“Teaching is only demonstrating what is possible. Learning is making it possible for yourself.” - Paulo Coelho

For many British teachers, teaching abroad is but a dream. That's not necessarily bad; UK teacher rolls have shrunk since 2013. We can hardly afford to lose any... but you have this burning desire to go!

How can you become a teacher in a different country and how can you learn more about educational systems in other parts of the world?

Whether you're an English teacher considering TEFL training, a science teacher looking for opportunities abroad, or just fascinated by the idea of teaching overseas, here are some useful things to consider before you seek work abroad.

Deciding Whether You Want to Work Publicly or Privately

No matter which language you speak and what subject you teach, your work will vary from one country to another. If you're thinking about becoming a teacher abroad, it is important to decide which type of school you would like to teach in.

For example, teaching English as a second language won't be the same as teaching chemistry or physics in universities as a professor.

How long does it take to become a teacher abroad?
Would you like to teach somewhere other than the UK? You'll have a few things to do. (Source: langll)

If you want to teach abroad, you'll have to think carefully about which teaching position would be most suitable for you.

For example, there are certain steps you have to take if you want to work in a secondary school that you wouldn't have to take if you wanted to work in a primary school.

You'll need to consider things like :

  • Facility: What can I currently teach according to my qualifications?
  • Feasibility: Do I have the skills to apply for these jobs?
  • Readiness: Am I ready to start teaching with this experience or take new steps?

You should also give thought to professional protections. While here, in the UK, we have NASUWT and other teacher unions to safeguard our interests, joining an international organisation as a teacher would probably be more difficult.

To wit, the World Federation of Teachers' Unions is active in many countries but not in the UK. If you intend to teach in any of the 40 countries they have a presence in, you might see if their protections will work for you.

Have you already considered all of this?

Have You Thought About Volunteering?

Teachers today are better compensated than ever before. Still, no one could accuse teachers of engaging in the profession to get rich; indeed, newly-minted teachers hardly earn a living wage.

In light of that, if you have just completed your teacher training, why not consider a stint as a volunteer teacher abroad?

Volunteer teachers are generally afforded the same benefits – housing, healthcare and transportation as contract teachers; they just don’t earn any money while amassing valuable teaching experience. Food is generally included in the deal and some volunteer teachers may even receive a stipend for personal items such as a mobile and other expenses.

You may choose to volunteer through an organisation – Global Volunteers, UN Volunteers or the British volunteer organisation VSO would be great opportunities for the civic-minded teacher.

Note: you may have to pay a fee and/or airfare to your volunteer destination.

If you’d rather not depend on a group to find opportunities for you, consider HelpX.

Founded by Englishman Rob Prince, this site has been connecting volunteers with homestay opportunities around the world for 20 years. While listings seeking volunteer farmers and builders feature prominently, you will also find quite a few seeking nannies, teachers and tutors.

The greatest disadvantage of this programme is the lack of health insurance. Contrary to other volunteer organisations that will cover costs should any physical ill befall you, as a HelpX volunteer, you will have to invest in travel insurance to make sure you’re covered, come what may.

Targeting Different Academic Institutions

Do you teach in primary school, secondary school or in a university? Are you a math teacher or is physics your bailiwick?

Not every teacher will be looking for exactly the same type of school. Likewise, not every school will accept every type of teacher.

This is why you need to think carefully about the facility you might teach in.

Where can you teach abroad?
Look for schools and academic institutions and get in touch with them. (Source: Pexels)

The kind of places you can teach in include:

  • Nurseries and primary schools
  • Secondary schools
  • British schools abroad that teach the UK's national curriculum
  • Private schools and academies
  • Commercial language schools (Berlitz, JEI, ClubZ, etc.)

You should keep in mind that, unless you speak your host country's language, you will have difficulties communicating with your students. How can you teach them if they can't understand you?

Many countries include Oral English classes in their English curriculum, especially for the higher grades - say, secondary school and up.

The focus of such lessons is on listening and speaking skills; students in these classes likely already speak and understand a good deal of English. Your job will be to help them become more proficient at speaking English.

If you don't speak your host country's language, finding schools with such programmes might be your best bet for finding teaching work abroad.

What Certifications Will You Need to Teach Abroad?

