WORK ABROAD: How to become an English teacher abroad

How to become an English teacher abroad

Kate & Kris share how to become an english teacher abroad in this interview about their experience living & teaching around the world.

Teaching Abroad Interview

How to become an English teacher abroad

Tell us a bit about yourself and teaching abroad?


We are both from the UK and we teach English abroad; doing so for ten years now. We have worked in Thailand, the UK, Spain, Ukraine, Vietnam and China. We currently teach in Bangkok.

Why did you decide to move abroad?


It was an accident. We went travelling and then the money started to run low. We decided that we could either go home early or find another way to stay abroad. We found an offer for a course to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL) in Thailand. We had friends who were teaching English (in Spain) and enjoyed it, so we thought we’d give it a go.

Did you find it easy to find teaching positions?


It’s much easier to find positions teaching English than it is to find jobs back home, it seems. There are lots and lots of positions available all over the world. The trick is to make sure you get a quality position, as there are a lot of scams and jobs that exploit teachers out there. For example, we look for schools who invest in their teachers in terms of professional development, who understand that teachers need time to prepare lessons and who provide resources such as photocopying facilities, computers and a library of resource books.

How to become an English teacher abroad

What is the interview/application process like for these jobs?


It varies. On one end of the spectrum, there are some that seem like merely a formality. You send off your c.v. and covering letter and then they ask to speak to you over Skype (or face to face if you are in the country). They don’t really ask you any questions about yourself and your teaching and just tell you about the position. One interview we had was less than ten minutes. For both of us (we didn’t take it).

On the other hand, there are some hardcore interviews, the British Council being one of them. Their application form is huge and detailed and in the interview they ask a lot of competency based questions, with a panel of interviewers.

Some schools want to know a lot about what you know. The interview we had for the job in Ukraine lasted 1 hour 40 minutes!! So it really does depend.

What does your typical day look like?


Right now we work Monday to Friday during the day, but that’s not a typical timetable for a teacher in a language school. We start teaching at 9.30 and teach a three hour IELTS preparation class (IELTS is an exam students need to take to study or work abroad). We finish that at lunchtime. Three afternoons a week we then prepare lessons, interview students to place them in new classes and do some admin tasks. Two afternoons a week we travel out to a university and teach English language classes on a civil engineering international program. We finish at about 5pm.

Are you able to save much money after expenses and travel?


Yes. It helps that we have a lot of experience and we took Diplomas in teaching (the Delta and the Trinity DipTESOL). As with most jobs, the more experience and qualifications you have, the higher your salary. Everywhere we go we try to save one salary and spend one. It’s always worked out so far. Salaries are vastly different depending on the country as well, and the cost of living affects how much you can save. We try to go to places with higher salaries and lower costs of living.

how to become an english teacher abroad

What is the best thing about teaching around the world?


It’s so varied. In one job you might be singing songs with puppets in a kindergarten, in another you are helping IT professionals to communicate more effectively in an English speaking workplace. In fact, you can be doing both of those things in the same job! It’s difficult to get bored, and if you do, you can just find a different job and/or move to a new country.

You also get the opportunity to get to know people from all over the world and hear about their lives, challenges and superstitions. It’s much harder to get that access to local peoples’ lives if you just travel.

How to become an English teacher abroad

What is the most challenging thing about moving abroad?


Being far away from home. You miss things like weddings, babies being born, children growing up, important birthdays and milestones. We’d like a magic door where you can just go through and be at home, just for the day or the evening, to see friends and family and catch up, and then go back at the end of the day.

best things to do in Bangkok

Where is your favourite place you have lived in?


That’s difficult. Bangkok holds a special place in our hearts, perhaps because it was the first place we arrived in when we first left the UK. We worked here in our first teaching job, and then came back last year because we held such fond memories of it. It hasn’t disappointed.

But then, we lived in Vietnam for nearly five years. Saigon was a fantastic place to live and teach.

Where is the most expensive place you have lived in?


Spain. Not sure if it was expensive, but the cost of living was much higher than our wage. We had to share a flat with five other people and had little disposable income. Like we said, now, with more experience and qualifications, it would probably be different.

What is the cheapest place you have lived in?


Ukraine. Due to the political upheaval, the currency plummeted when we lived there, which made it very cheap to live. A beer cost about 50p and a night out, including dinner for two, was about $25. We also got a free apartment, which helped. Even though the salaries look low in Ukraine, your cost of living is really low too. You can read more about teaching English in Ukraine in our blog.

