Job Security for the EFL Teacher

I’m often asked: “If I go overseas to teach English as a foreign language, will I have any kind of job security?”

When answering, I usually say, “Yes . . . and no.”

A more in-depth answer to this question needs to take into consideration what country you’re going to be working in and who your employer will be. It’s good to realize that the TEFL industry is not so different from any other.  There are great bosses who will do right by you and even a few shady schools that you should probably think twice about working for.

The best way to guard against losing your job through no fault of your own is to choose your employer with care.

We each make our own “security.”

I often think it helps for TEFL teachers to think of themselves as private contractors – in charge of their own working futures and working for their own benefit. This may help you in being vigilant to look out for your own best interests – which, sadly, your employer may not be doing (and probably is not doing in any country – even in your home country).

Take for example, the unfortunate case of my best friend. He had been working at a university in Korea for more than ten years. Then, one day he learned the institution had a new rule: foreigners could only stay working there for three years.  He’d already been there for so long that at first he was told he could be “grandfathered” in and could continue working there. Of course he wanted to stay because, after so long, he’d put down roots in the town and was comfortable in his “good” job.

But, even though he’d done his utmost every year to please the school and benefit his students, he was soon out on his ear. Boooooo, bad school!

Be Ready for Turnover

In the TEFL industry, it’s usual for teachers to sign one-year employment contracts. While teachers who do a good job are usually offered a renewal contract, the point is that most teachers should be prepared to search out a new job every 12 months. Of course, you will sometimes see contracts for longer (or shorter) time periods, but the worldwide average seems to be 12 months.

But That’s Not Always a Bad Thing

However, taking care of your own future by checking out your employer before signing a contract and being prepared to move on if need be and, essentially, creating your own security, is a good thing. You will have confidence and satisfaction in yourself, and you won’t find yourself in the same pickle as did the employees of Enron, Worldcom, CitiBank, Lehman Brothers etc. Those poor people had relied on defined benefit retirement plans, generous wages and figured, because they were working for some of the largest or wealthiest corporations in the world, that they’d be safe. Be smart, keep an eye out for your own future stability.

 TED’s Tips™ #1: Take steps to take care of yourself. It’s some of the best advice I can give.

If your plan, like mine, is to spend more than a few years teaching abroad, then you should start looking at ways to provide your own long-term financial security.

I chose to work where I could save real money and then purchase rental properties to help provide for my  retirement. They didn’t make me a millionaire, but I won’t have to worry about whether or not my old employers’ pension plans will really cover my living expenses while I age.  I’ll still be able to eat . . .

TED’s Tips™ #2: Seek out your own medical insurance coverage. Don’t rely on your employer to do this.

Remember, life can surprise you (in many ways!) and sometimes these surprises will be inconvenient, possibly even unhappy. It’s better to be prepared.  Depending on what country you’re living in, the cost of insurance may be quite affordable. What I recommend is buying portable insurance – this means you will be covered even when you travel outside the country in which you work. It also means that you will be free to change employers and countries when you wish and you would still be covered by insurance in the event of your unemployment.

Teaching Internships in China


Author: Ted

Semi-retired EFL teacher/teacher-trainer working and living abroad since 1989 in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.