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Teaching Abroad and TEFL Courses: What You Need to Know

Google “TEFL Certificate” and you’ll find yourself completely overwhelmed with different options. Prices for TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language ) certifications range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars; some programs only require 20 hours to complete online, while others outline several weeks of intensive in-classroom study. So how do you know which programs are actually going to help you improve your teaching skills and score a decent job overseas? Here’s an overview of everything you need to know about teaching abroad and TEFL certifications.

You Don’t Need a TEFL Certificate

Despite having taught English for two years in Thailand and Japan, I don’t actually have a personal recommendation for a TEFL program – because I never took one. For both jobs, I was hired on the basis of my university degree alone. I’ve even heard there are still teaching positions out there that don’t require a degree, but my experience has been that a four-year degree is the minimum (and basically only) requirement.

If you only take one thing away from this article, I hope it’s the message that you don’t need to rush out and waste your money on some random TEFL course if you’re interested in teaching English abroad.

Different Countries Have Different Requirements

The requirements for becoming an English teacher vary from country to country, so deciding exactly where you want to teach is a good way to begin your research. As I explained above, a TEFL certificate isn’t necessary for finding a job in many countries, including Japan, Thailand, China, South Korea, and Spain, among others; however, many countries in Europe and South America do require one.

If you decide where you want to teach and you also want to take a TEFL course, you might be able to earn your certification in that country. It’s an easy way to connect with other teachers-in-training who are planning to live and work in the same area as you, plus some programs offer placement services that can help you find a teaching position once you have your certificate.

It’s also a good idea to find out if having a TEFL certificate will affect your salary. For example, in Thailand, I earned the same salary as my colleagues who had taken TEFL courses. When I interviewed with a few schools in South Korea, however, I was told I could earn a higher salary if I had a TEFL certificate. A TEFL certificate wasn’t a minimum requirement, but if I had decided to teach in South Korea, it would arguably have been worth the upfront investment to take one.

Not sure where you want to teach? It’s probably best to start by taking a TEFL course, because then there are no limits on the places where you can apply for jobs. While you don’t necessarily need a TEFL certificate, there’s no question that you’ll have more job options if you do get one.

It’s Important to Consider Your Goals

I think one of the most important steps in choosing a TEFL course is stopping to consider exactly why you want to take one.

If you’re taking the course in order to make yourself a more attractive candidate for jobs, then I recommend finding a TEFL program with an in-classroom component. These programs usually provide the opportunity to actually teach students and receive feedback from your instructors. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but generally schools and countries that care about TEFL certifications prefer job applicants who have completed about 120+ hours of study with at least 20 hours of in-classroom practice.

Although TEFL courses with an in-classroom component are almost always more expensive and time-consuming than online certifications, they’re worth it if you want schools to take your certification seriously. I’ve even seen job postings specifying that only candidates with in-classroom TEFL certifications are eligible for the positions. Plus if you’re going to make the decision to take a TEFL course, I think it makes sense to invest in a reputable one rather than trying to squeak by with the cheapest and easiest one you can find.

That said, if you’re interested in taking a TEFL course because you simply want to brush up on your grammar basics or learn some lesson planning strategies, then an online course might be all you need. In this case, research the curriculums of different online programs and choose one that focuses on the aspects of teaching you most want to improve upon.

16 Responses to Teaching Abroad and TEFL Courses: What You Need to Know

  1. Sam February 8, 2015 at 12:14 PM #

    Yes, as you said in Europe it’s definitely an advantage (or indeed a requirement) to have a TEFL qualification. I’ve only taught in Europe and I definitely wouldn’t have got about 80% of the jobs I’ve had here if I hadn’t had one. So it’s no doubt been useful for me, but that said, it was absolutely the most intensive, stressful and draining experience of my life doing that course, even after three years at university!

  2. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas February 8, 2015 at 12:34 PM #

    I run an English language school in Spain, and we only hire teachers who have qualifications. While I didn’t need one for the teaching program I came on, I’m glad I did one in the end. And, for what it’s worth, a CELTA is recognized more in Europe than a TEFL.