Ukraine TUNNEL in forest cheap travel country

What has travelling and working abroad taught you?


To be more patient and to understand that other peoples’ ideas of what is polite, or inappropriate behavior is different to our own. Just because we think something is rude, doesn’t mean that it is for the person doing it. Also, getting angry or annoyed about things is often a bit pointless. It doesn’t get things done. In the words of Frozen, Let It Go!


What are some of your best travel moments?


We were ecologists in past lives, and are really interested in wildlife. We have been on safari in South Africa, seen wild elephants both there and in Thailand, seen komodo dragons, orangutans and gibbons and lots of other animals in the wild, and Kris has fulfilled one of his lifetime ambitions to cage dive with great white sharks.

How to become an English teacher abroad

What are some of your worst travel moments?


We got trapped in Bangkok a few years ago when protestors took over the airport. We were on the way to Vietnam to look for work and were left hanging around for two weeks, spending money we needed. Meanwhile, all the other tourists were just sitting around waiting to leave and no one was arriving. It was a bit depressing.


What advice would you give to others looking to teach abroad?


Part of our blog is dedicated to just that: giving advice to people thinking of teaching abroad, and just starting out. Check it out…

But as a taster……if you are thinking about it, just do it. Even if you do it for a year and then go home and do something else, you will have an experience you will remember forever. Oh, and get a qualification. Don’t think just because you grew up speaking English, that it means you can teach it. They are different things entirely and your students deserve someone who has at least some idea of what they are doing.

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  1. I´m quite surprised they consider Ukraine cheaper than some Asian countries! But I totally agree with the part about qualification. So many native speakers think they don´t need any knowledge of the language “backend” but it´s not really the best for the students.

  2. Great to hear about people with similar experiences and people doing the Dip/DELTA rather than weekend TEFL courses!

  3. This sounds like an incredible experience to be able to travel and work abroad. What a great way to travel the world. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I really enjoyed this post. Funnily enough I have been thinking about teaching English abroad for a little while now so this post has come in very handy-you’ve got some great advice and tips!


  5. Wow, that sounds awesome! You’re right, having access and connecting with the locals that are your students is a great way to be more immersed in the local culture. I bet you guys have great memories! Keep it up!

  6. This is amazing! What a lovely experience. I never realized how much goes into the whole process of teaching around the world. What beautiful memories and stories you must have from throughout your journey. Such an amazing way to help others! Thanks for sharing!

  7. As someone who has thought about teaching abroad this post covers all of the questions I could or would have asked. Thank you for sharing this.

    • So glad this has helped!

  8. Sounds liked they had quite an adventure teaching English in all those countries. I started learning English at the of 2 or 3 and was bilingual until about 8. I wish I could still speak my first language like a native speaker but having grown up in an English and American school system (overseas from the US) , it’s hard to maintain other languages unless it’s spoken regularly. I wish there were lots of language schools for different languages available everywhere. I’m at intermediate Swedish currently and basic French currently. I also studied Japanese as a kid and took a semester of German. I hope my future kids will be multicultural polyglots.

    • Wow that is amazing that you can speak different languages! I grew up in the UK but we are moving to China this year so are very slowly starting to attempt to learn the dialect! Well done for mastering more than one language!

  9. I am sure teaching English has been fun so far!.. I see you have made some very good observations here :).. I am happy to hear that Ukraine was one of the cheapest places you have experienced. .. I will be in Ukraine sometime later next year (haha.. that helps!) ..

  10. What an interesting piece. Teaching must be a good way to very quickly get to know a new place like a local.

  11. What an inspiring couple! It’s great to see how people manage to live their dream while actually giving back to the communities where they live, and also travel at the same time. It just shows once again that there are so many possibilities, you just have to dare to take the plunge.

  12. What a fantastic experience to have an a really rewarding way to travel. I know several people who teach English abroad or work in international schools around the world and all say how much they enjoy it. A really inspiring article for people wondering whether it is something they can do.

  13. It is great to know that the opportunities to teach English overseas still very much exist. I think it’s great that you explain the requirements to have the right qualifications though. Just because you do speak English as your first language, it doesn’t mean you actually know how to teach it to someone who doesn’t speak English. You both sound like you have had such an incredible journey around the world teaching English. How interesting that you spent time in Ukraine! I am surprised that you consider it one of the cheaper places to live…even compared to some Asian countries.

