You’ve made your decision: you want to move overseas and teach ESL. Great!

But where exactly do you begin? And once you start, what steps should you take?

You might be a little overwhelmed between looking for a job, finding something in a country you really want to visit, navigating travel and immigration issues, overcoming language barriers, and finding housing, but never fear.

This guide will take you from the moment you decide to teach overseas to your first day on the job.

Let’s get started.

1. Take a TEFL course

This one is easy – well, sort of. As you will see, many overseas education programs and schools prefer that teachers, especially new ones, have training. Thus, completing a TEFL certification course is step one of your journey.

Obviously, we recommend TEFL Adventure as it is written (and continuously updated) by actual ESL teachers and globally accredited. TEFL Adventure’s 120-hour comprehensive TEFL course is entirely online, so you can dive into it while you start thinking about the next steps.

2. Do some research and pick a destination

While you are taking your TEFL course, start doing your homework about where you want to be. Everyone is different and will want certain features in their destination. Here are a few things to consider as you research your future second home:

Level of pay and cost of living

The most practical question you need to ask is how much day-to-day life will cost when you move abroad, as well as how much money you can expect to earn. You will also need to consider what your financial and personal priorities are with your money to help determine where you should go.

Some destinations offer relatively high pay and lots of perks, but the workload is high and so is cost of living. Other destinations offer relatively low pay, but your paycheck goes far.

In researching destinations, look into average pay rates. Read blogs by teachers in that city or region that discuss pay and hours and how much they take home on a monthly basis, and then compare that to average cost of living.


A few popular teaching destinations and their average pay compared to cost of living (all in USD):

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South Korea
Costa Rica” _builder_version=”4.14.9″ _module_preset=”default” global_colors_info=”{}”][/dvmd_table_maker_item][dvmd_table_maker_item col_label=”Starting average monthly earnings” col_content=”Starting average monthly earnings
$600″ _builder_version=”4.14.9″ _module_preset=”default” global_colors_info=”{}”][/dvmd_table_maker_item][dvmd_table_maker_item col_label=”Average cost of living” col_content=”Average cost of living
$600″ _builder_version=”4.14.9″ _module_preset=”default” global_colors_info=”{}”][/dvmd_table_maker_item][dvmd_table_maker_item col_label=”Average cost of living” col_content=”Average cost of living
$600″ _builder_version=”4.14.9″ _module_preset=”default” global_colors_info=”{}”][/dvmd_table_maker_item][dvmd_table_maker_item col_label=”Left over” col_content=”Left over
$0″ _builder_version=”4.14.9″ _module_preset=”default” global_colors_info=”{}”][/dvmd_table_maker_item][/dvmd_table_maker]

*Note: these are starting monthly earnings – most teachers with experience in a given country can earn significantly more after accruing experience and picking up tutoring hours and side gigs. It can take a year or so to put down some roots, but when you do, you are sure to earn more than the cost of living.

Work and immigration requirements

Just as important as earnings and cost of living is knowing if you are even allowed to enter or work in a given country. Then, many countries require teachers to have a TEFL certification (or another teaching credential) for ESL teachers. Others require a bachelor’s degree. Some require both.

As such, doing your research on the legal requirements to enter and teach in a given country is imperative. Here is a list of questions to ask and places to look to answer them.

  • Initial entry requirements and visa application → that country’s embassy in your home country
  • ESL teaching work permit requirements → potential employers or placement services
  • Plane ticket requirements (round trip required?) → potential employers or placement services


Perhaps the best part of teaching overseas is immersing yourself in a new culture and learning how people from very different contexts go about their lives.

However, there might be some cultural features you want to experience and others you might be less enthusiastic about.

On one hand, you should remain open-minded and realize that no matter where you go, you will experience some degree of cultural adjustment and perhaps even culture shock. Still, you should consider the customs, traditions, and general values of potential destinations because some places might not be a good fit for you.

For example, if you are a recent college grad and want a vibrant nightlife scene, taking a job in the countryside in a Muslim-majority country might not be for you – maybe think about major cities in Europe, East Asia, or Latin America. 

