A Brief Look at What You Need to Teach English in the Most Popular ESL Markets
Whether you are a budding ESL teacher, or you’ve been teaching for a while, one of the first considerations to make before applying for ESL jobs in any country is to understand both what qualifications are required to work legally in that country, as well as what employers desire when shortlisting candidates. Let’s examine the common requirements to teach English in the most popular ESL markets.
Citizenship Restrictions and Preferences
By most interpretations across the ESL industry, a native English speaker is one who was born and educated in:
- New Zealand
- South Africa (in some cases)
It may seem unfair, especially to fluent and qualified teachers of English who are not citizens of these countries, but the reality is that the majority of the jobs in the ESL industry are targeted towards hiring citizens of the above-mentioned countries. In many cases, being a native English speaker is a legal requirement, which employers must comply with.
That doesn’t mean there are no ESL teaching job opportunities for citizens of other countries. Indeed, fluent English speakers from other countries do work as ESL teachers in many parts of the world, and there are plenty of ESL markets to choose from where being a native English speaker is not required to be employed as an ESL teacher. Non-native English speakers may be required to prove their English proficiency.
Though some popular ESL markets don’t require ESL teachers to have a TEFL qualification, most, if not all, employers will have a strong preference for individuals who have one. We expect more of these countries to change their stance and make this a requirement as their economies develop and purchasing power increases. Two decades ago, people could travel through many parts of Asia and find work as an English teacher with little more than a passport and tourist visa. Not so today.
The best course of action anyone keen on teaching English abroad (or online) can take is to obtain a legitimate TEFL certification. We use the word legitimate to distinguish TEFL certifications that are accredited and regulated by governmental bodies such as the UK Office for Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual). The UK arguably has the most well-established educational framework, thus making it an ideal choice for quality TEFL certification academies to gain accreditations for their TEFL certification courses.
We recommend attaining a Level 5 TEFL certification, which you can learn more about in our TEFL certifications guide.
As with TEFL qualifications, requirements for ESL teachers to have a university degree vary from one country to another, though practically any country where ESL teachers are highly compensated require at least a bachelor’s degree, and will have a strong preference for candidates who have master’s degrees.
The criteria is usually coupled with other criteria for gaining legal employment as an ESL teacher. For example, in Taiwan, ESL teachers must be native English speakers as well as have a university degree, but are currently not required to have a TEFL certification. On the other hand, Mainland China requires ESL teachers to have both a university degree as well as a 120-hour TEFL certification, though there is no specific requirement for an ESL teacher to be a citizen of a specific country. Employers in Mainland China by-and-large prefer native English speakers who meet these criteria, but some employers will accept fluent English speakers from other countries who meet these criteria, usually with the expectation to have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in English or Education.
ESL Teaching Opportunities in the Middle East Typically Require a Masters Degree
Salaries and benefits in the Middle East, particularly in United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, are among the most attractive in the ESL industry. This also makes these two ESL job markets highly competitive, and as such, employers can be more demanding about the teaching credentials they desire their teachers to have.
It’s not uncommon to see job listings in Saudi Arabia and UAE for which the minimum qualifications are a masters degree in English, TESOL, linguistics, or education. This strong preference is almost always coupled with a requirement for ESL teachers to be citizens of recognized native English speaking countries, and get even more specific due to visa quotas. Therefore, you’ll often see job listings for ESL teachers in Saudi Arabia state specific nationalities they are seeking to hire for the teacher roster.
Many employers in the Middle East also tend to have a strong preference for candidates who are licensed teachers in their home countries, who have a TEFL qualification, and have extensive teaching experience.
If teaching in the Middle East is on your radar, you need to be ready to compete with other highly qualified teachers also seeking opportunities in the region, because of the financial rewards on offer.
Teaching experience is usually not a requirement to be legally hired in most countries, but most employers will have a strong preference for qualified and experienced ESL teachers, more so for teaching positions in universities and top-tier international schools. It is almost certainly the case in Saudi Arabia and UAE that teachers who are hired have some years of experience behind their credentials, whereas in China, employers are more open to hiring individuals with no teaching experience, and even assisting new ESL teachers to earn their 120-hour TEFL certification. ESL employers in China do value teaching experience, but the demand is currently so high for teachers, together with a strong preference for native English speakers, that there simply isn’t an adequate supply of experienced teachers. Hong Kong has some of the best-paid ESL opportunities for qualified and experienced ESL teachers, regardless of nationality, while experience is not necessary to teach English in Thailand as long as you have both a university degree as well as a 120-hour TEFL certification.
Bottom line? Generally, employers tend to place less emphasis on ESL teaching experience than on having a university degree, a TEFL certification, and being a native English speaker. Rather, it is a combination of citizenship, education, TEFL certification, and experience that is considered, and this combination will vary not only by country, but also by the type of employer.
