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ESL Teaching Jobs Abroad for the Long Term

TEFL Certification is Not Always Necessary

A teaching fellowship in Ecuador.
On a teaching fellowship in Ecuador. Photo courtesy of WorldTeach.

Teaching abroad is one of the most accessible and popular options for paid or inexpensive long-term stays overseas. Considerable cultural immersion is possible, especially if you already have some knowledge of the host country's language. But proficiency in the local language is rarely a requirement for obtaining a position. Note: Teaching English Online is now an option overseas as countries continue to increase in providing longer-term digital nomad visas for those who can demonstrate a certain level of income. But here we review the great number of possibilities for those wishing to teach with organization and without teaching credentials.

The bulk of teaching opportunities overseas are for English teachers. As the world rushes to acquire the new lingua franca of international commerce, diplomacy, and higher education, your "credential" is simply being a native speaker of the English language. That may be all you need to obtain a job and a work permit in areas such as Asia and Eastern Europe. In addition to native fluency in English, many programs are now requesting experience in Teaching English as a Foreign (or Second) Language, known by the acronyms TEFL, EFL, TESL, ESL, or even TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).

Formal credentials in TEFL can be gained in a one-month course. This could open doors in extremely competitive areas like Western Europe. Those with a Master's in TEFL, available through a one-year program at many universities, can teach virtually anywhere.

Other teaching possibilities, some of which we list here, exist for those with knowledge of special fields such as business, health, math or science (through the Peace Corps).

Earnings can be good in the relatively wealthy countries of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. In China pay may be high by local standards but not sufficient for savings. Africa and Latin America are primarily served by volunteer organizations. Europe presents far less prospects for Americans, even those with formal credentials, however Teaching Assistant programs do exist in France and Spain.

In general, if your main motivation in teaching is to make a lot of money, you will likely be disappointed. In some cases the experience may even cost you more than you earn, but this is usually still far less than the cost of study or travel abroad. (Student loans can often be deferred during volunteer work; inquire through your loan and program sponsors.)

Before You Begin the Job Search

Before you begin your search, determine what you hope to gain from your overseas experience. Are your goals to experience a different culture? Gain language proficiency? Try out teaching as a career? How important is money — do you hope to make a lot of money, is it okay to break even, or can you spend more than you might make for the sake of the cross-cultural experience?

The answers to your money questions may limit your choices. The highest number of well-paying teaching jobs are in Asia.

Next, try to narrow down your geographic preferences to a few countries or regions. Do you hope to tie your experience to career objectives? How does this affect the money issue?

About a year before you would like to begin teaching abroad, think about getting TEFL experience or a certificate. You will be glad you did the first time you face a class thousands of miles from home. Opportunities are available as a literacy volunteer or through local ESL programs for international students or refugees offered by colleges, schools, and religious organizations almost everywhere.

Finding a Job

There are several strategies for finding an overseas teaching position. One is applying through a U.S.-based organization. These usually arrange placement and provide for logistical matters, such as housing and a work permit.

The second strategy is to write directly to overseas schools. Chances of success are limited without going to that country for an interview.

The third strategy is to go to the country where you want to work and apply in person. The major downside to this is cost: airfare, housing (possibly paying several months’ rent up front), and the need to travel to a third country to get a work permit once you land a job. The total up-front investment required by this last approach could easily be $2,000-$5,000 or more — something to keep in mind when evaluating program fees.

We generally recommend applying through U.S.-based organizations rather than seeking a job on-site because of the uncertainty and expense of the latter two strategies.

Most U.S.-based teaching placement organizations are small nonprofits, some staffed by volunteers. All (except for private language schools) view their primary mission as cultural exchange, not as overseas jobs.

Choosing a Job Placement Program

Programs vary widely in the fees, services, and assistance they offer. When choosing a program, inquire about: fees, salary, job placement, work permit, health insurance, housing, teacher training and materials, whether there is an orientation, and level of on-site support. It is better to be clear about these basics before you apply than to turn up and find you do not have a legal work permit.

  • Fees. What exactly do they include?

  • Placement. Find out who you will be teaching (elementary, high school, university students, or adults?) and where (a state school, private school, or for-profit language institute?).

  • Salary. How much and how often will you be paid? Compare your salary with the local cost of living.

  • Health insurance may not be provided by program fees, or you may be covered by socialized medicine available only in-country. Consider special comprehensive coverage for educators.

  • Materials and training. If they don’t provide materials, what do they recommend to bring with you? Even if some training is provided, would it still be useful to get experience teaching or tutoring in the U.S.?

The following list includes a wide variety of options through U.S.-based organizations. Most organizations prefer a commitment of one academic year. A bachelor's degree is a minimum requirement for most positions. Unless otherwise indicated, participants are responsible for round-trip transportation and health insurance.

Please Note: Program eligibility, policies, and destinations are subject to change. Please visit the listed websites for more information on the teaching programs of interest.

Worldwide Positions

Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships. One-year positions available for many countries worldwide. Bachelor’s degree required. Strong preference given to majors in appropriate foreign language who intend to be teachers.

U.S. Peace Corps. All expenses paid, extensive training, and a "resettlement allowance" of approximately $8,000 after completing 2-year assignment. Placements in over 100 countries. Positions available in teaching English, though math and science teachers especially in demand. Jobs in agriculture, business, health, skilled trades, etc., also available. U.S. citizens only. No upper age limit. No deadline, but allow 9 months between application and placement.

Regular K-12 Teaching Positions at International Schools. If you prequalify, the organization provides a database of teaching opportunities online. Charges a fee for maintaining an online profile.

See our internship listings for many private or volunteer internships teaching English below by Region:

Anthony Hand is an alum of the JET Program. He is a Peer Advisor at the Overseas Opportunities Office at the Univ. of Michigan International Center and a graduate student in the School of Information.
William Nolting
is the former International Center Assistant Director, Education Abroad at the University of Michigan.

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