A Guide to the Different Types of Teaching Opportunities Abroad

Teaching is one of the most popular and achievable jobs for those looking to work abroad. But some people find themselves resistant to this career path, saying that teaching just isn’t for them. It’s true – teaching isn’t for everyone. But teaching might offer a greater variety of positions than you think. Before you make your decision, make sure you know all your options. Not every job will have you standing in front of a class of 30+ screaming kids!


First we will start with ESL. This is teaching English as a second language, and it’s probably the most common job for foreigners abroad. But don’t worry – you’ll have other opportunities to choose from if this one isn’t the best fit.


Even at the young ages of 0 – 3, parents are eager for their children to start learning English. There are many jobs out there looking for English speaking nannies or daycare workers, and your job description might lean more toward childcare with natural English exposure rather than formal English lessons.

Kindergarten or Preschool

The next step up would be working in a kindergarten. Most countries are crying out for teachers willing to teach 3-5 year olds. Your lessons will be simple, repetitive, and playful. You will lead a lot of games and songs with basic phonics skills and vocabulary. Most kindergarten teachers have an assistant (or two) to help out, and class sizes are generally small.


The most popular ESL job is teaching kids in primary or elementary school, usually around 5 – 11 years old. At this stage, you will be introducing basic grammar, but nothing too complicated (even for those who don’t consider themselves to be great at grammar themselves. You will also set aside time in your lessons for reading and writing practice. Class sizes get a bit larger here, possibly ranging from 20-60 kids. The biggest challenge at this age is classroom management, but if you are firm and consistent with discipline it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.


If kids aren’t your thing, consider working with teens instead. There is a lot of variety when it comes to teaching teens. Sometimes your objective will be preparing for them for entrance exams to English-speaking programs. Some of your classes will focus more conversation and fluency. You might also have classes intended to improve reading comprehension and writing. Teens will still appreciate a few games and activities in their classes, and they usually are easier to manage than younger kids.


Finally, you have the option to teach adults. This is also a booming industry worldwide, with language centers all around the world attracting adults who want to improve their English for business or travel. Adults tend to be very motivated students, as they have actually chosen themselves to attend your classes (rather than their parents forcing them to go). Their enthusiasm for practicing English and interacting with a native speaker can be really fun. Lessons are usually conversation based, and therefore class sizes tend to be small.

One on One

If you hate the idea of standing in front of a classroom, whether that audience is three years old or thirty, maybe one-on-one lessons are for you. Kids might need to be tutored after school, teens are often preparing for English exams or proficiency tests, and adults might want the flexibility or undivided attention of a private lessons. These one-on-ones usually pay more per hour, but you’ll need to collect quite a few to make a full-time income.

Small Groups

When it comes to conversational English, small groups are ideal for students. With only 2-4 students, they’ll receive plenty of attention from you, and having a couple students will allow you to plan more activities for them to practice dialogues together. You can charge similar rates as a private, but with a few more students you’ll make more per hour.

Language Centers

You’ll find these everywhere in non-English speaking countries. Part-time and full-time work is available, and you can usually find ones for kids, teens, or adults. Keep in mind that your working hours will most likely be during evenings or weekends, when kids are out of school and adults are off work.

Public Schools

Public schools will be for kids, and class sizes will usually be larger. In most cases, the English levels will be lower – some students will have had little to no English exposure.

Private Schools

For smaller class sizes, students more familiar with English, and higher pay, look into private schools. Of course, there will also be more competition for these positions. If you are a new teacher, gaining a bit of experience somewhere else might be necessary.


The last consideration for an ESL teacher is what level of English you are comfortable teaching. The options include:

First Exposure to English

This would be the most basic of level, and it’s rare outside of very young children. You’ll intoduce basic words and phrases.

Very Low Level

Students will need work on new vocabulary and pronunciation.

Low Level

At this level, a basic introduction to reading and writing could be introduced.


Typically an average level student should now have a sufficient grasp on phonics, and they should be starting to read and write.


These students will probably be speaking more, and they should be able to read and write in a good manner.

Very High

At this point, conversational English should be very good and they will be able to read and write well, although they might struggle for the right word or phrase at times. Grammar mistakes will still occur, but they’ll be able to self-correct when asked.

Near Native

Some students will have a dual nationality, especially at private schools, and they’ll be speaking fluently. They’ll mostly need help with the same things students back home need – advanced grammar and vocabulary, writing organization and clarity, reading and discussing literature, and public speaking.


So there are many types of ESL teachers, but we aren’t done yet! Because ESL isn’t the only option for foreign teachers. Not interested in teaching English? Consider these options:


Many companies will hire English native speakers to help teach their staff how to conduct business with English-speaking companies and professionals.

Teaching for Tests

Many students will reach out to native speakers to help prepare for a test or exam which will be taken in English. The subjects for this might include English, but it could also vary from math to science to social studies.

Sports Coaching

Many firms will look to hire an English coach to teach sports. It could be a football class, a swimming class, or even a boxing class. Parents see this as an opportunity for their kids to be exposed to English while doing something fun.

