So you’ve made the decision to teach English abroad. That’s huge! It has the opportunity to impact your life in ways you never thought possible, regardless if you’re interested because you just want a way to fund your travels, or if you’re a qualified teacher looking for experience. Making the leap to do it is a big step.
But now what?
One of the first and often most difficult decisions to make is choosing a country to teach English abroad in. Narrowing down the globe to just a few desirable options seems impossible at first, but here are a few questions to ask yourself before jumping into it:
1. How long of a commitment are you willing to make?
Like any other teaching job, schools abroad hope you’ll make a commitment of some sort. Many locations prefer you to sign a 6-month to 1-year (an academic year = 10 months) contract, and others require a two-year commitment, like many in the Middle East.
If this is your first time teaching English abroad and you’re looking for a short-term commitment to see if it’s something you like, or simply to get your feet wet and gain experience for another location, a language exchange program in China might be for you. However, those locations with longer commitments often come with more benefits, such as flight reimbursement and free housing.
2. Do you need to make a lot of money, or just enough to get by?
If you’re fresh out of college and looking for a job that will allow you to pay off some or all of your student debt, countries in the Middle East like Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia can provide you with enough benefits and a salary high enough to save $800 – $2,000 USD per month. Asian countries like Japan and South Korea aren’t far behind, with potential savings of up to $1,000 USD/month.
However, if you’re not in it for the money and those countries/cultures don’t necessarily appeal to you, you might consider teaching in Latin America or Europe, where it’s possible to make a comfortable living. Even Asian countries like Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand pay enough to save a few hundred dollars each month.
Compare 60 countries for teach abroad salaries and more with our free, downloadable Country Comparison Chart!
3. What kind of climate do you enjoy?
If you’re planning to spend anywhere from five months to two years (or more!) in a country, you’ll likely want to research the local climate to see if you can handle a significant change from what you’re used to, or if you’d prefer to opt for a country more similar to your own. Do you despise the cold but love the sun and sand? Southeast Asia or Latin America might be the regions for you. Or do you want to spend time in the mountains, and away from the beaches? Look into China, Japan, Brazil or Colombia.
4. Is there anything about a culture/religion or history you don’t think you can live with?
Many foreign countries have rich cultural heritages. Thailand, for example, is 95% Buddhist, and this religion and mentality is rife throughout the country. Many Asian countries have strong cultural aspects that draw travelers, but as a teacher you have the unique opportunity to immerse yourself in it, get to know it from a locals perspective and adopt the parts you enjoy the most. Whether you’re considering expanding your knowledge of China’s history, or the wars in Eastern Europe, or religion in Latin America, it’s best to do your research beforehand and decide if there’s anything you don’t think you can live with.
5. Do you want to work in a government school, private school, corporation or language institute?
It’s important to keep in mind the general age group you’d like to teach. Countries often have a need for English teachers in all of the following: government and private schools, universities, privately-owned language institutions and sometimes local businesses hire a teacher for their employees. The requirements for each differ per country, so this could be a defining factor in your location decision. If you’re stuck on teaching at the university level but don’t have a master’s degree, perhaps you should consider positions in Costa Rica or Nicaragua. If you know you want to work for a government school so you can learn as much about the local culture as possible, Thailand might be a good fit.
Other things to keep in mind:
- Language institutions are in nearly every country and are almost always hiring, but they often require one to work long hours and nights and weekends.
- Government schools and universities allow teachers the freedom of working on the academic calendar, which means Monday through Friday with all national holidays off, and summer vacation as well.
- Language institutes often pay more but offer less perks.
- Government schools can be less organized and things such as lesson plans may not be provided.
Of course, making such a big decision requires a lot of thought and research, so these are just a few of the questions you’ll want to consider before you make the leap. Please download our free Country Comparison Chart, which breaks down ESL jobs by region and country, making it easy for you to see some of the major differences from country to country.
Regardless of where you choose, just go. You won’t be sorry you did.
Where are you thinking about teaching English abroad?