ESL Jobs FAQ
Frequently Asked Questions about Teaching English Jobs
What sorts of TEFL jobs exist?
People often overlook the wide range of job opportunities in TEFL. By far the largest number of TEFL teachers worldwide are indigenous teachers working in local secondary/high schools. Most of the information on this page will not be of interest to such teachers, though some will be. Apart from that, there are potential opportunities for all TEFL teachers worldwide in:
- commercial language schools (from sole proprietorships to publicly-listed chain schools)
- international schools
- secondary/high schools
- government-sponsored programs (e.g. Peace Corps, JET, British Council)
- corporate in-house training departments
- freelance/private teaching
- voluntary work for charitable organisations
Who will I be teaching?
This depends to some extent on the school or organisation, but in general all kinds of people are learning English. Good schools are sensitive to their teachers' capabilities and will try to match you to the most appropriate students. The more flexible you are in this respect the more hours you will probably get. In general, and subject to your capabilities, you could be asked to teach:
- students of all levels (from beginner or false beginner to advanced and near fluent)
- students of all ages (from babies[!] to octogenarians)
- groups (from 3 or 4 in a language school to 50 or more in a secondary/high school)
- general English (including grammar, conversation, reading/writing etc)
- exam preparation
- academic English
- business English (and/or other special English)
- in school or at the student's home
What information about the employer should I look for? What should I ask about during the interview?
- how many (foreign) teachers there are
- teaching resources
- how long the school has been running
- number of classroom hours
- class sizes
- teaching resources and technology
- photos of the school (the actual building that you will be working in)
- starting and finishing times (e.g. split shifts)
- what your days will be
- other duties (e.g. placement testing or sales)
How can I tell if a job is a scam?
These are the usual danger signs:
- recruiting a suspiciously large number of teachers
- suspiciously good conditions (especially if the job is offered to people with no teaching experience)
- jobs in Europe that don't ask for qualifications or experience
- offering jobs to teachers from developing countries who can't usually get working visas
- offering jobs in the EU to Americans with little experience
- asking for copies of certificates early in the application process
- asking for original certificates
- the company using email addresses from providers like Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo
- no address or telephone number on the website
- the whole company seeming to be run by one person
- not contacting your job references before they offer you a job
- a shoddy website
- no website
- asking for money from you
Never send money to anyone - recruiters will be paid by the school and genuine schools will pay all visa expenses. Only send originals of certificates once you have confirmed that it is the usual process in that country and have received a signed contract.
What should I do if I suspect a job offer is a scam?
Here are some ideas: check whether they contacted your job references; contact them through all the email addresses, addresses and phone numbers that are on the website to check that they are genuine; check that they are listed on the websites of any accreditation organisations that they mention; Google the company name (perhaps together with the word "scam"); leave a question on a TEFL forum; ask them to put you in touch with present and past teachers; check who owns the website; Google the postal address to see if other company names come up and to see if the address exists; find job ads from other schools in the same place to check that the conditions and process are fairly typical; and check whether the information that they gave you about visas is accurate for that country.
Most of the jobs that I want to apply for ask for Cambridge CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL but I took a different four-week course. What should I do?
Explain on your CV very clearly that your course is equivalent and explain in which ways, e.g. number of hours of instruction and observed teaching practice. You could also ask the certificate provider for other positive information to include, e.g. what schools accept that certificate and the organisations that they are accredited by.
I never/rarely see jobs advertised in the country that I want to work in. What should I do?
Choose a city or two and find out what time of year is best to look for jobs. Then find the addresses of all the schools and get a CV to all of them - by email, by post and/or by walking the streets. If you don't have a TEFL certificate yet, try studying for one in that country. Check out the requirements of the few ads that you do see and try to reach that level, e.g. by getting a couple of years' experience elsewhere and learning the language. As a last resort, take a job in a neighbouring country or in a chain that has schools in that country and try to move there the next year.
I'm bilingual. Should I mention that in my CV?
Some people say they are bilingual when they just mean that their English is good, so make sure that you clearly explain in your CV what that means (e.g. "Although I was brought up here in France, my mother is English and I went to an international school, so I am equally competent in English and French.").
I've heard that in the country where I want to work there is prejudice against black/Asian/disabled/female/gay/older teachers/teachers who speak the local language/teachers who have local surnames. How can I still get a job there?
