Do you want to teach English abroad but aren’t sure how to get started? No worries! I’ve created this step by step guide on how to teach ESL abroad that’s perfect for beginners. I’ve been teaching abroad since 2010 and in this post you’ll learn tips, tricks and secrets that have helped me teach abroad in 5 countries!
Get ready to discover exactly how to embark on your teach abroad journey.
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Step 1: Choose Where to Teach Abroad and Your “Why”
First things first, you need to decide where you want to go. Start by selecting three to five countries that interest you. Later on, you can narrow down your choices based on your qualifications and the available visas.
Consider why you want to teach in these particular places. Is it because of the language, weather, culture, the opportunity to travel to other destinations, or the cost of living?
Also, decide what your “why” is. Why do you want to teach abroad? Is it to experience another culture, learn a foreign language, earn a better salary or travel the world? Teaching abroad is a mix of challenges, excitement, and rewards. You’ll experience ups and downs, but in the end, it’s definitely worth it.
It’s normal to feel scared or nervous about moving your entire life to another part of the world. Teaching abroad is a transformative experience that allows you to grow as a person and gain a new perspective on life. So, if you’re up for personal growth and new adventures, teaching abroad might be the perfect choice for you.
Step 2: Your Unique Teach Abroad Timeline
Next, you need to determine how long you want to teach abroad. Do you plan to go for a summer, 1-2 years, 3-5 years, or maybe even forever?
Research the school year in each of your top countries. Keep in mind that school years can vary between the northern and southern hemispheres. Generally, public and private schools have breaks, while private language schools and academies often run year-round.
This means that for public and private schools you’ll need to plan to apply to jobs 3-6 months (in general) before the start of the school year. For English language schools and academies that run year round, you can get hired at any time.
Are you looking for support during every step of your teach abroad journey? Join Teach Abroad Club, a monthly membership with trainings, Q&A and a community of other teacher travelers like you!
My membership only opens for enrollment a few times a year, so get on the waitlist here to be notified when it next opens.
Step 3: Teach Abroad Qualifications and Visas
Now it’s time to check the qualifications required in your top countries. You’ll need to check the following for each of your top 3-5 countries:
- Do you need a 4 year bachelor’s degree? Is an associate’s degree or no degree ok? Does the degree need to be in English, TEFL, etc.?
- Is a basic 120-hour TEFL certificate like The TEFL Academy accepted or do you need a level 5 TEFL certificate with teaching practice like International TEFL Academy or CELTA?
- Do you need to be a native English speaker or can non-native speakers teach there?
- What kind of visas are available? For example: work, student, business, freelancer, digital nomad, freelancer, digital nomad, skilled, work holiday and partner visas.
Keep in mind that while these sources provide a great starting point, they may not cover all the visa options available. In some cases, you might need to contact a migration lawyer if you are set on teaching in a specific country.
I also recommend joining country-specific TEFL groups on Facebook. Simply search for “TEFL” or “English Teachers” + the country name on Facebook. While these groups can be helpful, be cautious as there might be some misinformation. It’s best to double-check visa processes on official embassy or consulate websites.
How to Choose a TEFL/TESOL Certificate
A TEFL/TESOL certificate proves that you know how to teach English. There are so many different providers out there that it can be confusing which course is right for you.
Here’s a basic guide:
Basic 120-hour certificate (Level 3)
If you are a native English speaker, have a bachelor’s degree, have some previous teaching experience and don’t want to teach in the Middle East or Europe, then a basic 120-hour TEFL course like Premier TEFL or The TEFL Academy is right for you.
These courses can typically be completed online in just a few weeks and also have the option to add on teaching practice if you haven’t taught before.
If you want to do your TEFL course abroad, Premier TEFL offers courses with guaranteed paid internships. Click here to learn more about Premier TEFL’s paid internships abroad.
Level 5 TEFL Course
If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, don’t have previous teaching experience, want to teach in the Middle East or Europe and/or are a non-native speaker, then a Level 5 course like CELTA, International TEFL Academy or CertTESOL is a better option.
