Teaching abroad could be one of the greatest experiences of your life.
For many, living and working in another country is a bucket-list item.
But before you set off on your journey of a lifetime, first you’ll need to handle lots of paperwork.
You have to take care of insurance and visa applications. And if you plan to teach English abroad, you’ll need a TEFL certification.
But do you always need the TEFL? The answer may not be as clear cut as you think.
Can You Teach English Abroad Without a TEFL Certificate?
TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and you generally need a TEFL certificate to teach ESL.
Believe it or not, though, you don’t always need a TEFL certification to teach abroad.
You might be able to get a teaching job abroad without a TEFL if:
- You have experience. If you’re already an experienced teacher, you might not need a TEFL. An impressive resume, packed with lots of teaching jobs, could be enough for some schools to hire you.
- You have other certifications. There are various ESL teacher certifications available that can land you a job. In addition to TEFL, you can also get a TESOL certificate (which is a general equivalent) as well as the CELTA and DELTA (which are more intensive). If you have one of these certifications, you won’t need a TEFL on top of it.
- You have a visa. Most teachers abroad need a TEFL in order to get a working visa. However, if you’re able to remain in the country with another visa, such as a retirement or marriage visa, you may be able to avoid getting the certification.
If you fall into any of the categories above you may not need a TEFL to teach abroad.
What Happens If You Teach English Abroad Without a TEFL Certificate
Even if you can get a job without a TEFL certificate, it might not always be a good idea. If you choose not to get a TEFL before you start teaching, there are a few obstacles you may run into along the way.
Here are the most common ones.
- You’ll have trouble finding work. It’s undoubtedly harder to find a full-time teaching job if you don’t have a TEFL certificate. Many job advertisements state that it’s a crucial requirement, and if you don’t have it, you’ll have difficulty reaching the interview stage. Generally, a 120-hour course is required. Without one, your resume may be cast aside without even being read.
- You may not be able to get a work permit. In some countries, teachers need to hold a TEFL certificate in order to apply for a work permit. To get around this, many teachers choose to work illegally, using tourist visas and regular visas to stay in their country of choice. While some go this route, it’s definitely not advisable. There’s always the possibility that you could be caught by officials, and the lack of stability can be uncomfortable.
- Your salary will be lower. Unqualified teachers generally receive lower salaries than those who take courses. Master’s degree holders have access to the highest-paying jobs, which are usually given by international schools with British or American curricula. CELTA and DELTA certificates are a few steps below that, and a TEFL is usually the bare minimum. In some countries, it may be difficult to be a livable wage without this qualification.
As you can see, it’s not always advisable to work without a TEFL, even if you have the option to. However, there are ways to find work as an English teacher without a TEFL.
How to Find Work When You Don’t Have a TEFL
While it’s more difficult to find a job when you’re not a TEFL holder, it’s not completely impossible. You just have to look in the right places.
Here are some of the best ways for teachers without TEFL certificates to find work:
- Facebook groups: Join local expat and teacher Facebook groups, as well as worldwide ESL teacher groups. Recruiters often post there instead of standard job sites in order to avoid paying fees and to get a quicker response. Teachers who are leaving their jobs also post in these groups to help find people to fill their positions.
- Job boards: Jobs boards aren’t always a lost cause. Keep an eye on them, and you might find something appropriate. Dave’s ESL Cafe is a good one. Surprisingly, lots of good teaching jobs are advertised on Craigslist, too.
- Word of mouth: Some of the best English teacher jobs aren’t even advertised. Often, employers just hire people who are referred or recommended by their current teachers. That’s why word of mouth is the best way to get a job. Get active in your local teaching community, and you’ll start hearing about jobs that are on offer.
- Volunteering: If you can’t find a paid teaching job, try volunteering. There aren’t as many requirements, and you’ll be able to build up experience that can help you get your foot in the door for a paid position later on. Several companies offer volunteer teaching programs, including Go Overseas and Projects Abroad.
The Benefits of TEFL Certifications
Now you know that it’s possible to work around not having a certification. You’ve probably also noticed that these workarounds have their downsides.
Here are all the advantages you can enjoy if you get TEFL certified.
- Fulfill legal requirements. Often, a TEFL is required simply to fulfill visa and work permit requirements. If you just want to teach for a short while, you might be able to get by without one. However, if you’re looking to teach ESL as a career, you’ll need to take the course.
- Develop teaching skills. If you can speak a language, you can teach it, right? Not necessarily. You need more than native speaking abilities to be a great ESL teacher. A TEFL course will cover that. It will also give you the tools you need to transfer your English knowledge to your students effectively. You’ll pick up some tricks of the trade that may stick with you throughout your teaching career. This can include lesson planning, gesturing, classroom management and more.
- Meet other teachers. Throughout your TEFL course, you could end up making some valuable connections. Having other teachers around you can be a huge help, as you can learn from each other and grow together as the course goes on. A course is a great opportunity to network, and people you meet there could help you to find work later down the line. You never know, you could even end up making some friends for life. I did my TEFL course in 2012, and some of the people I met in that course are now my closest friends today!
- Prepare you for the classroom. If you’re happy to walk into a classroom on your first day on the job and teach for the first time ever, you’re braver than I am. Personally, I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself if it wasn’t for my TEFL course. As well as learning the theories and techniques behind teaching, you’ll be able to put them into practice with peer teaching. By conducting practice lessons with the other people on the course, you’ll be able to get comfortable being in the front of a classroom and get honest, valuable feedback.
During a TEFL course, you may also get a chance to visit schools and teach real classes. This means you can test out activities and techniques to find out which ones work and which ones don’t, and generally get a feel for the job.
This may involve teaching several different age groups, which can allow you to find out which one you’re the most comfortable with. (I found this part particularly valuable: Teaching kindergarten was too chaotic for me, primary didn’t quite fit, but high school was a perfect match!) Practice teaching will help you narrow down what jobs to apply for when your course is over.
These activities are vital to helping you build your confidence as a teacher, and after going through them you’ll feel ready step into your first class.
How to Get Your TEFL Certificate
If you’ve decided to get a TEFL certificate for teaching abroad, here’s where to start:
- Online certifications. The easiest way to get TEFL certified is to take an online course. This is a good option for teachers who need it just as a technicality, rather than a teaching aid. However, it might not be enough for some employers.
- Classroom courses. A classroom TEFL course is the most practical and rewarding way to get the job done. If you’re able to do it full time, you can complete it in a three-week period. This can be done in your home country, or the country you’re looking to teach in. However, if you’re juggling it with a job or other commitments, there are weekend and part-time courses available.
- Course packages with job placements. Many agencies offer TEFL courses with guaranteed job placements included at the end. This is a great option for new teachers who are unfamiliar with the country they’re teaching in. It completely removes the hassle of the job search, and takes care of everything for you. However, you usually don’t get to choose the location of your placement. You could be in the capital city or somewhere out in the sticks. If you’re not tied to any particular location and looking for some adventure, this could be the option for you!
For most ESL teaching jobs, a TEFL certificate is a crucial requirement.
However, even when it’s not needed, it can still be hugely beneficial. I don’t know where I would be without mine, and I can say with 100% certainty that it made me a better teacher.
If you get one for yourself, you’ll not only be well equipped for the classroom, but open to more opportunities, too.
Emma Thomas is an ESL teacher in Bangkok with more than five years of experience in teaching students of all ages. You can read more about her experiences as a teacher in Thailand at Under the Ropes.
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