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Teaching English was a huge part of my journey from broke Irish kid to the guy who visited every country in the world over 10 years, blogging from his laptop as he went, to making over $1m online. It was my first step, and I have nothing but fond memories of my teaching experiences both in Chiang Mai, Thailand and on awesome winter camps in South Korea.

Teaching Engish is an awesome way for people to travel the world, integrate into a new culture, learn a new language and make some decent cash amidst all the new adventures. It can be a bit of a minefield though, so let me run through some common FAQs to help you guys out.

teaching english in korea johnny ward
Having fun at a winter English Camp in South Korea

1) Is It Necessary to Speak the Language of the country you teach English in? 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 your employer cares about. So you want to teach English in Thailand but can’t speak Thai? That’s normal, don’t worry.

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, to $5k+ in the Middle East. An average salary in Thailand, for example, ranges between $1k to $2k per month.

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, full education up to 18 years old. Often though some countries  (such as Thailand and Korea) 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. Vietnam and China don’t legally require a degree though, so that’s worth nothing, teaching English in Vietnam is actually an awesome hybrid of good cash and fun times, check out more info on that here.

TEFLs come in all shapes and sizes (check out a TEFL courses page here), from classroom courses with practical training, to online TEFL courses that can be done in a matter of days, so it depends how much time and money you want to spend on your qualification.

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? In short, yes, but it’s tougher to find a job. I had a very good German friend who took my TEFL  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, regardless of your English ability. 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 for sure. Your best bet, as a non-native English speaker, is to move to the place you want to teach and get knocking doors.

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. This is huge in Korea and Japan.

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. Government school naturally have a schedule, but private English classes/schools run throughout the year, so it’s always possible to find work.

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. Don’t leave your school in the lurch though, if you sign a 1  year contract, do your outmost to respect your contract, and your school, and your students. People leaving mid-term is tough on everyone.

11) What Do I Do About Visas? If you work for a decent school they will begin the visa process as soon as you start (sometimes they pay the fees, 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 within Asia. Personally I’ve never done it, but many of my friends have.

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 to a year contract.

13) What About Travel Costs and Accommodation? Many of the more affluent countries (South Korea, 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 people to 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. That suited me much more, but lots of new teachers love working with kids, the choice is yours.

15) What Happens If I Really Hate the Job or the Country? This one is easy – leave. If you’re truly unhappy then communicate with your school, it happens (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. Just be open and honest.

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

17) Which country should I teach in? Personally I have taught in both Thailand and South Korea. Teaching English in Thailand is better for your lifestyle, South Korea is better for your bank account, so it depends what you want.

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34 thoughts on “16 FAQ about Teaching English Overseas

  1. This post was quite the timely find. I almost did a CELTA cert last year then life happened and I let the idea get away from me. Thanks for the inspiration and the refresher on all the research I put in… Your blog’s full of useful information!

  2. Very informative & inspiring post. you capture amazing photos. Nice post of faq about teaching english. Thanks.

  3. Interesting blog! very nice information you shared here thank you so much for nice faq about teaching english.

  4. Pingback: What is a TEFL course exactly?! | One Step 4Ward
  5. I’m a 23 years old Indian with bachelors degree in English and masters in education. I want to teach English in south Korea but I checked online and found that the EPIK only recruits English teachers from countries like UK, US, Australia etc. Is there any chance I can teach there? And how high are the chances if there is any? I would like to know from you soon. Thank you.

  6. Enjoy reading your posts. I have always wanted to do sth like this but sadly…things don’t really work for Asian English teachers T_T Like I’d like to teach in South Korea but they don’t issue a working visa for Asians like me – a Malaysian Chinese. Anyway, it feels like touring the world with your words 🙂 *Thumbs up*

  7. Hello Johnny,
    I only came across your blogg now, you have some great posts! I keep reading everywhere about difficulties of teaching English abroad if I’m not a native speaker (Slovak) and it is putting me off. 🙁 I’ve just returned from my first trip to Thailand and loved it there and now want to go back travelling and working, so I can resign my 9-5 job and start a happy life!

  8. Great post!

    I hope we cross paths some time, it would be really neat to meet a fellow blogger with similar passions!
    Currently looking for my masters in Spain (if the travel blogging schedule allows it) and about to start teaching English in Germany.

    Hope you’re having a blast!

    – Jenna [http://www.giveforgranted.com]

  9. 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?

  10. 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.

  11. 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 🙂

  12. 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 😀

  13. 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?

  14. 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.

    1. 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 🙂

  15. 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!

  16. 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. 😛

    1. Cool – i’m really interested in your sponsorship, keep me posted on that and good luck with it all 🙂

  17. 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. 🙂

    1. 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…

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

    1. 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 🙂

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