TEFL guide (teaching English abroad)
Ever thought about teaching English abroad? Find out how to get a TEFL qualification, how to find a job abroad plus the biggest perks of the whole experience.
Whether you're looking to move into teaching, or just keen to travel the world, learn something new and earn some cash in the process – it's well worth considering teaching English abroad.
There are a number of different ways you can do this. TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) opportunities vary widely depending where you choose to travel, how much time and money you're willing to spend on training, and which TEFL course provider you choose to train with.
If you're thinking about doing TEFL, this guide is THE place to kick start your research!
What's on this page?
What is a TEFL certification?
Short for 'Teaching English as a Foreign Language,' TEFL is the term used to describe both the experience of teaching English abroad, as well as the process of studying to get the qualification to do so.
There are loads of other abbreviations used to describe English teaching abroad (ESL, EFL, TESL, TESOL just to name a few!) but don't let this overwhelm you, as these all essentially mean the same thing!
A TEFL qualification provides an opportunity to travel the world and earn money in the process. It's also a chance to get to know a different culture (or cultures, depending on how many different countries you end up teaching in!).
Is a TEFL certificate worth it?
Getting your TEFL qualification is a significant investment of both time and money, so it's worth taking some time to really consider whether it's going to be worth it for you.
If you're just planning on doing some teaching abroad for a summer (or any time less than a year), then a TEFL certificate might not be worth the investment – especially if you're not interested in pursuing teaching as a career.
Also bear in mind that some schools and recruiters won't necessarily require a TEFL qualification if you have a degree, but it will certainly help and you'll likely get more choice over the countries and schools that you work in if you have a certificate.
But if you're seriously thinking about teaching abroad long term, a TEFL certificate can be a valuable asset to your CV and great experience. Here's why:
It's a great career starter
Whether you're interested in a career in teaching or not, choosing to do a TEFL course after graduation is a great way to start your career – whatever industry you're keen to move into later.
A common misconception is that TEFL is only suitable for those interested in pursuing teaching, but this certainly isn't the case.
If you're keen to travel, but worried about taking a break before your career has essentially started, teaching English is a great way to avoid any employment gaps in your CV – and it'll really impress potential employers.
You'll acquire invaluable new skills
Not only will a TEFL qualification look great on your CV, but teaching English abroad will also give you the opportunity to gain some really invaluable – and most importantly transferable – skills that are worth shouting about.
A few skills and qualities that you'll gain for your CV include:
• Adaptability – Choosing to work somewhere far from home and outside of your comfort zone demonstrates that you enjoy a challenge. Candidates with experience working internationally are attractive to employers as they can be confident you'll be adaptable and embrace change
• Resourcefulness – Choosing to teach somewhere remote can sometimes involve a bit of problem solving, as you might encounter obstacles you maybe wouldn't have working at a school in the UK (for example, access to the internet). Being creative in these situations is great experience for future problem solving in the workplace
• Commitment – Most TEFL contracts last for a year. Therefore, working in and adapting to a completely foreign environment and sticking with it shows a certain level of resilience and dedication
• Great communication skills – Often when working as a TEFL teacher, you don't speak the native language of those you teach, and you'll still be working on teaching them yours! This means you'll become pretty adept at getting creative with communication. It's a good idea to try to learn the local language of your students – a skill that could earn you money by itself!
It's an opportunity to travel abroad
Whether you fancy a stint living somewhere in Europe, or prefer the idea of travelling much further afield, there are opportunities aplenty in teaching English around the world.
There are more than half a billion English language learners in the world, meaning English teachers are very much in high demand!
Teaching English is a great way to travel the world and really immerse yourself in a different culture while you're at it.
Some countries that are notoriously difficult to gain working visas for (Turkey, for example) will grant you a visa if you choose to teach English, meaning TEFL opens even more international doors when it comes to living abroad.
How do you get a TEFL certificate?
To get your TEFL certificate you'll have to complete a TEFL training course – either in person, online or through a combination of the two. You can also complete the training at a centre in the UK or somewhere abroad if you're keen to start travelling right away.
There are dozens of courses out there, so take some time to scout out the best one for you (we've suggested some of the best below). Remember that the reputation of your course provider will be crucial when it comes for applying to TEFL jobs, so don't automatically go for the cheapest option.