On the other hand, if you are a long-time teacher who wants to sightsee and immerse yourself in a different culture, as well as maximize working hours and pay, looking for jobs in the UAE, suburban or rural Turkey, or Morocco might be perfect for you.

Consider your age, gender, politics, values, food tastes, and wants and needs, and then do some research into the kinds of places that might be most conducive to who you are. 

Remember, no place is going to be a perfect match for everything you might want, and the whole point is for you to extend yourself to fit in elsewhere, but choosing a poor cultural fit just because the pay might be higher or because you want to be hyper adventurous can make your life more difficult than it needs to be.

    Urban or rural?

    Would you rather live in a bustling city center, or do you want to live a slower paced lifestyle in the countryside? Do you want a mix of both?

    When you are trying to decide between an urban destination and a rural one, you are asking yourself a question: do you prefer the convenience and resources of living in a city or if you would rather have a more “authentic” adventure more isolated from modern life?

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    • More convenient (transportation, English services, infrastructure, etc.)
    • More to do (sightseeing, shopping, sports, events, nightlife, etc.)
    • More available jobs
    • Larger expat communities” _builder_version=”4.14.9″ _module_preset=”default” global_colors_info=”{}”][/dvmd_table_maker_item][dvmd_table_maker_item col_label=”Rural” col_content=”Rural
    • Cheaper cost of living
    • Less pollution
    • More “relaxed”
    • Potentially higher paying jobs
    • More opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture” _builder_version=”4.14.9″ _module_preset=”default” global_colors_info=”{}”][/dvmd_table_maker_item][/dvmd_table_maker][dvmd_table_maker tbl_row_header_count=”0″ tbl_row_footer_count=”2″ tbl_responsive_breakpoint=”none” tbl_frame_type=”none” tbl_chead_text_wrap=”normal” _builder_version=”4.14.9″ _module_preset=”default” tbl_chead_text_font_size=”18px” tbl_chead_text_line_height=”1.3em” tbl_rhead_text_font_size=”0px” max_width=”1000px” module_alignment=”center” tbl_tcell_text_font_size_tablet=”” tbl_tcell_text_font_size_phone=”14px” tbl_tcell_text_font_size_last_edited=”on|phone” global_colors_info=”{}”][dvmd_table_maker_item col_label=”Cons” col_content=”
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    • More expensive housing
    • More pollution
    • More hectic
    • Can be hard to “get out”
    • Potentially lower paying jobs
    • Harder to immerse yourself in local culture” _builder_version=”4.14.9″ _module_preset=”default” global_colors_info=”{}”][/dvmd_table_maker_item][dvmd_table_maker_item col_label=”Rural” col_content=”Rural
    • Less convenient (transportation, English services, infrastructure, etc.)
    • Fewer activities available
    • Fewer available jobs
    • Small or non-existent expat communities
    • Cultural and language barriers can be more pronounced” _builder_version=”4.14.9″ _module_preset=”default” global_colors_info=”{}”][/dvmd_table_maker_item][/dvmd_table_maker]

    Expat community – yes or no?

    As an ESL teacher working abroad, you would be an expatriate – someone who does not live in their home country. Many people call expatriates “expats” for short.

    Expat communities can be deeply rewarding and helpful to some, but also something of a burden to others.

    Having other expatriates nearby in a similar situation as yourself can help you feel like part of a community and enable you to make friends quickly. Other expats can be more experienced and may have even set up groups or organizations that work to support their community in a given city, country, or region.

    However, some teachers regret focusing more on expat communities than the larger local community. Instead of being forced to learn the local language, all their friends are expats so they speak mostly English – both at work as an ESL teacher, and socially with their friends.

    So, when considering where you go, decide how involved in an expat community you might want to be. Some teachers have found such communities to be deeply rewarding and have made lifelong friends. Others prefer to distance themselves from these groups and prefer more local immersion. And some people want a bit of both. 

