It’s a good time to consider all of your options
From a surge of one-way tickets being sold to Canada to our northern neighbor’s immigration page crashing, the results of the recent presidential election have some Americans looking for new digs. Luckily, moving abroad isn’t only for the wealthy or those working for international organizations. Thanks to a worldwide demand for native English speakers, teaching can be a great way for an American to live abroad—and if you don’t travel too much—make some money.
“One of my mottos is experience over things,” says Nicole Brewer, a 34-year-old teacher living in Niwza, Oman. Working at a college now, Brewer moved to Oman after teaching in Busan, South Korea, for three years. Brewer runs the popular website and forum, ILuv2GlobeTrot.com, which she founded with another English as a second language teacher, Renee Evans.
“It is one of the best experiences of my life. When I first moved abroad, I told myself I would only go do it for a year,” says Brewer. She had recently been laid off after the 2008 recession and was sick of the American economy. Seeking a new experience, she decided to move abroad when she was 27. “Seven years later, I am still here.”
Whenever people ask her if they should try the expat life, she has one piece of advice for them: Just do it.
Describing herself as “adaptable,” Brewer settled into Niwza quickly. While living in a town without a movie theater was an adjustment at first—she travels to Muscat for the cinema—Brewer relishes her time there. As a travel blogger, she voyages out of the country at least once a month, often visiting Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. She’s visited over 40 countries and has been profiled in The Guardian and National Geographic.
“You have to be in a mature mindset to live in a small town in the Middle East,” says Brewer. “It was night and day leaving Korea … it was a huge change of pace to go from a port city with five beaches and parties to Oman.”
Brewer is working at a college and considers herself lucky to have received the posting without a teaching degree. Earning around $40,000 a year, she takes home most of her salary, as she isn’t taxed and doesn’t need to pay for her housing.
Most countries in the Middle East require some sort of educational background, but they offer the highest salaries. Other countries that actively recruit ESL (English as a second language) teachers are Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.
“You’re not only teaching them English, you are teaching them about your culture,” says Drew Binsky, a travel blogger who spent 18 months teaching in South Korea. “These kids are fascinated by America.”
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]South Korea has become known as a great place for Westerners to teach English, the benefits might not be as lucrative as they used to be.[/quote]
Many first time teachers gravitate toward South Korea, as schools there offer great pay and benefits and don’t require prior teaching experience. The cost of living is fairly low compared to the pay, so going out to restaurants and bars is an easy, affordable part of many expats’ lives.
However, since South Korea has become known as a great place for Westerners to teach English, the benefits might not be as lucrative as they used to be. But many teachers are still able to save a significant amount of their salaries or pay off their student loans while abroad.
Other Asian countries that are actively recruiting native English speakers include China, Taiwan, Japan, and Thailand. Since Taiwan and South Korea are both fairly dense countries, most teachers find work in a major city or within a quick public transit ride of a major metropolitan area. However, for those who are seeking a more rural location, China, Japan, or Thailand are some of the best spots.
One advantage many expat teachers enjoy is travel. While the amount of vacation time varies based on the country and the type of school, it’s often more than the United States, which has some of the fewest national holidays in the world.
“Everyone’s come for the same reason. Everyone loves to travel, everyone is quite independent,” says Victoria Cole, an elementary school teacher in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. “Being in the Middle East, it is such an easy distance to visit new places that you wouldn’t necessarily get to see if you were at home.”
Last year, the 27-year-old Brit went to Bali, an island in Indonesia, with a few teacher friends. She says, “Most people, as soon as they finish that last day of school in the summer, are on a plane, traveling around.”
There are lots of public holidays in the UAE, so Cole sometimes jets to Sri Lanka or India for long weekends.
[quote position="full" is_quote="false"]Another benefit of working abroad can be the lack of taxes. Although it depends on your nationality and the host county’s policy, many expat teachers do not pay taxes on their earnings[/quote]
While living in South Korea for 18 months, Binsky traveled to 21 countries. Now, the 25-year-old is working toward becoming the youngest American man to visit every country in the world, with nearly 100 under his belt.
Another benefit of working abroad can be the lack of taxes. Although it depends on your nationality and the host county’s policy, many expat teachers do not pay taxes on their earnings.
For those interested in teaching in Europe, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Spain have the most opportunities for teaching English. While the benefits might not be as great as they are in Asia or the Middle East, the salary is still livable and there are opportunities for teaching private lessons on the side.
But don’t let this list stop you. There are opportunities in countries all over the world to teach English. From Brazil to Guatemala to Italy, there are jobs for native English speakers nearly everywhere. Despite the perks, the idea of finding a job abroad and moving can be daunting. Here are a few tips from people who have already taken the leap:
Do your research beforehand
All the experts recommend researching extensively before leaving. There are tons of online forums for teachers living abroad that can help them learn about new culture and supply job opportunities.
Experts recommend you get a feel for a school before applying and ask lots of questions. Be wary of any recruiters who ask for fees to place you. “Or you do an interview and an hour later you get the job,” says Brewer with a laugh.
Here are a few great resources that are also used by recruiters to post jobs:
- Dave’s ESL Cafe (ESL Cafe.com)
- I Luv 2 Globe Trot (ILuv2GlobeTrot.com)
- Transitions Abroad (TransitionsAbroad.com)
- Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL.com)
- Serious Teachers (SeriousTeachers.com)
Make sure the benefits add up
Cole says that she wouldn’t accept any job that didn’t offer a housing allowance, medical benefits, and a flight home. In her mind, if a school doesn’t offer those benefits, they are not a good employer.
Get the visa
Another issues that some expats see as a red flag is when schools are unwilling to get legal visas for their teachers or if they try to hold onto your passport.
Check out Facebook
If you are interested in a specific region, try searching Facebook for forums related to teaching in that area. That can be a good way to connect with fellow expats who are already living in those countries. Forums can also be great place to see if a place is the right fit. As a woman and person of color, Brewer used a forum before moving to South Korea, as she was worried about finding proper hair care there.
Get your Teaching English as a Foreign Language certification
Nearly every reputable job teaching English requires a TEFL certification course. The course (between 120 hours and 140 hours) can be completed online. Costs range anywhere from $90 to $120. If you are interested in teaching abroad, the certification is a must.
Be cautious about going with a school that isn’t open yet.
After spending seven years working as an English teacher abroad, Brewer has built a big community of fellow expat teachers. She says that if a school isn’t open yet, it is a big red flag, because you’ll get an offer letter, but then won’t get to move for several months.
“I like to describe myself as an ambassador from the U.S. living here,” says Brewer. “Once you come here and understand the culture, it is a piece of cake.”