  14. This is a very cool way to live abroad and become close with those in the community. Very interesting blog article!

  15. Crazy how it’s easier to find work elsewhere, isn’t it? I was in a similar dilemma when I moved back to NYC from Europe and couldn’t find a job in publishing to save my life—I interviewed at 37 magazines in three months. Talk about killing your self esteem! And at the end of the day when I couldn’t find a job that suited my passion and skill set, I just went and created my own! So I’m grateful for those 37 people who didn’t think I was good enough, as they pushed me to go out on my own and carve my own path =)

    Fun interview! I have the utmost respect for anyone who works in a teaching position and don’t think I’d have the patience to work in such a field. You two must be saints!

    • Thanks for your comment Kristin, Congratulations on creating your own job too! Teaching is a challenging but incredibly rewarding field and gives you surprisingly a lot of opportunities for travel!

  16. I teach abroad but not English, I teach at international schools. I loved this post. It’s so true, from everything to missing things at home like babies being born and weddings of friends, to making sure you are working with reputable places. Thailand holds a special place in my heart too, Chiang Mai was my first teaching job. I am currently living in West Africa, but about to make a big move again. The life of a traveling teacher!

    • Oh what International schools have you taught at? I am a primary teacher about to start my first job at an International School in China 🙂 West Africa sounds amazing!

  17. That’s a great and interesting idea! Funny, that you came “accidentally” to your abroad jobs… but even better when everything works out then this fine!
    For me it is quite obvious that English is becoming kind of second mother tongue for more and more people in the world and I can easily imagine that there is a high demand for teachers everywhere.
    And when you can combine then travelling with a job like this and also help people – sounds perfect!

  18. What a great way to travel! I enjoyed getting to know a little more insights about teaching English abroad. It is for sure a door to a lot of possibilities: you could live anywhere ! I hope to read more of your adventures

  19. I know a few people who’ve taught English abroad and LOVED it! It’s such an awesome way to see the world, and you learn some valueable skills along the way, too!

  20. Thank you Katie. This post was exceptionally well written and free from cliche. I am actively contemplating a second career in teaching abroad and I absolutely enjoyed this piece. I could imagine your progression through your career. You guys are working much harder than I would, especially with your desire to save an entire income. I’m not saying it’s a bad choice. I fully believe in saving money in your early career, especially in tax differed investments, which earning abroad might qualify for.

  21. Thank you for this! It’s such a great insight into the world of teaching! I hadn’t really thought about it before but for some reason really love the idea that it’s such a variety of people (school children to IT professionals) that you are teaching. I’ve been intimidated by the thought of teaching but this makes it feel so much more accessible and possible!

  22. I’ve always been curious about English teachers living abroad. This was a good insight into this lifestyle and the skills required. Seems like a great way to see the world!

  23. This is a great interview! I’ve always thought about teaching English as a way to make money while I travel. It must be great to see the world, but also be a part of changing it. Helping others make their way through it through language. Great job!

  24. A lot of people ends up in the same situation by accident because money ran out as well from people we know that end up doing TEFL. Being far from home is indeed something super hard, but you do get use to it and it’s a great experience.

  25. I was teaching English in Spain last year and absolutely loved the experience! If I hadn’t been in the process of moving to the UK to get married I think I would have moved elsewhere to teach as well! You learn so much and it’s such a fulfilling job.

    • That sounds like a great adventure! Congratulations on your marriage!

  26. I’m amazed! I’ve always wondered how they manage to get into these things and sustain themselves and what it’s really like to be living it!

  27. Nice to read some different perspectives on teaching English around the world! I agree about Ukraine being a shockingly cheap country in which to travel.

  28. This is a great way to travel the world and also give it back to the society. Thanks a lot for the practical information you provided along with it.
    I am not sure if I have the right skills to become a teacher though. he he

  29. I totally understand about that Magic Door. If one existed, I definitely would have stayed abroad, but it’s just so hard to live away from family and friends. Cheers to you for making it work!

  30. A lot of good insights! Surprised to hear that Spain is the most expensive. I had the impression from traveling that cost of living is quite low there (I guess I’m comparing to the expensive Asian cities like Hong Kong and Singapore) but I guess everything is relative to what you’re earning locally!

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