One way to travel — or to pay for your travels — is to get a job overseas teaching English. If you want to spend several years in a destination, this is a popular way to earn a living.
Jobs worth considering as a long-term prospect — or even as a career — are widely available. They generally require qualifications and experience; see Certificates below. In many such positions, the benefits include airfare and housing, though there is great variation from country to country and by type of institution.
Other jobs might do to supplement a backpacker's income, or even let you live somewhere interesting for a year. For some of these jobs, especially in remote areas, anyone who looks foreign and speaks some English can get work. Again, details vary greatly.
Speaking the local language is not generally required, though it may be quite useful in beginner classes and may make your stay more pleasant in other ways.
The students are learning ESL (English as a Second Language) or EFL (English as a Foreign Language) or ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages). For the teacher, add a T for Teaching to get TESL, TEFL or TESOL, or just call the field ELT (English Language Teaching).
A trend in the last few decades is to do a lot of ESP (English for Specific Purposes), designing custom courses depending on what the learners need to use the language for. One branch of this is EAP (English for Academic Purposes), preparing students for study abroad.
A major part of the ESP approach is needs analysis, figuring out how your students will use the language. Consider a company somewhere that exports products to English-speaking countries. The engineers might just need to read manuals and product specifications in English; they might never hear, speak or write it. Marketers might need to read the quite different language of orders and contracts, and to both read and write emails in much less formal language. Some of them might also need to talk with customers. Executives might need to handle complex negotiations in English — a task that requires not only excellent spoken English but also business skills and an awareness of cultural differences. Ideally, each of these groups would get a different English course.
In some situations, needs analysis is a formal process and courses are written to order for specific groups. Often, however, the teacher just does an informal analysis and finds or invents exercises to suit a class.
A good score on an English test is almost always required for students whose native language is not English to study at a university that uses English (sometimes even when the university has a different primary language). Tests may also be required for visas in some countries or for some jobs. The widely-used tests have their own acronyms:
- TOEFL, for admission to US universities
- IELTS, for British, Irish, Canadian, Australian and NZ universities
- (Many universities accept either)
- TOEIC, a business English test from the TOEFL people
- BULATS, a business English test from the IELTS people
- BEC [dead link], business English Certificates from Cambridge (three exams at different levels)
- CPE, also from Cambridge: their highest level exam.
Teachers abroad may supplement their income by serving as examiners or markers for these tests, though both the demand and the pay rates for this vary considerably from place to place, and they are different for each test. In China a typical teacher can roughly double his or her income by working as an IELTS examiner a few weekends a month. Requirements are stiff, though — IELTS 9 (native speaker level) English, a TEFL certificate (CELTA or Trinity OK, anything else subject to discussion) and three years classroom teaching experience with adult students (neither teaching kids nor online teaching counts). That gets you into examiner training; there is a fee for the course and any travel involved is at your expense. You then need to pass a stiff test, and re-take it every two years, to actually get the work.
Some ESL students may also need or want to take other tests to get into foreign universities; these are not ESL tests, but admission tests designed for native English speakers. The main ones are:
- SAT and ACT for undergraduate admissions
- GRE for most graduate programs, with both a general test and specific tests for different fields.
For more on these tests and discussion of others, see Studying abroad.
Teaching ESL (or any other language) has much in common with any other teaching, but also has its own unique challenges. Among other things, it needs some understanding of how language works, quite a bit of patience, and considerable showmanship since non-verbal techniques such as gesture and facial expressions are often needed to scaffold the weaker linguistic understanding of the learner.
Teaching English as a second language is significantly different than teaching English literature and composition to a class of (mostly) native speakers, though of course there is overlap as well. For one thing, an ESL teacher has to deal with a wider range of problems, notably pronunciation difficulties and spoken usage questions, such as when "How are you?" is more appropriate than "How do you do?" Also, even intelligent adult second language learners make grammar errors on things any eight-year-old native speaker gets 100% right; an ESL teacher has to teach and correct those. Also, you have to monitor and adjust your own English, speaking slowly and clearly, avoiding slang (or emphasizing it, depending on a needs analysis), sometimes explaining terms, and so on.
