One of the most common ways to make money overseas is to teach English. At any given CouchSurfing meeting in Bangkok, if you walked around and asked the expats “what do you do” a good 50% of them will tell you: “I teach English.”
There are English teachers in Asia, in Europe, in South America and really in just about every non English speaking country in the world. (Well, except North Korea. Not so much there.)
If your goal is to travel, teaching English is a very viable option. Before you go however, it helps to have an accurate picture of what you’re getting into.
These are my observations of the pros and cons of being an English teacher overseas, based on having met dozens of English teachers and having taught English myself for 2 weeks in Cambodia and Laos.
Benefit: It’s Extremely, Extremely Easy to Get a Job
If you’re postponing your trip because you’re afraid of not being able to find a job once you land somewhere, worry no more. I’m here to tell you just how retardedly easy it is to get an English teaching job overseas.
You can literally get off a plane in China, Thailand, India or Indonesia with no college degree, no highschool degree, no teaching experience, no work experience and no Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL ) certification and still get a job within a week. The sad truth is, being white will help you more than having a college degree.
The country you go to does make a big difference. China for example is notorious for being easy to find English teaching gigs in, while Indonesia is a bit more stringent and prefers teachers with TEFL certifications.
That said, almost all developing countries are starved for English teachers. There are over 30 million people in China alone who are trying to learn English. 2 billion people worldwide are trying to learn.
The demand is so much greater than the supply. All you need to do is land in a country that needs teachers, then do one of three things:
1) Look for an agency that places teachers.
2) Go directly to the schools.
3) Go to a CouchSurfing meeting, meet other teachers and ask about which schools might be hiring.
That’s all there is to it. The “job shortage” in Europe and the USA really doesn’t apply on a global scale. There are a lot of countries that are developing very rapidly and really, really need help in the English department.
Downside: The Pay is Terrible
Think teachers back home done get paid enough? Try teaching overseas. On average, you’ll earn about $1,000 a month for working full time as a teacher. You might get as high as $1,500 if you’re lucky and land in a good school, but it’s rare that you’ll earn any more than that.
Keep in mind that this is enough to live on wherever you are.
For example, in Thailand you can pretty easily find an apartment for $250 a month in Bangkok. Everywhere else in Thailand you can rent a place for $100 a month. Food costs about $1 to $2 a meal, so $200 a month more than covers that. With just $450 a month, you can cover your food and rent, which means $1,000 a month can actually buy a decent though not extravagant lifestyle.
Benefit: Financial Security for the First Time Traveler
A lot of people I meet who’ve never traveled before are financing it through teaching English.
For many, traveling is like diving into the great unknown. You’re going to a foreign country, with a foreign culture, often with a bank account that doesn’t quite scream security.
Knowing that you have a steady job with a steady paycheck in that country can really help with getting over the fear of something going wrong. It’s like having job security, except your job’s in another country.
Downside: You’re Stuck for a Year
The downside of security is the tradeoff for freedom. Usually to take a teaching gig, you need to commit to one year.
Most travelers I know really don’t want to spend that long in any given country. A lot of teachers also end up assigned to places they don’t like all that much. For example, if you’re teaching in Thailand, you might get assigned to a rural village somewhere several hours away from civilization.
That’s okay and it can be quite fun to get to know the culture – For a couple months. Then you start missing being able to speak English, make friends, go to parties and more or less direct your life and where you want to go.
Should You Teach English Overseas?
It’s essentially a tradeoff between financial security and financial risk and its subsequent freedom.
If you want to live a more free lifestyle, it’s entirely possible to hop from country to country and just work at bars and hostels paying your way through. Or, you can create an online source of income and just work from your laptop.
Doing so requires more initiative and seems less secure on the surface. There’s the illusion of a guarantee of a paycheck with a job that isn’t there when you’re the one primarily responsible for generating your own livelihood.
My take? I wouldn’t do it. There are too many adventures out in the world waiting and a year is an extremely high price to pay. I’m 24, and if I’m gonna die at 80 that means I have 56 years of life left. I’m not going to spend one of those years doing something I don’t truly love simply because I couldn’t afford to live the life I really wanted.
If teaching English in and of itself sounds like a valuable life experience that you want to have, I’d say more power to you and two thumbs up. Go for it.
On the other hand, if teaching English is just something you’re using to get by because you want to be abroad but you don’t particularly love the idea and will likely feel trapped within a couple months of signing a contract, I’d say don’t do it. Figure something else out instead.