Age Restrictions and Preferences
Age restrictions do exist in the ESL industry, and the rules and expectations vary broadly by location. Most countries will have a minimum age requirement to be legally employed according to local labor laws, and some countries also have an upper age limit, also due to labor legislation. These laws will not likely be specific for employing ESL teachers or expat workers, but may in fact apply to both locals and expats, as many countries maintain a mandatory retirement age. What this means is that it may be difficult for teachers above the maximum to be legally employed without an employer obtaining an exemption. In some cases, employers may be willing to go the extra mile and request an exemption, especially if the employer and teacher have an established working relationship. However, under normal circumstances, if there are younger qualified candidates for an open position, there is little reason for an employer to seek an exemption for a candidate who is beyond the mandatory retirement age.
Beyond legal barriers, different countries have varying cultural perceptions about what an ESL teacher should be in terms of age and appearance. In some countries, for example, employers will value a teacher’s experience and opt for the more qualified and experienced teacher over a younger, less experienced one. On the other hand, older, more experienced teachers face challenges being considered in countries where the perception of an ESL teacher is shaped by being young and energetic.
The reality of working as an expat ESL teacher is that you will at some point realize and come to accept that every society and culture has its regulations, as well as its nuances. If you encounter challenges getting hired due to age restrictions or preferences in any particular country, as difficult as it may be, the best you can do is to accept what it is and keep trying, adjusting your approach as needed.
TEFL Requirements in Popular ESL Locations
|Location||Citizenship Requirements||University Degree||TEFL Certification||Guide|
|China||Native English Speakers Required||Bachelor Degree Required||120 Hour TEFL Required||View Guide|
|Hong Kong SAR||None||Bachelor Degree Required (English Major Preferred)||120 Hour TEFL Required||View Guide|
|Indonesia||Native English Speakers Required||Bachelor Degree Required||120 Hour TEFL Required||View Guide|
|Japan||Fluent English Speakers||Bachelor Degree Required||TEFL Preferred||View Guide|
|South Korea||Native English Speakers Required||Bachelor Degree Required||120 Hour TEFL Required||View Guide|
|Taiwan||Native English Speakers Required||Bachelor Degree Required||TEFL May Be Required||View Guide|
|Thailand||Native English Speakers Required||Bachelor Degree Required||120 Hour TEFL Required||View Guide|
|Vietnam||Proof of English Fluency||Bachelor Degree Required||120 Hour TEFL Preferred||View Guide|
|Egypt||Native English Speakers Required||Bachelor Degree Required||120 Hour TEFL Required||View Guide|
|Qatar||Native English Speakers Preferred||Bachelor Degree Required (Masters Preferred)||120 Hour TEFL Required||View Guide|
|Saudi Arabia||Native English Speakers Required||Bachelor Degree Required (Masters Preferred)||120 Hour TEFL Required||View Guide|
|UAE||Native English Speakers Required||Bachelor Degree Required (Masters Preferred)||120 Hour TEFL Required||View Guide|
|Czechia||EU Members with Proof of English Fluency||Bachelor Degree in English||120 Hour TEFL Required||View Guide|
|Russia||Native English Speakers Preferred and Proof of English Fluency||Not Required||120 Hour TEFL Required||View Guide|
|Spain||EU Members Preferred||Not Required||120 Hour TEFL Preferred||View Guide|
|Colombia||Proof of English Fluency||Not Required||120 Hour TEFL Required||View Guide|
|Mexico||Proof of English Fluency||Not Required||120 Hour TEFL Preferred||View Guide|
Earn an Ofqual Level 5 TEFL Certification
Level 5 Online TEFL Certification
Other Common Requirements for Teaching and Working Abroad
Some circumstances may influence or even dictate hiring candidates based on their gender. For example, in societies where students study in gender-specific schools, teachers of a specific gender may be required for the role. It is also not unusual in some societies for employers to express a preference for teachers of a certain gender.
Many countries also require ESL teachers to meet additional criteria. These may include:
- Copies of university degree, authenticated or with Apostille
- Official transcripts from your university, in envelopes signed and sealed by the university
- Police certificate from your country proving you have no criminal record, authenticated or with Apostille
- Medical certificate from your country proving you have no serious health conditions
These requirements will vary from one country to another, and regulations are updated from time to time, so it’s important to confirm with your employer and the local embassy precisely what documents you need to arrange to obtain a working visa and work permit.
We have provided a broad view of the TEFL requirements for the most popular ESL job markets. Most of these countries will have similar requirements in terms of who can be legally employed to teach English as foreign teachers, what qualifications they will need to have, how much teaching experience is needed, and what, if any, age restrictions apply to being legally employed.
Naturally, every country will have specific regulations that will apply to employing foreign teachers.
Use this post as a guideline for planning your job search, but most definitely verify the current situation in any country you intend to work as an ESL teacher.