TRAVEL

The Ultimate Guide to Teaching English Overseas

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Teacher and child standing in front of a white board while two other children work at a table

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is a popular career choice for those looking to combine a passion for education with the thrill of travel. TEFL involves teaching students whose native language isn’t English, regardless of the teacher’s native language. I did it in Thailand and Taiwan and it was an amazing experience!

The demand for certified TEFL courses continues to grow as students around the world strive to learn English. It’s one of the best ways to work overseas. Historically used in private schools, TEFL’s communicative approach contrasts with the rigid methods of public schools. Often the focus is on communication, creativity, and cultural awareness rather than rote memorization and strict grammar.

There are many reasons people decide to teach overseas. I did it because I needed money and then I did it again because it was a great way to work and live in another country! It provides a sustainable way to experience cultural immersion, learn new languages, and build international networks. It often leads to significant growth on both personal and professional levels too. By stepping into a TEFL role, teachers not only contribute to the educational landscape of their host countries but also enhance their own skills and career prospects.

Since most teachers need a TEFL to get a job, here’s everything you need to know about TEFL programs so you can teach English overseas:

 

What Is TEFL Certification?

TEFL certification is the primary qualification used to obtain jobs teaching abroad. Established in the early 1970s, TEFL training was developed for regions where English was not the primary language. TEFL certificates are now recognized internationally and are often a prerequisite for securing positions overseas.

In the past, the only option for a would-be TEFL teacher was dedicating a month to a full-time in-person program. Access to training was limited due to high tuition fees, a lack of options outside major city centers, and the other supporting costs that came with it.

These days, technology (and decades of research and development) have made TEFL courses much more accessible and inclusive. The TEFL certification can be completed fully online, in hybrid blended formats, or fully in person.

Regardless of the format, TEFL courses provide comprehensive training in the following:

  • Classroom management
  • Teaching skills
  • Lesson planning
  • Incorporating media into the classroom
  • Grammar
  • Cultural sensitivity

Over the decades, the TEFL standard has been a 120-hour course. It is considered the perfect length for providing the theoretical framework for a new graduate to start teaching in the classroom. While the industry often pushes more hours on unsuspecting teachers, they are usually superfluous and add little value over a good-quality, standard 120-hour TEFL course.

That said, pursuing further education and/or more hours is recommended after a teacher has a couple years of teaching experience. For example, the Cambridge DELTA is an excellent choice for instructors who have already completed a TEFL, and have two years of full-time classroom experience under their belt.

Requirements and Where to Obtain Certification

Prospective TEFL teachers should have a fluent command of English. The more advanced the students are, the more advanced the teacher is expected to be. If a teacher is a non-native, they may consider completing a proficiency exam (like the IELTS or TOEFL) to demonstrate their language capabilities, although it isn’t strictly necessary.

A bachelor’s degree is sometimes required to teach English abroad, especially in countries with competitive teaching markets (such as Japan), which also may have legal stipulations regarding work permit issuance. In most countries, the degree can be in any field, so long as it is accompanied with a TEFL certificate.

Some countries and programs accept candidates without a degree (such as Costa Rica and Spain), particularly if they have substantial teaching experience or proficiency in teaching English.

Bear in mind, there is no centralized accrediting body for TEFL. There are some loose governmental frameworks TEFL providers may promote (for example, “Level 5,” which is roughly equivalent to a high school diploma in the UK), but usually these have minimal impact on employability.

It is important to ensure that a TEFL certificate can be authenticated and/or apostilled for use abroad. Check with your provider of choice that this option exists, and ask what it costs. Often would-be TEFLers complete a course that has a flashy website and a great price, only to find out the TEFL cannot be used for work visa applications!

General Qualifications and Skills Needed

In addition to training and certification, successful TEFL teachers often possess qualities such as adaptability, cultural sensitivity, and a proactive approach to problem-solving. A positive mindset is an immense advantage in overcoming issues and challenges inherent in moving overseas. Not only is doing so a challenge, new TEFL teachers will also be adapting to a new career, a new employer, and a new classroom!

A genuine interest in helping students achieve their language learning goals powers teachers toward success. By taking ownership of the role and learning outcomes, teachers can achieve a sense of satisfaction and achievement that result in positive growth and better adjustment.
 

The Benefits of Teaching English Abroad

An empty classroom for teaching English abroad An empty classroom for teaching English abroad
Teaching English abroad offers numerous advantages. These benefits include professional, personal, and social growth, as well as a financially sustainable way to live and explore different parts of the world.

