16 FAQ about Teaching English Overseas

by Johnny Ward

I have been teaching English around Asia for a while now and am currently studying part-time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to get my Masters in the field so I’ve had a bash at thinking about all the questions I had when I was about to set off teaching english in Thailand and South Korea – so here are the answers (most of which I learned the hard way :S ) If you have any more questions, just email me at johnny ‘AT’ onestep4ward.com and i’ll whack the question and answer on the page…

teaching english in korea

Having fun at a winter English Camp

1) Is It Necessary to Speak a Foreign Language? Probably the most common question.. The answer is reassuringly simple – NO! In fact, even if you can speak their language, you are not supposed to speak in the classroom! The students have paid for full immersion in English so if, for example, you are in China and you speak fluent Chinese it doesn’t affect your job prospects at all and (officially)  you are no more likely to get employed than your monolingual friend- your level of English is the only language criteria you your employer cares about.

2) How Much Can I Earn Teaching English? Hmmm, this is opening a can of worms! I’m going to address this issue in full later on in my blog because the answer is so varied, for recently qualified teachers salaries can vary from $500 per month in Laos to $3000 in Japan, I’ll write the review of salaries as soon as i get a chance

3) What Qualifications Do I Need to Teach English Overseas? Generally speaking, you need to have the qualifications which would allow you to access a degree course – i.e. A-levels/HSC  or an equivalent. Often though some schools (and countries, such as Thailand) may require you to have a degree, whilst others will consider your application if you just have relevant life experience – so make sure you google if before you set off!

4) What Age Do I Have To Be? You have to be at least 18 years old to teach English abroad and, middle-eastern countries aside, there is no maximum age – hence me trying to convince my mother of the merits of teaching abroad

5) Can I teach if English Isn’t my First Language? This is tough guys :S I had a very good (German) friend who took the CELTA course with me – his English was impeccable but he really struggled to find a job after receiving his qualification as the vast majority of language schools require you to be a native speaker. Certainly, you will struggle to get a job in a reputable school but if you are willing to rough it in Government schools, private schools and the like then you will have a chance

6) Can I Bring My Friends/Partners etc With Me? If your friends/partner want to work within the TEFL field then more often than not the school will give you both jobs, they figure that a happy teacher is less likely to quit – so yes, this is a distinct possibility

7) Can I Arrange a Job Before Leaving Home? Yes you can but to be perfectly honest, it’s not always the best option. If there is a third party involved in placing you at an institution then invariably you can sort your own job out for a better salary. I know it’s scary to book a ticket to a place with no plans in place, but that’s also where the best opportunities lie (and certainly the most fun!) but if that’s not your cup of tea then it’s very easy to sort out a job online before you leave

8 ) When Do Jobs Start? People on all the forums will tell you the various academic term times of the countries that you are looking at so pay heed to those but in my experience if you want a job in any country and you turn up willing to work you will find a job, 99.9%.

10) How Long Will I Need To Commit To? The most frequent contracts are either 1 year or 2 years and you normally get a bonus (generally one months wage) on completion of the contract. Naturally, you are not obliged to stay beyond when you want to though and you can always move on if you forego your bonus

11) What Do I Do About Visas? If you work for a half decent school they will begin the visa process as soon as you start (sometime they pay, sometimes you pay but it’s never too much money), soon you will have a work permit and work visa, normally eligible for one year then it needs to be renewed. However, between you and me, many people work on tourist visas for cash in hand with various less reputable schools and although this isn’t strictly legal, it is rife

12) What Are Typical Working Conditions? Hugely dependent on the school or university. It can range from air-conditioned lecture halls with electronic white boards to wooden huts in 40 degree heat and 50 students! Just make sure you know what your getting yourself into before you commit

13) What About Travel Costs and Accommodation? Many of the more affluent countries (SK, Japan, U.A.E etc) cover your flights for you and put you up in decent accommodation. In less developed countries it’s up to you to pay for it but normally the school will assist you

14) What Will My Students Be Like? Depending on the calibre of school, your class size could range from 6-50 people. Often first time English teachers end up teaching primary school kids but if this isn’t what you want (like me!) then you can easily find schools with adult learners

15) What Happens If I Really Hate the Job or the Country? This one is easy – leave! This happens a fair bit, especially for people who have never lived away from home so the schools are very understanding and they will send you off with a friendly handshake, a decent reference and unforgettable memories

16) Can I Make  A Career Out Of This? Absolutely! And you can earn some serious cash too, there are loads of further qualifications available out there, Masters, PHD’s, DELTAs etc. all of which nudge you up the TEFL food chain and allow you to earn serious western wages in every country in the world

teaching english in thailand

My class in Thailand

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22 thoughts on “16 FAQ about Teaching English Overseas

  1. Ashim Bharadwaj

    I am an Indian,40yrs old,commerce graduate with sound english communicating skills, planning to teach English in my SE asia.I have enrolled for a TESOL 120 hrs in class course.What are my options,which countries I should target?

