TEFL Certification: The Complete Guide to Teaching English Abroad

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If you’re thinking about teaching English overseas, this guide will walk you through everything you need to know — from choosing the right TEFL program for you, to picking a country. We’re also sharing some of the things we wish we would have known before packing our bags and moving to South Korea.

TEFL Certification Teaching English Abroad Korea Temple

Teaching English abroad was one of the best decisions we ever made. (Aside from marrying each other hehe!)

Not only did it immerse us in a culture we knew little about before our move, but it introduced us to lifelong friends, pushed us to travel a part of the world we had never explored, and gave us the opportunity to earn a lot (like, a TON!) of money that we used to fund our travels and follow our dreams (aka building this website!).

If teaching English abroad is of any interest to you at all, this article will answer all of your questions and will lay out the steps you need to get started on your own adventure.

Grab a pen and paper, fill up your mug of coffee and be prepared to have a whole new and exciting world opened up to you… 


TEFL Certification Guide Contents


What is TEFL?

First things first. In order to teach English abroad you will be required to get your TEFL certification. But hold up… what does that even mean?!

Don’t worry, we’re going to break it down for you:

TEFL = Teaching English as a Foreign Language

This certification means you are qualified to teach English to students who are not native English speakers.

In order to get this certificate, you will take a course that will walk you through how to teach English to someone with a different native language.

You do not need to have any prior teaching experience. All you need is an open mind and a willingness to learn.

This certification is actually quite simple to get, and we’re going to explain the options you have.

But first, let’s go over some very important aspects that will determine if getting a TEFL certification is for you.

Why teach English abroad

TEFL Certification Teaching English Abroad Students

Teaching English is one of the best ways you can (legally) move to another country and earn money. Everyone has their own motivations for teaching abroad, but here are some of the major reasons most people choose to get a TEFL and teach English.

  • earn good money

  • meet like-minded people and make lifelong friends

  • immerse yourself in a new culture

  • get the opportunity to travel

  • develop professionally

  • learn a different language

  • make memories

  • grow and learn about yourself

Read further: 11 Reasons Why You Should Teach English Abroad


Free E-Book on What it’s REALLY like Teaching English

If you’re considering teaching overseas, you MUST read this. Most bloggers and TEFL providers don’t like talk about these 13 things, because they’re not fun to hear. 

But taking the leap to teach abroad is a big, life-altering decision, and we think it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting in to. The good, the bad, the UGLY. All of it. 

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Do I need previous teaching experience?

In one simple word: No.

Ben was an engineer before moving to South Korea to teach English, so he is proof that you need not have any teaching experience whatsoever.

That said, it will be a smoother transition if you have some experience working with children in some sort of capacity: volunteering in a school, working as a camp counselor, Sunday school teacher, babysitting, or even just hanging around little cousins can be helpful!

Getting your TEFL certification will help prepare you for teaching English to non-native speakers.

What about teaching at an International School?

If you are a certified teacher with experience, you may want to consider teaching at an International School. You will earn a nice salary (varies greatly depending on the country) and benefits.

These positions are highly competitive and are only offered to certified teachers (usually those with prior teaching experience). Teaching at an international school is often quite similar to teaching in your home country, as most other teachers will be foreigners too and your students will likely speak English.

This means that there often aren’t jobs teaching English as a foreign language, but instead, positions will be teaching science, math, and literature.

Best countries to teach English abroad

TEFL Certification Teaching English Abroad Korean Flag

When we dropped the bomb on our friends and family that we were quitting our jobs and moving to South Korea, one of the first questions they all seemed to ask was “Why Korea?”. Well, we spent hours and hours researching our options.

For us, South Korea was the best place to teach English abroad, but the decision is completely personal. What was best for us may not be best for you. 

It is possible to teach English in many countries overseas, but there are certainly some places that are better than others. Here’s a few of the top places to teach English abroad:

South Korea

  • opportunity to save lots of money

  • low cost of living

  • straightforward application process

China

  • many job opportunities all over the country

  • decent salary

  • depending on where you live, cost of living could be high or low.

Japan

  • longer placement process than many other countries

  • earn high wages

  • high cost of living

You’ll notice that these 3 countries are all in Asia, as teachers are highly sought after in this region. There are many opportunities for people who do not have prior teaching experience, wages are high and cost of living is relatively low. For these reasons, these are some of the top countries people choose when looking for a job teaching English. 

If none of these countries are of interest to you though, don’t worry. We’ve put together a much more comprehensive list of the best places to teach English overseas to help you determine which is best for you.

How much money can you earn teaching English?