These courses are well-known, standardized and include teaching practice. They are more expensive than basic TEFL courses, but will get you access to better jobs and opportunities.
If you prefer to do your TEFL course abroad, then I recommend International TEFL Academy. They offer in-person TEFL courses abroad or online. The advantage of doing your TEFL course abroad is that you can network and have a support system right away.
Getting Hired from Abroad vs. In-country
Some schools prefer to hire teachers from abroad, while others prefer in-person interviews. For many Asian countries like Japan, South Korea and China, using a recruiter to find teaching positions is typical. You usually don’t need to pay the recruiter. Instead, the school covers their fees when you sign the contract.
On the other hand, many Latin American countries prefer to hire teachers in-person. This means you’ll need to travel to the country on a tourist visa and then convert it to a work visa once you have a signed contract. You need to research the hiring practices common in the countries you’re interested in.
Personally, I have never used a recruiter. I’ve taught abroad through teach abroad programs, filled out applications, and even had a colleague recommend me for an international school job in Spain. In Australia, I interviewed in-person after arriving on a Work Holiday Visa.
Step 4: Narrow Down to Top 3 Countries
Now that you know where you’re eligible to teach and the visa requirements thanks to your research, it’s time to narrow down your choices to your personal top three countries.
For each country, jot down the following information:
- School year dates and when hiring typically starts (year-round or seasonal)
- Available visas (work, student, business, freelancer, work holiday, etc.)
- Ways to teach abroad (teach abroad programs, TEFL courses abroad with placements, public/private/international/charter schools, in-company business classes, online teaching, freelancing, English language schools/academies)
Not every option will be available in every country, and not every visa will allow you to teach in every way. Thorough research is essential. If you need assistance, I offer 1:1 teach abroad coaching or you can join my membership Teach Abroad Club.
Step 5: Plan 2 Ways to Teach Abroad in Each Country
Always have a backup plan. Visas and eligibility requirements can change, so it’s essential to have alternatives. For instance, if you want to teach in Spain, one option could be applying for language assistant programs (applications open at the end of the year for a September or October start). Another option might be obtaining a digital nomad visa if you qualify.
Write out two ways you can teach in each country and map out the visa process. Having multiple options will save you a lot of stress. I experienced this firsthand when I had to change my teaching destination from Peru to Costa Rica due to a medical condition that couldn’t be treated in such a remote location. If I had prepared additional options, I would have been a lot less stressed! Learn from my mistakes.
Step 6: Prepare Teach Abroad Interviews, Resumes & Applications
Now it’s time to prepare your interviews, resume/CV and applications. If you’re interested in learning common teach abroad interview questions and answers, you can watch this video.
For teach abroad interviews, I recommend having demo lessons ready. Prepare a lesson that works for beginner/intermediate levels and another for intermediate/advanced levels. Have a shorter version (10-15 minutes) and a longer version (20-30 minutes) of each lesson.
In some countries, you may need to do online interviews before receiving a job offer and visa. In other countries, especially in Latin America, you’ll need to do in-person interviews once you’ve arrived.
Be sure to bring several copies of your lesson plans and any materials you’ll be using for in-person interviews. For online interviews, have PDF files ready. Although you may or may not be asked to teach a demo lesson, it’s always best to be prepared.
You might need to teach the interviewer, an empty room with pretend students, or even a class of real students. Your interview experience can vary based on the country and school.
Preparing your applications and interviews also includes crafting a teach abroad resume or CV. For all my tips and tricks, watch this video on how to create a teach abroad resume or CV.
Here are a couple of my top tips for teach abroad resumes:
- Highlight any relevant jobs you’ve held, such as tutoring, camp counseling, or childcare, especially if you don’t have previous teaching experience.
- Know whether you need to submit a CV or a resume, as they are not the same.
Teach Abroad Program Applications
If you’re applying for a teach abroad program, you’ll typically need to fill out an application, which may include an essay and a letter of recommendation. Make sure to read the instructions carefully and answer all the questions asked.
