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Feature photo by torres21 / Above photo by gwaar

Teaching ESL overseas has become an increasingly popular rite of passage for young North Americans. Many twenty-somethings see this experience as a great way to do a bit of traveling without breaking the bank.

If that isn’t reason enough to look into ESL work, here are eight hidden benefits to teaching English abroad.

1. The training is painless.

A TESL certificate can be attained through a 100 hour course, and most schools offer evening/weekend sessions or online courses. The fees start at about $500 USD, and many schools have services to help with the job hunt.

If you have some extra cash and want to start your travels immediately, larger ESL schools offer four week TESL training in exotic locations around Europe, Southeast Asia, or Central and South America.

2. You can be a student in your own classroom.

Regardless of age, the students you teach will be excited to see a foreigner take an interest in their culture. Most will gladly offer tips about local foods to eat, places to see, and things to try.

Young students can teach you a lot about pop culture or local slang, and simple conversations will give you insight into their family lives and customs. For just one example, check out Matador member Teresita’s blog, I Heart Our Global Pop Culture Icons.

Photo of Iraqi student by

3. A year is a long time…

…to experience a whole calendar’s worth of festivals, holidays, cultural events, and seasonal foods. You’ll get much more insight than a single trip. Also, worldwide holidays like Chinese New Year or Christmas are a bit different in every country. You’ll get to experience a unique version of a familiar holiday.

4. It’s a crash course in cultural sensitivity.

Most expats reach the “Their society makes ZERO sense to me!” phase at some point. It’s a normal step in one’s adjustment to a new culture. Getting past this phase of culture shock means opening your mind to new and unfamiliar things. Whether the traffic laws are driving you crazy, or new acquaintances ask questions that seem invasive to you, be patient.

Photo of Korean students by watchsmart

You’ll come to appreciate the ways in which this foreign culture operates. Most often, you’ll note customs that strike you as far more practical than those in your native country.

5. You’ll get an instant network of local acquaintances.

Whether you’re teaching in a language centre or public school, you’ll be amongst colleagues who speak English. Regardless of their level of expertise, they’ll likely be keen to practice their English conversation skills with you. Not only will you have new friends, but your coworkers can help you navigate the area and its customs better than any guidebook.

6. You’ll be tapping into an excellent grapevine.

A lot of good ESL jobs, and general travel tips, are accumulated by word of mouth. By meeting other ESL teachers, you can get advice about new destinations or jobs from people who have been there, lived that.

Whether you wonder which South American country has the fewest work visa hassles, or you’re curious about how rainy Vietnam’s rainy season really is, other teacher-travelers can help.

Photo by dcJohn

7. Travel is simple with a great home base.

If you’re based in Thailand, you can visit Cambodia or Laos for under $50 USD. If you’re teaching in a European country and you’re close to an airport, a weekend in Prague or Berlin is a cheap RyanAir flight away. Once you’re set up in a foreign country, the journey to other exotic locales becomes much, much easier.

8. It’s a resume-booster, even if you don’t want to teach long-term.

You might worry that this job will look like a blip on your resume. Even if your teaching experience consisted of sing-alongs and barnyard animal flashcards, don’t underestimate the skills you developed along the way. Communicating across cultural barriers, using leadership skills to conduct classes, and picking up a new language (even just conversationally) are great assets.


Lots of Matador members are either teaching abroad now or have past ESL experience. Whether you want to teach in Istanbul or

ESL Teaching


About The Author

Anne Merritt

Anne Merritt has lived in Canada, Europe, and Asia. She teaches ESL, writes, haggles, hikes, and wears sunscreen fanatically. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail,, and The Compass. Check out her blog.

  • Audrey

    When I was a Small Business Peace Corps volunteer in Estonia, I taught an adult English class as a secondary community project. The relationship went beyond the classroom – I would cook Italian, Mexican and Chinese food to introduce the students to other cuisines. In turn, they made sure I was always involved in Estonian holiday traditions. Eight years later, the people I'm still in touch with from my small Estonian town are my students. Teaching English abroad really is an amazing way to develop deep relationships with people in a community and learn about their culture and life.


    I agree with everything on your list. Prospective English teachers should also consider that taking such a step may lead to a completely new phase of life. I planned on teaching in Prague, Czech Republic for just one year but made so many friends and got involved in the community literary scene that I ended up staying for three years. Eventually, I even married one of my former students! (don't worry, he was 32) You never know where life will take you when you immerse yourself in a new adventure.

  • roy

    Blip on your resume?!! Don't even consider working anywhere, where work or travel abroad might be seen as a "blip"!

  • Tim Patterson

    I had a blast teaching English in Japan with the JET program. The work was easy and I saved a lot of money – well over $15,000 per year.