First of all, read the reactions to reports of this kind of prejudice in that country, e.g. people who have commented on TEFL forums, and see whether it really is a major problem or has been exaggerated. If it is particularly prevalent in that country, you might still be able to get a job in a school that has an enlightened equal opportunities policy and will back you up when you have problems with some less progressive students. If you can't find a job in such a school (e.g. because they only employ more experienced teachers), there is no point trying to hide the fact that you are in a wheelchair until the moment you arrive at the school, but there is no harm in leaving a mention of potential issues until you are offered the job. You could also teach somewhere else for a few years, waiting until you are able to apply for those better jobs.
Should I just go there to look for a job, or should I apply from abroad?
In some countries you need to apply for a working visa from abroad (or even from your own country), so unless there is a standard border hop for that process and the process is quick, there is little point going there to look for jobs. In other places, e.g. big cities in Spain, there are so many people looking for jobs that they rarely bother advertising and so you will need to go there. You can also of course apply online while you are there.
Are there any age restrictions?
You need to be at least 18 years old to work or get on a TEFL course, though most schools and countries prefer university graduates and so most first-time TEFL teachers are in their early twenties. A few countries also have upper limits for teaching visas, but most schools are happy to employ teachers in their 50s if they have good qualifications and/or experience. The problem tends to be the other way round - not many 50-somethings are happy with the management styles and living conditions that most first TEFL jobs include!
My grammar/spelling was always terrible at school. Can I still make it as an English teacher?
Perhaps you should try to improve! If you really can't, how can you help your students improve their own grammar or spelling? Still, it is possible to get through a TEFL course and teach with careful preparation of lessons, especially if you teach low levels and young students.
Is teaching illegally really so bad?
In a few countries almost all teachers are illegal in one way or another, e.g. because no schools can afford to pay national insurance or get teaching visas. In other places, only the worst schools will employ teachers illegally, with all that that entails for your working life and job conditions. There are also the possibilities of deportation, fines, sudden changes to visa regulations that make border runs impossible, or sudden loss of your job when schools decide to hire people legally. You will also need the qualifications that could get you a legal contract (degree and/or TEFL certificate) sooner or later if you want to stay in TEFL.
What countries can I teach in without a degree? Do I need a degree to teach abroad?
In most countries you need a degree for the working visa (i.e. a degree is often a government requirement for obtaining a work permit rather than an employer requirement). If you have an EU passport you don't need a visa to teach there, but as it is a competitive market you might still find it difficult to find jobs. It is still possible to get a visa to teach in more obscure parts of China without a degree, but this is likely to change as it becomes a more mainstream teaching destination and those cities and towns become more liveable for foreigners.
Furthermore, where schools employ people illegally (e.g. without a degree/working visa), it is worth wondering why they can't find staff with degrees, TEFL certificates and working visas when there are so many teachers with all of those; and how they must treat their teachers if they have so little respect for the law.
How should I choose my first job? What is the best country for a first job?
There are many questions to ask yourself. Do you want to arrive with a big batch of new teachers (for the instant social life)? Do you want to choose your own accommodation, or would you prefer the school to choose it for you? Will speaking the language or being able to learn it quickly matter to you? Is being far away from home (e.g. time difference when phoning home and cost of flying back) an issue for you? Most people find that the easiest first jobs are through big chains of schools, in East Asia (for the help with accommodation and visas), and in the EU if you have an EU passport (for the lack of paperwork, being close to home and being culturally similar).
Where can I save the most money?
Most people usually say the Middle East, but you are unlikely to get a well-paid job there without considerable work experience and maybe higher qualifications such as an MA. Libya and Kazakhstan are the two new big money destinations, but can be a bit tricky to work and live in. If you are a new teacher, South Korea is probably the easiest place to live where you can save a decent amount of money, but it can be difficult to find out which schools are good. Taiwan is probably the next best bet. Most people add Japan to that list, but dropping wages and bankrupt schools means that the boom years are long gone. Things to consider when comparing jobs in different countries include the pay, tax, cost of living, cost of accommodation (and whether it is supplied by the school), unpaid holidays, chances of paid overtime or private classes, cost of flights back home, stability of the currency you will be paid in, inflation, setting up costs (e.g. furniture, mobile phone and flat deposit) and visa expenses.
What can I put on my CV if I don't have any teaching experience?
Any job experience is good, especially if it shows that you can deal with people, get to work on time, dress smartly etc. Language learning experience is also relevant, as could be experience living or travelling abroad. You could also include relevant parts of your personality, as long as you can back that up with proof (e.g. "I showed my flexibility by...").
Do I need to speak the students' language?
