Top tips for teaching English as a Foreign Language abroad

If you’re eager to explore the world but your bank balance isn’t quite so accommodating, earning as you travel can be the ideal solution. One of the easiest ways to do this is to…
Kim Connor Streich
Kim Connor Streich

If you’re eager to explore the world but your bank balance isn’t quite so accommodating, earning as you travel can be the ideal solution. One of the easiest ways to do this is to tap into a valuable asset that you probably take for granted: your knowledge of the English language. As a fluent English speaker, you’ll likely be in high demand all over the world; making it easy to pick up work as a EFL (English as A Foreign Language) teacher wherever you go. Here’s our top tips for getting started…

Pick countries with teacher shortages and low living costs


You can teach EFL pretty much anywhere but to maximise your earnings, pick countries that have teacher shortages and lower living costs. Whilst European countries might seem attractive, their living costs often eclipse wages and can leave you out of pocket.

It’s far cheaper to base yourself in countries like China, Cambodia and Thailand with many language schools also paying for your flight if you’re able to commit to a set period of employment. With wages high compared to the cost of living in these places, you can squirrel away plenty of cash for future travels too.

Don’t fork out thousands for qualifications

If you’re serious about teaching EFL as a career, you might wish to look into in-depth qualifications such as the CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). However, if it’s simply a stopgap to see the world, it’s really not necessary. Most employers are simply looking for natural fluency and ideally a University education. Whilst experience of teaching will certainly be welcomed, it isn’t essential.

Do you research into employers

Whilst work is plentiful, you’ll need your wits about you to ensure you sniff out the best opportunity. Use reputable sites like Dave’s ESL Cafe and to find job opportunities. Dave’s ESL Cafe also has an invaluable forum where you can chat to fellow teachers about job offers and get recommendations. As a minimum, always find out about the salary (and how this compares to living costs), location, working hours and contract terms before accepting an opportunity.

Be visa savvy


Don’t expect your employer to do the legwork for you, it’s up to you to make sure you’re on the right visa before you arrive. In the past, employers might have opted to use tourist visas initially but regulations are tightening. It’s vital you check with the relevant embassy before departing-or you might find yourself back on a plane sooner than you’d have hoped for.

Apply ahead of time

Last-minute jobs are available but more reputable language schools can hire months ahead to avoid staff shortages. If you can, applying ahead of time means you might end up with the cream of the crop.

Always have your airfare home

Even if your contract offers return flights, it’s good advice to always have enough money saved for your airfare home as a backup plan.

Have plenty of resources up your sleeve

Your language school will often supply teaching resources but these can sometimes be a little outdated. Keeping your class engaged is key so don’t be afraid to have a Plan B. Bringing relevant newspapers, magazines and DVDs from home can help bring your teaching to life and will likely fascinate your students. Alternatively, the internet is your best friend here. TEFL tunes is a great site for sourcing catchy songs that will stick in your student’s heads (and yours unfortunately) for hours whilst the British Council has a range of resources for teaching all age groups.

Read up on cultural differences before entering the classroom

Even those with teaching degrees and experience can find the initial few days challenging. Students learning English abroad can be different to the ones you’ve encountered at home; both in terms of needs and learning styles. Make sure you read up on culturally sensitive topics before you take to the classroom and learn a little about the education system you’re entering.

For example, students in China will be very used to learning by repetition rather than active learning so jumping straight into an immersive drama activity might take them by surprise! What’s more, many students in South Asia might struggle to admit they are struggling in a bid to save face; so don’t always expect an honest answer to ‘do you understand?’

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