TEFL Certification Teaching English Abroad Korean Won Currency

When people ask us how we have afforded to travel the world for nearly 5 years, our answer is complicated. Over the years we have learned some killer travel hacks that we love to share in our free e-book. Now we earn our entire income from this website, but the truth is, we wouldn’t have been able to do even a fraction of the traveling we’ve done had we not taught English in South Korea.

Because the wages are high and cost of living is low, we were each able to save $22,000 USD in just one year. That doesn’t include money we spent on traveling, basic expenses and fun; that is just the amount that each of us put straight into our savings account ($44,000 total!). Pretty incredible, huh?!

Related Post: Find out exactly how we saved $22,000 in one year teaching in South Korea.

Depending on which country you choose, the amount of money you’re able to save will vary greatly.

In Japan, for instance, teachers earn more than they do in South Korea. But because the cost of living is much higher, it is more difficult to save.

And if you choose a Southeast Asian country like Thailand or Vietnam, the wages will be significantly lower than that of teachers in Korea or Japan.

The amount of money you save up will also have a lot to do with your spending habits. If you are really serious about saving money while teaching abroad, we’ve put together an article on our money-saving tips when living overseas. This article is centered around our experience in South Korea, but it can easily translate to just about any country you choose.

How to get your TEFL Certification

TEFL Certification Teaching English Abroad Korean Students

Now that you know what teaching English abroad entails, let’s go over what the steps are to getting your TEFL certification.

Getting a TEFL certification is actually much easier (and cheaper!) than we ever thought it would be. 

There are a few different options when it comes to selecting a TEFL program, and each person will have their own preference of what is best.

1. In-Person TEFL course

Raise your hand if you learn best in person (we’re right there with ya!). Taking a TEFL course in person is a great option for people who learn best by seeing a teacher speak right in front of them and acting out examples of what is being taught. 

There are some amazing opportunities to take in-person TEFL classes all around the world. ITTT (International TEFL and TESOL Training) has tons of locations all around the world for trainings. If you are looking to do an in-person training, apply through this ITTT link and receive 10% off your entire course price. 

Pros

  • Get in-person feedback and experience.

  • Meet other people from around the world who are interested in teaching English too. You will have others around doing the same thing, so it could make the transition easier if you are nervous.

  • Get a taste of living in another country before taking the plunge and moving for a whole year.

Cons

  • These courses are often much more expensive than online training

  • Taking an in-person course means you have to be flexible enough to move somewhere for an entire month, which is typically the course length. This makes it difficult for those who are working full-time or aren’t ready to pack everything up and just go.

2. Online TEFL course

Taking an online TEFL course is the most popular method to get this certification. It is convenient for those who are working and aren’t quite ready to make the leap of leaving home.

We went this route, and got our certification while working full-time jobs and planning for our wedding. This extra time of working at home allowed us to save up a “cushion” of money that helped with our move and allowed us to continue paying for student loans without digging into our savings.

While we both learn better in person, we found the modules of our TEFL course to be quite informative and it worked really well with our schedule. 

Pros

  • Online TEFL courses are super flexible, so you can take them while working or going to school full time.

  • These courses are significantly cheaper than the in-person training.

  • Most TEFL students complete the certification within 4-6 weeks (120 hours of learning required).

Cons

  • Online learning isn’t for everyone, and it can be a bit tricky to understand some of the concepts without seeing it in person.

It can be tricky finding the right TEFL Certification course. We like to tell people about International Open Academy’s TEFL Certification because they’re a verified and accredited online TEFL certification course that you can complete at your own pace on your own time.

The best part is, the International Open Academy TEFL course is usually over $100, but we have a special discount for our readers that brings the course down to just $20! Check out their services and prices at International Open Academy TEFL. (*Note: The discount will be applied at CHECK OUT, so you’ll see the regular price of $119 when you first click our link, but as you proceed to your cart and the final check out, the price of the course will be around $19!)

TEFL Banner | Two Wandering Soles

Related:  If you’re not sure about moving abroad to teach English, you can use your TEFL certificate to get a job teaching English online, working from any where you want on your own schedule!

What are the requirements to get a TEFL Certification?

There really aren’t all that many requirements for taking a TEFL course. The actual teaching positions, however, might have stricter requirements. Be sure to read this entire section to get a better idea of what you will need to have to get the teaching position you desire.

Can I get a TEFL if I’m not a native English speaker?

Yes. You will need to prove your English proficiency, but you can still get certified. However, some countries will only hire teachers from countries where the native language is English.