No, though it certainly wouldn't hurt. It can also help to get a job, especially when applying for jobs to work with kids and in universities where there might be lots of admin in the local language. In some countries such as Spain, you might also find yourself competing with people who have good language skills for the best jobs. All actual teaching will be done in English, though.
Can I get a job where I don't need to teach kids?
Yes, especially if you aren't too fussy about location. You are unlikely to get a university job until you have plenty of experience, but most countries have chains of cram schools and/or language schools who only teach adults. Be careful asking the school about this though - even if you will only teach adults, sounding like you hate kids probably won't give a good impression!
What's the best time of year to look for a job?
For summer schools in the UK the best time is usually May or June, but any time up to the beginning of July is possible. For most European countries, the best time is during the summer, for a September or October start (the new academic year). The beginning of other terms (e.g. after Xmas, and sometimes after Easter) are the other times people sometimes start in Europe, so you could try applying at around those times. The academic year starts in April in most Asian countries, and early in the year in South America. Having said that, many commercial language schools are operating all year round, so they may be worth approaching at any time.
Can non-native English speaking teachers get jobs abroad?
It is difficult (especially with a passport from developing countries) but possible. The first thing you need is an internationally recognised language qualification to prove your English level. Cambridge Advanced or at least a 6.5 in IELTS with good marks in the speaking are probably the minimum, with Cambridge Proficiency/IELTS 7.0 being more common. Even perfect scores in TOEFL and TOEIC are less useful, as those exams are too easy to cram for. It is then best to take the most internationally recognised teaching qualifications, e.g. Cambridge CELTA, then maybe the Delta and an MA (or even PhD) from a well-respected university in an English-speaking country. You can then try to get a job in the local branch of an internationally-recognised chain, e.g. International House. Doing your training through this school might be a good route in. As much teaching experience as you can get (locally and/or online), as many qualifications as you can get, publishing articles and research papers, and study abroad will also help. An alternative route is that some countries are starting to recruit foreign teachers from specific developing countries with a reputation for speaking English, such as the Philippines and India.
Can non-EU passport holders get work in the EU?
It is still possible, but mainly only for American English speakers (e.g. for specialist TOEFL or TOEIC preparation classes), mainly only in recently-joined countries - and for very few people even then. Please also be aware that offering EU work visas is the most common kind of TEFL scam. Be suspicious of ads asking for many teachers, or with unrealistically high wages and/or good conditions (few schools pay much above subsistence wages or offer accommodation in the EU). NEVER send money to deal with visa expenses - all legitimate schools pay these themselves.
Will a couple of years of TEFL boost my job prospects back home?
For most people, you would be better off getting relevant experience and climbing the corporate ladder in your own country. If you want to go back home to start or restart a business career, there are ways of making sure that your time abroad will be some kind of asset: choose a country that future employers will be interested in (e.g. China), learn the language and take exams in it, teach corporate clients and keep a list of their companies, move into management or teacher training, give conference presentations, start your own side business, and/or move into non-TEFL jobs once you have been in the country a year or two.
Is it possible to find a job for just a few weeks/months?
There are short summer camp and summer school jobs in July and August (and sometimes the second half of June) in the UK. There are also sometimes summer jobs in Europe. In the European winter some ski resorts run English and skiing schools, or that is the summer school period in Australia if you are eligible for a working holiday visa. You might also be able to get a job in Europe from Easter until the end of the academic year, for example to fill in for a teacher who has left. Otherwise, most schools expect you to work for nine to twelve months.
Can TEFL be a real career?
It will never be the most secure and well-paid job in the world, and getting a proper ex-pat job or getting qualified as a school teacher back home and then applying to international schools are almost always better financial decisions. You will need to show flexibility, especially in the first couple of years, but you can stay in TEFL for a lifetime and eventually support a family on it, for example by working for universities, teaching in the British Council, or climbing the corporate ladder in other large chains such as Bell or International House. To do so, you will need a well-recognised four-week certificate, and to follow that up a few years later with a Diploma and/or a Masters.
What will my wages/standard of living be like? Will I be able to save money?
In most countries, in your first full-time job it will be roughly equivalent to that of a graduate new recruit, e.g. a MacDonald's management trainee, in your own country. You may be able to save some money in your first job if you pick the country carefully, but it will entail living like a student (sharing a house, youth hostels for holidays, being careful where you drink, etc). Most people in East Asia save about enough to pay some student loans, fly back once a year, and take holidays in neighbouring countries. People in some particularly desirable locations find themselves barely able to scrape even.
Am I likely to find a job?
