Teaching English Overseas
Everything You Need to Know
All Countries are Not Equal
Japan, China, U.A.E., Russia, Colombia, Chile, South Korea; some of the best countries to teach English, however, not all countries are created equal when it comes to living and working overseas. Every country offers a wide range of benefits including housing, pay and travel. Plus, lifestyle adjustments may be more than you bargained for.
For me, South Korea offered the total package. Schools pay well with opportunities to earn more (under the table private teaching pays $50-$100/hour and is tax free but illegal so be cautious). Schools in Korea also cover your housing costs and purchase flights to and from the country as long as you finish a one year contract.
Other countries like Japan sound wonderful but apartments are tiny and living expenses are incredibly steep (schools don’t pay your rent or flights back and forth). The Middle East is another interesting option. Pay is high but your lifestyle could drastically change. Alcohol is prohibited (along with cinemas) and females may be unable to drive (or ride a bike), show their hair and face or even speak to men in public. Countries in both Central and South America offer so much in the way of experience and culture but if your goal is to save money, think twice.
In the end, do your due diligence and research all aspects of life before committing to any school. Weigh every option and consider your ultimate goal: money or experience?
Most countries require teaching certificates or educational degrees just to get your foot in the door, while others aren’t as strict. From personal experience, South Korea requires native English speakers, as well as a Bachelor’s Degree (in any subject). Of course, you’ll need to pass an interview, background check and physical. Note there are other dis-qualifiers too such as DUI’s.
Language, food, people and overall culture should all be seriously considered when looking to teach overseas. Many teachers arrive in Korea complaining of the food and language barriers while drinking their nights away. Unfortunately, not much will be gained if you look at your experience that way. Do your best to embrace the culture; make local friends, eat the food, see the sights and learn the language. South Korea turned out to be the strangest place in the world but incredibly wonderful in so many ways. I truly fell in love.
Recruiter or Independent Search
Try searching for schools on your own rather than using recruiters. Recruiters are often dishonest and don't necessarily have your best interest at heart. Plus, this way you’ll have bargaining power and know exactly where things stand.
Take a look at Dave's ESL Cafe and contact schools directly. ALWAYS check reviews for your specific school location. Blacklists exist for schools who treat their staff poorly and trust me, this is necessary. You’ll avoid any nightmare situations like missing paychecks, verbal abuse or other manipulations once you arrive.
Public vs. Private
Age preference and schedule may help decide which type of school suits you best. In Korea, many children attend private “hagwons” where owners treat schools more like a business. Preschoolers arrive in the morning and stay until early afternoon. Teachers stay with their class throughout the day and serve lunch in homeroom. After preschoolers leave for the day, elementary students arrive for after-hours classes. Depending upon age, some classes may run late into the evening (such as 10 p.m. for middle school students).
Private schools generally pay more and positions are strangely easier to secure, especially if you have a teaching certificate. In 2014, private schools paid about $2,000 a month without any experience. Pay goes up slightly each year of teaching (about a $100 a month on average). And though these numbers might sound low, there’s really nothing to spend your earnings on other than food and vacations (two weeks each summer and winter). Rent is covered. Flights are covered. And public transport is very affordable.
Public schools typically pay less but offer a lighter schedule and more vacation days. However, students are older so educational requirements are a bit more strict but if you’re lucky enough to get into a university, that’s where the money’s at.
The Korean educational system is a beast of it’s own. For more insight into the system and it’s intense pressures take a look at my Interior Design thesis, East Meets West.
Give thought to your new home and neighborhood. Often times schools in the countryside pay much more because it’s tough to get takers in the middle of nowhere. It’s quite possible to be the only foreigner in town. Watch for recruiters who push certain locations or schools too hard. They may not be desirable. Typically, anywhere in Seoul is amazing. Hongdae is particularly exciting and Itaewon is full of tourists and international restaurants. Just northwest of Seoul is Ilsan, which I found particularly special (big city vibe with tons of green).
Schools provide all kinds of housing. Larger schools (just ask, anything more than 10 English teachers is fairly large) usually pair you in a two bedroom apartment with a roommate (another teacher). Some of these apartments are quite nice and others, not so much. Smaller schools often provide a single studio style apartment or will even pay an apartment stipend, if requested (around $500 a month).
School size does make a difference. In my opinion, it's usually best to work for larger schools. Larger schools offer more stability, resources and flexibility. Foreign teachers band together and become close friends because the cultural gap with staff can be huge. Small schools close often and can leave you unemployed or stranded.
It’s a Long Process
There are lots of hoops to jump through and it will likely take a few months to get everything in order (interviews, documents, contracts & Visa). Countries like South Korea require you to send your ACTUAL degree for verification (not a copy), so shipping time alone can take weeks.
Enjoy the process and be patient. It’ll definitely be worth it in the end. And it’s possible your one year stay may just turn into several, so plan accordingly.