    Either way, do some research on the expat communities in your potential destinations and think about how you might want to engage it.


    There are ESL jobs available all over the world, which means you have your choice of climate. Many ESL teachers who come from colder areas like Canada or the Northeast U.S. love the warmer temperatures of Southeast Asia and parts of Latin America, while other teachers prefer the more temperate climes of destinations like Argentina or Northern China.

    Climate and weather play a real role in comfort, so you should think about this factor when moving abroad.

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    Hot summer, warm winter
    Moderate summer, cool winter
    Moderate summer, cold winter
    Hot summer, cold winter” _builder_version=”4.14.9″ _module_preset=”default” global_colors_info=”{}”][/dvmd_table_maker_item][dvmd_table_maker_item col_label=”Wet” col_content=”Wet
    Bangkok, Thailand
    Zagreb, Croatia
    Sapporo, Japan
    Seoul, South Korea” _builder_version=”4.14.9″ _module_preset=”default” global_colors_info=”{}”][/dvmd_table_maker_item][dvmd_table_maker_item col_label=”Dry” col_content=”Dry
    Dubai, UAE
    Beirut, Lebanon
    Harbin, China
    Stockholm, Sweden” _builder_version=”4.14.9″ _module_preset=”default” global_colors_info=”{}”][/dvmd_table_maker_item][/dvmd_table_maker]

    3. Start looking for jobs there while you finish your TEFL course

    Once you have figured out where you want to go (or at least narrowed down the list of possibilities), you are ready to start looking for a teaching job. 

    You should start this process while you are still working on your TEFL certificate – it’s a good way to keep yourself motivated and focused, and if you start looking early, you will have plenty of information when you are ready to make a choice. Keep in mind that jobs will ask for proof of course completion, so you should hold off on sending an application until you are finished, but feel free to look and prepare the other parts of your application.

    Parameters of the classes – what will you actually be teaching?

    Make sure you know what you will be expected to teach. You will need to know:

    • The grade level of students
    • What subjects you will teach
    • What topics you will teach
    • What books you will use
    • What materials you will need / have access to
    • What technology you have access to
    • etc. 

    This list is not exhaustive, but if you can answer these questions you are moving in the right direction. These questions are important, obviously, but in the chaos of getting a new job and starting in a new field, you might forget to ask (and a disorganized school or director might forget to mention them). 

    One great strategy, as an example,  is to go over the books before your term starts and set your term schedule so you can figure out how to pace your class. This will also help in composing lessons down the road. Furthermore, it will help you brainstorm questions regarding what you will be teaching and how to best impart it to students.

    Parameters of the classes – how do you manage your class?

    Knowing the administrative details regarding a position is critical as well. Make sure you ask the following to better understand and manage your potential class:

    • How to schedule apart each class session
    • What to do in the case of irregular sessions
    • How long does class last
    • What about break times for students (and yourself)
    • What is the calendar for the term at your school
    • etc. 

    You will need to know how much time you are expected to allocate for different activities like warm up, vocabulary, conversation, lecture on the lesson, in-class work, correcting student work, reading time, and games. Furthermore, you need to know which of these should you include which topics should not be included. 

    Understanding special circumstances or irregular sessions is important as well. You need to understand what teachers do on test days, or if there is a field trip, or if there is a special event at school.

    Student age level

    What age level do you want to teach? Do you prefer working with other adults, or would you prefer younger learners? Making a careful decision about the age level of students you want to teach is critical; sometimes teachers assume they want to teach adults, but then are frustrated by the lack of consistency of many adult students and the lack of control new teachers have in this type of classroom.

    Also remember that you can change your job. Keep an open mind about what age level you teach; you might be resistant to teaching kindergarten kids, but then you could walk into a class and fall in love with it, or even find it enriching, even if it’s just for a year.

    Students per class

    You should also pay attention to how many students a school has per class. 

    There are public school jobs available where they stuff 40-plus kids into a classroom. There are also small schools where classes can be one-on-one. How you feel about those two situations should inform what kind of job you should look for; some people love the challenge and feel of big classes, while other teachers would prefer to be with a single student to really dig into what they need.

