How to Get Started Teaching English Abroad

Get Started Teaching English Abroad

Are you dreaming of setting off to teach English abroad once the borders open up again? Are you hoping to live a more adventurous and international life in 2021? In this post, you’ll learn 5 easy steps to get started teaching English abroad. It’s never too early to start planning!

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Get a Bachelor's degree to teach English Abroad

1. Get a University Degree, or at Least Be Enrolled in University

To begin, while some people get started teaching English abroad without a degree, you will have a lot more opportunities to choose from if you are a college graduate or student. If you are serious about teaching English abroad, then I would highly suggest getting a degree.

For example, many of the government-sponsored ESL teaching programs abroad require a degree from a four-year institution. Fortunately, your degree doesn’t have to be in English, Education or languages (although these are helpful!).

Some programs may only require you to be enrolled in a university. Other programs, especially in some less popular places to teach, may only require a TEFL. Make sure you research programs carefully to see if you fit all the criteria (steps 4 and 5).

Get TEFL certified to start teaching English abroad

2. Get TEFL Certified to Teach English

The next step you should take is to get a certification to teach English. You’ll need to sign up for a TEFL/TESOL/TESL/CELTA course

  • TEFL = “Teaching English as a Foreign Language”
  • TESOL = “Teaching English to Students of Other Languages”
  • TESL = “Teaching English as a Second Language”
  • CELTA = Now known as “Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages” (formerly “Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults”)

TEFL/TESOL/TESL are essentially the same. I’ll refer to all of these courses as “TEFL” in the rest of the post to keep everything concise. As long as you take an accredited course, you should be able to use this certificate to teach English both abroad and online. Check out this post to find out more about teaching online.

I recommend checking out the TEFL courses from Premier TEFL. You can choose from affordable fast track accredited courses and level 5 government-regulated courses. This way you can ensure you are covered to teach both abroad and online.

CELTA is specifically for teaching adults and is basically a TEFL course from Cambridge English. It is widely accepted and quite rigorous. I did a part-time CELTA course in Brisbane, Australia.

How to Choose a TEFL Course

Luckily, at the moment there are online TEFL programs so you can get certified while you wait for the borders to open. However, not all TEFL programs are created equal. 

There are some EXTREMELY cheap TEFL courses. I would not recommend taking these because they are often not accepted when teaching abroad and only accepted by online teaching companies.

If you need a TEFL, take a look at the TEFL courses from Premier TEFL. There are lots of options for different budgets and the student support is fantastic. You will need a TEFL of at least 120 hours, but a more complete certificate is always better.

In the end, you get what you pay for and a TEFL course is an investment in your future and your teaching. If you are serious about teaching English to adults, I would recommend doing a CELTA course.

Finally, make sure you allow enough time to complete the course. If you aren’t working at the moment, you could try a full-time TEFL course. If you are working, the part-time course is a better option.

Ok, so you’re certified to teach English. Now what?

3. Decide Where You Want to Get Started Teaching English Abroad

Next, you’ll want to define which country or countries you’d like to teach in. Here are some things to consider when making your choice:

  • Language – Do you speak some of the native language? Are you willing to learn some of the language before going abroad? While it isn’t a requirement to speak the native language since you’ll be teaching English, I recommend at least having a good foundation in order to make daily life and integration into society easier for you. 
  • Cost of Living – Many people focus on their teacher salary when looking at programs, but don’t remember the cost of living! What are the average costs for rent, bill, food, and transportation? You may earn less in a South American or South East Asian country than in Europe, but your money may go a lot further.
  • Traveling Opportunities – One of the main reasons why people teach English abroad is to travel during holiday breaks and weekends. If you are on a remote island, it will be a lot more difficult and expensive than grabbing a cheap flight in Europe. If you enjoy traveling (when restrictions lift again), this should be something you consider.
  • Culture – Are you fascinated by a specific culture? Or is there a place where you would experience too much culture shock to be comfortable? Consider the cultural traditions of the place where you’d like to teach.
  • Make a Pros and Cons List – The world is a beautiful place and there are so many places to go! Taking the time to write out a list of advantages and disadvantages will help you clarify where you should get started teaching abroad.

4. Research Programs for Teaching English Abroad

Now that you’ve chosen a country or maybe even a city where you want to teach, it’s time to begin researching. There are many different kinds of teaching programs, so I suggest reading more to find out which one is right for you.

Kinds of Teaching Abroad Programs

Here is some general information about teaching abroad programs. Of course, you always need to read the descriptions of each individual program. Programs can last anywhere from 1 week to several years.

  • Government Programs – Examples: Language and Assistants in Spain (Auxiliares de Conversación), Teaching Assistants in France (Assistants de Langue), Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET), English Program in Korea (EPIK). For most of these programs, you will be working as a language assistant.
  • Other Language Assistant Programs – Sometimes language assistant programs aren’t connected to the government. Instead, they may be part of a group of charter or private schools. Sometimes participants have to pay a fee to take part in these programs or complete a study requirement for the visa.
  • International Schools – International Schools are for licensed teachers who want to live and work in another country. You are the teacher (not an assistant) and may teach English or a variety of subjects. In general, these schools have comparable salaries to schools in your native country.
  • Summer Camps – If you aren’t ready to commit to a year abroad, you can always try teaching English in a summer camp abroad. Some camps require ESL teachers while others simply want counselors to speak in English with campers at all times.
  • Volunteer Programs – Another way to try out teaching abroad for a summer or shorter time period is teaching ESL as a volunteer. In general, you’ll have to pay a fee to participate in volunteer programs. Here’s an article on how to find grants to help you go abroad for free.
  • Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) – If you are an American college graduate, another option is teaching abroad with Fulbright. This program is extremely competitive but worthwhile.

How to Begin Your Search

While this list may seem overwhelming, it is a good place to being your search. You can simply Google the name or type of program.

Another great place is Dave’s ESL Cafe. I found my first volunteer position teaching abroad on this site and it’s well-known.

If you’d like to learn more about programs I’ve done, check out these posts:

Teaching English in Spain

UCETAM: Teach English in Madrid

American Village: English Immersion Summer Camp in France

5. Eligibility and Visas

The final step of getting started teaching English abroad is making sure you are 100% eligible for your desired program. Here’s what you’ll need to consider:

  • Is a bachelor’s degree required?
  • Do you need a TEFL, etc.?
  • What’s the minimum or maximum age?
  • Do you need to be a native speaker or from a specific country?
  • What kind of visa will you need and do you need to apply for it yourself?
  • What is the deadline for the application?

My Advice for Visas and Eligibility

Firstly, make a spreadsheet containing all the requirements for each program and tick them off before applying. You can always apply to more than one program. In fact, I highly recommend it! Always have a plan B, C, D, and even E.

Visas are TRICKY. I’ve lived in 5 foreign countries and have had everything from student to work to sponsored visas to permanent residency. Every country deals with visas differently and sometimes you’ll have to be in your home country in order to have your visa granted.

Time is your friend. The more time you take to prepare your visa paperwork, get your credentials and plan your life abroad, the smoother and more enjoyable your time will be. 


Teaching English abroad is both a challenging and rewarding job. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at Jamie@ESLTeacher365.com. I love helping people teach ESL abroad!

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Certified Teacher Jamie Gajewski

I am passionate about helping teachers start their abroad or online teaching journeys.

Please send me an email at jamie@eslteacher365.com if you have any questions or recommendations for future posts!

– Jamie