How to Get a Job as a Teacher Overseas

For the second installment on my teaching overseas series (you can find the first one on the pros and cons of such employment here), I’d like to tell you how to get a job. It’s both remarkably simple and remarkably complicated.

First, you need to find where the jobs are. The most well-known website for ESL jobs is Dave’s ESL Cafe. Dave Sperling is a former English teacher who’s made a name for himself by helping people find jobs and teachers stay connected. It’s a great site with many forums sorted by region and country and several job boards with some dedicated to specific countries that employ large numbers of foreign English teachers (China and Korea). Dave’s ESL Cafe is a vast resource and should be a prospective teacher’s first stop in their quest for a job. Other frequently used job boards include GaijinPot (primarily Japan), and Korea Bridge (a heavy emphasis on the Busan area).

Alternatively, you can contact schools or companies directly with inquiries about jobs. I obtained my current job this way and sometimes this can be more beneficial as you can negotiate more options because you are dealing directly with the school. If this is the road you want to take, here are a few large companies that take direct applications: Aeon/Amity and ECC (Japan), Chung Dahm and The Wall Street Institute (Korea), HESS (Taiwan), and EF: English First (international).

This also includes recruiting agencies. A very well-known recruiting agency in America/Canada is Footprints. Their website also has very valuable information on what living conditions are like in different countries and can be a good resource when you start look. Personally, I’ve known many people who found jobs through Footprints and they had good experiences, unlike myself and many others who have worked with foreign recruiters which often neglect to keep you informed during the application process.

One final place to look for jobs is with government agencies. The U.S. State Department also hires English teachers to work in culture centers as an extension of the embassy and in an effort to increase community involvement.  The English Fellows program pays well and offers positions all over the world (not to mention it’s a good inroad to the Foreign Service). My best friend taught for the State Department in Israel and I’ve met many others in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Please note, however, they have much higher standards and requirements so don’t go pass the eligibility page before you start building fantasies about state dinners. There are many other foreign government programs that hire English teachers too such as the JET Programme in Japan.

A very serious warning: many schools in Asia, but particularly in Vietnam, offer TESOL or CELTA certificates as part of their training for your new job, as a way to entice new teachers. However, these certificates are sometimes unaccredited and will be useless elsewhere in the world. Some of them will even ask you to pay for the course and promise you they will hire you when you finish. Don’t fall into this trap. Do your research. There are many forums online discussing these schools; make sure you don’t end up some disgruntled teacher posting on them!

Second, you need to figure out what kind of job you want. There are a lot of options out there for teachers. Truthfully, the majority of us teach English but there are a lot of jobs that require teachers of other subjects in English as well. I’ve seen ads for math, science, history, IT, nursing, journalism, and business teachers, but these jobs are not reliable; they are far and few between. It’s hard to count on these kind of positions unless you have some real qualifications in them, so stick to English only if you’re fresh out of college with no more than a BA.

Your choices pretty much fall into one of three categories: public school, private academy, or university. Public school positions are usually the easiest to get (with exception of Taiwan and Japan) but they are also the lowest paid. My first year teaching was at a public school and while I loved the relationships I made and the cultural immersion, my efforts made little impact and I did a lot of desk warming. Private academies are a little harder and they can be rough. Hours are usually from 4-10 p.m. and they often feel like prisons more than educational institutions–but you will feel like you’re teaching something and for new teachers with no experience, having a supplied curriculum helps. Universities are harder and good universities are the hardest. In general, you need a master’s degree though there are still quite a few that will take teachers with only BA’s if they have experience (this is particularly applicable to China). If you’re lucky and land one of these, you’ll have more control over your classes and be rewarded with excellent paid vacations (up to 6 weeks in Korea!).

The time of year in which you look can make a big difference though in what is available. If you want to teach public schools or universities, look during semester breaks and keep in mind that Asian school years start in January, not August. If you want to teach in private academies, look at the end of quarters (January, March, June, September). Keep in mind your ideal date to start teaching and look for jobs about five-three months before that date–this should give you enough time to find a job and navigate immigration.

Third, you need to contact the employer you wish to work for. Send them your photo, resume and a friendly cover letter explaining what you are looking for and why this position would be a good fit for you. Don’t be surprised if you don’t hear back from them. Right now, with the economy sluggish at home and abroad, there are fewer positions and more applicants so employers are being picky. I have applied for many jobs and never received a reply. Here is a really good thread from Dave’s where one teacher shares what kind of qualifications he saw in applications to replace his job–it definitely reveals how the industry has become more competitive.

If they like you, your employer will set up a phone interview and request more documents like a copy of your transcript and degree. Some schools might ask you write an essay or take a grammar test (my most recent job did) and some might cut straight to the chase and ask you when you want to start. Once you’ve decided on a start date, the fun begins!

The school will handle most of the immigration stuff but you will be required to furnish background checks and certified copies of your transcripts. And this is where it becomes remarkably complicated. Every country had different requirements and those requirements differ greatly depending on the nationality of the applicant. Some schools won’t even know what the real requirements are and they’ll make you chase down a million unnecessary documents just to cover their butts. Be sure to check the embassy website for your home country (ex. Korean Embassy in America) and the immigration website of in the country where you wish to apply (ex. Korea Immigration Service). These sites will have more detailed information on what documents and certification are required of you and they will be accurate. If you still have questions, call one of the helpline numbers or enlist your school to find out for you.

Your work visa will more than likely be an employer sponsor visa which means you will be barred from working at any other company or institution without their written consent (lest you wish to be deported). It’s up to you if you wish to risk this but don’t expect anyone to let it slide. This is serious business. Obtaining this visa may require a visit to the embassy or consulate in your home country for an interview though the actual application lodgement can most likely be done via mail. Come dressed nicely and be polite. Consider this a real job interview and you’ll be fine. Do a little homework on the country you wish to work in first though–this will go well for you. Once everything is in order, your school will give you directions and advise you of when to purchase your plane ticket (which will likely be reimbursed) and if or where you will be training for your new job.

It probably looks hard and complicated but I assure you, it can be simple–it can be really simple. My first job was a public school teaching position that I acquired through a recruiter on Dave’s ESL Cafe and the process was incredibly fast. It took only three weeks from the time I sent my resume to the time I boarded my plane. A lot has changes since 2007 but some countries still hire at this speed. Get ready for a completely different pace of life.

Next week: Real teachers share their real experiences from Asia and the Middle East.

By Thelma

Thelma is a photographer and traveler currently residing in Sydney, Australia. In her free time she can be found with her nose behind a camera or obsessing over koalas.

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