PLEASE NOTE: This is only from my personal experience and research while engaging in the process of international teaching. Requirements may change over time, please be sure to do your own research before beginning your adventure!
If you had told me 24 months ago that I would be living in an apartment in Beijing, China with my family, I would have thought you were crazy. At that time, I had no contacts in China and had never even been to Asia before. But after a conversation with another teacher in a Pearson lunchroom, I changed the entire plan I had for myself. Thoughts of buying a home and having a family changed to exploring the world.
Searching for my first step into international teaching led me to many different explanations on how a person could become a teacher in a different country. I read countless teacher blogs and discovered their tips to making their traveling dreams come true. In this post, I will tell you how it might be possible for you to teach around the world. Please remember: teaching is a wonderful experience but also a ton of responsibility. Don’t go into teaching if you aren’t willing to put in the effort!
Before I begin, I will first start with explaining what the two most common types of teacher (for those who speak English). The first one I will talk about is an English-speaking curriculum international teacher. This is a someone who had a teaching certificate and passport from their country and continues to teach their curriculum in a foreign setting. The other is a TEFL English teacher. This kind of teacher is completely different and their sole job is to teach adults/kids the English language.
Why Become an International Teacher?
After teaching in Arizona for five years, I realized that with my teaching salary and family, I was unable to visit the countries that I taught about in my high school geography class. One trip to any other part of the world would deplete my savings for the year and leave us open to financial hardship. With the international career path, that isn’t so much a problem because the benefits international teachers get are unbelievable! Quite a few schools offer a housing allowance, which can many times accommodate a two-bedroom household. I think most families in America spend well over $15,000 in rent and that creates huge savings (however, keep in mind that many Middle Eastern countries have teachers live in compounds on campus and other countries like China may have housing at many of their boarding schools. There will be some differences based on schools/country and housing isn’t guaranteed, so be sure to read the job description). Not only that, but the pay is comparable with teaching contracts in the US. With the benefits and the monetary conversion rates, this can mean more of your paycheck going into the bank!
Other benefits often include health insurance and yearly bonuses for the completion of the contract. Some schools in Asia even offer flights to and from your country of origin every year upon completion of contract. I have heard of even crazier benefits like paid housekeepers or free breakfast/lunch for the duration of your contract. Benefits really can differ school to school, so I can not stress to you how important it is to read the job description to make sure the school is a good fit for you. If you have a family, make sure that your family can make do on that one income if necessary. Take cost of living in that country into consideration before applying and interviewing in those schools. My husband didn’t like this because he said everyday I was making plans for a new country and it drove him nuts. Still, I think it made me quickly realize what my priorities had to be when bringing my family over and got me through the process easier. Single teachers or teachers that intend on leaving spouses at home (this is not at all uncommon) have a bit more freedom where that is concerned.
The best benefit though? Tuition for your children so that your family can come on this adventure with you is oftentimes an add-on. Of the schools I applied to, I want to say that 90% offered free tuition and/or reduced prices on uniforms, etc. Some of these schools’ yearly tuitions are north of $20,000! The opportunity to have my husband and son with me is definitely the best benefit and I know my son will receive a world-class English education. In fact, teacher couples, where both parents teach, are often highly-coveted in the international setting. Schools will make accommodations for these couples because they tend to stay longer with the amazing benefits and/or work out better with countries that have visa restrictions, i.e. the Middle East.
Requirements to be an International Teacher
As I mentioned above, an international teacher at an (English-speaking) international school must have a teaching certificate from your country. I am from the USA, but it seems from that you can also have a teaching certificate many countries! There are a ton of other international teachers at my school from Australia, South Africa, Malaysia, the Philippines, etc. They are all great English-speakers and were hired the same way I was.
Originally, I believed that the only positions that would be available were competitive subjects like science and math. I quickly discovered that even though I am certified in social studies, there were still a ton of options for me. International schools are looking for all kinds of teachers! I saw job ads for drama teachers, counselors, foreign language, or CTE. As you can imagine, most schools/countries would prefer 2-5 years of experience teaching. A lot of schools ask questions about your time as a teacher in the application process and it is best to have many years of teaching to fall back on. Even more important, some countries have mandatory minimums for a teacher to get a work visa.
As far as educational requirements, that differs depending on which country you are trying to teach in. Almost all countries require a bachelors degree and some Middle Eastern countries require a masters degree in addition. Either way, a masters degree or doctoral degree also helps your chances to get into higher-paid schools or more conservative destinations. There are positions open for administration as well and they would need the proper certification and masters for those. If your bachelors is not in education, you may need additional requirements. Check out this link for more info: https://www.edvectus.com/pages/what-qualifications-are-needed-to-teach-abroad .
Please also keep in mind that in many of these countries, age is a factor. Many won’t issue visas to teachers over the ages of 55-65. If this is an issue for you, please be aware before applying to schools in those countries.