For example, all teaching positions in South Korea in public schools require applicants to be from one of the following countries: USA, Canada, Ireland, UK, South Africa, Australia or New Zealand.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a job in Korea if you’re not from one of those countries. There are private schools in Korea called hagwons that will hire non-native speakers if they can prove their proficiency.

Can I get a TEFL certificate if I don’t have a college degree?

Yes. You can go through the TEFL training and receive your certificate even if you do not have a university degree. That said, there are certain countries that do not hire teachers that do not have a college degree. Be sure to do a little research on this topic before you start your TEFL course.

What you should know before teaching abroad

TEFL Certification Teaching English Abroad Japan Gates

Moving overseas is a life-altering change. How it affects you will be determined by which country you move to as well as how much experience you have in countries other than your own.

There are so many things we wish we would have known before we packed up our bags, but here are some of the biggest lessons:

1. Be Patient & flexible

Living in a different country is new and exciting, but it can also be frustrating. Many simple tasks, like going to the bank or grocery store can turn into long and confusing ventures. Living abroad will teach you patience and the art of going with the flow. 

2. You Can’t change the System

When working in a country different from your own, you will need to abide by their rules. There were many aspects of the Korean education system that frustrated us (like the emphasis on repetition and grammar). But as a foreigner, it wasn’t our place to push back too much. We made suggestions when we felt it was appropriate, but we also had to be respectful of the customs of our host country. 

3. You will miss out

Being away from home for at least a year means you will likely miss out on some major events. You might miss weddings or births. You will be away from home for the holidays, which can be tough. And you might even experience losing a loved one while overseas.

Being an expat isn’t always easy. So before packing your bags, make sure you’re okay leaving things behind for a while.

Related Post: 9 Things We Learned Living Overseas

I’m not ready to move abroad, but I’m still interested in teaching English.

If you’re not ready to pack up everything and go, but you’d like to get your feet wet and try out this whole teaching thing, listen up…

Teaching English online is a great way to earn money while setting your own schedule, and it will be a good indicator if you would enjoy teaching English abroad. 

Ben teaches English to children in China through VIPKID, allowing him to earn money even with our crazy travel schedule.

We put together a complete guide to everything you need to know about VIPKID to answer your questions like:

  • How much money can I make with VIPKID?

  • Requirements for VIPKID.

  • Can I teach with VIPKID even while working full time?

  • Other FAQ’s about VIPKID

Check out our VIPKID guide and we’ll even share our best tips to help you pass your interview with flying colors!

The great thing about VIPKID is that you do not need to have your TEFL certification or teaching experience to apply. You can start your job as a VIPKID teacher, then apply for your TEFL training if it’s something you like.


Are you interested in teaching English abroad?

Teaching English in South Korea was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. Be sure to check out our Teaching English Abroad homepage for resources on everything you need to know from how to get started to moving abroad. Or you can read some of our favorite articles about teaching English below. 

Did you like this article? Share it on Pinterest!

The Ultimate Guide to Teaching English Abroad
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We want to hear from you in the comments!

Is teaching English abroad something that interests you? What questions do you still have? In which country are you most interested in teaching?

We do our best to answer all your questions, so go ahead and comment away!

Comments (25) on “TEFL Certification: The Complete Guide to Teaching English Abroad

  1. julia.denverpiano@gmail.com says:

    Hey there! I am LOVING your blog so far. The videos have also been a great resource! I have a couple questions for you:

    1. Why did you choose public schools over hogwans ?
    2. Do major cities in Korea prefer certain TEFL courses over others?

    Thank you for making this website! It’s been very overwhelming trying to research everything for teaching abroad here and there. This is a wonderful place where pretty much all my questions were answered!

  2. vanashuisbiz@gmail.com says:

    Hey! I love your blog. I’ve found a lot of the articles really helpful. I recently (last couple of months) used your affiliate link for International Open Academy’s TEFL course. I told my friend about it but when I click the link above now it just goes to their catalog showing the regular price. Do you know if the $19 price is still available? Thanks for your time!

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hi Christina,
      Thanks for catching that. I have updated the International Open Academy’s TEFL course links and they all should bring you to the course page. Using the link still gives you the discount, but it is applied at checkout. I really appreciate your comment and let me know if you have any other TEFL questions. Cheers!

  3. sharrenmaharaj93@gmail.com says:

    Hi, I have completed an online TEFL course and I have a degree. Just need guidance on how to start? How much money would I need to have saved up before I can consider going?

  4. ollieblue9@gmail.com says:

    Hey Katie and Ben, wanted to start by saying i really enjoy your content, i’ve read quite a few of your articles over the past few days and you’ve provided some great insights as I research this further!

