The Beginner's Guide To Teaching Abroad

Whether it’s a genuine passion, or a way to add a little adventure to one’s life, teaching abroad has become a massive millennial trend. It’s now relatively easy to find a job teaching English as a second language (ESL) in countries around the world. Countries like Vietnam, China, Japan, and Kyrgyzstan (amongst so many others) recruit thousands of foreign teachers every year. If you’re considering becoming one of them, check out our compilation of pros, cons, and tips to help you figure out what kind of job, and which country is right for you before you commit.


How to find a job

Finding jobs to apply for is by far the easiest process, although it can be time-consuming to scour through all the openings floating around the internet. A quick Google search along the lines of “teaching jobs in ***insert country here***” will bring up thousands of options. Alternatively, if you’re not looking for any country in particular, sites like Teachaway.com compile lists of jobs all over the world.

Countries like Hong Kong and the UAE will require a teaching qualification, but most Asian countries will be happy if you have a university degree (almost anything will suffice) and a TEFL qualification (These can be obtained through online courses, but keep in mind that a course which includes practical teaching hours and real-life practice is more valuable, and will prepare you better for teaching in the real world).

Think about what kind of students you’d like to teach before you get in touch with companies. Do you want to work with preschool kids? High schoolers? adults? How about the environment? Are you looking to be in a public school system (large companies often recruit teachers for this) or a smaller, more personal environment? The former often has a predetermined structure that you need only follow, and doesn’t require too much of your own planning and creativity (good for absolute beginners), and the latter can come with the perks of forming deeper connections with students and coworkers. Ultimately, this depends on the individual company, the culture or the country you choose, and your own personal preference.

Once you’ve found some positions you’re interested in, send off a couple of applications, and the waiting game begins.

Pro tips:

VERY IMPORTANT: DO NOT APPLY FOR JOBS THAT ASK YOU FOR MONEY.

No organisation worth its salt will ask you for anything other than the documents they need to prepare your visa. They may charge you rent once you start working, if your housing has been arranged by them, but if they do not cover the cost of your plane ticket, that is something that you will arrange by yourself. If a company is asking you to pay them before you’ve worked for them, it’s likely that they’re not a legitimate company. Stay far away from these.

Do your research: Check out reviews from previous employees before you commit to a position. It may be that the actual job isn’t the sunshine and roses that the advertisement promised, or that the company withholds pay in some cases.

Getting there

Once a company has looked at your CV, you’ll probably be asked to do an interview (sometimes more than one), and in many cases, a demo lesson over Skype. Regardless of the position, as with any job interview, it’s a good idea to put your best foot forward. Just because the interview is over Skype doesn’t mean you should be wearing your pajamas and drinking your morning coffee.

When interviewing with companies in countries like China and Japan (which is particularly strict!), first impressions are perhaps even more important than what you’re used to, and it’s better to be dressed in business attire, even during the interview.

When it comes to the demo lesson, bigger is better. Put in the effort, because chances are you’ll only have one shot at it with each company. Don’t draw a smiley face on a piece of paper and call it a flashcard.

Once you’ve been given the job, you’ll probably be asked to prepare a number of documents which may include police clearance certificates, medical screenings, and certified copies of your university degrees and TEFL certificates. It could be helpful to get some of these ready in advance if you don’t like to rush. As mentioned earlier, some companies will cover the cost of your plane ticket and sometimes housing, and others won’t. This too will depend on a number of factors, and may impact your decisions about which jobs to accept or decline.

Pro tips:

Go into your interview with a list of questions you want to ask. It doesn’t hurt to be extra prepared on arrival in your new country.

While doing all of this, start studying. Arriving in a country that speaks very little English is always going to be a shock, but if you know which country you want to go to, you can lessen the blow by arming yourself with some useful vocabulary in the local language. I went to Japan with zero Japanese and wished every day that I had spent more time studying before I went.

Know what your priorities are. Are you looking to save as much money as possible? study something new? Travel? High paying jobs may come with a lot more hours, and fewer days off, meaning you’ll have to forget about all the trips you wanted to take, or about having a very active social life. Keep this in mind before committing to a position.

Once you’re on the other side…

ESL teaching, like any job, has oodles of pros and cons. The perks include the chance to see new places, often earning a reasonable salary, and experiencing a new culture. The hours can be good and so can the holiday time. In my first job abroad I received multiple weeks off for summer and winter holidays, though this did come with a slight decrease in pay.

The hours can also be really bad, and if you’re not used to spending 9 hours a day with toddlers, for example, and you land a full-time job at a kindergarten, that can wear you out. This is why it’s very important to know all the details about the position before you take it. Keep in mind that some countries expect you to do a lot of preparation outside of the stipulated work hours, and this is a good thing to ask questions about in the interview if you’re not sure.

Most companies will provide training in order to get you acquainted with how they want their teachers to perform in class. This can also give you the chance to bond with other teachers who are experiencing the same difficulties in their new environment as you are.

Keep in mind that if you’ve signed up to work for a large company that sends teachers to a number of schools, the work can be repetitive and mind-numbing. If you’re looking for a position in which you can grow as a teacher, or simply have a more stimulating challenge, these companies may not be what you’re looking for. Yes, they’ll help you move to a new country, but it will be at the expense of your soul.

Pro tips:

Keep an eye on job boards in your new city if you’re not LOVING the job you start out at. There may be great opportunities nearby, and companies that hire ESL teachers don’t expect you to stay there for the rest of your life anyway. Their teacher turnaround is usually quite high, especially with large companies, and you’ll only GAIN experience by moving on to another job after a year or two.

Send some money home from time to time if you’re planning to go back. Life is unpredictable, and it can be hard to transfer all your funds back home if you do suddenly decide to (or have to) leave, and sending it in smaller, more regular chunks may make this easier for you. At the very least, it’ll prepare you with the know-how of how to make these transactions when you’re in a fix.

Not ready to move just yet? Try teaching online.

If you want to gather some ESL teaching experience, there’s a multitude teaching jobs you can do from the comfort of your own home. Have a look at our previous article on how to make money online, and check out the section about teaching online for more information.


Teaching is often a very rewarding career choice, and even if it’s not your passion, teaching ESL can be a way to get your foot in the door in another country. You’ll have the chance to try it out for a year or two, and perhaps change to a different company, school system, or a different career entirely once you’re there.

From my own personal experience, it’s very easy to get caught in the ESL circuit, doing something that doesn’t allow you to grow (even if it does allow you to see somewhere new), and I’m therefore urging you to be mindful of that. If teaching isn’t your passion, find a hobby that you are passionate about to keep you busy on the side, or keep your eyes open for new, better opportunities. ESL teaching is not everybody’s long-term plan, but it can be a wonderful chapter in the story of your life.

Good luck, and enjoy the adventure.

Published by Melissa da Costa

Deputy Editor, lover of cats, coffee sampler.

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