At any level, the teaching needs to be highly interactive. Too much talk by the teacher is fatal; you cannot teach language-using skills either by lecturing or (except in tiny groups) with a series of one-on-one interactions between the teacher and different students. You must set up situations for students to actually use the language. Often this means introducing some vocabulary and/or grammatical structures on the board or in a listening or reading exercise, then setting up some sort of pairs or group task where students can try it out. Various sorts of discussion, role-playing or game activities are often used.
A whole range of props are often used — maps to practice giving directions, newspaper clippings for reading comprehension or summary-writing practice, menus for a restaurant role-play, pictures for parts-of-the-body or parts-of-a-car, cartoons to provoke discussion, and so on. Sometimes the teacher must find or invent these; sometimes the school has a stock, as in the picture, or they can be borrowed from other teachers. It is fairly common for teachers working overseas to ask friends at home to mail them posters and other props, or to collect props themselves on visits home. If you are going abroad to teach, bring props or mail yourself a batch before leaving home.
Getting beginners started speaking English is difficult; techniques include translation, mime, pictures, and a lot of repetition. With young learners, you may be able to make a game of it. Patience and a sense of humour are essential; attempts to communicate when language skills are very limited are hard on both student and teacher.
With intermediate students, you get questions that strain your knowledge of your own language. If "He doesn't have much money" is OK, what is wrong with "He has much money"? Which is better: "a big red balloon" or "a red big balloon"? Why? Is the other incorrect or just unusual? Training and grammar reference books can help here, but sometimes the answer is just "That is the way we do it."
From advanced students, you get even more difficult questions on grammar and usage. Also, especially in ESP settings, you may need considerable knowledge beyond the language itself. For example, to teach business English above a certain level, you must know quite a bit about business. You need not be as expert as the students, though. For example, to teach medical English, you need not be a doctor but a nurse might make a fine teacher, a degree in biology or experience in a related field would help, and at least a good understanding of high-school-level biology is probably essential.
Anyone contemplating more than a bit of casual work in this field should seriously consider getting some training. Training can make it a good deal easier to survive in a classroom and can help you be a better teacher. A certificate may make it easier to get a job, or to get one of the better ones. Also, in some countries a degree is legally required to get a working visa; there is some hope of negotiating your way around this if you have a TEFL certificate, but almost none without it.
There is no such thing as an international TEFL accrediting body. Masters' degrees are the only actual accredited degrees or certificates, and few positions actually require those, mainly due to the tremendous demand for English teachers and the very short supply.
There are a number of different ESL/EFL teaching certificates available.
- Many schools give their own courses to staff.
- Various companies in Western countries offer programs, often including job placement help.
- There are online courses.
Most programs include some classroom experience and can be completed in one to three months.
Short of a Master's, a Cambridge or Trinity certificate is the most marketable qualification to have, though requirements vary in different countries and teaching institutions.
- Courses for Cambridge CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) are given under license by over 250 centers in over 40 countries. The course is now available online as well. The CELTA course is generally both more difficult and more expensive than other courses, but of similar duration. Job ads routinely ask for "CELTA or equivalent" rather than just wanting "a TEFL certificate".
- Trinity College London CertTESOL is also taught in many places and also widely accepted. It is "or equivalent" for those ads.
- Cambridge also offer a Young Learners extension to CELTA, but they are cancelling that effective December 2016. The replacement will be a set of modular Teaching Knowledge Tests, including one for young learners.
The TEFL class equivalent of a CELTA / Trinity is an accredited course with a minimum of 100 hours of academic coursework led by a qualified instructor (MA or equivalent) and a minimum of 6 hours of practicum (student teaching) with real ESL students (not TEFL class peers). This is typically completed in 4 weeks full time or 9-11 weeks part time or online.
If you plan to make a career in the field, consider more advanced training such as a diploma course (Cambridge DELTA or Trinity DipTESOL) or a Masters degree. These are required for many teacher training or head of school jobs and for some of the best teaching jobs.
Quite a few universities offer ESL/EFL training, often both a Certificate program and a Master's degree. A few offer a Master's program designed for teachers working overseas, with most work done by correspondence. The Cambridge DELTA course is offered the same way.
Cactus TEFL has a directory of courses including both CELTA and Trinity courses as well as their own.
