How to Teach Abroad

IMG_1839Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what I do for a living. “How did you start teaching overseas?” “Do you teach at a Chinese school or an American school?” “How do you travel so much?” “What kinds of benefits do you get?”

Then the most important: “How can I do it too?”

Six years ago, when the U.S. economy took a turn and I was left without a job, I decided to throw all caution to the wind and move to Korea to teach English. I had never taught before, I hadn’t traveled much, and admittedly, kids weren’t really my thing. But I thought, Hey, I can do anything for a year. 

My year turned into two, then three. Now I’m on my fifth year and third country. I’ve traveled all around the world, made life-long friends, and learned more about myself than I ever thought possible. It was the best decision of my life.

If you’ve thought about teaching abroad, or living overseas (heck, maybe you’ve just seen the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” one too many times), I encourage you to read over the options below and seriously consider packing your bags.

Here’s how to get started:

Option #1: Teaching ESL (English as a Second Language)

Good for: People who want to see the world, are interested in trying out teaching, but lack the experience. Or if you have experience but aren’t sure teaching abroad is for you.

My advice: Head to Korea! All you need to teach in South Korea is a Bachelor’s degree. It doesn’t matter what your degree is in, just as long as you have it. The only other requirement is that you speak English fluently. (The schools usually prefer someone from an English-speaking country, but there are ways around this.)

How to do it: The first step is to head to Dave’s ESL Café. This site has a plethora of information, providing insight from other teachers, as well as job postings and information on anything and everything ESL. This is where I personally got my first teaching gig at a hagwon (Korean language school) in Seoul. Footprints Recruiting is also another great resource for ESL candidates. The company specializes in placing teachers in Korea, but also posts vacancies in China, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai.

My own experience/two cents: IMG_1232While it’s true you can teach English in many non-English speaking countries around the world, I would strongly suggest limiting your search within Asia. The cost of living is usually lower in Asian countries, and the demand for teachers is higher.

I personally chose a job in Korea because of the convenience. True, some schools are better than others, and not all Korean expats have positive experiences, but most do. Plus, schools provide housing, airfare, healthcare, and a salary to allow you to live well and travel often. Just make sure to talk to current or past teachers, research the school, inquire about the living situation, and make sure the salary is above 2.1 million won per month (I would try to get 2.3+ if possible).

I loved my experience in Seoul. The people were friendly, the food was amazing (and cheap), the cost of living is low, it’s very safe, and there are a lot of other expats, making it an easy transition abroad.IMG_0993

Option #2: Teaching at an International School

Good for: People who have already been teaching for 2+ years, have their teaching certificate, and are interested in moving abroad for 2+ years. Maybe you’re a public school teacher and are sick of teaching to the test and not making enough money to pay your bills. Well, there’s a better way!

My advice: Start looking into teaching at international schools. There are hundreds scattered across the globe, and they offer a much better package than language schools. There are also DOD (Department of Defense) schools, but they are dwindling and are very hard to get in to.

How to do it: The first thing to do is to register with a recruiting company. The two major ones are Search Associates and International School Services (ISS).  They both have good reputations, but I can personally recommend Search Associates, as they have placed me at two schools and are very thorough and professional. You will need to pay a fee (around $200 USD), and prepare to attend one of the many international job fairs offered around the world. Once accepted (they require 2+ years of experience, a teaching certificate and professional references), you can peruse their site and sign up for daily emails to stay on top of job vacancies. Think of it like online dating; if you both like what you see via the profiles, you can move on to Skype conversations, and eventually even (gasp!) an in-person meeting. Keep in mind that most schools do their hiring between November and March (very early), but there are always positions that come up last minute–I even got my first position at the end of June!

My own experience/two cents: 

IMG_5914

Like language schools, international schools can vary widely, as can your experience. A good tool to get recent reviews from past and present employees is InternationalSchoolsReview.com. Know that most contracts are for two years, sometimes three, so make sure you choose wisely. It’s important to think about things like language acquisition, proximity to your home country, work load (how many preps you will have), what housing is provided, how long your commute will be, and what the social scene is like at the school and in the country you are considering.

My first international school experience was in Bogota, Colombia, and it wasn’t easy. I didn’t speak the language, there weren’t many expats at the school or in the city, and there was a long commute and long hours. I was lonely for most of my first year. Then I learned enough Spanish to make local friends, learned to sleep on the bus, and learned to love the crazy city for what it was.

Shanghai has been a much easier transition for me. The school did an excellent job moving me here, getting me settled into an apartment, and providing an inviting orientation to the school and to the city. Not to mention, there are more than a million expats living in this city, so there’s always someone to speak English to. I haven’t been lonely once.

International teaching isn’t always easy. There will be moments of homesickness, frustration and miscommunication. You’ll struggle to complete the simplest tasks, and will spend a lot of time understanding your new culture. But you will also experience the joy of spending vacations on tropical islands with coworkers, you’ll learn new languages (or at least a few words), and you’ll get to know a different culture–all the while getting to know yourself.

What are you waiting for?

27 thoughts on “How to Teach Abroad”

    1. Stephanie, I’m glad you found it helpful! I know that when I was first trying to find information I spent DAYS on the Internet, to no avail. What’s your native language? I think if you took a refresher course and got your TEFL certification it would definitely be helpful 🙂

      1. Thank you for the reply! My native language is Dutch. I also understand/speak French . I’ve also been on internet for days about this topic. I’ve been thinking about doing my TEFL what do you recommend?

        Love!

