Tips for Teaching English Abroad

by Caitlin
Published: Last Updated on

 

Wondering if teaching English abroad is worth it? Here are some tips on getting paid to teach English abroad – from someone who’s been doing it for years.

 

I am an American, I have a B.A. in business management, a certificate in English language teaching to adults (CELTA), and I have been teaching English as a second language around the world for seven years (since 2013). I got my CELTA in Montreal and have since taught in Vietnam, Australia, The Czech Republic, The U.S., and England. I’m not an expert, but I am experienced and have been around the ol’ ESL block a few times. I can speak to teaching English abroad requirements in the countries where I have lived – which are rather similar to many other countries around the world. But enough of my CV, let me tell you my story.

 

Getting a CELTA

Like I said, I got my CELTA in Montreal at ILSC Montreal. That was May, 2013. I loved my program, my school, and my teachers. I’ve written more in depth about my experience getting the CELTA and tips on getting a CELTA pass A so I won’t get into all that here. But you need to get a CELTA (or equivalent – only one of which exists – The Trinity Cert) if you’re going to teach abroad.

If you think you’re just going to waltz into a classroom with no qualifications and all will be well just because you already speak English, STOP.

If you think you’re going to get a really rad deal with a Groupon on some online TEFL, STOP.

four women standing in front of vending machines

The last day of my CELTA

Opportunities to get a CELTA exist all over the world – they are all four weeks full-time and some will offer part-time options as well. The requirements to get onto a CELTA program are pretty straightforward; you must be over 18, a native English speaker or C1 or higher second language speaker. You can get onto a CELTA without a university degree which means you can teach English abroad without a degree, though you’ll need to have qualifications similar to those which might get you into a college. Ultimately, admission onto a CELTA program is at the discretion of the teachers who run any particular program.

Many CELTA schools will have loads of connections into the job markets around the world and most will offer to support you looking for a job immediately out of the program and in the future should you be looking again. Depending on your goals I’d recommend beginning to look for a job while working on your CELTA. Many companies will be glad to talk to you with the understanding that any offer with be dependent on your successful completion of the certificate.

 

Teaching English in Vietnam

I was out the gate fast. Once I had my CELTA in hand it didn’t take much for me to figure out how to get paid to teach English abroad. And my first stop was Vietnam. A lot of people ask me why Vietnam and the truth is, why not? I knew I needed to narrow it down to a single country otherwise I’d be overwhelmed by the number of applications to send out. So I decided Asia and then, because I’d heard from people who had traveled there that the food was amazing (priorities!), I settled on Vietnam.

Vietnamese students in a classroom dressed up for halloween

Halloween in Vietnam

People also ask me how I figure out how to apply for jobs overseas. I did a simple Google search. There is nothing different about these applications then one you might do for a job in your home country. I made a list of schools in Vietnam and I sent a cold application to the emails I found on their websites. I don’t remember how many emails I sent out but I got three interviews. I did those interviews on a video call from my parents home office in Vermont and got offered two jobs. That was June 2013. I landed in Ho Chi Minh City with a job, a visa, and a hotel room all set up at the end of July, less than two months after successfully completing my CELTA.

The job market in Vietnam for English teachers has since been saturated. I am lucky that I got in early. I had an amazing life there and a spectacular paycheck. The truth is that now you don’t need qualifications because there are just so many schools. But the other part of that truth is that you’re putting yourself at a high risk to work for someone who doesn’t require you to have qualifications because it likely means you also aren’t getting a proper visa and therefore are working, and living illegally. That’s just stupid. Go home and drink beer if that’s your only goal.

The Vietnam Work Visa

This part was a little exhausting. There was a lot that I had to do on my own but the company I worked for, ILA, guided me through the process step by step. I would not have been able to figure it out on my own. A Vietnam work visa involves paperwork upon paperwork upon paperwork. I had to get things notarized, I had to get notaries notarized. A lot of it made no sense and all of it took a lot of time. I was lucky that my parents were able to finish it off for me and send the completed documents – couriered – to me in Vietnam. The six weeks I had in The States before leaving wasn’t enough time to get everything sorted out before I flew.