Popular destinations for paying English teaching jobs include
- Eastern Europe
- Asia, especially China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam
- Middle East and North Africa
- Latin America
Worldwide, ESL is a major industry. In any of the areas mentioned above, there are both ESL programs in public schools and universities and quite a few private schools. In some places it seems there is a language school on every block. Japan's eikaiwa ("conversation schools") range from small schools to major chains; both hire native speakers from abroad. South Korea's hagwon, China's buxiban, and schools in many other countries do the same.
Demand for teachers in some areas is enormous. Dave's ESL Cafe breaks recruiting ads into three groups: Korea, China, and anywhere else. Checking on a random day (not in the peak hiring season which is around July for a September start) there were over 50 new ads in the previous week for China, over 100 for Korea, over 50 for the rest of the world. Some of those employers advertise more-or-less continuously, some have many jobs on offer, and Dave's is by no means the only site with jobs, so overall demand is very high.
There are a few places where it is difficult to go as an ESL teacher. Some countries, like North Korea, are almost completely closed; others, like Burma are just opening up after decades of being closed and might be quite interesting but perhaps still difficult. Your own government may forbid you to go to others; for example, an American cannot legally teach in Cuba. Jobs are occasionally advertised in war-torn countries like Afghanistan, but taking such a post would be too risky for most.
It is also difficult to go to English-speaking countries. Australia does not need Americans to teach them English, and vice versa. There are ESL jobs in those countries — mainly teaching immigrants or foreign students — and some might be open to foreigners who meet the visa requirements (see Working abroad and country articles), but they do not recruit abroad or provide expatriate benefits as ESL jobs elsewhere do. They may also be somewhat harder to get since employers may prefer locally-recognised qualifications or a local accent.
With those exceptions, there are ESL jobs almost anywhere. There are plenty of jobs in all the areas listed above and some in almost any non-English-speaking country. Areas like sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific islands do not have huge numbers of jobs, but they do have some. Given reasonable qualifications (preferably a degree and TESL certification), the question is more "Where would I like to go?" than "Where can I find a job?".
There are many factors to consider in choosing a destination. Some prefer a destination not too wildly different from home, perhaps Western Europe; others want to go somewhere really exotic such as Mongolia. Some might want both, a basically European civilisation but still fascinatingly exotic: perhaps Peru or Prague? Any of these are possible. Some jobs are in major tourism centers such as Bangkok or Rio, others in out-of-the-way but interesting places like the Maldives. Areas such as Japan and the Middle East generally offer higher salaries, but in terms of buying power you might be better off with lower pay in a low-cost country such as Cambodia or Bolivia. The same applies within countries; major cities often have higher pay than rural areas, but higher expenses.
Language can be a major factor. If you already speak a foreign language, it will be relatively easy for you to live in a region where it is spoken. Some teachers choose a destination partly because of a desire to learn the language, or to improve their language skills. This often implies a preference for countries where an important language is spoken — for example Russia rather than Finland, or China rather than Mongolia. Teaching in Latin America may appeal for many reasons, not least because Spanish or Portuguese are much easier for an English speaker than Arabic or Chinese. It is also somewhat easier for speakers of European languages to learn English than for speakers of unrelated languages, but both students and teachers still have to work at it. See also university programs below and language tourism.
Places like Singapore, Malaysia or Hong Kong offer a nice combination. There are jobs for foreign ESL teachers, but many local people speak English well so these places can be much easier to live in than elsewhere.
In India there are few jobs for foreigners teaching English; plenty of Indians already speak excellent English and some of those are trained teachers. There are jobs for specialists, such as teaching English literature at university level or doing teacher training, but most of these require a Masters or Doctorate. For less qualified teachers, there is only one large group of non-volunteer jobs. India (especially Bangalore) has many call centers for Western companies outsourcing customer support work. Those centers routinely hire fairly large numbers of people — mostly American/Canadian English speakers, but some for other accents or languages — as accent and cultural coaches for their phone workers, and they prefer to hire people with ESL training and/or experience. The money is very good for India, but these tend to be fairly high-pressure jobs like anything in a call center. Also, the hours are often rather odd; you need to be on duty at whatever the peak times are in the clients' time zones. If the clients work 9-5 New York time, then your working day runs 7 pm to 3 am in Bangalore.
