Teaching abroad: What qualifications do you really need?

  • teacher in class
Published on 2024-02-09 at 10:00 by Natallia Slimani
Teaching abroad is a great opportunity to experience a new country, gain professional experience, make new connections — and more. The opportunity to live abroad while receiving a salary and having your basic expenses covered sounds like a dream to many. And there is a high chance that this lifestyle may be yours — provided, of course, that you have the right qualifications or are willing to work on acquiring them. Let's look into this in a bit more detail.

What qualifications do you need when teaching abroad?

Unfortunately, there is no one-fits-all qualifications checklist for landing a teaching gig abroad. The documents, diplomas, certifications, and experience you'll need can vary substantially based on the type of job you are hunting for.

Teaching English Abroad (ESL): Requirements

ESL (English as a Second Language) teaching has gained immense popularity over the past decade. The British Council estimates that over 1.5 billion people are studying English worldwide. As the demand for English language skills in education, business, communication, and travel continues to grow, so does the need for qualified ESL educators.

The requirements for ESL educators may vary depending on the institution where you plan to teach as well as the destination. However, most ESL teachers need to have the following to get started:

  • Fluency in English: You should be able to speak English at a native or near-native level. After all, you'll be guiding others in learning this language.
  • A Bachelor's Degree: It doesn't necessarily have to be in education or English – any field will generally do.
  • TEFL/TESOL Certification: This shows you've got the training specifically for teaching English as a foreign language. While not always required, proper ESL certification is a substantial plus when searching for stable and well-paid teaching positions abroad.
  • A Clean Criminal Record: This is pretty standard for teaching roles in most countries.

It's worth remembering that countries have varied regulations for issuing work visas to ESL teachers. Generally, you'll need to secure a job offer first, after which your employer often assists with the visa application process.

To increase your chances of landing a high-paying ESL position or taking your career further, the following will be helpful:

  • If you intend to teach young learners, having a certificate in early childhood education can be a substantial advantage in the job market.
  • Understanding the psychological aspects of learning can be incredibly beneficial, especially when dealing with international students who come from various backgrounds.
  • If you have experience in learning a second language yourself, it can be a strong point. It demonstrates empathy and understanding of the challenges faced by other language learners.
  • Having skills or training in cross-cultural communication can be a major asset, especially in an environment with diverse cultural backgrounds.
  • Beyond TEFL/TESOL, additional certifications like CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) or DELTA (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) can open doors to more advanced teaching positions.
  • Experience or certification in areas like business English, English for specific purposes (ESP), or exam preparation (like IELTS, TOEFL) can be highly valued.

Teaching subject-specific classes in international schools: Requirements

If you're teaching subjects other than English on a high-school level, your best bet for getting a position abroad is reaching out to international schools in your preferred destination.

Some of the basic requirements for teaching in an international school abroad may include:

Subject-specific degree: The first thing you will need to apply for a teaching position in an international school is a degree or qualification in that particular subject area. This ensures that you possess the necessary depth of knowledge in subjects like mathematics, science, history, or languages. Moreover, schools typically seek educators who are not just knowledgeable but also passionate about their subject, as this passion translates into more engaging and effective teaching.

Teaching license/credential: In addition to a subject-specific degree, having a formal teaching license or credential is often a requirement. This could be a teaching certificate from your home country or an international teaching credential. It serves as proof of your professional training in educational methods, classroom management, and educational psychology, all of which are vital for a successful teaching career in international schools.

Previous teaching experience: Experience in teaching, especially in your subject area, is highly valued by international schools. This demonstrates your ability to manage a classroom, develop and implement curriculum, and adapt teaching methods to meet various learning needs. Schools often look for teachers with a proven track record of enhancing student learning and engagement, as well as the ability to contribute positively to the school community.

Understanding international curriculums and cultural sensitivity: Teachers in international schools must be adaptable to different educational curriculums, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB)Cambridge, or other international frameworks. Moreover, cultural sensitivity is key in diverse international education environments. It's essential that you demonstrate your ability to be open and respectful of different cultural perspectives and practices. It is also a good idea to integrate these into your teaching to create an inclusive and supportive learning environment for international students.

