One way to travel – or to pay for your travels – is to get a job overseas teaching English. If you want to spend several years in a destination, this is a popular way to do that.

Jobs worth considering as a long-term prospect – or even as a career – are widely available. They generally require qualifications and experience; see Certificates below. In most countries, the benefits include airfare and housing.

Other jobs might do to supplement a backpacker’s income – or even let you live somewhere interesting for a year – but are not worth considering for the long term. For some of these, especially in remote areas, anyone who looks foreign and speaks some English can get work.

Speaking the local language is not generally required, though it may be quite useful in beginner classes and may make your stay more pleasant in other ways.

The students are learning ESL (English as a Second Language) or EFL (English as a Foreign Language) or ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages). For the teacher, add a T for Teaching to get TESLTEFL and TESOL, or just call it ELT, (English Language Teaching).

The widely-used English tests have their own acronyms:

  • TOEFL, for admission to US universities
  • IELTS, for British, Australian and NZ universities
(Canadian universities might use either)
  • TOEIC, a business English test from the TOEFL people
  • BULATS, a business English test from the IELTS people
  • BEC Business English Certificates are from Cambridge. There are three exams at different levels.
  • CPE is also from Cambridge; it is their highest level exam.

A recent trend in the field is to do a lot of ESP (English for Specific Purposes), designing custom courses depending on what the learners need to use the language for. One branch of this is EAP(English for Academic Purposes), preparing students for study abroad.

The work 
Teaching ESL (or any other language) has much in common with any other teaching, but also has its own unique challenges. Among other things, it needs some understanding of how language works, quite a bit of patience, and considerable showmanship.

At any level, the teaching needs to be highly interactive. Too much talk by the teacher is fatal; you cannot teach language-using skills either by lecturing or (except in tiny groups) with a series of one-on-one interactions between the teacher and different students. You must set up situations for students to actually use the language. Often this means introducing some vocabulary and/or grammatical structures on the board or in a listening or reading exercise, then setting up some sort of pairs or group task where students can try it out. Various sorts of discussion, role-playing or game activities are often used.

Getting beginners started speaking English is difficult. Techniques include translation, mime, pictures, and a lot of repetition. With young learners, you may be able to make a game of it.

With intermediate students, you get questions that strain your knowledge of your own language. If “He doesn’t have much money” is OK, what is wrong with “He has much money”? Which is better: “a big red balloon” or “a red big balloon”? Why? Is the other incorrect or just unusual? Training and grammar reference books can help here, but sometimes the answer is just “That is the way we do it.”

For advanced students, especially in ESP settings, you may need considerable knowledge beyond the language itself. For example, to teach business English above a certain level, you must know quite a bit about business.

A major part of the ESP approach is needs analysis, figuring out how your students will use the language. In some situations, needs analysis is a formal process and courses are written to order for specific groups. Often, however, the teacher just does an informal analysis and finds or invents exercises to suit a class.

Consider a company somewhere that exports products to English-speaking countries. The engineers might just need to read manuals and product specifications in English; they might never hear, speak or write it. Marketers might need to read the quite different language of orders and contracts, and to both read and write emails in much less formal language. Some of them might also need to talk with customers. Executives might need to handle complex negotiations in English — a task that requires not only excellent spoken English but also business skills and an awareness of cultural differences. Ideally, each of these groups would get a different English course.

Anyone contemplating more than a bit of casual work in this field should seriously consider getting some training. Training can make it a good deal easier to survive in a classroom and help you be a better teacher. A certificate may make it easier to get a job, or to get one of the better ones. Also, in some countries a degree is legally required to get a working visa; there is some hope of negotiating your way around this if you have a TEFL certificate, but almost none without it.

There are a number of different ESL/EFL teaching certificates available.

  • Many schools give their own courses to staff.
  • Various companies in Western countries offer programs, often including job placement help.
  • There are online courses.

Most programs include some classroom experience and can be completed in one to three months.

Be careful about finding a good quality course: some are worthless and many are unknown. Managers are not generally much impressed with a certificate from some place they have never heard of, whether it is an English school in Volgograd or a training company in Vancouver.

Short of an MA, a Cambridge or Trinity certificate is the best qualification to have, the only one that will be accepted almost anywhere.

  • Courses for Cambridge CELTA [7] are given under license by centers all over the world, 286 places as of mid-2007. The CELTA course is generally both more difficult and more expensive than other courses, but of similar duration — anywhere from four weeks of intensive study to several months of part-time classes. Job ads routinely ask for “CELTA or equivalent” rather than just wanting a “TEFL cetificate”.
  • Trinity College London has a CertTESOL that is also taught in many places and also widely accepted. It is “or equivalent” for those ads.

