When choosing where you want to work, you should take the following list of factors into account:
Pay: TEFL / TESOL wages are quite variable worldwide. See Teach English Worldwide’s “Wages & Salaries” and regional summaries sections for more info on TEFL / TESOL industry pay.
Job Availability: TEFL / TESOL jobs, while plentiful overall, are harder to find in some countries than in others. The time of year also influences job availability. In Western Europe, for example, most jobs start in September/October because schools are trying to fill positions for the new academic year (There are also vacancies in Western Europe in January). Make sure you know the peak hiring periods for the countries you are considering. Visit our Regional Summaries sections for more info.
Visa and Work Permit Requirements: Each country has its own visa and work permit laws. You should begin to investigate these requirements several months before your departure to ensure that your paperwork will be processed in time. Working without a visa or work permit is also a possibility in some countries, but you will generally not receive the same job security, benefits, or pay as your legal colleagues. In addition, some countries have stiff legal penalties for illegal workers, while others rarely enforce work permit requirements. See Teach English Worldwide’s “Visa and Work Permit Requirements” section for more details.
Living Conditions: Those of us living in modern, industrialized nations often take many daily conveniences for granted. In other parts of the world, however, these conveniences are viewed as luxuries. You should investigate things like housing standards, access to modern communications, sanitation services, access to modern healthcare facilities, etc. for any country you are considering.
Typical Working Conditions: Workplace standards also vary by country and culture, and might influence where you will prefer to work. Things to investigate include: average pay; whether you are paid wages or a salary; average workload; average vacation time; standard benefits (medical insurance, housing, paid travel to and from the country, etc.)
Climate and Environment: Another factor is the weather and natural environment of your intended destination(s). If you are an outdoor person, or are hoping to visit the beach every day after class, this factor might very important for you.
Native Language: You may want to pick a country because you already speak the language there, and so will be able to more easily adapt to your new environs. Alternatively, you may choose a country whose language you do not speak, but that you are keen on studying.
Proximity to your native country: If you need or want to be returning to your home country on a regular basis, this factor may be an important one for you.
Travel and Tourist opportunities: The desire to travel and see the world is one of the most common reasons people decide to teach English overseas. If this is your case, you should consider the travel opportunities in and around the countries you are considering.
Health and Safety Concerns: Unfortunately, epidemics, military conflicts, ethnic violence, recurring natural disasters, and other problems continue to plague many areas of the world. You will want to investigate any potential risks to your health or safety before moving to a new country. **In an increasing number of areas, anti-Western (and particularly anti-American) attitudes should also be considered.
NOTE: Despite the importance of carefully deciding where you want to go, there is no reason you have to stay in a particular country or school if they are not right for you. One of the best aspects of teaching English overseas is that it affords you incredible job flexibility and work opportunities in hundreds of countries.
And now the question on everyone’s mind … how much will you get paid?!
First things first, you should be aware that you will probably not get rich teaching English. Secondly, pay scales vary widely depending on the country in which you are teaching, and so getting an accurate idea of how much you will make depends entirely on where you decide to go.
In most countries, beginning TEFL / TESOL teachers will be able to live comfortably, and still save enough to enjoy their vacations and free-time. However, only a few countries (mainly in Asia and the Middle East) have job markets that will allow you to save significant amounts of money (e.g. $500-$1,000 per month) and still live well.
Teach English Worldwide Tip: In most countries, it is common to supplement your earnings with private English students, which you teach in addition to your regular classes. Once you have adjusted to life in the new country and gotten a feel for the private student market, this could become an important additional source of income for you.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you must compare any wages to current exchange rates and to the country’s average cost of living. By checking out the exchange rate, you will be able to figure out how far your savings will go once you arrive in the country. $1,000, for example, will not last long in the United States, but it will allow you to live for many months in some less-developed Asian countries. Likewise, by investigating a country’s relative cost of living, you will be able ascertain the purchasing power and relative value of your future wages. For example, the Czech Republic pays relatively small salaries to beginning teachers. However, because the cost of living is so cheap there, one can live comfortably in the center of Prague on an English teacher’s salary.
Western Europe is one of the TEFL / TESOL world’s most popular destinations. Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, Italy, and Greece are the region’s larger TEFL / TESOL markets and the most common landing points for would-be TEFL / TESOL teachers. Job availability and labor regulations vary somewhat within this group, but they are all viable alternatives if you are willing to be persistent during your job search.
