Teaching English abroad: your full guide

Gabriela Peratello

Passionate about experiencing other cultures? Already keen on working in a school or language centre? Or perhaps you just love to travel, and enjoy helping others fulfil their dreams. If this sounds like you, maybe you’re wondering: How do I become an English teacher in a foreign country?

This guide covers all you need to know about how to teach English abroad, including the best countries to consider and the qualifications you’ll need.

📑 Table of Contents

And to make life that little bit easier we’ll also introduce Wise and the Wise Multi-currency Account to help you manage your money when you head off to teach English overseas.

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What are the requirements for teaching English abroad?

The options for teaching English overseas are pretty broad. The world, quite literally, is your oyster here. That means that while the specific options you have may vary depending on your qualifications, there’s probably a position out there to suit you somewhere. Let’s look at some common requirements across the world.

Who can teach abroad?

For the most part there are no limits on who can teach abroad. Certain countries may be more demanding than others, and naturally schools, language centres or other learning institutions all have their own standards in terms of what’s required.

🎯 The most common requirements for teaching abroad are
  • You’ll probably need a college degree
  • You’ll almost always need a TEFL or CELTA certificate of teaching English
  • Often being a native speaker gives you the edge over other candidates

It should go without saying you’ll need to have an enthusiasm for teaching in whatever form you choose. But as you could be teaching tinies at a kindergarten, or professionals at a learning centre for adults — or anywhere in between — there’s probably something out there that appeals, even if you don’t love the idea of a busy classroom of teens.

That means you can teach abroad if you’re a new graduate looking for an adventure, if you’re mid-career and fancy a change, or if you’re coming close to retirement and want a new adventure instead of putting your feet up.

Teaching abroad suits a broad range of people and can be a great way to pay your way as you travel and get immersed in new cultures.

Do you need a college degree to teach English abroad?

In most countries you need at least a bachelor’s degree to be considered for a job as an english teacher. Your subject doesn’t necessarily matter, although in a handful of countries you’ll be expected to hold a degree in English, teaching, linguistics or something related.

More often, employers look for college degrees as a baseline standard that shows potential teachers have a higher level of education. That means whether you studied history or chemistry, or more or less anything else for that matter, isn’t so important.

Qualifications for teaching English as a second language

As well as requiring a bachelor’s degree, in most cases you’ll need to get a specific English language teaching qualification.

The good news is that this doesn’t mean you need a formal qualification in teaching, and you don’t need to get your head down for another three years in college.

The qualifications you’ll typically be asked for are called by a range of confusing acronyms — let’s break these down first:

  • TEFL certificate: Teaching English as a Foreign Language
  • TESOL certificate: Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • TESL certificate: Teaching English as a Second Language
  • CELTA: Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults

TESOL and TESL are less common names for TEFL, and all can be used fairly interchangeably. CELTA is a different qualification.

Some institutions will accept any form of TEFL or CELTA certificate — some demand the CELTA which is delivered only through schools which have been approved by the certificate’s issuer. CELTA is usually more expensive than a TEFL qualification, and can be more thorough with compulsory face to face teaching time.

TEFL qualifications are quite varied in both their delivery method and their standards. Some are delivered entirely online, and can leave teachers feeling like they weren’t adequately prepared. Most employers will ask for a TEFL which includes at least 100 hours of study time.

Check out and compare options if you decide to start working towards your qualification to teach abroad.

Learn more about the TEFL certificate on this handy guide

Do you need to have previous teaching experience?

In many countries, previous teaching experience is not necessary. However, many TEFL courses include a practical element to allow trainee teachers to experience time in the classroom.

Getting familiar with the feel of teaching before you take on your first job may not be wholly necessary — but it can make you feel a lot more confident before you stand in front of a class for the first time.

Does English need to be your first language for you to teach abroad?

In most countries, if you want to teach English, you’ll be a stronger candidate if you’re a native speaker. However this is not always the case, and people who speak high levels of English with a neutral accent may be considered wherever they come from.


Let’s take a look at the typical requirements by geographical area.

AsiaSouth and Central AmericaEuropeMiddle East and Africa
Bachelor’s degreeYesYesYesYes — may need a formal teaching degree
Age limitOften upper age limit of 60 appliesVaries by countryVaries by countryVaries by country
Native speakerPreferredPreferredYesYes

It’s important to add that this is intended to give a brief overview only. The eligibility requirements to be an English teacher vary widely by country and institution.

Laws and rules change frequently regarding who can apply for work permits and visas, too. Research your options thoroughly to make sure you have all the most up to date information before you make a decision about where to teach English abroad.

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Top 7 countries to teach English abroad

Let’s explore some of the best countries to teach English abroad.


Mexico is a top pick for people looking for an adventure while working abroad. You can get a taste of a different lifestyle, while being a relatively short flight from home when you need to take a break. Low costs of living also make this an attractive option, as your money will go further and allow you to do more with your free time.

You’ll need a bachelor’s degree and an appropriate TEFL qualification, and can expect to earn 500 USD - 800 USD a month depending on location and institution type. As with most countries, you’ll need to get a visa lined up before you can work in Mexico — FM3 visa types are commonly used for people arriving as English teachers.


China is reputed to be the world’s largest market for English teachers — and certainly has a lot to offer people planning to teach English abroad. It’s a huge country, which means a variety of lifestyles, cuisines and climates — with the added bonus that teachers in China often find lots of expenses are covered by their schools, so they have more disposable income to enjoy. Packages vary but commonly include airfares, housing and even food on work days.

