It’s entirely possible to teach English and travel the world with nothing more than a suitcase (or backpack) of clothes and a toothbrush.
I know, because I managed to travel around a fair chunk of Asia doing just that. While I chose to base myself in Indonesia and strike out from there, you don’t have to do it that way, and virtually every country around the world offers English teaching opportunities.
Teaching English is a great way to travel and earn at the same time. In this guide, I’ll break it down and show you what’s required to make this dream a reality.
I’ve written this in FAQ format because I think it’s the best way to cover all the bases and because I’ve literally been asked thousands of questions about teaching English abroad before.
If there’s anything I’ve failed to cover or which you’d like me to expand upon, just drop a comment and I’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP.
Teach English and Travel- Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I teach English abroad?
You can teach English basically anywhere in the world. From Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic in Europe to Brazil and Mexico in South America to China, Japan and Korea in Asia to just about anywhere else you can imagine, the world is hungry for English teachers and is willing to pay for them.
Where you decide to teach first really depends on what you’re looking for. If you want to save some serious cash to fund an upcoming trip I’d advise Korea, Japan or somewhere in the Middle East. If you just want to experience a country and aren’t too fussed about making lots of money — take your pick!
Where Can I Find TEFL Jobs?
There are many great online resources for finding TEFL jobs. Here are a few:
Dave’s ESL Cafe — Jam packed with jobs and constantly updated, Dave’s ESL cafe is the original TEFL site and has been around since the web began. Do be careful to do extra research on the jobs you find though, because there have been some complaints that the staff here don’t look too deeply into who they’re posting jobs on behalf of.
TEFL.com — This is essentially a TEFL jobs database. You can search by location or length of the contract. This site also allows you to create a CV and upload it, meaning employers can find you. This obviously expands your opportunities as having an inbox full of e-mails about jobs around the world is a very nice thing for a nomad.
ESLjobs.com — This is similar to TEFL.com but has much more of a focus on East Asia. Korea, Japan, Taiwan and China jobs make up the bulk of what’s on offer here. You’ll find as much work as you want and there are some pretty good packages for teachers available.
What Do I Need to Secure a Job?
At a bare minimum you’ll need a 30 day TEFL certificate proving you can teach English. The great thing about these is you can do them all over the world, meaning you can make the course itself a part of your trip or an adventure in and of itself.
I did mine in Prague in 2007 and it was one of the most insane, memorable trips of my life! I thoroughly enjoyed it and am in touch with some of the people I met back then to this day. One friend I met on the course even came to visit me in Ireland!
While it is possible to teach in some countries on just a TEFL certificate, it’s more than likely you’ll need a university degree as well. This is a legal requirement in many countries. It is true that many teachers in China, Thailand and elsewhere are teaching on degrees from the University of Adobe, this is illegal and will get you detained and deported if you draw the short straw and find yourself on the wrong end of an immigration raid.
The highest paying countries will most definitely require a degree, and for the most profitable gigs, it should be one related to English or linguistics in some way.
Do TEFL Teachers Get Paid Well?
This really depends on where you teach. In countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam you’ll be paid enough to survive and maybe save a few hundred bucks a month. After a year this could be enough to buy a few months of travel in Asia. Typically, these schools also provide shared housing and an end of contract bonus, which can be a nice little chunk of change just when you’re ready to set off again.
Teachers in Saudi Arabia, Japan, Korea and Taiwan can actually make very decent cash. $3000 a month plus flights and an apartment is standard as far as Korea and Japan go. I’ve never taught there but I know many teachers who have and they say it’s possible to live a comfortable life and save maybe $1000 a month.
How you answer this question really depends on your definition of ‘well paid’. For some, TEFL teachers houses and wages are a big jump up from crusty university dorms and student loans, whereas for others, the rough and tumble of TEFL life is a shock to the system that sends them packing quickly.
How Long are Typical Contracts?
I know, I know! The itchy feet never leave and you don’t want to stay one place for TOO long and get stuck. I felt the same when teaching TEFL and contract lengths can be a concern.