When I landed I had a visa on arrival, ILA then took my completed paperwork once it arrived, along with my passport and they applied for my formal work visa.

YOU DO NOT WANT TO GO THIS ALONE.

If you choose to teach in Vietnam, or indeed any country in which you do not speak the language, make sure the job you go for offers you visa sponsorship and support, and know that they are not one and the same.

Life in Vietnam

I could write a book about it. Really. I lived in Vietnam for about 15 months and I loved it more than was healthy. I lived a luxurious life and drank a lot of beer. Like, a lot of beer. I taught full days on the weekends and two hours Tuesday and Thursday evenings. I taught Vietnamese kids from the ages of about 4 up to 18. Those hours were more than enough to live like a queen. But I landed a tutoring job on top of that which was 6 hours per week at $35 (yes, USD) per hour. To give you an idea of what that money meant for me there, a beer cost less than a dollar as did a quick road-side meal. A nice, drink all you want, eat all you want dinner out might have come out to $8-10. We paid our maid less than $5/hour and that was a lot for her to get. When ILA had their annual Christmas ball I got a custom gown tailored – it was modeled after one of Kate’s (Middleton).

white girl standing in Vietnamese alleyway in ballgown

Standing in the alleyway outside my house in Vietnam in my gown.

But then I left. I left partly because I said I was going to stay and then was asked to have a ‘second year goals’ meeting with my manager in which I told him I didn’t know that I really had any and I was just staying because it was comfortable. He told me that was totally fine and when I got up to leave he said ‘be careful, some of us just get stuck doing this forever.’ So I panicked and cancelled my second year contract. But I also partly left because of the beer…there truly was too much of it.

 

Teaching English in Australia

I left Vietnam thinking fuck, I don’t want to be stuck in this job for the rest of my life. So I popped home for Christmas and sorted out a work and holiday visa for Australia. The application is easy. My biggest hurdle was getting a chest x-ray, I had to get one because of my time living in Vietnam, so if you’ve lived in The U.S. or Europe for your whole life you won’t have to worry about that step. I, though, had to drive to Boston to go to one of Australia’s approved clinics. I stopped for lunch with a cousin. Since the application is of course in English, I did this entirely on my own and had a response quite quickly. I highly recommend against paying a third-party site to do this for you. There are plenty that will convince you that you need them, you don’t.

I flew to Australia (via Montreal, Chicago, LAX, and Honolulu) on New Year’s Eve 2015, about three months after leaving Vietnam. I landed in Sydney where a friend (from my time studying abroad in Morocco) picked me up at the airport. I mooched the spare room in her boyfriend’s lux apartment in Pyrmont for about two weeks. I instantly landed a job teaching ESL in Sydney, got a nice injection of cash into my new Ozzie bank account then decided to fuck off to the beaches, because, after all, I didn’t want to be stuck doing this for the rest of my life.

I was an au pair for about six months before I decided I wanted more of that cash and went back to Sydney and taught ESL again. From July to December 2015, until my visa expired, I worked at English Language Company (by the way, if you click on that link you can see me in the home page video – bleached blonde hair, red top). The cover photo of this blog post is of me and my students at the school’s Christmas party.

I worked five days a week, in the evenings from 5-9:00, which meant I had mostly students who were on student visas and were aiming at getting work sponsorship so they could stay on in Australia. They were mostly about my age – early to mid 20’s and they were predominately Brazilian (read: very attractive). I got paid just under AU$44 per hour for teaching and occasionally got to take students out for ‘social activities’ for which I got paid AU$25 per hour.

group of girls dressed up at Christmas party in sydney

The teachers Christmas party in Sydney

Life in Sydney

Life in Sydney was definitely different than life in Vietnam. But, considering the cost of living in Sydney is not low, I did fine for myself. I didn’t have a maid, nor did I eat every meal out. But I was still able to live comfortably, go out for dinners, drinks, and occasional shows. I enjoyed life in Sydney. The city has a lot to offer – parks all around it, beaches galore. And so much sunshine. Had my visa not expired I might have stayed longer, but I wouldn’t have wanted to live in Sydney forever, it was a bit too uppity for me. People in Sydney can be a bit insular and snobbish and despite making great friends, I never truly found the community I had in Vietnam. I might have considered moving down to Melbourne had I had more time. Regardless, I remember Sydney warmly – and not just because of the sun.

