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What are the teaching English abroad requirements?

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is a brilliant way to travel the world and earn money as you go – but what are the minimum requirements to teach English abroad? To help you decide if you should head to the airport or back to college, we’ve answered your top questions about the qualifications you need to teach English abroad.

Do I need to be fluent in English to teach English abroad?

Quick answer


A bit more info…

If there’s one absolutely minimum requirement for teaching English abroad, it’s being fluent in English. If you’re not, TEFL really isn’t for you.

Do I need to be a native English speaker to teach English abroad?

Quick answer

No – but it helps!

A bit more info…

You’ll often see TEFL jobs adverts specifying ‘native English speakers only’. Unfair as it may seem, some TEFL employers will not consider your application unless you’re a native English speaker.

However, if you’re a fluent, non-native English speaker you should not give up – but you do need to be prepared to work harder to convince an employer to take you on. You’ll have a far better chance of finding paid TEFL work if you avoid countries that tend to strongly favour native English speakers such as China, Japan, South Korea, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Although there can be exceptions (mainly for candidates with higher level qualifications and several years of teaching experience) non-native English speakers generally struggle to find a TEFL job in these countries. You’ve got a far greater chance of landing a TEFL job if you focus your search on countries where your nationality is less of an issue, such as Costa Rica, Thailand, Honduras, Brazil and Peru.

Read our article Can I still apply for TEFL jobs if I’m not a native English speaker for more practical tips.

Do I need a degree to teach English abroad?

Quick answer

It depends where you want to teach.

A bit more info…

You do need a degree to work legally as an English teacher in much of Asia and also in most of western Europe, unless you’re an EU citizen. This is mainly down to visa requirements, rather than the individual TEFL employers, so don’t waste your time arguing about it.

However, if you’ve not got a degree, there are still loads of other brilliant places where you can find a job teaching English including Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina, Russia and Cambodia.

Find out more in our article: I don’t have a degree. Can I still apply for TEFL jobs?

Do I need TEFL certification to teach English abroad?

Quick answer:

Almost always – and it’s definitely worth having.

A bit more info…

These days, most reputable TEFL employers will expect to see TEFL certification on your application and many governments stipulate it as part of their visa requirements for English teachers.

If you’re a native English speaker, it’s still just about possible to pick up some form of TEFL job without any further qualifications. However, approach these roles with extreme caution – you’re likely to be on low pay with poor working conditions and you may struggle to get a work permit. Also, do you really want to face a roomful of students without any training in how to teach them?

Do I need teaching experience to teach English abroad?

Quick answer

No – but you’ll need to work your way up to the best-paid jobs.

A bit more info…

You don’t need a background in teaching to find a job teaching English abroad – after all, even the best teacher has to start somewhere.

However, don’t expect to land a top paid TEFL job on day one. Hold back from applying for those highly competitive roles in the Gulf States and native English speaking countries until you’ve got at least a couple of years’ teaching experience and some brilliant references under your belt.

Instead, aim to get your first teaching role in a country where there’s a high demand for English teachers, such as Thailand, Cambodia, Central America, South America and Eastern Europe. Promote your enthusiasm and the TEFL skills you learnt on your TEFL certification course and you should be able to pick up a job with a reputable employer, even without any teaching experience.

Are there any minimum or maximum age requirements for teaching English?

Quick answer

Yes, but these vary across the world.

A bit more info…

You normally have to be at least 18 to get a TEFL job. In countries where you need a degree to get a work permit, such as Thailand and China, the minimum age in effect moves up to around 21 (unless you’re a child genius, of course!) although you can do TEFL internships in these countries if you’re younger.

At the other end of the age-scale, some countries, including Japan and China, have strict rules against working beyond their set retirement age – and this extends to TEFL teachers, as well as their own citizens. Even in countries with less stringent requirements, you’re likely to have to work harder to find a TEFL job if you’re over 50 as employers often worry about the health and energy levels of older teachers.

If you are aged 50 or above, don’t be surprised if you’re expected to prove that you are fit and physically able to do the job. Instead, emphasise the benefits of your more mature outlook and your years of professional experience (whether or not in TEFL) and you should still find work in TEFL across the world.

Are there any other requirements for teaching English?

Quick answer:

Yes – resilience and a positive attitude.

A bit more info:

If you want to teach English abroad, you need to be ready to face whatever the day brings. You may be working in a country with completely different values from those you’ve grown up with. You could be expected to conjure up a brilliant lesson with nothing more than a blackboard and a piece of chalk or to use the latest in hi-tech equipment. You might have a class of serious business managers followed by one with kindergarten kids.

Things won’t always go to plan. Expect the unexpected, laugh when things go wrong, and learn from your mistakes. In fact, perhaps the most important requirement of all for teaching English abroad is a ‘can-do’ attitude and an enthusiasm for teaching students of all ages and backgrounds.

If you’ve got all this – what are you waiting for? Get that flight booked now!

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