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Can I Teach English Abroad with a Criminal Record?


Will My Criminal Record Keep Me From Teaching English Abroad?


OK, so you’ve had some problems with the long arm of the law.

Many of us have had "had our fun" especially while underage and/or in college.  Whether it's a speeding ticket here or there, some open alcohol at a street party during college homecoming, some pranks involving toilet paper, the Dean's car and a cow (oops, TMI), many of us have had a bit too much fun and have gotten into trouble. 

You may have made some mistakes in the past, paid your dues to society, and are now wondering if those past transgressions are going to prevent you from living your dream of teaching English abroad.


giant gavel teaching english abroad with a criminal record

All hope is not lost! In fact, while some governments and schools require background checks and will not permit employment of those with any criminal record that shows up in a background check, the list of countries and schools where you can still work is probably a lot longer than you might have imagined. In addition, just because a school requires a criminal background for employment, or a government requires that one be submitted before issuing a work visa, does not always mean that you will not receive employment opportunities.  In many cases, minor, non-violent and juvenile offenses will not be an obstacle to getting a job.


Latin America & Europe - In some countries, particularly in Latin America and Europe, where many English teachers are hired locally as independent contractors who are paid by the hour, a criminal background check may never be requested at all, though some individual schools may request one. 


Government Programs - Major government-operated programs that recruit Americans and other native English speakers to work as teaching assistants in France and Spain, do not require a national level criminal background check, but still may request one.


Asia & the Middle East - Notable countries where a background check is required for foreign English teachers to receive a visa include South Korea and Vietnam. Background checks are also commonly requested in many Persian Gulf states in the Middle East.


In Japan, an FBI background check is required to participate in the Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme (JET) if you have ever been arrested, charged and/or convicted of any offense  other than minor traffic violations, including any juvenile offenses.

teach English in Asia

A criminal background check is not required to receive a work visa to teach English in Japan, but many schools will require it.  This is also the case in Thailand, China, Taiwan, Indonesia and Hong Kong.


South Korea – To get a work visa for teaching English in South Korea you will be required to submit a recent national background check administered by the FBI (U.S.), the RCMP (Canada), etc. That means that if you ran into trouble in the past, there’s no way around it - any offence above the level of a minor traffic violation that turns up in a national background check will prevent you from receiving a work visa. In the past it was possible to have a background check processed in another state/province where your record was clean but the South Koreans  are wise to the game and now require a national background check.


You may think something such as a minor in possession charge might not be a big deal for a country where inebriation is often used as justification for poor behavior in a court of law, but a foreign English teacher with a criminal history is not something the South Koreans look favorably on and even a DUI will disqualify you from receiving a work visa to teach English.


To learn more about criminal background checks required for teaching English in Korea, please read: How do I obtain a work visa to teach English in South Korea?



Like South Korea, Vietnam is going to require the same national background check to get a work visa. However, things tend to be more lenient in Vietnam and having a DWI or an MIP on your record does not mean you have to cross the country off your list. In Vietnam they are more concerned with bringing someone into the country that has a criminal record that involves violent crimes or crimes against children.


The bottom line is that if you want to teach English in Asia, you probably want to get a national background check, whether you have a record or not.


So what to do if you have a criminal record?

  • Call International TEFL Academy at 773-634-9900 to speak with expert advisor about your specific situation and where you want to teach English abroad.  We want to make sure you do not sign up for a TEFL class under any incorrect assumptions of where you can teach.

  • Request a criminal background check from the FBI (or the equivalent of a national background check in your home country). It costs about $18 and will take several weeks (or even a couple of months) to get back, but you may need it to apply for various jobs and it will enable you to see what is actually on your record.

  • In an offence pops up on your record, look into the possibility of having it expunged. This is often possible if your offence was minor, occurred in the mid-to-distant pass, or was a juvenile offence. We’re here to help you see the world, not give legal advice, so you’ll have to check with your lawyer for more information.

So you’ve checked your record and there’s a blemish there that you can’t get rid of. This may mean that a couple of countries like South Korea may be off the table So what are your options?

A.)  Stay home.

B.)  Take a look at our World Country chart and pick one of the 48 other countries where you can probably teach with a record.  Be prepared to to be flexible in your destination and speak to a TEFL Advisor to discuss your options.


Choosing between A. and B. is an easy decision….choosing where you want to teach is going to be a little tougher.

Photo credit - gavel:Sam Howzit

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Thanks for your post. I have almost found myself on the verge of tears when i started my research for this bc i thought 'are you serious?? I'm going to have to pay for some stupid thing I did 9 years ago??' I've done so much more w my life since then, i was in a different place mentally. It really sucks that people or the documented criminals that want more from life are still being judged by some. But thanks for the article. It has given me hope and I'm calling that number.
Posted @ Tuesday, July 16, 2013 6:18 PM by Drou
to anyone with a record, I was able to work in south korea the past year with a record. I have a low lvl misdemeanor on my fbi check. I worked with a recruiter and he had me do some additional references and it all worked out. I taught for a year in Seoul and loved it. there is a huge demand over there. just keep at it.  
Posted @ Thursday, September 26, 2013 7:48 PM by Dan
Hi. I am interested in becoming an ESL teacher. I have a BA but do not have a TEFL certification yet. The thing that is holding me back is my felony. It was for a very violent crime. It's been 7 years since it happened. I have tried to get it expunged but no luck. Are there any teaching options for me in any country?
Posted @ Saturday, September 28, 2013 10:08 AM by Jack
Latin America may be your best option. Speak with your advisor for further details. 
Posted @ Monday, September 30, 2013 8:45 AM by International TEFL Academy
Very informative post, gives me hopes. I have a drink driving conviction on my record which was less than a year ago, although I am hoping to teach in over a years time. The offence in the UK is a criminal offence, whereas I'm fairly sure the same in the US is considered non-criminal conviction? So I am wondering if this will be treated differently because of the way the UK treats it. I want to teach in Asia, preferably Vietnam or China, would have been Korea, but seems like that is not an option. any information on this particular charge would be appreciated. Thanks.
Posted @ Friday, October 11, 2013 3:13 PM by Nick
It beyond hard to find decent employment in Texas as a felon. I have a controlled substance and marijuana felonies including some misdemeanors. I taught GED classes in prison and something like this would be perfect for me and I love culture!!I have some college also. How would I go about loking into something like teaching English Abroad over seas??
Posted @ Thursday, November 21, 2013 1:18 AM by mike
Wonderful and hope inspiring! Thanks! My offense was only a misdemeanor DUI so this is wonderful for me, but I also want to encourage all who have a criminal or youthfully indiscriminate past to keep at seeking greater things.
Posted @ Monday, November 25, 2013 9:19 PM by Clint
I am set to graduate next year after doing a BA in social inclusion meaning I will have a degree that has focused on both recognizing and teaching people with learning difficulties. I was Hoping I could teach in South Korea as I have heard alot of good stuff about it and was hoping to take my children with me. one old enough to care for the other while I work firstly does anyone know about scholing laws there and weather i could home teach my child or if there are english spoken schools my girl could go to if she had to and the cost of this ? also I unfortunately have a colorful juvenile record all part of being in the care system and also one or two low level convictions as an adult that were committed 24 years ago is there no way that my specialization in children who are not achieving might win over the the criminal record I have recently worked with children and other vulnerable people here I am so keen to work in south Korea! all criminal convictions are spent but unfortunately I do have a juvenile conviction of assaulting a teacher for saying I wil never get far in life. if only I could get to Korea to prove that wrong :-/
Posted @ Thursday, December 05, 2013 2:32 PM by Alison
Great post! Thank you so much for the information! I am fighting two DUI charges at the moment in Germany but not sure what the outcome is going to be. Hopefully I can still get back to Thailand to teach and it won't affect my visa application.
Posted @ Saturday, January 18, 2014 7:09 AM by Rebecca
I was two felonies (embezzlement and forgery) from 8 years ago. I just graduated with my Masters in Computer Science and would love to teach. Would I be able to find teaching work abroad? If so, what region(s)?
Posted @ Friday, February 07, 2014 8:34 PM by Jared
Hi Jared, 
Your best bet would be Latin America or parts of Europe. We can assist you with employment opportunities once you complete your TEFL certification with us.  
Posted @ Sunday, February 09, 2014 7:03 PM by ITA
Great post! I plan on teaching English abroad hopefully by this year. My question is that I've had a DWIL (Driving WIth a Invalid Licsence) but it was dismissed and all charges dropped. I do have a minor traffic tickets but that has all been paid off. I've been arrested for a P.I. (public intoxication) but that was dissmissed. How are my chances of teaching in South Korea or any other places in Asia? Basically I want to know what my options are. Any feedback is appreciated. Thanks!
Posted @ Wednesday, April 16, 2014 2:08 PM by Andy
I was convicted of a misdemeanor petty-theft shoplifting charge in 1993 in Virginia, one of two or three states that NEVER allows an expungement of anything. So this is following me around, especially so since there are sites out there like Intellius that just anyone can access anywhere using my rather-unique name. I've gone to jobs I was qualified for and didn't require a check, only to have one of my colleagues do a late-night search of my name behind my back and then get me fired almost immediately. This has happened twice, and I'm tired of it. What can I do? I can't get this crap off my record, thanks to Virginia's draconian law and sites like Intellius.
Posted @ Sunday, April 27, 2014 11:16 AM by thane kerner
So I have a minor misdemeanor for disorderly conduct while I was in college. I know the article says minor offenses aren't that big of a deal. I just want affirmation that this may not be that huge of a deal if I go to Vietnam to teach. Would getting it expunged help?
Posted @ Thursday, May 22, 2014 7:03 PM by Stephanie
I am currently in the process of gathering all the paperwork to try to teach in Korea with an F4 visa. In the state of Virginia if you go over 80mph it's automatically reckless driving for speeding and it's a Class 1 misdemeanor. Is this something I could work with a recruiter to be able to teach in Korea??
Posted @ Friday, July 25, 2014 6:41 PM by Jane
Hi Jane, 
If you are one of our TEFL class graduates we can assist you. If you have not become TEFL certified contact us for information on our training:
Posted @ Friday, July 25, 2014 6:44 PM by International TEFL Academy
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