Studying full time can mean you're fully qualified in around a month, while studying part-time or online can take much longer. Overall you should be looking at putting in around 120 hours minimum, with at least six hours of assessed teaching practice, to get your full certificate.
Some courses also give you the option to specialise in a certain subject (business, for instance) if you put some extra hours in.
Places on some courses can be quite competitive, so don't forget to show of your own skills with an impressive CV and also emphasise how you want to help others with your TEFL qualification.
What qualifications do you need for TEFL?
You don't need a degree to get a TEFL qualification, you just need a strong grasp of the English language. If you're not a native English speaker you'll still be able to get a TEFL certificate if you have the language level required in order to be accepted on to the course.
For those who don't have a TEFL qualification but do have a degree, some schools or agencies advertise spots for candidates to travel to the country and receive full TEFL training before starting to teach.
If you already have a degree in Education or extensive teaching experience, you'll still have to get a TEFL certificate for English teaching jobs abroad.
While you might have experience that will give you a solid grounding, TEFL is a very specific teaching method that will enable you to each all over the world, regardless of whether you can speak the native language, and only the TEFL certificate will be able to prepare you for that.
On-site TEFL training
On-site TEFL training tends to be a lot more hands-on and intensive, as it involves a lot more practical teaching hours, which can also make the transition from training to teaching much easier.
These courses also include what's called a 'practicum component', where you teach in front of an experienced teacher and are given feedback – something which is thought to be crucial for TEFL training.
On-site courses often cost a fair bit more. But if you're taking the course as part of a recruitment package in another country that's in need of English teachers, you're normally guaranteed a job contract at the end of your training, which will lessen the financial burden.
Online TEFL courses
Nowadays you can choose to do your TEFL qualification entirely online without any teaching hours and still qualify. However, some schools won't hire teachers with a qualification that's been obtained online, as they'll often request at least 120 hours of TEFL training (some online courses take as little as 20 hours to complete).
Online TEFL courses are increasing in popularity as they're flexible and often a much cheaper option. However, many argue that online courses don't prepare you well for classroom environments and that hands-on teaching experience is a crucial part of your training.
How much does it cost for a TEFL certificate?
Online TEFL courses are normally your cheapest option, and will usually cost around £100 – £400. But remember to think carefully about whether an online course will prepare you with the practical skills you need and make sure you choose a course with a strong reputation.
Most other TEFL courses will fall in the range of £400 – £800, but the best and most prestigious courses are over £1,000 – so you might have to do some serious saving!
Best TEFL courses in the UK
WARNING: Some of the courses below may appear to be a better deal than others, but it's important to take reputation into consideration. We have reviewed and summarised the best four options below.
Course cost: Around £1,200
Hours: Minimum of 120, but varies widely
This TEFL course is recognised internationally as one of the best English teaching qualifications to have on your CV, so if you're serious about finding a great teaching opportunity with a salary to match, CELTA is your best bet.
Studying full time takes four to five weeks, whereas studying part time can take a few months or a year. You can also take the blended online version of the course, which combines online teaching with hands-on teaching practice.
At the end of the course, you'll be assessed through six hours of teaching practice and four written assignments.
Also note that you don't have to be in Cambridge to take the CELTA; there are over 300 approved centres across 70 countries where you can take the course.
The exact price of your course will vary depending on the centre you register at. It's worth knowing that over 40 CELTA centres in the UK accept the Advanced Learner Loan, which can provide funding of up to £1,417.
Course cost: Around £1,000
Hours: Minimum of 130, but varies widely
This is another very highly regarded and internationally recognised course.
This qualification is accepted almost anywhere worldwide and you certainly shouldn't have much of a struggle finding a job with a Trinity CertTESOL on your CV.
You can learn with a combination of online and offline courses at a number of locations.
Course cost: £98 – £498 (currently 50% off)
Hours: Ranging from 120 – 320 hours depending on the level of qualification you take and whether you opt for online or combined
i-to-i are one of the most recognised TEFL courses offered primarily online.
You can choose between a Level 3 course (which is takes around eight weeks to complete and is equivalent to an A Level), or a Level 5 course (which takes about 15 weeks to complete and is equivalent to a Foundation Degree).
You can also choose whether you want to take your course entirely online, or opt for a combined version which includes two days in a classroom.
Their website also offers a job search board for you to find the most suitable TEFL jobs abroad.