    • waysofwanderers February 8, 2015 at 3:41 PM #

      Good point! If I were to pursue teaching ESL as a career, I’d definitely go for CELTA. It’s probably the most intensive program out there, but if you take it, you can at least feel confident that schools are going to recognize it.

  3. sophie February 8, 2015 at 5:03 PM #

    Thanks for this!
    I’m super interested in doing a TEFL course in a year, to help fund travels and have a new travel experience!
    I’d love to read a post on what it was like to teach abroad and what your everyday schedule was like? What were the best bits? What were the crappy bits?
    I’m new to your blog so apologies if you’ve already penned a post on it!

  4. Olga February 8, 2015 at 5:45 PM #

    On the basis of my degree, I didn’t need TEFL, too, but I guess those who are just native speakers but have no proper teaching skills still need to get the certificate.

    I’m living in Ecuador as an expat now, and find it to be quite unfair that the TESL market here is oversaturated with the Americans who, of course, speak fluently, but have no idea how to teach the language properly. It would be nicer if the country had some regulations regarding that.

    • Steph February 9, 2015 at 12:07 PM #

      Not always. My husband was able to teach (college level!) english in China without even a college degree. But I think if you want better paying positions then yes, some sort of secondary education is necessary.

  5. Rebekah February 8, 2015 at 6:10 PM #

    I’m teaching without one now, but honestly I regret not doing it. I don’t feel very qualified to teach English and while you CAN get a job in China without one, I don’t think very good schools hire people without qualifications. If I teach again I’ll definitely get one.

    • waysofwanderers February 9, 2015 at 8:43 AM #

      I didn’t love my first teaching job in Thailand, but my second one in Japan was great, so it’s definitely possible to find good jobs without a TEFL (although I agree there are also a lot of not-so-great schools out there, so it’s definitely important to be selective).

      And yeah, I imagine a TEFL certificate would help with your confidence as a teacher somewhat, but most of my colleagues had certificates and it seemed like the learning curve was just as large for them as it was for me :).

  6. ustrasse February 9, 2015 at 11:51 AM #

    I think TEFL is still optional for most entry-level English teaching jobs in Asia, but if you want to secure something more permanent than JET or an eikaiwa, TEFL and/or a higher degree is definitely necessary. Back in the day (2005-2007ish), for English teachers in Japan who wanted to level up their qualifications, the big thing to do was take a TEFL or CELTA course someplace cheap and tropical like Thailand, and combine it with a holiday. If you’re going to get your TEFL, why not get your PADI at the same time, right?? 😉

  7. Christine February 13, 2015 at 10:28 PM #

    I think if you want to succeed in this field, yes. Again my thoughts but it irks me that so many people get into this field as just a means to travel and forget hey this is a job. Just think if you were back home would you want to be in a class or have your kids in a class with a “teacher” that was just there to finance their travels?!
    Ok, my inner old cranky lady came out. 🙂

    • waysofwanderers February 16, 2015 at 3:27 PM #

      Not cranky at all – it’s a good point! Even though I didn’t take a TEFL course, I did my own research when it came to planning lessons and reviewing any grammar rules I didn’t think I could adequately explain – because yeah, I didn’t want to take advantage of the system and give a bunch of impressionable kids a crappy year of English lessons. Teaching English is a great way to finance travel, but at the same time no one should go into it thinking they don’t have to put any effort into the job – TEFL or no TEFL.

  8. Katrina the Two Week Traveler February 20, 2015 at 12:01 AM #

    I got a TEFL certificate before I went to Korea (having one have me a $200 a month raise) and I didn’t feel at all prepared for teaching! So much of teaching is just learning by doing so you can’t really learn that in a book. But now that so many people are teaching in Korea I heard they made TEFL a requirement for public school jobs.

  9. Jo August 19, 2015 at 11:55 PM #

    Hello, Jessica! This is a very interesting and informative post! I would like to ask you for some advice. Can I send you a personal message? Thanks! 🙂

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