Here's why you can't teach English abroad without TEFL

Here's why you can't teach English abroad without TEFL

Updated December 21, 2021

Bitten by the travel bug?

Instagram is full of aspirational accounts run by “normal” people who quit their 9-5 jobs and set off on an epic adventure to teach English abroad in ChinaJapanSpain and Dubai.

Or motivational blogs written by fresh graduates who were dying to see the world after college and landed a sweet-paying job teaching English abroad, conveniently located beachside. 🏖️

You’ll often see claims that absolutely anyone can do this whole teach abroad gig, no experience or qualifications necessary! Sound too good to be true?

Well, we’re going to debunk some of the common myths that surround how easy it is to teach abroad and highlight some of the (totally surmountable) barriers that might be standing in the way between you and your dreams of traveling and teaching abroad this year.

Update on teaching abroad in 2022

As the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, we would not want to promote non-essential travel. The reality is that there is a growing global teacher shortage and schools still need international teachers.

You will (I repeat, WILL) need some ESL teacher training.

They say those who can’t do, teach. Those people have clearly never been teachers. 😉

Do I need a TEFL certificate to teach abroad?

Yes, you do! Although requirements are always changing as the ESL industry becomes more standardized worldwide, the standard qualifications you need to teach English abroad in most countries generally include the following:

A degree in education or teaching experience is not usually required. There are even some amazing destinations that hire TEFL-certified candidates who don’t have a university degree. Check out this blog on where you can teach English abroad without a degree for the full scoop on that.

Here’s the but you can all rely on, though. If you want to make sure a reputable, well-paying school will hire you at all, an internationally recognized ESL certification (like a TEFL) is essential.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to take a weeks or months out of your busy life, work or study schedule to take an in-person TEFL course. There are plenty of self-paced online TEFL courses out there that equally prepare you for the foreign language classroom. Bonus: online TEFL courses usually run quite a bit cheaper than their in-person counterparts – even the ones offered by world-leading universities!

Take note: There are other types of ESL certifications other than TEFL out there. And not all of these actually qualify you to teach English abroad. Hop on over to our earlier post if you want to get up to speed on the biggest differences between TEFL, TESL and TESOL.

Being a fluent English speaker does not an English teacher make.

You might assume that if you’re a fluent English speaker, you can easily wing this whole teach abroad thing, right?

Hear us out for just a second, though.

Just remember that language institutions, and many schools overseas, charge their students fees and, naturally, both students and parents will expect to get results. Only an ESL teacher with the proper training will be able to help their students achieve their learning goals.

There’s no getting away from the fact that teaching – and learning – English is hard work. The bottom line is that if your students aren’t successful because you’re an ineffective teacher, you’ll struggle and may even be terminated. Then, the dream is over.

If you do manage to scrape by without getting the old heave-ho, then best-case scenario, you’ll have brought a whole heap of unnecessary, avoidable stress upon yourself during what should be one of the most exciting times of your life.

With your TEFL training in hand, you can make the most of your free time and explore your new country instead. Instead of struggling to plan ESL lessons in your free time. Sounds like a fair trade for the $1,000 and change you’ll be investing in your TEFL certificate, if you ask us. This holds especially true if you’re a non-native speaker looking to teach abroad.

Whether you’re a fluent speaker of English or not, a TEFL course can help you brush up on your knowledge of the conventions of the English language and learn how to effectively explain concepts to your students in a way that encourage them to practice.

Further reading: Are there ESL jobs out there for non-fluent English speakers?

You’ll struggle to find a teaching job abroad without an ESL certification.

It’s no big secret that there’s a lot of demand worldwide for English-speaking teachers, especially in Asian countries such as China, Korea and Japan. These particular ESL hotspots are also less likely to require teaching experience than countries in the Middle East, which is a great opportunity for job applicants with a bachelor’s degree.

But don’t think that you can get by without investing in that all-important TEFL certificate before you go. In some countries, teachers need to hold a TEFL certificate in order to apply for a work permit.

China, for example, requires all teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and a 120-hour TEFL certificate before you can even be granted a Z visa to work in the country. In short, you’ll open up a lot more opportunities in terms of teaching destinations if you get your ESL certification first.

You won’t be in the running for great-paying jobs without an ESL certification, either.

In case you need even more convincing, let’s talk money.

How can you, as a job candidate, stand out and show you’re worth it in an increasingly competitive industry?

Well, what do you think the likelihood is that an employer who’s willing to hire an English teacher without any sort of experience or certification will also be eager to pay the big bucks? Doesn’t add up, right?

Watch this: How to choose a TEFL course >

You’ve probably heard that nobody teaches English abroad for the money.

However, as a TEFL certified job candidate, you can expect to earn a decent salary, which, combined with the often low cost of living and other benefits like free housing and airfare can put you in pretty good shape in terms of whatever your goals are, whether it’s paying off debt, saving money, traveling, or a combination of the three.

Let’s face it, the highest-paying ESL jobs are usually at international schools and tend to go to someone with a teaching credential and classroom experience. If you don’t have experience and have zero intention of going to teachers college, that’s OK. Teaching english abroad without experience is totally doable. There are more than enough well-paying jobs at language schools abroad to go around. But to make yourself more competitive, don’t skip getting that ESL certification.

One last thing: Although some hiring schools leave little wiggle room for salary negotiations, if you’ve got the credentials to prove you’re a worthy investment, you may even be able to leverage your TEFL to receive an even better offer. Score!


When you say, “The standard qualification required to teach in schools abroad is a 100 hour TEFL certification and if you want to make sure a reputable school employs you, it‚Äôs essential.”, you should also emphasize the need for a Bachelor’s degree.
Al Monney
Hello Al, thank you for your comment! Yes, a bachelor’s degree is a requirement for the majority of teaching positions abroad – thank you for denoting it here. If you have any questions about our TEFL courses, please feel free to email us directly at Best, Christie
Christie Van Tol

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