The teach abroad experience presents adventurous, passionate educators with the best of both worlds — the opportunity to explore a foreign country and the chance to positively shape the lives of local students.
If you're interested in teaching abroad but have no idea where to begin, then you've come to the right place. Here you'll learn exactly what steps to take to make your teach abroad dream come true.
Step One: Choose Your Destination
Maybe you know exactly where you want to teach — or maybe you're willing to travel just about anywhere for the teach abroad experience. Either way, there are several things to seriously consider before making a final commitment, like:
- How important is it for you to experience a culture similar to (or different from) yours?
- Would you be happy in a tropical climate, or do you live for the changing seasons?
Once you've narrowed it down to a few countries, ask yourself:
- Is the cost of living conducive to your budget and salary?
- Is the country reasonably safe for international visitors?
You’ll also want to consider the opportunities for teachers in your selected destination. GoAbroad.com sites countries like South Korea, Japan, Colombia, Morocco, Mexico, Germany, Czech Republic, and United Arab Emirates Turkey, Czech Republic, Chile, and Colombia as having vast opportunities for international teachers as well as a relatively easy process for newcomers.
If it's compensation that will make or break your ability to teach abroad, then you might want to consider teaching in an Asian country like China, Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan. These countries offer beautiful, modern cities, thriving economies, and a commitment to education that results in proper compensation for teachers.
Plus, English teachers are often provided free furnished housing and reimbursement on airfare.
Step Two: Research Potential Programs and Jobs
Before you start researching potential opportunities, consider what you're looking for in terms of program type, program length, school culture, and student age.
Only after you've established your expectations is it time to start looking for your new job. While enrolling in a teach abroad program may be the most streamlined approach, it is not the only way to make your teach abroad dreams come true.
According to GoOverseas.com, means of teaching overseas include:
- Certification and a job placement program
- Public schools and government programs
- Private schools and language academies
- One-on-one tutoring
- International schools
- Online teaching
Here are a few sites to help you get started with your search:
- GoAbroad.com/Teach-Abroad — For English teaching opportunities
- GoOverseas.com/Teach-Abroad/Government — For government teaching opportunities
- CIEE.org/Teach — Offers teach abroad opportunities to native English speakers with a bachelor’s degree
- Teachaway.com/Teaching-Jobs-Abroad — Offers teaching opportunities with international schools, government programs, universities, and language colleges
Step Three: Ensure You Meet All Requirements
Once you've reassessed your initial criteria and narrowed down your options, you'll need to ensure that you meet all the requirements of the country and the program or job in which you're interested.
Some things to consider:
- Some countries or programs will require you to have a degree. If you don't have a degree, you may have the most luck job searching in Latin America or parts of Eastern Europe.
- You don't necessarily need previous teaching experience in order to be accepted for a program or job, however.
- If you plan to teach English, you may need to become TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA certified. You may also be required to be a native English speaker, though this is not a requirement of all organizations.
- Nearly all countries will require you to obtain a work visa prior to your arrival, though some may only require a tourist visa.
What Are TEFL, TESOL, and CELTA?
TEFL = Teaching English as a Second Language
TESOL = Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
CELTA = Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults
Step Four: Apply to a Program or Job
Once you've determined that you meet the requirements of your favorite prospect, it's time to apply! For a short, summer teaching position, plan to apply about 2-3 months in advance. For a year-long teaching job, plan to apply a good 4-6 months in advance, as longer jobs tend to hire further out.
It's always good practice to observe application deadlines from the very start of your search, however, as some countries (like Japan) start the process a good 8-9 months prior to the job's start date.
For a more extensive list of application deadlines by country, check out this guide from GoOverseas.com.
While the application process will look different depending on the country you're applying to work in and the job or program you're applying for, there are a few standard application requirements which may be mandatory in order to be accepted.
Possible requirements include:
- TEFL/TESOL/CELTA Certification — May be required in order to teach English abroad
- Criminal Background Check — Often required for Asian countries and schools in the Middle East
- Resume / Cover Letter — May need to be translated
- Reference Letter — Preferably written by a supervisor who has seen you teach, such as a vice principal, department head, or team lead
- Headshot — Should be recent and professional
- College Transcript or Diploma — If required, determine whether originals are needed or copies will suffice
- Medical Forms — Forms and requirements vary considerably, so be sure to note them in advance
Step Five: Get Your Travel Documents in Order
So you've accepted a teach abroad position — congratulations! The next step is to get your travel documents in order.
