What You Need Before You Apply for TEFL Jobs

Putting It All Together

Before you start applying for jobs overseas as a new teacher of English as a Foreign Language, you need to make sure you have everything you need ready, so you’ll be able to field requests for interviews and job offers with ease.

Here’s what you need:

A Passport

This is the number one, gold-star, most important thing you need before you even look for a job overseas. No employer will take your interest in working overseas seriously if you don’t have a passport. Plan this in advance as it may take a few weeks to get a new passport processed. Many job applications require you to send in a photocopy of your passport along with your resume, so get this done first!

Now, some people, especially people who have traveled abroad before and know how vital a passport is, may get cold feet about sending their passport details around to strangers. They worry about identity theft, or that some other kind of scam will result. However, the risk of having your passport details stolen is very slim (passports are hard to counterfeit), and you’ll not be taken seriously by employers if you don’t provide this. It’s a calculated risk, but really, not much of a risk at all.

Passport-Style Photos That Make You Look Employable

For travel purposes it doesn’t matter if your passport photo makes you look like a hobo living under a bridge.  It just has to look enough like you that the immigration officers are satisfied. But, you’re going to need lots of small photos for your job application paperwork, your visa paperwork and possibly for other uses, as well, like staff ID cards and embedding on your resume (you know to do that, right?).  You could try your luck with a pro photographer, or get a friend to try their hand at making you look professional. However, the cheapest, easiest way to get these photos is to put on a nice, collared shirt, comb your hair, and get some more passport-sized photos done. Wear a dark-colored shirt (it shows up best on the white background) and be prepared to get lots more of these made throughout your career in EFL. Ideally, wear your “Sunday Best” outfit.  Shirt, tie, jacket for men.  Professional suit or similar for women.

A Well-Thought-Out Resume

Your resume for TEFL (also called a CV in many parts of the world) should highlight your skills and personality. Even if you’ve never taught English before, you probably have transferable skills from previous jobs or volunteer positions. Take a look at our post on how to write a great TEFL resume.

Certified or Real Copies of Your Diplomas and Certifications

Merely listing your qualifications on your resume will probably not be enough for the hiring process overseas. Even if your employer couldn’t give two hoots whether you went to a community college or an Ivy League university, unfortunately the government agency handing out working visas may want tangible proof of either. This will depend largely on the country that you work in, so do your homework on what’s required. In some countries; Japan and Korea, for example, you’ll need hard, true copies of your four-year university diploma. Other places just need a photocopy or a scanned, digital file. Here’s a good tip—things sometimes get lost overseas, or in a bureaucrat’s office, so you won’t want to take your only, original diploma. Instead, contact your alma mater, pay their fee, and get a “true” copy (a new “original”) sent to you before you start seeking jobs overseas. Also, have photocopies in black and white and in color, and a scanned copy on your computer or saved in your email. The same thing goes for any other important educational certificates and your TEFL certificate.

An Email Address that Sounds Vaguely Professional or Neutral

Most job queries for TEFL jobs are done via email. So it’s important that your email address be one that’s easy to understand for non-native English speakers (as your employer will likely be). YourName@Whatever.com is a good one; KitTiKat785Cute@Whatever.com is not. 

Additionally, it’s good to have:

A Skype Account

Other VOIP services are also good, but Skype seems to be the most widely used around the world. It’s best to have an account ready in case a prospective employer wants to give you a phone or video job interview (audio is usually fine).

Letters of Recommendation

I’d say that most employers abroad aren’t going to pay much attention to your letters of recommendation, unless they’re from previous TEFL employers. However, they can’t hurt.

The Contact Information for a Doctor or Clinic to Give You A Check Up

Some countries (China in particular) will want you to get a doctor’s sign-off saying that you’re in good health and fit to teach before they’ll issue the paperwork with which to get your working visa. This can be expensive, so I’d say to wait until you have a firm job offer before actually getting the check-up, but doing your research ahead of time will save you from scrambling to find a suitable physician while your new boss waits.

A Video Demonstration

It’s easy and quick to make a short video of yourself teaching a mock lesson to “students” or at least introducing yourself to the camera. You can post this on YouTube or another service, and provide a link in your cover emails. While of course this video won’t be an accurate depiction of a classroom experience—unless you can co-opt 10 English learners to help you  make it—it will let prospective employers hear what your spoken English sounds like and illustrate that you’re a hard-working, go-get-it kind of person.

