The No BS Guide To Teaching English With No Degree21 min read

The ESL teaching landscape changes every year and teaching English abroad without a degree is becoming harder as more countries begin to put into place tighter restrictions for teachers. That being said, there are still a number of places that accept native English speakers that hold no four-year degree. It should be noted, however, that if you fall into this category of teacher that you are at a severe disadvantage in your hunt for work and that you will have to be much more patient and much less selective than teachers who do hold a university degree.

Is it possible to teach English without a degree?

In the past, it was much easier to teach English without a degree. However, the ESL industry in many countries has come under increased scrutiny from their respective governments and the hiring standards and practices have become much more regulated and stringent. In countries like Japan, it isn’t even possible to secure a work permit without a degree that has been validated in your own country and then sent in for validation by the respective Japanese governing body. Countries that in the past used to be havens for teachers that either didn’t have degrees or lacked qualifications for teaching all together are now imposing greater regulation for schools looking to secure work permits for the teachers they hire. Thailand is a great example of a country that was well-known for having relaxed employment standards and is cracking down hard on foreigners working illegally (though the article linked to is from 2007 it paints a grim picture of what could potentially happen if you are caught). This is a trend that is not going to change as the economies of many developing nations improve and the infrastructure and laws improve with it.

“Hiring standards and practices have become much more regulated and stringent.”

However, as stated in the introduction, there are still many countries where you can teach English without a degree and some of which are even traveler favorites. The primary thing to be aware of is that many (but not all) of these countries don’t require a degree for a reason. Many of the countries on the list are developing nations with less government regulation and oversight. Most of the time the pay for these jobs will be much less than what could be expected with a four-year degree in a more optimal location. Also, there is always the chance that the requirements can change while you are in the country and that a four-year degree will be required in the future such was the case for many teachers who found themselves out of work or working illegally in Thailand and China.

It should also be noted that we here at ESL Job Exchange discourage anyone from working illegally. In this case, it will be working for companies or schools without a four-year degree in a country that you would otherwise be required to have one to work in. Aside from the fact that you are breaking the law and could face severe consequences including being banned from that country and even possible fines and/ or jail time. Many of the schools and companies that are willing to employ teachers who are working illegally are usually less than scrupulous. If anything were to happen such as a breach of contract or should the school or company decide they want to stop paying you, then there will be absolutely no recourse available to you as you are not supposed to be working in the first place. Police in countries like China even conduct raids on schools periodically looking for teachers working illegally with fake documents. You will also be working without the proper visa and will most likely be on a tourist visa in whatever country you are in. This will mean that you are going to be doing visa runs every few months which can become expensive over a long period of time and will no doubt arise suspicion from customs and immigration officials. For these reasons, it is advised that you do not attempt to work illegally in any country.

“We here at ESL Job Exchange discourage anyone from working illegally.”

How do I improve my odds of teaching English without a degree?

After reading the above, if you are still interested in teaching English abroad without a degree then taking certain actions can dramatically improve your odds of securing a better job in a more desirable location. The following three actionable steps can be easily taken to make sure that you are a more appealing candidate to schools and to make sure that your application stands out against other candidates who are applying for the same job.

  1. Getting a TEFL certificate is an absolute must if you want to teach English abroad without a degree. Any school that will hire you without a degree and without a TEFL certificate is most likely not going to be a place you want to work for and will certainly not pay what it will take to sustain yourself abroad. By getting a TEFL certificate you are demonstrating to schools that you have the proper understanding of exactly how to teach ESL students and have the practical knowledge of how to manage the classroom. A TEFL certificate will also be of great benefit if you have no prior teaching or tutoring experience as you will get in class experience. You need to make sure that you are getting, at the very least, a proper 120 hour TEFL certificate from an accredited and well-known program. This will be more expensive, however, without a degree, you are going to need to make sure that you have the highest quality certification available. While there are many cheap TEFL courses available if you are looking to get an English teaching job abroad without a degree the 120 hour TEFL or greater is well worth the cost and will pay for itself in the long-term many times over.
  2. Making sure that your résumé is airtight and tailored specifically for the ESL industry will keep your application from getting passed over. For the jobs available to teachers who do not hold a four-year degree, the best ones in prime locations are going to be more competitive. You may even be competing against candidates who do have university degrees. The last thing that you want is for your application to be thrown in the trash because of some minor mistake or because you left out something that would have caught the eye of the employer. You need to first conduct the proper research into how to write a résumé for ESL jobs. If you feel uncomfortable creating your own resume then it may be worthwhile to have your résumé crafted through a professional resume writing service such as Resumes Planet.
  3. You have the right certifications, your résumé is polished and perfect, and now that you’ve secured the interview you need to have the answers to the questions that are going to get you hired. Understanding the interview process and doing your due diligence to research the school and the country that you are looking to work in will go a long way in showing your potential employer that you are serious about working and that you are going to care about your job and the students you are tasked with educating. You need to make sure that you are fully prepared and that you will be able to stand out from your competition. If you can impress your interviewer with quality answers and demonstrate that you can speak in a clear and easy to understand way then you will dramatically increase your odds of securing the job you want.

