TEFL certification: your complete guide

Gabriela Peratello

If you dream of becoming an English teacher overseas, you need to make sure you have the right qualifications. This guide covers one of the key steps to taking up a position as an English teacher — getting your TEFL certification.

We’ll cover all you need to know — including course types and options, and the key question: what is TEFL certification?

📑 Table of Contents

We’ll also touch on how Wise can help if you need to pay your TEFL certification costs in a foreign currency. Get the Wise Multi-currency Account to cut the costs of currency exchange before you leave the US, and once you arrive in your new home.

Learn more about Wise

TEFL: what does it mean?

TEFL means Teaching English as a Foreign Language.

While you’ll come across a range of different names for this certification process — we’ll cover the acronyms in a moment — they all broadly mean the same thing.

Whether you’re talking about TEFL or TESL or TESOL — or even CELTA — you’re probably referring to the certification process and qualification required to teach English to non-native speakers.

A quick run through on acronyms

Before you can teach English, you’re going to have to learn a few new words. Here are the acronyms commonly used to describe the qualifications required to be an English teacher abroad, or to teach English to non-native speakers in an English speaking country.

ESLEnglish as a Second Language
EFLEnglish as a Foreign Language
TEFLTeaching English as a Foreign Language
TESLTeaching English as a Second Language
TESOLTeaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
CELTACertificate in English Language Teaching to Adults

What is the TEFL certification?

TEFL qualifications show you have followed an English teacher training course.

Most employers — from public and private schools, to language centres and business English training courses — require a TEFL certification from candidates to show they are prepared for the job. In some countries, employers are prepared to accept previous teaching experience in lieu of a TEFL qualification — but with the TEFL certification in hand, you’ll be able to find work even without prior experience in most countries around the world.

To get your TEFL qualification you don’t need to have a degree in English, or in teaching, or anything connected. You can take the qualification without having any higher education qualifications at all — although it’s worth knowing in advance that many employers prefer degree holders, and some countries require a bachelor’s degree to issue a visa to prospective teachers.

TEFL programs are offered by a very broad range of providers across multiple different formats. Most employers prefer candidates who have completed a 100 hour or a 120 hour+ TEFL course, which should include a real practical element to get live teaching experience. However, some TEFL courses are far shorter and may cut corners on the teaching experience element — watch out for these when you choose a course, as they may not be recognised by employers. Fully accredited TEFL providers may cost more to use — but they’re a worthwhile investment.

How does the TEFL certification work?

Your TEFL course will equip you with all the skills you need to teach English to non-native speakers. Courses should be delivered by experienced teachers with full qualifications themselves.

📓 Course content includes
  • How to teach English reading, writing, speaking, listening and pronunciation
  • How to teach English grammar at different learner levels
  • How to plan lessons effectively and create teaching materials
  • How to manage a classroom
  • How to identify different student needs and adapt materials to suit
  • Practical teaching experience — either in a classroom or online, with real learners of English

A good quality TEFL course should cover everything you need to feel comfortable and confident as a teacher of English as a second language, which is why employers are often happy to take on new teachers without previous experience.

How long does it take to become certified?

TEFL courses are usually set out in terms of the number of hours they cover. 100 and 120 hour courses are usually the minimum required by schools. Shorter ‘taster’ courses are also commonly available — these may not be accepted by employers, but can give you an idea about whether or not teaching English abroad is a good fit for you.

Courses are organised in a variety of ways, with some full time, immersive courses, and other part time courses which can be fitted around full time employment or study. We’ll take a look at some of the different TEFL course types and delivery methods in a moment.

It’s worth noting that many online providers offer low cost TEFL qualifications which the provider claims can be completed in just a few hours. These are highly unlikely to offer any real benefits, and won’t be accepted by employers — save your money for a more thorough course.

What are the next steps after getting certified?

Once you have your TEFL qualification you’re ready to dust off your resume and start applying to teach English abroad. Read our full guide to teaching English overseas, here.

Moving abroad? Use Wise and the Wise Multi-currency Account to manage your money across currencies, and avoid expensive bank fees.

🚀 Create a free Wise account

How can you get a TEFL certification?

Once you’re really sure you want to teach English abroad, you can start finding the right TEFL course for your needs:

  • Decide what format of TEFL program will suit you
  • Research different providers and draw up a longlist of potential courses
  • Shortlist a few and talk to the providers to check they’re a good fit
  • Apply for the course and pay your fees
  • Complete the course including the practical elements and any testing required
  • Once you have your certificate you can start applying for jobs

What TEFL program options are there?

There are a range of different ways you can take your TEFL course — and as long as you pick a reputable provider, they’ll all ultimately be recognised by employers as long as they cover the basics. Make sure your course is 100 hours+ long, and includes a practical teaching element to give you the best chance of finding a good job after.

In-person TEFL certification

Many providers offer in person TEFL courses, which could be delivered at home in the US, or abroad. If you’re thinking of taking an in person course in the US you can probably choose between full and part time course patterns, including courses which are held on evenings, and others which are structured around the weekends.

The other popular option is to travel to a new country and complete your TEFL there. This is usually an intensive course style, offered full time. Agencies frequently offer additional support with finding a job in your destination country once you’re fully qualified.

If you’re considering an in person TEFL course, you’ll need to budget for fairly high costs. Talk to a few providers to make sure you’re choosing a program which fits your needs. Many in person courses are extremely academic and rigorous with strict application processes. Others, especially the overseas courses, are as much about partying as they are the course itself. Make sure the course you pick suits you — whether you’re looking to get your head down and study, or you’re more the work hard, play hard type.

