Generally speaking, there are no rigid age limits to teach English abroad, but every country or school has different requirements and/or restrictions. A common misconception is teaching English abroad is only for somebody 21 years old and more or less an extension of a study abroad program.
While a large number of teachers abroad are in their early 20s as they are more mobile in their life after college, teaching jobs are professional positions and many schools are looking for a level of maturity and both life and professional experience (even if it's not necessarily in teaching) when they hire English teachers. Also, bear in mind that as many as 50% or more of English classes held around the world each year are classes for adults, often in the business and corporate realm.
Although some schools abroad prefer new English teachers to be in their 20s and 30s (especially when working with children), people have found jobs teaching English abroad well into their 60s and even 70s. Many schools will even prefer more mature and experienced teachers.
On the other end of the spectrum, most English schools want their teachers to be at least 21 years old, but in some countries, especially in Latin America, qualified teachers that are 18, 19, and 20 have been able to successfully find employment. If younger teachers want to be taken seriously, they must be prepared to behave in a professional and mature manner both when interviewing for positions to teach English abroad, and when they actually begin their job.
Younger teachers are also more likely to find opportunities teaching with volunteer programs, summer camps, and possibly as a nanny, baby-sitter or au pair that also tutors children in English.
NOTE: Your TEFL certification & access to Job Search Guidance from International TEFL Academy don't expire, so if you get certified when 18 or 19, more opportunities will become available to you as you move on into your 20s & beyond.
Factors in Ageism:
There are many factors that contribute to age limitations when teaching English abroad, and sometimes it is a visa issue. Some countries are not permitted to give visas to teachers above the age of 60 or 65 due to compulsory retirement ages in that nation. In other instances potential employers may hold fears that older teachers may not be up to the job physically or that they may not be able to adjust to living in a new country and culture. In some cases, it's just a matter of school administration deciding that a staff of younger teachers in their 20s and 30s is more marketable.
Here is a useful website that outlines country specific age limits for destinations around the globe. There are also personal accounts from a variety of mature teachers.
Tips for More Mature Teachers Looking to Teach English Abroad
- Consider different regions (especially Latin America & be flexible! There are always exceptions with teaching English abroad, and there are people well into their sixties teaching English in most non-native English speaking countries throughout the world. Latin American nations like Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, Panama, Chile, etc. tend to have the fewest (if any) age restrictions for older English teachers. ITA highly recommends that you consider Latin America as an option, not only because there are fewer age restrictions, but because these countries offer tremendous opportunities for you to have a great international experience, and they tend to be very welcoming to retirees and other prospective English teachers from the U.S., Europe & elsewhere.
- Asian job markets can be challenging for older teachers (though not impossible). Some countries, like South Korea for example, tend to prefer teachers in their 20s and 30s in the private sector, the public schools will hire into the mid 50s (especially those with teaching experience). Teachers older than 50 find it much more difficult to find jobs. Most Asian countries like China, Thailand, Cambodia, or Vietnam maintain official retirement ages of 55-60 that have been increasingly enforced in recent years. That said, official policy and reality on the ground are not always the same, and if you are patient and flexible you can be successful, particularly if you have a degree, prior teaching experience or if you are already legally living in the country where you want to teach.
- Be prepared to interview in person. Schools in countries where more mature English teachers can count on success typically require teachers to interview on location. More than half of the world’s English teaching jobs require in-person interviews for all candidates regardless of age or citizenship. One reason why schools may be reluctant to hire older teachers is that they don’t have as much confidence in their physical health/abilities. Whether you are teaching in the United States, Thailand, or Ecuador, teaching any subject can be physically and mentally demanding. Interviewing in person and showing that you are in good health is important in many cases.
- Plan on breaking even financially. Unless you are an experienced teacher headed to the Middle East, most mature English teachers abroad should not count on saving any significant amount of money. Although, there certainly are many teachers abroad in their 50s and 60s earning and saving substantial amounts of money, if you go into teaching English overseas with the assumption that you are going to be saving a great deal of your paycheck, you will be in for a lot of let-downs. Also, don’t depend on supporting other family members financially while teaching English abroad. This is particularly the case if you have do not have a professional background in education.
- Health insurance: In some countries your school or the government will provide health insurance and/or health care (deducted from your paycheck). However, in many cases, health insurance is not provided for teachers so it is important to investigate international health care options while you plan your move abroad. The good news is that international health care and health insurance is usually much less than it is here in the United States.
- Expect a challenge but it’s not impossible. Unfortunately, going abroad to teach English in your 50s, 60s, and 70s is not as easy or accommodating for a variety of reasons. However, if you have an open mind and are flexible to the countries that appreciate veteran teachers you will have many different options. Younger teachers are willing to go to many countries and interview face to face and work split shift hours for a livable but modest salary and you will need to be realistic with yourself to do the same. More mature teachers with a positive attitude an open-mind, and a will to succeed are usually very successful teaching English abroad.
Whether you are 25 or 65, teaching English abroad is almost always an extremely rewarding and life-changing experience. However, as an older English teacher abroad you will need to be up for the challenges and not take hiring preferences personally and go where the hiring culture and job market appreciate the experience and talents you will bring to the job.
- Additional Notes & Tips: Those with previous professional teaching experience and other advanced credentials will have an easier time finding opportunities than those who don't and will also be able to find more lucrative opportunities as well.
- Also, if you already legally live abroad in the country where you wish to teach, it will likely be much easier for you to find teaching opportunities, including giving private lessons.
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