    Is the curriculum provided or do you need to make your own?

    Some schools have been around for a long time and may have written their own system and curriculum, or they purchase books and programs from a publisher. Other schools might have nothing and ask that a new teacher put together an entire program from scratch.

    For your first job, we strongly recommend you find a place where curricula, books, and materials are provided. 

    First of all, writing your own program takes a ton of work, so the only time you should take this type of a job is if a school understands that and is paying you for the program development and teaching.

    Second, if it is your first year, you should focus first on just the teaching side of things. Get to know another curriculum, learn from more senior teachers and staff, and develop those skills first.

    What is the level of co-teacher involvement?

    Be sure to ask about co-teachers. Many English language programs have a foreign teacher alongside a local staff member to help with management and parent interaction. Will you be on your own in the classroom? 

    For your first job in a new country, this can be extremely useful, but it can also lead to situations where there are too many proverbial cooks in a classroom. Think about what you would prefer.

    What is the pay?

    Probably the most immediate and important topic to discuss with potential employers is pay. Many job postings don’t include any discussion of pay, so it’s important you bring it up in correspondence with schools. 

    Don’t be rude, and don’t make it the first thing you ask about, but make sure you know how much they are offering for the position.

    Is the pay on a salary basis or an hourly wage?

    This is an important question. 

    Some teachers prefer an hourly wage. This means they are paid a set amount for every hour taught, and if the school needs them for more hours, they earn more money. Also, teachers on hourly wages tend to make more per hour than teachers on salary.

    However, there are real benefits to being on salary. A salaried position is when a teacher is paid a regular rate for a specific period, usually each month and paid out year-round. If you are sick or take a day off, that won’t necessarily cut into how much you make. The trade-off is that you might be expected to work more outside of class or work more hours overall. 

    Either way, be sure you know which format the school is using and which one you would prefer.

    Does the school help with housing? How much does housing cost?

    Depending on the country and school, employers can offer help with housing. In some contracts, housing is included. If it isn’t in the contract, the school may have administrators whose job it is to assist new teachers find a place to live.

    Also ask your employer how much housing costs, but also ask other teachers and research the rent prices in the area. Some employers may say they are “paying” you hundreds of dollars a month for housing, but the housing is actually much cheaper than listed.

    Does the school sponsor plane tickets?

    Like housing, many schools offer contracts that include annual travel expenses from your home country to your destination, and also a round trip. Many schools do not, but they might be able to advise you or help out with logistics or pick up at the airport.

    What is the teacher turnover at the school?

    This is a good question to ask both the school itself and to dig into online. 

    Schools with little teacher turnover are obviously better to their teachers and are probably stronger programs. 

    Schools that just churn through a new crop of teachers every year likely aren’t as good, and that’s a solid indicator of how long you will be working there.

    What responsibilities do teachers have outside of class?

    Part of teaching is what you do outside of class, including prep, grading, and reports. You will need to do this kind of work, and even if you are paid hourly, this work often does not get factored into what teachers are paid.

    However, different schools have a number of other outside-the-classroom responsibilities they expect of teachers. These can include parent-teacher meetings, student performances, field trips, open house events, and more. These activities may or may not be part of the pay package. 

    Before you sign a contract, make sure you know all responsibilities and are willing to take those on.

    What kind of training does the school provide? Is training paid?

    Although you will have a TEFL certification, it is still worthwhile to get some on-site training once you are hired, just to get used to how things work at your new job.

    Some schools have institutionalized training while others will throw you in and force you to learn as you go.

    Teachers are able to survive in both scenarios and everything in between, but it is good to know what to expect, even as just an indicator of how organized a given school is. 

    It’s also worth your while to learn if a school pays teachers while they are conducting training.

    What are the contract stipulations like?

    Teachers looking for a new job should pay very close attention to contracts. Some schools can promise the moon and then certain stipulations kick in, and your life looks very different than promised.

