Getting Abroad Again: Teaching English as a Foreign Language

Written by Rachel Howard, Senior Manager, CET Czech Republic Programs

Many former study abroad students long to return to their host country or have developed wanderlust and seek the excitement of employment abroad. Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is a natural way to accomplish these goals and is a popular option for recent grads. Depending on where you wish to teach, the steps to gaining a position abroad can vary greatly. In some countries, teachers are expected to have had a considerable amount of training, or at minimum hold a TEFL certificate. Some teaching positions require previous experience and a great deal of lesson planning, whereas other positions may simply demand a native speaker with a knack for conversation.

I taught abroad in two very different circumstances. My first experience was miserable. I pieced together part-time gigs with various language agencies, each of which treated me as a means to make money for the school. I received no support obtaining the documents I would need to apply for a work visa. I had little in the way of lesson planning resources and limited access to a photocopier and printer. My second experience was much better. I selected a well-established school run as a teacher cooperative that valued teaching over profit (my salary was lower as a result, but my job satisfaction was quite high). The school helped me obtain a work visa, provided ongoing teacher training workshops, and maintained a large resource library and teacher workroom. Based on my two very different experiences, I offer the following advice for anyone seeking a TEFL position:

  • Know what you value most in your search. Are you looking for a specific location? A certain salary? Assistance with a visa? A feeling that you are making a meaningful contribution to society? A long-term position? An established program that handles everything from placement to training to housing? It is helpful to think carefully about your values, since this will guide you in selecting a satisfying position.
  • Shape your expectations. Once you have a destination in mind, check into the types of positions available. Will you be teaching in a public school, private school, language institute, etc? What are typical class sizes? Are the students children or adults? Will the job involve travel to various work sites? What kinds of training and teaching resources are available? What level of responsibility will be expected? What level of teaching experience does the position require?
  • Gain certification and experience. This is not necessary for all teaching positions, but I recommend it because it can help you evaluate if teaching is the right way for you to work abroad. Can’t make sense of phrasal verbs, participles, and present perfect tense? Better to learn this during a training course or while volunteering—while you can alter your job search for conversational positions—than to discover this while standing in front of a class of students expecting grammar instruction. Look for a reputable, accredited training program, such as Cambridge University’s CELTA, Trinity College’s CertTESOL , or SIT’s TESOL certificate. Consider volunteering through your local library or community center. The “right” TEFL certificate and experience can make a big difference when applying for positions.
  • Trust your gut. Is your potential employer taking a long time to get back to you? Are you not receiving direct answers? Are you being asked to do something that makes you uncomfortable, such as starting out on a tourist visa? Pay attention to these red flags, and don’t accept an offer that makes you uneasy. Unfortunately, there are a lot of scams out there, so it is important to check references, research your options, and stand your ground on the items that are important to you.

There are many good teaching positions out there, and just with finding a study abroad program, attention in the pre-departure phase can help you find an option that is a good fit. Here are some resources for conducting the TEFL job search:

Transitions Abroad
Useful entry point for teaching abroad, with articles about teaching in specific countries and cities as well as broad regions.

US Department of State
“Teaching in International Schools Overseas,” an article with information about independent international schools affiliated with the US Department of State.

Dave’s ESL Café
TEFL positions and teacher resources

International House
Teacher training and TEFL positions
Teacher training, TEFL positions and teacher resources
TEFL positions