I left Sydney with a boyfriend, he was Spanish, not Brazilian but he was in fact a student at the school where I taught. That’s a story for another time but having him in tow led me to where I ended up next.

 

Teaching English in Prague

Prague had never been on my radar. I’d visited a few years prior to moving there and while it was sweet for a visit, it wasn’t somewhere I was desperate to get back to. Nevertheless, I moved to Prague in the fall of 2016 because of that boyfriend I took with me as a souvenir from Sydney. Because he was Spanish he could legally work and live anywhere in the EU. While I would have loved to live in Spain he couldn’t work in the country due to some past issues with tax evasion (red flag much Caitlin?) but besides that I couldn’t work in Spain unless we were married or became common law partners, I wasn’t ready to do all that. So we needed a country in the EU where I, as an American, could get the legal right to work independent of being with him. Out of the woodwork came The Czech Republic.

I applied for jobs during our visit to my parents house back in Vermont, and continued while we were at his parents house in Galicia, Spain. I landed a job at Castle English which is in the north of The Czech Republic in a small city called Liberec. The job seemed excellent and the owners and managers of the school seemed supportive and experienced at getting people legal to work. Unfortunately, Liberec was too small of a city to guarantee the boyfriend who of course did not speak Czech would be able to find work so I turned down the offer. I much later met a girl who had worked at the school for a number of years and had loved it. Oh well.

Instead, we ended up in Prague. Before arriving I had spoken to James Cook Language Schools and when I got to Prague I went and did my paperwork with them. James Cook contracts out to big corporations who offer English lessons to their students. This means there is no central school and no classrooms, you are freelance and need to traipse around the city (which gets very wet and cold and dark come winter) from class to class. Through James Cook I taught staff at HSBC, Exxon Mobil, and Siemens. But I quickly realized that the pay they were offering was not sustainable and was far too low for my experience, so I cut back on my hours with them and began looking for other work. Ultimately I filled my schedule with a plethora of random gigs. All teaching English, all over the city and getting paid, on the low efnd (James Cook) less than $12/hour and on the high end about $20/hour. I taught adults and kids, privates and group lessons, mostly Czech people but I had one (very lovely) Japanese boy. The pay I got in Prague was the lowest pay I had accepted at that point in my career as an English teacher and at that point I of course had the most experience. It was demoralizing and I hated it. Some of my students were enjoyable, but I lost any and all passion or interest I’d had in my work.

Unfortunately, this nature of freelance work is how the ESL field has developed in Prague. Due to the visa available to Americans, more on that below, there are many, many poorly or simply unqualified teachers buzzing about the city ready to work for a pittance just so they can drink shitty beer and say they once lived in Europe. That is not my scene and I wanted more.

The Czech Work Visa

The work visa which I got to be able to be legal in The Czech Republic is called a Živnostenský. It is a freelance visa and allows Americans to work and remain in the country. The application is long, arduous, and in Czech so unless you are already fluent I highly recommend hiring help. It is unlikely you will find a school that will sponsor you – see about freelance culture above – unless you are a curriculum certified teacher in your own country and can work at an international school.

I hired a woman called Jitka who runs a company called Visa Guru and was excellent to work with. I was on a tight timeline. Because I’d been in Spain for about 6 weeks by the time I entered The Czech Republic I only had another 6 weeks before my tourist visa expired. That meant I had to get all my paperwork, which includes a letter from your landlord which means I had to find a landlord, send it all in, and go to a visa appointment out of the country (I was lucky and got one in Vienna which was an easy day trip) all in my remaining 6 weeks. Like I say – it’s a process. Hire a professional.

woman looking over shoulder with view of Prague in the background

This face pretty much sums up how I felt about Prague.

