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What to know about teaching English abroad

Teaching English as a foreign language has become a popular way for young South Africans to spend their gap year. It presents an opportunity to live and work in almost any country in the world while earning and saving money. With so much information available on the internet, it’s hard to know where to start.

“Moving to a tropical island off the coast of Thailand to teach English is an exciting prospect for anyone, but once you start getting into the details, it can be overwhelming,” says Rhyan O’Sullivan, Managing Director of the TEFL Academy, South Africa’s leading course provider of teaching English as a foreign language.

O’Sullivan offers six top tips to those who have set their sights on teaching abroad:

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  1. Get the right qualification – while a university degree is not essential to getting a teaching job overseas, a TEFL qualification, the globally accepted qualification to teach English abroad, is always required. Not only is it a prerequisite for most schools, but it also teaches important skills like lesson planning and managing a classroom.
  2. Be prepared to spend some startup cash – TEFL teachers heading abroad will need capital to cover the cost of the TEFL course; flights; visas; deposit on accommodation and the first month’s rent, as well as living expenses until the first salary is paid. The good news is that foreign English teachers typically make enough to save between 30 and 40% of their salaries after expenses, allowing them to cover their bills, while still enjoying the culture and lifestyle of their chosen country.
  3. Get the necessary vaccinations – before jumping on a plane to your next adventure, do some research to find out if the country you’re travelling to requires any vaccinations. Taking a preventative approach will benefit your overall health and pocket in the long run.
  4. Get basic health insurance – in some countries, English teachers are provided with health insurance, but in many cases, you will be responsible for your own. A good idea is to inquire about health insurance when interviewing for specific teaching positions. If health insurance is not provided, there are many affordable international health insurance options.
  5. Know what you’re getting yourself into – whether you’re heading to the bustling favelas of Brazil or the hypermodern cities of Dubai – moving to a new country means learning a lot about a new culture in a very short time, which can cause distress and discomfort. In preparation for your adventure, consult the TEFL Academy’s annual Factbook, which is available on their website. It covers everything from average pay and cost of living to the working environment and weather conditions
  6. Celebrate every success – the first few lessons as a TEFL teacher can be difficult and draining. When you and your students can’t understand each other, it’s hard to know whether you are making a difference. However, once you start to see the results of all your hours of hard work, it will all be worth it.


“The most important thing you need to have is a sense of adventure. Moving abroad to start a new job in a new city can be challenging, even for seasoned travellers – but for those who are brave enough to stick it out, it can be incredibly rewarding,” says O’ Sullivan.

Offering accessible, flexible and cost-effective ways to get TEFL qualified, The TEFL Academy offers internationally accredited and regulated combined and online course. For more information, visit theteflacademy.com.

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