TEFL Teacher Career Guide

TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) teachers typically work outside of the United States to teach English to non-native students. Continue reading for information on what TEFL teachers do, how to become one, and teacher salary and job outlook.

Table of Contents

How to Become
Job Description
Salary & Job Outlook
Additional Resources
Frequently Asked Questions
Related Pages

TEFL Teacher Overview

TEFL is closely related to, and sometimes synonymous with, teaching English as a second language (ESL), English language teaching (ELT), and teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL), which are also terms to describe the teaching of English to non-native speakers. In general, though, TEFL refers to teaching English as a foreign language in a non-English-speaking country.

How to Become a TEFL Teacher

There are numerous pathways to becoming a TEFL teacher, but most people complete the following general steps:

1. Get a bachelor’s degree.

Most TEFL teachers have a bachelor’s degree. Many language schools, international K-12 schools, and other potential employers look for candidates with a bachelor’s degree. It is helpful if your degree is in education, English, English as a Second Language (ESL), or a related field.

2. Decide where you want to live and teach.

Another essential step to becoming a TEFL teacher is to decide on the country where you want to live and teach. If you don’t already have a place in mind, make a list of several countries you are considering and then narrow down that list with further research. No matter which country you choose, you must research its passport and work visa/permit requirements.

After your tourist visa expires, you will likely need a work visa or residency permit. Some countries require employer sponsorship (and, typically, a work contract) to work there legally. For example, TEFL teachers hired by a K-12 school, business, or language academy may be able to be sponsored by their employer for a work visa. France and Italy allow US citizens to teach on a student visa. Another option is to apply to teach through a program offered by the country’s embassy, such as the North American Language and Culture Assistants Program (NALCAP) in Spain, which places American teachers in Spanish schools. Other countries, such as Germany, offer freelance visas for prospective TEFL teachers. Numerous recruiting agencies in China, South Korea, and Japan offer job placement and work visa assistance to prospective TEFL teachers. If you need help with the visa process, many TEFL programs might be able to help you navigate it.

3. Choose a TEFL program and get certified.

TEFL certification is required by many employers, so teachers commonly get certified before being hired. Certification can be obtained through organizations around the world, and you will need a valid passport if your TEFL certification program is abroad. Not all certification programs are created equal. In fact, the TEFL industry lacks regulation, so while there are numerous organizations to choose from, not all of them are high quality.1

If you have already identified potential employers, check whether they require specific TEFL certificate qualifications. Most reputable TEFL certification courses are at least 120 hours and are often intensive programs that students can finish in around four to eight weeks of full-time study, or longer if attending part-time. Many TEFL courses are offered in an online or hybrid format. Even in these, an in-person teaching experience component is almost always required.

Accredited TEFL Certification Programs

Most employers only accept accredited TEFL certificates (i.e., ones internationally recognized by one or more accreditation bodies). Accreditation bodies require common standards for TEFL courses, such as a certain number of training hours (commonly 100) and supervised teaching hours (a minimum of six, but commonly up to 20). Choosing an internationally recognized program means that your TEFL certificate will meet the hiring requirements for most employers.

Choosing a high-quality program also increases the likelihood that you will be well-trained and prepared for your future job as an English teacher. However, just as it is important to choose a quality program, it is also important to look for quality accreditors, as even these are not all created equal. Accreditors for internationally recognized TEFL certificate programs include:

In addition, international TEFL courses offered directly through accredited universities are considered accredited programs by proxy. Well-known examples include:

  • CELTA Certificate: (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) offered through Cambridge University
  • SIT TESOL Certificate: Offered through the School for International Training (SIT)
  • CertTESOL: (Trinity Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) offered through Trinity College

Job Placement

Another consideration when choosing a TEFL certificate program is their job placement offerings. If you know the country where you want to work, look for a program that offers job placement or hands-on assistance in your target country or city. Most of the time, this means that the certification program you attend should be located in your target city, as the program coordinators and teachers will often have established relationships with potential clients, businesses, and language schools in the area. The certificate program should also be able to help you navigate the work visa and permit laws required for that country.


Another consideration when choosing a TEFL program is cost. The cost of a reputable, on-site TEFL course typically ranges from $1,000 to $3,000 and up for a four- to six-week program. Online programs may be less expensive. Since the cost of TEFL programs varies so much, be sure to research the school, reach out to former students, and check with your target employers to determine the quality of the program and the value of your investment.