Professional Growth
One of the most significant benefits of teaching English overseas is professional development. Teachers gain invaluable skills such as cross-cultural communication, adaptation to international work standards, and in-demand teaching techniques.

Teaching abroad often leads to career advancements in the field of education, including roles in educational management, curriculum design, publishing, and teacher training.

Sometimes teachers working overseas are offered rewarding opportunities and positions beyond the educational field that align with the skills they honed as TEFL instructors.

Personal & Social Growth
The experience of living and working in a foreign country is transformative. Teachers often develop a deeper understanding of global issues, gain insights into different cultures, and learn new languages.

This cultural immersion fosters a broadened worldview and enhances personal resilience and independence. Many TEFL teachers report profound personal growth, noting increased confidence and improved problem-solving skills as they navigate life in a new country.

Teaching English abroad is inherently social. Most teachers leave behind their familiar social circles to move to places where they have no existing connections. This shared experience often leads to the rapid and natural formation of new relationships and friendships. TEFL teachers report forming tight knit bonds with other teachers that are meaningful, deep, and long-lasting.

(Matt says: I found teaching a great way to break out of my introvert shell. It was challenging but rewarding.)

Financial Benefits
Teaching English abroad often comes with salaries significantly higher than local averages, supporting a comfortable lifestyle. Additionally, many host countries feature a lower cost of living compared to the teachers’ home countries.

For example, a modern one-bedroom apartment in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, may cost around $500 USD per month, compared to the average US rent of over $1,500 USD. Dining out in countries like Thailand and Indonesia can cost as little as $3 USD per meal, while a similar meal might exceed $15–20 USD back home. Lower income and sales taxes in these countries further increase the disposable income and savings potential for TEFL teachers.

In addition to a stable income, some TEFL positions offer further benefits, such as housing allowances, health insurance, airfare, bonuses, and paid vacations. These perks, coupled with the opportunity to travel, make teaching abroad a great option for anyone looking to sustainably explore the world.
 

Country Focus – Key Destinations for TEFL Jobs

A serene temple complex surrounded by trees in beautiful, historic JapanA serene temple complex surrounded by trees in beautiful, historic Japan
Here’s a quick look at some of the best countries to teach English in:

Japan
Japan offers a rich tapestry of cultural heritage and modern conveniences, making it one of the most popular destinations for TEFL teachers. The country has a lot of opportunities for teaching English, with positions available in private language schools and public schools, and through government-sponsored teaching programs.

Salaries are competitive, typically ranging from $2,000 to $3,000 USD per month, with some positions offering additional benefits, such as housing subsidies and flight reimbursement.

Culturally, Japan presents an exquisite blend of tradition and innovation. From the tranquility of cherry blossoms in spring to the nonstop hustle of Tokyo, there’s a lot for teachers in Japan to explore and enjoy. The country’s efficient public transportation makes it easy to get around, and being a highly developed country, you won’t want for anything here.

Just be prepared for a higher cost of living compared to other TEFL destinations, particularly in major cities.

Taiwan
Taiwan is a friendly, welcoming destination for TEFL teachers. The demand for English instruction there only keeps increasing as the country continues to grow in international commerce, technology, and tourism. Salaries are attractive, often between $1,700 to $2,500 USD per month, with much lower living costs compared to Japan. Most schools in Taiwan also offer benefits such as contract completion bonuses, health insurance, and assistance with finding housing.

Known as “the Heart of Asia,” Taiwan is a unique nation in that it was a Japanese colony for 50 years and is mainly inhabited by Han Chinese. Yet it was never directly under communist rule and has been open to the world. The people are thoughtful, warm, friendly, and humble. The country is very safe too.

Taiwan offers something for everyone. A mouthwatering street food culture, plenty of white-sand beaches, interesting historical sites, living temples, towering mountain ranges, eclectic nightlife, and lush tea plantations are just some of the highlights.

(Matt says: I spent time teaching English here and loved it. Taiwan is an underrated destination!)

Czech Republic
The Czech Republic serves as a gateway to Europe for many TEFL teachers, offering a lower cost of living and the opportunity to travel across Europe easily. English teaching jobs are plentiful in cities like Prague and Brno, with salaries around $1,200 to $2,500 USD per month, which is sufficient to live comfortably due to the lower cost of living. The process for obtaining a work visa in the Czech Republic is more straightforward than in many other European countries, making it an accessible option for many aspiring TEFL teachers.

Life in the Czech Republic can be enchanting, with its stunning architecture, rich history, and vibrant cultural scene. Teachers can enjoy visiting historic castles, sampling local beers, and indulging at quaint cafés. It also makes for a great base if you want to explore neighboring countries in Europe.