I recommend requesting letters of recommendation from a few different people in case someone forgets. Have everything ready to go BEFORE applications open.
These programs are highly competitive, and a mistake on your application could result in a rejection. To learn about popular teach abroad programs you can watch this video.
Step 7: Teach Abroad Job Search
At this point, you should be ready to start your teach abroad job search. As mentioned earlier, depending on your desired teaching location and visa options, you may need to apply for jobs from abroad or travel to the country and apply in person.
Traveling to a new country without a secure job can be intimidating, which is why I recommend checking out TEFL courses with job placement guarantees, internships or lifetime job search assistance. Companies like International TEFL Academy and Premier TEFL offer these courses and programs.
There are several places where you can find teach abroad jobs, and I recommend utilizing all of them. Finding the perfect teach abroad job is like searching for gold—you’ll have to sift through a lot of junk to find the right one.
Here are some places to look for teach abroad jobs:
- International job boards
- Teach abroad forums
- TEFL teacher Facebook groups
- Teach abroad program websites
- International school agencies (Search Associates, ISS, Teach Away, TES, Teacher Horizons)
You can download my free Ultimate Teach Abroad Jobs Guide to access links to these sites.
If you plan to apply to schools after arriving in the country, I suggest googling private schools and language academies in the cities where you’d like to teach before your arrival. This way, you can conduct a more efficient job search. I did this when I arrived in Australia on a work holiday visa.
Step 8: Teach Abroad Contract Negotiation and Visa Process
Congratulations! You’ve received a job offer or two. Now it’s time to carefully review your contract and negotiate your pay and benefits. If you’re teaching through a program, negotiations may not be possible. However, if you’ve applied directly to the school, you can negotiate your pay, working hours, levels you’ll teach, prep periods, and other benefits.
Ensure that your contract includes information about your visa and benefits. Determine whether your school will sponsor your visa or if you’re responsible for the process. Also, confirm whether benefits like accommodation and health insurance are included in your contract.
I recommend requesting a copy of the contract in both the native language of the country and English. Compare the two versions or seek assistance if you don’t speak the language, to ensure that everything aligns correctly.
Keep in mind that visa processes can be lengthy, so start as soon as possible. Some visas require you to leave the country to apply at a consulate or embassy, while others allow you to apply within the country.
Gather all the necessary documents, such as your passport, degree hard copy, background check, and passport-sized photos. Follow the instructions provided by the embassy or consulate and don’t hesitate to seek professional advice if needed.
Step 9: Preparing for Departure
With your visa approved and your contract signed, it’s time to prepare for your departure. Here are a few essential steps to consider:
- Notify your current employer or educational institution about your resignation and make the necessary arrangements.
- Arrange your travel plans, including booking flights, accommodation, and transportation to your destination. Some contracts will pay for or reimburse travel expenses.
- Begin packing your belongings and determine what you’ll bring with you, what you’ll store, and what you’ll sell or donate.
- Attend to any financial matters, such as informing your bank and credit card companies about your travel plans, setting up online banking, and exchanging currency if needed. I also recommend nominating a trusted family member or friend as a POA (Power of Attorney) over your financial and medical records as they can be difficult to access when abroad.
- Obtain any necessary vaccinations and medical check-ups before your departure.
- Research and familiarize yourself with the culture, customs, and language of your destination country. Learning a few basic phrases in the local language can be helpful.
- Connect with other teachers or expats who are living or have lived in your destination country. They can provide valuable insights, advice, and support.
Step 10: Enjoy Your Teach Abroad Adventure
Finally, it’s time to embark on your teach abroad adventure! Embrace the new experiences, challenges, and growth opportunities that await you. Stay open-minded, adaptable, and positive throughout your journey. Remember that teaching abroad is not just about the job—it’s about immersing yourself in a new culture, making lifelong connections, and creating memories that will last a lifetime.
I hope this step-by-step guide has provided you with valuable insights and practical tips for teaching abroad. If you have any further questions or need personalized advice, fill out my survey and I’ll email you back. I’m here to support you on your teach abroad journey. Good luck, and enjoy the adventure!