The in’s and out’s of TEFL

I always get emails asking me about which Teaching certificate you should obtain when you go away to teach in far off lands, if you should even bother getting one, or if you should do it before or after university.

Thai Assembly

When you start to think about travelling by teaching English the certification you pick can have a massive impact on what countries you can go to. Whether you pick TEFL/TESOL/CELTA or in Andy’s case a Graduate Diploma in TESOL there are a few things you should be careful of and watch out for. Firstly it is best if you do this AFTER you have been to University for a number of reasons. A degree is necessary in most cases, even if it isn’t, many jobs will require you to have a degree in any field to be able to process your work permit. Also going away to teach for 6 months can often lead to a longer stay…. In my case 3 years and counting, getting a degree first takes the pressure off to return!

Foreign Teachers Thailand

Way’s to complete a certificate.

  • Choose a company which specializes in teaching abroad. I did my qualification with These companies are awesome if it is your first time living away from home as they will really look after you from beginning to end. All companies offer different benefits and I can only really comment on ETA. I was given help completing my certification, a week stay on an island in Thailand while finishing my training, help networking before I went so I had made friends before leaving the UK, my TEFL course AND a guaranteed job. The last one was very important to me, as a newbie, finding my way around the ESL job market can be tricky, not knowing what salary I should get, what benefits and what hours.
  • Going it alone- you can do your TEFL courses online at your own time and pace, however I would personally stay away from online courses, while they might give you your certification in teaching English, many countries will not accept an online course certificate. (I will explain later)
  • Doing a university/college course. This is how Andy obtained his certificate as he originally did the course when working towards his masters in Education. Meaning his course was 1 year-long!
  • Childrens day in Vietnam

    children’s day in Vietnam

Different types of certificates

  • TEFL– Teaching English as a Foreign Language- Most courses from the UK use TEFL one of the most common and easier types to get.
  • TESOL– Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages- you find this one mostly from American and Australian courses and is roughly the same as TEFL
  • CELTA– Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults– This is one the most expensive certificates and hardest ones, while some countries or companies prefer it (usually higher paying jobs) many companies are just fine with TEFL/TESOL. However if you are looking to make a career out of English Teaching then I would suggest you do this. When applying for jobs in Vietnam a few jobs required this and despite Andy being a qualified teacher with 7 years experience AND having a graduate diploma of TESOL they still wouldn’t accept him.
Haloween in Korea

Hallowe’en in Korea

What to look for in a certificate:

  • First and foremost- make sure your certificate is 100+ hours (ideally 120 hours +) some courses will only offer 20/50 hours, this is not a problem for some countries however can be a BIG problem if you want to try your hand in South Korea, Vietnam or Japan to name a few who will require you to have 100+ hour certificate. Think ahead- It might not be a problem for the country you are going to first but if you want to make a move after to somewhere else your certification holds a LOT of weight!
  • Try stay away from online courses. In many job adverts they will actually specify that they do not accept an online TEFL certification. Many jobs are looking for you to have your TEFL taught in a classroom environment. Again not all jobs! My TEFL is actually part online and part classroom and has given me some difficulties along the way…. Despite now having 2+ years teaching experience under my belt some positions would not accept my TEFL certification.
  • Choose one that is accredited world-wide… for obvious reasons!
  • Try get a course that offers some classroom experience. This isn’t always necessary but some jobs do require it. (even if you have experience they still want proof someone has evaluated you in a classroom situation) However even if it isn’t necessary, having time to teach in a classroom where someone will give you pointers after your lesson is very valuable and a good way to get over the nerves of standing in front of a class of expectant students!

English camp, Koh Chang, Thailand

Full-time teaching or internship?

If you are thinking of taking an internship or a full-time position have a good look at what you want.

  • Interns are generally paid very low however they do the same amount of work as a full-time teacher. The benefit of internships is you tend to be part of a big group giving you support of your new friends for the entire duration of your stay. Contacts also tend to be shorter.
  • Full time positions- you get paid a full salary (often much more than local teachers) and sometimes double that of interns as well as holidays and other benefits. However you will go it alone sometimes and have to make friends once you are at your school… no problem if you are outgoing!
Teaching English to Police Officers

Teaching English to Police Officers

Once you have your TEFL, what about getting a job?

