Teach English Abroad: Ten Tips When Seeking TEFL Jobs


Every year thousands of adventuresome souls leave their home country for six months or more to teach English abroad. Yet the search for TEFL jobs (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) has unique characteristics versus home-country employment searches that may be more familiar to you.

Following are 10 ideas and recommendations on how to best manage the search and successful placement process.

1. Cost of Living Abroad

Teaching jobs abroad normally post salaries using the local currency. While using the Internet is a rather simple task to look up an exchange rate and determine the salary’s value in your home currency, this isn’t necessarily meaningful. Once you’ve converted the currency, the salary may seem a bit high or low at first glance, but you need to understand more. What you need to know are the costs of living in your targeted country. Ask your third party recruiter or prospective employer to provide you with a Cost of Living Guide, which should include a sampling of all the items you’ll be purchasing during your work abroad: housing costs, a bag of oranges or bananas, the cost of a haircut, public transport costs, phone rates to call home, and many other items.

2. Academic calendars

Schools’ academic calendars may vary depending on which hemisphere you are coming from and going to. For example, a Canadian teacher who desires to start teaching in South America starting in the Canadian autumn (September), needs to take into account that [some] South American schools are already mid-way through their Spring season semester. Thus, schools may not be hiring teachers in September.

3. Interviews – Presenting Yourself

Most likely you will not have the advantage of having a face-to-face interview with your employer prior to arrival into your targeted country. Your future employer will depend heavily on information in your resume / C.V., written answers to essay questions, and past employment and/or personal references you provide. Additionally, you may be asked to have a telephone interview.

It can be easy to forget the obvious. For example, in the case of telephone interviews, your prospective employer will not only be inquiring about your credentials but also listening intently to your speaking skills and how well you might present yourself in front of their students. Given this will be an international phone call, make sure that you have a clear phone line (particularly if the phone interview is on your cell phone) and without background distractions.

Furthermore, if you are asked to provide written answers to essay questions as part of the application process, do not underestimate how heavily those answers might be used to evaluate your suitability for the teaching position.

4. Recruiter / Placement Agencies

It is common to utilize third-party recruiting agencies to assist you find the optimal placement. Good agencies are worth their weight in gold even though they may charge you $900 to $2,800 U.S. for their services. A good agency should provide you with (at a minimum):


  • an office staffed with person(s) in the country in which you plan to teach,
  • screening of the best teaching opportunities with a monthly salary that is competitive and will cover your basic living needs at the local standard of living,
  • assistance in finding affordable lodging,
  • experienced in-country coordinators to provide support and services during your stay, and
  • pre-departure information to ensure your are prepared for your trip and other recommendations to be sure you are properly equipped.

5. Housing / Lodging

If you ask any person that has been involved in teaching English as a foreign language abroad, the comfort in your living situation is paramount. Some teachers prefer to live with a host family to practice the native language; others desire to live alone or with other teachers. Be sure to find out in advance what your options are for housing, and in fact if you have options. If you don’t ask beforehand you may find yourself shoved into a host family or a brick-walled dormitory. Both extremes could be okay for you, but it is important that you know before—and (most importantly) if you have options to change if you are not satisfied with your original housing.

6. Visa Processing

Every country will have different processes for allowing entry to foreigners. Your TEFL job / TESOL job will likely require some non-tourist visa classification to remain in the host country for an extended period of time (for example, more than 90 days). Work with your teaching institution or third-party recruiter to understand what type of visa you will need, and if the teaching institution will pay for it. Additionally, always check with the foreign Consulate in your home country to understand the country-specific requirements for long-term stays (e.g., police clearances, medical checks verifying that you don’t have communicable diseases, etc.)

7. Monthly Salary

Make sure you understand what the monthly salary will be and for how many weekly or monthly classroom hours you will be responsible for teaching. Additionally, be aware that some Non-Profit Organization (NPO) recruiters may scoop up nearly half of your salary to cover their costs for services they provide you. This is not necessarily a bad business practice, but highly recommended that you understand these financial details prior to committing to a work contract.

8. Freelance Work

Some teachers want to pick up extra teaching hours doing freelance work such as private tutoring sessions. In general, if you are granted a work contract and associated visa with a teaching institution, the agreement may not allow you to legally obtain side contracts with other teaching institutions. If you choose to do freelance work being paid “under the table” it should be with caution so as not to put at risk your original work contract.

9. TEFL Certification / TESOL Certification

Is this a requirement for you? This is a difficult question to answer as it widely varies depending on the country, the country’s demand for native English-speaking teachers, individual teaching institution’s requirements, and other factors. To learn more about certification requirements, utilize discussion boards and consult with third-party recruiters to understand the needs of the local market in which you have an interest in teaching English.

During your research process, should you discover that TEFL certification is in fact required, your follow-up inquiry should be if an online TEFL course is sufficient or if you need practicum-based courses.

10. Medical Coverage

Even though you may be perfectly fit and healthy, you should (at a minimum) have an emergency medical coverage policy during your teaching tenure in the foreign country. While there are a number of choices available to you for this coverage, consider the insurance company’s deductible, the policy’s amount of coverage, and how and to whom you will make claims should you encounter a medical expense

Bruce Thompson, Founder and Managing Director of TeachingChile http://www.TeachingChile.com, is a U.S. citizen residing in Chile that has been dedicated to programs involving teaching English in Chile. A 19-year veteran of international business, his recent years in Chile have involved recruiting and placing native English-speaking teachers into Chilean schools and universities, and developing TEFL training programs in Chile. Teachers interested in Chile can view a Cost of Living Guide in Chile.

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