Maybe you just graduated and have no idea what you want to do next, maybe you are in a dead-end job that is making you miserable, maybe it’s just your dream totravel the world and experience new countries and cultures. Regardless, given the current political climate in America, I have a feeling more than a few of you are feeling a lot like Bilbo Baggins right now:
Okay, so maybe never return is a bit of an exaggeration, but if you want to take a break from America for a while, teaching English overseas is an excellent route to take. The best part is that you can still participate in the American political process by voting abroad!
There are opportunities to teach English as a second language (ESL) all over the world, including South America and Europe, but Asia offers some of the most comfortable contracts in the ESL industry.
So, what are the steps you need to take to get the ESL ball rolling and skip out of the states for a little while? We have put together a little list to help you start the process.
1. Research what country you want to go to.
South Korea probably offers the most lucrative yet attainable contracts and benefits. And they love Americans (bigly!). However, competition is growing and visa laws are strict. There are strict background checks required. Plus, South Korea has some really annoying neighbors…
Japan is one of the most sought after countries, but you will likely need a teaching certificate, CELTA (we’ll talk about that later), or at least a lot of experience with kids on your resume. Japan is highly competitive, and the workload can be pretty heavy. Not to mention it is a very expensive place to live in many parts.
China (ChiEEEnuh!) is…well…China is China: heavy censorship, “communism” (sort of), and weird visa laws. Despite all of that, China was a strong contender for us because the jobs are plentiful and growing as is the pay rate for ESL teachers. It came down to the fact that getting a Chinese visa is a long and annoying process. Plus, I have a big mouth, and I didn’t want to end up in a Chinese jail for talking about democracy or something. However, we were told by recruiters that most teachers are unaffected by the Chinese brand of communism, so do your own research if you think China might be an option for you.
Vietnam is another strong option because jobs are relatively plentiful and wages are high compared to cost of living. However, Vietnam is not as developed as some of the other above options, so it may feel a bit more like “roughing it” depending on where in the country you go.
Taiwan is where we decided to go. We did a ton of research and Taiwan offered the best balance of wages, cost of living, human rights, development, progressive culture (that’s probably yOOge for most of you). The Taiwanese people love westerners and especially Americans. Jobs are plentiful and you can afford to live in relative comfort. We have found that we have given up very little as far as our lifestyle. We also gained one of the top universal healthcare systems in the world. Also, for the record, Taiwan elected its first female president in its last election…just sayin’.
There are other countries not on this list, so please, google it. Thailand might possibly be another good option. Not to mention all the middle eastern countries, some of which pay a seriously pretty penny. But I figure if you are a Trumpugee, you probably don’t want to move somewhere that’s dominated by yet another Abrahamic religion. But please, do your own research. Read all the articles. Skim all the blogs. Watch all the youtube videos. Do not make this decision lightly!
2. Figure out the requirements of your country.
Different countries require different qualifications and certifications. In addition, you may meet the minimum requirements set by the government, but you may lack the qualifications to get a good job that will afford you the life you want. Don’t just look for the bare minimum of what you need to get any old job, look at the qualifications for the job you want. Below are the general requirements to get a job in Taiwan, and indeed, most all of Asia.
You will need a 4 year degree from an accredited university. Any major will work, English related degrees are a plus.
You will need a “Teaching English as a Foreign Language” or TEFL certification, at least. Most jobs we looked at in Taiwan and in several other countries required a 120-hour TEFL certification. There are many places to get these online, but price varies widely, so do your research. We used a company called International TEFL and TESOL Training and we didn’t have any problems. We even managed to learn something. It is simply an online course that will introduce you to ESL teaching techniques as well as some basics of teaching, such as classroom management. We completed our course in about 3 weeks and it cost us about $300 US per person. There are other more involved and expensive certifications, such as a CELTA, which are more broadly accepted around the world (especially Europe). However, for most of Asia, a TEFL certification will do.
You will need a passport. This is a must! If you don’t already have one, start the process now. I have a feeling it will take longer to get one in the coming year for some strange reason.
You will need an updated resume and cover letter. Dust them off and get them updated with any pertinent experience.
You will need pictures. Just get some extras (including digital copies) when you go get them for your passport.
3. Save, save, save money!
Regardless of whether or not you get a recruiter and get a job before you get here, or you brave it alone and find work when you move (see number 4), you will need money to get by until you get a paycheck. Most recruiters will tell you that you need at least $2,000 USD before you leave the country (not including the cost of the flight, which can be $1,500 to $3,000 dollars per head depending on how, when and where you fly), but we recommend at least $3,000 to $4,000 dollars.
That may seem steep, and it sort of is. I suppose if you are desperate to get out of the United States and don’t think you can save that much money, you could get a personal loan or credit card and put it on there, but I certainly don’t recommend that. You could certainly pay it off in a year or two if you are frugal and get the right job, but who wants to start this process off in debt? Regardless, we do recommend getting a credit card for emergencies. Make sure you get one that has no international transaction fees. We have found our Capital One Venture Card to be invaluable simply because we used it to pay for a few things we could only pay online, then we can western union a cash payment to the card. We have only just now been able to get a Taiwanese bank account.
4. Decide whether or not you want to use a recruiter.
Make no mistake, the ESL industry is big business and there is a lot of money in it. One hand in the cookie jar is that of the recruiter. Recruiters are people who work with many schools to help them find teachers. There are better ones and then there are downright scams. Many experienced ESL teachers will tell you that you don’t need a recruiter. Those teachers would tell you to just move wherever you are going to move and then get a job when you get there.
In Taiwan, that idea isn’t completely crazy, but it’s definitely difficult. The recruiters will probably land you in a job with sub par pay and a lot of unpaid office hours. That was the case for us. I should note that our job pays far better than most entry level jobs back home in Missouri (pronounced mih-zur-uh). We make $560 NTD per teaching hour, which comes out to about $17.60 USD. Right now we have 23-28 teaching hours per week with 8-10 unpaid office hours. You can do the math.
If we had just moved over here and looked for a job on our own, we probably could have found a job that pays the equivalent of $4 USD more. But going it alone takes a lot of bravery. A good recruiter will walk you through the entire process from applying for various jobs, packing, what to bring and what not to bring, moving, landing, connecting with your school and so on. Without a recruiter you are left to figure all of that out by yourself, and let me tell you, moving to the other side of the planet is far more confusing and disorienting than you can possibly imagine. It wouldn’t be impossible, but it would be very difficult. Perhaps I will address this idea in a separate blog post.
As for us, we used a recruiter called Reach to Teach, and although they found us a job with a big chain school with comparatively high unpaid hours and relatively low-end teaching hours wage, they did treat us fairly and honestly and helped us greatly with the entire process from start to finish. In the end, we took the safe route, but as Kylie always says, “you have to risk it to get the biscuit!”
As I have mentioned a few times, the internet has a wealth of resources regarding ESL. There are endless Facebook groups, blogs, subreddits, etc dedicated to the subject of teaching English as a foreign language. Below are just a few resources that I think you will find useful, but feel free to comment below or send us an email if you have any questions. We look forward to talking with you!There are many things to consider when thinking about teaching abroad, but hopefully this will get you started in the right direction. The process is long and arduous at times. This has been the most challenging experience of our lives, but when we stop and consider the profound, long-term changes we are undergoing by undertaking this experience, we know deep down we’ve made the right decision.