Teaching abroad: Can I do it and where can I go?

Published 2019-07-10 15:13

Following the release of the Teaching and Learning report of the OECD, which aims to provide insights into education systems as well as the conditions for teaching and learning in the OECD countries, we’ve decided to take a closer look at one of the avenues of moving abroad— teaching.


Salary range: $1,400 - $2,500

Pros: relatively low job entry level, high salaries, tutoring opportunities

Cons: growing cost of living, job and visa scams, low job security

China is the most popular destination for ESL teachers — and it has been for quite a while. The country’s large population means that there is a constant demand for educators in various sectors: from public schools, universities and kindergartens to private institutions and training centres. The country’s initial rise as a teaching destination was fueled by a number of factors including a relatively low job entry level (even young and inexperienced teachers were welcome in training centres across China), a relaxed working visa policy (schools could apply for yearly working visas for their teachers. Plus, even those on business and tourist visas occasionally dabbled in teaching work.) and all-inclusive working conditions (foreigners coming to teach in China were typically offered return airfare, accommodation, meal allowance and more).

Today, things have somewhat changed. As more and more foreign teachers travel to China to explore new opportunities, the competition is fiercer and the requirements for receiving a working visa have also become stricter. With that, China is still one of the most favoured ESL teaching destinations. 


Salary range: $2,000-3,500

Pros: high reimbursement and standard of living, good working conditions, 

Cons: high cost of living, complex visa formalities, at least 100 hours of TEFL experience required

Japan is rapidly growing in popularity as a teaching destination — despite the relatively complicated visa formalities. Offering some of the highest teaching salaries in Asia paired with a truly unique cultural experience, Japan is on its way to becoming one of the strongest ESL markets in the region. Those working in the teaching industry in Japan will be able to benefit from high compensation (up tp $3,500 per month), a high standard of living in the second richest country in Asia, housing reimbursement and one of the world’s healthiest cuisines to explore as a bonus.

With that, the cost of living in Japan’s big cities can get quite high — as well as the competition in the teaching sector. In fact, according to the Teaching and Learning report of the OECD, “teaching was the first-choice career for 82% of teachers in Japan” — thus, foreign educators will need to compete not only between themselves but also with local professionals. 

Landing a job in smaller cities and even villages will be significantly easier — but that will come with more lifestyle adjustments and learning some Japanese will be essential.


Salary range: $1,000-$1,500

Pros: travel opportunities, picturesque tropical environment, low entry level job requirements

Cons: lower salaries, less developed than other popular teaching destinations in Asia, 

Indonesia is a rising star when it comes teaching destinations. While the country is still unable to compete with the more prosperous neighbours when it comes to salary packages, it has quite a few other factors going for it. First, with over 1,700 islands to explore, Indonesia would be the perfect option for those who want to complement their teaching experience with travel experience. Second, you will get to live and work in a truly exotic destination with all the trimmings in the form of white sandy beaches, fresh fruit all-year round, and palm-framed streets and more. Third, the requirements for an entry-level teaching position are also lower compared to, for instance, Japan or China. While it is recommended that you have a TEFL certificate, inexperienced teachers will also have working opportunities in the country. Working visas are typically sponsored by employers and many schools will also reimburse your rent. 

South Korea

Salary range: $1,500-$3,500

Pros: good salary packages, interesting culture, job security

Cons: it’s illegal to work outside of your work contract, it’s hard to integrate into the local community

South Korea is a modern and well-developed economy that will offer its new teachers plenty of opportunities to express themselves professionally — plus, you won’t be strapped for things to do in your spare time. Known for its vibrant pop culture, exciting cuisine and some of the world’s best selling cosmetic brands, South Korea is definitely an interesting destination to explore.

Foreign teachers working in the country will be able to benefit from generous salary packages (often including reimbursements for airfare, meals, transportation and accommodation). Work opportunities are abundant and you will find both government-sponsored and private organizations specializing in recruiting teachers from abroad. To land a job in the country, a TEFl certificate and a college degree should be enough.


Salary range: $1,000-$2,000

Pros: good working conditions, laid back lifestyle, lively international community

Cons: lower salaries, high cost of living

Spain is one of the world’s top tourist destinations — and one of the most popular countries for international internships and study abroad programs. Teaching English in Spain is also a popular option for exploring the country while getting some work experience and covering your expenses. Spain boasts some of the highest demands for English teachers in Europe — and getting a job here should be easier compared to, for instance, Germany or France. The busiest hiring seasons in the country are from September to October and in the beginning of winter. To be hired as an English teacher, you will need to have a college degree, a TEFl certificate and, preferably, some teaching experience. Teacher salaries in the country are not very high — while the cost of living in big cities like Madrid and Barcelona can be substantial. With that, you will be part of a vibrant international community and have plenty of time to explore the rest of the country thanks to the large number of public holidays and a traditionally laid back lifestyle.


Salary range: $800-$1200

Pros: relaxed lifestyle, international community, travel opportunities

Cons: high cost of living, modest salaries

If you are interested in teaching English in Europe but want to avoid the high living costs, Portugal may be the perfect choice. The country is known for its great food and wine and plenty of natural sightseeing spots and the booming tourist industry. With that, there is also a strong demand for foreign teachers — and the conditions for teaching in Portugal are quite good. While the cost of living in the country is not exactly low, your full-time salary should be able to cover key expenses and leave you some spare cash to move around and explore Portuguese cities and towns. Some of the benefits of living and working in Portugal would be the relaxed pace of living, a lively international community and plenty of entertainment options.

The U.A.E

Salary range: $3,500-$5,500

Pros: high salaries, high standard of living, good working conditions

Cons: a conservative country with certain lifestyle restrictions, strict professional requirements, high competition

If you are looking to walk away with some hefty savings, consider applying for an Enfglish teaching position in the U.A.E. The United Arab Emirates offer some of the most substantial salary packages to their foreign English teachers with monthly payments going to as high as $5,500. With that, the requirements for landing a high-paid position are quite strict as well: teachers need to be in possession of international ESL certificates, be certified to teach in their home countries and have teaching experience. The majority of foreign teachers are hired to work in two of the region’s biggest cities: Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Note that even though both cities offer plenty of modern amenities and entertainment, there are certain rules and restrictions to abide by — and it’s best to do some research on the specifics of local lifestyle prior to applying for a job in the country or accepting a job offer. 


Salary range: volunteering - $500

Pros: beautiful natural scenery, diverse cuisine, interesting culture

Cons: low income potential, small international community

If you are looking to head off the beaten track, Georgia is an interesting up-and-coming ESL destination you may want to consider. A small country in-between Europe and Asia, Georgia is noted for its cozy Black Sea beaches and some of the world’s most picturesque mountains. The country is well-known in the region for its diverse cuisine and hospitable locals — but it is still an underrated travel destination globally (which is quickly gaining popularity). Georgia is not the best place to teach in if you want to make money — in fact, a large number of teaching offers in the country are volunteer-based. With that, this is compensated by the very affordable cost of living in the country — plus, you will always have the option of doing some tutoring on the side, which can be quite well-paid. 

Naturally, this is hardly an exhaustive list of popular English teaching destinations. The choice of a teaching destination can be a very personal decision and, apart from practical factors, you may be guided by your curiosity or admiration for another culture, lifestyle preferences, an ability to make a contribution to the local community and more.

Have you ever considered teaching abroad? What would be your destination of choice?