Do you want to teach English in Asia?

Yeah? Awesome! If you’ve made it here, you’re off to a good start.

It can be confusing trying to pull together information from the hundreds of ESL websites out there, and even more confusing to figure out whether a website is giving you honest information or just trying to sell their recruiting services or TEFL course.

I’m not a recruiter, or affiliated with any schools. I taught ESL, fell in love with it, fell in love with traveling, and honestly believe that everyone who is interested should just go do it!

I want to help you get through the road blocks, give you easy access to all the information and resources you need to teach English in Asia, and be inspired at where your journey takes you.

Here, briefly, is the story of how I came to teach English in Asia:

All through college, I felt stuck on the wrong path, sitting through classes just because I was supposed to. High school, college, job. Or, in my case, high school, college, medical school, internship, residency, job. It’s what I was supposed to do.

During summers, I would work, and it was just as bad: wake up, go to a job I was sick of, come home too tired to do anything, go to bed, do it again. Then back to another year of classes I wasn’t sure I was interested in anymore.

I dreaded the thought of walking further down that path I was on, but was even more terrified of the thought of straying from it.

Until halfway through senior year, when something finally clicked. Maybe it was the frequent breakdowns I was having at the thought of taking the MCATs, applying to medical school, and being stuck in this system for another 4 to 10 years. Maybe it was the stress-related health issues I was having at the time.

Whatever it was, I started thinking about my lifelong dream of traveling the world. I tentatively began researching ways to get paid while traveling. After a while, it became clear to me that the right path was to put my well-planned life on hold for a year and go teach English in Asia.

Of course, that year turned into four years. As I discovered who I really was when freed from the confines of school, work, expectations, and peer pressure, the thought of going back to that predictable, safe path grew less and less appealing.

Teaching English in Asia was the best decision I ever made. It opened doors for me to realize and accept that travel, writing, adventure, and exploration are my true passions and that I absolutely can build a life around them.

Of course, before I started out, I had a lot of questions and doubts, as I’m sure you do. I want to address the biggest worries that held me back for a long time:

How Much Money Will I Make?

Let’s be real here. Money isn’t the biggest motivation to teach abroad, but it’s a pretty significant part of it.  You need to make enough to live comfortably, probably pay off student loans, and save enough to spend some time seeing Asia while you are there.

The exact amount you’ll make varies so much based on where you teach – anywhere from $500/month to $4,000/month.

Your actual quality of life and savings potential varies too, based on the cost of living. If you’re making $4,000/month but it costs you $3,600 just to rent an apartment and survive, you’re better off working for $1,000/month where you can live on $300, right?

Check out this list of the countries that pay you the most to teach in Asia.

And, because finding, compiling, and making sense of all this information takes a lot of time, I’ve put together a detailed comparison of earnings potential for all of the major countries where you can teach English in Asia. Click the image below to download it!

How Do I Know Where To Teach in Asia?

Asia is a pretty big place. It is also by far the best place in the world to teach ESL (not that I’m biased or anything). There are opportunities is just about every country, city and small town on the continent.

Some people are lucky enough to know exactly where they want to go.

If you’re not one of those people, then how the heck do you know where to even start?

Easy: decide what you want, and then decide what location will meet those criteria.

Let’s pause here for a second. Do some stretches, get a cup of tea. Now, find a piece of paper and a pencil, or open a google doc, and settle in. Actually write down your answers to the following questions. You can click on the questions to see my answers, to give you an idea of my thought process.

Am I ready to be fully immersed in another culture?

I don’t know if I am ready to handle the culture shock and isolation of jumping into a rural environment or a smaller city where there are only a handful of people who fluently speak English. I’d rather start out in a city where there will be a stronger support network for me, and where I can get comfortable with the culture and language, and then potentially move somewhere more rural for my second year abroad.
What is my main priority in teaching abroad?
To travel, have some space to “find myself,” or at least figure out what I really want and who I really am outside of school, and make enough money to support myself comfortably while doing it.
 
