ESL Scams Targeting TEFL Teachers7 min read

Unfortunately, not everyone who is involved in the ESL industry is here for purely virtuous reasons. The ESL industry, like any other multi-billion dollar industry, has its fair share of unscrupulous individuals. However, it may not always be apparent when you have come across one of these people and what their intentions toward you may be. There are various ESL scams in the industry that target teachers and the reality is that every year there are teachers who fall for these scams and lose their money, time, or find themselves on the wrong side of the law in a foreign country. Understanding what some of the more prominent of these scams are will allow you to more easily identify them so that when you come across one you will be better prepared to deal with the situation.

What do we mean by a scam?

Traditionally, a scam is defined as a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation. For our purposes, I am treating a scam as anything that puts you in a bad position where the other party makes financial gains. So, this means the other party, usually employers, may not be a fraudulent operation but that they may be conducting practices that are knowingly deceptive such as promising work visas which they will not be able to obtain or having teachers sign contracts that they have no intention of upholding.

These may be legitimate schools or institutions but certain individuals in the school, whether the management or the recruitment or both are engaging in deceptive or fraudulent hiring practices. Either way, the end result is that you have been duped into taking a job or performing a specific action under a false pretense. So, for our purposes remember that the scam may not be intentional or for purely malicious intentions, however, you are going to be the one impacted the most in the end.

What are some common scams in the ESL industry?

Pay to Play

There are countries where it is expected that you should pay money for access to a good job opportunity. Many of these countries are even places popular with TEFL teachers. However, it will never be the case that you as a teacher should have to pay money to be hired at a specific job.

In the bigger picture, there may be costs associated with finding employment such as the money you paid to go to university or paying for a TEFL certification. However, if a recruiter is saying you need to pay money for placement at a specific job then you should immediately forget about it. This is a scam and there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The recruiter may be telling you there are administrative fees associated with a particular job placement. Or, they may be saying the school they are hiring you for wants you to have a specific certification that you can only get through them. They will tell you to send them money first and then you will be contacted by the school. But, it never happens.

This is a common scam not only in the ESL industry but with online work from home opportunities as well. The scam artist will promise great work from home opportunities if you send them a certain amount of money but these opportunities don’t really exist. The thing to remember is that you should never have to pay for a job. This isn’t a practice in the ESL industry. If someone asks you to send them money for job placement 100% of the time it is a scam.

False Promise of Benefits

It is an unfortunate reality that many of the countries that are popular with TEFL teachers are also well known as places where contracts mean nothing. In many of these countries a contract is seen as something to get you in the door and from there things are negotiable.

However, something that should never be negotiable after you have signed the contracts is the benefits that were offered in the contract. Before you accept the job and sign the contract everything is negotiable and you should always try and make sure you are getting the best deal possible. If you sign on the dotted line, though, and at the end of your contract you never see the money or benefits promised then you have been scammed.

This is an all too common practice in countries where labor laws are lax or non-existent. Employers know they can tell you whatever you want to hear in order to get you in the door and after you are in the country and teaching there is very little, if anything at all, that you can do. You will either quit or keep working knowing you aren’t going to receive your benefits.

Before you accept any job offers always make sure that you are doing your due diligence and checking for any reviews about an employer. If possible, find other teachers who have worked for the employer and ask them before you move abroad about any troubles they experienced.

False Promise of Work Permits

If you take a job for an employer in a foreign country the burden is on them to make sure you have the proper documentation to work legally in the country. This can either be through visa assistance or by them completely handling the process of obtaining the proper visa and work permit.

Should the employer promise you a work permit, and even if they don’t, yet they never make good on obtaining you one then you are working for a scam employer. You are being put in a position where the employer is receiving benefit from you being there yet you are working illegally and could potentially go to jail and have to pay fines before being blacklisted.

Remember that the employer is making money off of you being there by you teaching students who are paying money. So, if they are benefiting from you being there but you are being put in a position where you are working illegally then you are being scammed out of your time and, potentially, your money. If you are working illegally then the employer technically doesn’t have to pay you. What recourse do you have if they refuse to pay you? You can’t go to the government in that country and complain. You will be arrested for working illegally long before the employer is arrested for hiring you illegally.

Just as I talked about above make sure you are talking to other people and looking for reviews before accepting any job offers. Ask about whether past employees had any troubles with the employer providing or assisting in obtaining the right work permits and visas. The last thing you want is to be scammed into giving up your time and potentially your freedom if you are arrested for an illegitimate employer.

What are some final thoughts for avoiding scams?

The above mentioned are the most common of scams that you will come across as an ESL teacher. More often than not these scams will be readily apparent after a little bit of digging as things will be off about the listing or the scammer will be asking for money up front before you are hired for the job. The most important thing is that you do your due diligence and checking out the employer before accepting any job offers. Always make sure you are asking other people if you can find them and make sure to check Google about the school. If it is a company that has perpetrated scams or frauds in the past there will be information online about them. The majority of job listings that you will come across are going to be legitimate, however, you should always be cautious. Just because you are looking at a reputable job board or at a reputable school doesn’t mean it isn’t a scam. Scam artists have been known to post on legitimate job boards using the information of a real and reputable school. Just be aware that most jobs you come across are not going to be scams but if something sounds too good to be true such as well above average salary, extraordinary benefits, lower than usual working hours, etc. then there is a good chance you are looking at a scam.

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.