If you plan to make a career in the field, consider more advanced training such as a diploma course (Cambridge DELTA or Trinity DipTESOL) or a Masters degree. These are required for most teacher training or head of school jobs and for some of the best teaching jobs.

Quite a few universities offer ESL/EFL training, often both a Certificate program and a Master’s degree. A few offer a Master’s program designed for teachers working overseas, with most work done by correspondence.

There are directories of courses at ESLonline and ESLbase. Neither is complete. Both sites also have job ads.

Popular destinations for paying English teaching jobs include:

  • Eastern Europe
  • China
  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Middle East
  • Latin America

In some countries, ESL is a major industry; sometimes it seems there is a language school on every block. Japan‘s eikaiwa (“conversation schools”) range from small schools to major chains. Both hire native speakers from abroad. South Korea‘s hagwon and China‘s buxiban do the same.

Demand for teachers in some areas is enormous. Dave’s ESL Cafe breaks recruiting ads into three groups: Korea, China, and anywhere else. Checking on a random day (not in the peak hiring season which is around July for a September start) there were over 50 new ads in the previous week for China, over 100 for Korea, over 50 for the rest of the world. Some of those employers advertise more-or-less continuously, some have many jobs on offer, and Dave’s is by no means the only site with jobs, so overall demand is very high.

In the European Union many employers prefer to hire teachers from Britain or Ireland because citizens of those countries do not need work visas. Some employers are reluctant to hire anyone who does need a visa.

In India there are few jobs for foreigners to teach English; plenty of Indians already speak excellent English and some of those are trained teachers. There is, however, one fairly large exception. India (especially Bangalore) has many call centers for Western companies outsourcing customer support work. Those centers routinely hire fairly large numbers of people — mostly American/Canadian English speakers, but some for other accents or languages — as accent and cultural coaches for their phone workers.

For country-specific information, see the Work sections of country entries. Pay and conditions 
Nearly all ESL jobs that hire from overseas include worthwhile benefits. A free apartment is typical, though some employers offer only a room in a shared place. Most contracts are for a year, though some provide salary for only a 10-month school year. Most include two-way airfare, or at least some money toward the cost.

Language teachers typically do not get the high salaries and juicy benefits package that an expatriate sent by a company to work in an overseas branch would. In particular, education for any children you have may be a problem. International schools are generally expensive and few employers cover this. The local schools may not suit your kids.

In lower income countries a language teacher’s pay is generally enough to live well there, but not much by the standards of higher income places. For example, $500 US a month plus a free apartment lets you live well in China; local teachers are making half that and paying rent on their apartments. You can afford to travel some in the holidays, even visit nearby low-cost countries like Vietnam. However it would be almost impossible to pay off debts back home, or to plan a trip to Japan, on that income. Korea or Taiwan have higher salaries, enough to save some despite higher living costs.

It is also common for schools to hire locally for summer programs, for part-time work, and sometimes for full time employment. These jobs often have fewer benefits than the overseas-hired posts.

The best pay for language teachers is generally in the Middle East. They can afford to be choosy, though; most jobs there require a degree and TEFL certificate and some require an MA.

Some jobs in Japan also pay well but living costs are high.

There are also some highly paid jobs training oil workers; usually these involve an on/off cycle — 42 days working long hours then 21 days away or some such — with the employer paying a flight out every cycle. Most of these want good qualifications — typically degree, CELTA and five years experience.

For most classes, considerable planning and preparation is needed to produce reasonable quality lessons. A language teacher’s workload is generally 15 to 20 contact hours a week; with prep time and perhaps marking, that is a full time job.

There are exceptions. With small advanced classes, sometimes all you need to do is start a discussion. Preparation consists mainly of choosing a topic; students just grab it and run. Or for some classes, you may be given a carefully laid out program with a textbook, student workbook and sometimes even presentation slides provided; such courses require less preparation. On the other hand, some schools will just dump you in the deep end (“Here’s your class; teach it!”) with no materials, and sometimes with other problems like no photocopier or Internet or a class where students have wildly different levels of English. In those cases, you put in quite a bit of extra time.

There can of course be problems with this. Some employers want 24 or more classroom hours a week, sometimes with (usually unpaid) additional duties and perhaps with (usually unpaid) travel time to different schools on top of that. They tend to burn out teachers, to be unable to keep staff, and to be continually advertising jobs. Beware of such schools!