    Double check that if schools promise hours, you will get paid for them, whether or not the students show up. Can a school change your pay or hours? How long will the contract last? Can it be extended? What are the stipulations for termination?

    Also, a red flag for a less than scrupulous school is one that offers a contract with lots of penalties; things like deductions for being late, taking sick days, students dropping out of classes, parent complaints – whatever it is, those are normal day-to-day happenings of a school and teachers shouldn’t be penalized for them. If you get a contract with a lot of penalties, you should probably decline and move on.

    This can be a lot of information to take in and a lot of legwork. Some prospective ESL teachers make it easier on themselves and work with a placement agency.Another way to skip a lot of this stress is to get in touch with Taiwan TEFL. If you are interested in teaching in Taiwan and don’t want to do all the work of finding your own job, get in touch with our partners at Taiwan TEFL who can help you with everything from immigration to housing to job placement to earning your TEFL certification on-site.

    This can be a lot of information to take in and a lot of legwork. Some prospective ESL teachers make it easier on themselves and work with a placement agency.

    If you’re interested in teaching in Taiwan, you can skip a lot of this stress and get in touch with our sister program, Taiwan TEFL. If you are interested in teaching in Taiwan and don’t want to do all the work of finding your own job, our partners at Taiwan TEFL can help you with everything from immigration to housing to job placement to earning your TEFL certification on-site.


    4. Send out an awesome resume and nail the interview process

    Once you have completed your TEFL certificate it’s time to send out applications.

    If you have ever applied for a job before, the process is pretty much the same, except that your interviews will likely be online over video chat.

    To look for teaching jobs, start with a web search. In researching destinations you likely found platforms hosting job ads in various countries; for example, this is a job board hosting job ads for ESL positions in South Korea. Sites like this are a good place to start.

    Also, you can avoid a lot of the legwork and uncertainty if you go through an established and trusted placement agency.

    To make sure you present yourself as well as possible, you need to make sure you have a top notch resume and cover letter, along with your TEFL Adventure certificate.

    Here are a few key tips for putting together the best resume for your ESL teaching applications.


    1. Include any credentials or certifications relevant to ESL education on your resume
    2. Use strong and descriptive verbs when outlining your experience
    3. Make a resume that is specific to ESL jobs. Consider adjusting your resume to fit each job you apply for.
    4. Send “thank you” emails after interviews
    5. In your cover letter, let potential schools know if you don’t hear back you will be following up within a week
    6. If you have ESL teaching experience, list specific jobs, not chunks of time teaching
    7. Only include experience from your last five years of work
    8. If you don’t have relevant work experience, list your education first. If you have work experience, list that first.
    9. Keep your resume to one page if you can. Two pages is okay. Any more than that is too much.
    10. No need to list things like hobbies or travel experience. Keep it about the work.

    “Can I go first and find a job once I have arrived?”

    Some potential teachers find that the job search is more fruitful once they have already arrived in a country. This is absolutely a route to think about, but it is also less certain, more expensive, and more of a challenge.

    There is truth to the idea that finding a position is easier to navigate if you are currently in the country you want to teach in. Face-to-face interviews are generally more revealing for both parties involved, and being able to hand out resumes in person can help you stick out in the mind of employers.

    However, finding a job online isn’t that much more difficult and is largely expected these days, especially for new teachers. Some schools even prefer to hire people from overseas. Furthermore, if you go to your destination before you find a job, you will need to navigate travel, immigration, and housing without the benefit of having a place where you work, meaning landlords and immigration bureaus may be less willing to work with you.

    So, sure, if you prefer to just head to your destination, that is an option and has been a successful one for many teachers. But doing as much as you can before you hop on a plane is generally safer and a more reliable method for getting set up.

    5. Prepare to go

    Once you have figured out where you want to go, sent out applications, and nailed interviews, it’s time to accept a position that is right for you.

    *Note – if you are having trouble finding a position, get in touch with TEFL Adventure about how we can help.

    Once you have accepted a position, you need to get a few things in order.


