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Tips for Teaching English Abroad

Updated on June 19, 2013

Practical steps to get you started

Have you been considering teaching English in another country? Teaching English abroad is an awesome way to experience another way of life and culture, meet new friends, travel, and perhaps save some money. That being said, it is important to know what employers expect and how you can speed up the process of your application. Let’s review some general tips.

Bachelor’s degree

For teaching English abroad, you generally must have a four year degree. While in some countries a BA or a BS isn’t required (such as Taiwan or Cambodia), it is strongly preferred, especially if you want a decent-paying job.

TEFL/TESL/TESOL certification

Employers are increasingly seeking out candidates who have received an ESL certificate. These certificates generally don’t cost a lot of money or take a lot of time to achieve, and they definitely increase your chances of getting a job. There are many online programs that offer such a certificate.

Tutoring experience

Many reputable private and public employers hire candidates who have some kind of tutoring or teaching experience, and additionally, a tutoring background may give a candidate a competitive edge in lieu of a TESL certificate. That experience doesn’t have to be in ESL. If you have any experience with teaching or tutoring children and adults, make sure to include it in your cover letter or on your resume. If you want tutoring experience, definitely check with your library or local community college for the opportunity to tutor ESL students. It is a rewarding experience and is often only 1-2 hours a week of your time.

Clear background check

If you have a criminal background, your chances of teaching abroad are much more limited, as decent-paying, reputable employers will only hire those with a clear record. For example, top-paying employers, such as Japan and Korea, will only accept candidates with a clear background check. Other countries, like Poland and Thailand don’t, as of yet, require a criminal background check.

Using an ESL recruiter

It is highly recommended that you use an ESL recruiter, most of which are of no charge to you. Public and private language institutions worldwide use professional ESL recruiters in order to find high quality teachers. It is beneficial for you as well, as the recruiter can give you helpful interview tips, practice interviews, and give you instructions on acquiring all of the documentation required in order to work for the position you’re applying for. I used Teach Away and had a great experience, and many teachers I know also obtained their jobs through Footprints Recruiting.

Start the paperwork process right away

If you haven’t gotten your international passport yet, you should do that right away. Check online with your local state or province for more information on getting a passport. From the time you go to the appropriate government bureau and apply for your passport, receiving your passport can take several weeks.

Some countries now require a Federal background check from U.S. candidates in order for ESL teachers to obtain a work visa. South Korea, for example, has required that all foreign teachers submit a clear federal background check before they can obtain a work visa from the Korean consular. Federal background checks can take several months. You will need to mail an application and fingerprints to the FBI. For U.S. citizens, you can visit the FBI website for more information:

Do your homework

Perhaps you’re really interested in teaching English in Russia. But what are the employers like? What can you expect the culture to be like? What kind of salary can you expect? What do ESL teachers say about their experiences? For such questions, a google search engine is your best friend.

Also, you will want to be careful when investigating private language institutes. In South Korea for example, there are an abundance of private schools, or hagwons, as they are called there. While many are reputable, there are some in which teachers have experienced held wages, excessive unpaid overtime, and abrupt termination. At ESL forums such as, read about teachers’ experiences at their respective language institutes. If possible, email some teachers and ask them if they recommend the school they teach at.

Finally, understand that you are being hired to teach English

Some candidates think that teaching abroad will primarily be about meeting new people and having exciting adventures. While you can expect such, remember that you are going over there first and foremost to teach English. Be a professional. Learn about the cultural norms and keep an open mind. Read and practice making lesson plans, because for some applications, such as EPIK (English Program in Korea) you will be required to submit a sample lesson plan.

If you have any questions, please leave me a comment below and I will do my best to answer. Best of luck to you as you pursue your ESL career options!


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