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What Are the Differences Between the Peace Corps & Teaching Abroad?

Discover the nuances between joining the Peace Corps and teaching English abroad, including the distinct benefits and challenges of each pathway, their requirements, and how teaching English might benefit one's chances of joining the Peace Corps. 

If you’re a U.S. citizen over the age of 18 looking for a meaningful way to make an impact overseas, teaching English abroad and joining the Peace Corps are probably at the top of your list. There are many benefits to both opportunities, so as you’re comparing options it’s important to first understand the differences and similarities.

How Does Teaching English Abroad Differ From Joining the Peace Corps? 

While both are pathways to experiencing life overseas, Teaching English abroad involves cultural immersion and language instruction in diverse environments, while joining the Peace Corps is more service-based and focused on community development in foreign countries. 

Read More: Teach Abroad Overview

We outline each of the programs in a comprehensive table below including their main features, timelines, requirements, and what someone can expect in each career path. 

Key Differences and Similarities Between the Peace Corps and Teaching Abroad

  Peace Corps  Teaching English Abroad
Timeline Lengthy nomination and application process (9-12 months). You could be teaching abroad 3-6 months from starting your TEFL certification course.
Location Placement-based program in developing countries--you do not get to choose where you are placed, though you can indicate preferences. You can choose where you want to teach English abroad and which specific job you want to take (in most cases) -- there are more than 50 countries with thriving ESL markets.
Commitment A two-year time commitment in most cases. Typical contract lengths range from country to country, anywhere from 3 to 12-month commitments. If you want to renew a contract, the school will likely want you to and there are also many countries where you can work as a private tutor and/or teach English online, which gives you even more flexibility regarding how long you stay in a certain locale.
Benefits Volunteer-based, but housing, transportation, living stipend, and health care provided, as well as a completion bonus at the end of service. Paid teaching job, you’re working in another country. Some countries will provide housing, airfare, and insurance in addition to a salary.
Community You will likely be the only one or one of a few expats in your community, with a larger PCV community in the country where you’re placed. In most cases, you’ll have a large community of expats and other English teachers around you.
Requirements Most opportunities require a 4-year degree. There are more than a dozen markets that do not require a 4-year degree to teach English as long as you have a TEFL certification.
Training Training is 3 months. An online TEFL course is eleven weeks or an in-person intensive course is 4 weeks.
Rougher, grittier conditions in 3rd world countries. Sometimes very rural. Comfortable living conditions, sometimes paid for by employers.
Finances It’s called a volunteer program for a reason. The stipend provides enough to live in that developing country, but you won’t come back with any savings. Many locations allow opportunities to save a lot of money, while others break even and you live a comfortable lifestyle working and traveling abroad.
Alumni More than 240,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps Volunteers. More than 45,000 ITA alumni and a large community to connect with before heading abroad.


ITA Grad Mira Winograd with students in Costa Rica

In summary, with both opportunities, you’re improving the lives of others and having a truly immersive experience living abroad! Furthermore, there are some benefits to getting TEFL certified before joining the Peace Corps.

3 Reasons to Get TEFL Certified If You Want to Join the Peace Corps

Getting a TEFL certification can improve your prospects of joining the Peace Corps by:

  • Improving your chances of being accepted into the Peace Corps
  • Practicing your curriculum-building and classroom skills
  • Providing ample amounts of opportunities outside of the program

In the below paragraphs, we dive further into these three points and outline why they are beneficial to any Peace Corps applicant. 


1. Improve Your Chances of Joining the Peace Corps  

Even if you’re just beginning your research, you probably know that the Peace Corps is competitive, and the application process is no joke. Teaching English abroad is a great way to get your feet wet living abroad before going into an intensive placement program like the Peace Corps. A big bonus is that the TEFL certification will make you more competitive in your application to the Peace Corps.

Getting into the Peace Corps can be a very competitive process akin to applying for a place at a prestigious university or college. A TEFL certification will make you more competitive because it shows you have training in teaching English, something useful and very relevant in many of the Peace Corps placement locations.

ITA Alum teaching English in South Africa

2. Practice Your Classroom Skills for the Peace Corps

A very high percentage of Peace Corps assignments incorporate education (it’s their largest program area), particularly English language instruction. So not only will getting a TEFL certification greatly enhance your opportunities to be accepted into this prestigious volunteer program, but it will help you be a bit more comfortable and prepared for the experience.

It will also provide you with the skills you need to run an English class in a foreign country where you will encounter cultural and linguistic differences.  Understanding the basic principles of lesson planning, classroom management, teaching grammar, and other basic teaching skills will make your life as an English teacher abroad (whether in the Peace Corps, an NGO, or not) far more rewarding and successful.

ITA grad Chelsea Johnson - Teaching English in Nicaragua“...gaining experience living in Nicaragua helped me get the job I have now. When I started my job with Global Glimpse, an NGO that brings groups of students from the U.S. to Nicaragua for three-week educational programs, I had already been living in Nicaragua for six months. This definitely gave me an edge when applying for the job because I spoke Nicaraguan Spanish and understood the customs, which helps me be a better cultural bridge between my US students and their host country.”

- ITA grad Chelsea Johnson, ESL Teacher and NGO Volunteer


International TEFL Academy certifies more than 5,000 new English teachers a year--more than the number of new Peace Corps Volunteers each year. So, if you’re like our alumna Chelsea Johnson, a TEFL certification and teaching abroad are a great way to boost your career opportunities whether you choose to apply to the Peace Corps or another organization! 

ITA alum volunteering with the Peace Corps

3. Give Yourself Opportunities Outside of the Peace Corps

Say for whatever reason the Peace Corps doesn't work out for you. Maybe circumstances in your life change, or God forbid you aren't accepted?! If you have an accredited TEFL certification you'll still be qualified for thousands of professional teaching opportunities in dozens of nations around the globe. Your TEFL certification won't expire, and if you take your TEFL class with International TEFL Academy, you'll have lifetime access to comprehensive Job Search Guidance.


A Note for Peace Corps Returnees

Already spent time serving in the Peace Corps and now looking to make your English teaching experience more official for jobs in other countries? International TEFL Academy offers a scholarship for Peace Corps returnees who want to complete their TEFL certification - contact your ITA Admissions Advisor to learn more.


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