        1. Of course! I provided a link to Footprints Recruiting. They are a great resource for the TEFL and offer a discount for the online program. I would connect with them and see what advice they can offer. I personally have not taken the course. Good luck, and feel free to email me at jenniferdstevens@gmail.com if you need any more help along the way! 🙂

  1. Does the 2+ years of teaching experience need to be after you’ve gained your teaching degree? I am thinking to move to China (probably Shanghai) and have just graduated from my Australian teaching degree. I have previously taught in countries that don’t require you to have a degree so not sure if I will be able to get a work visa to teach at an international school based on my experience/credentials. Are you able to provide any insight?

    1. Hey Jasmine, no it does not. I had most of my experience at an ESL school in Korea before I got my teaching license and it was fine. They just need two years. Best of luck! 🙂

      1. Thanks, I’m pleased to read that. What evidence do you need to prove the 2 years experience? Can I simply show my employment contracts or will I need a written reference from the schools where I worked?

        P.S. Great post – had been looking for something like this for a while!

        1. You just need to make sure to include the experience on your resume, but you’ll need to provide references. I believe you need three teaching-related references, including a parent, to answer questions from the recruiting site. Good luck and thanks for the positive feedback! There’s not much info online, so I’m glad to help! 🙂

  2. Jennifer Stevens!!!!! Love this post! My question and hopefully you can answer it: do people with families ever get offered English teaching jobs abroad?

    I’d love to live abroad but I’ve kinda got 3 kids and a husband! 🙂 Yikes!

    1. Thanks, Paige! Yes, there are many families who live and teach abroad. However, it is definitely easier if you have a teaching spouse. In fact, teaching couples are usually preferred over singles, as they tend to stay longer and are cheaper for the school to host. But if that’s not the case, don’t fret! People also teach with “trailing spouses.” It’s just harder in some countries to get visas. Email me if you have additional questions 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment, Dave! So glad I could inspire you. Keep in mind that Dubai is very expensive and the pay varies tremendously from school to school. Best of luck! 🙂

  3. Hi Jennifer!
    I’m so happy to have found your blog, what great insight and inspiration! I’m curious to know if you have met any other expats that are teaching abroad but bring their spouses along with them? It seems like this type of work is geared towards single, ambitious graduates that are looking for a way to travel while doing something meaningful and I would LOVE to do that but …..I’m married! Any thoughts/advice would be greatly appreciated!
    Thanks!
    Samantha

    1. Hey, Samantha! I’m happy you found my blog too. I’m happy to help, and love inspiring others to live abroad. There are SO MANY teachers with traveling spouses. It is easy for them to get work visas, and depending on where you get a job, there are plenty of opportunities–even subbing. And while it is a great thing for young singles to do, I am 33, and most of my colleagues are my age or older. Feel free to email me if you have further questions! adventurousappetite@gmail.com

  4. How did you find a job teaching English in Colombia? I’m a teacher in Korea, and I actually grew up in Central America, but none of the jobs I’ve seen in Central/South American region seem substantial or very stable… I’m not sure how to even go about finding a job in a Spanish speaking country, besides maybe Spain? Do you have any tips?

    1. Hey Neysha, thanks for reading. I was actually teaching at an international school, so I was not teaching ESL. I got that job through Search Associates. There are a few English language schools, but unfortunately I don’t know much about them. This website may be a good stepping stone for you: https://www.teachaway.com/teach-in-colombia. Suerte!

  5. Currently teaching in China – just completed our internship. We’re off to use our TEFL qualification and experience to volunteer across Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and South Africa next. However, we’ll then be looking to get back into the TEFL job market so your tips/advice will come in really handy. If anyone reading this post is interested in China specifically then please check out our blog or an example company with jobs you can peruse to get an idea of what’s over here is: http://newlifeesl.com/find-me-a-job/?ref=TLTL

    1. Thanks for reading! I will definitely check out your blog, as I’m not an authority on TEFL. I’m currently teaching at an international school 😉

  6. I know this is an old post, but I am so glad I poked around your site today! I am looking into teaching English abroad. I have been looking into certificates, countries, websites, etc. It can be very, very overwhelming. I think the trickiest part for me is really talking to teachers that have been at certain schools before. I am always more comforted by a positive review but I am anxious that I won’t be able to find them!

    1. I’m glad you did too, Amanda! Thank you. Internationalschoolsreview.com is a great resource and helped me a lot when choosing schools and countries. There’s a small annual fee, but totally worth it! xo

  7. Great article! I’ve been thinking about teaching abroad for quite a while. I may end up doing a ESL course but my background is piano pedagogy. In all the schools you’ve been to have you seen a need for piano teachers?

    1. Thank you so much, Frances! I think you should definitely take the online ESL course and try it out. Such a wonderful experience! I haven’t personally seen the need for piano teachers, but that doesn’t mean these positions don’t exist. They would most likely be at the larger schools or the more art-focused schools. With that said, when I was in Korea, I did a fair amount of tutoring, and did hear about the demand for piano tutors. Good luck! 🙂

        1. Hi, Kate! Thanks for the comment. I do love http://internationalschoolsreview.com, as it is usually very accurate. However, I would not suggest taking a job before asking to speak to current employees. Most schools are happy to provide you with contacts. If they aren’t, it’s probably a good indication that it’s not a school you want to work for! 🙂

  8. Hi Jennifer! I found your blog and I just think it’s amazing! I love how you share your stories.. I’ve been wanting to try living in Korea too and I think teaching English would be the best source of income. I’d like to know if you got the job first before moving there or you moved there and then look for a job? It would be nice to know how you started. Thanks much! And all the best!

    1. Hey Camille, thanks so much for the comment. 🙂 I am so happy to hear that you want to move to Korea to teach English! It is best if you get your visa first in your home country and get a job before you go. I would start poking around on DavesESLCafe.com and start seeing what’s out there. Schools are hiring all the time! Let me know if you have any questions. I’m happy to help!

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