Course cost: Starts from £449 – £859
Hours: 120 hours either online or on location
If you're keen to get abroad as soon as possible, then getting a TEFL with ThaiJobs will guarantee you a five or 12 month renewable contract in Thailand, as well as an orientation programme to help you get settled into your new country.
You can choose to complete your TEFL qualification online before you head out there, or complete it on location in Bangkok, Buriram or Phuket.
To qualify for ThaiJobs, you need to be a native English speaker and have a Bachelor degree or higher.
What can you do with a TEFL certificate?
As we mentioned, a lot of on-site TEFL courses will come with a guaranteed contract at the end of your training, so the obvious perk of this is that you won't have to search for a job once you're qualified.
However, if you decide to go for a course that's taught entirely online, or is perhaps taught at home in the UK, you'll need to get your job-hunting hat on.
One option would be to travel to your destination and look for teaching work when you get there.
If this is how you'd like to play it, we'd recommend doing a fair bit of research before you arrive (on schools in the area, checking expat forums, etc). When you get there start checking local newspapers, calling up schools and trying your best at networking.
Another option would be to nail down an opportunity before you arrive. This can be better for your peace of mind, as it gives you a chance to really scope out the best opportunities, rather than going for the first vacancy you come across when you step off the plane.
Most graduate job sites will include a TEFL job listing section. Once you've sent out your applications, and nailed that Skype interview, you'll be on your way!
How much do TEFL teachers get paid?
Teaching English abroad won't exactly make you a millionaire, but this doesn't mean you can’t make some pennies along the way. Each country is different when it comes to salary – there's no set TEFL wage.
How much you get paid all depends on your employer, the country, how much experience you have and the standard of living in the country you teach in. You should expect an annual salary of around £14,000 to £25,000, but this can range to upwards of £35,000 with more experience and expertise.
A lot of jobs also include perks that will boost your income substantially.
For example, in China, teaching salaries don't appear particularly impressive at first glance, but when your employers are providing you with subsidised rent, or even paying for your accommodation entirely, plus meals, then the rest of your wage is purely spending money!
In countries such as the United Arab Emirates, South Korea and Japan, TEFL teachers are paid extremely well and receive excellent bonuses such as free airfares and even gym membership! For example, many TEFL teachers in South Korea save up to 1,000,000 South Korean Won (£580) per month. Nice!
TEFL job boards
There are a whole bunch of job boards out there dedicated to advertising TEFL jobs, so you shouldn't be stuck to find places to apply to. The i-to-i TEFL jobs board is probably the best and most extensive, allowing you to filter by country and whether you're a degree holder or not.
Dave's ESL Cafe is also famous in the TEFL-sphere as one of the most comprehensive lists of TEFL jobs available. It's not the easiest to navigate, and you'll have to hunt through long list of links, but you're guaranteed to find some great opportunities.
Top 5 TEFL tips
While we'd encourage anyone interested in travelling and seeing a bit more of the world to give TEFL a bash, there are a few things that everyone doing a TEFL should know:
- Beware of TEFL scams! – Unfortunately, TEFL scams do exist so it's worth sticking to recognised courses when it comes to parting with your cash. Saving a few bob on your course can be tempting, but will it still be worth it when you arrive to find out your school doesn't exist?
- Don't fall for the 'fully-accredited' jargon – Despite what many sites will tell you, there are no criteria determining who can and can't award a TEFL certificate – literally anyone can do it, and there's no licensing involved. This is why it's best to go with an internationally-recognised course provider, as the only way you can determine if a course is good or not is by its reputation
- Don't forget your long-term goals – If you don't intend on teaching as a long-term career, we wouldn't recommend doing TEFL for longer than a couple of years. While teaching English abroad is a fantastic experience, you don't want to seem out of touch when you re-enter the job market for your chosen career. Teaching English abroad can get very comfortable, so consider this a warning!
- Know your rights – Finding a job abroad can be overwhelming at times, so it's important you keep your wits about you and don't let any employer take advantage of you. Find out the terms of your contract before committing, and make sure the school you work for sticks to it
- Don't work too hard! – There's no use in setting off on your foreign adventure only to find you're expected to work seven days a week, and as a result are too exhausted to enjoy yourself. Unfortunately, as many schools or recruiters are aware that young people are less likely to make a fuss, they're more likely to be exploited too. Remember why you're there in the first place!
So now you're armed with the info, it's time to do your own research and decide if TEFL is the right choice for you.