You just graduated college, and you’re ready for an adventure. You want to see the world, immerse yourself in a new culture, and sharpen your foreign language skills.
You want to teach English abroad. But where do you begin?
First you’ll need to meet the most basic requirements. Most schools will want someone with a Bachelor’s degree, and you’ll need to get certified. It’s up to you if you want to travel to your country first and take a certification course there, or get certified at home and then move abroad. Both options work, though the former probably requires more planning.
We talked to experts from companies that coordinate teaching English abroad to compile a basic guide for anyone interested.
Step 1: Get certified.
The required certification is typically a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) or a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate, and when it comes to earning one, you basically have two choices: You can take an online course or sign up for an in-class program.
The online option will run you several hundred dollars depending on the provider, the number of hours required for the certificate, and the degree level it earns you. The in-class programs, on the other hand, range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, but course providers say this is one instance where you get what you pay for.
Choosing a specific certification program can be tricky. A quick Google search for “teaching English abroad” returns approximately 40 million results, with dozens of companies that promise to empower you on your journey overseas. Lauren Bauer, senior teach abroad manager at Greenheart Travel, which offers certification and teaching programs, says that any legitimate organization should be accredited and that most hiring schools will want someone with a minimum of 100 to 120 hours of training. The best programs offer practice teaching experience, placement assistance once you earn your certification, and generous pre-departure and on-site support, she says.
Step 2: Choose a country.
Another factor to consider, experts say, is what you want to get out of the experience. For some people, the goal is to travel the world and experience a new culture. Others might be more focused on saving up some money. Your goal is going to affect your destination. If you want a guaranteed job placement, it’s best to look at Southeast Asia and Taiwan, says Steve Patton, associate director of marketing at LanguageCorps. Job markets in western Europe are guaranteed to be far more competitive. Bauer says that Latin America is also a tough region to get a job in, since demand for those positions is relatively high.
Salaries will also differ by location. An English teacher in Vietnam, for example, can expect to earn between $1,000 and $1,500 a month, according to the LanguageCorps website. Someone working in Costa Rica would earn wages closer to $400 to $800 a month, and LanguageCorps notes that it is not typical for these teachers to save up money.
“If you need to be making a good amount of money while you’re living abroad working, then you probably want to think about Asia or the Middle East,” Patton says. “That’s where salaries are going to the highest and cost of living is going to be the lowest.”
South Korea offers an entirely government-funded program with some of the best pay and benefits, including a free furnished apartment, monthly salary of $1,600 to $2,200, national health insurance coverage, and reimbursement for airfare to and from the country. Schools in the Middle East also tend to pay well, but Bauer says they tend to seek applicants with Master’s degrees in education and several years of formal teaching experience.
Step 3: Find a school.
If you’ve chosen the cheaper route of taking an online certification course, you’re much more likely to run into problems when it comes to finding a school to teach in.
“If you search around on job boards online you’ll find a lot of schools that are recruiting [English teachers] directly,” says Bauer. “That’s a risky way to do it because you don’t know who’s advertising those positions or who’s on the other end of those communications.”
Most accredited certification programs, on the other hand, will either guarantee you job placement or provide plenty of support and connections as you look for somewhere to teach in your country of choice.
“Generally, we recommend going through a more structured program where you have somebody who’s vetting the schools, making sure they’re legitimate, and making sure you’re getting the job they say it’s going to be,” Bauer says.
Then, you’re on your way.