10 Questions to Ask a School Before You Accept your ESL Job Abroad

You have spent the last few months researching and applying for jobs teaching English abroad. Now your hard work has finally paid off: you have just been offered an ESL job! Congratulations!

But before you sign on the dotted line and commit yourself to a teaching position in a foreign country, there are a few questions every teacher should ask their employer.

Work visas, extra duties, and your role in marketing all should be clear before you get on the plane. How can you make sure that this is the right position for you?

When you are offered the job contract, be sure to ask these ten questions:

  1. What additional events or commitments will I have to plan for in this position? Regardless of whether you will be working for a public or private school, or even a language school, likely there will be other events that you will have to plan for during your contract. End of year productions, seasonal celebrations, and after-school clubs all require extra planning, often times outside of your normal working hours. Use this question to gauge how much of the planning burden will be put on you and try to assess how elaborate these events will be.

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  1. What are the core working hours for teachers? What is the technical school day? It may seem like a minor point, but before you accept the job offer be sure to have a clear idea of your working hours. Most schools require teachers to be present before the technical school day. During this time, also inquire about morning, lunchtime, and afternoon duties.
  1. Who is my direct supervisor? This might be the person interviewing you, but it is best to ask to be sure. Bosses come in many shapes and sizes, and often times can make or break the job experience for you. If possible, ask them if they have worked with other foreign teachers or if they themselves have worked abroad before. It could lead to a great discussion and also help you to decide what kind of boss they would make. Ultimately ask yourself: Could you work effectively and happily with this person for the duration of your contract?
  1. How does the school facilitate communication between the parents and the teachers? Obviously this is only relevant when working with children or teenagers, but it is an important question to ask. Will you be responsible for communicating with the child’s parents? (Or will it be your coordinator or lead teacher?) Some schools require the teachers to write in daily “channel notebooks” which is another task you have to make time for each day.

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  1. Will I be provided transportation to and from school? In what capacity am I required to pay for this service? While the first question should have been covered in the interview process, after you receive an offer is definitely the time to smooth out the details. If transportation is provided, do you have to pay for it? In most cases you do, so it is best to ask ahead of time and also access commute times.
  1. How will the school assist me in finding and securing safe housing? Sometimes the school will provide housing for you free of charge. It is not unheard of, but it is definitely not the norm. If the school says something vague like “they will assist you in finding housing” now is the time to ask them to get specific. If you are applying from abroad, now is also time to ask about details regarding airfare reimbursements and over what time period that will be dispersed.
  1. How many classes am I required to teach? How many minutes are each class? It is extremely important to determine how many classes you will have each day and gauge possible down time. Consider asking how many classes there are each day to estimate the amount of teaching-time versus “planning periods” you will have over the course of the week and if it seems doable. See if you can have this stated in your contract so that you can avoid being over-scheduled, especially if you are one of the few foreign teachers in the school.

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  1. In what capacity will I be required to participate in sales and marketing? If you fail to ask any of the questions above, do not skip this question or the next one. In addition to your normal teaching duties, you could also be required to sell extra classes or products. This is especially the case in language schools held after school. For public and private schools, it is important to determine whether or not you will be required to attend workshops on weekends for marketing purposes. Many times you will be required to attend these events because they want to showcase that they have foreign teachers.
  1. Will you provide me a legal work visa? Be sure to explicitly say the word “legal”. Depending on which country you are teaching in, the rules may seem blurred regarding how to attain working visas. Some teachers work on tourist visas, which is NOT legal. If they say they will offer you assistance in getting a work visa, be sure to understand what that assistance is going to look like exactly. If you are not satisfied with their response on this question, ask if you can speak to another foreign teacher about this issue. Before you accept any position abroad, be sure that you clearly understand how to legally get a working visa. If the school is not clear on this issue, this is a bad sign.
  1. When can I give you my final answer? When you are caught up in the excitement of getting a job offer, it might seem like the best idea to accept it on the spot. Do not do this. Take the time to consider the employment package carefully and how the job will help you to attain your long-term goals. Take a day or two and sleep on it. Does it feel right? Most employers will appreciate that you are taking the time to consider what option is best for you, and ultimately, what is best for them.

Being able to smooth out these common worries will give you peace of mind before you start your new life abroad. Your employer should be able to happily answer these questions for you. If they seem annoyed by your questions or are unable to give clear responses regarding a legal work visa, you need to seriously reconsider your position with them. Never feel embarrassed to press further if you don’t understand any of their answers. It is your right as a foreign worker to fully understand the position you will undertake and how this employer will assist you in your life abroad.


What questions do you have about teaching English abroad? If you have taught ESL abroad before, what do you wish you would have known before starting?

Words by Dara Denney. Photos from Pixabay.

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