Do I Need An ESL Teaching Job Before I Go Abroad9 min read

Figuring out whether to secure an ESL teaching job before you travel abroad or after you land is predicament that many potential teachers face after they first commit to becoming an ESL teacher. The excitement that comes from knowing you are going abroad is matched only by the fear that you might get there and be unable to land a job and will have to move back. To make matters even more confusing and frustrating is the fact that there really is no one size fits all answer to this question. Making the decision is really going to come down to a few different factors that you will have to analyze and a few questions you are going to have to ask yourself before you decide whether to hit the ESL job board or the airline booking site first. The least of which is going to be your tolerance for risk as at the end of the day there really is no guarantee of landing a job after you land. That being what it is, let’s look at some different factors that are going to help you to answer the question of whether or not you need to secure an ESL teaching job before you decide to go abroad or if the chance is high that finding one after you land will be no problem.

How strict are the visa regulations in the country you want to teach ESL in?

It is going to be imperative that you figure this out before you decide to travel abroad lest you find yourself having to fork over the money for a roundtrip ticket to your home country and back to get the right paperwork and meet other requirements. As you can probably guess not all countries immigration and working laws are created equal. More importantly than that, not all of those laws in every country are equally enforced. So, you need to figure out how strict the regulations are so that you can make sure to have the proper paperwork, references, background checks, etc. that you are going to need when the school you wish to work with is trying to secure a work permit for you to work legally and take care of your visa.

To provide an example of two different countries on the opposite ends of the spectrum let’s take a look at China and Cambodia. While these are both Asian nations and are not too terribly far apart from each other, the requirements to work in each country couldn’t be further apart. Cambodia is known among current ESL teachers and expats as having notoriously relaxed visa regulations to the point that if you wanted to teach English without a degree then you could easily do so here. Getting a working visa in the country may involve a degree of paperwork and bureaucratic nonsense but can be easily done while you are in the country and even after you have already secured a job. In fact, many schools in Cambodia prefer hiring teachers who are already in the country. In China, however, there are very strict regulations in place for who can work and how to secure a work permit and Z visa (Chinese working visa) and if these regulations are not followed you can either look forward to being denied your job or potentially being imprisoned for a time before being banned from the country if you decided to travel there and work illegally (even if your employer says otherwise). Some of these regulations include procuring a background check that has been certified by the appropriate regulating body in your home country and then certified also by the Chinese embassy or consulate in your home country. While it is possible to obtain these documents after you are already in China and many people do without issue it can be much more expensive and there is always a chance that you may not have the correct documents and will have to travel back home anywise. Securing all of these things before you leave with the help of your employer is a much easier option than trying to take care of all of this after you have already landed and shopped around for jobs. There is also the chance that you will be asked to work illegally if you do land a job as the company may not want to go through the trouble of getting the proper visa and permits. This will land you in jail. So, better to have the job and the correct permits before you go than find out the hard way after.

These are just two specific examples, however, there are a great number of countries that fall on either side of the spectrum. Therefore, it is extremely important that you do your due diligence and make sure the country you desire to work in is going to be receptive of you finding an ESL teaching job while you are there if you wish to hop on a plane and go abroad without securing one beforehand.

What is the competition like?

Just as the regulations are going to be different for finding an ESL teaching job in each country so too is the level of competition you are going to face. Some countries you could quite literally get off the plane and have a job secured before you go to sleep that night. Other countries, however, have a higher level of demand from teachers wishing to work in them and therefore can afford to be more picky about who they hire. Your ability to easily secure a job in a country like this is going to largely depend on your qualifications and how well you stand out from the rest of the competition. Therefore, it is always good to assess how well you stack up before booking an expensive airline ticket and trying to find a job after landing. Do you have a proper TEFL certificate? If not then getting one will help you to stand out and secure a job easier in an ESL teaching hotspot. Are you trying to find a job teaching ESL without a degree? If so you’re going to burn cash fast while getting rejected by potential employers if you are trying to work in a hotspot. Do you have prior teaching experience especially related to ESL teaching? This doesn’t knock you out of the standings if you don’t have prior experience but it does mean that you are going to the back of the résumé pile to someone who does have this experience.

If you don’t have all of the qualifications mentioned above it doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be able to secure a job after landing in the country of your choice. But, are you willing to blow through your money trying to find a job when you could just as easily have been working in your home country and saving money to live on while you apply for jobs abroad? Being honest about your level of qualification and how competitive the market you wish to work in is going to be will not only help to save you a great deal of money but may even make it easier to find a job when you go email potential employers your résumé.

How much money do you have and what’s your risk tolerance?

Not everyone is going to have an equal budget to live off while job hunting. Add to that you are planning on job hunting abroad after much of your budget has been eliminated from the plane ticket and that you will most likely be living out of hostels or hotels until you do secure a job and you can probably guess that your budget may go fast if you do decide to travel abroad without securing an ESL teaching job. You need to assess how much money you have saved up and how much you are willing to part with on your path to securing employment abroad. It is important to also think about the fact that almost all the places that are high on the list of go-to places to teach ESL abroad such as Japan and Korea and the United Arab Emirates and major cities in China are very expensive and the cost of living is going to be very high. These are also the places where the competition for the good jobs is going to be the most fierce so if you add all of those factors together you can see that if you don’t have a good budget and a tolerance for loss and risk then perhaps securing a job before you leave may be the best option for you.

The added bonus is that if you do decide to secure a job before you leave you are going to be able to keep working and saving money and will thus have a better cushion for moving abroad and an increased standard of living during the first few months. Having that extra money is going to be important if you decide on working at a school that won’t provide accommodations or cover your cost of living. Also, having a nice budget if you are hired for a job before moving abroad will allow you to do more and see more as you won’t be trying pinch every penny you have until that first paycheck.

So…do I need a job before I go abroad?

As you can see the answer to this question is largely dependent on your specific circumstances and where you want to teach. In some countries, like Cambodia, it is going to be extremely easy for you to secure a job if you travel there. In other countries, like China or Japan, finding a job, and more importantly, securing the proper visas and paperwork if you decide to travel there first may prove to be both more difficult and stressful and frustrating. You need to be honest with yourself about your qualifications and your tolerance for risk and don’t overestimate how far your budget is going to take you. If you do decide to travel abroad first then having things like a TEFL certification and a good-sized nest egg to live off while you hunt for work will make the process both easier and more comfortable. There are no guarantees, however, no matter how much preparation you put in that you are going to be able to get a job if you decide on going abroad first.

I want to help you find an awesome job in the ESL industry and then excel at it. I’m a TESOL certified teacher with over two years of experience working both online and offline. I have worked with students ranging from young learners to advanced level university speakers and have worked in recruiting and hiring, teacher training, and content creation. I’ve seen the good and bad of the ESL industry and I’m here to tell you about it.