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How Long Do People Teach English Abroad?
Learn the most common length of time people typically teach English overseas for as well as shorter and longer teaching contract options for staying abroad.
Written By: Shay Ames | Updated: June 29, 2023
Written By: Shay Ames
Updated: June 29, 2023
One great thing about earning your TEFL certification is that it never expires. So whether you choose to teach English abroad now or in three years, you have options. And with the ESL job market offering so much diversity and versatility when it comes to how long you can work in the field, your possibilities are truly endless.
Deciding How Long to Teach English Abroad
Let's start with a couple of the most frequently asked questions:
How long do people teach English abroad?
Many TEFL-certified teachers teach English abroad for one 10-12 month contract. However, it is not uncommon for ESL teachers to sign a second contract, and a minority will stay abroad longer and even teach in multiple countries. Those teaching on a freelance basis will have even more flexibility.
Can you teach English abroad forever?
With more than a billion people learning English, the demand for ESL teachers will be high for the foreseeable future and theoretically, you can teach English abroad long-term or even forever. Some countries may have age limits or mandatory retirement ages, but you can still likely teach English privately.
Some people teach English abroad for many years and will even make it their career, while others work simply over summers, part-time, or to fulfill a one-year contract. As a result, there are hundreds of thousands of ESL jobs worldwide, and teaching contracts for such jobs will vary from job to job, school to school, and region to region.
Here are some of the typical scenarios we’ve seen amongst our TEFL-certified alumni when it comes to how long they spend teaching English abroad:
1. The “one and done” ESL teacher
This option is very popular for those who get TEFL certified to teach English overseas. They move abroad to live and teach for a single teaching contract, typically 10-12 months in length. Many who teach abroad for a single year are not looking to make teaching a career but rather see teaching English as a path to earning a sustainable income that enables them to enjoy the experience of a lifetime living and traveling abroad for an extended period.
Teaching abroad for a single contract is common among those graduating from college and looking for a gap-year type adventure before entering the corporate world or graduate school. It is also a popular choice for those seeking to test out the education field before making it a career and with folks in need of a change of scenery from the 9-5 corporate grind.
If you're considering teaching English abroad for just a year, you'll have plenty of options. Thousands of language schools, private bilingual schools, and international schools worldwide hire on one-year contracts. Ten to 12-month contracts are standard in top Asian job markets like South Korea and Japan. Popular government programs in countries like Spain and France also offer one-year opportunities for those who qualify.
2. The “I Only Came for one year but just signed a second contract” ESL teacher
We see this very often. Many folks get certified and begin their TEFL journey with the mindset that they only want to teach abroad for a year. But once they get abroad, they feel as though their one year abroad went by way too quickly and they didn’t get to achieve everything they wanted to in that 12-month period. They love their job, the city/country they are currently living in, and the friends they have made and find themselves signing a second contract to stay on for another year without hesitation. This can go on for several years.
3. The “This Is My Career Now” ESL Teacher
This situation describes the veteran-type ESL teachers. They’ve been living and teaching English abroad for 4-5+ years, either in the same location/school or have switched jobs, perhaps even in multiple countries. They develop a true passion for teaching abroad, don’t particularly have any strong ties to lure them back home, and they’ve fully embraced the culture and lifestyle of their adopted home and life abroad. Given their ESL teaching experience, they seek out more senior roles and look to get promoted to an executive or managerial position within their school.
We’ve also seen ITA alumni gain university-level ESL teaching roles, which typically bring higher salaries and bonuses. And for those that are pro-active go-getters, we’ve even seen some of our alumni start their own ESL teaching businesses while abroad - private tutoring businesses, language schools, etc.!
4. The “Summer Fling” ESL Teacher
This scenario applies to probably the fewest TEFL graduates. They don’t want to commit to a year abroad and only see shorter teaching contracts. Enter summer camps.
In Europe, Latin America, and Asia, summer language camps offer 1-2 month opportunities to teach English to school-aged children. These opportunities are great for those looking for shorter stints overseas and those who enjoy working outdoors with children. Duties for those who work at English-language camps are often not limited solely to teaching English but usually entail leading and participating in typical summer camp activities like sports and arts.
Teaching English abroad at a summer camp may not pay much (if anything). Still, you can find great opportunities to spend a couple of months abroad, and any experience you gain will be a great addition to your resume, especially if you decide to teach English abroad or work with kids again at a later date.
Now that we've taken a look at the most common scenarios, let's dig into the most typical lengths of teaching contracts for paid TEFL positions based on region:
How Long Are TEFL Contracts For Teaching English Abroad?
