TEFL Courses

Do You Really Need a TEFL to Teach Abroad?

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Hana LaRock

Hana is originally from Long Island, New York, but has lived in many places around the world. Hana is a digital nomad: She's a freelance writer, a teacher for VIPKID, and also a Flight Searcher for Scott's Cheap Flights.

Do I Really Need a TEFL to Teach Abroad?
Photo by Eric W., Vantage TEFL Thailand

Are you thinking about teaching English abroad? Teaching English abroad is one of the most rewarding and exciting things you can do. But, before you even start browsing countries and job opportunities, you’ll want to get yourself a TEFL certificate to put yourself ahead of the game.

As you research becoming a teacher abroad, you’ve likely encountered one acronym over and over: TEFL.

TEFL stands for “Teacher of English as a Foreign Language” or “teaching English as a foreign language.” Most commonly, you might see the phrase “TEFL Certificate” as part of advertisements for teaching abroad. In short, a TEFL certificate is something you can earn before becoming a teacher abroad; it’s a certification to prove you’re qualified to teach English abroad.

You might wonder: “do I really need a TEFL certificate to teach abroad?” In short, yes. The longer answer is covered in this article where I’ll tell you why earning your TEFL certification definitely gives an advantage over teachers who don’t have one.

Personally, I have my TEFL and a teaching certificate. I feel as though my TEFL certification has helped me negotiate better-paying and better-quality jobs while teaching abroad. Additionally, I have seen many people without a teaching degree also have that leverage simply by having a TEFL. Let’s dive into why getting your TEFL certificate is important.

1. Some Countries or Schools Won’t Consider You Without It

If you don’t have your TEFL certification, then you can forget about teaching in many countries altogether unless you have some other kind of teaching certificate to back you up.

Schools and English academies around the world are becoming stricter with what they look for in their applicants. While most eastern and Southeast Asian countries will consider you without a TEFL, that’s not really true for European countries and Middle-Eastern countries, who generally pay quite high for their qualified teachers.

Having your TEFL isn’t required to teach anywhere abroad, but if you have your heart set on teaching in a country where TEFL certification is required then yes, you do need your TEFL to teach abroad there.

2. Having a TEFL Helps You Negotiate Better-Paying Jobs

With a TEFL, you can almost always ask for more money than a school is initially offering you. When you apply for the job and you mention having your TEFL on your resume, that will most likely get you a higher salary offer in the contract provided than other teachers without it.

If you still aren’t getting offered a number you like, then you can certainly use your TEFL as leverage to negotiate higher pay. Check out these other tips on negotiating your teaching salary, if you want to learn more.

3. A TEFL Helps You Broaden Your Job Search Altogether

Do I Really Need a TEFL to Teach Abroad?: Broaden Your Job Search
Photo by Tom W., Vantage TEFL Thailand

Having a TEFL certification means that you’re not restricted as to where you can apply. While those without a TEFL may have to stick to private academies, those with a TEFL can look at international schools, universities, and a myriad of other teaching opportunities that require a TEFL to ensure the teachers will be high-quality. Though private academies are also great places to teach, they usually come conditions; longer working hours, less vacation time, and lower pay.

You’re making a big life and career change; why limit yourself? Get your TEFL certificate and watch the gates of job opportunities open up.

4. You Can Get a TEFL and Experience at the Same Time

One reason people try to forgo the TEFL is that they want to travel now. They don’t want to wait a few more months to get their TEFL, and then start applying for jobs. But, if you’re eager to get on your way as soon as possible, know that there are many programs where you can get your TEFL while living abroad and getting actual teaching experience.

All of this will be very valuable when applying to your first teaching job abroad. You’ll learn skills to teach English, which grade levels you prefer teaching, and you may realize that you want to teach in a country you’ve never considered before. You’ll also have classroom experience under your belt, which again puts you at an advantage when it comes to negotiating pay.

5. Having a TEFL Makes You Stand Out from the Competition

Is there a job posting that you see that’s your dream job? Maybe it’s located right in the center of the city you want to be in, it has excellent hours, and great pay for the position. Well, you are probably not the only prospective teacher applying for this job, and the school will be looking at each candidate’s credentials under a microscope. While you may not be required to have your TEFL to apply, not having one will almost always work against you in these kinds of situations.

If you are applying to a school that many people want to work at, you automatically have a better chance of getting hired if you have a TEFL certificate. Additionally, it shows the school that you actually made an investment in this career, and you care about the job itself -- not just the opportunity to travel or live abroad.

6. Your TEFL is an Important Tool for You as a Teacher

Do I Really Need a TEFL to Teach Abroad?: Important Tool for You as a Teacher
Photo by Sev M., Vantage TEFL Thailand

A TEFL does not only help you get paid more or land a better job, but it helps you get prepared for what you’ll have to teach in the classroom, while also providing you with the best strategies to teach learners of diverse levels, ages, and backgrounds.

Teaching English may seem easy. After all, it is your native language, so how hard could it be? Well, teaching grammar when you may not even understand how it works yourself, combined with working in a different culture where education is a costly investment for families, you need to be on your game. A TEFL will not only remind you of the present progressive, but it will also prepare you with strategies on how to teach to specific learners based on their country and common language issues.

7. You Can Build On Your Experience Continuously

If anyone tells you that teaching English isn’t a wise career path, they are wrong. English is the global lingua franca (aka the language everyone defaults to when they don’t speak one another’s native languages), and it’s going to stay that way for quite some time. Getting into teaching English abroad with a TEFL is the first step in a promising and well-paid career.

After getting a TEFL, you can expand that to a CELTA, DELTA, or other more comprehensive certificates, all of which will make you a very desirable candidate in the English teaching world.

You can travel the entire globe teaching English, getting paid well, and living a wonderful life. If you ever come back to your home country, you can teach ESL at colleges and universities, work with foreign companies, or make your own school and teach when you want, where you want!

Related: What's the Difference Between CELTA & TEFL?

8. A TEFL Certificate Is Surprisingly Affordable

At the end of the day, there is no reason not to get a TEFL because it’s actually very affordable. A decent course can cost you about $200 for the basics, and many of those sites have discounts regularly. Make sure to read the reviews about courses, and that the course is accredited. You’ll want to get a certificate at the end and be able to get a reference from your course provider if necessary. Don’t worry -- whatever you pay now, you’ll make back easily in your first month of teaching English abroad!

Okay, yes. Technically you can get a teaching job abroad without a TEFL certification. There are certainly jobs that don’t require them. But, as you’ve seen, there are so many reasons that a TEFL can help your teaching career -- it almost doesn’t make sense to skip this step in the process.