How to Become an International Teacher
If you checked off all of those requirements, then you can become an international teacher! I would first start out by signing up with a service company. These companies are invaluable because they make sure your job options are actual schools and not some one-roomed horror show. They send people out to the locations and get recommendations from teachers that work there, parents, etc. You know that when you eventually sign a contract, you won’t feel as though the wool was pulled over your eyes. But this does mean that they are critical of their teacher applicants as well. They will ask for your resume, references, copies of diplomas and transcripts, etc. A few examples of such organizations are Search Associates or International School Services. They both require a fee, I believe I paid around $225. It sounds expensive when you are not sure if you will sign a contract. But from what I was told, the chances of signing a contract when using an organization like this is around 70%. I think it was worth my peace of mind knowing that I was working with confirmed schools and not some ad on the internet, although that is another option.
I would start this process a year before you wish to leave so you can engage in the application process. I signed up in August 2018 but most of the job openings didn’t start rolling in until about October-December. When applying, don’t be picky! If you are trying to only go to one country or continent, you may have to face disappointment at the end of the school year. There are over 6,000 international schools on this planet, leave yourself open to the world of possibility! After checking out the position and benefits, start sending schools your resume and cover letter. Schools will typically get into contact within 1-4 weeks afterwards and invite you to Skype interviews. I would have between 2-4 Skype interviews with a school before they offered me a position. However, both Search Associates and ISS suggest that candidates attend their job fairs around the world. They can meet many schools over the course of a weekend and get a good feel for who they might be working for. Many teachers that have taught abroad swear by job fairs and wouldn’t accept a position without going to one first. I didn’t, but my job fair was scheduled for very late in the school year and I accepted a position about a month before it took place.
When signing a contract, make sure you go over it several times before signing. Many schools require 2-year contracts or even longer, so fully understand what you are getting into. You never want to sign a contract that you aren’t able to fulfill. I have heard stories of teachers getting blacklisted and not being able to find another international job afterwards. If you are bringing a family, look into the costs of the area you might live in so you are sure your salary can support your family. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to check the visa requirements of the country ahead of time to make sure that you and your family members would all be covered under the visa. For example, there are a few Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that won’t give a visa to a female teacher to sponsor her husband. Other countries have stricter rules on spouses that might have criminal records.
My Tips when becoming an International Teacher
After going through this process myself, these are a few of my personal tips!
1-Europe pays less. Just something I noticed as I was going through the application process was that Europe often paid less than I was expecting. Another teacher explained, “Well, everyone wants to live in Europe. They don’t need to pay a lot”. Good point. This can make it more difficult to save money or support a family. Keep in mind, not all countries are like this and those with higher living expenses will pay more. For example, there was a school in Switzerland I looked at that paid $90,000 a year, but no additional benefits such as healthcare, housing, or flights. Maybe as a single teacher, I would have applied. Being a family of 3, I had to take into many other factors that prevented me from doing so.
2-Skype Interviews must be quiet and functional! Since these interviews almost always take place at night (time difference) most teachers do these at home. Many schools don’t think it too professional to have dogs barking, doors slamming, kids screaming, etc. Put your best foot (and ear) forward and give them a professional environment to interview you. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to Skype with a friend first, to make sure it will connect properly. I did with a coworker beforehand and discovered that my web browser didn’t support Skype! It saved me the embarrassment of not being able to communicate with my interviewer at the scheduled time and everything worked out fine.
3-Take any and all advice from consultant. The professional organizations often give you a consultant to help you through the process of finding the perfect school for you. Really use this person’s experience to your benefit and ask them to review any contracts or job offers before signing. If you have concerns about the communications of a school or if you think something isn’t right, your consultant is the right person to ask.
4-You have options. Many of the schools I applied to were international schools, schools whose students are made up of many different nationalities from Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, etc. These students all share a camaraderie in the fact that they are all away from their home countries and create an international community. Another option includes private schools that are primarily focused on educating the population of the country. What is cool about this option is that you really get to immerse yourself in the native culture of the country, not so much an international environment. That is why I signed with a private Chinese boarding school that taught an American curriculum. I learn so much about the language and customs of the country because that is something that all my students have in common. A lot of that can be lost in an international school setting. However, that being said, most consultants would suggest an international school for first-time international teachers for that very reason. Going to a country with completely different customs can be very stressful, along with being far from friends and family. An international school can help relieve that culture-shock as an international school takes on a culture of its own (often following American or British curriculums and norms for English-speaking schools). No matter which way you’re leaning, there is an option for you.
5-Ask to be put into contact with other teachers at the school before you sign. I was given this piece of advice from a consultant and now I will always follow it. ALWAYS request to speak to a few teachers that are currently working at the school before you sign. These teachers can give you insight into the culture of the school and what kind of requirements you will be held to. It can also let you know if there are any red flags about the place you are applying to. For example, I was offered a position but they would not allow me to speak to any of the teachers until after I signed. I found this odd, because my consultant told me that she had never had a school refuse that request before. After reading more into the contract and already having this uneasy feeling, I informed the school that I was not signing their contract. They tried to explain that they didn’t want to bother their current teachers, but a school with 2,000 kids has more than enough teachers to handle a few questions via email. My consultant supported my choice and made sure to make a note on that school for future applicants. The next school that offered me a position gave me the names and emails of three teachers without hesitation! They were even kind enough to make sure those teachers could relate to me, one was in my content area, another had a kid, and the last was my direct supervisor. Each and every one of them answered my questions and pumped me up for their amazing school. One even gave me amazing advice that saved me some money and time when working on my visas! I signed the contract a week later fully confident that I would do well with their support.