Conversation Classes

This could be talking about anything. Maybe a student wants to learn how to order food, go shopping, or discuss recent news stories. I once taught a class about dating norms in Western culture.

Primary Teacher (International Schools)

A perfect fit for a fully qualified teacher certified from a native-speaking country. These jobs pay the same as your home country, but usually the cost of living is much less so you can have a luxurious lifestyle. International schools are very similar to native schools, and nearly all subjects are taught in English and conduct outside the classroom is also done in English.

Primary Teacher (Non-international Schools)

This is often overlooked, but many bilingual schools look for native speakers to teach a variety of subjects in English, such as math, computer, or health.


If you have an advanced degree, it will be easy to find a job teaching in a university overseas. We’ve even known people who’ve landed these positions without completing their Masters, or who get the job based on experience alone with no work completed toward a graduate degree at all.


As well as working in formal education, there are also some fun opportunities to teach within the expat community. These are good roles for people with special interests or skills, but official qualifications aren’t always necessary. Some examples include:

Yoga Teachers

In cities with a constant flow of travelers or expats, English yoga classes are always in demand. You can find jobs at gyms or studios. Some yoga teachers will even host classes in local parks for a small fee or donation.

Fitness Classes

From Zumba to spin classes, you can also lead a variety of exercise classes for the English-speaking community.

Musical Instruments

It is very common for expats to teach piano, violin, guitar, or another instrument in English. They aren’t giving any official language lessons, just allowing the student to be exposed to the language while practicing another skill.

Coding Graphic Designer Website Development

The expat community often includes some “digital nomads” who make money online while traveling long-term. Offering courses or one-on-one tutorials for graphic design or website development could give them new skills to grow their business.


These are just a few examples, but the possibilities are endless. Think about your own skills and experiences – what can you offer to the local or expat community when you travel?

There are so many different types of teaching, most people can find the right students, subject, or approach that works best for them. Don’t want to deal with unruly children? Try teaching adults. Not comfortable teaching grammar? Take on beginner or lower-intermediate students. Don’t like standing in front of a class? Go for small groups or private lessons. Just don’t rule out this easy path to a life abroad until you’ve explored all options.

Is Teaching Abroad for You?

If you’re wanting to go overseas for a lengthy period of time, but you don’t have the savings to travel for too long without an income, teaching could be the path for you. We both began our lives abroad by teaching English, and it was the best decision we’ve ever made!

But many people are intimidated by this idea. They think they aren’t qualified, or that they’ll need to know the local language, or that they aren’t that great at English grammar themselves.

While teaching isn’t the right choice for everyone, the concerns above should not worry you.

Every country and school will require different qualifications – even people without a college degree have found jobs. The most important requirement is English fluency.

Not only will you not need the local language while teaching, you’ll actually be strongly warned against using it in the classroom even if you do know it – native English speakers are hired to create a pure English environment. Students are usually not supposed to know their teachers have any proficiency in a language besides English.

Don’t worry – it will be much easier to communicate with your students than you think! Body language, gestures, demonstrations, charades, and pictures go a long way, and majority of students will know at least a small amount of English already.

Unless you are teaching a very advanced class, you will be teaching simple grammar that any native speaker knows. Most grammar mistakes made by English language learners are obvious to a native ear. Kristin taught grammar back in America, and her experience teaching grammar abroad couldn’t be more different. The grammar mistakes an American makes and the grammar mistakes an ESL student makes don’t overlap. You will be just fine teaching beginner and intermediate students.


So what questions should you be asking if you want to know if teaching abroad is for you?

Are you patient?

Language learning is a process. Your students will progress slowly, and maybe they’ll even seem to stall from time to time. You will have to explain the same thing over and over before they understand. One day they’ll seem to get it! But the next class everything is forgotten. This can get frustrating at times – patience is a necessity.


Are you creative?

Repetition is the key to language learning. You’ll need to practice the same vocabulary over and over, along with the same basic sentence structures. A creative person can pull this off without making the class boring for the students with a variety of different and interesting activities. Most teachers really enjoy this part of the job. We get excited to brainstorm new ideas and share ideas with coworkers.


How do you handle people who are different to you?

Any job abroad is going to require an open mind, cultural sensitivity, and a willingness to be flexible – even when you’re certain your way is the most logical or efficient. Your students, many of your co-workers, and maybe even your boss will be from a different culture (not to mention your landlord, your waiter, your taxi driver, your neighbors, and some of your friends). This means things won’t be done the way you’re used to. Values, habits, or world views that you believe are common sense won’t be the norm anymore. Can you respect this and embrace it when needed?


How do you respond to challenges?

You’ll experience some obstacles living abroad. Getting the right visas, work permits, or other immigrations documents lined up, setting up a bank account, finding an apartment – all of these tasks are immediately thrown at you upon arrival (although most schools will offer support and help), and they aren’t always easy for a foreigner to navigate. Even after you’re settled, you’ll occasionally struggle to do things that used to be very simple, such as going to the doctor, figuring how to send or receive mail, or transferring money to your bank account back home. But you can and will figure all these things out – if you are determined to do so.