Where can I get a job teaching English with no degree?

As mentioned previously, certain countries have very strict rules about working as a teacher without a university degree. The problem is that many of these countries are often at the top of the list when people are looking for places to teach. However, just because you can’t get a job in your first or second choice country, doesn’t mean that there aren’t a number of equally good alternatives. While it is true that many of the places that do hire teachers with no degree don’t make it to the top of the list of places you want to teach in, there are still a number of great places such as Mexico and Cambodia that are attractive for a variety of reasons. We’ll take a look at a few of these places and discuss the upsides and downsides of each location to give you a better idea of a few countries you can apply to. This list is non-exhaustive so just because we don’t talk about a country doesn’t mean that it is off the list if you do not hold a degree. It should also be noted that many online companies are also willing to hire tutors with no degree who meet other standards such as holding a TEFL certificate, prior experience teaching students, or current university students who are working towards their degree.

“just because you can’t get a job in your first or second choice country, doesn’t mean that there aren’t a number of equally good alternatives.”

Cambodia

Cambodia is a great place for tutors looking to teach English without a degree.

Teachers who are looking to work in a tropical location would do well to consider Cambodia. A large variety of terrain from pristine beaches to mountain ranges that hide ancient temples can be found in this country of over fifteen million. Due to its proximity to Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia is often not the first location that teachers looking to work in South East Asia choose. However, this is a major benefit for teachers who are looking to secure work and who don’t have a degree as it means that the number of students looking to learn English is outpacing schools’ abilities to hire teachers. This coupled with the countries more relaxed visa laws makes it an ideal location to work in.

Pros:

  • Cambodia has a very low cost of living in comparison to many countries around the world and even when compared to other Southeast Asian nations. The average monthly rental price for a one bedroom apartment in Phnom Penh city center, Cambodia’s capital city, is $475 according to numbeo. Most expats can expect to pay $200 – $300 for modest accommodations outside the city center.
  • Salaries that a teacher can command in the city start out at around $1,000 to $1,200. This is for both teachers with and without degrees, though teachers with a degree or a TEFL certificate can potentially earn more. If you are able to manage your money well then this will allow you to comfortably get by with the low cost of living.
  • Due to its proximity to Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and many other popular countries, there will always be somewhere to travel to during holidays and time off. If you are in Phnom Penh then you will cheaply and easily be able to travel from the airport to surrounding countries. The bus system in Cambodia is also very easy to use and extremely cheap and efficient.

Cons:

  • Though the visa situation is fairly relaxed, this is something that could change at any moment. Already, new regulations have been implemented for certain types of visas and there are proposals for tighter scrutiny on work permits and long-term visas. Though, new regulation doesn’t necessarily guarantee enforcement. It is important to note that while it is possible to teach English without a degree in Cambodia at the moment the situation could be completely different in a year.
  • Years of civil war left Cambodia decimated both economically and socially. While things have improved greatly since the end of the Khmer Rouge, the impacts of this period are still present as the country has recovered from complete economic shutdown and genocide. Because of this, there are many places in Cambodia where you may teach that are still steeped in poverty and where the infrastructure may be lacking. Many villages still do not have running water and electricity and internet may be unstable. It should be noted that it is not guaranteed that you will find a job in Phnom Penh and should be prepared to teach in a smaller village in the countryside.
  • Many schools and companies in Cambodia prefer to hire tutors who are already on the ground so if you are not already in Cambodia or you are not willing to travel to Cambodia then you may find it harder to find a job.

Average Monthly Salary Cambodia

 Monthly Salary
(KHR)
Monthly Salary
(USD)
Phnom Penh4,000,000
to
5,000,000
$1,000 to $1,200
Other Areas3,000,000
to
4,000,000
$800 to $1,000

Russia

Russia is a great place for teachers looking to teach English with no degree.

