One of the great things about making the decision to teach English abroad is that there are so many options. A native English speaker with a college degree and a TEFL certification can teach English professionally in about 100 countries around the world. Those without a college degree or a passport from a native-English speaking country can qualify for thousands of positions in dozens of countries. That said, there are many variables to consider and questions that need to be answered for you make the best decisions to realize your dream of living abroad a reality. Here are some of the important ones.
As you begin the process of thinking about where you want to teach English abroad, look at the big picture and keep an open mind; you may find that there is not a single country that meets all of your criteria – don’t let this stop you from pursuing the international adventure of a lifetime!
1. What are my goals? What do I hope to get out of this experience?
Some people want to spend time in a certain country or city. Others want to learn a particular language, return to the homeland of their grandparents or simply to experience the adventure of living and traveling abroad for the first time. You will avail yourself to far more opportunities for a great international adventure by focusing on what you want to get out of the experience itself rather than just a particular destination.
2. Which countries offer teaching opportunities that I can qualify for?
There are more than 250,000 English teaching jobs in the non-English speaking world filled each year, but hiring standards, including degree and citizenship requirements and other factors that determine whether you will be qualified to teach (even with a TEFL certification) vary from country to country.
3. How much money do I need to earn teaching English abroad?
Will I be happy just to break even and cover my expenses? Or, do I need to make enough to save extra money to pay for student loans or extra travel?
In most countries in the world, first-time English teachers make enough to cover their bills and enjoy life, but don’t hold realistic expectations of putting savings in the bank at the end of the month. This is typical in Europe, Latin America and in North African Arab countries like Egypt and Morocco.
If you need to make enough to save $200 to $1,000 a month after expenses, consider opportunities in Asia countries like Korea, Taiwan and Japan, or perhaps teaching English in Persian Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia.
4. What will be my start-up costs for teaching English abroad in different countries and how will this affect where I want to teach?
Start-up costs for teaching English abroad can vary greatly depending on which TEFL course you take, any transportation costs that you may need to incur, and the financial resources you will need to support yourself in your teaching destination until you begin to get paid. This will largely be determined by the cost of living in that country and whether you will need to pay rent.
Typically, start-up costs are higher in Europe where living costs are higher and benefits like airfare and housing are not provided as they are in some Asian countries like Korea and China or Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia. Start-up costs for teaching English in Latin America typically fall somewhere in between as airfare and housing benefits are not typically provided, but living costs are low. The ITA Country Chart and Country Profiles provide estimated start-up costs (not including TEFL certification and airfare) for more than 50 countries around the globe.
5. Do I want to live in a location that has four seasons like most of Europe, China or Japan? Or, do I want to live in a locale that is warm or even hot year-round such as Costa Rica, Vietnam or Indonesia?
Matters like the weather may seem so basic and banal that they're easy to forget, but if you want to ski or you hate the cold, it definitely something to consider.
6. Do I want to travel to a country and interview locally in-person, or would I prefer to interview and get hired in advance from home prior to going abroad?
Some countries - including Argentina, Costa Rica and many Western European nations like Italy, Spain and Portugal - offer thousands of jobs for English teachers, but schools interview almost exclusively locally, meaning that to get hired, you need to travel to that country to interview and begin teaching. Some folks prefer this scenario as it enables them to meet potential employers face-to-face and to scout job opportunities in-person.
In other countries, including Asian nations like Korea, Japan and China, schools recruit and hire teachers from their country. In such cases, you will interview and sign a contract prior to leaving home. Many prefer the security of having a job lined up prior to going abroad.
Check out a Country Chart to learn in which countries schools interview locally and where they interview in advance.
Also, check out this article: Where will schools hire me in advance to teach English abroad?
7. Am I comfortable teaching English "under the table" without a work visa, or will I only work in a country where I can get a work permit or work visa?
In many countries, it is standard for foreign English teachers to receive a work visa, or work permit, that provides official permission for you to legally work in the country where you teach English abroad. In many other countries, schools employ thousands of Americans and other foreigners, but foreign teachers don't receive work visas - they typically enter the country on a tourist visa and then overstay it while working. This is not legal, but it is common and in many cases in the open. Such is the case in some major European countries such as Spain and Italy, as well as in many Latin American countries.
In many other countries, including most major Asian job markets such as Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan, it is typical that schools sponsor work visas for their teachers. This is also the case in Persian Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., and Qatar.
8. Do I want to teach English abroad in a location where there are other English speakers?
The prospect of moving to a new country where the language and culture is different can be daunting. For this reason, many first-time English teachers abroad find it comforting to live and work in an evironment where there are other English speakers to socialize with. Luckily for these folks, most jobs teaching English abroad are concentrated in large, cosmopolitan like Madrid, Seoul and Buenos Aires, where thousands of other Americans and native-English speakers live and work.
Others seek to have total immersion in the local language in culture. What do you prefer? It's something to consider when looking at destinations as well as specific schools to teach in.
9. Are there particular interests that I want to pursue?
Perhaps you want to learn a specific language or your passion in life is surfing, rock climbing or food photography. Think about what you want to experience outside of the classroom when looking at countries for teaching English abroad. At the same, remember that moving to a new country provides a perfect opportunity to discover new passions.
10. Can I actually see myself living in this country?
Ultimately, you have to decide - is country A,B, or C, a place where I can see myself living? This is not a question you should answer - especially for countries that aren't initially at the top of your list - without conducting serious research first.