A System For Recording Job Applications

Applying for jobs overseas isn’t the same as applying for ones in your hometown. Unless you move to the country first and then look for work, which I actually recommend in most circumstances, you may be spreading your net looking for work over several different nations. After the first five or so applications it can be difficult to remember where you’ve applied, and which school is in which country. Was “English Hope” in Spain or Turkey? What about “A+ English?” A spreadsheet showing the name and location of the school, the email address or other contact information you used to submit the application, and the documents you submitted will help you not only for this job application, but in the future when you’re looking for your next TEFL job.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  If you don’t supply your passport details and other pertinent information asked for in the application, schools are unlikely to offer you a job – how else do they know if you’re really serious about applying?

TED’s Tips™ #2:  Even after you’ve secured employment, keep all these documents handy, especially the scanned copies. They will be useful time and again throughout your career overseas.

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Where and How to Start your TEFL Career

Finding That First Job Teaching Abroad

Fantastic! You’ve decided you want to Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). But, now what?

There are a few more questions you need to find the answers to before you’ll be able to greet your first set of students. You’ve got to decide which country you would like to work in, and make a realistic estimate of how much money you would like to earn, including how much money you need to save.

Balance these wishes with an assessment of your qualifications and how many English teaching positions are available in your target region.

Also, think about the following:

Teacher Training

I always recommend that new teachers do some kind of teacher training course before they begin teaching. It’s good for the teacher and very good for that teacher’s students. When it’s possible, I also recommend taking a training course in the country in which you would like to teach. Even doing the training in a third country may benefit you more than doing it in your home country.

For starters, taking your training abroad affords you the opportunity to dip your toes into what it feels like to live overseas – trust me, it’s much different from the experience of going on a vacation or short trip (or even a long trip) to another country. Secondly, while abroad you’ll network with teachers who are already there and maybe one of them will turn up a lead on a good job later.

Additionally, when you do your teaching practice as part of the training course, it’s a huge advantage to you if the students you are practicing with are similar to the ones you’ll be paid to teach when you land your first job. Knowing some of the particular quirks of a country’s students will give you a head start in the classroom if you’re a brand-new teacher.

Every country’s students have their own different learning problems when it comes to English – pronunciation, grammar, syntax. I’ve taught EFL in four countries, and every one of them had different learner errors. Even experienced teachers need to research and plan for new learner errors when they switch countries.

A final advantage to taking a teacher training course in the country you wish to teach in is that you’ll be on the ground and able to interview in person for the job. In the interview you’ll be more confident, knowing that you’ve been taught what that particular country’s students want, need and expect in the classroom. In different countries, EFL teachers will be wise to take different approaches to how they structure their lessons, for example, in Thailand students love playing English games as a way to learn target grammar and language. However, a similar group of students in Saudi Arabia would not appreciate playing around. This kind of thing is key to know BEFORE you do your interview.

This knowledge will also come in handy if you are asked to do a ‘demonstration’ lesson.  This ‘demo’ is, in some countries, requested as a part of the interview. If you have been trained to know what the interviewers are looking for in the demo, you’ll be way ahead of the other newbie recruit who just stepped off the plane with no idea of for what their prospective bosses are looking.

Don’t dismiss the monetary appeal of taking a TEFL training course overseas, either. Often, it’s cheaper than taking it at home – both in tuition and in the cost of food and lodging during your course.

Headhunters – and Can You Trust ‘Em?

Whether or not you do your training abroad, it’s time consuming finding the right overseas jobs to apply for. So, another major decision you need to work out is if you want to use the services of a recruiter. You will hear a lot of back-and-forth between experienced English teachers over the benefit or harm a recruiter can do you.  Many people believe you should absolutely never use a recruiter because of their own bad experiences. Yet others believe recruiters are in a position to negotiate a better deal with your new boss than you would be able to if you approached the job by yourself.

I think both ways can be fine—I’ve done both.

For my first job, I used a recruiter. I experienced some problems, but the recruiter solved them all. Because I was not yet confident and really didn’t know much about the business yet, you could say I was a true newbie, having a recruiter took a lot of the pressure off of my shoulders.

