Updated 8 October 2020
Around the world, more than one billion people learn English as a foreign language. This means that there is a huge global demand for English teachers.
This rapidly growing educational field is known as TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language).
It may also be referred to as EFL (English as a Foreign Language), TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) or TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language).
In this article, we look at the attractions of teaching English abroad, the types of roles that are available, what you need to teach abroad and how to choose the right course.
If you are keen to experience new cultures while earning a decent wage and sharing your language skills, then teaching English abroad is an ideal choice.
As demand in some parts of the world is so high, once you have a TEFL certification it should be relatively easy to find a job.
TEFL is often associated with students and recent graduates, who may largely be drawn to the travel opportunities it offers.
It also provides valuable teaching experience for those who are considering a longer-term career in education, as well as developing other transferable skills such as communication, organisation, initiative and self-sufficiency.
However, TEFL is not exclusively for the young and people of all ages train to become EFL teachers. Again, the opportunity to live and work in another part of the world is often a key attraction. Some may be looking for a career change or to try something different.
TEFL teachers are also motivated by a desire to share their knowledge and make a real difference to other people’s lives.
There are many different kinds of TEFL roles available. As well as overseas jobs, you could also choose to teach English as a foreign language in your own country, or online. However, in this article, we will be focusing on teaching abroad.
EFL teachers work with students of all ages and at all levels of proficiency. They could find a role teaching children within a school, or they might be employed at a dedicated language institute where they could teach English classes for adults or children, or both.
In some parts of the world, there will be jobs available even for the most newly-qualified teachers; however, in countries where the market is more competitive, EFL teachers will need to have more experience.
Here are some of the top countries to teach English:
There is a particular demand for EFL teachers in Asia thanks to government investment in this area and rapidly expanding economies.
China has an especially high number of TEFL jobs but there are also a wealth of opportunities to teach English across East and South East Asia.
Countries such as Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand are all popular destinations.
First-time teachers are generally able to secure a job here without too much difficulty and enjoy good salaries, a low cost of living and the chance to immerse themselves in a culture that may be very different to their own.
Central and South America also have a thriving market for EFL teachers and there is a particular demand in Ecuador, Columbia, Argentina and Mexico.
Again, the high number of TEFL roles available makes it easier for less experienced teachers to find work here. Salaries are not very high, but this is offset by the low cost of living.
The culture and lifestyle is often the main draw for EFL teachers choosing to work in these countries.
For those looking to make a significant salary, the Middle East offers high, tax-free wages to EFL teachers with opportunities in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
However, the generous pay packages make this a very competitive market so teachers will usually need at least two years’ experience.
Those used to a Western lifestyle may find some aspects of the local culture challenging, so make sure you know what to expect before applying for a job here.
Finally, Europe also has a strong TEFL market, particularly in countries in Eastern, Central and Southern Europe.
Countries in Northern Europe, such as France, tend to have a very strong English language curriculum in schools so will require a higher level of experience.
Freedom of movement allows all EU citizens to live and work in any other EU country without a visa. This makes it harder for EFL teachers who are not EU citizens to secure a job in the EU. It is not yet clear what the impact will be when the UK leaves the EU.
The International TEFL Academy has a downloadable World Comparison Chart for Teaching English Abroad with detailed information about the job market in countries around the world, such as salaries, benefits and requirements.
While schools in some countries recruit throughout the year, many places have major hiring seasons when existing teachers complete their contracts and move on, opening up vacancies for newly-qualified EFL teachers.
This is particularly true in:
If you want to teach in any of these areas, you should aim to be in the country of your choice during the relevant hiring season, with your TEFL qualification completed and ready to interview in person.
It is also worth noting that the seasonal nature of TEFL in many regions means that there may be certain periods when contracts end and new ones have not yet begun.
If this is the case where you are teaching, you will need to plan ahead so you are not out of pocket during the quieter months. Teaching English online may be a useful way to tide you over.
It goes without saying that you need to be fluent in English if you want to teach it abroad.
English does not necessarily have to be your native language. However, you will need to consider your degree of fluency and how comprehensible you will be to students.
You may also need a higher level of qualification or experience to secure a job. And some countries will only award work visas to EFL teachers with a passport from somewhere they consider to be a native English-speaking country.
You should make sure that you gain your TEFL qualification through a high quality and properly accredited course provider.
A few roles may not require a TEFL qualification but these are often low paid and the employer may be less than scrupulous.
A TEFL qualification will not only vastly improve your chances of finding a good job, but it will also ensure that you have the skills and techniques you need to teach English confidently and effectively.
Your course provider should also be able to help you search and apply for jobs once qualified.
