Getting TEFL certified online vs. onsite: What's the difference?

Getting TEFL certified online vs. onsite: What's the difference?

Updated December 21, 2021

In love with the idea of getting paid to see the world? How about the chance to immerse yourself in different cultures? Then teaching English abroad could be the perfect next step for you.

Regardless of whether you’re an experienced teacher looking to gain some global work experience, a fresh grad eager to broaden your horizons or someone simply looking for a career change and thinking about trying out teaching abroad, the first step you have to take before hunting for that awesome ESL teaching job abroad is… to make sure you’re actually qualified for it in the first place. 😉

And that means getting your TEFL certification!

Update on getting TEFL certified online vs. onsite in 2022

Many onsite TEFL classes were moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic but at this stage, most schools have reopened and are now accepting students back into physical classrooms. Online TEFL classes have continued along the same track they were before.

Take it from us. A TEFL certificate will prepare you for the challenges of teaching abroad (because speaking English doesn’t automatically mean you can teach it), qualify you for thousands of great-paying teaching jobs around the world and of course, help you land a teaching job abroad. A pretty sound investment, we think you’ll agree!

Now that we’ve (hopefully) sold you on why getting TEFL certified is worth it, one of the first choices you’re faced with is which TEFL course format to opt for: online or onsite (i.e. in a classroom, whether in your home country or abroad)? How can you be sure you’re picking the option that best suits your needs? And which type of TEFL course do employers prefer, anyway?

We’ve got you covered on all of these fronts. Below, we’ll talk you through the difference between onsite and online TEFL courses, as well as the pros and cons of each, to help you figure out which one is right for you.

Short on time? Then let’s skip the waffling and get right to the takeaway:

Online courses are more affordable and give you the flexibility to finish your TEFL course in your own time, whereas onsite courses are more time intensive and can be hard on the wallet. That’s why we recommend an online TEFL course for aspiring ESL teachers from all backgrounds, locations and working situations looking to qualify for teaching jobs abroad.

Online TEFL certification vs. classroom at a glance

Onsite TEFL courses
Online TEFL courses
Reputable onsite TEFL courses start at $2,000+ Reputable online TEFL courses start at $900+
Additional accommodation and living expenses No travel/accommodation expenses
Usually full time Can be finished at your own pace
Typically give job search assistance Typically give job search assistance


Deciding on an onsite or online TEFL course

The first thing to bear in mind right off the bat is that employers aren’t overly fussed about whether you choose to get TEFL certified online or in person. Any reputable online or in-person course will teach the same curriculum that meets international TEFL industry standards.

Not sure how to gauge whether an online TEFL course meets those standards mentioned above? Here’s a quick tip: limit your search to TEFL courses that hover around the $1,000 USD mark and are offered by a reputable provider with international name recognition, such as a university.

That means avoiding any dirt-cheap online TEFL course deals, however tempting they might be when they land in your inbox or show up on your Google ads. Most employers won’t give a $48 Groupon TEFL course, or even a $250 online TEFL, the time of day.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming any onsite TEFL course has a good rep, either. Especially those weekend TEFL courses you may have seen advertised in your city – they don’t meet the minimum 100 hours of study (unless we’re really off our math game).

With that out of the way, the option you ultimately go for (online vs. in classroom) should depend on a few different factors, namely: your individual schedule, location and budget.

Further reading: A step-by-step guide to choosing the right TEFL course [Infographic]

Onsite TEFL courses

Onsite TEFL courses are intensive and full-time, requiring you to attend in-person training at a specified time and location for up to 6 weeks.

While you might assume that people tend to learn better in a "real" classroom, with other students, rather than a virtual one, the real downside to taking a full-time, onsite TEFL course is that they can be quite fast-paced. The instructor is usually under pressure to move through vast swathes of course material in a set number of hours per day. This invariably means that, at times, they’ll be skimming through a particular concept rather than exploring in any great depth.

This also means you’ll need to be pretty self-motivated and willing to set aside time outside of your classes and take a proper deep dive into anything you need to get a better grasp of. This can be tricky to keep up with, which is why many students prefer a self-paced, online TEFL course option, that lets you manage your own pace of learning and slow down when you’re having trouble understanding any key concepts.

Onsite TEFL courses are ideal if you’re looking for a teaching practicum.

Onsite TEFL courses focus on practical teaching application and should include a teaching practicum that offers the opportunity for you to practice your new teaching skills on students and get feedback from an experienced and certified teacher trainer.

While it's great to get more of a feel for teaching before you head abroad, don’t get too excited. You won’t be able to put a practicum on your job application as hiring schools abroad don’t recognize it as actual full-time teaching experience. And while some exposure to teaching might help you feel a little more confident on day one in your new classroom, most reputable hiring schools will help you out with some initial training (or will at least provide you with some lesson plans and a curriculum to help you find your feet.)

