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FAQ's About TEFL
The questions and answers given below are adapted from Chapter 1 of Jeff Mohamed's book "Teaching English Overseas: A Job Guide For Americans And Canadians."
What are the differences between TEFL, TESL, TESOL and ELT?
TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) involves teaching people, usually in their own countries, who want to use English for business, leisure, travel, etc.
TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) involves teaching immigrants in English-speaking countries.
TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and ELT (English Language Teaching) are terms which cover both TEFL and TESL. Confusingly, the acronym TESOL also refers to the American professional association: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Are there really jobs out there? Where are they?
There are many more TEFL jobs worldwide than there are native-speaking EFL teachers to fill them. If you are American or Canadian, you should be able to find jobs reasonably easily in areas such as Latin America, Asia and Eastern/Central Europe. The only job markets which you will find it difficult to break into will be those in other English-speaking countries, Western Europe (unless you have a European Union passport) and Africa.
Where are the highest paying jobs?
The highest paying jobs in Asia are in Korea, Taiwan and Japan, although some teachers in China also earn high salaries. Elsewhere, the best salaries are paid by employers in the oil-producing countries of the Arabia Gulf.
Do I need a degree to be able to teach English overseas?
A BA or BS degree is almost always preferred by employers, but it is not legally essential in most countries. However, it is impossible to work legally in the Mid East and some parts of Asia without a BA/BS degree.
Do I need specific TEFL training or certification?
No ... and yes! Most schools overseas employ untrained teachers and some of these teachers do just fine. However, most of the better employers now require or at least prefer teachers to be both trained and certified. So if you want a good job, particularly in the more competitive markets, you should seriously consider taking a TEFL certificate training course.
How long does TEFL training take?
Luckily, basic TEFL training and certification can be obtained quite quickly. Even the most widely recognized TEFL certificate in the world, the Cambridge CELTA, can be obtained in only 4 weeks. Some other reputable TEFL certificate courses can also be completed in 4 weeks (or part-time over 3-18 months). Some shorter training courses are available but they are not usually recognized by the best employers.
Can I obtain TEFL certification via distance learning?
Several distance learning courses are available and the better ones provide effective training and recognized certification. (For details of English International's distance learning Certificate in TEFL program, click here.)
The best employers recognize only courses that last at least 100 hours and include 6 hours of supervised practice teaching. Any shorter course will give you a competitive edge when applying for jobs open to untrained teachers but will not enable you to compete with teachers who have taken a 100-hour onsite or distance training course.
Which is the best TEFL training course?
A lot of courses offer adequate or good training. However, many TEFL certificates are not widely recognized by employers overseas. The most widely recognized TEFL certificate available in North America is the Cambridge CELTA. For details of the CELTA program, check out our What is CELTA? page.
For more detailed information on the different types of TEFL training programs available in the USA and Canada, go to our Training Options page.
Do I need to know a foreign language?
As almost all TEFL jobs require you to teach English purely in English, knowledge of a foreign language is not essential. However, having some experience of foreign language learning will give you many useful insights into what language is and how we learn it; and studying a foreign language will help you to learn more about English, and particularly English grammar. Some knowledge of the language of the country where you teach will make your out-of-school life easier and more rewarding.
Do I need to be a certain age?
No. I have known teachers as young as 18 and as old as 75 who have found jobs overseas. However, it is often difficult to get a job if you are under 21, and it tends to be more difficult if you are over about 50. Some countries have compulsory retirement ages (usually about 60-65).
Can I teach EFL if English is not my native language?
Yes, if your spoken and written English is of a very high standard. Having a slight accent is not a problem but you need to be able to express yourself fluently and accurately in both speech and writing. (If you have not undergone TEFL training, having a "foreign" accent will be a major drawback because all that most untrained teachers have to offer employers is their ability to model native speaker pronunciation.)
Can I bring a partner overseas with me?
If you obtain a legal job and a residence visa, you can usually obtain a residence visa for a wife or husband (but not for other kinds of partners). However, he/she probably will not be allowed to work and most entry-level TEFL jobs do not pay enough to enable you to support a nonworking dependent.
If your partner is involved in TEFL, you should both be able to find jobs in the same place, particularly if you apply to large schools or for jobs in big cities.
Can I bring children overseas with me?
If you obtain a legal job and a residence visa, you will be able to obtain a residence visa for your children. However, most entry-level TEFL jobs do not pay enough to enable single parents to support children. Married couples in which both partners teach EFL may be able to support children.
Can I arrange a job before leaving home?
For many countries, you can arrange a job in advance, particularly if you have a degree and a reputable TEFL certificate. Unless you are looking for a very short term job, I would recommend that you fix up a job in advance if at all possible.
How can I arrange a job overseas?
Some people travel to their target country to look for work. Others arrange a job in advance by answering job advertisements or by contacting possible employers.
You can find some useful tips on finding overseas jobs on our TEFL Job Search Tips page.
You can find more detailed advice, together with hundreds of addresses of employers, in the Teaching English Overseas book.
How can I be sure that an overseas employer is reputable?
Accept a job only if it is with an organization which has an established reputation or which is known to someone whose opinion you trust. Check out what other people say about the employer on Internet discussion sites and ask the employer to put you in touch with a current or past employee.