University teaching abroad: Requirements

If you teach at a university level, the process of applying for a job in a foreign university may be slightly different. Universities often have professor exchange programs that allow educators to teach for some time in partner-accredited educational institutions abroad. Moreover, university professors are often recruited for lectures, seminars, or full-time employment via professional networks and specialized headhunters.

However, you may also search for teaching opportunities independently by reaching out to preferred institutions abroad.

You will, most likely, be asked for the following qualifications:

Master's or Doctorate degree: A Master's degree is often the minimum requirement for teaching at a university abroad. However, a Doctorate is often preferred or may sometimes be required — especially for tenure-track positions. Advanced degrees are proof of your deep understanding of the subject matter. They also indicate your ability to conduct complex research and engage in advanced scholarly discourse, which are often essential in a university setting.

Publications and academic contributions: Your publication record can be as important as your degrees. Universities often look for candidates who have a strong portfolio of research and publications in respected international journals. This demonstrates your ongoing commitment to contributing to your field, as well as the ability to communicate complex ideas effectively.

Proficiency in English or the local language: Effective communication is key in academia. Proficiency in English is often a requirement for teaching positions abroad. If you are applying for a job in a non-English speaking country, knowledge of the local language can be a significant advantage, as it will help you integrate more efficiently.

Private tutoring and freelance teaching abroad: Requirements

If you don't plan to work for a specific institution, tutoring and teaching freelance offers a lot of flexibility. This option may also be suitable for those considering teaching as a part-time job, entry-level educators, or international students looking to make some extra money. As tutoring involves working for and being hired by individuals rather than establishments, the requirements and qualifications needed may vary substantially.

With that said, it's generally a good idea to approach your tutoring with the same seriousness you would a full-time position. Here are some of the qualifications you may need:

Teaching certificate/Degree: While having a degree in a relevant field is advantageous, it's not always mandatory for a freelance teaching position. That said, certifications specific to your area of expertise (language proficiency, math or science, special education, test prep, etc.) can be extremely valuable.

Client network: Success in private tutoring or freelance teaching strongly relies on your ability to market yourself as a teacher. This entails creating a strong personal brand (with an online presence, for instance), networking (getting in touch with local schools, participating in education forums, leveraging word-of-mouth referrals, etc.), and building a strong reputation in your field via positive reviews and student retention.

However, it's essential to comply with the legal requirements of the country you intend to teach in. This includes having the correct visa or work permit, even if you are working freelance. Make sure you are well aware of the legal requirements of tutoring abroad, including business licenses, tax obligations, and adherence to local business laws.

Other teaching opportunities abroad and qualifications you may require

Volunteering and NGO-related teaching

Teaching opportunities with volunteer organizations or NGOs abroad often require more flexible qualifications. While formal teaching credentials might not always be necessary, these roles often value soft skills such as adaptability, creativity, and a genuine passion for teaching and making a difference. Experience in informal teaching settings, strong interpersonal skills, and the ability to work in potentially challenging environments are significant assets.

Corporate training and professional development

For those interested in corporate training and professional development roles, having industry-specific experience and credentials is crucial. These positions often require expertise in a particular business sector, combined with the ability to teach and train adults. A background in business, certifications in corporate training, or even experience in HR and people development can be of substantial value here. To further succeed in the field, you will also require excellent communication skills, an understanding of corporate culture, and the ability to make your lessons creative and engaging for adult students. Corporate training is generally a good fit for those who are looking to combine industry knowledge with teaching and training skills.

Online teaching and E-learning platforms

With the rise of e-learning, online teaching opportunities are abundant. For these roles, digital proficiency and the ability to create engaging online content are key. Qualifications can vary widely, with some platforms requiring formal teaching degrees while others focus on expertise in the subject matter, even if it is informal. Familiarity with e-learning technologies, video creation, and interactive online teaching methods are also of value.

In summary

We've started out by saying that there is no one-fits-all requirements checklist for landing a teaching job abroad. This article helped illustrate this point. The qualifications, experience, and documentation you will need strongly depend on the type of job you are applying for and even your destination.

If you are looking to get started in the teaching field, teaching English abroad may be the quickest way to break into the industry and gain experience for future roles. On the other hand, if you are an experienced educator teaching at the university level, the best way to secure a stable and well-paid position is through a university network or specialized headhunter.