  • caronabra

    If you don't have the money for the TESOL course and you'd prefer to get paid to study, work teaching all the while live abroad try: ” target=”_blank”> It's what I am here in Northern China doing now and can more than recommend it. After only 5 months I am now a Senior Teacher and completing their Masters of TESOL too! I love that I am travelling and being paid to do what I am passionate about. Anna, you are right on the money! Great article!

  • Elisa

    This is so awesome! I've been wanting to do this when I graduate college in a year, but I thought I would have had to been pursuing a teaching degree…this is perfect for the "lost souls" like me who don't have a plan yet :) Thanks!

  • Alex Rabino

    Does one have to be a major in education to teach abroad?

  • Rebecca

    I thought of teaching English in a foreign country, but never went through with it. Teaching English is a great way to see the world, give back, and gain an understanding of another country and its people. Who knows what the future will hold for me — maybe I will teach English one day.

  • ESL Daily

    Due to an easy schedule and normally few hours and longer vacations, it is easy to begin an online degree or even a masters. It also frees up time to begin a Blog, website, take up photography or write a book. It is a matter of what you choose to do in your time as an ESL/EFL teacher that can really open the doors to a future. I know too many teachers that would rather complain about the awful conditions of the school that they teach at or the problems in the country, that most opportunities slip by. Great Article!! Thanks Ann!!

  • Vern at Thaipulse

    Nice! I'll blog this at Thaipulse and a couple other places. I came to Thailand at 38 yrs old and taught English for a bit. Amazing experience. Not all good – but all worth it. Funny thing is – I meet many foreigners that WISH they came in their twenties. Me included. I wish I'd come at 22 and stayed straight through. It's an amazing country and the people make it that way even more so than the natural beauty of the land. I highly recommend going overseas to teach English. Get away from the USA – the stress of daily life… and see how another group of millions of people are living their lives. It opens your eyes.

  • Lee

    I have nothing against teaching English in other countries, but there should be systems set up so that only qualified candidates are allowed to teach. I have seen too many so called teachers, usually fresh grads who are there to party and lifers who are there for easy money, go about it unprofessionally (They'd be lying if they say otherwise). Sure there are those who are genuine and wants to help others learn English but their efforts are often overshadowed by these unqualified candidates. Teaching English and being a native English speakers are two entirely different thing. Schools and language institutes need to figure this out. I saw it first hand in 2004 while teaching a year in Japan.

  • Leah

    hat type of degree would I need if I were to teach overseas?

    • David V.

      The type that you actually graduate from. Seriously, the subject isn’t that important.

  • Jeanne

    My 3 years teaching in Japan laid a foundation for the very well-paying job I hold now, 30 years later. Like all experiences, if you put effort into it, you'll derive tremendous benefit from it.. If you perceive it as a party that simply requires you to be present to participate, then it will impact your life in that way as well. If you like diversity, challenge, change, and growth, it is a great way to broaden your life. And it is certainly not restricted to new grads or people in their 20s. But don't expect it to be like teaching at home: it's a job and comes with its own peculiar circumstances. Nice article. Thanks.

  • Jeff

    My friend taught English in Tokyo for a few years and loved there so much he never came back. He's been there for almost 5 years now and speaks pretty well. It's great for friends too, because they have someone they know to visit in other countries and to show them around! :-)

  • Cate

    just one question– if someone wanted to teach in Japan, we'll say, wouldn't that person need to speak Japanese as well as English? Maybe I missed something, but I don't see how it would be possible to teach English in a foreign country without speaking the native language.

    • Bruce Jones

      The best way to teach English abroad is to be properly trained by a reputable and accredited TEFL certification school.  The minimum for professional training is 100 hours of academic work and 6 hours of practicum (student teaching) though most employers want at 20 for a new teacher. 

      Fulltime courses around the world are 4 weeks long and range in cost from $ 1,500 – $ 2,200 USD depending on the country’s standard of living.  The comment about a $ 500 course is not a 4 week, 120 hour course, that’s a weekend course some countries sell to get you out the door into a job that requires nothing more than a pulse and an American/British/Canadian passport. 

      For proper training and solid advice go through a professional TEFL or CELTA school.  Try International TEFL Academy

      Btw, TEFL is Teaching English as a Foreign Language, TESOL is Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.  CELTA is Certificate of English Language To Adults (a brand name of a TEFL course).  They are used interchangeably depending on country.

  • Rebekah

    As a matter of fact, the only requirement I am aware of to teach English in Asia is that you have a BA in some area of expertise; it doesn't have to be English or teaching. And from what I've read, it's helpful to know at least a little bit of the native language, but you're there to teach English and your students are there to learn English, so being fluent in the native tongue isn't necessary. Also, depending on which program you teach through, they provide you with all the materials you need to set up lessons and so forth.