Because Russia is an extremely large country with a massive population spread out over 6,000,000 square miles, the demand for ESL teachers is great. So great, in fact, that it is often quite easy to find jobs even if you do not have a university degree. Russia is a country that is rich in history and boasts an extremely diverse landscape that teachers can explore. However, if you are more inclined to warmer weather you may be put off by the extreme winters. The coldest inhabited place on earth is located in the far east of Russia and while not all of the country is this extreme it is still an extremely cold place throughout much of the year and you will need to be prepared for this if you plan on living and teaching for any length of time.

Pros:

  • As mentioned, there is a great demand for native English speakers who can teach English to the large and widely distributed population of the country. Because Russia isn’t necessarily at the top of the list for teaching ESL you will no doubt have better odds of securing a job then in a location where the competition is greater and schools have a wide selection of candidates to choose from.
  • Some schools in Russia offer to house teachers which can be a huge benefit due to the higher cost of living in the major cities in comparison to other countries that hire teachers with no degree. Looking for one of these schools when you are applying for jobs can be helpful for keeping your finances in order and the cost of living down.
  • The rich history of the country and the diverse landscape ensures that you will not be bored. During your free time, there will always be something or somewhere to explore and it is quite possible that you will never really get to see everything the country has to offer.

Cons:

  • The cost of living in the major cities of Russia is quite a bit higher than many other places which are popular with ESL teachers. Because of this, if you cannot secure a job with decent pay or provided housing then you will most likely be living in a shared housing situation on a tight budget. Other expenses like food and utilities and transportation can also run higher here. Make sure that you have worked out the math before accepting any offers to make sure you will be able to cover your expenses.
  • As mentioned, the weather in Russia is quite extreme and may be unfavorable for many potential ESL teachers. If you are more accustomed to warmer climates or if snow and cold weather are a major turn off to you then Russia may not be the best place for you as the winter begins in November and true warmth does not begin to appear until around April.
  • Because the country is so large there is a high demand for teachers who are willing to work in remote locations where it is harder to fill teaching positions. If you are looking to teach English without a degree in Russia you may have to settle for a job in one of these smaller towns or villages as the competition may be too great in Moscow or St. Petersburg or the schools there may only be looking for teachers with degrees.

Average Monthly Salary Russia

 Monthly Salary
(RUB)
Monthly Salary
(USD)
Major Cities50,000 to 76,000+$800 - $1,200+

Mexico

Mexico is a great place for teachers looking to teach English without a degree.

Like Cambodia, Mexico has great appeal for teachers who are looking to work in a tropical climate and a lower cost of living. With over 32 million children enrolled in public and private schools in Mexico, there is great demand for native English speakers to teach students. Like the other countries on this list, this heavy demand coupled with the fact that many teachers overlook Mexico for countries with more favorable pay like Japan and Korea makes Mexico a great place for teachers who do not have a degree but are still looking to teach English.

Pros:

  • Mexico has a low cost of living. Even the capital Mexico City is low in comparison to many cities around the world with a similar population. Food, rent, and transportation are also affordable which will allow you to balance your budget more easily. Transportation around the country is affordable and easy by bus and the metro in Mexico City makes it cheap and easy to get around for teachers who are located in the capital.
  • Because of the way that Mexico is situated running long ways from north to south, there is a wide variety of climates from desert mountains to rich tropical jungles. This means that teachers can easily find a climate that they will enjoy working in. This also ensures that you can travel around the country during time off and holidays and there will be a large diversity of climates and landscapes to choose from.
  • Unlike many other countries that teachers with no degree can teach English in, the expat population of Mexico is very large and very diverse. Because of this, it may be easier to meet new friends and to find people who can help you with settling in should you be unable to speak Spanish, the official language of Mexico.

Cons:

  • While many places in the world are certainly more dangerous, it should be mentioned that the crime rate in Mexico is higher than in many other parts of the world. While this doesn’t mean that Mexico is particularly dangerous, nor does it mean that you will necessarily have anything to worry about, it does mean that you should be more cautious about where you go and your surroundings. Petty crime such as pickpocketing is quite common and even more, violent crimes like mugging can be more common than in some countries where teachers may come from. While this shouldn’t greatly impact your decision it should be something you think about and read up about when choosing to work in Mexico.
  • Teachers can expect to make significantly less working in Mexico than in many other places in the world. Especially teachers who do not hold a university degree. Private schools in Mexico will hire teachers with no degree and some will hire teachers without a TEFL certificate who are only native speakers. However, these jobs will pay very little and teachers who take these jobs may have trouble sustaining themselves even with the lower cost of living. Some jobs that do not require a TEFL or a university degree pay as little as $400 per month.
  • Many of the jobs that hire teachers with no degree are going to be located outside of major urban areas. This is similar in many other countries and is something that you should be prepared for in your hunt for teaching jobs. Having an open mind about working in a more rural area will significantly open the available jobs you can apply for not only in Mexico but other countries as well.

