If you’ve ever thought about teaching abroad, look no further. Here is everything you need to know about how to go from total confusion on the process to confident and ready to take your first steps teaching around the globe.
I know how daunting moving abroad for the first time can be. But after four years I can say without a doubt, living abroad is one of the best decisions you will make it your life. Even if it’s only a couple months, stepping out of your country and experiencing culture, customs, people and daily life totally outside of your comfort zone makes you a better human in every way possible.
With that said here is An Extensive Guide to Teaching English Abroad. Every section has a question I’ve been asked often about the process and an action step.
I’ll be honest. A lot of this information is readily available on the internet, but I still thought it’d be helpful to document my process and specific resources to get you on your way as I know how overwhelming it can be.
Just remember I can only meet you half-way. There is a lot of self-initiative and research that goes into making life abroad possible for yourself. But trust me. It is so, so worth it. Feel free to hop to any question or just follow along 🙂
How Do I Know If I Should Teach Abroad?
If you’re on the fence about teaching abroad in the first place, I highly suggest thinking about your why. In essence, why do you want to teach abroad? Like anything in life, there are pros and cons to consider. My personal ones were…
Pros (for teaching in Shanghai)
- Experience Asian culture
- Learn a new language
- Save with lower costs of living
- Travel around Asia (pre-COVID times y’all)
- Break out of my Westernized comfort zone
- Not a sustainable job if teaching isn’t my main passion
Because I’ve lived abroad for so long, things like loneliness and culture shock were to be expected, which is why my cons list is so short. But it’s important to be honest with yourself about both sides.
Action Step: Make a pros and cons list about why you want to teach abroad. If the pros list outweighs the cons, that’s a pretty good sign that you should go for it!
How Do I Get My TEFL? What is a TEFL?
Once you’ve decided you want to teach abroad, the next step is to get certified in teaching English, i.e getting your TEFL. TEFL stands for “Teaching English as a Foreign Language” and is the first step to teach English abroad. Courses can last anywhere from 20-200 hours, but I highly suggest doing a minimum of 120 hours as that is what most (legitimate) teaching jobs require.
Lastly, usual requirements include having a Bachelors degree (any discipline) and coming from a “native-speaking” country. This typically refers to citizens from…
- New Zealand
- South Africa.
If you do not come from one of these countries I highly suggest checking out this article How to Get a TEFL Job as a Non-Native Speaker in 2019 (still relevant) as I know it may differ.
I got my TEFL certification from tefl.co.uk, however I was living in the U.K at the time. For all other options please read The 9 Best Online TEFL Courses and choose a course that matches your current residence.
Okay, cool. But how long will it take me to complete?
It depends. I finished mine in 4 months, but I was super lazy with it (knowing I wouldn’t be moving til the year after). To be on the safe side, it’s estimated to take anywhere from 10-12 weeks, but can be sooner depending how much time you have to get through it.
Action Step: Research and choose 1-2 TEFL courses you’d be interested in taking.
How to Do I Find a Job?
Congratulations! You’ve got your TEFL. Now it’s time to get job hunting. When you’re searching for a teaching job, there is a lot to keep in mind. I’ll be honest, teaching scams are definitely a thing. So, if you see a job listing that looks too good to be true (i.e no experience required, free housing, personal butler and unlimited vacation days)….run the other way.
Here are the Top 14 Best Websites for English Teaching Jobs Abroad
Action Step Pick 2-3 websites to stick to for your job hunt so you’re not overwhelmed. Then read this article on “Which Countries Pay the Highest Salaries for Teaching Abroad”to compare the salaries listed on your searches with what the salary standard is for the country you want to move to.
- Don’t pick the first job that looks good! Always have at least 2 or 3 backup options in place.
- Make sure you get your work visa sorted before you go to your country of choice (and don’t work for a company that says you can start working on a tourist visa).
- Look for companies that have ample reviews online from past employees or even better, ask to have a Zoom call arranged with a current employee.
- If possible, find a school that has local and foreign management – this will help loads with any miscommunication issues.
- Don’t give any personal documents (passport, social security number etc.) or sign a contract before you have done the above.
