Becoming an ESL Teacher – The Basics

As a TEFL teacher you will be amazed at how quickly and easily you may find yourself in a foreign country, inside a classroom, with up to 50 eager students staring back at you! If you decide that this is what you want to do, do some research, get certified, and hold on!… because things can happen very quickly once you start interviewing.

There are an unlimited number of reasons to consider TEFL as a means to traveling sustainably. First of all, it is a viable option for almost anyone who is a native English teacher. Furthermore, it is reasonably cheap to get certified and does not take all that much time to complete the training.

What kind of Person TEFLs?

Anyone! TEFL appeals to the single traveler, students who don’t know what they want to do, couples, married folks, and an increasing amount of teachers in their 30s, 40s and 50s are taking off to teach and see the world. There is really no stereotype for Foreign Teachers and if you want to do it, there will be a job for you…

It’s a teacher’s market!

Whether you want to admit it or not, English is on the rise and used across the world! Globalization continues to make the world smaller and more connected, international business increases every year, while new trade agreements are drafted and nations become more and more invested in trade partnerships. All the while, English has become the international means in which we communicate! With globalism on the rise, the desire for English teachers rises with it, which means that you have a good shot at riding that wave to your dreams!


Typical Requirements:

– Native English Speaker – The top applicants that are usually considered are those from America, Canada, and England… but many Teachers hail from Australia and New Zealand as well.

– TEFL certificate – 100-120 hr online certificate is advisable.

– College Degree* – A Bachelors Degree will open almost every teaching position for you, but there are many exceptions to this! Many countries do not require a degree and only want a TEFL certificate. The Chinese government, for example, requires that foreign teachers hold a university degree; however many of the provinces and individual schools conduct business according to provincial and local laws… so paperwork may be “created” in the absence thereof.

There are tons of different qualifications and requirements depending on where you want to go and what type of teaching environment you are looking for. Many hiring agencies, schools, and countries don’t require a university degree or a TEFL certificate, while others demand both in addition to teaching experience (and even advanced degrees in some scenarios).

If you are interested in pursuing a TEFL career, spend some time researching where you would like to go (this will narrow down the qualifications required). Then, figure out what teaching environment suits you best. Below is a brief summary of the types of certifications that are available along with different teaching options:

Types of Certifications

Online TEFL Certificate: There are tons of websites online that offer tefl courses. Usually you can obtain anywhere between 20 -120 hr courses (a 100-120 hour certificate will ensure that you are competitive in the job market)

Combined TEFL Courses: These are online courses combined with a hands-on portion in order to give you some teaching experience. Some countries (ie. S. Korea) prefer that new teachers have some hands on training before they arrive. Combined courses are usually a little more money, and it can be tricky finding a city near you, that offers the in-class instruction. For a little more money and effort though, a combined course will give you a vast amount of confidence before heading to a foreign country.

CELTA: This is a more in-depth course and is recognized internationally. Depending on what you want to do, the CELTA course will not limit you in any way. It is considered more advanced and more widely accepted than an online certificate. It is linked to Cambridge University and highly respected.

DELTA: The best of the best! This is an actual diploma that is usually completed following the CELTA certificate. DELTA is also affiliated with Cambridge University and primarily for those who have taught for awhile already and are very serious about continuing to enhance their English teaching knowledge and credentials.

Types of Teaching Jobs Available

There are a vast amount of teaching positions available. Whether you want to teach adults or kids, large classes or small classes, at public schools or private schools, or just be a personal tutor on the side; TEFL opportunities are truly endless. Many TEFL Courses (above) will ask what areas you want to focus on, so having an idea what area you are interested in will help when it comes time to picking your course. The following are brief descriptions on potential teaching environments:

Small and regular classroom (5-35 students): If a “normal” size classroom tickles your fancy than this may be an area of emphasis. (Keep in mind that many schools in China, S. Korea, and India have 40-50 students [or more] in each class)

Large classrooms (35-50+): Large classrooms are a great way to jump into the TEFL world, gain valuable experience, and teach up to 24 classes with 40-50 students a week! It sounds overwhelming but there is no better way to sharpen your classroom management skills and excel as a new teacher. (This is common for 1st year teachers in places like China and India).

Limited Resources teaching: If you like the challenge of being adaptable and using your surroundings to teach your students, then maybe Limited Resource teaching is an option for you. This style of teaching is tailored for teachers going to places that may not have the typical classroom materials (or even the classroom for that matter). There are many places in Africa that have an interest in teaching English to students, but don’t have all the resources that larger cities may have.

Personal tutoring: Many TEFL teachers prefer the experience and challenge of teaching one-on-one. Tutoring holds some exciting new challenges and allows for the teacher to have more flexible hours. As a personal tutor you will in-effect, be running your own business. Networking and marketing yourself will be essential, along with learning the nuances of 1-5 student lessons.

