Uni Life

What you need to know about teaching English abroad

Teaching English overseas can be a rewarding experience to fill the gap between university and full-time work, writes Tanya McGovern.

Photograph of three figurines in a classroom

Entering your last year of study and haven’t decided what you’ll do after you close the textbook? Have you considered venturing overseas for a few months or even years? Taking a break from the books and living aboard can be an exciting opportunity to develop character, independence and whole heap of stories. One way of sustaining your wandering life aboard is to work as an English teacher.

Here’s your guide to finding the right teaching course to equip you with the skills to land that job.

Decide on your Destination First

If you are able to identify where you want to go before starting your research, you will find it much easier to select the right course that will align with the country’s qualification expectations.

Be realistic with your destination choice. Countries where English is spoken widely, like the United States, Canada and the UK will offer very few teaching job opportunities.

If you plan to head to a country in Europe, be prepared for working permit knockbacks. Work visas are difficult to obtain if you’re not a citizen of a European Union country.

Most teaching opportunities are located in Asia, but the qualifications required to teach vary greatly between countries. Places like Hong Kong have higher qualification expectations of their English teachers, while on China’s mainland you’ll have better luck finding a job.


The level of qualification will determine the job and level of pay you will be considered for. Try searching for teaching jobs in your chosen country to identify what qualification is most commonly mentioned in job advertisements.

  • A Bachelor’s Degree
    The most basic jobs require a Bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate. Without a degree you’ll find it very difficult to entice potential employers to pursue your application.
  • A Degree in Education
    If you have completed a Bachelor’s degree in Education, you’ll have a greater range (and more highly paid) teaching jobs open to you. A degree in English teaching is even more highly sort after by employers.
  • TEFL, TESL and TESOL Qualification
    These qualifications are the most popular and most easily obtained. Although the names of the qualifications are different – Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL), Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) – they are essentially all the same level of qualification. These certificates usually involve a standard 120 hours of study, but there are courses which provide flexible study hours, online, face-to-face learning or a combination.
    CELTA is the most internationally recognised qualification and is awarded by Cambridge English Language Assessment department, part of the prestigious  University of Cambridge.
  • Masters of Applied Linguistics
    The University of Newcastle’s Grad School offers a one year Masters of Applied Linguistics program. It is more suited to those wanting to teach English to speakers of other languages in Australian educational institutes or those seeking the top paying jobs in the Middle East and Asia.

Study Options

Do an internet search on any of these qualifications and you’ll come across numerous websites spruiking quick, online courses that promise to give you the skills you want over one weekend. Be wary of these and search online forums for others’ experiences of courses.

A course may only take 20 hours to complete, but are you really learning the skills necessary to teach a class of students? Remember your teaching can make a difference in the lives of your future students.

Many job advertisements specify a minimum 120 hour TEFL certificate, so a quick 20 hour course may limit your options. Check advertisements in your chosen destination to gauge what qualifications will be expected of applicants.

Keep in mind whether the course provider offers job placement support after  you graduate.

The cost of a course can range between $190 and $3,000. You can be looking at price of between $400 to $3,500 for a standard 120 hour course.

The majority of face-to-face courses are run at educational institutes in Sydney, so be prepared to travel for your study.

STA offers a paid internship program in partnership with the renowned travel experience agency, i-to-i. There are online and face-to-face TEFL courses ranging from 20 to 140 hours, and the easy part is that they’ll set you up with a job in China, Thailand or Vietnam.

Seek Learning provides a search engine for online TEFL courses.

International House Sydney runs accredited CELTA and Certificate IV TESOL courses. The CELTA course duration is 4 weeks full-time or 10 weeks part-time, and costs $3,200. The TESOL course runs over 8 weeks full-time, costing $3,500.

The University of New South Wales’ Institute of Languages runs 4 week full-time and 12 week part-time Certificate IV TESOL courses for $3,360. 

The University of Technology, Sydney offers a CELTA course over 4 weeks full-time or 10 weeks part-time at $3,090.

TAFE NSW at Randwick runs a Certificate IV TESOL course for $2,465.

Finding Work

You can find work through a government program, educational institute or by going alone and searching for jobs on sites like TEFL.com.

A number of countries have government run programs to match up teachers with schools.

Pay can be varied, based on your country and employer type (government or private). In Asian countries, you can earn between $1,000 to $3,000 per month.

Applying for the right kind of visa  for your situation – working, working holiday, whether you’re being sponsored by your employer and so on – can be an experience in itself. Refer to your destination country’s government immigration website or ask your supporting organisation for information.

Government supported programs can offer added bonuses like paid leave and accommodation, but can  involve a lengthy application process and interviews at the country’s consulate office. Be sure to plan ahead if you intend to apply for a government program as applications begin months ahead.

Popular Government Programs:

Whichever path you decide to follow, remember that courses take time to complete and applications to be approved, so planning is crucial to making this a fulfilling experience.

Image: cliff1066

1 comment

  1. Erin O'Leary 6 January, 2014 at 02:49 Reply

    I second this! Teaching abroad is an incredible experience and very rewarding! I spent a year in Poland and now I’m teaching in China! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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