Life in Prague

This one’s easy. I hated it. It was not for me. My pay was low, the cost of living was high. The winter was cold and damp and wet and miserable. People weren’t friendly and it was difficult to make friends with locals. The expat community there is the aforementioned ‘I used to live in Europe’ crowd. None of it was for me. To top all of that off, I had plenty of things in my personal life making it more difficult: an unemployed boyfriend who fought with me about whether or not he could smoke in our one bedroom apartment, among other things. There is some underground coolness in Prague, far far away from Charles Bridge and The Old Town Square there were some amazing restaurants, cool bars, and edgy hangouts. And as I made my departure, in record time, less than 10 months after arriving with no unemployed boyfriend to speak of, Prague introduced a ban on smoking in indoor public places. Maybe I should go back.

 

Teaching English in New York City

After my brief stint in Prague I spent a number of months traveling around Europe, exhausting the time I had left on my visa. And then, I ended up back in The U.S. After spending Christmas 2017 at home in Vermont I made my way to New York City – another one of the most expensive cities in the world, but I was lucky to be able to share an apartment with my mother, who commutes to NYC from Vermont about a week out of every month for work. If I hadn’t been able to do this I would not have been able to afford living in the city on an ESL salary.

I worked five mornings a week for New York Language Center which paid me about $20/hour. Not enough. I then taught two evenings a week for Good Shepherd Services at an after school program out of a New York public school in the Bronx. They paid me significantly more – I can’t remember the exact number and can’t seem to find it in my emails, sorry about that, but the hours weren’t many. All in all, I didn’t make a load of money and again, without help on housing there’s no way I could have sustained myself in the city.

The best thing about teaching in New York though was the students. The vast majority of my students were immigrants, some of them illegally in the city. They were all hard workers and fascinating to talk with. Most of them were adults, though I taught a few kids as well. Many of them were from central and South America, a few were from Europe and Asia. I enjoyed teaching them and it helped me a lot to feel like I was helping them.

large blue mural of face of woman with another woman walking past

Life in NYC

Life in New York City

I’ve spent loads of time in New York, so it wasn’t foreign to me. The majority of my college friends live in or near the city so it is like a second home in The U.S. for me. New York is busy and there’s always plenty to do. It’s also not cheap. So dining out, drinking out, going out, yoga classes, pole classes, etc, etc, all add up. While I had fun I didn’t stay long, though I never actually planned to. About four months, and then I had a date with Taylor (Swift) on the west coast, so I was off again.

 

Teaching English at Summer Camps

As rich parents around the world strategize what the best summer activities for kids are, learning English often pops up. And so ESL summer camps exist all over the world. After my date with Taylor, I made my way from Seattle to L.A. where I worked as a teacher for Ardmore Language Schools on the UCLA campus.

Ardmore has programs all over The U.S. as well as in England (they’re actually an English company). My first summer with them, 2018, was in L.A. and I worked as a teacher, and my second summer, 2019, was in Jersey City (they call it New York but actually it’s across the river in a ghetto) as head teacher and then center director. The programs run for different periods of time depending on the location but both of my gigs were about six weeks long. The camps are residential, both for students and all staff. That means it’s a lot of hours. But your food and accommodation are paid for. That worked out great at UCLA where I got a private suite shared with one other girl in a separate staff building and got to dine in any one of the multiple award-winning dining halls. It did not work out so great in Jersey where I got a dorm room on a floor where the bathroom was shared with the students, who refused to sleep, and I got to eat in the one dining hall that regularly served slop.

As a teacher, in LA, I taught five mornings a week M-F; my students were mostly teens and came from places like Brazil, France, Russia, Israel, China, and Taiwan. After teaching I picked up other shifts based on a 14 on 7 off schedule over 21 shifts in a week. Mostly, I went on excursions, which I enjoyed since I’d never been to L.A. before, but I spent more time than I’d anticipated sunning myself in the barren concrete lands of amusement parks.

staff at esl summer camp in LA

UCLA summer camp staff

Once I became center director my work hours were less defined and except for one day off per week I was mostly always on call. My work was more clerical and putting out fires. I dealt mostly with the foreign group leaders who traveled over with the students. I listen to their complaints and sometimes dealt with them.

