There are 1.5 billion people on the planet - one in seven of the world’s total population - who are learning or want to learn English. Native English speakers looking to see the world while earning an income at the same time have a massive advantage because they can always teach.
Gregory Rogan of Expat Teaching Recruitment (expatteaching.com)says the majority of Tefl (teach English as a foreign language) teachers take up positions overseas because they seek international experience and the opportunity to live abroad. "Many young graduates use Tefl teaching as a way to finance travels, or as a way to finance living in a foreign country and experiencing life abroad," he says.
Alan Moir of TeflCoursesIreland.ie says they see five types of people looking to get into English language teaching:
- Students or recent graduates who want to take a year off after college, and perhaps travel and work
- People taking a career break or want to change their career; they may be in their mid-30s and didn’t have a chance to travel when younger
- People who want to move abroad to be with family or a partner
- People nearing retirement or in retirement who are looking to do something different, whether travel or teach in their own country, or over the phone
- Qualified primary or post-primary teachers who want to move abroad, or travel during the summer to make some extra money teaching Tefl.
Where is hiring?
Tish McQueen, business development manager of The TEFLAcademy (theteflacademy.com/ie), says their conversations with Chinese government officials suggest at least 400million people are learning or want to learn English.
“We receive emails every single day from Chinese schools and recruiters looking for teachers and currently have over 5,000 open vacancies in China,” she says. “Demand is so high that there are government-sponsored projects all over China to bring in new teachers.”
There’s less of a demand for Tefl teachers in the Middle East at the moment due to the recent drop in the price of the oil and the knock-on effects it has had on investment, though there are still jobs to be had, says Rogan.
Tefl is in particular demand in Europe, says Alan Moir of TeflCoursesIreland.ie, with opportunities in Spain, Italy, France, the Czech Republic, Romania and Hungary. South Korea is popular with Irish teachers, as is Mexico and, to a slightly lesser extent, Brazil, Peru and Thailand.
And some choose the UK: it’s close to home but still culturally diverse enough to offer good opportunities. Some state schools in the UK are hiring English language teaching assistants to help them in the classroom, says McQueen.
Tefl provider i-to-i (i-to-i.com) say that Vietnam is growing in popularity as a destination, but teachers attracted to the country have to be pre-warned about the early start: classes begin at 7am.
In addition to private language schools, English-language teachers can work in immersive homestays, online or Skype tutoring, and charitable volunteering.
Salary, benefits and working hours in key destinations: How do they compare?
China: Contracts vary greatly, with salaries ranging from €700-1,300 per month, depending on education and experience. "There are many opportunities there," says Rogan. "Many teachers subsidise their contract work with private English teaching. There are possible housing subsidies and flight allowances."
Spain: TeflCoursesIreland.ie says this is the top option for Tefl teachers from Ireland and the UK. During their recession, many Spanish people learned English to improve their job prospects both at home and abroad. For 20-22 hours of work per week, plus preparation time, teachers can expect to earn, on average, between €13,500-17,500.
France and Germany: Teachers can earn up to €2,100 per month, says i-to-i's Sarah Oxley.
Middle East: Salaries in the Middle East depend on qualification and experience, but are around €2,350-3,000 per month, tax-free, in Saudi Arabia for example. Along with Japan, this is the highest paid Tefl location. Many companies will reimburse flight costs and some may offer medical insurance and healthcare. The Tefl Academy say salaries in the United Arab Emirates can be €40,000 plus, with free accommodation (usually in apartments with pools), return airfares and private healthcare.
South Korea and Japan: Normally offering a 12-month contract with a bonus for completing it. Healthcare and pension often included and many schools will help you learn the local language.
Southeast Asia/ Central and Eastern Europe: It's possible to earn up to €1,150 per month. Flights and accommodation may be included.
Tefl doesn’t have to be a full-time job or career; there are many summer schools looking for qualified teachers for the whole summer, or for just two to four weeks.
How do you become a Tefl teacher?
If you want to train to be a Tefl teacher, bear in mind that different companies have different Tefl learning options. TeflCoursesIreland.ie, for instance, has online distance learning courses, classroom based courses and courses that involve a blend of online and classroom learning. Some, such as i-to-i have specialist Tefl courses including “Teaching Teenagers” and “Teaching Business English”.
The Tefl Academy has an internship sponsored by the Sichuan province government in China, as does i-to-i whose paid internships include a Tefl course and travel opportunities.
“Generally speaking, all that is required to become a Tefl teacher is an accredited 120-hour Tefl cert, although many countries require a degree, in any subject, to meet the working visa requirements” says Tish McQueen.
Vietnam and Thailand require a university degree and China often desire one in their job specs, says Sarah Oxley of i-to-i. All three countries require teachers to be native English speakers and passport holders from Ireland, the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa.
Visa requirements vary greatly from country to country. “Recruitment companies or HR departments always advise on the step-by-step process and usually have contacts within consulates and visa agencies,” says Rogan.
Employers are generally very good at helping with paperwork and getting teachers settled as soon as possible. There are also good networks of other immigrant teachers. Visas do have a cost: in China, it’s around $USD200 (€190) for a 180-day visa. China also demands a full medical before travel: this costs about €470.
There’s no single organisation that represents or accredits Tefl courses, and quality and costs vary, so do your research before choosing the one you think is best for you.
Teaching Tefl in Ireland
Tefl teaching in another country has long been popular with recent graduates, and many of them go on to teach in Ireland after returning from abroad, either for a few years or as a career. Teflcourses runs courses in Dublin, Sligo and Cork. Pay can be per hour or salaried.
“If you want to teach Tefl in Ireland you may need to take the CELTA level qualification which is specifically designed for English-speaking countries, while Tefl is for non-English speaking ones,” says Sarah Oxley of i-to-i.