Teach English Abroad 2021 | Essential Things To Know Before You Start

In this article, we will share some of the most essential insider information we've gained through working directly with the TEFL industry for many years. We are independent, so we can offer you the best advice on what to look out for when choosing a course as well as how to stay safe when job hunting overseas.

What We’ll Cover

  • Which qualifications are required to teach TEFL

  • How to determine if a course is legitimate

  • How to prepare your TEFL for use overseas

  • Top tips on staying safe whilst job hunting

Is a TEFL even required to teach English overseas?

In many cases, yes. Some countries require a TEFL certification in order for you to legally teach English as a Second Language (ESL), though some will accept teaching experience. It’s always best to check the requirements for the country you intend to teach in before you plan your course of action, to ensure you have everything covered.

Even if the country you’re planning to teach in doesn’t officially require a TEFL certification for employment purposes, you may still decide to complete a course.

Studying a quality TEFL certification can not only help you gain confidence in teaching, especially if this is your first role in education, but it can give you a deeper understanding of teaching methods in this niche sector. Standing in front of a class of students who speak little to no English can seem daunting at first. Understanding some of the theory and having skills in place to get started can really be beneficial in giving you a boost when you first start out.

Another bonus to completing a TEFL course is that it can really help your application stand out in the crowd. In such a saturated marketplace, any expertise and experience you can include on your CV can strengthen your prospects as a candidate. There’s also evidence that having TEFL training can get you a higher salary, as some employers will incentivise anyone uncertified to complete the training as part of their employment.

Will I need a degree to teach?

In some countries, a degree is a requirement in order to gain employment as an ESL teaching, including Vietnam and China. Although this is not a requirement in all countries, you may find that a degree is preferable in certain specialist sectors, or some employees may decide to specify that applicants for their positions must hold a degree.

If you don’t hold a degree, there are still plenty of opportunities around the globe to teach English as a second language, including jobs in Europe, Thailand and across South America to name just a few.

If I do a TEFL course, how do I know it’s legitimate?

This is the most common issue facing those deciding to study a TEFL certification. There are so many companies out there who offer a wide range of courses, how can you know which are worth the money, and will be fit for purpose?

Unfortunately, as the TEFL sector is unregulated by any central body, finding a straight forward answer can be difficult. Any company can offer TEFL training with no accreditations or checks on the course quality or structure, leaving prospective students wandering through a minefield when deciding which to opt for.

Checking out reviews online can be a good place to start; don’t be in a rush to choose the right course and certainly don’t opt for the cheapest without doing further investigation. Read experiences from other students who haven’t only completed the training, but are actively using the qualification in an overseas teaching position. This will give a better understanding of the quality of support and how well the knowledge they have gained can be applied to real-life scenarios.

Don’t take accreditation at face value. Just because a company claims their course is accredited, this doesn’t mean that it is good quality. This term is used regularly but it can be highly ambiguous, so don’t assume that the company or their courses are officially regulated without doing further quality checks. The only UK-based accreditation you can be completely confident in is a Ofqual; this is the government department which regulates qualifications and education institutions.

Not only is course quality and aftercare important to make sure you have the confidence to take your first steps in ESL teaching, but having a certificate which will be accepted for your work permit is imperative. Students are, on a daily basis, finding themselves out of pocket when they’ve completed a course and then need to use their certificate for an overseas work visa application.

This is because when it comes to using your TEFL certificate for a work permit, it will often need to go through a process known as attestation, or legalisation, and this is where problems can arise. If the company you have studied with is not recognised by the government or not officially authorised to issue the qualification they are offering, you can hit a brick wall when it comes to applying for work overseas.

I’ve done my TEFL, how do I use it abroad?

In order to use your new TEFL certificate overseas, you may need to legalise, also known as attest, your document. This is the case for those wishing to teach TEFL in China and Vietnam especially, but may be requested in other destination countries too, so check with your HR contact or recruiter directly.

Legalising a document is essentially making it legally recognised in a country other than that in which it was issued. For example, if you have a UK-issued TEFL certificate and want to teach ESL in Vietnam, you will need to obtain a series of stamps and verifications in order for the Vietnamese authorities to recognise the document as genuine. You can read more about the legalisation process for Vietnam here.

These processes can become complicated quickly, as the steps you need to complete the document legalisation will vary dependent on where the document was issued, the document type and where you are relocating to. Each document must be legalised in its country of issue, so this depends on where the company you studied your TEFL with is based. This can cause particular issues if you studied online with a company which is based in a different country to that which you reside in.

If you’d like to speak one of our friendly team about having your documents legalised, we’re here to help. We understand it’s easier to speak to a real person who can understand your personal situation, and we are the most experienced legalisation company when it comes to handling TEFL certificates. Get in touch through our live chat or one of the methods on our Contact Us page. We can help with your documents wherever they were issued in the world and wherever you’re going to.

