How do you get a certification to teach English abroad?

As a native English speaker, you were practically born with a skill that many are dying to have. If you’re looking to live and work abroad, this is extremely useful, as many countries around the world are willing to pay native English speakers a decent wage in exchange for teaching their citizens the language that many consider to be the key to their career progression.

If you want to teach English abroad, you’ll need to get a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification. But there’s a bit of research and planning that you’ll need to do before you start of the journey of getting your certification to teach English abroad.

Figure out where you want to teach

This is a huge part of your decision to teach English— where do you want to live and teach English? You may be committing yourself to a year in this place, so do your research and look into alternatives too. Every country values and deals with English teachers differently, so here are some things you should look into when trying to decide where you’d like to teach English, as this could affect how you go about getting your TEFL certification.

Work Visas

If you have a region or country in mind, the first thing you’ll need to find out is if your nationality is allowed to work there legally. Will you need a visa to work? What are your options for getting one? Is it expensive or does it take too long?

If it seems nearly impossible to be able able to work legally where you want to, do some research into the “flexibility” of these rules. While I don’t condone living or working somewhere legally, there are plenty of places around the world where people do it all the time. Just be careful— just because other people have been able to beat the system doesn’t guarantee that you will.

Availability of English teaching jobs and average pay

Popular destinations for English teachers, like Rome and London, often have plenty of English teachers looking for jobs with not enough jobs to give them. Do you research, and if you’re not dead-set on a certain destination, being flexible could mean much better pay, working hours, and just an easier time getting a job.

That being said, governments and schools that are desperate for English teachers sometimes help pay for your flight, your accommodation, and more if you sign a year-long contract with them. Being flexible has its perks (literally!) Some of those countries don’t even require you to have a certification to teach English abroad, but it comes with a catch– it’s always “less desirable” places around the world.

Find out which countries pay the highest monthly salary to English teachers.

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Think about what you might want to specialize in

A TEFL or TESOL certification is quite broad— it enables you to teach English on a very general basis. Choosing to have a specialization can help you stand out from other applicants, and in some cases, make more money.

Working with children is difficult but if you learn how to do so effectively then you open yourself up to some more English teaching opportunities.

Business English courses are very popular in many parts of the world, due to the increase in demand for English-speaking workers. While it may not be as fun as working with children, it can bring in the big bucks (or euros, or yen, or…you get).

You can even specialize in tutoring for the TOEFL exam, which is the test that foreigners need to pass in order to attend college in the US or UK. By gaining knowledge in how that test works, you can charge a high hourly rate for English tutoring abroad.

Choose how you want to earn your certification to teach English abroad

There are two options for how you can get a certification to teach English abroad.

You can complete your certification course online, which is great if you like to work at your own pace and are planning on getting certified while still working or going to school. You’ll have to be self-motivated for this option, as it’s essentially the same as taking an online class and you’ll have assignments due and tests to take on your own.

The downside is that you won’t get in-classroom experience, but some online courses give you videos of sample lessons being taught by experienced teachers in different parts of the world. This give you the opportunity to observe real lessons. It’s also a good idea to try get some in-class experience on your own by volunteering to teach in your area, perhaps at a YMCA or local school.

You don’t necessarily need to complete 20 hours of practical teaching or observation in order to get TEFL certified, but it will make you more desirable when applying for jobs.

If you happen to already have teaching experience, then getting certified online is definitely the easiest and most cost-effective way to do it.

If you prefer to learn in a classroom, you can choose to do so abroad or in a major city back at home. The advantage of getting your certification abroad is that it may help you connect with language schools that could hire you once certified,  but it’s also much more costly than doing it while at home, as you’ll have to pay for airfare, accommodation, and more. Both options should offer in-classroom teaching experience.

Choosing an organization to get a certification to teach English abroad

There are many options out there when it comes to certification organizations, so there are a few things to look out for when deciding which to use.

Types of certification

What level of certification and training would you like to get? This will depend on what you plan on using your experience for. For example, some courses offer intro courses, which are ideal for someone who wants an introduction to English teaching (obviously) or looking to use their experience for volunteer purposes. Or you can go for a more advanced course which will take at least 120 hours to complete but will get you a certification to teach English abroad in most destinations.

Post-certification job placement services

Many TEFL companies promise to help with job placement once you’ve completed your course, but you may find that their services are actually quite limited. Before you commit to a program, contact the job placement team and ask them as many questions as you can. Let them know if you have a certain destination in mind and ask who their hiring partners are in that area. Also pick their brains on when peak hiring time is for these partners to see if it coincides with your ideal TEFL certification dates.

Does the course cover your specialization?

Remember when you brainstormed what you might want to specialize in? When choosing a course, be sure that it covers your specialization, but if it doesn’t, see if there’s the option to add an extra module on, like a Teaching English to Young Learners (TEYL) specialist certificate.

Grading and support

What level of support does the course offer? Will you be mostly left on your own to submit assignments at the end of each module with a pass/fail grading system, or do you have a trainer assigned to you that will carefully grade each of your assignments and tests and give you feedback on how to improve? When it comes to an online course, that can be invaluable as you’re not sitting with your teachers in a classroom, face-to-face.

Testimonials from past students

Many organizations have testimonial pages but if you ask, you may be able to contact a past student to hear about their experience with the course and finding a job afterwards. Google the program that you’re interested in and see if you can find any students to contact that way.

So many English teachers blog these days, so you may be able to find someone that way. Some organizations will give you the contact info of past students, so you can ask for that, but try to find someone independently as well so you can get an honest answer. They can tell you whether that organization is a good choice for getting a certification to teach English abroad.

Once you’ve chosen the organization you’ll use to get your certification, be prepared to work hard— English is easy when it’s your first language, however teaching English is another story!


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