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An Overview of Teacher ESL Certification and Jobs

We analyzed 13,000 ESL job postings to better understand the ESL job market. All 13,000 job postings were gathered from Indeed and ESL Cafe.

Specifically, we looked at ESL certification and how much teachers make in the industry. We learned a lot about both. Let’s dive right in.

1. TEFL certification dominates ESL

ESL certification types in job postings

There are different types of ESL certification that teachers can obtain. The most common types of certification are:

TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language
TESOL – Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
CELTA – Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults
TESL – Teaching English as a Second Language

As mentioned, we examined the job description for 13,000 job postings. Our study revealed that TEFL certification is the most sought after from employers than all other types of certification. 

Some of the positive aspects of TEFL certification is that it helps you rebuild a solid foundation for grammar and teaching English. We communicate in English everyday. But we forget the technical aspects and grammar points of the English language. TEFL certification is a way to boost your proficiency.

Secondly, TEFL certification helps you become a better ESL teacher. You develop ideas for ESL worksheets and ESL games to keep your students engaged. Then, you practice and often receive relevant feedback from classmates.

The numbers speak for themselves. TEFL outranks all types of ESL certificate programs. Our study found that the next highest certification programs in demand were TESL and TESOL.

2. China prefers ESL certification

China is a booming ESL location right now. But do employers actually ask if you have ESL certification or not? Our study reveals that for the most part, yes they do.

64% of ESL jobs in China prefer or require ESL teachers to have any type of ESL certification. From that 64%, employers search for ESL teachers with TEFL and TESOL certificates the most.

While China cherishes ESL certification, South Korea is the opposite. Only 17% of jobs advertised mention ESL certification.

Regardless of your situation, ESL certification can give you the boost you’ve been looking for in ESL teacher training. Especially if you’re going to teach English in China or Japan, these countries prefer teachers who are certified.

3. ESL certification costs vary extraordinarily

ESL certification costs

How come ESL certification costs vary so much? In most cases, ESL certification costs depend on the classroom format. If it has a classroom component, its costs instantly increases. But when it’s completely online, you could end up paying less than half.

Knowing that ESL certificates are valuable for teaching English in Japan, China and other countries, a growing number of job offers require a minimum amount of hours for in-class training.

With this said, there are tons of schools out there that don’t recognize any difference between ESL certification, whether it’s online or in-class. In fact, the majority of ESL schools don’t care too much about where you got your ESL certificate from.

After all, it’s all about what you get out of it, and not your future employer. Let’s not forget that what you do matters to people probably more than you realize.

4. Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates offers the highest ESL salaries

Overall, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (Dubai) have the highest average salaries for ESL teachers.  But we found them to vary significantly across job postings.  The average pay scale for ESL teachers in both countries range from 3,000-4,000 USD.

In Asia, Hong Kong outranks all other countries we studied in ESL teacher salary at about 24,400 HKD (3140 USD) per month. This is 23.6% more than Japan, which offers an average salary of 263,000 yen (2400 USD). Knowing this, we have to examine living costs in both countries.

While the cost of living plus rent index is about 81.9 in Hong Kong, it is significantly lower in Japan at about 57.6. Both of these values are relative to New York, with New York being a perfect 100.

But we found the majority of ESL schools would cover housing costs in both countries. When you take away rents from the cost of living, this makes Hong Kong the ideal location for saving money in Asia. In reality, everything is relative to what your school will provide for you. Further to this, it depends if you’re living in an urban or rural area.

5. China is the hottest spot for ESL jobs

I don’t know what it is… Is it because of its 1.2 billion population and growth in wealth over the years? Is it because education is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture?

Either way, China has more ESL jobs to offer than any other country. Out of 13,000 ESL job postings, a whopping 41% was for China. In other words, 2 out of 5 international ESL jobs are from China. 

To say the least, there is no shortage of ESL jobs in China. But we found there are plenty of ESL job opportunities to teach in South Korea and Japan as well.

And not only is average salary gently increasing in China, but the cost of living is still extremely reasonable. China continues to be an intriguing ESL location for the next couple decades.

Now, it’s your turn

Now I’d like to hear from you:

Which result was most surprising to you?

Or maybe you have a question, if you’re going to teach English abroad.

Either way, leave a quick comment below right now.

Written by Thomas Berg for TEFL.net November 2019
Retired teacher in Japan and South Korea. Author of AllESL.com - For Students and Teachers


  • Hassan says:

    I should be getting my TEFL 130 hr certificate from Notting Hill College (UK) this month – with distinction. Now, at 50 yrs of age, I decided on a career shift from retail and business into services/teaching EFL. Being an ESL student in Cairo American College (Egypt), I want to give back to my community as well as anyone aspiring to learn english. ‘English Club’ was an idea that came up to help underprivileged poor rural inhabitants in Giza (60 km away from Capital Cairo), ease into the idea of listening and speaking (with good accent) english in a stress-free environment with no syllabus ! I wish to explore online teaching first in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and/or UAE. I am a US citizen living now in Egypt.

  • Kim Dammers says:

    Saudi Arabia (high salary), China (many jobs), Korea (certificates rarely required), and Japan (high salary with not too high cost of living) are among the many countries in which age discrimination is either allowed or even officially practiced.

  • Angela Ball says:

    Thanks for a great post

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