Average Monthly Salary Mexico

 Monthly Salary
(MXN)
Monthly Salary
(USD)
Mexico City6,000
to
12,000
$300 to $700

Vietnam

Picture of hills and countryside of Vietnam. A great country for teachers who wish to teach English without a degree.

Vietnam is one of the newer markets for ESL teachers and one that combines both a comfortable level of pay with a low cost of living. The large Southeast Asian nation is home to over 90 million people with almost 40 million of those being between the age of 0 to 24. This large population coupled with a growing economy has created a great demand for ESL teachers to teach not only school-aged children but also business English to adults. An added bonus of being an ESL teacher in Vietnam are the tropical beaches and warm year-round climate for tutors that enjoy tropical locations.

Pros:

  • Similar to Cambodia, the cost of living in Vietnam is extremely low when compared to other Asian nations such as Hong Kong and South Korea which are popular with ESL teachers. Unlike the other locations on this list, however, the potential salary a teacher in Vietnam can earn, even one without a university degree is quite high in relation to the cost of living. This leaves teachers with the potential for not only living comfortably but saving money as well.
  • Teachers with a 120-hour TEFL certification have greater opportunities for higher paying jobs in Vietnam. Even those without university degrees. This doesn’t guarantee you a high paying job without a degree as many of the best jobs in Vietnam are going to require teachers to both hold a degree and a TEFL certification. But, it does mean that if you are looking to work in Vietnam without a degree you can greatly increase your odds of finding a good job with a TEFL certification.
  • The location of Vietnam on the edge of the Southeast Asian mainland makes for a great home base to further travel to other destinations including Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Korea, China, and numerous other cities and countries which are all a very short flight away. Coupled with the higher salary and low cost of living ESL teachers in Vietnam should have plenty of opportunity for exploring other countries in their free time.

Cons:

  • Vietnam, like many other Southeast Asian nations, is known for high levels of corruption at all levels of the country. This means that things may not always be straightforward and teachers may not always understand what is going on in terms of securing the proper visa and permit for working legally in the country. This also means that if issues arise with the company you are working for about pay or benefits or other things that may have been promised to you even in your contract that there may be little to no recourse available to you to resolve these issues.
  • As the economy of Vietnam improves so to will the standards and enforcement of regulations surrounding work permits and visas. This means that, even though it is possible and not incredibly difficult to secure a job legally working without a degree, this may not always be the case in the future. Other Southeast Asian nations such as Thailand were once known for being havens for teachers with no degree to find work legally that paid well. Changing situations in these countries, though, found many of these teachers being arrested and deported with many of them being forced to pay hefty fines or bribes to avoid jail time and being blacklisted for many years from re-entering the country.
  • Many of the jobs available to teachers without a degree may be in more rural areas of the country including in the sometimes dense jungle areas. While there are still plenty of jobs available in the major cities of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, as the standards of hiring increase the good jobs will slowly become more scarce for non-degree teachers. This means that teachers should be prepared to work in smaller areas which may be less desirable to live in.

Average Monthly Salary Vietnam

 Monthly Salary
(VND)
Monthly Salary
(USD)
Ho Chi Minh City,
Hanoi
23,000,000
to
46,000,000
$1,000 to $2,000+
Other areas18,500,000
to
34,500,000
$800 to $1,500+

Summing it all up

As has been stated many times throughout this article, it is entirely possible to teach English abroad with no degree. However, as I have also tried to make very clear not having a degree is going to significantly hinder your ability to find a quality ESL job and is going to make it impossible to legally work in the high-end ESL markets such as Japan, Korea, and China. There is a lot of conflicting advice about this topic online and many schools with unscrupulous business practices who are having trouble hiring teachers may even try to convince you that it is perfectly fine working without a degree or work permit and that no one will ever check your papers. However, a quick search online will reveal countless articles about foreign teachers being arrested for working illegally and spending time in prison before having to pay large fines and then eventually being deported with a long-term ban being stamped into their passport. I have outlined a few countries in this article where it is possible to teach English without a degree. While there are others, due diligence should be taken before accepting any position to make sure that you are working legally and with the proper visas and work permits. Many countries are actively working to crack down on teachers working illegally and despite what you may read online or what other expats may tell you, your chances of getting caught while working illegally are increasing every year as police step up raids of schools and governments improve their screening of teachers applying for work permits.

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.