Do you frequently get homesick while away?

Homesickness is the number one reason we’ve seen people quickly leave their positions abroad. While everyone misses their family, friends, or home culture from time to time, some people become overwhelmed by these feelings, while others seem to only experience homesickness for fleeting moments in moderation. Neither way is the “right” way to be – but if you become homesick easily, you’ll struggle more with a long-term job abroad.

The longer you’re teaching, especially if you’re moving around every couple years, the more places you will become homesick for. You’ll find you have homes and close friends all around the world. At this point, you accept that you’ll always be missing somewhere and someone. Some people will enjoy the feeling of making the whole world their own, and they get used to all the goodbyes and long-distance friends. We truly love this – there is always somewhere to go on holiday, and always a fun reunion coming up in our current home. Others might struggle more to accept this part of the lifestyle.


Can you travel slowly?

Teaching abroad is not the same kind of “travel” as the person who quickly moves from hostel to hostel, country to country, every few weeks. You’ll have very long stretches in the same city, and even if you truly love your job, the routine of going to work every day is not exactly thrilling. What seemed foreign to you when you first arrived will become normal long before it’s time to move on.

You’ll need to set your expectations accordingly before arriving in your new country. Teaching abroad will definitely give you experiences and opportunities you’d never have otherwise – but you probably won’t be feeling like you’re on an epic adventure every day.

On the other hand, slow travel has many benefits – such as really being able to explore a city thoroughly, truly befriending the locals, forming real connections with amazing students, experiencing the culture in a very authentic day-to-day way, and genuinely adapting to a new way of life. We still love our short trips around the world, but we’ve realized that the cities we’ve lived in are the only ones we have any real understanding of – and even that understanding is pretty limited, and always will be as foreigners.


Teaching abroad has been a life changing experience for us both. It’s actually a bit terrifying to think that we could have made other choices and never had the opportunities teaching has given us. We love both the job and lifestyle of a foreign teacher.

Is it also for you? If you’re interested, you can also check out our posts on the different types of teaching abroad and how to get started in ESL.

Getting Started in ESL

I met a girl who was planning to teach in South Korea when I was in grad school, and I was immediately intrigued and frightened by the idea. I wanted that life for myself, but I was also confused about how to go about making it a reality. It seemed too complicated and risky – just a fantasy, not a real choice I could make.

If this sounds familiar to you, we’d love to help you get started.



Start by assessing what qualifications you already have. Do you have a Bachelor’s degree? Do you have any experience? This can include tutoring, childcare or training new staff at your job – just make sure you highlight anything related to teaching or children on your CV. If you have a business background, this could help you land a job teaching business English at an adult language center.

Every country and school will be looking for different qualifications. You probably won’t be the right match for every job, but there will be a match for you out there.

Some places insist on college degrees, others want a specific major (English or Education), others want a 120 hour TEFL certification, or maybe a TEFL certification earned in person is required, or administered by a certain organization. For my first job, I had a degree in English (not English education) when I applied, along with some classroom experience. The company also paid for me to get a 40 hour TEFL certificate online before I arrived.

You’ll find the right position for you, as long as you have a way to sell yourself. Sometimes just being a native speaker is enough!


Improving Your CV

No college, certificates, or education experience? All hope is not lost. Get a part time job tutoring, or start volunteering with kids. You might even find an ESL volunteer position if you live in a city with a decent-sized community of non-English speakers.

It is also fairly easy to get a TEFL certification. Yes, there are some time-consuming programs that require a month of full-time school and student teaching. But you can also find online programs, or certifications that only need one weekend to complete.

Getting a certificate not only helps with the job search, it can also make you feel more confident about being in a classroom full of English language learners. You’ll understand the theories behind what you’re doing, and you’ll have some activities and ideas ready to go.


Choosing Your Country

There are many things to consider when choosing where to start applying. Along with your qualifications, you should also think about when you could reasonably start work and when hiring season is for that country. August and January are common start dates in many countries, but not all. For example, Thai schools tend to start in May or June.

Average teaching salaries and the cost of living are also a considerations. Don’t worry too much about how your salary converts to your home currency. Think about how far your paycheck can stretch in the economy you’d actually be living in.

Many people think of the Middle East or Japan as places that pay a lot – but you’ll also be paying high prices for rent, utilities, and food. Meanwhile, Southeast Asia might be paying less than $15,000 a year, but it’s so cheap to live, your salary will be more than enough.

You might also want to consider culture, food, weather, public transportation, or language when making a decision.


Finding Open Positions

Once you’ve decided on a city/country (or a few cities/countries) that you’re interested in, do a quick internet search to find job boards. Look on Craigslist or search for Facebook groups for foreign teachers or expats.

There are also ESL job boards that are not location-specific. Dave’s ESL Cafe is a common one that a lot of teachers use and recommend.

Once you start applying, you just need to be persistent like you would in any other job search. You might not find something right away, but you will eventually – native English speakers are in demand across the entire world.

Have any more questions about how to get started? Leave them below and we’d be happy to help!