How Long Do TEFL Contracts Last?
Different schools offer TEFL contracts of varying lengths depending on their business or academic calendar. Many offer contracts for one academic year, which is typically 10- 12 months, and renew contracts for teachers in good standing. Some schools and summer camps hire teachers for shorter periods.
Europe: 10 & 12 Months + Summer Camps
Most employers in Europe hire for a full year or 10 months, with the option to renew based on satisfactory performance. Some English teachers take time off during the regular summer holiday season (or work with private students) from July-August, when many language schools close for vacation, while others work at summer camps/classes through those months. Most language schools in Europe interview and hire new teachers in September (and into October in Spain) and again in January for positions that last to June.
Government programs, such as the assistantship programs in France and Spain, take applications in January (France) or March (Spain) for 7-9 month assignments that begin in August/September and last through May or June.
Summer camp positions (usually 4 - 8 weeks from June - August) are typically filled in the winter and spring. There are also many short-term volunteer opportunities as well, many of which entail living with a family and providing the children with English lessons.
Asia: 6-12 Months + Summer Camps
Most employers in Asia offer full-year contracts, with the option to renew. "Full year" usually means 10 - 12 months. There are a lot of perks to be found in the largest TEFL marketplace on the planet. 6 or 9-month contracts are sometimes offered in countries like China and Thailand. If you are looking for a contract in a country like South Korea, that includes free airfare and free housing, anticipate committing for 12 months.
There are also shorter-term, summer-month contracts. These short-term TEFL contracts can be found in some summer camps and summer schools. In Asia, the demand for English teachers is so high that schools and recruiters are interviewing and hiring year-round. In most cases (exceptions include schools in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam), schools in Asia will interview and hire you in advance from your home country and you will sign your contract prior to your departure for Asia.
Latin America: 6 & 12 Month Contracts
Most schools hiring English teachers in Latin America hire for 6 and 12 months with the option to renew. However, there can be other variations. In Nicaragua, for example, many language schools offer 6-8 week classes and will hire teachers between sessions (year-round) as needed, and will also hire teachers by the session
Are you from the northern hemisphere and want to have 2 summers in one year? Latin America is a great option for people who have less than 1 year at a time to teach abroad. You can even find regular 3-month contract lengths in Peru and many English teachers throughout the region work as independent contractors, which provides yet more freedom over how long they work at one school or in one particular location.
Middle East: 9-12 Months or 2 Years
Those seeking contracts to teach English in Persian Gulf countries of the Middle East like the United Arab Emirates (including Dubai and Abu Dhabi), Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman, should expect to sign 9-12 month contracts, or in some cases 24 months (2 years) contracts. Schools in these nations offer some great benefits for teaching in those countries, including free airfare, housing and paid vacation, and so anticipate signing on for at least a year to receive such benefits.
For shorter-term options in this region, look outside of the Persian Gulf Peninsula to North Africa, where you can find 6-month options more regularly in countries like Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia, particularly if you are in those countries interviewing for jobs in person.
Remember your TEFL/TESOL Certification is lifetime and recognized all around the world so you will have options! If you are interested in just working part-time, there are many language schools that will likely be keen to employ you and you can often find many private tutoring abroad and even in your home community in the U.S., Canada or wherever you may live. However, in many locations, bear in mind that you may need to work full-time to earn enough to support yourself.
Another way TEFL grads use their training is to add online English language teaching, which enables you to work part-time from anywhere in the world while honing your skills and adding an extra revenue stream to your bottom line, now to mention more experience on your resume.
Can I Leave My TEFL Contract Early?
Teaching English abroad is typically like any other field in that from time to time people need or want to leave their job before their contract is up and they are able to do so. As always, you want to handle such a situation in a professional manner (giving notice if at all possible, for example), and you need to be aware that you will lose pay and benefits and if you possess a work visa, it will likely be canceled.
In conclusion, however long you decide to teach English abroad, it is entirely up to you. There is no right or wrong length of time, and your experience will be what you make of it. And remember, your TEFL certification is lifetime and recognized worldwide. So if you decide to go home after only a year abroad and then eight months (or eight years!) down the track, realize you want to head back overseas again to teach, you have the freedom to do exactly that!
A senior Admissions Advisor with International TEFL Academy, Shay Ames has more than 12 years of high-level professional experience working in the fields of teaching English abroad & TEFL certification. In addition to personally helping more than 1,000 ITA students achieve their goals of teaching overseas, Shay has published numerous articles on the topics of teaching English abroad & TEFL certification. He also works extensively to build partnerships between International TEFL Academy and major institutions throughout international education.
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