What Documents Do I Need?
Paperwork and moving abroad is like salt and pepper. You can’t have one without the other. Okay maybe you can…but you get my point. My advice is to make sure you have all the necessary documentsas soon as possible. This will save you tons of time down the line and ensure your visa application runs smoothly.
Before you apply for jobs you’ll typically need….
- Your Passport (make sure you have 6 months validity)
- Bachelors Degree Transcript
- Reference Letter(s)
- Cover Letter
- Photos (passport photo size)
After you apply you’ll typically need…
- Medical Form
- Apostille & Notorization
- Criminal Background Check
Action Step: Start gathering your documents together and read What Documents do I Need to Teach Abroad for more details on the process
How Much Should I Save?
Coming straight from living in one of the most expensive cities in the world I’ll admit, my savings coming to Shanghai were dismal. Luckily, many companies pay for (or reimburse) your flight over. They can also provide you with a salary advancement to get settled. Having to depend on this definitely not an ideal situation as I still had to wait around 2 weeks to get the stipend.
Ultimately, I definitely regretted not saving more before my move. Which is why I would highly recommend saving at least enough to get you through your first month.
To get a clearer picture of what one month of living costs might look like I highly suggest checking out Expatistan Cost of Living. An amazing resource that compares cost of living in over 2,410 cities with hundreds of thousands of expat contributors.
Action Step: Make a savings plan for at least one month of living costs using the Expatistan calculator
How Do I Find a Place to Live?
As is the randomness of my life, I actually found my place to live in Shanghai on Instagram. Something I definitely can’t recommend as the chances of finding your future roommate by DM’ing a lifestyle blogger of the city you’re moving to who just so happened to have an empty room is unlikely to repeat itself 😅
But for the normal, responsible adult way I highly suggest looking for a company that includes housing as apart of their contract. This will take away a lot of the stress that inevitably comes with finding a new place to live as they’ll have it all sorted for you upon arrival.
Otherwise, my advice is to join an expat group for the city you’re moving into by simply typing in “Expats in [insert city]”. See below.
Tip: Wait until you’re physically in your chosen country to pay your deposit and see the place in person before you move in.
- Action Step: Join at least one expat group and use the search term “housing” to see previous threads on the topic. Browse around what people have said and get a feel for how much you’re willing to spend on rent! When you’re ready, post a message like this one! See below.
How Does Health Insurance Work?
Health insurance varies between countries and employers. For example, my job provides partial coverage (but luckily full coverage for anyone diagnosed with COVID-19). However, if you have previous medical conditions I would highly advise finding a company that provides health insurance as part of its compensation package.
Action Step: Read How do I Get Health Insurance When I Teach Abroad
What If My Friends/Family Don’t Want Me To Move Abroad?
I’ll be honest, dealing with people that don’t support your decision is one of the realities of this lifestyle.
Let’s be real. Moving abroad is one of those things everyone says they’ll do one day. The reality is the number of people who actually follow through is bleak in comparison. Which is why if you’ve spent the time, money and energy to make this a reality for yourself (assuming they’re not financially supporting you) I personally wouldn’t validate any negative opinions on the matter.
At the end of the day it’s your life, and although they may mean well you can’t let it deter you from living your life.
Action Step: Try to a have a heart-to-heart with whoever opposes your move abroad. Explain to them your why and let them know although you love them, you are following through with your decision.
What Should I Pack?
Now this definitely depends on the country! But I’ve listed some packing guides for the most common “Teaching Abroad” locations. Find below.
Action Step: Start gathering some items from your packing list if you can!
How Long Should I Teach Abroad?
This depends on you. Do you just want to make it a gap year kind of thing? Are you looking to teach as a career? If not, I would definitely suggest you have an exit plan. I’ve met so many teachers who became “floaters”, since moving here. This refers to those who move abroad to teach English for a year, don’t enjoy the job anymore but feel “stuck” because they don’t know what else to do so they keep renewing their contract.
Now, I’m definitely not saying this will happen to everyone. Especially if teaching is your passion. But if not, it’s important to give yourself an end date, or at least a rough idea of what you want to do after you’re done teaching.