For EU citizens or EU passport holders, there are many job opportunities, but also competition for the most desirable positions. EU citizenship will allow you to automatically work legally in each EU member country, and thus make it easier to find employment.
Jobs in the majority of Western Europe start in September or October, which is the beginning of the new academic year. In addition, some positions usually open in January or March, because some teachers invariably fail to return from the holidays, or new students decide to join the school. Some posts may be available other times of the year, but if you arrive during off-peak hiring times, you will probably need a number of weeks to obtain an optimum number of hours.
For Americans and Canadians, finding work in Western Europe is a more difficult proposition. This is because non-EU citizens must obtain a visa and work permit to work legally in the country. To obtain a work permit, an employer within the country in question must sponsor you. If you have professional experience in TEFL / TESOL or a related field, this may be possible. However, sponsorships are not easy to come by, and you typically need to have worked (without a work permit) for the employer before they will be ready to invest the time and money helping you obtain papers.
Nevertheless, Yankees and Canucks don’t despair! There are currently thousands of Americans and Canadians working in Western Europe – both with and without work permits.
You should be aware, however, that without working papers you will generally not receive the same job security, benefits, or pay as your legal colleagues. In addition, some countries have stiff legal penalties for illegal workers, while others rarely enforce work permit requirements. See Teach English Worldwide’s “Visa and Work Permit Requirements” section for more details.
Non-EU citizens should first assess their options for obtaining a work permit and visa in Western Europe. Check to see if you have parents or grandparents through whom you can obtain EU citizenship. If any members of your immediate family recently emigrated from a European country, you may be able to obtain legal status through them. Contact the country’s embassy for more information.
Another way to obtain a work permit is through various government-sponsored teacher placement programs. Americans can take advantage of such programs in France
(Teach English in France | Paid Teaching Jobs and Programs (transitionsabroad.com), Austria, and Finland. These programs normally provide you with a work permit and visa for up to 1 year, along with guaranteed work and pay. One downside of these programs is that they often require you to apply as much as 1 year in advance.
If you do not have European relatives or an employer willing to sponsor you, working illegally is a more difficult (but viable) option. Teachers can usually earn a comfortable salary working a variety of non-contract jobs for private language schools, and by giving lessons to private students. Most major cities in Western Europe have large numbers of private language schools and there are always some schools willing to pay cash to teachers without working papers. Your best bet is to personally visit as many of these schools as possible. Dress professionally, and bring a CV, your TEFL / TESOL certificate, a copy of your passport, and a copy of your university diploma with you. Also be prepared to give a sample lesson and be quizzed on grammar points.
Many teachers (both with and without work permits) supplement their income with private students. To attract new students, try posting fliers in areas that professional people are likely to frequent, contacting businesses that might have English clients or associates, and networking with everyone you meet.
Central and Eastern Europe have increasingly developed English teaching industries. If you have obtained a respected TEFL / TESOL certificate, you should be able to find work relatively easily, and possibly even arrange a job before you arrive.
The best pay and most comfortable living conditions are in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary. Prague and Budapest are popular destinations for both tourists and TEFL / TESOL teachers, and the best job opportunities in the region can be found in these historic cities. Poland is a quite easy job market to enter, but salaries are somewhat lower.
Much of the rest of Central and Eastern Europe is still in a substantial state of flux. As former Soviet countries make the difficult transition to free market economies, demand for English is growing by leaps and bounds. However, their economies are still very weak, and steady jobs and decent pay are hard to find. Russia, Ukraine, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania all possess at least limited TEFL / TESOL industries. Some of the poorer nations in this group are primarily served by volunteer organizations.
Asia is another hot spot for aspiring TEFL / TESOL teachers. The region’s high salaries and the West’s continuing fascination with Asian society and culture are two major factors in this trend.
The advanced economies of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and most recently China, all generate a big demand for English in their respective societies. This demand helps ensure decent (and sometimes fantastic) wages for thousands of English teachers in the region. You should find it quite easy to find a job in any of these four countries if you posses a college degree and a TEFL / TESOL certificate. The demand is so high in certain areas that you might be able to get a job even without these minimum requirements (although your pay and working conditions will likely suffer as a result). These countries are also some of the few in the world where English teachers can actually save considerable amounts of money (possibly as much as $500-$1,000/month). Many jobs can be arranged in advance via the internet, while arriving in person might be necessary in the most popular destinations.
