Part One: Jobs and Countries
So you find the idea of TEFL at least a little appealing. You feel teaching abroad would be enjoyable for you. To get started you first need to decide where you want to work. If there is a language you wish to learn that will make the decision easier. For people who have less of clear idea here are the top six countries for number of TEFL jobs, approximately.
Jobs are plentiful in Thailand but the pay is lower than other countries. However, Thailand has the lowest cost of living. Taiwan pays a little less than South Korea with comparable living expenses. There are a lot less jobs in Taiwan. It’s significantly easier to get a job there in person rather than arranging something beforehand.
Japan is probably most people’s first choice when considering locations. Japanese culture and food luring people into the country keeps wages comparable to Korea and Taiwan while having a higher cost of living especially in Tokyo. Also, like Taiwan it’s easier to get a job in person. Most jobs in Japan hiring from abroad are 1 of 3 large private academy chains. JET is Japan’s government program which comes highly recommended by everyone I’ve talked too. If you are interested in Japan I recommend looking into JET. It has a long application and they receive many applicants so look at it early.
Spain gets special mention along with Japan due to it being part of the EU. Getting a job in the EU is a difficult proposition if you don’t have an EU passport. The EU encourages hiring within the EU so it makes most countries not even consider foreigners. Considering the high level of English in most EU countries it should come as no surprise really. However, Spain has a high demand for teachers. If you desire to teach in the EU Spain is a good place to start looking. You won’t save much money but from all accounts you’ll have a grand time. Countries besides Spain have government programs for teaching positions. There are many so look into whatever country interests you directly.
As said previously the main requirements for a beginner’s position in TEFL are a Bachelor’s in anything, TEFL certificate or previous work experience, and a passport from an English speaking country. I’ve personally gotten Visa’s for South Korea and China so I’ll cover those two in depth the other countries I’ll teach on in broader terms.
South Korea requires passport from one of the seven countries designated by the immigration office (USA, UK, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, or New Zealand). Secondly the applicant needs a bachelor's degree from an accredited university what where the medium of instruction is English, also located in one of the 7 countries mentioned. The length of the program doesn’t matter only that it qualifies as Bachelor’s. The last piece of submitted information is a clean criminal background check (Americans can submit a FBI background check). EPIK (government-run program in public schools) requires a TEFL certificate too. After arriving you'll have to pass a health exam, where they screen for drugs and communicable diseases. Canadians who are excited about the recent law change, be advised, Korea takes a very hard stance against drug use. An exception to the Bachelor’s requirement is the TaLK program which requires a two year degree or be in year 3 or 4 of a Bachelor’s program.
China’s requirements are the same as Korea’s with one exception. All of China requires either a TEFL certificate or two years previous work experience. Your potential employer will want essentially a reference letter from your previous employment confirming how long you have previously taught.
All your paperwork will need to be notarized and apostillied. Personally I’ve always used FBI channelers to get my background check and have all my paperwork completed. While it costs about $200 it cut the processing time from 4-6 months down to 2 months and made it so I had to do much less work myself. I highly recommend looking into a channeler near you.
Part 2: Jobs and Contracts
With so many jobs postings and so little information about the various schools caution becomes necessary when looking into jobs. I’ll do my best to give tips and tricks to keep in mind while looking.
The most important part of job searching comes near the end. When given a contract: Read. It. All. It never ceases to surprise me how many people complain about their job when they are simply doing what is in their contract. Don’t want to have 30 contact hours in a week? Don’t sign a contract that says you’ll teach for 30 contact hours. Easy. By reading the contract and asking about any questions or concerns you have you’ll save yourself a lot of grief in the future. Again, ask any questions you have. You’ll be at this job for at least year. Make sure you know everything and can be confident you’ll be satisfied with your work environment. (For reference, 20-25 contact hours are normal for a regular school teacher).
Oddly enough I recommend ignoring reviews or a lack of reviews when looking at schools. There are 1000s of school and not all of them have a website let alone an English website. Also, many schools and academies are chains. How one school in a chain is reviewed has little to do with a different location. Add on people’s disposition to only review when pissed and with how often manager leave it makes reviews next to useless. Instead of reviews directly ask the school for a previous teacher’s email; if the school refuses to provide any contact information run away. An actual, recent, teacher will give the most honest and accurate information you are going to get.
Compare different jobs. The only way to know if a job is screwing you is if you are knowledgeable about the job market. If you think you are getting a shitty compensation package look at what other comparable jobs are offering and keep location in mind. A smaller city may offer 14,000 RMB and that’ll be easy to live on. However, 14,000 isn’t the going rate in a city like Beijing or Shanghai. The more information you have about the job market the more protected you will be.
Finally, lots of people hate recruiters. Recruiters can be useful with a caveat. Recruiters get paid when you show up to the job. They don’t care if you stay or if you are happy. A good recruiter will listen to what kind of job you want because they want you to sign a contract. This means a recruiter should dilver to you even more potential jobs you may like or love. Use a recruiter to get access to more jobs not as a vetting service. You still need to review everything yourself. If a recruiter doesn’t listen to your job specifications without giving good reason drop them. There are ‘full service’ recruiters that help with the visa process. Good ones will have a large online presence with lots of reviews. Some recruiters offer a package deal of a TEFL and then placement services for a ‘small’ fee. Skip these ones. Any recruiter charging you for the privilege isn’t worth your time. More details on TEFL certificates will come in a different post.
Good luck on the job search. Just remember to read the damn contract.