs that are held abroad can help you with job placement afterward. However, you usually have to pay a lot more for these.
HelpX and Workaway: These websites offer information on volunteer exchange programs, some of which involve teaching English. We had a friend that found a job teaching in Poland through here, and it paid! More on that, later.
Your network: Like with any job search, one of the best ways to go about it is by asking around. Maybe you know someone who knows someone that has taught English abroad, and they can offer you some tips. maybe their school is hiring now that they are leaving, and you can take their place.
Many of these websites may have x-posting for the same job. You can also post your resume on several of these so that the jobs will come to you.
How To Apply for Teaching Jobs Abroad
So, you've done some research and you see some jobs that you could potentially be interested in. That's the fun part. But, when it comes time to start applying to jobs, it's time to take it seriously. You've already mentally decided that you want to do this, but you want to make sure you're going to be working in the right situation. Here's what you need to know.
When to Apply?
When to apply really depends on what type of job you're searching for. Once you know the type (private academy, university, public school, international school, etc.), it's a good idea to look up when the school year runs in that particular country. For instance, when we lived in Korea and worked at a private academy, the new school year started in March, but because the academies ran year-round, it didn't really matter when we went.
But, when we worked in Mexico at an international school, the school year started in August, and we applied in May. In some cases, you may need to apply earlier. In the case of international schools, it's usually never too early to reach out, because the school will let you know when they'll begin hiring. But, for English teaching in a place like China or Korea, you could theoretically apply two months before you move there.
Before you begin applying, make sure you have all the materials you'll need. You can find out what you need by looking at the job posts and having a rough idea of what documents you'll likely need to get your visa. For example, if you don't have a passport yet, get one now. If you think you may need to submit your college transcripts (we did), get your hands on them ASAP. Some items you'll initially want to gather are:
A cover letter template
A bio or a video as many schools want to know more about who you are as a person.
Your certifications or be in the process of getting your certifications (we were still taking our TEFL course when we moved to Korea the first time).
References and/or letters of recommendation (or, at least know who you'll ask)
If you have a pet or children you'll be bringing, start finding out about their paperwork (we'll cover this in another article)
Check out our free teaching abroad/teaching English abroad resume examples here and here.
Get Ready for Your Interview
When you apply to a school (or, through a recruiter) they may ask for general information upfront. If they're interested, they may ask for more information, and/or they might want to schedule an interview. It may help to ask for some interview tips from the person you've been in correspondence with or do some research regarding tips for that particular country. In general, you'd be interviewing as you would for a job back home, but you may be required to highlight traits about yourself that may seem odd.
For instance, when we applied for jobs in South Korea, the schools were more interested in whether or not we were likable and friendly people versus how much teaching experience we had. They also wanted us to send a picture, as your "image" is important (there are, of course, many things problematic about this, which we'll discuss).
Strait Up Travel can help prepare for your teach abroad interview! Just contact us.
It's not always being prepared for their questions for you, it's preparing questions to ask your interviewer. After all, you're going to be the one moving abroad to another country, so you should be as comfortable as you can with a prospective job. There are certain, specific questions you'll want to ask based on where you're going, but here are some general ones to start:
What will my job description be/entail?
What are some expectations of me as a teacher/co-worker/employee outside of that job description?
What is a typical day like at the school?
What is the housing situation like? (if housing is provided)
What is the town/city where the school is located like?
Does the school support teachers in getting their visa?
How many other teachers are at the school/what are opportunities to collaborate with others?
What benefits are included in the job/how does payment typically work?
Can you connect me with past teachers that have worked at the school?
You may be thinking, "Wow, these are bold!", but it's important to be very thorough so that you don't end up in a messy situation, especially if you're going to be working in a private academy. Legitimate international schools or universities may be less of a concern and may be treated more like a normal interview, but you'll typically be able to gauge that by their level of professionalism.
FAQS/What is Life Like Living Abroad?
Even if you've read through this guide word-for-word, you probably still have so many questions about what the experience will be like.
What to Expect
We get this one a lot, but the truth is, having no expectations is honestly the best way to approach the situation. Of course, the expectations you have of your job should absolutely be met, like your pay, the class you're teaching, your benefits, housing—essentially, all the things you've been promised or signed on your contract.
But, beyond this, being open-minded, flexible, and ready to try to things—even if it means being asked to handle a situation in a way that you wouldn't normally handle it due to cultural differences—will help you have the most meaningful experience you can have.
Should I Visit the Country Beforehand?
The quick answer is, no. It's not like when you're looking at colleges in which you go check out schools beforehand (though there are sometimes international job fairs where you can actually talk with people from the school). Typically, the school will have you fly in (especially if they're paying for your flight) a week or two before school starts. It's not unusual for them to have you come in a day or two before, either, as if you're taking over another teacher's apartment, they'll need time to move out before you move in.
How Can I Connect With Others?
You should always ask for contact information of other teachers at your school—or, who have previously worked at your school—before committing to a job and/or before moving there. This can help you get an idea of what to expect when you arrive. It may also be worth connecting with other expats in the city or town you're moving to by searching for groups and communities on Facebook. When we moved to Dongtan, Korea the first time, we found a Facebook group called "Dongtan Clan" where we were able to meet others easily.
How to Prepare
If you've taught before, then spend more time preparing for your arrival and the actual logistics of moving abroad than your lesson plans and things, because teaching will come naturally to you. Also, in many cases, past teachers leave behind lesson plans and you should have time to prepare once you arrive. Schools may also not be how you're used to back home for instance, even though you may normally take time to decorate your classroom, your school may already have a team or assistant who takes care of that, so don't worry. If you have time, great, otherwise, relax!
If you're going to teach English abroad and you've never done so before, you may be having a slight freak-out about it. When we first moved to Korea, Max had tutored some kids here and there, but he had never set foot in a classroom, let alone one on the other side of the world and is a subject matter that came naturally but could, therefore, be hard to teach.
Our TEFL course really helped prepare us for these lessons and in many cases, you'll be given a lot of materials and coursework to use, anyway. Try doing some mock lessons before in front of the mirror (or in front of little cousins or siblings). You'll see that you'll get the hang of it pretty quickly and it will eventually become second nature.
What to Pack
As. little. as. possible. When we moved abroad together, Hana had already moved abroad once before and learned from that experience that she had taken far too much. Max brought four suitcases the first time. Four! Bring clothes for the seasons, work clothes, shoes, etc., and always look at what the country may not have available that you'll need (like toiletries) and bring it in bulk.
Hana had a hard time finding shoes in Korea because they don't make her size, and things like feminine products may be different where you're going. Otherwise, pack very, very lightly. You'll definitely buy things there, and if you're not going to a remote area, you'll be able to get whatever you need.
What Will Living Arrangements Be Like?
In many cases with international schools, teachers will often be put up in apartments in the same building as one another or nearby. Usually, the housing will be located near the school (but not always). Expect that you'll be living as the locals live, whatever that may mean.
You can—and should—ask what the housing will be like, and if you arrive and it's not up to what you expected, talk to the school about it. You may also have the option to get a housing stipend and ask the school to help you find alternative housing if you want something else. Our second year in Korea, we moved into another apartment and laid out a little extra money to cover it.
The Bottom Line
It may sound cliche, but teaching abroad can be one of the best experiences you'll have in your life, and it can lead to other exciting opportunities. Ultimately, it's the start of something new. But, the whole process of teaching abroad—from the time you make your decision ("I want to do this!") to the time you're finally there—can be very emotionally exhausting.
That's why we're here. If you want to teach abroad and you need someone to walk you through this process, we can help. Book a meeting with us today!