8 Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Started TEFL Teaching

Honestly…TEFL teaching was never my dream job. I never even planned to do it longer than a year. 2 and a half years later…I am still doing it! Though it was never my dream job my time TEFL teaching has given me so many opportunities and allowed me to travel Europe and Asia. These are a few things I have learned before I started this career.

1. Private Tutoring is the way to make money!

You can set your own price and keep all of the money! Also it is often more relaxed and fun, as you can meet your clients in a cafe and teach conversational english. Unfortunately I did not do this while in Prague, but it can be a great way to have more personal classes that make more money. There are some websites dedicated to assigning students to private tutors, but I think the best thing to do is make a business card or flyer, give it to everyone you know and try and distribute them to cafes.

2. Teach without leaving your house!

Online teaching is something I have recently discovered and it is amazing! It allows me greater flexibility for traveling and I don’t have to change out of my sweatpants 😉 I get paid more doing 20 hours of this a week than I ever made teaching in Prague (unfortunately, English teaching salaries are generally low in Europe). The downsides of this are, you won’t make any local friends and most companies I have found are based out of China so you can only work certain hours of the day which may not be convenient for everyone. When I am at home in Portland my hours are 2-6 a.m!

3. Visa’s will be a long, expensive, frustrating process.

The stress of obtaining work Visas has probably taken a couple years off of my life. These were also very different processes in Europe vs. Asia. I’ll break in down a little bit more.

Europe: You would be very lucky to find a company to sponsor your visa as a TEFL teacher. I have yet to hear of anyone who has had this luck. What you will have to do is get a freelance workers visa, then you can work at language schools as a freelancer. It involves getting many things notarized, translated, embassy appointments outside of the country you are working in and paying money for a lot of things. In total I think it cost me $700 for a 6 month visa. Ridiculous. And more bad news, I don’t think every country has this option for a visa. Czech Republic and Germany are the two I have heard about that definitely do. I have heard getting a working visa in countries like Spain is even more difficult. I recommend having at least $3,000 in savings while going through this process!

Asia: Many big companies will help you obtain a visa, yay! Our company was going to but because it was not a nice company to work for we decided were going to break our contract early and we told them this many months in advance so they did not have to go through this process. If you have a job before you leave the country get AS MUCH DETAIL AS POSSIBLE about what the process will be like and what you will need before you leave the country. Our company did not supply great information which cost us hundreds of dollars in wasted embassy trips, plane tickets, paper work, notarization and lost passports. Just thinking of it is making me rip my hair out! Luckily, if you work at smaller schools they will let you do visa runs! Just buy a ticket to your nearest border, leave the country for a quick little holiday, come back in and your visa is as good as new! Easy..the way life should be.

4. Negotiate! They need you!

In Vietnam I worked 6 days a week, 40+ hours a week for $1,200 a month. This is what they offered me and because I was so scared to move to Vietnam without a job offer that I did not dare try and negotiate. I did not move to Vietnam to work every Saturday! I obviously moved there to drink beer on the beach and take weekend trips 🙂 so why did I say I was happy with this contract? This school took advantage of people by making them do a lot of extra work for no extra pay, and eventually everyone who worked there started to say “no”: then things changed! Remember- these companies need native English speakers. If you don’t like something in your contract, speak up! If they refuse to negotiate, it is probably not a company you want to work for anyway. Keep looking.

5. Don’t be fooled by job advertisements

Free flights! Accommodation paid for! 500 dollar bonuses! These are all great and can be yours…after you complete a year contract. Many Asian countries will give you these amazing benefits, but you can expect to work at least a year for that country before you are reimbursed or given the bonus. This is no problem for some people, but if you are looking to move abroad for less than a year make sure you read the fine print of your contract when they promise you these things.

6. The TEFL teaching world is shady.

Sad, but true. It is easy to take advantage of foreign teachers moving who are new to a country. It is more common that not to find a unequipped, poorly managed school. I worked for 2 months for a school in Prague that promised to pay me once I had my visa. Once I had my visa they cancelled my classes and kept blowing me off. I never got fully paid for this class, neither did others I knew worked there. Unfortunately this is not an uncommon story. If the school seems shady, it probably is.

7. Don’t be too afraid to move without a job offer.

Moving across the world can be pretty stressful to say the least. Packing up your life in to one suit case and moving to a country where you don’t know anyone or speak a word of the language is brave. Moving to Prague without a job did not scare me but for whatever reason I would not budge when it came to moving to Vietnam without a job. We applied to many schools and received a job offer while still living in the US. This was a relief because was able to know exactly what city I would be in and had a few contacts lined up. The downside was I was not able to see the school or ask any local expats about it’s reputation. I ended up working at one of the biggest language schools in Da Nang, but it had many many downsides that I could have learned more easily when I was in the city. Also there were SO many smaller language schools there that I could have applied to in person. Knowing where you are working before you move has both it’s positives and negatives, just don’t be too stressed about moving to a city even if you don’t have a job lined up yet. To eliminate some of this stress…

8. Join expat groups on Facebook!!!

This is so helpful to do BEFORE you move somewhere. Search for ‘groups’ on Facebook for the city you are going to. You can get a real feel for a city just by reading through posts on the expat groups. Job listings, restaurants, yoga classes, meet-ups…this is the best place to find them all. You can also post in these groups asking for advice or help looking for a job, which I wish I had done before moving to Vietnam!

What do you wish you had known before you started your career?

Pin for Later:

3 Comment

  1. Thanks for writing this post! I’ve been toying with TEFL for ages but private tutoring sounds like a great way to go. Loving your blog posts x

    1. alana50north@gmail.com says: Reply

      Thank you, Lucy! TEFL is great to start with and helps you network and meet people but the money is definitely in private tutoring! Where are you thinking about teaching?

  2. Amy Phou says: Reply

    Very informative, thanks for the tips Alana. I’ve been playing with the idea of teaching abroad but after reading this it’s been making me thinking maybe it’s not for me. Hope you’re doing well 🙂

Leave a Reply