As an international teacher, you will be required to have a passport in order to gain access to your destination country. Passports must typically be valid for 6 months following your arrival, though some countries require passports to be valid for an entire year. For teaching abroad, the International TEFL Academy recommends having a passport (with at least two years of validity remaining.)
If you are a U.S. citizen or resident, visit the U.S. Department of State website to learn how to apply for a passport. If you are a citizen of another country, contact foreign affairs for more information.
You'll likely (though not definitely) need a visa in order to teach abroad. Whether or not a visa is required depends on your destination and your country of citizenship or residency. The type of visa you'll need is dependent on the purpose of your travel.
To learn about your visa requirements, contact the embassy or consulate for your destination in your home country or visit its website.
Travel Medical Insurance
In order to be approved for your visa, you’ll need to fulfill visa requirements, which may call for proof of certain immunizations or vaccinations or supporting documents that prove you’ll be able to pay for expenses incurred in your host country. These could include bank statements, credit cards, cash, traveler’s checks, or pay stubs.
Proof of travel medical insurance is another way to help prove you’d be able to pay for expenses that might arise in your host country, as travel medical insurance provides coverage for unexpected medical expenses resulting from illness or injury.
Even if you don’t need to prove your means of subsistence, you may want to consider purchasing travel medical insurance if your teach abroad job doesn’t provide any health coverage. (It’s likely that your regular health insurance will not provide any coverage once you leave your home country.)
If you’re a U.S. citizen or resident planning to teach abroad and you won’t have health coverage through your job, consider a plan like Atlas Travel to provide coverage for unexpected injury and illness, trip interruption, and more while you work and explore the world abroad.
Non-U.S. citizens and residents also have the choice of a nomad health plan like Atlas Nomads. This plan provides up to 365 days of coverage with the option to pay up front or choose a monthly payment option. Learn more about Atlas Nomads here.
Step Six: Take Care of the Finer Details
You're almost there — just a few more things to take care of! Use the following as a checklist of sorts to ensure you take all the necessary steps to prepare for a successful teach abroad adventure:
- Obtain Passport and Visa — This process can take weeks or months, so it's best to get a head start.
- Visit Your Doctor — Ensure you've gotten required vaccinations and have enough of any prescriptions to last you the entire time you're abroad.
- Take Care of Your Finances — This may include canceling automatic payments, arranging to file your taxes or pay bills, purchasing traveler's checks, and more.
- Create a Budget for Your Time Abroad — Take into consideration the cost of travel, rent, utilities, other bills, food, local transportation, and entertainment.
- Make Living Arrangements — Some programs will arrange accommodations for you, while others leave them up to you. Talk to your adviser, employer, or recruiter for tips and advice!
- Purchase Airline Ticket — Shop around — everything from the airline to the day of the week you purchase can have an impact on price.
- Purchase Travel Medical Insurance — Your home country insurance may not cover you internationally, and your employer may not provide you with health coverage. If this is the case, a travel medical insurance policy like Atlas Travel (for U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens traveling abroad) or Atlas Nomads (for non-U.S. citizens traveling abroad) can provide coverage for emergency medical care as you work outside of your home country.
- Make Copies of Important Documents — These may include your passport, visa, birth certificate, diploma, certificate, resume, reference letter, and/or passport photo.
- Become Familiar with the Laws and Culture of Your Destination Country — Read up on your destination to determine how its laws and culture differ from your own and how you can stay safe as you work abroad. You can learn about your destination here. Pay special attention to the “Safety and Security” and “Local Laws and Special Circumstances” sections.
- Prepare to Start Teaching — Ensure you have lesson plans, activities, and resources prepared for your first week on the job.
You're ready. You've applied to and been accepted for your dream teach abroad position. You've got your passport and visa in order and you're prepared to move overseas and meet your students.
Whether you're a little nervous or bursting with excitement, just remember: you're getting to do something others only dream of — a chance to live abroad, immerse yourself in a new culture, and positively influence the lives of others. Enjoy the ride!