On the other hand, some teachers assume that showing up for class is all they have to do, wandering in with no preparation and inventing a lesson plan as they cross the threshold of the classroom. Expert teachers can pull this off occasionally, but making a habit of it or trying it without a lot of experience generally leads to disaster. Teaching ESL is not just part of your holiday; it really is a job and needs to be taken at least somewhat seriously.

There is some risk in taking any overseas job.

If you travel somewhere and then look for work, you avoid some of the risks but you incur expenses. Also you may miss out on benefits; free housing and annual airfare home are more-or-less standard when hiring from overseas, but less common for local hires. Finally, you will likely not be able to get a working visa in advance since you don’t have a job. Depending on local regulations, this may be a minor detail or a major hassle.

On the other hand, if you are recruited from half a world away, it is hard to know exactly what you are getting into or who you are dealing with. Most teachers end up just fine in their overseas jobs, but problems are common enough that being careful is absolutely necessary.

Some schools are greedy businesses exploiting both teachers and students; some recruiters are amazingly slimy and interested only in their commission. Many schools and some recruiters are just fine, but definitely not all. There are plenty of horror stories — horrible accommodation, outrageously large classes, demands for unpaid overtime, broken contracts, etc. Of course there are lots of happy teachers in other schools, sometimes even in the same school.

The lowest risk jobs are the government-run recruiting programs described above; these can offer a safe way to get your feet wet. Other government-run places, such as universities and public high schools are also relatively safe.

Some factors indicate higher risk:

  • Private language schools are riskier than government programs.
  • “Third-world” countries and those with highly corrupt “systems” are also much riskier.
  • If a recruiter is involved, your risk is significantly higher; either the school or the recruiter can mess you around.
  • If the culture is wildly different from your own, then you may not understand the negotiation process you are involved in or know what questions you should be asking.

That said, thousands of teachers are having a wonderful time in jobs with one or more of those risk factors. Some are perfectly happy in jobs with all four! Be aware of risks and use a little caution, and you should be fine.

Check Wikitravel and other sources for information on the location. Do a web search on “pollution” and the city name. If having modern conveniences and Western food is important to you, check websites for major retailers like Ikea or the European supermarket chains Metro and Carrefour to see if they have stores there. Ask the school to email you photos of the accommodation and classrooms.

Checking on the job and the employer is harder. The most important precaution: Ask to talk to current foreign teachers before agreeing to anything. Be extremely wary of any school that will not let you do this.

You can also check the web for comments on potential employers or on recruiters. ESL teachers are a chatty bunch, and mostly literate, so there is a lot of information available. Most of the job ad sites have forums that include comments on available jobs. There are also many country-specific forums offering school reviews or just a blacklist of problem schools. Take reviews with a grain of salt, though; even quite a good school may have a few angry ex-employees ranting on the web. Look for other web comments and talk to current teachers before drawing any conclusions.

Looking for work
Many web sites offer English teaching jobs. The best known is Dave’s ESL Cafe [11]. Others that cover the whole world include [12], ESL Jobs World [13], ESLonline [14] and ESLbase [15]. There are also many sites for specific countries or regions; see the Work sections of country listings.

Some recommend that one should travel to the part of the country you want to teach and get to meet and interview with some of the staff. Many times a series of photographs can be misleading as to what an area or school might look like. Traveling to the city will allow you to see the buildings and streets, understand whether or not the location is a city or countryside, get a feel for the housing and school conditions available, and maybe even talk to existing ESL teachers about their impressions and suggestions. For most people this is not a good option as it costs a lot of money and many haven’t really decided the exact location for their work.

Another option is to narrow down your areas and then send out letters of interest with your resume included. This option does require sending out many letters with the expectation that a lot of places will not have openings at this time. Since it is well known that most job openings never get listed in papers or web sites, there is a very good chance you will turn up a great opening that otherwise would never have appeared in media. I lived in one city in China that has more than 15 schools that hire foreign ESL teachers and I have never seen any ads listed on Dave’s or other sites for at least 8 of them.

Within some countries the State, Province or other entity in charge of education for many cities will also assist schools in finding staff. Contacting the education department directly can at times surface names of schools needing foreign esl teachers.

Professional associations
TESOL [16] publishes journals (available in university libraries) which carry job ads, and provides an online job hunt service. Their annual conference includes a hiring fair. IATEFL [17] are another professional organisation with similar services. Both organisations have regional affilates in many areas.

