Getting an ESL Job Abroad: Pre-Job Search

If you’re like me, your first teaching job abroad was stupidly taken through an overly expensive company that only took away a little stress from the job searching process.

Since that first job, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to land a job without paying someone. Here’s that lesson for you without the time, money, or stress it required me.

You need to consider more than just how much you want to make! Things you might ask yourself: Do I want an office space abroad?

You, First

If anything, I’d say you need to work with yourself before seriously diving into job prospects. Most job companies hiring ESL teachers want similar things, although there are some exceptions. Below are what you need to have, or consider having before getting a job:

  • A degree.
    • Most often this is an undergraduate degree. Better paying positions usually requires a Masters. There are a handful of places that will take you with only a high school degree, but these may not be legal either.
      • It’s okay to apply before you graduate too. Generally all documents need to be notarized withing three months (strictly xx days, not loosely) of arriving.
      • Don’t believe me? My physical was done just three days outside of that 90 day limit. Guess who had to have a complete physical upon arrival to China? This girl.
    • Some places will require you get your degree notarized too, which can be pricey if you have to send it to their embassy.
      • If you need to send documents to the embassy, this is where paying a recruitment company is less stressful (but ultimately still not worth the money). Often you can find groups within your city that will send several different people’s documents at once to cut the per person cost of having a carrier take the documents to D.C., Houston, or your designated embassy. Generally these groups can be found by searching for your local “insert country name of interest here-ese Culture Society” (Example. Vietnamese Culture Society). My personal local group for traveling? The Chinese Cultural Center.
      • A step by step guide on getting your diploma certified for China.
  • A teaching certificate.
    • Before you run off to get get your certificate, consider that some companies will pay for you to get your certificate. Other companies will have a service they prefer you go through (for certainty of quality), so wait and see what you need first.
    • Different countries want different degrees, so make sure you do a precursory look before you get a TESL for that job in Japan you don’t have yet. Chances are, they want a TEFL. It’s also a safer bet since most countries will take a TEFL, but some will not take a TESL without a couple years of teaching experience.
    • Among the certificates you might have: a state or country given teaching certificate, TESOL, TESL, TEFL
      • These break down further into different types: 60-hour, 120-hour, classroom hours, online, in person, etc. The strictest places seem to want a 120-hour, in person, minimum xx classroom teaching hours TEFL.
      • If you’ve managed to teach without these degrees, some places will take you anyway. For example, I found a place that would take me without a TEFL because I have at least 800 classroom hours.
  • A resume or CV
    • The thing to remember here is not to give your generic resume. You need to add any bit of experience you have with the age group you want to teach, as well as teaching in general.
  • Language skills
    • Most places don’t require you to speak the language, or there will be a handful of schools that are okay without it otherwise.
    • Supposedly China is changing their visa system to draw attention to immigrant workers with Chinese language skills, making it more important to have some skills.
      • To showcase your knowledge, consider taking one of the HSK tests, even if it is just the first one.
  • Pictures!
    • Make sure you look professional. Decent lighting. Smile. Wear a nice shirt. Get someone to take a picture of you- don’t use your Facebook profile picture!
    • It’s good to have at least two pictures. A head shot, and then one of you in a more casual setting (maybe on your computer, or teaching a child).
    • Ideally you will follow the passport photo guidelines when you take your photo, so that you can get these printed up in mass and very cheaply later on.
      • Don’t use the services that drug store photography counters offer. The lighting is just so bad. They wont give you time to make yourself look good. It’s really expensive. You can go there to print your photos, just don’t print them with the “passport photo” service.
Do you like it ancient, older than America, or created within the time of your grandmother? Maybe you like them young. Figure that one out.

What Do You Want?

Okay, so you have an idea of what you need to bring to the table. Now you can start looking for that job. But first, ask yourself a few questions (you should perhaps write down your thoughts).

  • Where do you want to go?
    • Think about where you want to go: a country, a climate based region, etc. Some places are hot, some are cold.
    • You’ll find that Asian countries have many more jobs than European, and other countries. You’ll be able to find something just about anywhere though. Either way, make a list of places, and then number them by priority.
  • What do you want to get paid?
    • Different countries offer different types of pay, as well as benefits. What you need to ask yourself is, what do you want to take home at the end of the day? Maybe you have bills to pay and need to send money home. After that, you’ll want to travel.
      • Make a loose budget right now to get an idea of your minimum pay needs.
      • China, Saudi Arabia, and Korea are known to pay highest. You’ll probably work your butt off for that money though. Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia will pay least. You life will be a bit more casual.
      • You may be considering deferring your student loans, so look into that too. Here’s an article from the U.S. Government on the student loan deferment process. Stay tuned on my blog for another article about how some expats handled their student loans, as well as their thoughts after going back home.
  • Do you need benefits?
    • When you look at job posts, or e-mail the companies, you should ask:
      • Do they provide housing? Or a housing allowance?
        • Are any utilities paid for? (electricity, water, heating, gas, internet, and maintenance are the primary ones)
        • Do they help you to find housing if it is not already procured?
          • Will you be given hotel accommodations for a designated amount of time while apartment searching?
      • Do they provide airport pick up and drop off?
      • Do they provide flight reimbursement? Is it one way, or round trip? What is the cap on this reimbursement?
      • Do they provide health insurance? At the least, accident insurance (common)?
      • Do they provide anything else? (Uncommon, but possible)
        • Transportation: a car, a bus card, a metro card, etc
        • Phone service
        • Bonuses: overtime, end of semester bonuses, travel stipends, etc (more common)
        • Note: Make sure to see if there is a probation period, which often means you will be paid less in the first month.
  • How long do you want to work?
    • Generally the contracts with all of the above mentioned benefits are for 1 year, with a desire for you to resign for another year. It is possible to find contracts for 6 months, and 9-10 months. These tend to have less benefits.
  • How much do you want to work?
    • Do you want any vacations? How about days off per week? What about paid days off?
      • I worked for 12 hours a week on a nine month contract, which included a couple months of holiday time off.
I’m part Japanese. I grew up indulging in sushi often, so I was very happy when I found out my small city in China had one Japanese sushi eatery (now they have two)!
  • How big do you want the city?
    • Bigger cities usually pay more, but they also have more pollution. They also tend to have more Western comforts than their smaller siblings, which is great when you’re feeling homesick.
  • What kind of weather do you want? Don’t assume you know what a city will be like until you research it! I was surprised that my southern “furnace” of China was actually quite cold in the winter.
  • What age do you want to teach?
    • 3-12?
    • High school?
    • College?
    • Adults?

That’s the first step to finding a job you will actually enjoy. Unfortunately I did little research in my initial job to China, meaning I settled at the sight of a nice apartment (and failed to realize I should have requested a few more amenities in the process of signing the work contract). Hopefully with some preparation, you’ll fare better than I did.

Good luck on your job search!

Check out my other Expat Guides for ideas on living, teaching, and traveling abroad, including where to find jobs. Thanks for reading!


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