The US State Department estimates that 9 million Americans currently live abroad. For the United Kingdom, it’s about 5.5 million, or 10% of the population. These figures demonstrate a widespread desire to live and work abroad. In this article, we’ll look at one of the most practical approaches to successfully moving and living abroad: teaching English as a second language! Teaching your culture and language to students, be they children or adults, and learning more about their culture in return is an exciting and worthwhile mission. Here’s our guide on how to teach English abroad.

Happy Indonesian children sitting on the ground. Text reads: English teachers abroad, MosaLingua

Benefits of Teaching English Abroad

Teaching English abroad is the perfect solution for anybody who feels like a change and wants to move to a foreign country. As a native English speaker, you already have much of the knowledge you need to teach English abroad. Although, speaking a language and teaching it are two fairly different things (more on this later).

It’s a great way to explore the world while making a living, and though you may not get rich financially, the cultural benefits are huge. Teaching a language, and a culture, to others is an exciting new experience, one that will allow you to travel and live nearly anywhere in the world.

How to Teach English Abroad

Thousands of people around the world work as teachers of English as a second language (ESL). While everybody’s path is unique, there are some common threads. Most importantly, you’ll need the right qualifications.

Speak a second language yourself

Besides speaking English, there’s another skill you’ll need to teach English abroad: you need to speak another language. In particular, that of the country where you’d like to live. If you speak Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, etc., you’ll have a much better chance of getting hired as a teacher.

It will also make it easier to manage all the changes that come with moving, like finding an apartment, getting a phone plan, and just as important, making new friends and experiencing the culture. You don’t need to be totally fluent (although that’s a great goal!), but you should be able to hold a conversation and get your message across.

TEFL or TESOL certification

The most direct path to teaching English abroad is to become a certified TEFL or TESOL teacher. TEFL stands for Teach English as a Foreign Language, while TESOL stands for Teach English to Speakers of Other Languages. These certificates are more or less the same, and one is not necessarily better than the other for teaching abroad. Most learning centers accept both, so don’t worry too much about the exact acronym of the course you’re taking.

You will, however, need to take a course and get certified. As we mentioned above, simply speaking a language doesn’t mean you’re qualified to teach it. First, there is probably plenty of grammar that you’ve forgotten or just never learned. If you’re unsure what a comma splice or subordinate clause is, you’ll need to brush up. Second, teaching a skill is different from using it. People learn in different ways, and lessons need to be structured to help guide learners properly.

Teaching English is a career that requires a certificate and knowhow. Simply speaking English isn’t enough. But it’s a good start, and the rest can be learned by taking a TEFL or TESOL course!

Where to get certified

There are TESOL and TEFL academies all over the world, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding one near where you live. If you can’t, no problem. You can also get certified online, so all you really need is an internet connection, some free time, and a little ambition.

Young man studying TEFL online

Self-paced online TEFL/TESOL courses enable you to learn to teach English abroad while still working your day job.

How much does it cost?

Programs to teach English abroad vary in cost and duration. The cost depends on the school, whether the course is offered online or in person, and the total number of hours. You can find some online courses for around $200 (USD) and about 40 hours of courses. More extensive (and better recognized) courses of 100+ hours will cost around $400 or $500 (USD). Finally, for in-person courses, it will cost between $1,000 and $2,000, sometimes more.

Remember to think about the cost as an investment in the future. Not all TEFL/TESOL courses are the same. And in places with a high demand for teaching positions, schools and learning centers may favor candidates from more reputable institutes. Your best bet is to take a look at job offers for ESL in the city or country where you’re interested in living, to get an idea of any special requirements there might be.

How long does it take?

Most self-paced, online TEFL/TESOL courses will take you about 2 to 3 months to get through, depending upon how much free time you can dedicate to the course and your own personal learning speed. The longer the course, the longer it will take, but the more you’ll learn and the better prepared you’ll be. The most widely accepted TEFL/TESOL courses are 120 hours. Again, it’s a good idea to take a look at your country of choice to see what kind of requirements are typical, but with 120 hours, you’ll have a solid foundation and everything you need to confidently teach English abroad. This is what most reputable learning centers are looking for in a teacher.

In-person courses are more intensive, and typically only run for 4-6 weeks. That said, you’ll spend several hours each day in class. A 120-hour course over 4 weeks consists of 6 hours of class, Monday to Friday, for example. If your current schedule allows, this is the fastest route. But if you’re learning to each while working, online courses are probably a better bet.