Teachers in many countries have established ELT teaching associations. Like any other job search, networking and finding the people who are “in the know” is a great way to find a job or to learn more about local conditions:

  • Arabia: TESOL Arabia [18]
  • Korea: KOTESOL [19]
  • Russian Far East: FEELTA [20]
  • Philippines: PALT [21]
  • Singapore: ELLTAS [22]
  • Taiwan: ETA-ROC [24]

At the very least, read the appropriate site to get a feel for the issues that are important in the country you wish to work in. You may also discover who are the leaders locally and what is currently important. Having this information ready will help with any interview. Some sites will link to posts for job notices. Look for conference announcements and plan a visit; these are excellent chances to look for work.

Governments of destination countries
A few countries have government-run programs for recruiting foreign teachers:

  • Hong Kong: NET
  • Japan: JET
  • South Korea: EPIK

These generally take new university graduates and do not require teacher training or experience. However, you may be posted to a rural school where you’re the only foreigner for miles around — great for experiencing local culture, not so great if you wanted to move in with your girl/boyfriend in Tokyo/Seoul.

Governments of English-speaking countries
The British Council is the British government’s educational and cultural department. Among other things, they are the largest English teaching organisation in the world, running schools in many places.

The Council also handle recruiting for various foreign governments’ English programs. Say Elbonia needs a few dozen teachers; the Council will advertise, collect resumes, and produce a short list of candidates. For the actual interviews, senior Elbonian staff can fly to London and use Council facilities to interview, or the Council can handle the interviews too. For many of these jobs, the Council also provides some guarantees for teachers; if a corrupt school official steals your pay or you need to bail out because of a revolution in Elbonia, you have some recourse.

Council jobs can be searched on their web site or look for ads in the Guardian and the Times Education Supplement or Higher Ed. Supplement. Some, but by no means all, of their jobs are restricted to British citizens. Most interviews are in London. British Council schools may also hire locally wherever they are, but these jobs usually do not have benefits like airfare and housing that the London-hired ones do.

The US State Department also has an English teaching program [29]. Another program, paid for by government and run by Georgetown university, sends teacher trainers and other experts abroad; it requires a masters degree and US citizenship.

Other ways to teach abroad 
There are many other ways to live abroad. See Working abroad for some details. Here we cover those that involve teaching.

Teaching other languages 
Of course English is not the only language for which there is demand. There is some demand for teachers of any major world language.

Various governments sponsor organisations to promote their nations’ languages, and offer jobs for speakers of those languages.

  • French: Alliance Francais
  • German: Goethe Institute
  • Spanish: Cervantes Institute
  • Chinese: Confucius Institute
  • Japanese: Japan Foundation

Teachers from other fields 

If you have teaching qualification in your own country — but as, say a biology or history or even English literature teacher — then many English teaching jobs will happily accept you, but some will demand an ESL certificate as well.

With such qualifications, consider looking for work at International schools. These are for the children of expatriates. They generally demand the same qualifications as primary or secondary schools back home. Pay and conditions are often much better than language teachers get.

Many of those schools teach the International Baccalaureate program, so one way to find them is through the IB site [36]. Other ways include asking embassies and companies with many expat staff.

University programs 
Many Western universities offer some sort of year abroad program, often in co-operation with a foreign university. For students of the language or history of some remote part of the world, these may be a fine opportunity. Typically there are fees which you would not pay if you went on your own, but on the other hand you get credits from the Western university for your foreign studies.

There are two main types of program; examples here are from China but similar things are available in other places.

  • Some programs. e.g. [37], offer full time study of the foreign language. Often these are fairly flexible about time; a year, a semester or a summer are all possible.
  • Others, e.g. [38], give some language and teaching training, then place you as an English teacher in the host country. Usually these require a longer commitment, typically a year. The advantage is that you make at least enough to live on.

Volunteer work
Volunteer positions are usually for a shorter term and may or may not include room and board. For details see Making a difference.

Resources for English teachers

  • Wikigogy (from wiki + pedagogy) – a wiki specifically for English teachers
  • ELT Wikia – another English teachers’ wiki
  •’s ESL Info – Info from for Teaching ESL
  • Dave’s ESL Cafe – the best-known site, with lots of job ads, especially for teaching in South Korea or China. Administration is strict; both posts and accounts are often removed for various reasons. Some claim Dave censors criticism of his advertisers; others say he is just keeping things civil.
  • The Internet TESL Journal – this site is a rich source for teachers wishing to understand ELT better or get new ideas: broken down into Techniques, Articles, and Lessons. Updated monthly.