4 Big Questions To Consider Before Your First Job Teaching Abroad

4 Big questions to consider before your first job teaching abroad

So, you know you want to travel.

And you know teaching is a perfect opportunity to travel sustainably.

Now what?

You could just go to Dave’s ESL Café and apply for the first job you find. But you won’t. It can’t be that easy.

Instead, you’ll spend hours doing research—first finding the right questions to ask, and then finding the answers to those questions. It’s exhausting and time-consuming.

Instead, voilà!

A complete, comprehensive guide on the questions you need to ask yourself before even applying.

Cool, now you can skip all the pre-research! You’re welcome. 

1. What Type Of School?

There are 3 types of schools you can teach in: public, private, or international (not counting university-level).

Teaching In A Public School


  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. This can usually be in any field, although having something in a related field (teaching, English, linguistics) is definitely beneficial.

  • A passport from an English-speaking country. Most schools will not specify passport requirements outside of “English-speaking country,” however, accents from the UK, US, Canada, and Australia are definitely preferred. I have heard of people from English-speaking countries such as South Africa having difficulty find jobs because of not having a preferred accent.

  • Be fluent in English. If you were born in a county or attended a school whose primary language was not English, you may be asked to take a fluency test.


  • You will have a defined contract and it will most likely be followed. This is not always a guarantee in private schools.

  • Expect the average Monday- Friday, 8- 4pm and a stable salary.


  • Some countries, such as Kazakhstan, have school Monday to Saturday (although the foreign teachers are typically only expected to work Monday- Friday)—it’s something to look out for.

  • There’s usually no part-time options, so expect a full workload—dealing with parents, handling grades, assigning homework, lesson planning, etc. You may get a co-teacher to share the load, but not always.

Teaching In A Private School


Note: Because private schools are independently owned, the requirements are not state-defined and therefore vary from school to school. However, they tend to be more lenient.

  • A bachelor’s degree. That’s it. In any field, from any institution. Obviously, your results may vary, but if you have, say, a degree in fashion design from Spain, and wait until late in the hiring season, you still have a pretty good shot at getting a job in a private school. Keep in mind, you may be asked to take a fluency test.


  • Some private schools operate on your typical Monday- Friday, 8am-4pm schedule and serve as an alternative to the public schools. Others will serve as specific English-tutoring schools and operate outside of school hours, such as weekdays 5-9pm, plus weekends. It might be a perfect fit if you don’t like mornings!

  • More options for people who want part-time positions.

  • Also, more lenient in terms of requirements—you might even be able to find a job without a degree!


  • Because the schools are all independently owned, I strongly recommend you research your specific school before committing to a contract. While the public schools need to be a bit more beaurocatic in terms of keeping to the contract, everyone in the ESL world has heard a horror story before of someone not getting their last pay check from a private school due to some bogus contract loophole or just plain dishonesty. If this happens, there may be no one to advocate for you.

  • You have to read your contract carefully. There is no “typical package.” Some will provide housing or a housing stipend, some won’t even provide training.

Teaching In A International School


Note: This is where the big bucks are. International schools are made specifically for children of foreign expats, wealthy business people, politicians, etc. They typically follow a British or US curriculum and have much higher salaries than other teaching options. However, they also have higher competition and higher minimum requirements.

  • A master’s degree in a related field

  • A valid teaching certificate from your country of origin

  • At least 2 years of post-degree teaching experience

  • And, of course, be fluent in English


  • Opportunity to make some serious cash. Because of the wealthier and more “professional” vibe these schools carry, most positions will provide housing or a housing stipend, airfare to the site, health care, training, etc.

  • These schools can be very well funded—state of the art technology, well-stocked classroom supplies, large and modern classrooms, healthy school lunches, prominent sport teams, etc.


  • If you’re looking for a more laid-back teaching experience, an international school is probably not your best bet. With wealthy families paying high tuitions to attend the school, stakes are high on teachers. Expect invasive observations, a highly critical administration, and little work/ home-life balance.

  • When it comes to debating the grade of a student who does no work at all but his parents pay $50,000 per year in tuition to the school, you can bet the administration is going to throw you under the bus.

Which Country?

Typically, this is the first thing that everyone daydreams about.

“I want to teach in a remote olive-farming town on the coast of Italy!”

That’s nice, if you aren’t in it for the money.

Typically, you have the best chance of saving money at schools in the Middle East, then Asian countries, then western/ European countries.

Teaching In The Middle East


  • You will make a ton of money. Because the countries are oil-rich, in places like Dubai or Saudi Arabia, you will not be taxed on income. They can also pay anywhere from $3,000 to $5,500 per month. When you don’t have to pay rent or tax, that’s some serious savings.

  • Benefit packages typically include free furnished accommodation or a healthy living stipend, free family health care, and free roundtrip airfare to the teaching site.


  • Expect a 2 – 3 year contract.

  • These are mostly conservative Muslim countries. While the strictness varies from country-to-country, expect to dress modestly, cut out any public displays of affection, and being gay is illegal—you could face a fine… or worse.