These days, it is almost impossible to find a quality teaching post abroad without at least a Bachelor’s and some teaching experience but, if you dig deep enough, you will certainly find that not everyone demands a fancy degree and years in the classroom, especially if you intend to teach English.

The aforementioned Oral English classes is a sterling example of such.

Let’s say you have your sights set on ‘somewhere in Asia’. You’re not sure which country you’d like to teach in but you know that Asia is where you want to be.

Schools in Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing and Shanghai; Dubai, Delhi, Jakarta – all of the major cities’ schools will insist on top-notch credentials and at least a bit of teaching experience.

On the other hand, if you want to understand the culture and people of your chosen country, you might get by with simply being a native speaker of English and a bit of experience teaching – anything from basket-weaving to cooking.

Here, we insert a caveat: know what you’re getting into.

Disillusioned teachers have reported everything from accommodations unfit for living to having their passport retained and their pay withheld by less-than-scrupulous schoolmasters.

Another point to consider if you plan to teach English: you will be required to have a TESOL, TEFL, CELTA or DELTA certificate, and that’s above your Teacher’s Certificate.

Teaching English to students of other languages requires additional skills and abilities not generally needed when teaching students in your native tongue.

The training for these licenses targets teaching strategies unique to students learning English rather than standard classroom management techniques, how to conduct assessments and other standard fare of teacher training.

We’ll talk more in-depth about these certificates later in this article.

Finding Out More about Different Places

To make things easier, whether you're teaching in a private or public institution, you may want to look for help. There are plenty of different places to get information.

For example, the British Council has plenty of useful resources for those teaching abroad or thinking about moving to a different country. Similarly, there are different ways to get abroad; the ERASMUS programme (for countries in the European Union) and European schools among them.

Keep in mind that there is plenty of competition for places on programmes like this. Make sure you do plenty of research about the organisation or programme you're interested in.

While looking at possible work opportunities, you should also study your target countries' political and social climates, their laws and their cultural norms.

Learn about your host country's culture before settling on a plan for living abroad
Everything from your choice of clothing to your language skills impact where you might choose to teach abroad Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Deciding Where You Want to Work

Let’s say you’ve always been fascinated with Egypt.

Choosing this country as a destination for your teaching adventure abroad would provide a gateway to all that you wish to see firsthand.

From a clothing perspective, if you are male, there is little you need to consider; even shorts and tee-shirts are allowed (although sleeveless tees are frowned upon). However, if you are female, your sartorial choices are far more critical.

In some parts of the country, women are not allowed bare shoulders or knees and, should they wish to visit a mosque or any other tourist site, they must cover their hair.

This is one of the more extreme distinctions of teaching abroad; some, like giving an encouraging pat and making eye contact are far more subtle.

In China, South Korea, Japan and other countries, making eye contact is seen as disrespectful and even as an act of aggression. How contrary to British culture, where we expect our students to look at us and meet our eyes!

Many ‘foreign’ teachers report feeling disconcerted that their students either don’t look at them or avert their gaze. It’s not out of shame, fear or that they don't like you; it's their culture.

The cultural norms of a host country should factor into your decision-making. Learning them after you arrive could make your experience either wonderful or abysmal.

If you prefer your stint abroad to be the former, it would be best for you to brush up on what’s expected of you and what you might encounter before you get there.

Finding Trustworthy Resources

The British Council was founded in 1934. It specialises in providing international cultural and educational opportunities. With Council offices all over the world, you will never be far away from any help you might need.

Did you know that the British Council teaches English in more than 50 countries?

If you're thinking about teaching English as a foreign language, there are plenty of teaching resources available from the British Council. Additionally, the British Council has lots of advice for those living and working abroad.

In addition to the British Council, you can consult websites and forums:

  • Facebook groups for expats in the town or city you want to live in
  • Websites for Britons living abroad
  • Expat.com connects people living and working abroad
  • Forums for teachers of your subject
  • The British embassies where you plan to stay
  • The websites of the host country

Admittedly, sticking strictly to resources targeted to British teachers provides a rather narrow perspective; it would be best to tune in to what other voices have to say.

Where Else Can You Turn to for Verified Information?

Dave’s ESL Cafe is a resource tailored to teachers abroad.

