TEFL Certification: The Complete Guide to Teaching English Abroad

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... 



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

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. 


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

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?

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

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.

  • Complete the certification within 8 weeks.

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 Premier TEFL because they're a verified and accredited online TEFL certification course that you can complete at your own time.

They have extensive trainings and will help you find a job once you get your TEFL certificate. And the best part is, Premier TEFL courses are cheaper than most other online certifications and way cheaper than in person TEFL courses. Check out their services and prices at Premier TEFL

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

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.


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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!