What do I need to be aware of when looking for a job?

1. Make sure you know the official regulations, and stick to them

Wherever you decide to teach, make sure you understand the government-issued requirements to both apply for a work permit in the country and more specifically, to teach. Some countries hold different sets of guidelines for different job sectors, so if there are specific document requirements, make sure you know what they are.

For example, in China you do need a degree, and any quality teaching position will require valid TEFL certification. Whilst the need for a TEFL certificate is generally at the discretion of the employer, this is not the case with a degree, as this is government regulation.

Any recruiter who insists that these regulations are flexible is being dishonest and by flouting these rules can land you in very hot water if you are caught; China is increasingly cracking down on those teaching illegally in the country, so the risks are high.

2. Getting the correct visa type before you leave the country is essential

We’ve heard many stories from those who have travelled overseas to teach, only to face fines and even deportation for not holding the correct documentation. We have previously written about underhand techniques often used by recruiters within China particularly, who advise prospective new recruits that a Z-Visa (work permit) isn’t required to teach there.

In some cases, an excuse of a 90-day probationary period is used, after which your Z-Visa can be issued to you. This is not the case and we advise staying clear of any recruiter who uses this approach. If you are going to China to work, you will need to apply for your Z-Visa in the country you are residing in, and have it successfully issued before you travel to China.

Each country has their own guidelines when it comes to visa types, how you apply, and how long the visa lasts. If you have found a legitimate recruiter, they will help you through all of the process. If at any point something doesn’t seem right, do some due diligence and check with others online who are currently already teaching in that country to cross-reference the information.

3. Be protective of your paperwork and your ID documents

If you’ve been asked for colour scans of your passport or other ID, as well as other personal information, be wary, especially if you haven’t even received a contract yet. You should also never be asked to hand over your passport to your recruiter or employer once you land in the country. There is no “probationary period” or any other reason for an employer to hold your passport.

You should receive a signed contract from your new employer for you to review and agree to. If you’re happy with it, when you can submit your documents to them in order for them to apply for your work permit on your behalf.

4. Check your contract carefully for allowances and other benefits

Ensuring your salary, paid holidays and any accommodation or living allowances are clear in your contract is imperative. Being able to budget effectively rests on knowing what your outgoings will be. Many positions will give you accommodation as part of your job role, but this isn’t always the case.

Don’t leave anything to chance and if anything in your contract seems ambiguous, don’t be afraid to ask them to clarify. Bear in mind that only the information in your contract will be legally binding. If anything outside of this document is promised to you verbally or by any other means, you will not be able to hold your employer accountable if something goes wrong, so ask for any amendments to be included and signed officially to make it binding.

5. Be prepared to get a Police Clearance Certificate if required

Most countries will request you apply for a Police Clearance Certificate from your country of residence. This is also known as a Criminal Background check, but is essentially the same document. Some countries require this as standard for any visa application, such as Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, China and Qatar, but many other employers in countries such as Vietnam and Thailand will ask for this alongside your other documentation.

The process of applying for this clearance differs dependent on your country of residence, but make sure you’re aware of the process of applying when you start your job search. Very often, the Police Clearance is time sensitive, and must have been issued very recently when you are applying for your work permit. Having the knowledge in place will avoid any delays in getting your permit completed when you find the right job.

6. Ask for your TEFL certificate to be issued in your full name

It may not seem a big deal at the time, but how your name appears on your TEFL certificate can cause issues down the line if it doesn’t match your official ID. The most common differences we see is where the student has a middle name which has been omitted from their certificate.

In some cases, this is unavoidable if, for example your certificate has been issued with a maiden or married name and you are now going by a different name. When it’s time to apply for your work permit, some Embassies want to see all of the names match across your ID and your documentation. This is certainly true for China and Vietnam.

In these instances, you may need a notarial cover sheet applied to your documents which states that the person named on your certificates is the same individual on your official ID. If at all possible, request your TEFL be issued in your current name. Some companies may even re-issue you a certificate if you get in touch with them directly, though there may be a cost associated with this service.

It’s time to start your adventure!

We hope that our experience and information provided in this article has been useful and will help you make the most of your learning and teaching experiences. Remember, being prepared from the start can help you avoid costly experiences in the future!

Want to speak to a real person? You can also give us a call directly on +44 (0) 330 088 1142, send us a message via WhatsApp on mobile, use our live chat system, or e-mail us at sales@vitalconsular.com. Our friendly team of specialists are on hand to answer all of your queries.

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Melanie Clarke
Melanie is a Digital Marketer and TEFL Specialist at Vital Consular. Before taking up a Marketing role, she spent 3 years building up a rich knowledge of global legalisation processes on the operations team. When she's not working, Melanie enjoys attending music events and pursuing many creative interests including screen printing and merchandise design.
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