In most cases you’ll be considered a better candidate if you have a degree — but it’s not essential in all language schools. Teacher salaries range from 1,250 USD a month upwards, and often have perks like flights home and a place to stay. Usually teachers will interview remotely for roles and only travel to China once they have a work visa in place — this is supported by the school. Z visas are the typical choice for English teachers.

Further reading: teach English in China


Bulgaria has gorgeous beaches, skiing, a rich history, and fabulous cuisine. Costs of living are low, and life in the major cities is fairly easy with all the amenities and essentials you’d expect. English teachers are in demand, predominantly in private language centres where work is offered on a part time basis. This creates the opportunity to spend more time exploring while still covering your costs with 20 to 25 hours a week of work.

English teachers in Bulgaria are likely to need to pay for their own airfares and accommodation, but finding a place to stay shouldn’t be too difficult once you tap into the network of other English teachers in the city you choose to head to.

English teacher salaries are usually in the range of 650 USD - 950 USD a month. Native speakers with a degree and TEFL certificate are most in demand. You’ll need an appropriate work visa, which your employer can help with.

Saudi Arabia

With no income tax on earnings, Saudi Arabia is a great place for experienced and qualified teachers to work and save at the same time. Getting a job here is more demanding than in some other markets. You’ll need a degree and a TEFL or CELTA certificate, and some employers also require higher level university qualifications or teaching experience.

While it’s a competitive market, if you get a position in Saudi Arabia it’s likely to come with a salary of 1,500 USD a month or more, with additional benefits like airfare and housing often thrown in. The process of getting a job — and then a visa — is notoriously time consuming, so expect it to take a while to find the right role for you.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is popular for travelers thanks to gorgeous beaches and scenery, and friendly people. If you’ve fallen in love with tropical life, why not make it a longer term home as an English teacher there? Most English teachers in Costa Rica work in language centres on a part time basis, often covering evenings and weekends for older learners or kids after school hours.

Costs of living in Costa Rica are relatively low, and with easy cheap flights from much of the US, it’s a popular pick for English teachers. You don’t necessarily need a degree to get set up as an English teacher in Costa Rica — but it certainly helps. Being a native speaker and holding a TEFL qualification is pretty much mandatory — and salaries tend to be in the region of 700 USD - 900 USD a month.


Getting a job as an English teacher in Italy may be demanding — but it’s worth it if you love history, culture and food. It’s a popular place for people looking to teach English as a second language, so employers can be picky. Expect to require a degree and TEFL qualification — being a native English speaker and having previous experience will also make you stand out from the crowd.

English teachers in Italy can pull in a decent salary of 1,500 USD - 2,000 USD a month, but the costs of living in the major cities are relatively high. Visas are required to teach in Italy, but depending on your situation you may be eligible to teach if you hold a student visa or working holiday visa type.


Most teaching jobs available in Vietnam are in the larger cities, and allow a great lifestyle at a very low cost. Possibly the best thing about Vietnam though will be the opportunity to travel during breaks and explore the stunning countryside, beautiful beaches, and historic sites.

Many teaching jobs are at English language centres, which can mean anti-social hours, but leave you with plenty of free time to explore.

You’ll need a degree to apply for positions in Vietnam — you can’t usually get an appropriate visa without one. Being an English native speaker is preferred, and holding a TEFL qualification is expected. Salaries can be in the region of 1,000 USD a month which is plenty for a fairly lavish lifestyle in most regions.

Where are teachers most in demand?

Demand for qualified and experienced English teachers is high globally. Aside from the countries we’ve outlined above, many Asian nations have a shortfall in English teachers — try looking for roles in Japan, South Korea or Taiwan for example.

The Middle East also typically has high demand for English teachers, although the requirements here are fairly rigorous, so it’s a better destination for fully qualified and experienced teachers.

Start up costs of teaching English abroad

While employers in many destinations will help with some of the costs involved in relocating, it’s certainly not universal — so before you jump into looking for positions it’s worth considering the full range of things you may need to pay for.

💰 Here are a few to think about
  • TEFL course and qualification
  • Visa and admin costs
  • Flight and any additional baggage allowance you need
  • Housing if not provided by the school
  • Utilities and services — local cell phone, internet and TV for example
  • Living costs before receiving your first paycheck

What is the best way to teach English abroad for you?

Teaching English abroad can take a number of different forms. From fully qualified and experienced teachers working full time in private international schools, or local public schools, to new graduates with a freshly minted TEFL qualification taking on some private tutoring through a language centre.

The good news is that there’s an option out there to suit most people. Here are a few popular choices.

Short term programs

If you’re not completely sure about launching a new life as an English teacher — or if you’ve not got much time to spend teaching English, a short term program might be best for you.

Internships and volunteer programs exist in many countries which allow people to get a taste of English teaching without the long term commitment. Many English language schools also run intensive programs over school holidays for students, which means taking on a new batch of teachers for the period.

Long term options

If you’re in it for the long term you’re likely to take a different route. Contract durations for language centres vary by country, but if your employer is paying your airfare you’re likely to have to commit to stay with them for a year or so at least. That gives plenty of time to settle in and explore a new country.

Experienced teachers with broad qualifications can absolutely make a career out of teaching English abroad, whether with a language centre, public school or international school.

Where can you find international English teaching positions?

If you’ve not yet decided where you want to work, starting online is a good bet. English teachers who are already in their preferred country can often find positions by networking and asking around locally — but if you’re still in the US, try these resources to find your perfect position:

Hopefully this guide to teaching English abroad has got you thinking. If you’re excited about making a move into teaching, use the ideas and resources here to explore further — and don’t forget to check out how Wise and the Wise Multi-currency Account can help you cut the costs of living internationally when you do make your dream a reality.

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