Beware of TEFL courses priced far below that of their competitors; this might be a warning sign of a low-quality program. Other warning signs of possible low-quality programs include an unresponsive or inaccessible staff, lack of accreditation, a short course length (fewer than 100 hours), a brand new program, and a lack of alumni to contact. Getting in touch with former students of the TEFL programs of your choice is an important part of evaluating the effectiveness and quality of a program. Reputable TEFL organizations will have a long list of alumni you can contact.

4. Gain experience.

The next step before being hired is to gain teaching experience. Teachers who are certified to teach in the US already have teaching experience since certification always includes gaining supervised classroom experience. Similarly, becoming TEFL-certified also requires gaining classroom experience. The supervised experience you gain during your program will be invaluable as you transition to your career. Try to gain experience teaching English to all levels, especially the level and/or age group you plan to teach.

5. Look for employment and secure a job.

Finally, you will need to find a job teaching English in the country of your choice. Use all of the resources available during your TEFL program to get job placement assistance and connect with language schools, K-12 schools, and businesses that might be hiring. Well-known industry resources for finding English teaching jobs abroad include:

TEFL Teacher Job Description

TEFL teachers may work at public or private schools, language academies, businesses, or non-profit organizations or as private tutors. They may also use students’ homes, or public locations to conduct classes.

TEFL teachers cater to diverse needs, adapting their approach based on their students’ ages and objectives. For instance, those engaging with children might leverage playful activities to enrich their English vocabulary, fostering a fun learning environment. On the other hand, instructors working with adults in professional settings might emphasize industry-specific English jargon, tailoring lessons to fields like medicine or marketing. Additionally, they may gear their teaching towards exam preparation, equipping students with the necessary language skills for proficiency tests.

Job Requirements and Common Tasks

TEFL teachers typically follow a curriculum (dictated by the school, language institute, or client) that includes vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and other language skills. Like other teachers, TEFL teachers must create or adapt lesson plans for each class meeting and monitor students’ progress through graded evaluations, presentations, and papers.

TEFL teachers should be prepared to work varying schedules, sometimes after business hours, during lunch, or on weekends. Even teachers who work at schools or language academies might not be able to schedule back-to-back classes; it is common for TEFL teachers to have gaps between their classes and, as a result, work sporadic hours depending on student demand. Private tutors who work on-site for multiple clients must also factor in unpaid travel time to and from students’ homes or businesses as they consider their schedules.

Helpful Skills and Experience

Effective TEFL teachers, like all teachers, should be well-organized, resourceful, and comfortable with public speaking. Creative teachers can mix up their teaching methods, keeping the lessons fresh and interesting. Since TEFL teachers live and work abroad, it also helps to have a natural curiosity and openness about other cultures.

TEFL teachers may or may not be native English speakers, but a native or near-native level of fluency is typically preferred for TEFL teaching positions. They should also be able to explain correct English usage and grammatical rules clearly. TEFL teachers focus on teaching students how to communicate in English, including building their English speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills.

Successful TEFL teachers are often resilient and flexible as they will likely encounter difficulties and miscommunications in their new environment. Teachers who are adventurous and interested in travel will be more likely to thrive in their new environment and more quickly assimilate to their new lifestyle. Fluency in other languages is not typically required for TEFL positions, though experience learning another language can help teachers empathize with the unique challenges and frustrations associated with language learning.

Teaching experience may or may not be required for TEFL teachers, but any experience in the field will strengthen your resume/curriculum vitae (CV), making you a more attractive candidate to employers and more competitive in areas with high concentrations of English teachers.

TEFL Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

The salaries of English teachers abroad have a huge range and depend on many factors, including the country, the demand for English in the area, the qualifications of the teacher, and the school or employer for which the teacher works. How teachers are paid also varies widely. Some TEFL teachers are paid hourly, while others earn a monthly salary. The demand for English in a given country fluctuates, but Asia and the Middle East are known for paying some of the highest salaries to teachers in the field.2-4

In the US, the only salary proxies we have for TEFL teachers are the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categories of adult basic education, adult secondary education, and English as a second language instructors as well as elementary through high school teachers. Adult basic education and ESL instructors in the US earned a median annual salary of $60,560 per year, while elementary through high school teachers in the US earned a median between $63,680 and $65,220 per year.5-8

TEFL teachers typically earn less than this, especially private teachers working part-time. In addition, the value of TEFL teacher earnings also depends, in part, on the value of the currency and the cost of living in the country where they teach. Even though it is difficult to come up with an exact figure for the job outlook for TEFL teachers due to the broadness of the career and the span of countries they cover, it can be assumed that as the demand continues to increase for English speakers, so will the demand for TEFL teachers. Talk to employers in the country where you are interested in teaching and the TEFL program(s) you are considering to learn more about the pay and demand for English teachers in the area.