How much money do I really need to earn and save each month?
I need to earn enough to afford to rent a decent apartment and live comfortably. I need to make an extra $200 on top of that for student loans, and save at least $500/month to fund my travel plans. It’s okay if I make slightly less, though, and have more free time to enjoy my year abroad than work my arse off for a huge paycheck.
 
Is there a particular language I want to learn?
Yes, Chinese. It just really appeals to me, for reasons I can’t entirely explain.
 
What am I willing to sacrifice to live my dream of traveling?
I’m apparently willing to sacrifice a lot: Access to western food, owning a car, seeing my friends and family for a year, all my stuff at home that I can’t bring with me, going out partying on a regular basis, a year of “career” building or medical school…
 
What am I NOT willing to sacrifice while abroad?
Basic comforts – right now, I don’t want to live anywhere without reliable electricity, internet, running water, etc. I also need to be somewhere with access to the outdoors, mountains, hiking, and rock climbing.
 

My decision to teach in Taiwan was a culmination of all these considerations: I could learn Chinese, live in a large city, make enough to save nearly $1,000/month, not have to work insane hours, and easily travel to the mountains around the city for recreation.

As you research places to go, refer back to your answers often. You should be able to rule out a lot of places pretty quickly, and put together a list of a dozen or so places that you are stoked about to research further.

Remember, too, that there is more than one place you can teach that will make you happy. Don’t get too caught up on finding the absolutely perfect, be-all-end-all place to teach English in Asia.

More: Choosing the right location

How Do I Find A Job?

 

Well, you need to have a TEFL certification for starters. Don’t worry – you don’t have to pay thousands for a course, or invest months of your life. Good TEFL courses can cost as little as a few hundred, and should:

-include at least 120 hours of coursework (online coursework is fine)

-include at least 6 hours of teaching practicum with real ESL students (not mock teaching to your classmates)

-be accredited by an independent accrediting agency

Can you find a job without a TEFL? (link to article with same title) Technically yes, but it’s harder, your options on where to go are more limited, the pay isn’t as good, and you often will end up working under the table for less legitimate schools. Get certified, make yourself a competitive candidate, and you’ll find work at a much higher quality school.

As far as where to look for jobs, you have a few options:

  1. Use a recruiter
  1. Apply to schools’ job posts directly
  1. Go to the country and apply in person

If you are brand new to teaching abroad, and travel jobs in general, I’d recommend going through a recruiter. They know how to avoid the pitfalls of the ESL industry, are able to screen schools for good working conditions, can walk you through the visa process, and can provide you with an on-the-ground support network once you arrive. I found my first ESL job through a recruiter, and had an absolutely fantastic experience.

And again, click here to download your free country guide with vital information about all the countries where you can teach, updated for 2017. 

Uh…What About Scams?

Because sometimes people just plain suck, scams are out there. Avoiding scams is not that difficult. There are three keys to it:

  1. Learn about how scams work – You don’t need to take a college course in ESL scams to know the essentials. About half an hour of reading will suffice just fine. In fact, here are some great places to start: How To Avoid ESL Scams and Top Signs of an ESL Scam [Don’t Fall For These Tricks!]
  1. Research, research, research – Whatever school, job, or recruiter you are considering, do your research on them and the area where they operate. Check forums for other teachers who have had experience with that school, look on blacklists, and find out if their benefits and salary are all on par with what other schools in the area offer.
  1. Never pay money up front – No recruiter, school, or job posting will charge you an application fee, take a percentage of your salary, or require you to wire them funds for any reason. If you pay money for something like a background check or a TEFL certification, you should pay it directly to the relevant agency, not through a recruiter or school.

Arm yourself with knowledge before you make any major commitments, and you’ll be just fine.

Congrats on making it this far! I know that was a long read, but I wanted to be thorough as I could on how to teach English in Asia.

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