3 Tips for Teaching English Overseas for the Long-Term
There are many ways to establish a life as an expat in a foreign country, and one of the most common and probably easiest ways is to teach English overseas. For me, this was a natural fit since I was already a teacher in the US before I decided to leave and live overseas. During my time as an expat, I usually get asked two main questions. The first question I get is "How can I make the move and start teaching in a different country." This is dependent on one's personal life circumstances since it much easier for a single person with no children to make the move to a new country than it is for a married couple with children to up and leave. If you're in that position and are willing to do some extra legwork if you have other priorities, there is tons of information on the internet about that. The second most common question I get asked, is "Do you think teaching English overseas is a viable long-term option?"
This is a very fair question, and it is an extremely important question to ask oneself, especially if one is starting to consider doing it. When people think of teaching English overseas, the image is probably somewhat stereotypical. One probably pictures a bunch recent grads in their early to mid 20s leading a beachcomber-like lifestyle somewhere in Asia or Southeast Asia "teaching" at a language school, making around $400 - $800 a month, and traveling for a year or two before returning to the "real world." However, this is not entirely accurate, especially for more veteran and older English teachers that decide to stay in the field.
It is true that a large number of recent graduates from western English-speaking universities sometimes spend a year or two or maybe three teaching English somewhere in Asia or maybe somewhere else, such as Latin America or maybe even Europe to make some money to finance travel and maybe even save, but eventually most leave the profession and pursue what some see as a "real career." In those cases, one does not necessarily need to consider long-term ramifications of the career choice since it is usually seen as a temporary life experience.
However, for those that decide to remain expats and make a career out of teaching ESL overseas, the question of whether it can be done for the long-term inevitably comes up. In my personal opinion, teaching English overseas is indeed a viable long-term option IF one thinks carefully about it and has a plan for the future.
Here are 3 tips to help make teaching English overseas a long-term career path:
1) Pursue Proper Certifications
In the past, if someone was a native speaker of English, it was extremely easy to get a job teaching English, particularly in Asia where the demand is extremely high. This is still possible, but I would seriously question the quality of the school that still hires people like that. With the dearth of younger people spending a year or two overseas teaching ESL, this is currently changing since the market is becoming over-saturated. Many countries now require at least basic certifications and almost all countries in Europe and the Middle East will not even consider an applicant without proper certifications nowadays.
For someone who is starting out and who maybe did not study or receive ESL training in university, one of the best qualifications for new teachers is a CELTA. The certificate program is run by Cambridge University and is typically a month long and can be done in a huge number of countries in centers that are under the authority of Cambridge. To maintain quality control, there are auditors who visit schools that offer the CELTA to make sure they are maintaining the standards as laid out by the testing authority.
Today, the CELTA is seen as a basic certification, but to have a chance of getting a better and higher-paying job in many countries, it is a necessary stepping stone into the wider world of ESL. However, it is important to realize that the CELTA is not particularly well-known in the US, but it is highly recognized in the rest of the world. If one does only plan to teach English in the US, it would be better to forego the CELTA and opt for a certificate in TESOL instead.
For those who are serious about staying in the field beyond the CELTA, it will most likely be necessary to pursue an MA in TESOL or a PhD in English or Linguistics from a reputable university (preferably brick and mortar which also has the capability of online teaching as well). With the large number of teachers, the MA is now becoming a common requirement to teach ESL in many countries, but if you get an MA, you will be prepared to teach anywhere in the world and have a respected degree. In addition, if one gets a teaching certification and license that is valid in their own country, that is an added benefit for a job seeker since an increasing number of overseas schools want a candidate who has an MA at minimum and a valid teaching license from their home country.
2) Choose a Country Wisely
It is a fact that some countries are wealthier than others, and the standard of living and pay in different countries varies drastically. Pay is incredibly varied, and it can range from maybe $400 - $8000 USD per month depending on where you are, what you do, and what qualifications and experience you have. For the most part though, if you teach English in a foreign country, there are two main paths. First, it is possible you might be making around the average of a local per month. If a job does pay similar to a local, it is possible that the employer will provide an apartment rent free and maybe even cover utilities, but this entirely dependent on the country and employer, and these standards are not uniform across the globe in any way. The other main route is that you will be paid more than a local teacher, but it still might be seen as relatively low depending on your country of origin. Ultimately, one should go to whatever country they are interested in and not based solely on financial benefits. It generally does not matter where one teaches. It is absolutely possible to have a good and comfortable life if you're willing to live within a budget.
In my personal opinion, for people who want to stay in ESL for the long-term, the Middle East is probably the best place since almost all places in the Middle East will require a CELTA at the very least and most require now require a DELTA (similar to MA in TESOL) or MA in either TESOL, English, or Linguistics. Of course, since the requirements are higher, the pay is usually higher than most places in the world. This is also due to the fact that most places in the Middle East have money from oil, so they can afford to be more discerning into what kind of teachers they want. Plus, the standard of living in most places in the Middle East is quite high and sometimes even higher than the standard of living in the teacher's native country, so it can be expected that prices will be a bit more expensive. However, one must be willing to adapt to the cultural changes since the culture of the various Middle Eastern countries can sometimes be quite significant, and not everyone who moves there is able to cope.
3) Be Reasonable with Money
The most important tip to making teaching English overseas a viable long-term option is to make sure you save money and exercise fiscal responsibility. With some exceptions, most countries are relatively cheaper than the US, UK, or Canada. In addition, many employers will provide rent-free housing and maybe even utilities which typically means the teacher only has to pay for personal expenses which is dependent on each individual person's spending and living habits. As a result, it is usually quite easy for a teacher of ESL overseas to save more money than their peers in their home countries even if they make less than the national average in their home countries due to a relative lack of major expenses.
Also, it is important to realize that for pretty much all of these jobs, there is no such thing as a 401K or Roth IRA. As a result, it really depends on you to make sure you think in the long-term and save as much as you can since there really isn't a social net for non-citizens in many of these countries, and you will ultimately be responsible for saving for your eventual retirement.
Ultimately, teaching English overseas can definitely be done as a long-term career, but one must be sure to acquire proper qualifications and be reasonable money. This is not much different from pretty much any other job in the world. It is also important to choose a country where you think could be happy in since it is entirely possible, you might be there for awhile. These are not the only things to consider, but they are what I consider to be the most important aspects of teaching overseas long-term.
What kind of other things should a person who wants to teach overseas for the long-term consider? I'd love to hear your ideas.