Teaching ESL as a Career: How to Start and Make the Most of It

With the world becoming a more connected place, the demand for English speakers is at an all-time high.

This also means there’s a higher demand for skilled English teachers to teach people how to navigate the English-speaking world in various professional and personal capacities.

And there are worldwide networks that will help connect skilled English teachers to those opportunities in countries, cities and organizations across the globe.

My introduction to ESL was as an elementary school teacher in South Korea.

That’s where I discovered my passion for teaching, and that passion ended up taking me across Asia, the Middle East and Southern Africa over the course of seven years.

The benefit of teaching ESL is that you have access to a number of different ways to become an ESL teacher, so finding a job that fits your preferences and lifestyle choices shouldn’t be difficult.

You may want to help immigrants and refugees adapt to your country, or you could embark on an adventure and teach English overseas.

The incredible thing about teaching ESL is that you get to decide how you want to do it.

So You Want to Start Teaching ESL as a Career? Start Here!

General Advice and Resources for Becoming a Career ESL Teacher

It’s not as uncommon for college graduates to spend a year or two overseas teaching English as it was a few years back. It can be a great way to see a different part of the world while earning some money and gaining unique work experiences.

If you plan on teaching ESL as a career, though, understand that there’s a lot of work involved. You’ll be expected to lesson plan, prepare for classes and come up with new and unique ways to capture your students’ interest.

Some good ways to learn how to do this are to visit teacher’s workshops hosted by your department of education and make use of online resources.

YouTube channels like the Cambridge University Press ELT and Macmillan Education ELT are filled with up-to-date information and teaching strategies in ESL work.

Many companies and institutions overseas and in English-speaking countries will require some sort of qualification before you get started. Here are some options:

  • An online or “blended” TEFL certificate (involving both online and in-person learning) from a respected program like Premier TEFL can open the door to a number of entry-level positions. This site also offers internships, scholarships and supported jobs in a variety of countries in Asia, Europe and South America.
  • MyTEFL offers accredited online and onsite courses, as well as internships and job placement in Asian and African countries. There are a variety of course options to choose from, including “tester,” “refresher,” advanced and professional courses.
  • SEE TEFL is a program that gives you TEFL training and teaching experience in Thailand. You can choose between their standard four-week course with a job guarantee and their paid internship, which includes two weeks of training followed by a four-to-five-month job contract.
  • i-to-i offers online courses, combined courses, specialist courses (IELTS, business English, etc.) and even a “taster” course (a weekend to decide whether TEFL is right for you). You can also find paid internships and travel options in Africa and Asia.

As you can see, these programs are a great way to get certified in places like Argentina, ChinaThailand and Vietnam, where you can see a little bit of the country while working towards your TEFL qualification.

If you want to advance your career further, an intensive four- or five-week CELTA course or a teaching certification is best for you. These qualifications will make you more marketable and show companies that you’re serious about pursuing ESL as a career.

In addition, more prestigious jobs like university positions and government contracts may require further qualifications, like a master’s degree in education, English or linguistics.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Who and What You Teach

If you’re fresh out of college and looking for a great ESL job, chances are you’re not going to get that English lecturer’s position at a top university in a city like Dubai or Seoul. Don’t let that discourage you, because as you gain more experience over time, you’ll be able to pick and choose more prestigious positions.

If you want to go overseas, a good place to start is public schools and afterschool study centers. They’re generally easier places for new teachers to find jobs than universities, government programs and international schools.

If you want to teach in your own English-speaking country, try some of the private tutoring centers, local outreach programs and, if you’re already a certified teacher, your public school system.

Alternatively, you can control your own schedule by picking up teaching jobs online and tutoring students over platforms like Skype. If online ESL teaching sounds interesting to you, check out Teaching ESL Online for a guide on getting started.

You can also access a video training course put together by Jack Askew, an ESL teacher who built a successful online teaching business of his own.

Selecting your first job

The first teaching position that you take doesn’t have to be the one that defines you, it’s just the one that gets your foot in the door. Once you’ve got more experience under your belt, try narrowing your niche down and focusing more on who and what you want to teach.

I started out teaching English in South Korea to elementary students at a rural school. While I loved the experience and enjoyed teaching my amazing students, I knew that I wanted something that was a bit more challenging.

After building up my credentials with a teaching certificate and a CELTA, I started applying for more exclusive jobs once my contract was coming to an end, and I wound up living in Oman for a year teaching government workers and bodyguards to the Sultan. That was the once-in-a-lifetime experience I was looking for!

Here are some areas that many professionals specialize in once they become experienced in their career:

  • English for elementary, middle school or high school students.
  • English at the trade school and university level.
  • Business English and English for the professional world.
  • English for academia.
  • Curriculum development.

What to Consider When Picking a Place to Teach

One of the biggest perks of becoming a teacher is vacation time, and teaching ESL as a career is no different. Some of the positions are great for vacation and offer as much as three months of time off. Other positions, however, are much more modest and give approximately two weeks’ vacation a year.

If vacation is something that’s important to you, make sure to ask questions and carefully review any contracts and employment agreements before joining a company or school. Everywhere is different.

Are you one of those adventurous teachers planning to start an exciting career in a new country? Spend a little bit of time researching the culture and customs of the country before you go. It’ll help you become acclimated easier. I find Reddit to be a great site for research; just find a sub (group) related to the country you plan to move to and ask questions.

When it comes to teaching in other countries, here are some things to consider that will help you on the job hunt:

  • Countries like China, Thailand and Vietnam are great places for new teachers to gain teaching experience.
  • Japan, Taiwan and South Korea can be a little more difficult to get teaching jobs in without experience, but generally pay more and have incredible savings potential. This is especially true for South Korea, where the cost of living is lower and housing is usually provided.
  • Most of the countries in the Arabian Gulf pay incredibly well, but you’ll probably need to have a master’s degree or teaching certification. Also, be prepared for a lifestyle change.

If you live in the United States and don’t want to move overseas for teaching, try looking for groups in your area that focus on helping immigrants learn English.

Resources to Help You Find ESL Teaching Jobs

Once you’ve decided that ESL is the right career path for you, it’s time to get started on the job hunt. Here are some of the more common resources that I used to help me in my job searches.

Dave’s ESL Cafe

Even though Dave’s ESL Cafe may not have a flashy website design, owner and operator Dave Sperling has turned his website into one of the top job boards in the industry. Not only can you find jobs for any country here, it’s also one of the top sites where South Korean and Chinese recruiters advertise their job openings.

TESOL International Association

The TESOL Career Center is a great website for experienced ESL instructors and certified teachers to find high-quality teaching jobs around the world.


TEFL.com is one of the largest ESL job databases around. It’s as comprehensive, in-depth and accommodating to entry-level teachers as Dave’s, but also offers more geographic diversity.


TeachAway offers high-quality jobs for experienced professionals and certified teachers in positions across the United States and around the world. Anyone with an established background in teaching who’s looking for government jobs, university positions and management positions like director and administrator should visit this site.

Certification providers

In addition, most people who complete CELTA and TEFL programs are also connected with their own private career network after completing their courses. This is another reason why it’s beneficial to take an ESL certification program like those mentioned towards the beginning of this post.


Choosing to make ESL your career can be a rewarding experience that provides you with a lot of opportunities for job growth in your home country and abroad.

If you’re interested in seeing the world and interacting with people from different cultures, it’s an incredible field to join.

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe