The teaching profession is a subject of much agitation, controversy, and stress here in the United States. Teachers complain of low pay, insane course loads, uncooperative students and parents, rigid unions and tenure structures, and so on. Overseas, however, there are opportunities for English teachers that — provided you’ve got the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification, and the mobility (no dependents at home, no serious medical, legal, or financial problems, etc.) — can provide an exciting lifestyle that will open your eyes to the world, and even compensate you well, too! Here are 10 countries where the demand for TEFL-certified English teachers is particularly high:
In one of the hugest historical developments of our generation, the world’s largest country by population is now also its second largest economy, after the United States. That means a huge demand both for Americans to learn Mandarin and for Chinese to learn English, which remains the international language of business. The pay tends to not be quite as high as in Japan or South Korea, but the qualifications are less rigorous, so it’s a good pick for those fresh out of college or without prior teaching experience.
South Korea offers some of the best compensation for international teachers of English. Employers will typically pay for your round-trip flight, apartment, insurance, and a monthly salary around $2,000 or $3,000, plus a month’s bonus. However, most of the jobs are through the hagwon system of private tutoring companies for the rich. The reputability of these companies varies hugely, and you will find horror stories about unpaid salary and the Korean legal system being impenetrable to foreigners, but these are exceptions. So just do your research thoroughly, and you’ll be fine.
By far the largest teaching resource in Japan is JET, the Japan Exchange and Teaching program. However, there are many unaffiliated programs as well. The salary is comparable to what you’d be making in Korea, but the cost of living is higher, particularly in the mind-boggling mega-city that is Tokyo. However, Japan is a wonderful place to explore and get to know for a year or two, so you should consider trying it out.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Vietnam, an eager economic up-and-comer where the growth of demand for English instruction has been huge lately. The salary will nominally be pretty low, but considering the negligible cost of living, it’s still enough to have plenty of fun in your time off. Vietnam is also a truly beautiful and fascinating country to travel around, with lots of culture and history (some of it not so nice, thanks to us, but they don’t resent Americans the way you might think). Expats tend to fall in love with this country for some reason … maybe you will too!
Another 20th-century adversary that’s now embracing American expats (at least, English teachers and representatives of major corporations) is Russia. There are many types of arrangements for teaching English in Russia: dedicated language schools, instructing businessmen, private schools for wealthy children, and freelance tutoring. Russia may be harder to get a work visa for than some of these other countries, so start planning early.
Taiwan, once known as Formosa and officially called the Republic of China, used to consider itself the exiled government of all of China, but now contents itself with running its own prosperous island, which was thriving long before the mainland got its act together. Teaching opportunities include chains of cram schools known as buxibans, as well as kindergartens and public high schools. English teachers are extremely well paid here, but don’t be fooled when your eyes pop at the figures: a $1.5 million salary, for example, refers to the Taiwanese dollar, and would be more like $50,000 U.S. dollars a year.
The UAE is a small but very wealthy country on the coast of the Persian Gulf, made up of seven smaller constituent states including capital Abu Dhabi and the spectacular Dubai, which is both a major financial center and a glitzy tourist destination, like the Las Vegas of the Arab world. As you might expect in this oil-rich, ambitious country, English teachers are exceptionally well compensated, with living expenses covered and a generous salary. As with most of the jobs on this list, you needn’t know the local language (Arabic), and if you do, translation jobs will be even more lucrative than teaching.
Teaching in Saudi Arabia pays about as well as teaching in the Emirates (usually about $3000-$4000 per month), but there’s a catch. While the Emirates is a relatively modern society where people have fun and females are allowed to drive (for instance), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a hideously repressive government complete with religious police to patrol citizens’ behavior. You’ll live well, but on an all-expat Western compound with high fences to keep terrorists out and you in. The rest of society will be largely closed off to you, and what’s more, you’ll probably prefer it that way. Still, this peculiar situation may have its own fascination for you, and the pay is certainly great.
Thailand is kind of a midpoint between the beauty, friendliness, and low cost of living in Vietnam and the economic bustle of South Korea or Japan. The food is great, the culture is vibrant and captivating, and there’s a giant push going on to teach English to all students. One driving reason for this is that the ASEAN economic zone, whose official business language is English, will be strengthening its ties in 2015, along the lines of what the EU has done in Europe.
There are many countries in Europe that have a pressing need for English teachers. However, the aforementioned European Union economic arrangement means that workers from other EU countries, most notably the United Kingdom of course, will be fast-tracked for those jobs, while Americans will find it very difficult (usually, not always) to get work in France or Spain. However, the Czech Republic is not a member state of the EU, so you’re good to go there. Jobs in small Czech towns will pay better than the tiny cost of living there. Meanwhile, Prague is one of the most beautiful and fun cities in Europe, and jobs here will pay somewhat better, but living will cost more. You shouldn’t expect, for instance, to have money left over to jet-set around Western Europe with. In any case, there’s plenty to see in nearby countries like Hungary and Austria.