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Problems with Teaching English Abroad!

Updated on March 3, 2011

So, you want to go explore Europe or some other continent and get your cultural groove on, eh? Only problem is, you haven't got the dosh to travel like the rich and famous, so you'll need a job to pay for all of your explorations, food and fun. And before you do that, you'll need some sort of certification, because being a native English speaker isn't qualification enough to teach English as a second language. Sorry to say that, but it's true, and reputable schools will want you to at least have the minimal TEFL certification in hand before they set you loose on their students. Fortunately, it's not all that difficult to get certified -- you just need a whole lot of cash, and 30 or say days to sit through an intensive course. But before you sign up and buy your plane ticket, let me just relate a number of problems you'd be better off knowing before you do. I speak from personal experience, so it's worth listening!

Americans can't move to Europe without a good reason

Please read that again, because if I had a penny for every American who flew to Europe and started looking for a job and then found out they had to go back home 90 days later and wasted a whole, whole lotta moolah in the process -- well, let's just say I'd be very independently wealthy by now. Americans aren't all that welcome in the EU, and it's fair play, given how unwelcome EU citizens are in the US. American CANNOT be in the EU for more than 90 days at a time unless they have a valid visa for the country they are living in, or are a dual national with an EU passport, or are married to someone who is. Please read all of that again, and then one more time!

Getting a visa in the EU is NOT easy anymore!

There was a time when Americans could just pop over and get legal in some European country and live happily ever after. Not so today. The Schengen Agreement makes that almost impossible to do unless you've got a visa and work permit in hand BEFORE you leave your home country. 10 years ago I popped over before the EU country I live in was part of the EU. I was lucky enough to get legal from the start -- but that option is no longer available and I couldn't do that today, I'd need a visa from this country's embassy in the US before I could come. You cannot get legal after the fact in an EU country; not anymore.

These jobs rarely pay well

There may be a few ESL schools in Europe that can pay a good wage, but most will pay scraps. And it takes a lot of time to build up a private client list, in many cases it can take 6 months or more, and in the meantime you could have a real problem making ends meet. I have seen it here countless times -- college grads pop over thinking life will be swell, and at the end of a few months they need their parents' credit card to buy a ticket home. You will probably need a roommate or two if you're going to pull it off for the first year. And don't forget, taxes in the EU can be very, very high.

Communication difficulties

Living in Europe will be nice or not depending on where you are. Not everyone loves Americans, and not everyone will want to speak English with you -- and many people cannot. German and Russian are the second languages where I live, and English is only recently becoming the standard. People my age only speak English well if they took private lessons. That said, you really ought to make an effort to learn the new language anyway, since you're living in someone else's country. The language I have learned is HARD, but I am so glad I did, because now I understand a ton of Slavic languages at least a bit. This is a minor bump, but it's something keep in mind.

Teaching English in Asia and other places:

If you really want to live abroad and live decently, I have heard good things from teachers who've lived in the Middle East, China and places like that. Obviously, you'll want to research fully before you go, but in most of those cases you can get a job online and have some help ready to meet you at the airport and get you settled in. That's absolutely unheard of in the EU, so please don't fall for any EU TEFL school program that promises to help you find a job when you graduate -- because while it's easy to find you job, it's useless if you can't get legal and get a visa!

Image: Carlos Porto /

Getting an ESL job is easy, getting legal on that basis is NOT

it's pretty easy to find an ESL teaching job if you're a TEFL certified native English speaker. But the schools that hire these teachers are usually unwilling to go to the trouble of getting you a work permit, which you will need to get a visa, which you will need to live in the country you want to work in. This is because they will need to prove that you can do the job better than an EU national could, and that's pretty difficult because so many EU citizens speak English well.

Also, the school has probably already been burned by previous teachers they went the full 9 yards for, and then ran back home to mommy after a few months of not being able to hack it out in another country. Some countries have business licenses available which allow you to work as a freelance and then you can get a visa based on that and find work this way, but that is a complicated process to manage from your home country, and you will need to be able to prove all sorts of things via the country's embassy before they issue you anything.

Some of these things include but are not limited to:

  • Having enough money to support yourself for the duration of your visa (in this country you have to show a bank statement in your name with about 7,000 USD);

  • Having comprehensive health insurance that is valid in the country you want to live in (in this country they don't accept any US Int'l plans, and it costs 2,000 USD for 2 years of comprehensive, paid upfront);

  • Having an apartment contract to prove you have some kind of accommodation for the duration of your visa -- obviously, this could be hard to manage when you're not in the same country!

As you can see, these things can be pretty taxing and pretty difficult. Believe when I tell you this process has frustrated tons of people who eventually had to give up. I am not telling you to give up, but you really need to be aware of everything from the start, so research the rules well!


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