    Reply
  2. Tim

    Does age matter when searching for a job? I’m in my early twenties, a recent college grad looking to do this in Thailand.

    Reply
  3. Tjan

    Thanks for your wonderful blog and the honesty with which you tackle the question about non-native speakers! I too have dreams about leaving the rat race behind but had reservations about my prospects of being hired as an English teacher because of this issue (and because of my race too – can you imagine trying to find a job teaching English in SK or Japan while looking similar to everyone else? Lol) . Guess I’ll have to brush up on other, more marketable skills.

    Reply
  4. Josh

    Hey Jonny loving the blog! I was just wondering about the difficulty of finding a job teaching English in South Korea. I don’t have a degree, however I do have good A-level qualifications. I also plan on taking a CELTA course this year. Would that be adequate to find a job do you think? Thanks :)

    Reply
  5. Jem

    Hey thanks for the information. I have a couple of questions…

    . If I were to get a CELTA would this enable me to teach children as I dont really want to teach adult learners.

    . I’m 18 and would hope to start working in this field at the age of 19 how many opportunities do you honestly feel I would be able to get as Ive heard under 21s struggle in teaching English abroad?

    and finally. Could you possible post some websites or names of places where we could find employment opportunities as iv’e heard they are also hard to come by :p

    thanks a bunch :D

    Reply
  6. Beth

    Thanks for this post, a really helpful starting point for me! I just got back from Cambodia where I was lucky enough to do 2 weeks teaching in a small English school. It was probably the best 2 weeks of my life and now I really want to get back out to S.E Asia and teach for a year. Everything is just so confusing and am going through a bit of an information overload! I see you did the CELTA course in Thailand, would you recommend that as a good place to do the course?

    Reply
  7. Andrea

    I spotted this Groupon this morning and thought it would be something of interest for you folks and others who are interested in teaching abroad as part of a travel lifestyle, and wanted to share –

    There is a Groupon right now for the TESOLS course, $69 for 150 hour course, at supposed $599 value. The course is through the TESOLS website. The verbiage for Groupon is:
    “Online course grants internationally recognized certification to teach English as a secondary language. Expires Mar 13, 2013. Limit 1 per person, may buy 2 additional as gifts. Must be redeemed online. Must be activated within 6 months from the date of purchase. Not valid with other offers.” Also some verbiage at the bottom “Though TESOLS.com sometimes features a discounted price online, this Groupon still offers the best deal available.”

    This showed up through the Pensacola Groupon list, so not sure if when you search for it you’ll need to somehow search specifically in Pensacola, or just search TESOLS and it might come up.

    Reply
    1. Josh

      Thanks so much for the posting about the TESOL course from groupon. That is absurdly cheap. Even if it was total biogas my gym offers student pricing even if you’re taking an online course, so it will save me some money! Haha :)

      Reply
  8. Milena

    Hi Johnny,

    I’m so glad I found your blog, very motivating and inspiring :)
    I’m hoping to move to Thailand in a month or two but I have a hard time choosing a school to pass the tefl.

    I can’t afford to take the CELTA or the TESOL at the moment but I see a lot of schools offering a combined course throughout the UK. Do you know which schools hold a bad/good reputation?

    Cheers!

    Reply
  9. Ra.

    Hello there.

    I landed up here, about a month ago, reading about your Mount Everest exploit. Nice.

    I am an Indian (Asian) and am planning to start my solo traveling life by trekking from Puh to Rekong-Peo. 3 Months. Including one of Winters!

    I also intend to go to Maldives for teaching English.

    Shall keep you posted.

    Cheers.

    Ra.

    PS. Presently, I am a pauper, having given up my corporate noose 2 years ago. Trying to collect some sponsorship for my trek. :-P

    Reply
  10. Kathleen

    Thanks for the info! I’m seriously considering teaching English in S. Korea next year, and even though I have a close friend who has done this for 2 years now (and loved it!), it’s always nice to hear from other people with similar experiences. :)

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      Hi Kathleen :) S Korea is a great first place to teach, no TEFL required, loads of ex-pats, quite westernised and good money! Good luck and keep me posted…

      Reply
  11. Lauren

    Really useful stuff, I’d been wondering about most of those things myself! I’m definitely considering teaching English whilst in SE asia!

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      Hi Lauren, it’s a great way to truly experience a culture when your in SE Asia (as opposed to the standard booze and flip-flops!), if you need a hand to sort it out, gimme a shout :)

      Reply
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