Take Monkey Abroad for example. He started teaching to jumpstart his career in digital marketing and videography with Chinese companies and himself. And, OneikatheTraveller who used her time teaching in Hong Kong to jumpstart a 10-year lucrative career in International schools.
How Do I Make Friends?
One of the best things about becoming an expat is definitely the community, because you’re all in the same boat! Although I encourage you to take time to befriend locals, when you first arrive, it’s nice see friendly faces, especially on the same path as you.
With the digital age there’s no need to wait. Start forming community online before you leave. This allows you to learn about your new country and plan meetups for when you arrive.
Sounds good, but how do I do this?
The gold of expat life. Like I said before, every country has a facebook group dedicated for expats. Just follow the tips listed in the “How to find accommodation” section to join.
Tip: If you’re going to China be sure to post a message asking to be added in WeChat groups that match your interest. For example…
“Hey guys! My name is Candace, I’m moving to Shanghai in September and wanted to know if I can be added to any Wechat health/fitness groups in the area? Thanks!”
If you’re on the Gram this is the perfect place to meet new people in your area. Simply search the hashtag #[yourcity]expat, for example: #shanghaiexpat and you’ll find tons of current and future expats in your city. Now, be mindful this is definitely a more tedious option as you’ll have to do a bit of stalking (research) to find people a) active on Instagram b) willing to engage. But once you do, start DM’ing. Or if you’re not comfortable yet, a few likes go a long way!
Action Step: Join at least one Facebook group or use the Instagram strategy to connect with one person living in your new city
It is Normal To Feel Scared and Anxious About Moving Abroad?
Totally! Big decisions come with big emotions. Don’t hide from them. My best advice is to embrace everything you feel at it comes and write it out. Although no one where in the world can give us a “picture-perfect life” (something else to be aware of) the challenges and new experiences will be life-changing for you. So when you feel your comfort zone begging you to #juststayhome , just remind yourself it’ll be worth it in the end 🙂
Action Step: Journal every emotion you’re having about moving abroad
What if I Get Homesick?
If you’ve never lived by yourself, you’re in a relationship or live close to your family, the idea of being completely alone in a country is understandably nerve-racking. But, as weird as it sounds, after four years of living overseas I’ve actually gotten closer with my family. Since we know we’re not spending every waking moment together we cherish every moment, and make it fun!
My biggest tip for staying connected with family and friends is to pick a time and day to talk daily or weekly and stick to it! When you’re video calling why not….
- Have a virtual cooking session
- Or dance party
- Watch a movie together on Netflix
- Call when you’re at cool spot abroad to show them a close-up
I’m sure the situation we’re in now has also given you some ideas on how to keep in touch with loved ones, so feel free to use that too!
Should I Learn the Language?
Biasedly speaking, I say yes. Learning the language of the country you’re moving to can do wonders for getting around, daily interactions, and ultimately future opportunities to stay in that country outside of teaching English. However, learning a new language is a huge commitment of time and energy. So if this is your goal, be prepared to set aside time for daily practice.
Should I know the language before I move there?
Personally, I didn’t deep dive into Mandarin until I moved to China. The motivation just wasn’t there. Sometimes not being able to communicate in daily life is the push you need. But if you want to learn beforehand be sure to download apps like Duolingo or HelloTalk to start practicing with locals.
Action Step: If you’re moving to China read my blog on “10 Unique Ways to Learn Chinese” to help you get started with learning Mandarin!
How Will Moving Abroad Change Me?
Remember, once you move abroad, you’ll be forever changed. More open to new experiences, more understanding of different culture and people, more accepting of change and more open to the opportunities that can only meet global citizens. Making everything else that goes into the process experience so worth it, everytime.
“And suddenly you just know…It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of new beginnings.— Meister Ekhart
WAIT! DON’T GO!
I know this can all seem like a load of information – and it is! Which is why I broke the made you a Moving Abroad Checklist, breaking the process into 6 easy steps to help you get on your way to expat life!
Grab your FREE Moving Abroad Checklist!
Good luck on your journey abroad!
Don’t forget to read more on living abroad here!