Yes, especially if you are a native speaker, have a university degree and TEFL certificate, and aren't too fussy about location or savings for the first couple of years.
What are my chances of getting a good job with no experience?
It is possible if you are flexible about where you go. Your first option is to research or take a personal recommendation and find a job in a small but professional school. Your second option is to choose a large and very well-respected chain, e.g. International House or Bell, and make sure you avoid the few bad branches (e.g. some franchises). For either, you will need a very well-known TEFL certificate (e.g. CELTA), and having an A or B and a generally good CV can't hurt.
What are the chances of finding a job with/near my spouse?
If you are flexible about location and both have relevant qualifications, it shouldn't be a problem.
Will my spouse be able to work on a spouse visa?
It depends on the country, but this is often not legal.
What about private lessons?
In general, employment contracts exclude the possibility of taking on private students without prior permission from your employer. However, if your regular teaching is going well, many employers will not prevent you from taking on private students (as long as you find them yourself and do not take them from the employer). You could in some cases go the whole hog and be 100% freelance. The main problem with private teaching will be remaining legal subject to local visa regulations, so this very much depends on the country and your nationality.
I've never lived abroad. How will I know if I will like it?
You can't. For one thing it depends on personal experiences such as the friends you make. You should be okay if you've travelled abroad, don't easily get homesick, have lived away from home, are flexible, easily make friends, like learning languages and trying new foods, don't have a romantic attachment back home, and are not just leaving your country to run away from something.
Although I really want to live abroad, I've never been particularly interested in teaching. Should I give up the idea of TEFL?
Plenty of people who thought they were totally unsuited to teaching have later found that they liked it and/or were good at it. You should know by the end of your TEFL course whether English teaching is for you or not.
I'm a vegetarian/vegan/can't eat some things. Will I still be able to live abroad?
This is much easier when you live somewhere than it is while on holiday, although it can still get a bit boring if you have to eat potato omelette every time you go out. Choose a big city, e.g. one with an English-language listings magazine, and/or a school with lots of other foreign teachers, and you should easily find information or someone in the same boat. Lonely Planet and Rough Guide also have help for people with special dietary needs.
What will I be asked about during the job interview?
If the employer doesn't know your teaching qualification, you may be asked to explain what happened on it, what you learned, how widely recognised it is, and how it compares to the Cambridge CELTA. You may also be asked about relevant pre-TEFL experience, your interest in the country you want to teach in, language learning experiences, personality, attitude to particular ages, and flexibility. There may also be parts of the interview which as more like a test, e.g. being asked to explain a grammar point or a word as if you were talking to a student. A few schools also ask you to pretend that you are teaching part of a lesson to demonstrate your skills, but you should be given enough information before the interview to be able to properly prepare for this.
Can I get a job without split shifts/weekend work/early mornings/evenings?
It is very difficult to find a first job without at least some of these things, especially when you first get there, as more experienced teachers are usually first on the list when those shifts come up. Also, job advertisements obviously rarely mention these things. The easiest way to avoid them is to get a job as an Assistant Language Teacher in a secondary/high school, but you will need to be flexible about location.
How do I get a work permit?
You won't get any work permit without a job, or at least a firm job offer. Once you have that, your employer will normally sponsor you and take care of the necessary paperwork.
Will I have to pay tax back home?
It depends on the country, and rules can quickly change - but most people do not. You may find it worthwhile to declare yourself non-resident, e.g. if you are paying tax on your investments in your own country, but might need proof of address in the foreign country to do that. There might also be disadvantages to this, e.g. having to pay medical expenses when you visit your home country. If you are legally employed you will usually be taxed at source and pay taxes and other relevant charges to the local government.
What currency will I be paid in?
Almost always you will be paid in the local currency.
Will the health insurance they provide me with cover everything?
Most do not cover pre-existing conditions. Some do not cover you outside the country, e.g. when you travel back home or on holiday. Some policies do not cover some things, e.g. adventure sports or dental. You may have to pay some of the expense yourself, e.g. the first 50 dollars of each claim.
Should I use a recruiter?
Recruiters are generally best avoided, if only because the money that schools are paying the recruiters would otherwise go to the teachers. For example, pay of people recruited for Assistant Language Teacher posts through recruiters is often much worse than the pay of those directly recruited by local and national governments. If you do choose to use a recruiter, you should Google them and spend at least a couple of hours reading online reviews of their services, e.g. on TEFL forums.
How do I know if I can trust a recruiter?
