Teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) is often seen as a great way to travel to romantic or exotic locales and get paid to do it. While this can certainly be true, you should also be aware that finding a job teaching English in the most desirable foreign countries has become more difficult. Also, while teaching English abroad is often a very gratifying career, it is not generally a well-paid one.
If you are determined to pursue a career abroad teaching English to nonnative speakers, you should consider the following:
- Education and Certification. In many foreign countries (except in the Middle East and parts of Asia), it is not legally necessary to have a degree in order to teach English there or even to be certified. There are many foreign schools that will hire untrained English teachers with only high school diplomas. However, these teachers are mostly working illegally for cash or in countries with lower standards of living. Most reputable employers now usually require (or at least prefer) English teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) or Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification from an accredited program. According to English International, the best employers recognize only certification courses that include a minimum of one hundred hours of study and six hours of supervised student teaching. You can find these courses through colleges or universities, private schools, businesses, and online e-learning institutions. Many of these courses can be completed within as little as four weeks or, if you attend part time, from three to eighteen months.
- Job Search. There are basically two ways to find jobs teaching EFL: contacting potential schools or employers yourself to enquire whether they have any vacancies or answering job advertisements. A combination of both of these methods is usually the most effective way of finding employment. Many TESOL certification schools offer job placement services that will help you in your job search. If you are the adventurous type, it is also possible to find work on a month-to-month basis by traveling to the country of your choice. If you want a more permanent position, however, it is usually recommended that you line up a job beforehand through the usual routes. Most jobs are found at public schools, universities, language schools, private companies, or with volunteer or aid organizations such as the Peace Corps.
- Job Market and Salaries. Americans and Canadians should be able to find TEFL jobs fairly easily in Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Latin America. The areas where it will be difficult for citizens of these countries to find legal jobs are Western Europe (unless you have a European Union passport), English-speaking countries such as Great Britain or Australia, and sub-Saharan Africa. Most legal jobs are about one year in length, although shorter-term contracts are available. Most employers will provide airfare and housing. Salaries are highest in Korea, Taiwan, and Japan in Asia, and also the oil-producing countries of the Middle East. In most countries, teaching EFL for legitimate employers will pay enough for you to live comfortably by local standards and travel on your free time but not enough to support a family or save much. Knowledge of the local language is not necessary for the job but is always a plus.