ESLcafe.com is chock-full of information, from forums where expat instructors discuss specific issues related to teaching abroad to country-specific job boards.

For instance, if you want to teach English in China, there is a page of job listings for you to peruse… but you are not limited to China or Korea, which also has its own jobs page. The site’s international jobs board lists enticing destinations like Barcelona, Dubai, St Petersburg and more.

You might wonder about the ESL designation: what if you’re a Math teacher?

Granted, most jobs postings relate to teaching the English language but there is plenty of opportunity at Dave’s Cafe for teachers of all stripes.

P.S.: Dave’s also provides lesson plan templates, course materials and teaching aids. Why not post your CV on the site’s job board?

Though not quite as encompassing, the TEFL Academy is a valuable resource you can turn to if you are just fleshing out your plan to teach abroad.

This site’s orientation is more toward training potential teachers and the focus is strictly on teaching English. Nevertheless, if you are in the final stages of planning your new life abroad, taking a peek at their page could provide you with some valuable tips.

The takeaway: once you know exactly what you’re looking for and where you want to teach abroad, you may find further sites with information specific to that country or region.

Start Preparing as Early as Possible

Before you move abroad or start teaching In another country, you should find out about everything you need to do and the different opportunities open to you. Ideally, you should start preparing at least a year before you plan to go.

Research ever aspect of living and working abroad
Do your research ahead of making concrete plans for living and teaching abroad Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Given how many people are considering teaching abroad, you should definitely get in touch with different organisations and institutions sooner rather than later.

You'll need to think about how long it'll take to process your application and the time needed to get a visa or the necessary papers to enter the country legally, which can often take months.

Keep in mind that, while some countries give British passport-holders minimum scrutiny upon entry, others will want to see a valid travellers' insurance policy, a financial statement proving you have enough money to cover your stay and proof of accommodation - where you will stay while you're in-country.

That last should not be a problem if you have a valid job offer.

Other Aspects to Consider

Who will care for your house while you’re gone? If you live in a flat: how will your departure square with your rental obligations? Will you be able to sublet?

What about your car and your possessions? Do you have any pets? Where will they go while you’re gone?

What about your family: elderly relatives, children or anyone who depends on you? Are you married? If so, does your job offer make concessions for a spouse (and children, if any)?

Wait, there’s more…

Where will you receive your mail? How will you make sure you keep up your UK tax obligations? Will you have to pay taxes on the money you earn while teaching abroad? How do you do that?

And what about any money you might have in a British bank: how will you manage it long-distance? What will happen if you access those funds while overseas without notifying them: will they freeze your assets and suspend your account?

Should you find someone to manage your affairs while you’re gone?

In the excitement of impending adventure, it’s easy to overlook the fact that we are suspending life as we know it. All of the infrastructure that makes our lives so convenient and rich, that we take for granted… it will all have to be dealt with before you can hit the trail.

Many teachers enjoying adventure abroad draft a power of attorney designating a trusted individual to take care of important matters for them while they’re out of the country.

Oh, and while you’re at it: it’s best if you make out a will, even if you’re still in your 20s and have virtually no assets.

Tell Your Current Employers that You Plan to Leave

Whether you plan to volunteer, do an internship abroad, or start teaching in a different country,  you should tell your current boss; otherwise, they might make things very difficult for you later on, perhaps by providing a negative work reference.

How long should you wait to give notice at your job?
Always leave a job on good terms. (Source: rawpixel)

That's a good reason to apprise your boss of your intentions: your overseas teaching application may require your current employer to provide a reference for you.

Application requirements aside, as a matter of professional courtesy, you should tell your employers about your plans to leave as early as possible.

You want to try and leave your current job on the best terms possible. By being fully transparent with your current employers, you're giving them more time to plan for your absence or find a replacement.

Your Status While Teaching Abroad

Everyone who sets their sights on teaching abroad has unique qualities - their pedagogy, their heritage, personal status (married, a parent, retired, etc.). Regardless of these facets, most teachers will have at least these in common:

  • British citizenship
  • Status as a qualified teacher (with a few years of experience)
  • A clean criminal and disciplinary record

Without the latter, you might find it difficult to land a position.