Word of warning: Avoid choosing onsite TEFL courses that use peer trainees as your "students". Using your peers (native English speakers who are taking the same the TEFL course as you) as proxy students during your teaching practicum won’t be representative of the foreign language classroom environment and, needless to say, won’t really prepare you to teach ESL students.

Onsite TEFL courses are great if you’re set on one particular teaching location.

Many onsite TEFL courses are located in the country that you will ultimately be teaching in, giving you a good opportunity to start your job search in the country where you earn your certification. This is a good option for teachers who want to teach in regions such as South America and Europe, which more often rely on in-person applications and networking to recruit foreign teachers.

Online TEFL courses

Online TEFL courses have similar (if not the same) course curriculum as onsite TEFL courses, but tend to adopt a more theoretical approach to teaching English as a foreign language. Thanks to the location and schedule flexibility, online TEFL courses are a popular choice among aspiring ESL teachers with a busy schedule.

Want flexibility? Opt for an online TEFL course.

Let’s be real for a second – we've all got pretty busy lives. Not everyone can take four weeks out of a busy schedule to dedicate to a full-time TEFL training course. By going the online route, all of your assignments can be completed online, from anywhere, at any time, making online TEFL courses a great option for anyone juggling a job or studies, either full or part-time.

Want to teach abroad in a hurry (or not)? Online TEFL is the way to go!

So we’ve already mentioned the fact that onsite TEFL courses come with more time constraints than their online alternatives. While the industry standard for TEFL course length is at least 100 hours, you can finish an online TEFL course as quickly as you need to (in as little as three weeks, in fact!)

Or, if you’re an undergrad student planning on teaching abroad after graduation and looking to avoid any last-minute dash, you can always enroll now and take your sweet time completing the coursework. The OISE University of Toronto TEFL course, for example, gives students up to one year to finish.

If you’re on a tighter budget, an online TEFL course is also your best bet. 👍

Onsite TEFL certification can cost anything from $2,000 and up. And that’s not counting food and travel expenses. That four weeks of training can come with a fairly hefty price tag when you count it all up.

Online TEFL courses, however, are far more affordable than their onsite counterparts, with reputable TEFL courses starting at $1,000 USD (vs. upwards of $2,000 for the equivalent onsite course which doesn’t include travel, accommodation and other daily expenses).

In addition, online TEFL courses are, more often than not, self-paced, allowing you to earn your qualification alongside your current work, school or family schedule. This means that you don’t have to quit your job or take six weeks off work or school to earn your TEFL certification. 🙌

Not interested in making teaching a long-term career? Go for an online TEFL course.

Online TEFL courses are ideal for anyone who isn’t sure whether they’d like to make a career out of teaching, or haven’t decided where they’d like to teach. Of course, if you’re interested in teaching in a specific country, it’s really important for you to research job postings to clarify what type of training schools are looking for their teacher to have.

Already qualified to teach? An online TEFL course is the perfect addition to your teach abroad application.

For teachers with teaching experience, online TEFL courses are great as a refresher and offer a good foundation in teaching English language learners.

So there you have it! In short, you can’t really good wrong with either TEFL course option, whether online or onsite. Regardless of which type of TEFL course you choose, you will still walk away with the most well regarded, internationally recognized ESL teaching qualification of its kind. 🎉

One final word of advice: it’s important to consider the TEFL course provider (online or otherwise) and whether they have a good reputation among the international education community. In some countries, status is everything, which extends to the institution where you earned your TEFL certificate.

The right TEFL certification is, far and away, the best way to secure a high-paying teaching job at a reputable school with great benefits. So make sure you do your homework. Check out some TEFL course reviews. Ask a friend of a friend who taught abroad before which courses they recommend. And if in doubt, speak to an OISE TEFL course advisor. We’re always here to answer your TEFL and teach abroad questions, big and small!


Good afternoon does your online tell course say online on the certificate??


Mohammed butt
May I know how the UT TEFL online course compare with the British Council’s CELTAÔºü
Richard L S Phua
Hello Richard, welcome to our website! To answer your question, CELTA and TEFL are very different and unique certifications. CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Speakers of Other Languages) is accredited by Cambridge University and will grant you a diploma. A TEFL is an internationally recognized certification in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and will grant you a certificate. Unlike CELTA, there is no accrediting body to govern the standards of TEFL courses. Although TEFL is internationally recognized as an ESL teaching certification and the requirement of most jobs, anyone can design and sell a TEFL course. When choosing a TEFL certification, it is most important to select a course from a reputable provider recognizable to international employers. I hope this was helpful! If you have any further questions we welcome you to send us an email at Best, Christie.
Christie Van Tol

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