Why Become a TEFL Teacher?
Becoming a TEFL teacher is another great way to make an impact on the world. All over Asia, South America, and Europe, there are schools that are searching for native English speakers to teach their population English. I am saying population and not ‘kids’ because many jobs include teaching adults as well. TEFL teachers, or Teaching English as a Foreign Language, are highly sought after to work in public schools, learning centers, and as private tutors in-person and online.
Unlike an international teacher, TEFL teachers’ schedules are extremely flexible. They have the ability to work as many or as few hours as they want. There are teachers working only a few hours a day or filling all their free hours with private tutoring to supplement income. Many more are taking online teaching positions online and don’t teach in-person at all, leaving them free to travel. Benefits for those that accept a contract to teach a class (in-person) often have a housing allowance and enough money to travel. However, it is worth mentioning that TEFL teachers will not make nearly as much as international teachers. The pay of the TEFL teacher is more comparable with the normal teacher salary in that country. Still, their salary often leaves enough to pay off loans, travel, or save before going back home!
Requirements to be a TEFL Teacher
In almost all situations, a native English-speaking teacher will need a TEFL Certificate to get any sort of English teaching position. These aren’t too difficult to get, with many options for online and in-person classes available. The online version takes roughly three months; the in-person takes only a month. The prices for these classes vary, but you can expect to pay over $1000 for it either way. Shop around and make sure to ask questions before you take the plunge. Usually at least 20 hours of practicum, or practice in a classroom setting, are required for fulfillment of the course. You need to make sure you can work this into your schedule before you begin. Online teaching English is slightly different, not all companies require a TEFL. The teachers teaching in-person usually must also have a passport from an English-speaking country like Great Britain, South Africa, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, etc. This varies country to country so do your research!
Like the international teaching job, educational requirements depend on which country they choose. Almost all countries require a bachelors degree, though it does not necessarily need to be a degree in education. There are a few countries in the Middle East that require a masters degree and there are even a few that only require a high school diploma! These countries include Cambodia, Costa Rica, Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and Russia. However, as time goes on, more and more countries are tightening their regulations on who can teach their population English. At any time, they can raise the requirements to have a bachelors degree. I encourage everyone to continue on with their education and hope my students that are tuning into this blog use this as inspiration to do so!
How to Become a TEFL Teacher
First, the TEFL process must begin with taking the TEFL class. Whether online or not, the class is typically a little expensive. Look out for deals around the holidays! You can sometimes get up to a $100 off your class. Give yourself time to take this class as it usually is 1-3 months. When picking a course, pick one that gives you job support so that you don’t go into the job search process alone. You don’t even teach teaching experience with most positions, so the class is very important when creating lesson plans and learning techniques.
Sometimes, you will also have the opportunity to have Skype interviews with future employers. Other times, your company will give you options of countries and will assign you to a school. This can be quite an adventure and you never know where you will end up! Normally, the school will try to accommodate you, but no promises. Ask these questions before you sign up for the course! Good programs will have no problem getting back to you quickly with answers or signing you up for a webinar that will do that for them.
Finally, you will sign a contract. Once again, don’t sign anything if you don’t feel like you can fill the commitment. Most TEFL contracts are only one year at a time and can be very flexible on that amount of hours. Check visa requirements before signing to make sure that you won’t have problems entering the country. With TEFL positions, it is not typical to bring a family along (unless the family is heading abroad anyway and that is why you received the certificate). However, there are many ‘teacher couples’ that can often get jobs within the same school or region.
My Tips to Become a TEFL Teacher
After having experienced others going through the process, these are a few of my tips:
1- Take your class seriously. There is a lot of good lesson planning taught in those TEFL classes and they can really help you in your own future teaching. Write down any suggestions they may make for games/techniques if you are inexperienced with teaching or controlling a classroom. Take the responsibility seriously, you owe it to your students.
2-Study the culture before you go. Unlike international teachers (who are often teaching students accustomed to an international environment), TEFL teachers are working directly with the citizens of the country. Understanding a little about their culture will help cultivate a respectful teaching environment. Learning a little of the language wouldn’t hurt either.
3-Understand what you are getting into. Many teachers teach in the rural countryside of their desired countries where access to English is limited. This means living many miles from the bustling city life and easy Western conveniences. Some do work in major cities, but you should be prepared for both lifestyles if you are becoming a TEFL teacher. It can be a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the culture of another country. If you are unsure, look up the blogs or vlogs of TEFL teachers and see how they are doing and whether they were happy with the decision to become a TEFL teacher.
NOTE: THE REQUIREMENTS FOR TEACHING INTERNATIONALLY CHANGE ALL OF THE TIME! DO YOUR RESEARCH!