Before accepting any job offer, use the checklist given in Chapter 6 of Teaching English Overseas to make sure that the conditions of work are reasonable.
When do jobs start?
In Europe, most jobs start in September/October, with a much smaller number becoming available in January. Outside of these months, it is very difficult to find work. Elsewhere, jobs usually are available at any time of the year.
How long will I need to commit to?
Most good jobs require you to sign a year's contract. This is almost always true of jobs which can be arranged in advance and which provide airfare and housing. However, if you travel overseas to find a job, it is often possible to work on a month-by-month basis.
A few government-sponsored programs, such as the Peace Corps and JET, require a two-year commitment.
Will I need a work permit and/or residence visa?
To live and work in a foreign country, you must have a work permit; this then enables you to get a residence visa. To do even short-term work or private teaching overseas without a valid work permit is a criminal offense in all countries and offenders may be imprisoned or fined and deported.
In reality, the degree of risk involved varies greatly from country to country. Americans and Canadians who teach illegally in parts of Asia, Latin America and Western Europe rarely seem to have major problems, provided that they do not stay for more than a few months.
How do I get a work permit and residence visa?
Normally you first have to secure a job offer. Then your employer will sponsor and arrange your application for the necessary papers. In most cases, the employer will deal with all of the bureaucracy for you.
What are typical working conditions?
In most countries, you can expect to teach a 5-day week of about 20-25 hours. (This does not include the time you will need to spend on planning your lessons.) Typically you may have 6-8 weeks of paid holidays and vacations. In the higher-paying Asian countries such as Japan and Korea, you may have to teach 6 days and 30-35 hours a week and you may have only 2-4 weeks of paid holidays and vacations.
Will I be paid in dollars?
No. In virtually all overseas TEFL jobs you will be paid in the local currency and not in dollars.
How much will I earn?
This is impossible to answer because salaries and currency exchange rates vary so much. Also, salary figures are totally meaningless unless you know the cost of living in each country; for example, a salary of $100 a month in Romania may sound pitiful but it will actually allow you to live much better than a monthly salary of $1500 in Japan or Sweden.
In most countries, entry-level TEFL jobs with reputable employers will allow you to live comfortably (in local terms). They will also allow you either to make modest savings or to really enjoy your free time and vacations. Only a few countries offer jobs which allow you to live well, save money and really enjoy your leisure time.
Will I be able to send money home?
If you teach in some Asian and Mid Eastern countries, you are likely to be able to save really significant amounts of money ($500-$1500 a month) and to be allowed to send it home. In most other countries, you will not be able to save so much and exchange control regulations may make it difficult to send home any savings.
What about taxes?
You will normally pay income tax and social security charges to the government of the country where you work, and in most cases these taxes will be much lower than those in Canada and the USA. You will need to file an income declaration in your home country but you will usually not have to pay any additional Canadian or US taxes on the money earned overseas, provided that you stay overseas for at least one year.
Can I teach extra lessons privately?
Most overseas contracts specifically state that you cannot teach privately without the permission of your employer. However, most employers will allow you to do some private teaching provided that your contract teaching is going well and that you do not steal students from your employer.
What about travel and housing?
If you arrange a job in advance and sign a contract for a year, overseas employers will often pay all or part of your airfare, particularly if the job is in Asia or the Mid East. In these areas, employers also often provide free or subsidized housing to teachers who arrange their jobs from N. America. In other parts of the world, employers may help you to arrange accommodation but they will not pay for it.
The standard of housing varies but it is usually reasonably good in local terms. However, bear in mind that few countries have housing that matches the standard of that in Canada or the USA. You should also realize that single-person housing is fairly rare overseas and so teachers may have to share houses or apartments with other teachers.
Do jobs provide health insurance?
Most countries have national health services which you will be eligible to use when you legally start work. It is often possible, at little extra cost, to subscribe to a local HMO or private healthcare program as well as, or instead of, the national health service.
Who will my students be?
Most entry-level jobs involve teaching groups of adults, adolescents and/or younger learners in private language schools. Some jobs require you to teach classes in local junior high schools, high schools or colleges. In some other jobs, you may teach mainly or solely individual executives or groups of employees on their companies' premises.
What happens if I really hate the job or the country?
Employers rarely want to keep teachers who are very unhappy. They will normally allow you to terminate your contract early if you wait a few weeks until they arrange a replacement teacher. However, they may require you to repay all or part of your airfare and of any other costs which the employer met on your behalf.
If an employer refuses to release you from your contract, you can simply walk away from the job and leave the country. However, this is clearly a very unprofessional approach and it will make it difficult for you to obtain other TEFL jobs in the future.
In my experience, teachers who end up in unsuitable jobs or countries do so because they fail to do enough research before going overseas. If you research jobs and countries carefully, you should be able to avoid serious problems.
Is it possible to build a real career in TEFL?
Most EFL teachers stay in the field only 1-2 years and then return home and move into other types of work. However, many teachers make EFL their career. Some settle permanently in an overseas country, often becoming school directors or directors of studies. Others eventually return home and work in TEFL/TESL as teachers, trainers, program directors, materials writers, etc.
As the TEFL/TESL market in Canada and the USA is very competitive, Canadians and Americans who want a good long-term position back home usually find that they need to obtain an MA TESOL degree at some point.
Can you recommend some good books about teaching EFL?
See our Some TEFL Sources page.
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