If you have just graduated or looking to make the move to your next country there are many ways to get a good teaching position.

  • Internet– The internet is an amazing way to pick up teaching jobs these days, in fact it is how we scored our jobs in Vietnam and in South Korea. Try jobs websites like,,, to name a few.
  • Face to face– We did try this in Vietnam however I wasn’t a fan, however I have heard of people getting their jobs this way. Turning up in a country with a load of CV’s, smart dress and a good attitude can get you far.
  • Teaching placement agencies/recruiters– There are many agencies who will help you find a job before arriving in a country, especially for South Korea. These can be great but also beware and do your homework before accepting the jobs they offer.

Dress down day Thailand

Accepting a teaching position.

  • Do your homework!!! Before signing any contracts have a quick check on the internet for the kind of salary you should expect, hours and conditions. When in Thailand, the new teachers for the second semester almost signed their contract for 18,000bhat…. While the average foreign salary (including mine at the same school) was 30-32,000. They clarified this in time and it was put down to a ‘mistake’. However it never hurts to check out how much you should expect.
  • Research the area you will be living in, do you want to live in the city or the countryside? Many first time teachers expect to be placed within walking distance of a beach and spend their days sipping coconuts on the sand after school… this is not the norm!
  • Dress code- While most schools require you to be smart and in shirts and trousers everyday you need to check that there are no special requirements. For example in Thailand I had to wear beige on Monday, pink on Tuesday, and blue on Friday. This meant trying to find things in my size or get them sent over from the UK!
Student prizes, Vietnam

Student prizes, Vietnam

Picking a country

A very important decision when thinking about teaching away… you need to consider what you want to gain from the experience and what countries you are interested in living in.

  • If you are looking to save money- Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan or the middle East. Still plenty of culture but sometimes require experience.
  • If you are looking for experience/ first time away- Thailand, Vietnam, Europe the pay might be lower but the culture is amazing!
  • Check out the living conditions for certain countries. Andy and I were thinking of moving to the middle East, however living together would be impossible while we were unmarried.

Things to consider when teaching

  • Remember it is a job and you should treat it as seriously as any other job. For the local teachers it is their career so don’t think you can go and just mess around.
  • Be respectful- Remember you are in a different culture to your own, if they ask you to cover your shoulders then you should.
  • Be prepared!! Lessons do not always go according to plan something you planning might bomb spectacularly- always have back up activities on hand!
  • Keep an open mind- the more open you are to immersing yourself in a countries culture the more you will enjoy your experience.


Teaching abroad is an amazing way to travel the world, gain life experience and build your confidence… just do your research and get the most out of your experience!

Teachers of DTLC, Vietnam

Teachers of DTLC, Vietnam



8 thoughts on “The in’s and out’s of TEFL

  1. Thank you. I do not have a 4 year degree. I offer 27 years of real estate, finance and being a productivity coach to my colleagues nationwide. I am going to Oxford to get my a ESL and CELTA in hopes to land a job in the public sector as well as part time work in the private sector with individuals or companies. I’m hoping to get a work visa in or around Shenzhen China Any suggestions would be appreciated. thanks

    • Hello! Try they are the best sites for jobs in Asia. Once you have a job you can ask if they pay for a work permit. You need a job usually before you can get a work visa!

  2. Interesting to read about it from a SE Asia perspective. In Germany, a CELTA certainly helps you find a job but I have a lot of colleagues who don’t have one. Experience gets you a lot further here.

    • Aw that’s interesting to know David we have only taught in SE Asia! Good to know about elsewhere! Many places will accept you without a certificate however many countries have really clamped down and now and require you to have a certificate in order to get your work permit!

  3. I came to japan with CELTA and I’ve always had an advantage when applying for jobs over other candidates. Highly recommend CELTA if people consider a career is ELT.

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