  • Jeanne

    You don't need to speak Japanese to teach English in Japan. Schools that employ native speakers of English have students that read and write English fairly well, but need a lot of opportunities to practice speaking and listening skils, i.e., conversational English. If you speak Japanese, you are tempted to make the conversation "easier" by helping them. The best way to learn a language is to be immersed in it, even if only for an hour at a time, so that's how English conversation is taught. Of course there is a curriculum and materials provided, but the biggest impact you can make is to require your students to speak to you in English. I never spoke a word of Japanese in class, even when I was able to do so. Of course, living in Japan makes it desireable to speak at least a little Japanese to make daily life easier. And, it's not a difficult language to learn.

  • Troy

    Sounds like Lee is the only other person worried about the hoards being unleashed upon the poor and naive of the world armed with a TEFL cert that they printed off posing as teachers. The statement "Anyone can teach English" rates up there with "Anyone can perform an amputation", sure in practice anyone can do it, but can they do it well? Keep in mind that for millions, learning English is an opportunity for a better job and therefore many families pool money together so that a family member learns the language. I would hope that their teacher is someone who has a slight idea of language pedagogy and not some looking for a blip on their C.V.

  • Lucille

    I think teaching english as a volunteer and living with a host family is a great solution to discover a culture . One of my friend did that with United Planet. He stayed in Nepal for a few weeks and he really loved it! And he was very useful for the kids because they only have one english teacher for the school and it was not enough! He had some difficulties with the language of course, but he had a training before going there, so he was not completely lost and he could learn some basic language. He seems to have a really great time and now I'm thinking about teaching english in Peru next summer!

  • Tia

    Tim would you mind answering a few questions about ur time in Japan via JET program…When did you do it? I'm considering doing the same in Korea. I would like to do it in Japan, but I'm thinking economically korea may be better. I hear I won't save much money in Japan at all. If you don't mind how were you able to save so much in one year? Also, Ive done a 2.5year stint with peace corps, so I'm not new to living in a new and different environment. In fact I love it. Also, were you at a public school? And what city? Thanks alot for taking the time to reply.

  • Fata

    Hey Tim! I'd like to ask you a few questions about ur exp with JET in Japan. I'm interested in teaching english in Korea. I was considering Japan as well. Economically, I was told I would save more money in Korea. If you don't mind, how were you able to save so much in one year? Were you in a public school? Also, how was your experience in the classroom? manageable? Thanks for your reply, sorry if I double posted this.

  • Tim Patterson

    You can save quite a bit of $$$ on JET, but I was especially lucky – I lived rent free in a rural area and grew some of my own food. I was in a public school. Classroom time was very manageable – I taught about 18 hours per week. You can find lots of writing from my time in Japan in the archives of ” target=”_blank”> -Tim

  • Fata

    Thanks a lot. I'll def. check out ur blog Tim.

  • Fata

    Hey Tim. I tried to access the blog link but the link isn't showing any posts.Its just the 'blogger status' page, which says the blogger is unavailable. any ideas?

  • Tim Patterson

    weird – try this one – ” target=”_blank”> – or google sleeping in the mountains

  • Heidi

    Anne- great article.

  • Pulkit Vasudha

    So is it okay to do a $500 TESOL course anywhere or does one need to worry over which institute offers the best course? With so many private institutes vying with eachother to prove their TESOL certificate is the most widely recognized, I am more than confused about which one to go with?

  • Nepal expedition

    English is international language so if we teach english abroad we can improve our english

    we can know different people and different culture also

  • Pingback: Why Teach English in Thailand? : ThaiPulse Blog

  • Tesol Australia

    Wow, this is, what exactly TESOL is??

  • Sarah

    Hi there-
    Depends where you want to go in the world but most places that hire you need an Associate degree with course a TEFL, or a Bachelors degree in ANY area.
    This is the company I work for in Taiwan and is it great! They help you with the teaching curriculum because they have been around for 25 years and know how to train new people to become teachers. It is an amazing experience!

  • Nepal trekking, trekking in Nepal

    m fascinated by Chinese language..anybody have idea about best Chinese language instructor …could you please comment me below with instructor contact address!!!

  • Andrew@GoOverseas

    I guess this post is almost three years old at this point, but each of the 8 points presented by Anna really spoke to me. I taught English in Taiwan for two years and had an amazing time! I’m back in the US now, but I still often think fondly of the time I spent there.

    To add to the discussion, I really felt the networking opportunities was the most valued added part of the experience. The people I met there definitely had a direct impact on my present career and I know I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not taught English abroad.

    These days with all the opportunities to teach abroad, it becomes really important to carefully research where it is you’ll be teaching. If you’re currently looking for a job, one of the first things you should do is talk directly with teachers currently at the school. They’re in the best position to tell you what the working conditions are like at the school.

    Good luck!

