Best Places to Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL)

Published: 28 Jun at 3 PM
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Filed: Teaching English Abroad,
After three years of teaching English overseas, I think I finally have some idea about the global teaching situation. I’ve spent countless hours on my computer, looking for better jobs via the Internet, and I’ve worked at too many little private language schools, so I understand the basic boss mentality.

Teachers are overworked and underpaid throughout the world. That’s a sad fact. We’re not rock stars or sports heroes. We are not in the much-needed medical profession. We don’t invent new technology. We simply teach English and help shape new generations.

Teaching Englich Overseas
I spent six months in Russia, over a long, lonely, frozen winter. Don’t ever work there. Your Russian boss can promise you a language school and give you a home business run out of his apartment. He can say he’ll pay you $900 a month and give you $300. Turkey is better. You can be part of a nice private language school with modern facilities, good textbooks, computers, and overhead projectors. Language schools even have a cantina with free tea for teachers. But your Turkish boss will work you long hours (35 or more teaching hours a week on mornings, evenings, and weekends). You’ll get only one day off a week (unless you work at English Time in Izmit, where you’ll slave for seven days because they can’t keep teachers).

If you have outstanding qualifications, you can work at a university in Turkey. They pay pretty well ($1300 a month) and give you health insurance (which the private language schools should but don’t always do). You will work only 8 months but get paid for 12. I enjoyed my time at Kocaeli University and should have renewed my contract. A friend of mine quit the university because he could make more money working seven days a week at English Time ($2000 a month is possible). But the stressful environment at English Time (where teachers end up yelling at each other) is not, in my opinion, worth the extra money.

The downside of working at a Turkish university is that getting a contract can take four months or more of paperwork done through Ankara. Even then, the university could begin its September semester, and you may not have your contract yet and therefore be unable to start working or get paid. This happened to me at Akdeniz University in Antalya, so I bounced back to Izmit to look for another private language school job that does not rely on semesters or contracts (contracts are often optional, and you can start teaching without one at a private language school in Turkey).

The problem with a private language school is that it can let you go if it suddenly doesn’t have money to pay you. It’s best to get a contract, but even that does not completely protect you. The pay for the hours is not good, and you might not have health insurance (or a work permit). So I have been looking for a new job overseas and have found out some interesting things about the teaching market.

Europe won’t hire American teachers. They want someone with a European Union passport. Japan won’t hire someone who is living outside of Japan. They want someone with a Japanese work permit. South Korea requires a strict background check (and I don’t have a perfect driving record). Taiwan also has a long list of required documents that makes it difficult to get started teaching there. China is willing to take just about anyone to teach their billion students, but the pay can be low and the teaching hours long. Saudi Arabia pays the most ($4000 a month is possible) and gives great health coverage, free housing, and round-trip tickets home. But who wants to wear a veil, have no social life, and live in the desert?

Abu Dhabi and Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, offer more freedom but fewer teaching opportunities. Other Arab states such as Oman have strange rules such as allowing a married man to bring his wife with him but not allowing a married woman to bring her husband. Mexico and Central and South America may offer a teaching job, but for low pay (and the air ticket there could be expensive). India and Africa may want you to volunteer your services in difficult conditions.

After all my research, I determined that my best opportunities for teaching abroad were in China (with the help of a placement service that got me a decent salary) or in Saudi Arabia (where I think I could stand one hot year for outstanding money). I’m not sure which place to pick as I await my final offers.

These are just my experiences as an American teaching English overseas. Your experience may be quite different. Whatever the case, I think a teacher needs to enjoy teaching and helping other people because the pay and conditions are not excellent. On the bright side, though, you can rent a Turkish apartment for only $200, the food is cheap and delicious, Turks are friendly and hospitable, music is everywhere, Turkey is a beautiful country with contrasting sea and landscapes, and you can find amazing adventures.

Lonna Lisa Williams teaches English overseas and writes books about surviving cancer, travel adventures, science fiction, and fantasy.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingLonna Lisa Williams, M.A. is an American expat living in China. Blog description: I am in Turkey, writing my way home to my California children (by Lonna Lisa Williams)
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Comments » There are 3 comments

Mark Malby wrote 8 years ago:

An insightful piece, and you certainly have done your homework. As a traveller, I have found Turkey to be a friendly and hospitable place but never thought of teaching there. It sounds like a pleasant prospect. Two places worth mentioning which did not make your list are Hong Kong (a vastly different entity from mainland China) and Brunei. An expat teacher can earn $9000 a month at the top of the salary scale in Hong Kong's public school system, and about $5000 a month in Brunei (tax free) in its government schools. Definitely worth considering.

James wrote 8 years ago:

Inspiring article for the many people out there wondering where they can teach abroad. China is definitely a great place to get started, in terms of the amount of restrictions involved in the process. Hong Kong is also another place worth looking into for beginners. We recently posted an article on our blog about getting a job there compared to surrounding places, like China. You should check it out: mytefl.net/blog/tefl-hong-kong-worth-it You're definitely right that teachers are over-worked and under-paid, though! Finding a place where you're happy and enjoy the lifestyle is the most important.

Laura wrote 8 years ago:

Thank you for sharing your research. I'm trying to pick where to go on my first TEFL adventure and your insight was useful :)

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