Part of the job picture in the Philippines is similar to that for India — not many jobs for foreign ESL teachers but call centers do hire some. There are also many people, mainly Japanese and Koreans, who come to the Philippines to learn English and of course the centers they go to have jobs. Those centers are often happy to hire teachers from abroad, but generally not to incur large extra expenses compared to hiring Filipino teachers. You may get a very good salary by local standards, but in most cases not benefits like free housing or airfare.
In the European Union many employers prefer to hire teachers from Britain or Ireland because citizens of those countries do not need work visas. This may change if British citizens lose freedom of movement with the EU after the UK's June 2016 referendum, but details are not yet clear. Some employers are reluctant to hire anyone who needs a visa; others will hire qualified teachers from anywhere, and a few show a specific preference for American/Canadian accents.
For country-specific information, see the Work sections of country articles. For some destinations, see also Tips for travel in developing countries.
Pay and conditions
Nearly all ESL jobs that hire from overseas include worthwhile benefits, though there is great variation from country to country and employer to employer. A free apartment and annual two-way airfare home are common, though not all employers provide them. Most contracts are for a year, though some provide salary for only a 10-month school year. University or public school jobs often have quite long holidays.
Language teachers typically do not get the high salaries and juicy benefits package that an expatriate sent by a company or goverment to handle overseas business would. In particular, education for any children may pose a problem. International schools are generally quite expensive and few ESL employers (except in the Middle East) cover this. The local schools may not suit your kids.
In lower income countries a language teacher's pay is generally enough to live well there, but not much by the standards of higher income places. For example, $1000 US a month plus a free apartment lets you live quite well in China; local teachers are making considerably less and paying rent on their apartments. You can afford to travel some in the holidays, within China or in nearby low-cost areas like Southeast Asia, and in most jobs the employer covers most or all of the cost for an annual trip home. However it would be almost impossible to pay off debts back home, or to plan a trip to Japan, on that income. In the same region, Korea, Japan or Taiwan have higher salaries, enough to save some despite higher living costs.
It is also common for schools to hire locally for summer programs, for part-time work, and sometimes for full time employment. These jobs often have fewer benefits than the overseas-hired posts.
The best pay for language teachers is generally in the Middle East. They can afford to be choosy, though; most jobs there require a degree and TEFL certificate, and some require an MA. Some jobs in Japan and Western Europe also pay quite well, but living costs are high.
There are also some highly paid jobs training oil workers; usually these involve an on/off cycle — 42 days on-site working long hours, then 21 days away or some such — with the employer paying for a flight out every cycle and providing both housing and food when you are on-site. Most of these want good qualifications — typically degree, CELTA and five years experience.
For most classes, considerable planning and preparation is needed to produce reasonable quality lessons. A language teacher's workload is generally 15 to 20 contact hours a week; with preparation time, marking, staff meetings and so on, that is a full time job. Generally, there are some extra-curricular activities as well.
There are exceptions. With small advanced classes, sometimes all you need to do is start a discussion. Preparation consists mainly of choosing a topic; students just grab it and run. Or for some classes, you may be given a carefully laid out program with a textbook, student workbook and sometimes even presentation slides provided; such courses require less preparation. On the other hand, some schools will just dump you in the deep end ("Here's your class; teach it!") with no materials, and sometimes with other problems like no photocopier or Internet, or a class where students have wildly different levels of English. In those cases, you put in quite a bit of extra time.
There can of course be problems with this. It is fairly common for employers to want up to 25 classroom hours a week, and 30 is not unheard of. Management and teachers fairly often disagree on the importance of various meetings and paperwork. Some schools push the extracurricular stuff too far, requiring a lot of (usually unpaid) additional duties. Some rent their teachers out to local schools, which often means you have quite a lot of (usually unpaid) travel time. At some schools, nearly all classes are on evenings and weekends, or "split shift" schedules (where you teach say 9-11 in the morning then 7-9 at night) are fairly common. The worst schools may have several of these problems together; they tend to burn out teachers, to be unable to keep staff, and to be continually advertising jobs. Beware of such schools!
On the other hand, some teachers assume that showing up for class is all they have to do, wandering in with no preparation and inventing a lesson plan as they cross the threshold of the classroom. Expert teachers may be able to pull this off occasionally, but making a habit of it or trying it without a lot of experience generally leads to disaster. Teaching ESL is not just part of your holiday; it is a demanding job and needs to be taken seriously.
There is some risk in taking any overseas job.
If you travel somewhere and then look for work, you avoid some of the risks but you incur expenses. Also you may miss out on benefits; free housing and annual airfare home are more-or-less standard when hiring from overseas, but less common for local hires. Finally, you will likely not be able to get a working visa in advance since you don't have a job. Depending on local regulations, this may be a minor detail or a major hassle.
On the other hand, if you are recruited from half a world away, it is hard to know exactly what you are getting into or who you are dealing with. Most teachers end up just fine in their overseas jobs, but problems are common enough that being careful is absolutely necessary.
Japanese school Nova goes broke
In October 2007, a large (1000 locations) chain of English schools in Japan crashed, leaving several thousand foreign teachers stranded. Most had not been paid in six weeks or more, and most were in company-provided housing so they became homeless when the company failed. Details.
Some schools are greedy businesses exploiting both teachers and students; the more cynical teachers have been heard to describe some as "McEnglish". Some recruiters are amazingly slimy and interested only in their commission. Many schools and some recruiters are just fine, but definitely not all. There are plenty of horror stories — horrible accommodation, outrageously large classes, demands for unpaid overtime, late pay, broken contracts, etc. Of course there are lots of happy teachers in other schools, sometimes even in the same school.
One of the tricky things about working abroad is to adapt to local conditions; getting overly upset about things you cannot change is a shortcut to madness. On the other hand, provided you both choose your battles and adapt your tactics to local conditions, fighting for reasonable treatment can also be quite sensible.
The lowest risk jobs are the government-run recruiting programs; these can offer a safe way to get your feet wet. Other government-run places, such as universities and public high schools, are also relatively safe, as are jobs with large international companies.
Some factors indicate higher risk:
- Private language schools are riskier than government programs.
- "Third-world" countries and those with highly corrupt "systems" are also much riskier.
- If a recruiter is involved, your risk is significantly higher; either the school or the recruiter can mess you around.
- If the culture is wildly different from your own, then you may not understand the negotiation process you are involved in or know what questions you should be asking.
That said, thousands of teachers are having a wonderful time in jobs with one or more of those risk factors. Some are perfectly happy in jobs with all four! Be aware of risks and use a little caution, and you should be fine.
Check Wikivoyage and other sources for information on the location. Do a web search on the city name along with terms like "pollution", "corruption" and "gang"; you might expect a few hits for almost any city, but if there's a big problem, this may turn it up. If having modern conveniences and Western food is important to you, check websites for major international retail chains like Ikea or the European supermarkets Metro and Carrefour to see if they have stores there. Ask the school to email you photos of the accommodation and classrooms.
Checking on the job and the employer is harder. The most important precaution: Ask to talk to current foreign teachers before agreeing to anything. Be extremely wary of any school that will not let you do this.
You can also check the web for comments on potential employers or on recruiters. ESL teachers are a chatty bunch, and mostly literate, so there is a lot of information available. Most of the job ad sites have forums that include comments on available jobs. There are also many country-specific forums offering school reviews or just a blacklist of problem schools. Take reviews with a grain of salt, though; even quite a good school may have a few angry ex-employees ranting on the web. Look for other web comments and talk to current teachers before drawing any firm conclusions.
In certain locations, there may be additional risks; we cover the most common ones in Tips for travel in developing countries and Tropical diseases. For some places, Altitude sickness, Cold weather or War zone safety may also be relevant.
Looking for work
There are many ways to look for work in the field. One option is to narrow down your areas and then send out letters or email with your resume included. This does require sending out many letters with the expectation that a lot of places will not have openings at this time. However, since it is well known that most job openings are never advertised, there is a good chance this will turn up openings that otherwise would not be found.
If you have less experience as a teacher or would like to experience teaching English before committing to a full training course and career, another option is to take an internship. Like a job, you will typically receive free travel, food and lodging. You will also receive a salary, though this is likely to be smaller than a teacher’s pay. However, you will have a greater support network around you and it is unlikely that you will be the only English teacher in the school. Interns are normally tasked with improving their students’ listening and speaking skills rather than lead full courses for a fixed-period contract, ranging between 3 months and a year.