In terms of status, teachers abroad fall into three main groups:

  • Expats
  • Residents
  • Those on temporary contracts

Temporary contracts are ideal for those who aren’t planning on moving to their new country permanently and just want to gain professional skills and immerse themselves in a new language or culture. Those living abroad temporarily can still teach in a number of different academic institutions.

However, gaining residency comes with its own benefits.

Teaching English is one of the most common jobs for British expats abroad. If you want to move overseas and start an English teaching career, you'll need a TEFL certification in order to be considered for teaching positions in a language school.

Of course, not every TEFL certificate is the same. Generally, the CELTA is more widely accepted than an online TEFL course. However, CELTA courses also far more expensive than those for other TESOL certificates.

To make sure you get the right certification, you should look at the requirements for the language school or agency you hope to teach at.

Preparing Your Application for Teaching Abroad

Even if you know exactly where you want to teach, you may not know exactly how to put together your application and announce your candidacy for the job. You need to prepare.

Keep in mind that the application process can vary greatly from job to job. You can't put together the same application for every position.

Where can you find teaching jobs abroad?
When you get to your new country, signs might not be as simple as this. (Source: Pexels)

Generally, you will answer job adverts rather than applying directly to different institutions. When putting together your application packet, You should make sure that it contains:

  • Copies of all necessary qualifications (teaching qualifications, language qualifications, etc.)
  • Completed copies of any application forms
  • A cover letter
  • Other documents as required

Don't forget to consider just how long can take to get these documents. In a lot of cases, two copies of each document are required. Make sure you read the application carefully and provide everything requested.

The Pros and Cons of Signing on with an Agency

It would be a mistake to think that every country hires teachers the same way so, as you prepare your CV, consider how 'foreign' teachers are perceived in other countries.

You will not be hired through the same channels as local teachers are and, often, there is a separate budget for foreign talent that includes funds for headhunting agencies.

Here’s how it works: a school needs a foreign teacher. They contract with an agency that specialises in screening such candidates. That agency forwards several likely CVs from which the school’s administrators make their choice.

From the candidates' perspective, there are good and bad points to this system.

On the plus side, you only need to send one CV, copies of your teaching credentials and other documents this agency requires. Having testimonial letters helps, too. And then, you wait.

The headhunter agency does all of the legwork. They will forward your documents to prospective employers and hash out all of the details. Once an offer is made, your headhunter will present you with a job offer – either scanned in or by mail, which you will sign and return.

Congratulations, you have a job! What downsides could there be to a system like that?

For one, you get no input; the agency does all of the negotiation – usually in their or the school's favour. For two, you only get two options: accept or reject offers. Needless to say, a few rejections might cost you; the agency might be less keen to present you if you always say no.

Finally, you will be hired solely on your credentials. Often, the headhunter system does not allow for interviews, even over Skype - meaning that you will have no opportunity to size up your potential employers. Once you accept an offer, you may consider yourself as having jumped feet-first into a vat of… you don’t know.

It might be everything you were hoping for or a nightmare you are contractually obligated to see through.

Improving Your Foreign Language Skills for Teaching Abroad

While your qualifications and legal status of both critical to landing an overseas teaching position, your language skills are essential.

Certain teaching positions have stringent language requirements.

Most European countries require their foreign teachers to have at least intermediate language skills so, if you're headed to Spain to teach, you should have passed Level B1 on the Spanish CEFR language exam.

By contrast, other countries don't expect their guest teachers to speak their language; instead, they provide a liaison to help those newly-arrived navigate everything from shopping to communicating with colleagues and landlords.

The Point of Teaching Abroad

As mentioned at the start of this article, the UK is currently labouring under a dearth of qualified teachers.

Logically, if you trained as a teacher, you intend to teach. Equally reasonable: if you're planning to teach overseas, the main objective is not teaching so much as working and living abroad.

Accepting these two statements as true, what would be the point of living in another country if you didn't learn its language? How could you immerse yourself into your new home or understand its culture and traditions if you don't understand what people are saying?

Moving abroad isn't something that you just do; it takes a lot of planning and preparation.

Whether you go to Asia, Africa, Europe, or the Americas, be prepared before you go: professionally, personally and culturally.

While some tutoring jobs involve only speaking English with students who already can, you should learn your host country's language - out of respect, if not as a professional necessity.

Good luck!

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Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.