Working conditions and job benefits are also very good. You should expect that your employer will pay for at least part of your airfare, and will provide you with comfortable housing or a rent subsidy. Health insurance, adequate vacation time, and other perks might also be included. However, attractive compensation packages like these will be somewhat offset by the high costs of living in many of Asia’s modern cities (see Teach English Worldwide’s “Wages & Salaries” section for a comparison of living costs).
English teachers in Asia normally teach in private language institutes and/or give lessons to private students. There are also some well-established programs (like Japan’s JET program – JET Programme.), which place teachers in public schools teaching children and adolescents.
Japan has the most established economy and English teaching industry in the region. The extremely high wages it can offer makes the English job market there very competitive. Because of this competitiveness, you need to pay attention to school hiring cycles – the best times to arrive are late March or August. The cost of living in Japan is also very high, which you should take into account when comparing salaries with other countries.
South Korea has a very developed TEFL / TESOL market and it is easier to find work here than in Japan. The pay is generally lower than in Japan, but still substantial. Teaching English to children and adolescents is the most common type of position in South Korea.
English jobs in Taiwan offer less pay than either Japan or South Korea, but you are virtually guaranteed a job – regardless of experience, training, or professional skills.
As China’s economic and political clout has grown, so has its TEFL / TESOL market. In the past, most English teaching jobs were part of the public school system. With free market reforms stimulating rapid economic growth in certain parts of China, there are now a huge number of private language schools – some of which are prepared to pay respectable wages to native English speakers. Nevertheless, salaries, working conditions, and living conditions are still quite variable throughout the country, so do your research before committing to a job or moving to an area to look for work.
Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, and Vietnam also have some jobs, but pay and availability are quite variable and relatively limited. Thailand and Indonesia are probably the best TEFL / TESOL markets in this group.
The poorest countries in the region – such as Nepal, Cambodia, and Laos – have few professional opportunities. You may be able to find willing students while in the country.
Because of Latin America’s close political, economic, and cultural ties with the United States, English is an important language throughout the region. As a result, there is substantial demand for native English teachers. Pay and benefits are not as good as Asia or Western Europe, and standards of living are generally lower. Nevertheless, your English teaching salary should afford you a comfortable life, but little additional savings. Many jobs can be arranged before arriving in the country, but teachers usually pay their own airfare. Jobs with smaller schools or schools that are located outside of the major population areas will have to be obtained by applying in person.
Mexico and Costa Rica are two relatively established TEFL / TESOL markets. Pay and standards of living are usually best in these countries as well. The rest of Central America has countless jobs available, but you should ensure that the living and working standards are acceptable for you before signing on with an employer.
South America also has significant TEFL / TESOL job markets. Like Central America, however, conditions are extremely variable and you should thoroughly investigate potential opportunities. Chile, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, and Brazil are among the most popular and likely options for TEFL / TESOL employment in South America.
In South America, the school year lasts from February/March to December. The best time to search for positions is a few weeks prior to the start of the new year (January/February). TEFL / TESOL certified teachers should be able to find work at any time of year.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Jordan are the countries with the greatest demand for English teachers in this region. Schools in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE offer the highest salaries, and will also often include airfare, housing, and various other benefits in their standard compensation package. These three Persian Gulf States are some of the few in the world where overseas English teachers can save large amounts of money (sometimes more than $1,000/month). Jordan also has an established TEFL / TESOL industry, but pay and benefits there are less than in the Gulf States mentioned above.
Turkey’s efforts to establish more political and economic ties with the West have meant that English language instruction is in demand in this historic country. Jobs are available in most cities, but the popular destinations for TEFL / TESOL professionals are Istanbul, Izmir, and (to a lesser extent) the capital, Ankara. Because of the generally lower standards of living and economic woes in Turkey, pay and benefits are modest.
Finally, Egypt, Morocco, and possibly Tunisia are options in your Mid East job hunt. Like Turkey, you will not get rich in these countries, but you should be able to live comfortably.
Warning: Anti-Western, and particularly anti-American, attitudes are a serious problem in a number of Middle Eastern countries. You should carefully investigate the conditions in your specific area before planning a move to the Middle East. See the US Department of State’s Travel Warnings for up-to-date information on potential problems in the area (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel.html).
Because of the extremely difficult conditions in much of sub-Saharan Africa, TEFL / TESOL jobs are rare. Possible positions will most likely require candidates with substantial teaching experience.
If a sense of adventure and/or altruism motivates you, there are English teaching opportunities with a number of aid organizations operating in the region. Two of the largest are: