Aly Brunson

As the world opens up, there's an increasing demand for international work experience and foreign language skills. Native English speakers can get that experience as an English teacher.

How do you become an English teacher?

There are countless jobs in numerous countries. There is no one universal standard for applicants, so let's focus on the typical requirements.

You should be a citizen of an English speaking country. After all, why should a school go through the trouble of obtaining a work visa and pay relocation expenses to hire a foreign English teacher who learned English in school instead of a local English teacher who learned English in school? They are hiring foreign teachers, so students are exposed to natural accents and native speech patterns. Citizens of the following countries will find their English skills in high demand:

  • The United States

  • Canada

  • United Kingdom

  • Ireland

  • Australia

  • New Zealand

  • South Africa

You should have a university degree. Your major isn't too important, though teaching degrees could get you a higher salary. Recruiters were also excited when I told them I had an English degree, but any degree from an accredited, reputable university is accepted.

You should get a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate before applying to jobs. A typical TEFL course runs 120 hours, so you could complete a fulltime course in a month. TEFL courses are offered all over the world. Consider studying in the country where you want to teach. You could experience it for a month before you commit to staying for a year, the typical length of an TEFL contract. If you can't afford to give up your day job while obtaining a TEFL certificate, there are also widely (but not universally) accepted online TEFL courses. Because these only cover theory and don't offer any opportunities to practice teaching, in-person certificates are preferred. However, plenty of schools will hire graduates from online courses.

This career tends to slant young, but middle-aged applicants will find teaching positions. It slants young because college graduates find it easier to move abroad than other age groups. They don't yet own homes, they don't have families, and they haven't started their careers. However, that's a trend, not a requirement. While I can't promise age discrimination doesn't exist, there are plenty of employers who will hire at any age. This holds especially true outside of major cities. Some countries, on the other hand, only approve foreign work visas for foreigners under retirement age, so applicants in or past their 60s may not be able to obtain a visa.

If you meet those four requirements, you can teach English abroad, but should you?

This is not a career for everybody, in large part because living in a foreign country can feel … well… foreign. At some point, your assumptions about how the world works will be challenged.

While living in China, I have been surprised numerous times. Tofu is not a vegetarian food here; it's just a food. It can absolutely be added to meat dishes. Optometrists in China don't fit you with new glasses. Medical eye exams and eye exams for new glasses are performed by different people. Taxi drivers have asked me questions about my salary, a topic rarely discussed in the US. I don't know my own family members' salaries. Your normal is not everyone's normal. If you want to teach abroad, come prepared to adapt and prepared to teach.

It may seem obvious that future teachers should be prepared to teach, but the “teaching” part of “teaching abroad” can sometimes be overlooked.

The truth is, traveling and experiencing another culture have always been a huge selling point for EFL teachers, and that's fine. Travel is a huge perk. By all means, enjoy your time off. Use your holidays to travel around your host country. Hang out with local friends on your days off. Just be ready when school starts up again.

If you don't have teaching experience, get some before you commit to teaching for an entire year. You don't want to sign a year-long contract and move halfway around the world only to find out that you don't like your new job.

For anyone interested in both teaching and living abroad, take the plunge. It's a job unlike any other.

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