You must have a work visa to teach English in another country so you will need to research the requirements of the country you want to work in.
In many countries, you will need to have a university or college degree to be granted a work visa. Usually, this will mean a BA degree or equivalent in any discipline.
Some countries also have age restrictions, so you should check this too.
Do not be tempted to travel to teach in a country without the proper paperwork. This is illegal and you could be fined, arrested or even deported and banned from returning to the country. Working illegally also puts you at a much higher risk of being exploited by disreputable employers.
Although many countries, including most of Asia, require a university degree to teach English as a foreign language, there are plenty that do not.
A university degree is not a visa requirement across most of Central and South America, or in Europe if you are an EU citizen. So it is not essential to have a degree if you are prepared to be flexible about where you work.
Although you will earn a wage once you have secured a job as a TEFL teacher, you will need to have enough to cover your course fees, flights and at least your first month of living expenses.
It may come as a surprise but you do not need to be able to speak the language of the country where you wish to teach English. EFL teachers use only English in the classroom to create a fully immersive learning experience.
You will learn ways around the language barrier when taking your TEFL course, such as using pictures or mime.
Of course, you may wish to have some grasp of the language to make your time in the country easier and more fulfilling, but it is not essential.
The demand for EFL teachers in some countries is so great that employers are happy to take on teachers with no prior teaching experience.
Across Asia and Latin America, it is relatively easy for newly-qualified EFL teachers to find jobs.
However, in places where the market is particularly competitive, such as in the Middle East, more experience is required.
While TEFL is often popular with recent graduates, it is not a career path exclusively for the young.
Many people decide to join a TEFL course as a career change in their 30s or 40s, or as they are coming up to retirement and looking for something different to do.
However, while you certainly do not need to be young to teach English abroad, certain countries do have an age limit for work visas.
If you are over 60 you should research the visa requirements when deciding where you would like to teach.
Many companies offer TEFL courses so deciding on the right programme can feel overwhelming. However, with proper research, you should be able to find one that suits your needs and successfully prepares you to teach English abroad.
First, look for a course that is accredited by an external body as this should be an assurance of its quality.
Unfortunately, TEFL is not a very well-regulated field and there is not one single authority that all training providers must go to for accreditation. This means that anyone can set themselves up as a TEFL training provider or as an accrediting body.
The best course providers will be accredited by respected and well-established bodies with a rigorous set of standards. Usually, these will be government bodies or bodies affiliated with the government, that accredit a range of courses.
In the UK, look for courses accredited by:
Some employers may only accept TEFL qualifications accredited by these bodies.
There are a few different types of TEFL courses, the one you choose will depend on several factors:
You might also take into account whether you are looking for a long-term career in teaching English abroad or if it is a shorter-term plan before moving on to something different.
You can choose between on-site courses, where you will learn in person in a classroom setting, or online courses, some of which may also offer some aspect of training in a classroom.
Online courses tend to be more affordable and flexible. However, they do not always provide the hands-on teaching practice and feedback that many will find essential to gain confidence as an EFL teacher.
You should also be aware that some employers will insist on some degree of classroom-based experience.
Whether you choose to study online or in a classroom, check how much support you will have from tutors and that you will be taught by people who are TEFL qualified and experienced teacher trainers.
The length of the course is also an important consideration. They are usually measured in hours and 120 hours is the industry standard.
Shorter courses are available but if you are new to this field they are unlikely to provide you with the level of instruction you need. Most entry-level TEFL jobs will require a qualification involving at least 120 hours of training.
The cost of a TEFL course will usually range from around £700 to £1,400. Beware of cheaper courses that are unlikely to be properly accredited and may involve hidden costs.
Likewise, if a course is much more expensive, you should consider whether the extra cost seems justified.
Your salary as an EFL teacher is usually based on your experience, so paying for a more extensive course will not necessarily guarantee you a higher-paid position.
This entry-level qualification from the University of Cambridge is focused on teaching adults and older children.
The course is 120 hours and can be studied either full or part-time at approved centres across the UK, or online.
This course from Trinity College London is very similar to the CELTA.
It involves a minimum of 130 hours of training, with at least 70 hours of further study also required.
It can be taken full-time over four weeks or part-time over a more extended period.
There are a number of Trinity-approved course providers in the UK and around the world.
The specific content of the course will vary depending on the provider but you can expect the curriculum to cover:
The TEFL market is booming, so training to teach English abroad is a great move for anyone keen to explore the world and share their knowledge while developing their own skills and experience.
It is important to plan and research thoroughly before signing up for a course or deciding where to teach. But with the right qualifications and work visa in place, you will have a wealth of opportunities at your feet.
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