Can I teach while learning?

Actually, yes. Some academies offer certification as you teach, so that you can complete your training as you start teaching. You can usually find this information on the websites of learning centers in the cities or countries where you’re interested in teaching. We highly recommend doing some independent research online. However, these positions tend to fill up quickly and there may be other requirements, like having a master’s degree and teaching or tutoring experience in some other subject.

What else do I need to teach English abroad?

In addition to a TEFL/TESOL certification, there are a few more things you’ll need. First and foremost, you need the right motivation and attitude. If you’re curious about the world, enjoy learning about new cultures, and love a good challenge, then teaching English abroad is probably a great career for you.

You’ll also need to be patient and persistent. Moving to a foreign country and teaching English to support yourself is something many, many people dream about. Depending on the country, there can be a lot of stiff competition. So just make sure you’re ready to do what it takes to land a job. This may mean paying more for a longer or more reputable TEFL/TESOL class, or signing up to teach classes (in English or anything else) at a local learning center to get some teaching experience before you move abroad. Anything you can do to help your CV stand out will be a big help.

Of course, you’ll also need a valid passport, and depending on where you’d like to teach, you may need a visa or other special residency permits. In the vast majority of cases, you’ll also need a bachelor’s degree. While not all academies require it, a very great number do. Those that don’t usually won’t offer very good pay and may have poorer working conditions.

Start Teaching English Abroad: Step by Step

To summarize, if you want to teach English abroad, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Make sure it’s the right job for you.

    Think about how you’ll feel being away from home, what kind of support system you have for when you start feeling homesick (because you will, at some point), the reasons why you want to move abroad, and whether you think you’ll genuinely enjoy teaching. You’ll also want to make sure you have a decent level of whatever language you’ll speak in your new home. On top of learning how to teach English, it’s a good idea to continue perfecting your own second language.

  2. Find TEFL/TESOL courses online or in your area.

    Compare courses to find the duration, price, and intensity that’s right for you. Remember that most teaching positions ask for or give precedence to 120-hour courses, and that you may prefer self-paced or in-person classes depending on your individual learning style. If you need more structure or have the time and money for it, go for an in-person class. (But don’t worry if you can’t; online TEFL/TESOL courses are accepted by almost all academies).

  3. Get your documents in order and start saving up.

    Make sure that you have your passport and any other documents that may be required, like a workers’ visa. Start saving up — if you think you’re going to get off the plane and land a job the next day, you’re probably being too optimistic. Unless you already have a job lined up, expect to spend a few weeks applying and interviewing for jobs. You also need to find an apartment, buy groceries, and you won’t want to have to count every penny on your first few weeks abroad, anyway. You’ll be meeting new people, getting invited to go out for drinks, trying local street food. Make sure you have enough to be comfortable for at least a month without salary. If you land a job before then, treat yourself to a fancy meal.

  4. Find jobs for teaching English abroad.

    As we’ve just said, if you can arrange for a job before you even get there, all the better. Start emailing or calling schools and learning centers from home. Let them know you’re planning to move and are interested in knowing if there are any ESL teaching jobs available, what the requirements are, and whether you could email them your CV and a cover letter. If you can’t, that’s okay. Just make sure you budget accordingly. Be prepared to spend a few weeks job hunting, which means finding schools with ESL classes, going to them in person, handing out CVs, and going for job interviews.

  5. Enjoy your fabulous new life abroad!

    Congratulations! Once you’ve successfully moved abroad and found a job teaching English, remember to take the time to appreciate your new life. Like most jobs, teaching can be tiring and stressful. So make sure you strike the right life-work balance. Take time to explore your new city and soak up as much of the culture as you can. You’ll make lots of new friends through work, but make sure you focus on making friends with locals, too. This is the best way to ensure you make the most of your experience and really learn as much as you can about the culture, and language, of your second home.

Picture of a cultural festival abroad

Remember to take the time to explore the culture of your new home.

If you think you’re ready for a new adventure, make sure you read our article on expatriation (moving abroad), which will give you plenty of more great tips and tricks for making it a success.

Whether your goal is to gain work experience abroad, discover a rich new culture, or participate in the human experience of teaching and learning, becoming an ESL teacher is one great way to do it. If you’re planning on becoming an ESL teacher, or if you already are one and want to share your experience, we’d love to hear about it in the comments below.