    First, you need to make sure you can legally enter the country you have been hired in. The best place to start is with your new employer. However, be sure to check out the immigration departments of the national government for your destination country. For example, if you decide to teach in Argentina, you will want to take a look at their visa process on their immigration department website.

    To make sure you are good to go with immigration and visas, you may need to apply for visas through an embassy. This process will require a visa application and usually a fee, and will also require that you have a passport and complete a range of paperwork. Depending on your home country and the destination country, they may also ask for:

    • Financial information (to make sure you have enough money to travel to and from the country in question, as well as enough for lodging when you arrive)
    • Medical history and vaccination background
      • For travel to some countries, you may be required to get different vaccinations
    • Flight information
    • Housing or accommodation information
    • Reason for travel
    • Sponsorship from your new employer

    Housing and onboarding

    You also want to make sure you have a place to stay in your destination country. Many schools help with this process, but some do not.

    If your school doesn’t offer assistance, the best idea is to find temporary accommodation in your new country at an affordable hotel, hostel, or AirBnB.

    Generally, you should look for permanent housing when you are already in the country – trying to find a place online is hard because you can’t get a good feel for the quality of an apartment, and other factors like neighborhood, distance from your job, and relationship with a landlord are really hard to gauge online.

    Most major cities have English-language housing ad platforms, like this one in the Philippines, but you can also ask for help on online forums or contact expat groups on social media platforms for further assistance.

    If you plan on living outside of a major urban area, chances are your school will have that process worked out.


    Once you have immigration taken care of and a place to sleep when you land, it’s time to buy your plane tickets. 

    Again, many schools can help with the travel process; some schools include that as part of the contract. Even if it isn’t a formal part of your employment agreement, schools may offer to come pick you up from the airport or answer any questions you may have.

    If your school can’t help you with this process, for whatever reason, a good way to save some money is to use a flight search site like Kayak to find the cheapest flights.

    You will also need to arrange transport from the airport of your destination to where you are staying. Most airports around the world have taxis lined up right outside, as well as services at the airport for new arrivals. You can also look online and plan ahead if you feel better about doing that. For example, the main international airport in Taipei, Taiwan has information about transport from the airport to whatever your destination may be.

    7. Arrival

    You made it! The big jump is done, but there are still a few things to keep in mind as you settle into your new home and job.

    Culture shock

    Many people who go from one culture to another, like ESL teachers working abroad, experience some degree of culture shock. Culture shock is when you experience some degree of difficulty adjusting to new circumstances in a new country.

    When most people move abroad, the first month or so is exciting and energizing. Everything is new and exciting and authentic, and you are open and flexible to new experiences. Experts call this the honeymoon period, and most people who travel only ever experience these positive feelings.

    However, when this wears off, things aren’t always quite as sunny. The language is different, the food is different, certain things don’t seem to make as much sense, and maybe you begin to get homesick. These feelings are normal, but also know that they almost always pass. Try to stay positive but also be patient with yourself and give yourself time to adjust and personal time speaking with family or friends back home.

    Meeting your new employer and coworkers

    You may have “met” your boss online and been corresponding for months, but meeting in person is always an experience. Try your best to be presentable, even if they are picking you up at the airport.

    Meeting new coworkers is also an experience. You will be working closely with these people day in and day out, and they potentially could be some of your friends. Approach your new job with an attitude of wanting to learn, and you will be fine.

    Your first class

    Be ready to jump into your first class early on. Your first class might be training or it might be your own class, ready to go. 

    Make sure to ask for a list of student names. Make a lesson plan. Don’t start too hard, but jump into material on day one. Do an ice breaker and learn a little bit about your students. Let the students get to know you a little bit.

    With your TEFL Adventure certificate, you should know all this and be prepared to tackle class on day one.

    You’ve done it! You are an ESL teacher living and working abroad and your life will change forever.

    Make the jump now and get started today. Or, if you want more help, get in touch with TEFL Adventure for advice specific to your situation, desired destination, or with job placement help.

    Good luck on your adventure!