There are often fairly strong preferences for native English speakers and for citizens of major English-speaking countries. Job ads fairly often include a list of acceptable passports; UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are on every list, Ireland and South Africa on most. Even if not explicitly stated, many employers will not even read the rest of your resume if you do not have one of those passports, and some governments will refuse to issue you a work permit without one of those passports. Many ads also give an acceptable age range, and a few specify gender or marital status; this would be illegal under discrimination laws in some countries, but is fairly quite common in ads for overseas jobs.
Especially in Asia, various prejudices and stereotypes may also come into play; many schools prefer Caucasians, especially blue-eyed blondes, apparently because they hope the "right" image will help their marketing. Overseas Chinese (even ones with English as their first language), Filipinos, Indians, Malaysians, American Blacks, and especially Africans all report some difficulties finding jobs, or getting lower offers. Members of all those groups are happily employed in other schools, and many are well-paid, but getting a job is easier if you fit the stereotype. This is mainly based on economics - the archetypal native English speaker is a white person with blond hair and blue eyes, with many less educated parents being unaware that most English-speaking countries are multiracial and hence, home to native English speakers of different skin colours. Thus, many parents who send their children to English classes expect the teachers to look white, and managers who hire people of colour will often have problems attracting customers.
Many web sites offer English teaching jobs; the best-known is Dave's ESL Cafe. Others include Cactus TEFL, TEFL.com, World of TEFL, LoveTEFL.com, TEFL Org UK, Happy Cats TEFL and Maximo Nivel. Meanwhile, TEFLPA allows English teachers to freely advertise their teaching services to students in their local area anywhere in the world, and one of many employment discussion lists is TESLJob
Fewer web sites offer internship options though they are becoming more popular. For example, The TEFL Academy offers paid internships in countries including China, Thailand and South Korea, while Premier TEFL and TEFL Org UK package their internship offers with their TEFL training courses. Different internships will require different levels of training so read the details carefully.
Web search for phrases like "English teacher" or "ESL job" will turn up dozens more sites. There are also many sites for specific countries or regions; include one or more country or city names in a web search to find those. See also the Work sections of our country articles.
As with everything in the ESL business, some caution is required; some sites are run by recruiters (see cautions below) and some have been accused of censoring discussions in their forums to protect their advertisers from criticism.
There are two major professional associations for ESL teachers, US-based TESOL and British-based IATEFL. Both are international organisations whose members come from all over and are working all around the world. Both publish journals (available in university libraries) and run a website and an annual conference. The journals and websites have job ads and the conferences have a hiring fair. Like most academic organizations, these are more applicable to teachers of TEFL at the university level where service involvement is required for tenure and promotion; the majority of TEFL teachers have little or no involvement with them.
Teachers in many countries have established ELT teaching associations; many are set up as regional affiliates of either TESOL or IATEFL. Like any other job search, networking and finding the people who are "in the know" is a great way to find a job or to learn more about local conditions:
- Arabia — TESOL Arabia
- Bangladesh — BELTA
- South Korea — KOTESOL
- Russian Far East — FEELTA
- Philippines — PALT
- Singapore — ELLTAS
- Thailand — Thailand TESOL
- Taiwan — ETA-ROC
At the very least, read the appropriate site to get a feel for the issues that are important in the country you wish to work in. You may also discover who are the leaders locally and what is currently important. Having this information ready will help with any interview. Some sites will link to posts for job notices. Look for conference announcements and plan a visit; these are excellent chances to look for work.
Governments of destination countries
A few countries have government-run programs for recruiting foreign teachers:
- Chile — English Opens Doors (Volunteer posts with very low pay)
- France — English Assistant Program
- Hong Kong — NET
- Japan — JET
- South Korea — EPIK
- Spain — Convocatorias
These generally take new university graduates and do not require teacher training or experience. Most placements are in secondary schools. You may be posted to a rural school where you're the only foreigner for miles around — great for experiencing local culture, not so great if you wanted to move in with your girl/boyfriend in Tokyo/Seoul.
