What do I need to teach English abroad?

The majority of people who complete a TEFL certification course will head overseas to live and work in schools and language centers across the world. However, the job hunting process and securing work permits etc can require a range of different documents that varies from one job to the next. To ensure the whole process runs smoothly, you should make sure you have everything you might need as far in advance as possible.

What basic documents are needed for teaching English abroad?

Typically, anyone traveling to a foreign country requires a passport that is valid for at least six months. In some situations your passport must be valid for a full year, so the best advice is to ensure your passport has two years or more remaining to allow for an extended teaching contract or further travel once your initial contract is complete. In many cases you will also require some form of visa prior to entering your destination country. This is dependent on the laws of each individual country and should be confirmed during the interview process, or by visiting the relevant government's immigration website.

What documents will I need when applying for English teaching jobs?

When applying for jobs there are certain documents that you will generally require whether you are in your home country or your destination country. In many cases you will need to provide your original TEFL certificate, although a copy might be sufficient in some cases. You will also need a copy of your CV/resume and a cover letter, both of which might need to be translated into the local language. Finally, it is always a good idea to have photos on hand as many employers will require them during the application process. Typically, two photos are often requested, one a standard headshot and another showing your whole body. Make sure you are well groomed and dressed professionally or your application could go straight into the waste bin without being considered.

What additional documents might be required for teaching English abroad?

It is increasingly common for employers to request a criminal background check when applying for jobs in Asia and the Middle East in particular. Although generally less common across Europe and Latin America, those applying for government-run recruitment programs might find they are required. Several countries also require background checks when applying for a work permit or entry visa. To find out the best way to obtain a background check for your specific nationality, simply complete an online search.

In countries where specific educational qualifications are required you may need to provide your university degree or diploma etc. Official transcripts of your qualifications might also be necessary. These should be in a sealed envelope and can be obtained for a small fee from your college or university. In some countries you might need to fill out a medical form when applying for visas or work permits. Specific medical tests may also be required such as TB in Japan and HIV-AIDS in Saudi Arabia. Employers may also require some form of physical examination or a drug test prior to completing the hiring process.

How do I apply for a new passport (or gain an extension to an existing one) in the U.S.A?

From within the U.S. you can apply via the State Department's web page. From outside the country, you should contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

How do I apply for a new passport (or gain an extension to an existing one) in the UK?

British citizens should visit the U.K. Government's Services website for full details on applying for or renewing their passport.

How do I apply for a new passport (or gain an extension to an existing one) in Canada?

Canadian citizens will find the relevant information on the Government of Canada website.

How do I apply for a new passport (or gain an extension to an existing one) in Australia?

Passport information for Australians can be found on the Department of Foreign Affairs website.

How do I apply for a new passport (or gain an extension to an existing one) in New Zealand?

New Zealand citizens should go to the passport page of the Department of Internal Affairs.

How do I apply for a new passport (or gain an extension to an existing one) in other countries?

A simple web search for your own country's passport application procedures should give you all the information you need.

Do I need a visa to teach English abroad?

Yes, most countries require foreign visitors to possess some form of visa in order to enter for tourism, business, education, or employment purposes. The requirements vary greatly from one country to the next, so we recommend that you contact the relevant embassy or visit their website to ensure you have the most up-to-date information. Here we break down the most common forms of visa that you are likely to come across.

What is a tourist visa and how do I get one?

These are generally issued to short term visitors who do not plan to work or study during their stay. There are several categories of tourist visa depending on the destination and your own country of origin. The most common is the 'upon entry' tourist visa that is issued in the form of a passport stamp on arrival at the immigration desk. For example, US citizens heading to destinations such as Spain, Italy or France will receive a free stamp on entry that is valid for 90 days. In some cases you may also be charged a fee (typically $20-$30) on arrival, such as in Turkey or Cambodia. In certain circumstances you may have to apply in advance for a tourist visa. This is still common practice for many current or former communist countries such as China, Russia and Vietnam. Applications require you to fill out various forms and to supply passport photos and an application fee. For details including fees and processing times we recommend visiting the relevant embassy website.

Can I teach English abroad with a tourist visa?