However, there are some recruiters in operation who simply look at you as a way to get their finder’s fee from the school. They’ll stick you in any old job as quickly as possible and won’t care if you are suitable for the school or if the school (and location) are suitable for you.

Whether you use a recruiter or not, it’s a very good idea to get in contact with other teachers who are working at the school where you might teach before you sign the contract. Ask the teachers what problems they’ve experienced and if they are satisfied working there. Make sure to also ask “Why?” if it looks like there are problems or if the teachers are unhappy.

More Food for Thought

Browse through the other posts on this blog and you’ll find a lot of other things to think about before you begin teaching overseas. I hope the blog is helpful in reaching your dreams of teaching abroad.

But quickly, here are another few things to think about when you start looking for a position teaching:

1) What demographic are you interested in teaching? Do you want business people, hotel and hospitality workers, young children or even nursery-age kids as students?

2) Is it important to find the job before you go overseas or is it easier to find a good position from the ground? The answer to this question depends a lot on what country you’re targeting and how much confidence you’ve got in yourself.

TED’s Tips™ #1: When you’re starting out, you should know that there are some countries that are considered easier— more”Newbie Friendly” if you will—than others. For example, the Middle East and Europe are a bit harder going in for the first time. By contrast, China and Korea are easier for newly minted teachers. They often hire from abroad and pay the airfare and accommodation of their teachers as part of the salary package.

A lot of new teachers dream of teaching in Thailand because of the beaches, good food and interesting culture, but it’s not the easiest place to work, and they don’t often hire from abroad and you’ll need to foot the bill for your housing and plane fare.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Make a budget and stabilize your financial situation before you go abroad. You also need to estimate what your financial situation will be in the new country. You wouldn’t want to get settled abroad and then realize that you can’t meet your financial obligations at home if you have student loans or other obligations to meet.

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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.

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TEFL for the Non-White Non-Straight Non-Thin Non-Blonde OLD People

The great majority of us do not fit into the little box into which some EFL schools abroad would like their teachers to fit.

I am not young, white, thin, blonde, native-speaking, straight or…what now?

In the TEFL world it is common to deal with schools looking for a blond, blue-eyed, young, thin and straight native teacher. Schools have a stereotype in their mind about what their native-speaker teacher should look like. Languages schools often try to impress their customers (students or parents of the students) by advertising their idea of this ‘ideal’ Aussie, American, Brit or someone else.

One should be aware of this problem and find a strategy to deal with it.

Luckily you will find a wide variety of people in this occupation and the reality is that there are not enough native-speaking EFL teachers to meet the demand. Come hell or high water, racist or ageist, even those language schools looking for their “perfect ideal” native-speaker teacher will find themselves very lucky to hire those of us who don’t fit to their idea of the ‘perfect’ teacher.

What if I am older, 30, 40 or even 60?

At the age of 41 I began teaching English in Korea, it was a month before my 42nd birthday and I had grayish hair and a white beard at the time. That didn’t stand in my way to get a job and even now, at 60 years and thinning white year, I still wouldn’t have much trouble getting a good job!  I’d have to hustle a bit, but I could still find a job.

I have worked with people over 60 years old and even met a teacher older than 70!  You have the advantage of life and work experience.  Use it and never allow your thoughts about age to limit your goals! Age is just a number.  The older you are the more know that success in life is about finding a way around obstacles.    Not just giving in to them.

What if I am not white?

Most countries are beginning to realize that people from the UK, USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa are part of the mosaic of the world, nations of immigrants and not necessarily white.

I saw a beautiful ethnic mix while teaching in Korea in 2005 – Chinese-Canadians, Hispanic-Americans, Black-Americans and about every kind and every combination you might think of.

You will find an open-minded employer in the country of your choice if you persist in your job search.  It may take a bit longer to find the right employer but it will surely be more enjoyable to work for someone less short-sighted.

What about gay, lesbian or other non-straight people?

When it comes to sexuality, Western countries are usually more open to it than the rest of the world. These alternative lifestyles and preferences surely exist in other countries, but it is often hidden, secretive and not talked about openly. Your sexual preferences should not be a problem when trying to find, or keep a good English teaching job overseas.   The topic simply won’t come up, unless you bring it up!

It is not always necessary to be totally discreet about your life while working overseas. You will find helpful information on discussion boards  and blogs that will help you deal with such situations.  Many countries abroad don’t share the same values about opening up your personal life to other people.  Check that out too.