Online TEFL certification

A more flexible and increasingly common option is to take an online TEFL course. These can be delivered through platforms like Zoom and should follow a similar pattern to in person courses.

However, it’s worth knowing that not all providers of online TEFL certification are legitimate. Some are effectively scams which offer quick certificates without the support or quality teaching to back it up. If you’re looking at an online course option, make sure you pick a reputable one which will give you everything you need to get a job in future.

One trickier thing when it comes to online courses is how the teaching practise is arranged. It’s perfectly possible for teaching practise to be done online — in fact many English teaching jobs are delivered online for some or all of the time. However, teaching online is a different skill to in person classroom management. If you intend to work face to face once you’re qualified you may also want to get some experience in a classroom before you take up your first job.

Are online TEFL certifications recognized?

Online TEFL certifications are usually recognized by employers as long as they fulfil the standard requirements of 100+ or 120+ hours in length, and with some practical teaching. The practical teaching can be delivered online, but for it to be accepted by employers it should be delivered to real learners, not your fellow classmates.

Hybrid TEFL certification

The hybrid model of TEFL certification courses can offer the best of both worlds with a mix of on and offline teaching. Practical elements like teaching practice will be done in person, with some other classes delivered online. Hybrid courses may offer in person intensive classes over weekends to make it easier for people who are working or studying to attend.

💡 Tips for picking the right TEFL certification course
  • Choose an accredited provider — cheap, quick courses are probably scams
  • Courses should be 120 hours or more for the best chance of getting a job after
  • Talk to providers when you’re deciding — find one which will offer adequate job search support
  • Make sure your course has a proper practical element including time in front of real learners
  • The focus of employers may vary depending on where you want to work — pick a provider which understands your preferred destination market
  • TEFL teachers often find grammar the most tricky thing to teach — choose a TEFL course which covers this in detail

Moving abroad? Meet Wise: a smart solution to transfer money internationally

If you live, work, or study abroad, you need Wise and the Wise Multi-currency Account. Wise allows you to send money with the real exchange rate and low transparent fees. You’ll know upfront what you’re paying for each transaction, and can save significantly compared to using a regular bank.

To make it easier to settle in when you move abroad, get a Wise Multi-currency Account to hold, send and spend in over 40 currencies. All currency conversion uses the mid-market exchange rate, and there’s no monthly fee or minimum balance to worry about. Easy, hassle free ways to manage your money internationally.

Get started with Wise

TEFL certification FAQ

Let’s take a look at some common questions about choosing and completing a TEFL qualification.

How much does a TEFL certification cost?

TEFL courses can be delivered in a range of ways — with different price tags to match. A reputable online course of 120 hours or more will set you back about 400 USD to 500 USD. And if you want to take an in person course you’ll want to budget more like 1,000 USD+.

When it comes to online courses in particular, not all providers are what they say they are. A quick online search will turn up plenty of companies promising you a certificate in exchange for as little as 30 dollars. These are highly unlikely to be worth the paper they’re printed on, so don’t get caught up in the scam. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

One the other end of the scale, you can also find providers who offer a full package of in person TEFL training in a foreign country, including accommodation, food, entertainment, and job support.

Obviously these are expensive options, but can be a good investment if you’re sure of where you want to work. Check over the fine print and make sure the course is of a good enough quality to be accepted by employers worldwide.

Is it worth it to get a TEFL certificate?

If you want to teach English overseas, a TEFL certificate makes it far easier to find a job, and equips you to feel comfortable and confident in front of a classroom. It’s not for everyone — but a good quality TEFL course, in person or online, can be a great investment if you’re considering a career — or even just a year or two — as an international English teacher.

Do you really need to be TEFL certified?

Employers in some countries will accept teachers who do not have TEFL certificates. However, it’s common to require teaching experience instead — which is a catch 22 situation, as getting experience without a TEFL certificate can be tricky.

Employers will all set their own requirements when it comes to the applicants they want to see for teaching jobs — but having a TEFL qualification can certainly make you more attractive to more employers, and give you a headstart on finding the best possible job.

How hard is it to pass the TEFL?

Passing the TEFL course isn’t generally considered to be all that tricky — as long as you’ve been able to commit the full amount of time required, and complete all of the assignments before the deadlines.

Most courses have an application process which is used to double check the suitability of candidates — if you’re unlikely to pass you’ll probably not be offered a place. Providers don’t really want to have students fail — so reputable companies will only take on those who have the ability to pass the course.

There’s also lots of support on hand for TEFL students, from mentoring to extra study materials. This means that the most common reasons for people to fail come down to losing interest or finding that time is too short to manage TEFL on top of other commitments.

Who can get a TEFL certificate?

TEFL courses are open to anyone with a high enough level of English. It’s not necessary to be a native speaker, but naturally, to teach English to others you’re going to be expected to have a high level of understanding yourself.

Different institutions and providers will impose their own eligibility requirements, and may have application stages which are used to confirm the suitability of any candidates. Shop around to find a provider which suits you, and which offers courses you’re eligible for — and be sure to check the credentials of any company you consider before you hand over your hard earned cash.

Getting your TEFL certification can be the first step on an exciting journey to become an English teacher overseas. Because the courses available for TEFL are so varied, you’ll be able to find one which offers you what you need — whether that’s a part time online option you can fit in around your full time studies, or an immersive package which covers your TEFL, job search support, and an experience in a new country too.

Use this guide to start to investigate your options, and when you’re ready to make a move overseas, check out Wise and the Wise Multi-currency Account as smart ways to save when you live internationally.

Further reading: Teach English in China

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

Money for here, there and everywhere

Find out more

Tips, news and updates for your location