Business English: Many companies and corporations have a strong desire for their employees to learn English. Many provide free training and encourage everyone to attend. Obviously, they need teachers and that opens another option for TEFL teachers world wide! Business English is usually tailored towards adults, so having a business background (or knowing some of the common business terms) will help you in this area.

English for Adults vs. Children: Adults and children learn English very differently. Children typically learn faster but have a harder time focusing in a classroom for 45 mins. With adults you will have a more receptive audience who, typically, has a personal desire to be in the classroom. With that can come higher expectations and a less-forgiving audience. Of course, each has their pros and cons!

Why do so many new teachers start in Asia?

1. High Demand: Many companies and schools want to hire English teachers with experience. Due to the massive amount of teachers needed in Asian countries (like China and S. Korea), experience is not as high on the list of requirements. If those countries wanted experienced teachers then they just wouldn’t have enough teachers to pick from. As a result, many teachers have decided to venture to the far east to gain valuable teaching experience and to discover the timeless history that Asia has to offer.

2. Visa requirements: Visas also hinder some potential locations. For example, as an American or Canadian, working in Europe (the European Union) is prohibited without a working visa. In most cases outside the EU the hiring process for a new teacher would be to obtain the necessary visa, however; European countries are hesitant to spend the money and time to obtain visas because they have many qualified applicants from the UK (and sometimes Ireland) who they can choose from.

In short, English is so widely spoken in Europe, that schools and hiring companies are less likely to obtain a visa for teachers from outside the EU.


Visa requirements are different based on where you are going and where you are from, so here are a couple generic things to keep in mind during the visa process:

1. Unless you pay someone to acquire your visa for you; plan on traveling to the Chinese Embassy closest to you (ie. San Francisco, Houston, NYC) and spending a couple days! This will occur very shortly after signing a contract and is necessary.

2. Depending where you go, a medical exam may be required before you depart your home country. These exams can be fairly in depth and, with no insurance, potentially costly to the TEFL applicant.

3. GET THE VISA BEFORE YOU LEAVE! If a company says, just come out first and we will get you the Working Visa once you are in the country… politely say no. This is a huge indicator that a company or school is not legit. Getting visas is expensive so many schools try to get around it. When a school is willing to get you the visa and do everything the correct way; that speaks highly of that organization and lends them credibility.

Contracts and Pay

First thing is first. After your interview you may be lucky enough to get a contract… READ IT! Read it carefully and don’t let them rush you into signing it. Sometimes schools need you quickly and there will be some pressure to respond promptly. Take your time though and know what you are signing. Here are some areas to focus on, when you are reading the contract:

Pay: How much are you making and will that be enough money to live your quality of life?

Length of Contract: How long are you expected to work until? Are there bonuses/fines for staying (or not staying) to the end?

Class Schedule: Although the exact details will not be on an initial contract, there should be some details as to roughly how many hours/classes you will be expected to teach. (ie. Are you comfortable teaching 1000 students per week?)

Housing/Accommodation: What will your living environment be? Will you be in charge of rent or will they?

Depending on where you are, what capacity you will be in as a teacher, hours worked, previous experience, and education will all factor in greatly to the contract you sign. Pay is usually based on 3 things:

1. Experience

2. Education/Certificates

3. Cost of Living

In addition to your regular paycheck many companies will pay for some, none, or all of the following:

– Airfare subsidy

– Medical reimbursement

– Free accommodations

– Re-sign bonus

– Performance bonuses

– Paid Sick leave

– Meals provided

– Completion of contract bonus

Ultimately, there are unlimited countries, certificates, requirements, and ways to successfully TEFL. There are thousands of websites with specific information on different options (see reference sites below). If Teaching and earning a paycheck, while traveling and experiencing a new culture sounds like something you would like doing, then click on the links below to learn more.


1. You will earn a paycheck! This may sound insignificant, but many sustainable travel options include little to no income.

2. Flexibility. Pick your schedule, your country, and your job! TEFL offers a large range of experiences within the TEFL community itself. You will have some flexibility on what you do based on the jobs that you interview for.

3. It’s a teachers market. Many parts of the world need teachers and they need them fast (especially parts of Asia such as China and Korea).

4. Experience new food, cultures, and people. TEFL gives you the opportunity to truly live and work in one country long enough to truly experience the culture.

5. All the perks of a real job: summers off and unlimited traveling outside your front door!


1. Upfront time, cost, and education. There are many exceptions but typically a degree, and at least a TEFL certificate, will go along way.

2. There is an interview. Just relax, use any life skills you have gained up to this point, and be confident in your abilities. SHOW ENTHUSIASM… it will go along way!

3. You don’t always know what you’re getting until you are there. A few ways to limit the surprises are to: Research the school and city you are going to, research the company/school hiring you, ask your interviewer for other teacher’s contact info and email them, and read your contract carefully.

I am an enthusiastic traveler seeking to view the world through the eyes of different cultures. I travel because it gives me fulfillment and happiness, and I would like to share those experiences with the world.

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