    One question I have is about the differences between the in class and online TEFL certificates. Is it true that it can be difficult to land a reasonably well paid job in South Korea if you only do the online class? I’m from New Zealand and there aren’t any in class providers where i’m currently located unfortunately!

    Also, the number of TEFL online providers is slightly overwhelming. Are you aware of any reliable shortlists anywhere that compare/ contrast the options? I’d like to do the course slowly over a longer period of time and look for jobs in August/ September, so maybe I just go with a provider that will allow me to do that?

    Thanks in advance!

  5. d.wartel@hotmail.com says:

    I’m a native English speaker, a college graduate and former secondary school teacher. I am fairly proficient in the Japanese language and well acquainted with Japanese culture.

    I would very much like to live in Japan for a year or two, but would need to work at least part time there to do so.

    I’ve heard that Japan is very age biased and it would be very difficult for someone my age, 72, to gain employment there. Is this true? Are there possible options for someone my age?

    I’m in excellent health and very active. My grandson attends a Japanese immersion charter school and I have done volunteer work in his class, receiving compliments from his teachers.

    Is teaching English in Japan a viable option for me?

  6. Bwalya says:

    Hi, Guys thank you for all this insight. I am from Zambia and would like to find out if you have any advice as to the best place to get TEFL certified online

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hello Bwalya, the companies we recommend to get TEFL certified online are in the "How to get your TEFL Certification" section in the above article. Please check out those companies and let us know if you have any more questions. Cheers!

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Nope, you don’t need to have any Korean language before going there to teach, although it would be helpful. During our orientation, we had lessons to learn basic Korean and learn how to read the alphabet, which was so great. But in your classroom they typically don’t want you to use any Korean (even if you can speak fluently) because it encourages the students to speak to you in Korean instead of practicing their English.

      Many teachers sign up for Korean classes or tutoring to learn more of the language while they’re living there. So that’s a great opportunity!

      Hope that answers your question.

  7. Annie says:

    Hi! I really enjoyed this article, its extremely helpful as I have been thinking of moving to Asia after I graduate college this summer, one question though, how many hours did you guys do for your certification?

  8. Wanderinwonder.photo@gmail.com says:

    I currently teach English online, and just brushed off teaching abroad, as I figured you wouldn’t make near enough income as you would making your USD income while living in cheaper countries. What do you think?

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hey Elle, we actually made really good money teaching English in South Korea. In total, we SAVED $44,000 USD in one year. And we got to travel around South Korea and three other countries too!

  9. hello@travelfaceblog.com says:

    This is so helpful, I am considering moving abroad to teach and had not considered South Korea. Have looked at a few blogs but you guys seem to have so much comprehensive info- thank you!

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Thanks Emma. Let us know if you have any questions about South Korea. We loved our time there and are happy to help you out if you have any questions. Cheers!

  10. melaniemurlin@gmail.com says:

    Hi Ben & Katie ~ I’ve spent the last year living in Chiang Mai volunteering for a mission organization on a student visa and studying the language. I recently returned to the states and I’m longing to return overseas and teach. I’ve been looking into getting a TESOL certification but I’m curious if it will do me any good if I do not have a college degree?

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hey Melanie, that’s a great TESOL question, and the answer is: It depends. It really depends on where you want to use your TESOL/TEFL certification. Because some programs are okay with you not having a degree while some do not accept it. For example, you can apply to be a teacher in South Korea through EPIK, but you will have a low chance to get a placement without a degree, unfortunately. But it may be a different case with the private companies in Korea, you’ll just have to check. Hope this helps.

  11. onepurplefish@gmail.com says:

    I have been interested in doing a TEFL course & teaching English abroard for a long time.y highest qualification is a masters degree. Alot of the teaching jobs I see advertised seem to have age restrictions, possibly for visa purposes. I’m in my early 50’s. Am I too old? Also is the teaching all grammatical? I would be more interested in teaching more conversational English

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hey Constance. There are jobs for all ages when it comes to teaching English. A lot of the TEFL websites also help you with landing a job, no matter your age. And not all jobs are focused on grammar. Most of the time you are in charge of your classroom and you can create your own lesson plans. So they could be more focused on conversations.

  12. hannahcoene@hotmail.com says:

    Hi Katie
    I just stumbled upon your article. I have been following your instagram for a while now, but had yet read any articles on your blog. They’re very interesting though!
    Keep on travelling and writing, I’m certain these posts will motivate people to discover the world and dive into other cultures!
    Best regard,
    Hannah

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hey Hannah! Thanks so much for following us and thanks for such a sweet comment. Hopefully we’ve motivated you to explore too! Cheers, Ben & Katie

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