Please note: A link to resources on this website should not be construed as an endorsement by Career Advancement or the University of Chicago. Students and alumni are encouraged to use caution and judgment when evaluating services related to work abroad and consult Career Advancement advisers with any questions or concerns related to the advice and resources provided here.
Teaching With U.S. Teaching Certification
Most international schools will only hire teachers with a U.S. teaching certification (and usually one to two years of experience), but some hire interns with completed BA degrees. It is also possible to do student teaching as part of an education program overseas.
International Schools Placement Services/Fairs
Placement services offer databases of open positions to certified teachers. They sometimes charge a user fee for access.
In some countries, it is possible to teach EFL at the University level without an MA or PhD in TESOL. See the teaching without certification section below.
The public school systems of some English-speaking countries will hire U.S.-certified teachers.
These programs offer positions to U.S. certified (and usually with one to two years of experience) teachers
In addition to undergoing an education program intended for teachers in the U.S., there are a few certification programs that explicitly train teachers to go overseas.
Teaching Without U.S. Teaching Certification
There are many teaching positions available, all over the world, that do not require U.S. teaching certification. Most are English language teaching positions for which the only requirements are a BA degree and native English fluency (often the proxy for this is citizenship from either the U.S., UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia or South Africa). Increasingly, however, employers are starting to require Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certifications.
Where, how many, at what level and how well these positions are compensated depends on a number of factors, including but not limited to the perceived necessity of learning English, the perceived necessity of learning it from a native speaker instead of a fluent local, and whether or not English is taught in the public schools, and if so, by native speakers.
In relatively affluent East Asian locations with a large number of teaching positions available (Japan, South Korea and to a lesser degree Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan) earnings can be equivalent to a non-profit starting salary in the US and depending your lifestyle, may allow for savings. In most other locations EFL teachers earn enough to support themselves while they are abroad, but may end up spending some money when the (not insignificant) costs of airfare and setting up a home are factored in. Some volunteer-type teaching positions may qualify for loan deferment.
With so many options for teaching English, a good place to start is with some self-examination as to what sort of experience you are seeking overseas.
Here are a few questions to think about as you start to think about what kind of experience you want to have abroad.
- What do you hope to gain?
- Do you need to make money?
- What region (ideally) would you like to go? Why?
- What sort of setting would you like to live in?
- What sort of students would you like to teach?
- Are you more interested in cross-cultural experience, or teaching?
- Do you want to help people?
The ideal time to start to think through these questions is approximately a year before you hope to take up your position overseas. Many teaching programs have deadlines in the fall for departure the following summer.
As you search for a job and prepare for departure, it is a good time to get some experience working with students and language learners. Consider obtaining TEFL certification or volunteering.
Teachers seeking to go abroad have two application strategies they can pursue—participate in a placement program or pursue an independent job search.
Placement programs, whether non-profit, government or fee-for-service have the benefit of taking care of some of the many difficulties that result from relocating internationally: searching for a place to live, finding a job, securing a visa, obtaining health insurance, even airport pickup. Programs can be a good choice for applicants who lack experience in the country of their destination, do not speak the language and/or who have limited experience abroad.
It is only true of a few programs, however, that this service is provided for free. Placement programs often also mean being willing to be placed where the program has need, which can sometimes be very rural or isolated areas.
Before giving any money or paperwork to any program be sure to carefully vet the program by asking specific and detailed questions of program administrators and (ideally) former participants. Make sure you know the exact fees charged, the amount of salary (if any) you will earn, and what kind of purchasing power that will offer you. Be clear on whether you are guaranteed job placement, who will secure your work permit, what kind of, and how much, health insurance you will be provided, whether you are provided housing, teacher training and/or materials, whether there is an orientation, and level of on-site support you will receive.
Non-profit Placement Programs
Government-Sponsored Placement Programs
Independent Job Search
Teachers without certification seeking to go overseas also obtain positions by directly contacting the schools they wish to work for without going through a placement organization. This offers more control over the location, type of school, and age of students. It can also save the overhead costs of a placement organization, but often requires much more work on the part of the applicant. Direct hire positions are often better for those with in-country experience, language skills, and/or TEFL certification.
When investigating a potential employer, ensure that you use caution and carefully investigate the work situation, contract, and housing by asking specific and detailed questions of the hiring contact and (ideally) former participants. Make sure you know the amount of salary you will earn and what kind of purchasing power that will offer you. Be clear on who will secure your work permit—do not take a position that will not provide you with the proper visa. Also determine what kind of, and how much, health insurance you will be provided—this should not be something you go abroad without. You will also want to determine whether you are provided housing, teacher training, and/or materials. If a job posting seems too good to be true, it probably is.
For assistance navigating these concerns, make an appointment with a Career Advancement counselor.
Where to Look/Job Posting Sites
How to Avoid Scams
- You can Google or search for an employer on EFL forums like Dave’s ESL Cafe but make sure to regard any reviews you find with a healthy dose of skepticism: one person’s experience may not be indicative of an entire school or program. Look for patterns of bad reviews, rather than single assessments.
- Check the name of the program or school with the Better Business Bureau, if it is a U.S.-based organization.
- Make an appointment with a Career Advancement counselor to discuss your plans to work abroad and your communications with the program or employer.
- Consider getting an EFL certificate or traveling to your destination before taking up employment. This will allow you to acclimate, interview in person, and meet other expats who work for the school.
While there are many countries (most in East Asia) where it is still common for teachers to be hired with no experience teaching EFL and no formal training, this is becoming less and less the rule. Obtaining EFL certification can be a good way to get some experience and ease into the job market. Whether you do it in the US or overseas, however, choosing the right certificate program is important in order to get the most value for your tuition.
TEFL courses are usually approximately a month long, although this time may be stretched out over several months in a part-time course.
The professional standard for TEFL courses is at least, although each TEFL program has variant times for training:
- 120 classroom hours
- Six practice teaching hours: this teaching practice should be on real EFL learners, not your TEFL classmates
- Some form of verification of the course by an outside body, to ensure consistency of the trainers
A TEFL course to this standard will likely cost between $2,000-3,000 in the United States or other developed countries.
Common TEFL Courses
A handful of “brand names” have emerged in the TEFL certificate business in recent years: the CELTA, the Trinity certTESOL, and the SIT TESOL certificate.
By far the most common and well-known of the TEFL certificates, in some cases required by employers by name. Offered in many countries all over the world, including many of the most popular teaching destinations.
Things to Consider
- As is the cast with most brands, the “brand name” courses may sometimes cost more than other TEFL courses
- For many employers (especially in E. Asia) who request a certificate, any certificate will do.
- The benefit of a brand-name course is that an employer knows exactly what sort of training you have had—the reputation of the course speaks for itself. A non-brand-name course may require the employer to do research on your course that they may or may not be willing to do.
- Many employers willing to accept a course not up to professional standards (an online course, for example) will be willing to hire teachers without a certificate. If you plan to stay in the industry, it may not be worth the money you save to do an online course if you will have to re-train in the classroom again at a later point for an employer who is more stringent about qualifications.
- It is possible to somewhat mitigate the cost of a TEFL course by taking the course where you hope to teach (especially if the cost of living is lower there). Many institutes that offer TEFL courses also hire teachers. This gives you the benefit of acclimating to the location before you begin teaching, the ability to interview in person and verify the reputation of the employer in the larger EFL community. It is important to balance this, however, with the likelihood that you will be able to find a job.
- Some employers will also offer discounted rates to teachers who take their TEFL course.