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Three Ways to Teach English Abroad

Updated on December 19, 2011

Should I Teach English Abroad?

As a tangent to my hub, How to Travel Cheaply (and Never Feel Like You’re Missing Out), I thought I would describe in detail one of the ideas I suggested, because it requires some time and planning to do it well. Teaching ESL has become quite popular in the past decade. The most typical scenario is young 20-somethings who want to take time off after college because they have no idea what they want to do with their lives. And so they go abroad for a year, or two, or three (or as long as they can possibly extend their adventure), before coming home to start a career or to continue schooling. I’ve also met those who taught English before college during a gap year, during college as a break, or in their late 20s before changing careers. The trend to see here is that most people do this as a break from “real” life, not as a career in itself, although there are exceptions. For me, however, teaching English in Spain has been as much an essential part of my life as a break from it.

Whatever your personal views, it’s important to recognize that ESL teaching jobs abroad are generally considered a break – a way to subsidize your travels – because this is the way your employers will often treat it. This means low pay, few benefits, and often little support. Don’t expect to start your retirement fund. You probably will have to budget carefully to be able to travel and buy the expensive ticket back home.

Teach Anywhere

My international teaching experience in Almeria, Spain
My international teaching experience in Almeria, Spain

Teaching English Guide: What to Expect

Beyond the measly compensation for this sort of work, negatives are more related to the particular schools or regions where you end up. I, for one, loved Almería, my school and my esl students, but I was the first teaching assistant they had, and spent much of the year figuring how how best to use my skills.

One friend at a different school had a particularly boring experience. She sat in the office most days until called on to read from the book in English, to hear her American accent. And that was all. Surprising, given that she was a trained ESOL teacher back in the States. Other friends had great transitions abroad due to the faculty, location of the school, or the previous existence of a teaching assistant program. My point is that you can’t judge how your experience will be until you know who you will be working with, so unless you have access to that information, it’s best to not worry.

Teaching in Spain allowed me to see the Giralda...
Teaching in Spain allowed me to see the Giralda...
and the Trevi fountain...
and the Trevi fountain...

Find Teaching Jobs and Go Abroad

So, after these caveats, the big question still remains: HOW do I get an English teaching position abroad?

There are in general 3 ways to teach abroad:

  1. Complete a teaching certification program, and find a job on your own.
  2. Find a country or region with a government or private program for placing English teachers or assistants.
  3. Query international, American, British or religious private schools for openings.

I’ll explain all three options with varying detail, because I chose option 2, and didn’t need to extensively research the other two routes. If you happen to know more information, or think my advice is uninformed, please leave a comment below!

  1. TEFL, TESOL, CELTA – pay for a course, look for a job.

With this route, you choose one of the English teaching certification courses, pay for the program and then, ideally, your certified status will help when looking for jobs.

Here is one hubber’s advice on the TEFL brand of this process.

I was advised to take the certification course in the country in which you plan to apply for a job, because at the end of the course recruiters often come hunt for good candidates. Other options are to take the course online, or to take it at home before leaving. The cost varies, and some courses are better than others, but I’m fairly ignorant of the differences here.

For TESOL, another hubber has a general description of the program here.

And CELTA, associated with Cambridge English, which has an almost monopolistic status in Europe, is another one, about which hubber maddot has a few words of wisdom.

In sum, I don’t prefer one over the other. It’s a matter of your preferences, location, time and money. The negatives are that you don’t automatically get a visa for extended stay and you don’t automatically get a job. Which brings me to the next option…

and the Alhambra...
and the Alhambra...
and to the Algarve coast in Portugal (have I sold you yet?)
and to the Algarve coast in Portugal (have I sold you yet?)

2. Apply for a program, have your visa and your job when you arrive.

This is the route I took, and am happy I did so. It was a huge relief not having to worry about extending my stay, or staying illegally (many countries have 3 month tourist visa rules, so these teaching “tourists” hop over to the next country and back to stay another 3). Plus arriving with a job was a lot less nerve-wracking than stepping off the plane into uncertainty. With the other ways of teaching English overseas, you may end up with a better or higher paying job, but to me, having a job, any job, on arrival was better than the alternative. But, I’m not exactly a risk taker.

The two government-sponsored programs than I know of are in Spain and France (the links go straight to the program websites). These programs place you as a language assistant at a public school, with the level and location often being random. The pay is about the same, starting at about 700 Euros a month, but I’ve heard the French TAs complain that the money doesn’t quite go as far as it does in Spain. To those in the US, 700 Euros a month may seem shockingly low (I believe it’s actually a bit more in Madrid and Barcelona), but it’s livable, and with private lessons even more so. Attention: you MUST apply early – deadlines are at the beginning of the calendar year.

