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Thursday, July 30, 2015

3 Reasons Why You Should Consider Teaching English Abroad

It's the old “easy way” to expatriation: teaching English as a foreign language abroad. More people than ever have gotten into TEFL jobs since the Great Recession / Great Depression II of 2008. And yet the field still has lots of opportunity available and is still growing. And for the average Joe, TEFL is probably still the most accessible route to expatriation. It's a relatively easy way to get a job with a middle class salary (depending on the country you go to) and temporary residence.

My story is a bit different than the average TEFLer's. I went to college to become a teacher in the U.S., so teaching is something I really wanted to do, although a lot of TEFLers also like what they do despite having no background in it before they start in the field. The glory days of TEFL are over. Nearly a decade into a “new normal,” we're way past the times when just showing up and being white with a pulse is enough to make big bucks. That doesn't mean things are horrible out there. If you do your research first, and work on your qualifications you will most likely have a decent time of it. 

Regardless of your background, I think any man who is interested in expatriation should strongly consider TEFL as an option. Here are three reasons you should...

1. There is still a big market for TEFL, but it's getting stricter.

TEFL is still growing, and most of that growth is happening in China. But even beyond China, there is still a huge market potentially waiting for you because there are so many countries in the world. And although salaries are not high in most countries, they are often good for where you are. Some think this market won't last much longer due to the decline of the West. Others think it will be around for a long time. I'm of the opinion that we've got at least a few decades left. So it's nothing to worry about in our lifetimes. The bigger issue is that the market is getting stricter. I didn't say “strict,” I said “stricter.” In many cases, that means you can't just be a white high school graduate anymore. Most countries now require foreign teachers to be college graduates and have some sort of language teaching certification, such as TEFL or CELTA. Many countries still accept teachers with little to no prior experience.

When I set out for China to teach English in 2013, I had no prior classroom experience besides what I had to do to obtain my degree. I didn't have any trouble getting a job, but several times my boss and coworkers brought up my lack of experience. (They were giving me trouble for other reasons. It had nothing to do with my actual teaching.) I finished the year contract there and then left. A few months later I got my TEFL certification, and then I found myself with greater options than before. Within two years of starting, I had a much wider range of opportunities, including more options for teaching at universities and international schools.

I don't recommend getting into TEFL without at least a degree first, but once you have that you are good to go. Countries tend to up their requirements for teachers over time. You don't want to delay getting into this job market. Once you become qualified and experienced, you can always leave and come back to it.

2. It gives you a place in society.

Expatriation is about so much more than just buying a plane ticket and showing up in a country. That can make for a vacation, but if you're looking to become more than a tourist you need more than that. You probably want a girlfriend abroad if you're a Happier Abroader, and you'll need to at least try your hand at a foreign language. But if you want to become a full-blown expat, there's something else you'll need: a place in the community. Having a job there is a great way to find your place. If you become a teacher (and act the role) then you will be liked and respected. In Asia, for example, teachers are respected. (Foreign teachers are often seen as the fun teachers, as compared with the local teachers also.) When you put a good effort into your job, take an interest in their culture and language, and be friendly, you will have a positive status. Your employer (depending on the country) will either have an apartment ready for you or will help you find an apartment to live in. You will gain friends and contacts through your job. (Pro-tip: you will be feeling the effects of your first job for a long time, as the contacts and opportunities tend to grow in this field, something that doesn't happen so much in the West anymore for regular Joes.)

When you go to a country as a tourist, you tend to stay in touristy areas – resorts or hotels, near places where lots of foreigners gather and take photos of the local sites. This isn't bad per se, but it's not the life of an expatriate. Staying in a country briefly as a tourist doesn't allow your roots to grow deep. You won't have much of a purpose, a chance to make friends and find a good woman, or a connection beyond the tourist dollars you throw their way.

Your purpose – your connection to a country or city – doesn't have to be a job. Perhaps you could start a local business (easier if you're married to a local a lot of times), go study abroad, volunteer on an organic farm (look up WWOOFing for that), or any number of things. But if you want to be more than a tourist, you need a purpose. TEFL just happens to be a relatively easy purpose to take on in your journey in expatriation.

3. It can make your money and opportunities go further.

As long as you don't choose to teach in, say, Western Europe, you will pretty much find yourself in a situation where the cost of living is much lower than you are accustomed to. If you teach in a country where you will get an apartment for free, your cost of living may be so low you'll kick yourself for not expatriating sooner. Your salary will often be higher than the local average, giving you a double advantage – more money and low prices. Prices for food, fuel, and just about everything else have risen massively in Western countries. Expatriation is one good way to get around this.

My first job in China was in a third tier city. My current job is in a major city, and the costs are about the same. The only higher price I've noticed so far is that taxis are 50 cents more to start. I spend about $200 a month. My apartment is free. That's it. I bank everything else. I could spend even less if I wanted to, but I do want to do some fun things from time to time, and eat some Western food occasionally. That extra money can go into savings or more travel. You could save money year to year, moving around and teaching in different countries. Eventually, you could find a long term place to live.

Once you gain qualifications and experience, your opportunities will expand, unlike in the West in this era. I'm still keeping in touch with friends whom I met when I first started in China, and making new friends. This includes people who help me find jobs. I even took an eight month break in between jobs, and after that I got back into it easily.

After I had been at my first job for several weeks, it dawned on me: I'm living the kind of life I could've had in my own country 50 or 60 years ago. It's rarely possible for the average guy in the West anymore. In TEFL, you can still live that equivalent kind of life: middle class job, your own place to live, positive social status. And once you start, your opportunities can greatly expand.


  1. The Oxford Seminars is offering their TESOL/TESL/TEFL certification course near my home next month. The cost is about $1,000.00. The course is held over three weekends 9am to 6pm. I have a college degree and TESL certificate from a local community college. The Oxford Seminars is one of best known TESL certificate courses. I’m looking for any input whether it would be worth taking the course.

  2. Since you already have a certificate and a degree, there is probably no need. Which country or countries do you want to teach in?

  3. What are my chances being a 40 y.o. native born American citizen who happens to be non-white (Hispanic)? I do have a PhD in the natural sciences from a top American University, but no teaching experience except for 6 months when I was a graduate student.


  4. English is one of the most important languages in the world. It can even be said to be the single most important language.Other languages are important too

    interview question


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