A beginner’s guide to TEFL (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 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 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 a great place to kickstart your research!
What's on this page?
Credit: Matt Boden 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!).
Teaching English can also be really rewarding int that you're making a positive contribution to a community by teaching them a new language that could open up many doors to them in future.
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'd gain for your CV would be the following:
• 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 work place.
• 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 won'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. You might even learn the local language of your students, and that's certainly worth shouting about!
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.
You can earn a tidy salary
Teaching English abroad won't exactly make you a millionaire, but this doesn't mean you can’t save 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.
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 airfare, 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!
Despite ESL (that's English as a Second Language, btw!) teachers being in high demand, standards generally remain high when it comes to finding work.
However, it's true that some schools or recruiters won't necessarily require a TEFL qualification if you have a degree, and likewise some won't require a degree if you have a TEFL qualification, but having both will definitely broaden your opportunities and increase your chances of getting a great salary.
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.
Online or on-site courses
TEFL courses range vastly, and the course you choose to do your training with could ultimately determine the sort of job you get and the country you work in, so it's worth taking some time to think carefully about what best suits your situation.
For example, 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 involve 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.
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 – which is thought to be crucial for TEFL training.
On-site courses tend to 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.
Top 4 TEFL courses
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 probably the most highly regarded in the UK. As a result, it's 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.
Finding a teaching job anywhere in the world should be a doddle with this one under your belt, and is a must for anyone keen on pursuing TEFL as a long-term career.
This course also allows you to combine both online and offline learning to reach your goal, but is noticeably more pricey than the other online course options on this list.
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.
i-to-i and what was previously LoveTEFL have now merged into one company, and are now one of the most recognised courses offered primarily online.
You can choose to do either a 120 hour course that's taken entirely online, or a 140 hour course that includes an additional 2-days practical teacher training to get you ready to teach abroad.
The i-to-i TEFL course may not yet be as widely recognised, but if you really are cash strapped then it may be an option.
Their website also offers a job search board for you to find the most suitable TEFL jobs abroad.
Course cost: Starts from £449 to £859
Hours: 120 + week-long orientation week that includes practical teaching
This is an all-in package and a decent option if you are fully set on teaching in Thailand or China.
You can choose from a few different options that range in price, but all come with a week-long on-site orientation and a 5 month or 12 month placement at the end of the course.
For example, if you choose to do the course online from home over 120 hours, you will get the course, your week-long orientation plus guaranteed placement for £579. If you choose to do the TEFL qualification on-site in Thailand, the whole package will set you back £859.
To qualify for ThaiJobs, you need to be a native English speaker and have a Bachelor degree or higher.
Finding a job once you qualify
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), then 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 great opportunities there are 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!
Whilst we would encourage anyone interested in travelling and seeing a bit more of the world to give TEFL a bash, there are a few things worth baring in mind.
- 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 is 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's 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 it's 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. Whilst 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.
Have you had experience with TEFL? We'd love to hear about your experiences!