There are many online reviews of recruiters but as with hotels and restaurants it is almost impossible to find one that doesn't have at least a couple of bad reviews and it is difficult to know which reviews to take seriously. Perhaps the biggest sign of a good recruiter is honesty. Have a look at their website and see if they make teaching and living abroad sound easy and incredibly well-paid, neither of which is true!
How much money do I need to take with me?
Enough to live on until you get paid, plus money to cover yourself if you need to quit early and fly home, e.g. money to pay your bills, buy a plane ticket, and set yourself up again in your own country (e.g. pay a deposit on a flat). You may need money for finding accommodation and visa expenses if your school doesn't cover those. Also, most medical insurance schemes involve you paying and then reclaiming the money, which can take some time.
What should I take with me?
Any food and drink that you really can't live without; clothes for this and the next season; extra clothes if you are an unusual size; a phrasebook, dictionary and/or basic language course (locally-produced ones are sometimes no good); protection from the sun or insects; some entertainment (e.g. a few DVDs on your laptop and a few novels); a few teaching books; things that you can use in classes (e.g. photos of your family, a beach ball, tourist pamphlets from your hometown); and smart clothes for work. You will also need a plug adaptor and/or voltage adaptor if you are taking other electronic things with you, but it is usually better to buy electronics when you get there. A laptop and some other things will run on any voltage - check the label on the bottom of the item.
Will I easily make friends?
If you easily make friends at home, you will easily make friends abroad. If not, things that will make it easier include schools with lots of fellow foreign teachers, schools which will recruit a batch of teachers at the same time as you, countries where the general level of English is high, and countries where the interest in and reputation of your country are high.
I have an obvious tattoo/piercing. Will that affect my job prospects/life abroad?
In some countries these things are only used by very marginalised groups, sometimes meaning gangsters! For example, many Japanese gyms and hot spring resorts ban people with tattoos. If you can find a school with a relaxed dress code, e.g. some private language schools in Europe, you should be okay.
What should I wear?
Most schools have clear dress codes, but there is no harm in dressing up until you get a feel for what is normal. You might also need a suit for job interviews if you decide to move on from that school.
What working conditions are standard? What working conditions should I look for?
An industry standard is 24 "contact hours" (classroom hours) with some schools expecting you to spend up to an additional 16 hours in school for preparation (no hardship as it will probably take much longer to prepare during your first year or two), making a 37- to 40-hour week. In some countries, up to 30 hours of actual teaching are standard, but in this case the methodology they use should be quite controlled, allowing you to prepare in less time. You should be able to find a job with a five-day week, although not always with consecutive days off. Split shifts and/or days off during the week are also quite standard, as students usually want to study in the morning, in the evening and at weekends. Holidays can vary a lot, starting from zero in some East Asian conversation schools. Schools in Asia usually pay flights (although often only when you finish your contract) and arrange accommodation.
How long a commitment will I have to make?
Most good employers will expect you to sign a contract for at least one (academic) year, especially for a job arranged in advance with airfare and accommodation. However, if you are in the country itself, you can sometimes work on a monthly basis if it suits you better. For a few government-sponsored programseg, the Peace Corps or British Councila minimum two-year contract is obligatory.
What about accommodation?
You are more likely to have accommodation arranged and perhaps paid for or subsidized if you secure a job (often in advance) with a contract of one year or more, especially for jobs in Asia or the Middle East. You may find, however, that you are expected to share such accommodation with other teachers.
What about taking children abroad?
With a legal job you will almost certainly be able to obtain a resident's visa for your children, though you might have difficulty in supporting them abroad on your teacher's income. There would also be the question of their education, which in some cases could prove exorbitantly expensive if they can't study in a kindergarten or normal primary or secondary/high school (language sometimes being an issue).
Why are lots of the contracts for only nine months?
Many European schools shut down during the summer. Teachers who want to go back to the same school usually do a summer school elsewhere, e.g. in the UK. Some schools do actually stay at least partly open during the summer, so you could ask them if the possibility of (hourly-paid) summer work is there.
What if it doesn't work out? Can I just quit early and fly home?
It's not slavery, so of course you can! All contracts should state the notice that you have to give if you want to quit, and only the dodgiest companies ask for more than two months. Make sure that you take enough money with you to pay all bills, your flight back, and to sort yourself out when you get home. Your employer might deduct some money from your final pay cheque, e.g. if you haven't given enough notice, but they certainly shouldn't ask you for any money. Only a few countries demand exit visas, and you should avoid schools who have a reputation for hanging on to your passport for long periods.