English Teacher Outfit: What is the Dress Code for Teaching Abroad?

What is appropriate for a teacher to wear? Are piercings and tattoos okay? Find out what dress code you should follow as an English teacher abroad.

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The dress code for English teachers abroad is truly going to vary from country to country and more specifically, from school to school. Let's dive in.

Teaching Clothes: What to Wear When Teaching English Abroad?

What do English Teachers Wear?

Some schools will require business attire (a shirt and a tie, or even a suit, for men and a pantsuit or skirt and dress shirt/jacket for women). On the other end of the spectrum, some schools will be perfectly fine with teachers wearing very casual clothes like a basic t-shirt and jeans.

What is Appropriate for a Teacher to Wear?

As a general rule of thumb, whether you are interviewing for a teaching job or are showing up for work, err on the side of professional and conservative attire until you hear otherwise from your school.

What to Wear For English Teaching Job Interviews

Ask yourself, what would I wear to an interview for a professional teaching job in my home country? Chances are the answer to that question for most people is professional business attire and the same thing goes for when you’re interviewing for English teaching positions abroad.

Two English teachers wearing business attireIn an interview, you are “selling” your teaching services to a school and first impressions are important. You want to make sure to give the impression that you care, you are professional, you are serious about the position, and you are not some backpacker off the street. Even if you find out after the interview that the school has a more casual dress code, they will appreciate your effort to impress and take the interview seriously. It is much better to be over-dressed for an interview rather than underdressed.

Will you be interviewing for your job by Skype or some other virtual medium? If so, you should still make every effort to appear as professional as possible.

*Pro Tip! If it is required by an employer to submit a headshot with your resume, use a headshot with professional attire.

Can Teachers Have Tattoos and Piercings/Gauges?

Be aware that tattoos and facial piercings are still quite taboo to many people whether in your home country or abroad. This is especially true for teaching positions in a business or corporate environment, or for positions of authority in a school teaching children. In many cases, you are getting hired to serve as a role model and as a public face of your school in addition to providing English language instruction.

Teaching English abroad with tattoos is a question we get often, however. Tattoos and facial piercings are becoming more common across the globe, and I personally know MANY people that have taught abroad with tattoos and/or piercings without an issue. Half of the staff at International TEFL Academy have tattoos! Those rascally hooligans!

That said, having an exposed tattoo or “unique” piercing/gauge could dissuade a school or employer from hiring you. In some cases, schools even have a strict “no exposed tattoos/facial piercings policy”. 

Therefore, if you have exposed tattoos, cover them up when possible to be on the safe side; at least initially until you learn about the policies of your school. If you have a facial piercing, the safest option would be to remove the piercing, but if that is not something you are willing to do, be aware that it could put some schools off.

The other point to consider with tattoos and piercings is the extent of which they are on your body. If your entire body is covered in tattoos or you have a visible facial tattoo, and there is no way to reasonably cover them, chances are that many schools will be wary of hiring you. The same thing goes with piercings; if you have nine piercings across your bottom lip, you’re likely not going to be projecting the image a school is looking for.

an English teacher wearing business casual clothes

Facial Hair as an English Teacher Overseas

As with the overall theme of dress attire, a conservative and clean cut is usually the best policy. Many schools will simply not care one way or another if you have a short or even long beard, but if you want to set yourself up for the most chances of success, consider shaving that beard or those mutton chop sideburns. If you simply can’t part ways with that beard, at least try cleaning it up.

Dress Code for Teaching Business Professionals/Adults vs Kids

Many times, if your school primarily teaches business professionals/adults, they will expect you to dress in more professional attire, whereas if your school primarily teaches children, casual attire might be more acceptable.

English Teacher Outfits: Additional Tips & Advice

Be Aware of Local Cultural Norms

Expectations for dress and appearance will vary by region and culture. 

If you're planning to teach English in Japan with tatoos, for example, you will find schools that prohibit teachers from having visible tattoos. This is largely due to the cultural association tattoos have with the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia). And, throughout many East Asian societies (China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, & Taiwan, for example), a clean-cut look is generally typically preferred.

In more conservative Islamic societies, like Saudi Arabia for example, female teachers may be expected to cover their hair (in addition to arms & legs), particularly when teaching at a local girls' school. However, if you are teaching in an international school to other expatriates, such requirements may not be in place. And, in a country like Egypt or Tunisia, such requirements are far less common. Again, it's just going to vary country to country and school to school.

Pro Tip! When interviewing for positions, almost anywhere in the world, you can often speak to another staff member at the school and you can ask them about what dress and appearance expectations the school has.  

Also, once you have enrolled in your International TEFL Academy TEFL Course, you can network on Facebook with thousands of ITA alumni teaching English around the globe and you can ask them about matters such as expectations for dress & appearance in countries where they teach. 

a classroom of ESL teacher in business attire

My Personal Experience as an English Teacher in Korea

I taught English to children from 5-15 years old at two different schools in South Korea and both schools did not have very strict dress codes. Some teachers chose to dress more professionally whereas others would regularly wear jeans and a nice t-shirt (don’t be that person that comes to work in an old, dirty, and worn out t-shirt if t-shirts are allowed). However, there were certain days or special occasions when a dress shirt and tie or even a suit were required so having those items in my wardrobe did absolutely come in handy.

Pro Tip! If you forget to bring certain clothing articles like a tie, dress shirt, and/or suit with you abroad, you will be able to find those items in the country where you decide to teach if needed.

Go further: What are the requirements for teaching English abroad?


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