Teaching In Asia


  • Tons of job options! No matter your credentials, odds are, someone in Asia will hire you. Countries like Thailand, China, and South Korea have thousands of openings every year!

  • There’s more established teaching programs. Because of the high demand for native English teachers, there’s a ton of recruitment options and some very stable government-sponsored teaching programs. Recruiters are a great way to have some free hand-holding as you go through the process of getting your first job abroad, and having the security of joining a government-sponsored program means that you will get what’s in your contract.


  • You won’t save $50,000 like in the Middle East. In South Korea you can expect to save about $10,000 per year with budgeting. For some people, that’s great! It’s a perfect stepping stone to jump-start your year of backpacking southeast Asia. For others, that’s not going to make a dent in $50,000 worth of student loans (like me…).

  • Not a lot of suburb options. If you like a big bustling city, perfect! Move to Bangkok, move to Hong Kong, move to Beijing. If not, your options quickly dwindle from mega-cities, to big cities, to rural villages. (However, most rural options will pay more.)

Which Community?

Once you’ve narrowed down what country and what type of school you want to teach in, now you should consider what type of community.

This will have a big impact on your experience.

Are you someone that craves the hustle and bustle of the city, or are you looking for a deeper, more cultural experience somewhere rural?

Teaching In An Urban Community


  • Expect all the conveniences of modern society—online shopping, high-speed internet, 24-hour services, and vendors for specialty services (like a print shop, phone store, nail salon, etc.).

  • There’s often ample entertainment options—public gyms, movie theaters, museums, cultural events and parades, different styles of restaurants, etc.

  • It’s usually much easier to get around without owning your own transportation. You can ride a bike, or take a bus, taxi, or metro.


  • The city can be overwhelming! With all the lights, traffic, noise, smog, and advertisements, it may feel like there’s no escape to some peace and quiet!

  • You will have more opportunities to spend (waste) money. On a Friday night, you may choose to see a movie, then go out to dinner, and then get some drinks at a bar. Suddenly, that’s an expensive night. If your main objective is to save money, it will definitely be more challenging with all those temptations.

Teaching In A Rural Community


  • Peace and quiet! Imagine hearing the birds every morning when you wake up, doing your shopping at a quiet market, and taking a hike or going fishing in the afternoon. That might be what your world looks like in a more rural community.

  • Less people equals smaller classes. Obviously, this varies by place, but in schools in rural Alaska, it’s not uncommon to have a multi-grade class of 6 to 10 kids. This means more one-on-one attention for your students, and less grading!


  • You might be limited in the services available in your community. Some places may not be capable of online shopping, high-speed internet, or even have a restaurant.

  • You may be limited with things to do on the weekends. If you pick a place that is very scenic, you could always go hiking. But in the winter, you might feel stuck inside instead of shopping at the mall.

  • You may be relatively “stuck” without owning your own transportation. You could always walk or bike within your town, but odds are, someday you’re going to want to spend a weekend in the city doing some bulk shopping or just enjoying yourself. How will you get there? How much will it cost?

  • If the place is very rural, along with small class sizes, you may also be stuck with a multi-grade classroom. Although you might get paid more, this is double the prep, and you’re forced to get really good at differentiation.

Which Grade Level?
Teaching Early Childhood (K)


  • The kids are pretty cute no matter where you go in the world.

  • The learning material is basic and universal. While teaching high school ESL you may be teaching English through studying mid-century American poetry; in Kindergarten “A” is for apple and that’s about as far as you go.

  • There’s a lot of opportunities to make learning fun (if you like to go the extra mile) with art projects or performances. Even simple things like coloring a big “A” actually go beyond just keeping them quiet and can help push information into their long-term memory while strengthening fine motor skills.

  • Expect pretty minor and often unintentional behaviors like bumping into people (usually interpreted as “pushing” by the other person), tattling, crying (maybe even a tantrum or two), not sharing, etc. Most of it is more annoying than harmful and can be solved with just a stern talking-to.


  • There is a reason kindergarten is in a class all by itself—it’s truly a one-of-a-kind beast. These kids are not just learning letter names and sounds, they’re learning how to sit at a desk, get in a straight line, and listen to and follow a single-step direction. They have an absolute maximum attention span of 3 minutes and will not be tuned-in yet to common classroom etiquette, such as raising your hand before you speak.

  • Parents at this age tend to be very involved, but usually in all the wrong things. They will want to linger around and take pictures on the first day, see a new art project every week, and expect a class party for every minor holiday. What they should be doing is reading to their kid every night, taking them outside to play, and reinforcing discipline at home so their kid doesn’t freak out the first time they get a time-out. But, don’t ever actually tell a parent this…

  • You need to model expectations for them VERY diligently. If you say, “Oh, for this lesson we’re just gonna color a cute worksheet,” you will have fights break out over someone now knowing how to share crayons, and someone else crying over having colored too hard with a marker and then ripped their paper.

