Tips & Stories from Teaching Abroad

Published 2012-11-21 10:06:52

Teacher checking pupil's work in class © auremar - Fotolia.comAre you a native English speaker, or are you completely fluent in speaking, reading and writing the language? If you answered "yes" to either of these questions and are interested in travel and teaching, a position as an English teacher or tutor may provide the opportunity to visit countries worldwide and be paid for the privilege. Positions in teaching English as a foreign language are available worldwide to English language instructors of any age. You may teach in a classroom or as a tutor providing one-on-one instruction.


While it's not necessary to have a university degree to teach English abroad, your prospects for the best-paid jobs are better if you have one. Certification in teaching English to non-English speakers is almost always required for the best paid opportunities. Coursework and costs for certification instruction vary. Some courses require only a week, while others require several months to complete. You may receive instruction through a university or through stand-alone programs.

There are several organizations associated with teaching and tutoring English to non-native speakers. While any reputable certification program is an acceptable credential for teaching or tutoring English, some programs are more widely recognized by others. If you wish to teach English to learners of all ages, the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certification is one of the most widely recognized. If you're certain that you only want to teach adults, the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA), organized by Cambridge University in England, is another widely recognized credential. Other common acronyms associated with teaching English are listed below.

Preparing your CV

When preparing your CV or resume, remember a few key things.

  • Highlight your TEFL experience first. Make sure you mention the amount of hours your program included and how many hours of teaching you did.
  • List your program's accreditation and a brief overview of the course content (if applicable).
  • List your relevant experiences. If this doesn't include formal teaching, offer examples of your people skills and ability to adapt, such as coaching, group counseling, voluntary work, etc.
  • Provide your interests, like playing an instrument or participating in sports. These skills can make you more attractive to employers and play a part in your teaching. 

Also try to include up to 3 references. It is particularly important that at least one has seen you teach, coach, or mentor.

Finding a Job

After obtaining the proper certification, finding a job can be straight forward. If you're interested in teaching English in Asia, you may find that competition is less stiff and requirements are less stringent. By contrast, many western Europeans learn English in school, so finding an English teaching position may be extremely challenging.

Teaching English Job Sites

Recruiting Sites

Another option is to go with a recruiting service, such as Footprints. These services help place teachers all over the world and can be especially helpful if this is your first job. 

Contact Schools Directly

If you know exactly where you want to teach and have a school in mind, you can reach out to them directly. Search for schools in EasyExpat's city guides or on Expat-Quotes series of International Schools.

A good way to initiate contact is through a warm-up letter, especially in Western Europe, South America and Central America. Express your interest, and include your CV, cover letter, and sample lesson plan. Also be sure to follow up. If you haven't heard anything within a week, call or e-mail again to see if the school received your information.

If you are currently in the country you wish to teach in, you can simply visit the school for immediate attention. Come with your credentials and be prepared to wait or set-up an appointment for the future, but also be ready to jump into an interview on the spot as some schools are ready for walk-ins.  


If you’re highly self-motivated and entrepreneurial in nature, there are many ways to succeed as an independent English teacher abroad. Working as an independent tutor means finding your own clients, but it can also mean higher rewards and increased flexibility. Teachers with a university degree, certification, and experience teaching are usually the most successful at finding private clients.

Start by placing ads in business newspapers, community bulletin boards, or online. You can also reach out to local businesses, restaurants, and any other organization that could need the help of an in-house English teacher. You can develop a program specifically for them and choose your rates. Make business cards, network, and be persistent.

Tips for Success

You must also obtain at least a rudimentary level of knowledge of the language of your host country. If you speak your host country's language fluently in addition to English, this greatly increases your value on the teaching market. For tips on learning the language, read "Talk Like a Local".

You should also study the culture of your host culture. If you work with young students, knowing what's "in" will help you connect with them. If you are working with older adults, understanding the culture makes it easier to help them overcome any intimidation they may have about learning a difficult language. Follow our monthly series on "_____ like a Local" for information about adapting and fitting in. 

Bear in mind that you will also need to fulfill immigration requirements for the country in which you wish to teach. Read the city guides's visa information and consult with the embassy or consulate to learn what credentials are required for English teachers, as well as passport, visa and work permit requirements. You will also need to show evidence that you are covered by health insurance. If you are hired by a school or company, your health insurance and accommodations may be included. If not, or if you are seeking work as an independent tutor, you must arrange these details yourself.

Expat Teachers: Stories from Teaching Abroad

Teachers International Consultancy provided us with some stories of professional teachers working around the world. They place fully qualified teachers (who have studied education or teaching in university with at least two years experience teaching) in positions abroad. Here are a few of their experiences. 

Jenny Cleaver taught in the UK for 7 years until 2011 when she made the move to El Gouna, Egypt to teach in the El Gouna International School. “I fancied a change, something that was a new experience and a challenge” she says. Jenny very quickly discovered that the learning environment was very different from her previous schools in her home country; one that has proved to be very rewarding. “Since working here, I have gained a lot of confidence,” Jenny International Teachers Anna Coquelinexplains. “Teaching a smaller class, with less stress reminds you why you got into education in the first place. It allows you to focus on teaching, without so much behavioural management and paperwork!” 

Anna Coquelin is another teacher from the UK who has also found the experience very rewarding. Anna moved from Edinburgh to the British School of Riyadh several years ago to teach modern languages (French and Spanish) at the British School of Riyadh. “The school is very different from the school I left in the UK,” she says. “Here it is very very multicultural. In most of my classes almost every child is from a different place: Texas, Canberra, Dublin, everywhere.

International Teachers-Conal AtkinsConal Atkins is a teacher from New Zealand who has taught at international schools in Italy, Vietnam, Austria, Luxembourg and Germany over a period of 18 years says. “You learn to modify your teaching skills and become aware of the language and cultural boundaries that you have to be sympathetic to," he says. "When working in a country which uses a different language to your own, you gain a new understanding of language acquisition which helps you to relate to your students. This is a huge and necessary skill when returning home as there are now such large and increasingly diversified non-English-speaking populations in many English-speaking countries.”

Andrew Wigford is the Director of specialist recruitment agency Teachers International Consultancy and spent many years teaching and leading in international schools. “Moving overseas can be very rewarding, both professionally and personally,” he says. “My wife, Angie, and I both worked in some fantastic schools all over the world and travelled to some amazing places. There are currently over 295,000 expatriate, English-speaking teachers working in international schools and there’s still a big demand for more. If you have good teaching skills and experience then there are many possibilities for you. It’s an excellent way to develop your career, to work with different curricula and teaching approaches, and to learn from living and working in other countries and with teachers and students of many different nationalities.”


Researched by Audrey Henderson
-- freelance writer based in Chicago


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