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Can You Teach English Abroad with a Criminal Record?

Let's look at your options for teaching English abroad when you have a criminal record and see to what extent your past mistakes may prevent you from teaching English in certain countries.

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Will having a criminal record stop 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.  

Can You Be an English Teacher with a criminal Record Overseas?

In many cases, minor, non-violent and juvenile offenses will not be an obstacle to getting an English teaching job overseas.

While some governments and schools require background checks and will not permit the 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. 

All hope is not lost - So let's take a look at where you can teach English abroad with a criminal record.

Where Can You Teach with a Criminal Record?

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. However, it is worth noting that 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. 


Countries Where It Is Difficult to Teach with a Criminal Record

Asia & the Middle East

Notable countries where a background check is required for foreign English teachers to receive a visa include South Korea, Thailand, China, Taiwan, 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 Program (JET) if you have ever been arrested, charged and/or convicted of any offense other than minor traffic violations, including any juvenile offenses.

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 CambodiaIndonesia 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. This means that if you ran into trouble in the past, there’s no way around it - any offense 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.


What To Do If You Have a Criminal Record and Want to Teach English Abroad

  • Are you looking to take a TEFL certification course? Get in touch with International TEFL Academy at 773-634-9900 or via this form to speak with an 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;
  • Take a look at our World Country chart and pick one of the 60+ other countries where you can probably teach with a record. Be prepared to be flexible in your destination and speak to a TEFL Advisor to discuss your options;
  • 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;
  • If an offense pops up on your record, look into the possibility of having it expunged. This is often possible if your offense was minor, occurred in the mid-to-distant past, or was a juvenile offense. 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.

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