Typically, TEFL contracts will be for 1 year. It’s possible to find 6-month contracts, especially in China where they’re desperate for teachers, but it’s rare and you won’t get a very good deal. You’ll need to commit to a year to make it worth an employer getting you a valid work visa and providing you with a proper, legal contract.
You’ll learn as you get into TEFL that there are some seriously shady characters running schools around the world as it’s a very lucrative business. It’s always best to have a contract and that means a commitment of a year in most cases.
Which Continent Should I Start Teaching On?
That really depends on what you’re looking for, but my advice would be Asia.
Asia is where the most jobs are (you can’t understand the size of the population and thus demand until you actually visit) and teachers here tend to get package deals, meaning flights, housing and medical benefits are all included in the contract.
Europe is another great place to teach, and it tends to attract Americans more than anyone else. Spain, Italy and Eastern European nations produce most of the jobs. Sometimes it’s possible to score a job in Northern Europe, such as in Germany, but they’re rare compared to the others mentioned.
If you want to teach in either South America or Africa, it’s possible, but don’t expect much in the way of compensation. I talked to a school in Brazil once and the salary on offer was $300 a month without accommodation.
Even by South American prices, that’s going to be a hard knocks gig!
Asia will offer most to new TEFL teachers just starting out. It’s well worth considering, especially if you want to see what the words ‘BREAK NECK DEVELOPMENT’ mean. Asia is exciting, and that’s why I recommend it.
What Sort of Students Will I Teach?
Different schools cater to different students.
Typically, in Europe, you’ll teach at language schools which cater to both students who come after work and study and which also offer classes on-site at corporate locations. Some teachers prefer the latter, while some find the moving around between classes to be a pain. Kids classes are part and parcel of any TEFL teaching gig, but students in Europe will tend to be working age adults and so will be reasonably motivated and cooperative.
In Asia, the same language schools exist and are common, but there are many more opportunities in high schools and universities. In this case, you could be teaching young adults, which is a whole different ball game to teaching motivated corporate students whose job depends on them passing. The upside here is that in Asia teachers are given a huge amount of respect and in countries like Japan are revered as God-like characters.
Every student, no matter where they are in the world, is an individual. It’s impossible to pigeonhole or characterize them. You’ll meet all types along the way.
What Makes for a Good TEFL Teacher? What Traits Do I Need to Have?
Generally speaking, a basic understanding of the English language, which you’ll gain through TEFL certification, and a friendly personality are the only traits you’ll need.
You’ll be interacting with people all day long, so it’s important that you like them and make them feel comfortable and confident enough to speak English with you.
TEFL teaching is a job for those who like people, period. If you find others to be an irritant in the course of your day, avoid teaching English like the plague!
What are the Pros and Cons of teaching TEFL as a Means to Travel?
Let’s start with the pros, because I like to focus on the good sides. TEFL is a great way to meet new people, it can be lucrative and can allow you to save up plenty for your next trip or adventure, and it’s something you can do all over the world.
On the other hand, the generally long contracts can be a pain to nomads with itchy feet and the ever increasing regulations surrounding university degrees and what qualifies and what doesn’t means some people will find themselves excluded from teaching in some countries for arbitrary reasons. Finding yourself stuck somewhere you don’t want to be can also suck.
What’s the Number 1 Piece of Advice for a Wannabe TEFL Teacher?
In all my years of experience, the best piece of advice I could give is this — DO YOUR RESEARCH.
If possible, physically visit the school and get to know the people who work there. Do some follow-up research online, but try to tune out the crazy, disgruntled teachers who would find fault in heaven itself. Lots of bad reviews is a warning sign, but one or two is common since TEFL teaching tends to attract some very disturbed individuals.
Before you commit a year of your precious life to a location and a contract you can’t easily get out of, think it through! If you’re going to spend a year somewhere it might as well be as awesome as possible!
If you follow that advice you’ll be good.
What other questions do you have? What made you decide to teach English and travel? Where have you taught and how do you rate it? We’d love to hear from you!