Most of these jobs pay fairly well for entry-level posts, often a bit more than training centers offer to beginning teachers. For example, as of 2013 the Japanese JET program pays ¥3,360,000 (about $33,000) in the first year with increases in subsequent years. These jobs also look fairly good on a resume; anyone hiring English teachers in the region is likely to know these programs and if your next job application will be back home, then listing a national Ministry of Education as your last employer sounds much better than Tomiko's English Academy.
In some countries the State, Province or other entity in charge of education for many cities will also assist schools in finding staff. Contacting the education department directly can lead you to schools needing foreign ESL teachers.
Governments of English-speaking countries
The British Council is the British government's educational and cultural department. Among other things, they are the largest English teaching organisation in the world, running schools in many places.
The Council also handle recruiting for various foreign governments' English programs. Say Elbonia needs a few dozen teachers, or a few higher-level specialists like teacher trainers or curriculum and test designers; the Council will advertise, collect resumes, and produce a short list of candidates. For the actual interviews, senior Elbonian staff can fly to London and use Council facilities to interview, or the Council can handle the interviews too.
For some of these jobs, the Council also provides guarantees for teachers; if a corrupt school official steals your pay or you need to bail out because of a revolution in Elbonia, some Council contracts require compensation and the Council pays it even if they cannot collect from the other government. This does not completely remove the risks, of course, but it does reduce them significantly.
Council jobs can be searched on their web site or look for ads in the Guardian and the Times Education Supplement or Higher Ed. Supplement. Some, but by no means all, of their jobs are restricted to British citizens. Most interviews are in London. British Council schools may also hire locally wherever they are, but these jobs usually do not have benefits like airfare and housing that the London-hired ones do.
The US State Department also has an English teaching program. Another program, paid for by government and run by Georgetown university, sends teacher trainers and other experts abroad; it requires a masters degree and US citizenship.
The big chains
There are a number of large companies in the ESL business, such as English First, International House, Wall Street English and Berlitz. The British Council (see above) might be considered another in this class, though it is rather different in some ways. Any of these has dozens of schools in multiple countries, and all of them are more-or-less continuously recruiting teachers.
There are substantial advantages to working for such a company, especially for novice teachers.
- Any of them tends to have experienced managers, to offer training for teachers, and to pay at competitive (though not always generous) rates.
- Perhaps more important, none of them are at all likely to try the tricks that sleazy recruiters or schools sometimes get up to, such as avoiding the cost of a proper visa by asking teachers to work illegally on a tourist visa or making large profits while paying teachers a pittance as "volunteers".
- Given experience in one of these companies, it may be relatively easy to move to another location or to a different job. Consider a teacher who has done a few year's ESL in Indonesia and is ready for a change; any such teacher could look for work in, say, Japan or Prague and have a reasonable chance of finding it. However, a teacher with one of the big companies can seek work at the same company's schools in those places; he or she is likely to have it significantly easier, both in finding work and in adapting to the new school on arrival.
- If you want to make a career in ESL, there may be more opportunities in a large company; there are jobs in management, teacher training and materials development that you can hope to move into.
These are professional organisations, not fly-by-night operators; that is good to know when you contemplate the risks inherent in working abroad, and it may also make one of them look better on your resume than a smaller company.
That said, there is a downside. For one thing, most such companies are franchise operations so conditions at a particular school depend on the local franchise owner as well as the global organisation. Some reports on expatriate-in-wherever bulletin boards claim that certain schools in large chains are utterly awful places to work, generally because at that particular school either the franchise owner or the foreign manager is a twit. Such reports need to be taken with a grain of salt and it is quite common to hear that one location is terrible while another nearby is just fine, but some caution is indicated.
In most cases an experienced teacher with some knowledge of a country can find a better job than these places offer — one with more money, shorter hours, longer holidays or less stress, and sometimes more than one of those. However, for someone new to ESL teaching and/or the country, these places are quite often the best prospect.
Some people on expatriate-in-wherever discussion sites say quite emphatically that you should never consider taking a job if a recruiter is involved. That is likely overstated — other people posting on the same sites often disagree, and some even recommend particular recruiters as honest and useful — but treating recruiters with caution is almost always advisable. In many cases, they create more problems rather than solving any.
Note that this includes various "job search" sites which do not give contact information for actual employers, or even for recruiters other than the company running the site; these are just thinly disguised advertising for a particular recruiter and should be either shunned entirely or used with caution. It also includes various organisations in Western countries that offer ESL training followed by "placement assistance". The training may be useful (see certificates above), but after that they are just a recruiter and should be treated with caution.