    • Jackie

      Andrew, I am currently looking into teaching English in China.  How did you find the school where you taught?  

  • Paul King

    9) You can learn another language! This has been one of the highlights for me.

  • Erin

    I am looking to teach abroad, but have some debts at home (like school loans & car payments) Will it be difficult for me to survive teaching abroad? I am looking for a position that will cover the cost of my accomodations and health care.  I am a 29 yr old professional in need of a change from the every day rat race. I want to make a differance and see the world. Working on getting my ESL certification after the first of the year. Thoughts?

    • Rochelle Odon

      Hi Erin. I’m new to this site and just read your post. I am 29 and have been teaching English in Japan for the past ten months. I was in a similar position as you. I needed a career change and had just finished an MA that was not related to my job and unsure of what to do next. I have TESOL certification and for one year taught ESL in the US. While working on my certification I was advised to look into programs in Asia or the Middle East. These locations pay the most money. As an adult with real bills and real responsibilities, I did exactly that. Japan is an expensive country but not really when you live in the countryside. I send make a transfer from my Japanese bank account to my American account every month and then pay my bills online. It can be done! Most programs require you to be a native speaker and have a BA/BS. TESOL isn’t often required and if you are interested in the field I would recommend skipping the certification all together and going for the MA.

      • Bruce Jones

        I don’t think most people are looking to take 2 year MA program to teach abroad for 1 year. That’s why a 1 month fulltime TEFL certification course is what 98% of the trained teachers go through to teach English abroad. Being practical for one’s needs is the important answer.

  • ESLinsider

    “1. The training is painless”, and not necessarily essential.

    If you want you can get a cheap online certificate for less than a few hundred dollars in some places. 120 hours with classroom training is considered much better as far as those go. Online ones aren’t often very respected.

    I have a TESOL certification, but in my experience it wasn’t worth it. And in many places you don’t actually need one. I have written a bunch of articles about these if you’re considering one.

  • ESLinsider

    I’d say adolescent students around the world can you teach about pop culture. That will help create content and conversation in your classes as your students, especially middle schoolers+ will love to talk about that.

  • Macaroni Jones

    Is TEFL only for younger people? Would anyone recommend it for someone in their 50s looking for a new phase of life?

  • Bruce Jones

    The best way to teach English abroad is to get your professional TEFL certification (it can be done in 4 weeks fulltime or 11 weeks part time online). Take a look at International TEFL Academy as they train over 1,200 new teachers a year to teach abroad.

    • Seriously Spain

      International TEFL Academy is garbage. I’ve met several ‘teachers’ who have graduated from their online TEFL course and who weren’t remotely qualified to teach in a classroom.

      They also promote people being able to teach without a degree (most countries now do not allow it), and even have an article on teaching illegally which, while it says they’re not promoting teaching illegally, of course they are as, in the next breath they talk about ‘everybody doing it’. Teaching illegally anywhere in the world can get you jailed or deported, and anyone who does it is stupid, IMO.

      And online TEFL’s are worthless. There is no observed teaching practice, so the person who ‘graduates’ with one has no idea if they are a good teacher or not — usually, they are not.

      At schools I have worked at in the past, we have refused to hire anyone with a TEFL from International TEFL Academy as their reputation is that bad.

      (Why am I guessing you are an employee there?)

  • Liz Fishwick

    I really disagree with some points in the article. I’m a tutor for the CELTA courses in Mexico (yes..the real deal and not some bogus online or weekend course) and to say that the training is ‘painless’ is totally inaccurate and misleading. We have to adhere to global standards and the criteria is tough. People take the CELTA course and as we do give not to standards for lessons and people can fail, it gives the right message that teaching isn’t for everyone.
    I am also uncomfortable with the points made in two about people being fascinated by seeing a ‘foreigner’. The word ‘foreigner’ is quite offensive as most of us may live somewhere else but we settle and make a life here. Plus, ELT is a profession and I want my learners to be fascinated by what they learn from me and each other and not that I’m from a ‘foreign country’. Also, the majority of teachers in ELT are NNEST (non native English speaking teachers) who stand on an equal footing if doing the job professionally with BANAs (British Antipodean North American) and there should be no difference with what we deliver in class.

  • Fuse

    Online TEFL courses with no actual classroom component leave you woefully unprepared for life as a teacher and,in my opinion, are a con. There’s no way a $200 course can give you quality training that will make you an asset to your students.
    I know because I was director of studies at school which, unfortunately , hired these unqualified teachers and we generally had to retrain them completely. If you’re serious about teaching, do a a CELTA or TESOL. The workload is intense and far from ‘painless.You should also be ready to put in at least a couple of years before you get to be any good at it.
    Teaching is a profession so if you’re not serious about it, get a job in a bar or something as learning English is a not a trivial matter for students,but rather an essential part of their future success.

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