Although it is not strictly legal, in many countries it is common practice for foreign teachers to enter and work on a tourist visa. Due to the complicated bureaucracy in many Latin American countries, it is normal for schools to overlook the time consuming process of applying for work permits in favor of employing teachers with a 90-day tourist visa. A hop across the border to gain a fresh visa in a neighboring country every few months is often seen as the best policy by teachers and employers. Similarly, many US citizens find work on a tourist visa in European countries such as Italy and Spain. This is also generally seen as common practice, although it is not so in other popular destinations such as Greece and France, so it is important that you do some research in advance.

How do I get a work visa for teaching English abroad?

To gain full legal status to work as an ESL teacher in a foreign country, you will typically require some form of work visa. The procedure varies but in most cases a job offer is required to kick start the process. In many of the biggest markets such as China, South Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, you must secure a teaching position first and then apply for a work visa from within your home country. In contrast, when teaching in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, the Czech Republic and Germany, it is common to be employed locally following a face-to-face interview. In these countries you must first enter on a tourist visa and then apply for a work visa from within the host country. This will usually require proof of employment and a valid passport, as well as other documents including TEFL certification, university transcripts, medical forms and criminal background checks.

Can I teach English abroad with a student visa?

In countries where it is difficult to obtain a work visa, enrollment on a study program at a local university or other institute can sometimes allow you to work on the side. For example, in countries such as France, Italy and Spain, you can sign-up for a local language course that qualifies you for a student visa. During the course you will also be allowed to work up to a certain number of hours per week.

Can I get a working holiday visa for teaching English abroad?

As a result of individual agreements between nations, certain passport holders may be eligible for a working holiday visa which allows them to travel and work in a specific foreign country. Australia, New Zealand and Canada have many such arrangements with other countries including European favorites such as Italy, France and Germany. Applications must be completed from within your home country and are restricted by age (usually 18 to 30/35 years). You may also require proof of financial resources and a homeward plane ticket. Unfortunately, options in this category are limited for US citizens as the only current agreement in place is with Australia.

Can I teach English abroad with a spouse/dependent visa?

In many countries there are visas available to the partners and children of those who have found employment and have secured a work visa in a foreign country. The details of these vary considerably but may allow the partner to work and gain access to health care, schooling and other social services.

Can I teach English abroad without a work visa?

In some countries there is a clear process for foreigners to obtain a work visa that provides full legal status to live and work. In others, the process can be expensive and time consuming or simply nonexistent. However, as the demand for English language teachers is so high in many parts of the world, the necessity of a work visa is sometimes ignored. The fact is that many thousands of people work as English language teachers in countries all over the world without a work visa.

Can I teach English in Europe without a work visa?

In countries such as Spain and Italy, both extremely popular destinations, it is common for Americans and other nationalities to enter the country on a tourist visa and immediately start working as an English language teacher. A tourist visa in these countries is typically valid for 90 days and cannot be renewed so after three months many teachers simply overstay the visa and continue working. Elsewhere in Europe, countries such as Germany, Czech Republic, Turkey, and Russia all have a clear process for foreign teachers to obtain a work visa. Those who apply for government run placement programs in countries such as France or Spain will also receive full legal status via a work permit.

Can I teach English in Latin America without a work visa?

As schools in this region generally have a high demand for English language teachers but limited finances, it is very common for teachers to be employed without a work visa. The exceptions are Chile and Mexico where work visas are issued in the majority of cases. In Argentina and Costa Rica it is normal to work on a tourist visa that can be renewed by leaving and then re-entering the country before the original expires.

Can I teach English in the Middle East without a work visa?

In the large and lucrative markets of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, it is standard practice for employers to provide their teachers with work visas. In smaller markets such as Jordan and Egypt, a small percentage of teachers may find jobs without a permit.

Can I teach English in Asia without a work visa?

The vast majority of jobs across the region's teaching hotspots such as China, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and South Korea, will come with the necessary work permit. Elsewhere, teaching without a work permit it not uncommon.

What are the pros and cons of teaching English without a work visa?

For the employer, hiring a teacher without a work permit means they do not have to pay taxes or social security contributions, making it more affordable to hire the staff they need. For the teacher it also means no tax payments, however, you will consequently have no access to benefits such as national medical insurance or the safety of a legally binding contract. Although working illegally is not risk free, very few people ever have a problem with the local authorities. If for any reason you are caught without a visa the usual outcome is to be put on a flight back home, while the employer generally receives a small fine.