Some recruiters want an up-front payment from teachers, a "membership fee", "placement fee" or whatever. In nearly all cases, these should be rejected out-of-hand. Honest recruiters make their money by getting commissions from schools; any who ask for payment from teachers are quite likely scammers. This does seem to vary some from place to place, though; for example, almost no recruiters for China or Thailand ask for an up-front fee, but for Latin America many do.
For volunteer recruiting, see also Volunteer_travel#Be_wary.
Other ways to teach abroad
There are many other ways to live abroad. See Working abroad for some details. Here we cover those that involve teaching.
Teachers from other fields
If you have a teaching qualification in your own country, but not in ESL — perhaps a biology or history or even English literature teacher — then many English teaching jobs will happily accept you, though some will want an ESL certificate as well.
With such qualifications, consider looking for work at International schools. These are mainly for the children of expatriates, and the fees are generally paid by companies or governments who send staff abroad. The fees are often high, but nobody cares; most parents do not have to pay them and for the parents' employers they are a necessary business expense. In these schools both the educational standards and the teachers' pay rates are similar to those back home, quite often a bit higher. In most cases pay and conditions are much better than language teachers get. In addition, free education for your own children is often included.
These schools generally want the same qualifications as primary or secondary schools back home, but there is some variation. All want certified teachers, but some restrict that to certifications from a particular country or even state, while others will happily hire certified teachers from anywhere in the English-speaking world. A few will also hire well-qualified ESL teachers — typically degree and CELTA — without schoolteacher certification. Many international schools also look for two years teaching experience in addition to formal qualifications. Many schools conduct interviews on Skype.
There is a Council of International Schools and an International Schools Services directory; both sites also have teacher recruitment links. A company called Search Associates handles recruiting for a number of schools and runs job fairs in large cities around the world. Many of those schools teach the International Baccalaureate — a high school diploma that most universities in any English-speaking country will accept — so another way to find schools is through the IB site. You could also ask embassies or companies with many expatriate staff what schools they use, or ask on an expatriate-in-wherever forum.
A web search for "international school" plus the name of a country or city will also turn some up, but be aware that "international school" is sometimes (certainly in China, possibly elsewhere as well) purely a marketing term, used in promoting any school that teaches some English.
Certified Montessori teachers can also find work in many countries.
Teaching other languages
Of course English is not the only language for which there is demand. There are jobs around the world for teachers of any major world language, though often not as many as for English teachers.
Various governments sponsor organisations to promote their nations' languages, and offer jobs for speakers of those languages.
- Chinese: Confucius Institute
- French: Alliance Française
- German: Goethe Institute
- Italian: Società Dante Alighieri
- Japanese: Japan Foundation
- Korean: King Sejong Institute
- Portuguese: Instituto Camoes
- Russian: Russkiy Mir Foundation
- Spanish: Cervantes Institute
Universities and high schools abroad, or training centers that mainly teach English, may also hire teachers for other major languages. Some countries, such as China, have universities that specialise in teaching foreign languages. As for English teachers, International schools often have better pay and conditions than other places.
Many Western universities offer some sort of year abroad program, often in co-operation with a foreign university. For students of the language or history of some remote part of the world, these may be a fine opportunity. Typically there are fees which you would not pay if you went on your own, but on the other hand you get credits from the Western university for your foreign studies.
There are two main types of program; examples here are from China but similar things are available in other places.
- Some programs. e.g. Berkeley, offer full time study of the foreign language. Often these are fairly flexible about time; a year, a semester or a summer are all possible.
- Others give some language and teaching training, then place you as an English teacher in the host country. Usually these require a longer commitment, typically a year. The advantage is that you make at least enough to live on.
Volunteer positions are usually for a shorter term and may or may not include room and board. For details see Volunteer.
Online teaching materials
Many sites offer teaching materials, lesson plans, or related ideas.
- The Internet TESL Journal is a source for teachers wishing to understand ELT better or get new ideas: broken down into Techniques, Articles, and Lessons. Updated monthly.
There are several Wikis for English teachers:
All have lesson plans and teaching materials as well as more general articles.