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What qualifications do you need to teach abroad?

Answer: To teach English abroad, you will typically need TEFL/TESOL/ESL certification. A bachelor’s and/or master’s degree might also be required. TEFL teachers seeking employment in K-12 schools may be required to hold an active teaching license in the US. Experience in teaching may or may not be required, depending on the work environment.

Question: Does it matter whether TEFL teachers speak American or British English?

Answer: Not necessarily. Many students prefer to be exposed to multiple accents, including both British and American (and others). TEFL programs often prepare teachers to teach both the American and British versions of a word or phrase so that students can learn both options. Most students and potential employers prioritize native language skills over a particular accent. Some companies or individuals may favor one accent over another and prefer a teacher from that country.

Question: How do I find resources for teaching English abroad?

Answer: Private teachers not employed by a school will likely have to come up with their own teaching resources and lesson plans. Even teachers working in public, private, or language schools abroad might need to supplement the materials provided by the school with their own. Many blogs and websites provide free English teaching resources, including the British Council/BBC Teaching English, ESL Base, the Public Broadcasting Network (PBS), Voice of America, Linguahouse, and many others. Some students might have a specific learning goal, such as passing one of the Cambridge English assessments. Preparation materials, lesson plans, and workbooks are usually available for purchase to support both students and teachers.

Question: How do I find a job teaching English abroad?

Answer: Many TEFL programs offer job placement assistance for graduates. They often have relationships with area schools and other employers that favor graduates of their program over other candidates, and they can connect you with potential employers, kickstarting your job search. You can also search for jobs using popular job boards for TEFL teachers.You can also search for jobs on our teaching jobs board.

Question: What does a typical day look like as an ESL teacher living abroad?

Answer: Your typical day as a TEFL teacher will depend on a variety of factors. One factor is the culture of the country in which you are living. Some countries, such as Spain, have a long workday that starts late and ends late, with several hours off in the middle of the day. English teachers in Spain might teach classes during the early- to mid-afternoon and/or evening. Another factor that may impact your schedule is whether you work for one or multiple employers. Teachers working at one school or other businesses may tend to have a more consistent schedule than private teachers, who schedule their classes based on the individual needs of their students and who often must travel to the student’s home or business to conduct class.

Question: Do I need to take my TEFL course in the country in which I intend to teach?

Answer: No. Many TEFL institutes offer the same certification course in multiple countries, so it is common for prospective teachers to get certified in the country where they wish to teach, but it is typically not required. Other future TEFL teachers might prefer to take a TEFL course in their native country before moving to their destination to begin teaching.

Question: What is TEFL and what is TEFL certification?

Answer: TEFL stands for teaching English as a foreign language and it is often used interchangeably with other terms like English language teaching (ELT), teaching English as a second language (TESL/ESL), and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Technically, “TEFL” refers to English language instruction in a non-English speaking country (a foreign country to the teacher). TEFL certification is the minimum qualification typically required to teach English abroad. The actual certification may be called TEFL, TESL, or TESOL, all of which (if reputable) qualify you to teach English to non-native speakers.

Question: Do I need to know the language of the country where I will be teaching English?

Answer: No! TEFL certificate courses do not teach the native language of the country where you will be teaching. In contrast, many TEFL certification programs recommend that future teachers communicate exclusively in English to their students, regardless of age or English level. Even when the TEFL teacher knows the native language of their students, they are often encouraged not to depend on that knowledge to translate words or concepts for students directly; instead, they are taught to think of different ways (using actions, words, pictures, etc.) to describe the subject, word, or concept without falling back on the students’ native language. Many future teachers learn during their TEFL course that knowing the native language of the students may even be more of a hindrance than a help! Once your students realize that you know their language, they might depend on you for direct translations and be more likely to try to communicate with you in their native tongue. If you don’t know the language, you can honestly say that you do not understand, which can force students to think of other English words to use instead.

1. ESL Base: https://www.eslbase.com/tefl/what-is-tefl-accreditation
2. Go Overseas: https://www.gooverseas.com/
3. International TEFL Academy: https://www.internationalteflacademy.com/
4. Teach Away: https://www.teachaway.com/
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2023 Occupational Employment and Wages, Adult Basic Education, Adult Secondary Education, and English as a Second Language Instructors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes253011.htm
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2023 Occupational Employment and Wages, Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education:
7. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2023 Occupational Employment and Wages, Middle School Teachers, Except Special Education: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252022.htm
8. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2023 Occupational Employment and Wages, Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252021.htm