As a teacher I got paid $550 per week, as head teacher I got paid $600 per week, and as center director I got paid $900 per week. But that’s not the going rate. My second year, in Jersey, was nothing short of a shit show with staff quitting left and right and a center director who never intended to stay the whole summer. So, when half way through I was asked to step up, I knew the numbers of the salaries of those who had stepped down, were not being replaced, and whose roles I was being asked to take on. So I got $250 per week more than I was offered initially. But it was hard work. I was on call at all hours and had to deal with everything, from broken arms (two on one boy) to tampered fire detectors to poor teaching to purchasing streamers to cigarettes and fist fights.

So, consider a summer camp, yes, but perhaps stick just to teaching – that job has hours and boundaries. And, know when to say no.

 

Teaching English in England

I moved to England at the end of last year, 2019, to do an M.A. at The University of East Anglia. As part of my student visa I am allowed to work 20 hours per week while term time is on and 40 hours per week while class is out of session. As I write this we are in the midst of a global pandemic. You know the one. So I am neither teaching nor studying. But, when I got here, in September, I landed a job pretty quickly. It’s a zero-hours contract which means I have no guaranteed work and it is all ad hoc. That was working fine, before all travel ceased.

My contract is with The English Experience which offers short term classes to students, predominately teenagers, who are on short stays in England. These are usually groups that come together so likely there will be a single class full with one nationality. I’ve taught lots of Italians and Chinese (see how much my work has been affected by this outbreak) and also some French. I get paid about £20 (about $25) per hour to teach and it’s a pretty laid-back, low expectations atmosphere. It’s a good complement to being in “full-time” studies – when any of those things are actually happening.

The English Work Visa

As mentioned, I am able to work as part of my student visa – it’s a tier 4. It is likely impossible that you would be sponsored to teach English in England considering any sponsor has to prove you – with your abilities in the role – are not available within the population. And with a population of nearly 65 million people, about 98% of who speak English, that’s unlikely to be true. If you, though, have a DELTA and are looking for work as a director of studies or similar, it may be worth a shot.

 

Teaching English Online

I have been teaching English online for more than three years now but I have to admit I still have mixed feelings about online ESL jobs. It’s not the same as a classroom, not even a little bit. But, it can be a good supplement and now, as we are all isolated to our homes, it is all we have. One of my bigger concerns though is that many platforms enable people to teach English online with no degree. I don’t like that. See: GET A CELTA.

Teaching English with VIPKid

I teach through two platforms. VIPKid, which I think is one of the best online English teaching platforms, has thousands upon thousands of teachers and students. The students are probably 99.9% based in China. Though currently I teach a girl who is Chinese but living in Korea. The platform provides slides which correspond to the level of the student so there is no prep needed. They say you need to have an ‘educational background’ and wear an orange t-shirt. I have nor do either and get away with it with a good group of regular students. The thing that I like the most about VIPKid is that there are no minimum hours. I open slots as I like and am available and have gone months at a time without teaching. I continue to sign six-month contracts and no one asks when I’m going to teach again. Pay is $20/hour and I can easily make $500 per month on it though that could double if I put in the effort. Now, stuck at home, I am more thankful than ever that I have this income stream all set up.

Teaching English with Skimatalk

The second platform I use is Skimatalk. Skimatalk isn’t as well equipped nor does it pay as well as VIPKid. I meet my students on Skype and usually have a free conversation with them. They are mostly Japanese adults. You can set your own rates, but charging more than $18/hour likely won’t get you any students. So, as a little extra sprinkling I usually make about $50/month with Skimatalk.

 

Phew. Ok. Got all that? Like I say, I’m no expert, but I definitely have the experience. I got lots of emails about how I’ve been able to work and live in so many places so hopefully this post will answer some of those questions.

Got more questions? Feel free to pop them into the comments and I’ll see what I can do about answering!

 

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Thinking about teaching English abroad? Here are the best tips on where to go, how to get a job, and what your life will look like as an expat in these countries. From Vietnam, to Prague, find out what it's like to teach ESL abroad. #teachesl #workabroad #liveabroad

 

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2 comments

ariellekurtze June 22, 2020 - 12:55 am

Really cool post! I really enjoyed reading about your experiences teaching English abroad. Thanks for sharing!

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Caitlin June 22, 2020 - 6:43 pm

Thanks! I’ve had such a great time living in so many different places

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