Teaching Lower Elementary/ Primary (1-2)


  • Again, the content is pretty basic and universal. Kids that this age will be learning how to read and do math facts from 0-20, starting multiplication in 3rd grade.

  • They have already been broken-in with how a school works—teachers are in charge, the principal is scary, and staying inside for recess sucks, so make sure you do what you’re told.

  • They are still eager to please and like making grown-ups happy—this is a very easy motivation to tap into when it comes to doing school work.

  • They’re goofy and will make you laugh. They’ll make indecipherable drawings and leave them as presents on your desk. They’ll hug you and make you “best teacher ever” cards during their free time. This disappears after third grade, unfortunately.


  • You can expect mostly annoying behaviors such as tattling, sticking their tongue out, copying, cutting in line, loud whining, pouting, etc. Most of this can be nipped in the bud with classroom structures like ABC-order lines or a behavior clip-chart, but some of it will just be part of the day-to-day.

  • They’re still messy and germy—runny noses, eating off the floor, licking things, unexplainable wet puddles, are all common.

  • They are little sheep at this age, so if one person starts stomping their feet when they’re upset, they all will—address new behaviors swiftly.

Teaching Upper Elementary (3-5)


  • Ability to go more in-depth with interesting topics. For example, working on a 5-paragraph essay instead of “a period goes at the end of a sentence.”

  • They are able to follow multi-step directions and don’t need as much modeling.

  • They begin to develop a sense of humor and understand sarcasm. They can be fun to connect with at this age.


  • They start to get “clique-y” and this tends to lead to exclusion and bullying.

  • At third and fourth grade, they are still “eager to please” but around fifth grade they get an attitude and think adults are lame.

  • They have a growth spurt in fifth grade and suddenly may be taller than you! It can be difficult to leverage power at that point…

Teaching Middle Grades (6-8)


  • While finding the right motivation isn’t easy, they are able to get inspired. If you give them an interesting project, they can go above and beyond in their creativity.

  • They can be really sweet and genuine. Instead of just liking the easiest class, they will sense personalities deeper and get drawn to certain teachers


  • It’s an emotionally fragile age; their emotions are deeper and more sensitive than ever before. Crushes and girlfriend/ boyfriend drama is a big deal. Fights between friends suddenly don’t disintegrate after a simple “sorry.” They will hold grudges against each other, have more sneaky techniques of bullying, and will prefer to handle situations on their own instead of telling a teacher.

Teaching High School (9-12)


  • It’s a very selfish age, so they will enjoy exploring themselves through the creative arts. Writing, painting, theater, wood-working are all things that students may find interesting enough to do without much prodding.

  • They are easier to relate to and will again be drawn to certain personalities. They will start to feel like adults and try to mimic them, which can be charming at times. It’s also a very exciting part of their lives, thinking about what they’re going to do after school, and it’s easy to get swept up in their accomplishments with them.

  • They don’t need as much hand-holding and can be held accountable for their own work. Being lazy will earn them a poor grade and, for the most part, parents and administration understand this and won’t claim that low test scores make you a poor teacher.


  • It’s difficult to find motivation for work. They like to exercise their sense of authority by being hyper-critical of others. This means that even though they may actually like an assignment, they will pretend not to as a way of making themselves feel “above” it.

  • They will overestimate their own maturity and no longer feel obligated to respect authority (without proper leverage).

  • At this age, the emotional part of the brain is larger and more powerful than the logical part of the brain. This means that even though they know an assignment is worth a lot of credit and it is due tomorrow, they will put it off until the last minute because they “just don’t feel like doing it.” Also, fights can break out in a half-second of irrational thinking.

Teaching Adult Learners


  • Their motivation is already established. They’re not going to school because their parents are making them. They’re usually enrolled in language courses either for work or school. Because they’re motivation is extrinsic, you can expect that assignments will actually get done.

  • You can move more quickly through content than with young people. This makes sticking to a syllabus easier. Also, you don’t have to differentiate as much with adult learners because they are mature enough to know that if they aren’t understanding a topic, to study more on their own.


  • Adults are used to getting their way. They’re not children, and do not like being told “no.” Expect to sometimes get treated like a customer service representative when it comes to demands to extend assignment deadlines, re-evaluate an assessment, or meet outside of office hours.

  • Because your adult students might actually be the same age as you, some will have a hard time drawing the line between professional friendliness and personal friendliness. You might be flirted with, asked to hang-out outside of work, or other non-professional (though not always harmful) requests.

In The End?

I know that one of the hardest parts in the international teaching job-hunt is first finding the right questions to ask yourself about what’s important.

Once you have your questions, you can start using the answers to narrow down your choices.

To make the process a little easier, I hope you enjoyed this post!

– Kenz

P.S.If you still need a little  boost of confidence before applying, check out my free 7-day email course. It’s a step-by-step guide on preparing for your first teaching job abroad. Trust me, it covers more than the orientation.

Free Course!

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