What if I am fluent in English, but not from a native-speaking country?

Some countries have a list of countries from which you must have a passport if you want to teach English legally. Currently I am aware of two countries with such lists: South Korea and Indonesia. Some countries, without lists, still believe that you can’t be fluent if you are not from a native English speaking country.

If you are fluent but not from an English speaking country, then it’s up to you to prove them wrong. The best strategy is to go to the country and do your interview in person.   On the spot you’ll change their misguided notions with your fluency. Thailand is one of the best countries at hiring non-native speakers as English teachers.  China will often hire non-native speakers from European nations.

This direct interview approach will also be a good choice for the older teachers to prove your point that you don’t fit into the stereotype of a cranky, tired, old person. This same approach may also help other non-standard people land jobs.

A personal meeting/interview is the easiest way to show your possible employer that you are friendly and easy to get along with:  two characteristic that are often the #1 hiring criteria.


If you are worried about anything about yourself, relax! You will sort out the problems and can easily get useful information about the possible difficulties on the discussion boards or blogs! There are people out there who had the same concerns and they would be happy to advise and encourage you.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Don’t let anything stop you from a life overseas

If you want to do it, you can. If you want something bad enough, push through and life will give it to you.

TED’s Tips™ #2: A personal interview often overcomes barriers

In Asia, the #1 thing many employers want to find out is if you are friendly and easy to get along with. You can show employers these characteristics by showing up in person for an interview or application.

A great and fun blog to check out is The Black ESL Teacher.

Please suggest other blogs and I will post them. The blog above makes me think of doing The Old EFL Teacher . . .

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TEFL Job Options: More than you Know

What kind of TEFL job can I look for?

We have no idea how many types of TEFL jobs exists…more than what we know of, more than we can imagine.

EFL instruction is needed in almost every area of any kind of International business and or industry.

Most non-English speaking countries have big EFL industries to teach English to children and or adults. Their universities have EFL programs for students.  But these are the more traditional jobs.

More TEFL Options

International airlines often need EFL training for their staff, as well as travel agencies and tour guides, resorts and hotels, scuba instructors and just about anyone who is dealing with tourism and hospitality.

International hospitals in major cities around the world hire EFL staff to teach their nurses and staff how to communicate with their patients, who come from around the world.

EFL instruction is even needed in the Army, Navy and Air Force as well as the Police Force in countries and cities where English speaking tourists and residents are common.

This is good news!

This means that as a newbie in the TEFL world you may be able to find a teaching job related to your interest and previous employment. If you have the experience in a specific field you would be considered a natural. You will have the knowledge of the special vocabulary and specific terminology. You willl be the preferred hire.

Keep an open mind

You need to get creative looking for all those job possibilities. They exist but not all of them are traditionally, regularly and widely advertised. The most obvious place to ask about these jobs would be the Internet’s TEFL discussion boards. Be careful though, many of these jobs might are not familiar to the typical poster on the Internet’s TEFL discussion boards and you may hear your question or idea pooh-poohed.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Find a job related to your skills and experience.

Almost everyone has a unique set of skills, talent and experiences in different fields. If your skills are worth anything, exploit them and use them to your advantage.

TED’s Tips™ #2: The best job might not be splashed online

If you are looking for an English teaching job in a specific field, don’t expect to find the job in the traditional ‘TEFL teaching jobs’ section online. It might not be advertised in the usual way. It might not be advertised at all!

One of the best examples is the Resort and Hospitality Industry. Many major five and six star resorts don’t advertise their job openings because they will get swamped with eager applications from eager applicants wanting to get a “dream job” in a resort setting. If you have experience in the hospitality industry (waiter/waitress, hostess etc), take the chance and call the resort to present yourself, even if it is unexpected.

An example from the past: A few years ago LeMeridien Resort on Phuket Island advertised for an English Teacher. Sixty people applied, but only twenty were willing to travel to Phuket for the interview. In the end only three showed up! If you have the specific industry experience and if you know what and how to teach, you have a huge advantage!

TED’s Tips™ #3: If you want to work in an “outside the box” occupation like TEFL, it is good to consider conducting your job search in a non-traditional manner. There are some quite unusual settings for you to work. More options than you can imagine.

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