Then there are the private programs like CIEE Teach Abroad and the one I did in Spain, JYS TAS. The downside is that you pay an initial program fee of about $2000, which guarantees you a position at a private or semi-private (ie partial government funding) school, pays for a better orientation/training than the government program, and for insurance. Honestly, I would have done the government program if I hadn’t MISSED THE DEADLINE. But I was determined to go abroad, so I forked over the money. After the initial fee, the school still paid me a monthly stipend equal to that of the government program and it worked out just fine in the end. Between the two, CIEE by far has more locations to teach, but if you want to teach in Spain, consider JYS TAS for its small size and attention.

Specifically for US citizens, there is also the prestigious and notoriously selective Fulbright ETA program, as well as Peace Corps. These two are a bit different in nature, so I won’t comment on them here. And lastly…

3. Skip the Middleman, Apply Directly

Private schools often don’t require applicants to have a certain certification – having a university degree and/or experience can sometimes be enough. Another advantage is that you could end up teaching another subject besides English, like history or science, if those are your fields. It completely depends on the school and their needs, be they religious, American, British, International, etc. Some consortia of private schools actually organize conferences and job fairs in your home country. This would be an excellent option to look into. You have a chance to get a feel for the people running the school, and if hired, they will probably aide you in your visa situation.

Teaching abroad is not the only way to live in a foreign country, but it’s often the most accessible. For me, at least, it was a wonderful, if challenging, experience, and one that I would recommend. I realize that the multitude of options on how to teach abroad can be confusing and overwhelming, but hopefully this outline has made it a smidge clearer! If it hasn’t, or you have specific questions, please feel free to leave a comment. And good luck!

Video for the CIEE program


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    • profile image

      lcocenter 3 years ago

      Hey, absolutely helpful article! We offer globally valid paper and computer based versions of the Cambridge ESOL exam.

    • profile image

      eslinsider 5 years ago

      In China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan you don't need a TEFL, TESOL, CELTA certification to legally teach there. Some schools may prefer it though.

    • Jenniferteacher profile image

      Jenniferteacher 5 years ago from Seoul

      To clarify jjrgaskell's comment, you must have a BA AND passport from one of the seven "English-speaking" countries: US, Canada, UK, Ireland, SA, Australia, or NZ. To get a public school job, add TEFL, TESOL, CELTA certification. To get almost any uni job, add relevant MA.

    • Megan Coxe profile image

      Megan Coxe 6 years ago from somewhere between here and there

      Great! Thank you for sharing! I'll have to look into that myself!

    • jjrgaskell profile image

      jjrgaskell 6 years ago

      There is another way too. If you have an undergraduate degree from a native English speaking country, you are qualified to teach English in South Korea, regardless of what you studied. I wrote an article here on Hub about my experiences there.

    • Megan Coxe profile image

      Megan Coxe 6 years ago from somewhere between here and there

      Thank you so much Vinaya. I´m so happy to hear that you are sharing this! I hope that you find it useful.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 6 years ago from Nepal

      English is my second language and I learned the language form local and native English teachers. My sister was English teacher once and these days her husband teaches English. In Nepal many will find this article very interesting. I'm sharing this with my facebook friends.

    • Megan Coxe profile image

      Megan Coxe 6 years ago from somewhere between here and there

      There are ways to make more money, but the majority of jobs are exactly that - travelers trying to find a way to finance their travels. Thanks for reading, and I'm glad I could help!

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 6 years ago from Sydney

      Thanks Megan, this article offers more options than most other pieces I've seen on the subject. As someone who's trying to reinvent my working life by doing a mixture of different things instead of one big job, I thought teaching English might be an option for me - but I'm beginning to realize it's quite a big investment with uncertain prospects, as my main competition would be backpackers happy to work for a pittance. Shame. :(

    • Megan Coxe profile image

      Megan Coxe 6 years ago from somewhere between here and there

      Thank you! I hope that I will be able to travel as a paid writer too! You all are too nice!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Great overview of a great opportunity to enjoy another country.

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      ......well it would be my dream for you dear friend to see you one day traveling the world as a paid writer - you certainly have a solid foundation of passion, knowledge and enthusiasm - upon my second cup of coffee now may I sincerely hope that all of your wishes come true.

      lake erie time ontario canada (northern shore and 47 miles across the lake is Erie, Penn. USA) 10:33am

    • MonetteforJack profile image

      MonetteforJack 6 years ago from Tuckerton, NJ

      Clear and precise writing :) An informative hub that is a practical guide for those who want to go abroad and teach and have an adventure. Great hub!

    • Megan Coxe profile image

      Megan Coxe 6 years ago from somewhere between here and there

      Thanks so much! Although, as a side note, I just posted it on Facebook, and someone commented that the French program was poorly run. Just to let you know!

    • Charlotte B Plum profile image

      Charlotte B Plum 6 years ago

      this is really useful information for people considering teaching english. Thank you for sharing it!