Costa Rica
Costa Rica is known for its laid-back lifestyle and breathtaking natural beauty, attracting TEFL teachers who are nature lovers and adventure seekers. The demand for English teachers is steadily increasing, with many positions available in private language institutes and public schools. The typical salary ranges from $750 to $1,100 USD per month, which more than covers living expenses, considering Costa Rica’s relatively low cost of living compared to the US or Canada.

(Matt says: Costa Rica was my first international trip and the place I fell in love with travel. Everyone I know who goes there loves it. It’s an expensive country for Central America, but that’s due to the high cost of adventure activities and other tourism costs. If you live like the locals do, it can be an affordable place to live!)

Teaching in Costa Rica offers a unique opportunity to live in a country renowned for its commitment to conservation and sustainability. The nation boasts an impressive array of wildlife and ecosystems, providing plenty of weekend destinations for hiking, surfing, and wildlife photography. The friendly nature of the Ticos (Costa Ricans) and their warm hospitality make integrating into the community a rewarding experience.

Overcoming Challenges

A young Asian woman in front of a white board, teaching Chinese to a group of people sitting at a tableA young Asian woman in front of a white board, teaching Chinese to a group of people sitting at a table
While teaching English abroad is an exciting and enriching experience, it’s not without its challenges. From language barriers to cultural differences, TEFL teachers often face a range of obstacles that require adaptability and resilience.

Language Barriers
One immediate hurdle when moving to a new country is the language barrier, which can complicate everyday tasks and interactions. Fortunately, employers and fellow teachers help with initial setups, such as opening bank accounts, sorting out a local SIM card, and obtaining necessary services. In many countries (especially in Asia, due to cultural values), locals are accommodating, patient, and eager to assist, with many going above and beyond to ensure positive interactions.

English’s role as a global language aids communication, as many locals will have some understanding of it, and some may even be fluent. Additionally, the use of translation apps has greatly eased communication challenges for new TEFL teachers, helping them navigate language obstacles more effectively. Of course, it’s advisable for TEFL teachers to undertake basic language courses to enhance daily communication, foster deeper personal connections, and demonstrate respect for the local culture.

Cultural Differences
Aside from the communication challenges, cultural misunderstandings can be frustrating.

A successful TEFL teacher embraces the culture of the host country with openness and a genuine eagerness to learn. Recognizing that the norms from one’s own country may not apply abroad helps when navigating cultural mismatches. It’s especially helpful to maintain a sense of humor and keep things in perspective when faced with unexpected challenges.

Participating in local festivals, eating local cuisine, and spending time with local colleagues helps bridge cultural gaps, and will make cultural adaptation a fun, rewarding, and meaningful experience.

Homesickness
The initial period when moving to teach English abroad can be difficult. It involves leaving behind your friends, family, and community to set off into the unknown for an extended period of time. It’s a unique feeling that isn’t often experienced in routine life.

The good news is that this typically diminishes as TEFL teachers form new vibrant friendships, integrate with the expat community, and build a daily routine. Staying connected to friends and family back home through digital communication tools helps ease the times a teacher feels the distance. It may take a few weeks, or it may take a few months. TEFL teachers who embrace the transition to their new environment will have a more positive overseas experience.

Navigating Bureaucracy
Dealing with visa applications, work permits, and local registration can be daunting. One of the benefits of using a credible TEFL job placement service is that the partner employers are vetted and legitimately licensed and regulated, and often have multiple years (if not decades) of experience. They fully support work visa applications, will guide teachers step by step, and provide the necessary paperwork from their end.

Additionally, these employers provide incredible in-country support, such as airport pickup, accommodations and/or fully supported accommodation assistance, help with setting up a bank account, or obtaining a local SIM card, utilities, etc. They typically have an HR department dedicated to foreign TEFL teachers, which takes 90% of the bureaucracy burden off a new teacher’s shoulders.

***

Embarking on a TEFL career abroad offers more than just a job — it provides a passport to personal and professional growth. By teaching English abroad, educators not only enrich their lives but also make significant contributions to their students’ futures.

While there are challenges, such as cultural differences and language barriers, the rewards of deep cultural immersion, adventure, and career development are immense. If you’re seeking a transformative life experience, teaching English overseas might just be your next great adventure.

Click here to learn more and start your TEFL journey today!

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Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Want to Travel for Free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation — all without any extra spending. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.

Need Help Finding Activities for Your Trip?
Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace where you can find cool walking tours, fun excursions, skip-the-line tickets, private guides, and more.

Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.





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