A wonderful way to get started in the online teaching space is to first get experience teaching abroad. Particularly if your educational background is not focused on teaching. Numerous writers here for Teach and GO got their start in a totally different career fields and then later became ESL teachers.
After one to three years of being an ESL teacher they transitioned that experience into being a highly effective online teacher. See our online teaching companies guide for more.
Teaching English as an ESL teacher is not only rewarding and fun, it allows you experience a new culture, place and lifestyle. It’s a decision that will change your life. So what countries should you consider teaching English abroad in?
Best countries to teach English abroad in
Teaching English can be very profitable in some countries but will sometimes lack the fun aspect. Other countries you’ll have a great time living and working in them but your salary will be comparatively low which will make it difficult to save money.
We are going to be sharing with you the pros and cons of various countries from an ESL perspective. We’re going to be looking at things like pay, overall lifestyle as an expat, career development as well as opportunities for travel, fun and exploration.
1) South Korea – Best mix of benefits and pay (avoid hagwon’s however)
South Korea takes the top spot for numerous reasons. It is an amazing country that is totally under rated and overlooked because of neighboring Japan. If you’re looking for a beautiful, clean, modern country with great food, a rich culture and excellent night life look no further than South Korea.
As an ESL teacher in South Korea, expect a fair wage of about $2,000 USD or more a month with benefits. It is standard that your school will pay your rent and also be paying for your flight to South Korea and back to your country of origin make South Korea a country where you can save money every month and pay down debt with ease.
It is also a beautiful county with a rich culture and amazing food. With close proximity to China and Japan, as well as numerous local attractions in the modern city of Seoul, you will love living and working in Korea.
The drawbacks of Korea are that it is quite expensive and you could easily overspend. In addition, Korea shares the same work ethic as Japan and they expect their teachers to put in the hours week over week. Last, most jobs are at after school centers called hagwons. So while a public school is a great job, a hagwon is not worth it. If that’s all you can get don’t teach English in South Korea then.
- Good salary and benefits.
- Rent is covered as a government school teacher.
- Your flight to and from South Korea are also paid for as a government school teacher.
- Most positions are at “hagwon’s” which are private tutoring centers.
- A hagwon does not provide the same benefits a government position does.
- South Korea has an excessive work ethic and no balance.
2) Thailand – Best starter country for ESL
Thailand is probably the best country to teach ESL for a year or two before deciding your next move. Thailand is a modern, first world country with all the comforts of home. This combined with a fun loving, easy going population, great bars and clubs and wonderfully develop tourism sector, Thailand is an ideal choice to begin your ESL journey.
It’s rather easy and straightforward to getting a job in the Kingdom of Thailand. Jobs at government schools are numerous and easy to obtain and you can pick and choose where in Thailand you want to live and work (except for Chaing Mai – it’s so popular with tourists it’s the only place you’ll have difficulty finding a job with no experience).
The country also has a wide range of teaching opportunities. From international schools with a high salary that is ideal for experienced teachers to low paid government schools jobs for first time teachers, to low demanding jobs at universities for anyone with an advanced degree. There is a level of ESL for everyone.
The biggest issue with Thailand is of course going to be pay. Unless you work at an international school, your monthly pay will be break even at best. You may even have to take on additional part time hours just to make enough money to live comfortably. But overall, if you’re a new prospective teacher, then take a look a Thailand.
- Easy to get a job at a government school.
- Can work in Bangkok or in any of the surrounding provinces.
- A welcoming, interesting culture.
- Various levels of teaching based on your experience.
- International schools pay well, but are difficult to secure a position.
- Low pay at government schools. It’s break even overall.
- Avoid working with any agency, only get hired directly from a school.
3) Dubai – Highest salary
Teaching in Dubai is lucrative. You’re paid a high salary and have numerous expenses taken care for you entice teachers to work in Dubai. The catch? Dubai requires teachers to have a few years of experience as an ESL teacher as well as a formal background in education.
Dubai is the place you go for two or more years (contracts are for 2 years) if you have a family or if you’re wanting to save thousands of dollars each month for investment. Of all the countries on the list, the middle east consistently pays the most. You’ll be working at a private school either as a teacher or in an administrative role depending on your background.
Dubai is also the city of the future, an amazing place to visit but not live long term. It’s a country filled with malls and modernity. You may get quickly bored with the area as well as this weird dichotomy between the locals and foreign expats. If you like to drink you may have an issue in Dubai as well. Alchohol is not illegal in Dubai, it is just strictly regulated. You as an expat may only purchase such drinks from licensed vendors only.
- High salary and benefits.
- Dubai is an incredible city that’s safe and modern.
- Ideal for a professional with a family.
- Alcoholic drinks are strictly regulated.
- Dubai is located in a desert (hot and unbearable during the day, cold at night).
- You may get bored quickly as it’s small. Similar to Singapore.
3) Japan – The famous Jet program
Japan, was and still is to some degree one of the most famous destinations to teach English abroad. This is due in large part to the famous Jet Program. The Jet program is a very competitive program that will give you a high salary and place you in a rural part of Japan as an English teacher; not a major city mind you.
If you’ve never been to Japan, you have to go. Words do not do that country justice in explaining how weird, colorful, modern and unique it is. Way ahead of the United States in numerous ways. The biggest positive of Japan is simply the country is amazing and unique. You’re also in luck if you can land the jet program. With the Jet Program, you’re paid a high salary and located somewhere affordable.
You may want to be based in Tokyo, but remember cities are extremely expensive in Japan and you’ll have a better time being located in a local town or city. If you want to work in a city you’ll have to source your own job outside of the Jet program. Most expats end up working in local language centers but proper positions at universities and more do exist.
- Live and work in Japan.
- A culturally interesting place to live.
- The Jet program allows you to have a good salary and benefits
- The Jet program places you in rural Japan so if you’re wanting to live in Tokyo you’ll have to find a job on your own.
- Private tutoring centers don’t pay well and the hours are nights and weekends.
- Japan is expensive which is why the Jet program is so popular and expensive.
4) Taiwan – Under rated, beautiful country
Teaching in Taiwan is often overlooked for it’s more popular neighbors, Japan and China but Taiwan is still an excellent choice if you’re looking to live and work abroad. Most teachers here work in private “cram” schools and not public schools however.
Working in Taiwan you’ll be paid a good monthly salary that will allow you to save money month to month or to have sufficient funds to travel and explore Taiwan and the surrounding countries. You’ll also have an opportunity to begin learning Chinese which will pay dividends in the coming years.
As with most Asian cultures, you’re always an outsider and integrating yourself into Taiwan is next to impossible. Teachers also get frustrated by Taiwanese teaching standards which tend to focus on memorization instead of functional knowledge. But if you’re looking for a country with a low cost of living like Thailand but a higher salary, consider Taiwan.
- You’ll be surprised by how beautiful Taiwan is.
- Learn Chinese and aspects of Chinese culture.
- Decent salary and low cost of living.
- Taiwan does not have nightlife like Thailand. Expect bars and low key clubs.
- The teaching style and standards can be restrictive to those who like having flexibility.
- Cram schools are private business and some try to take advantage of inexperienced foreigners.
5) Vietnam – Qualified teachers only
Vietnam is one of the most under rated countries on the list. If you’re wanting a country where the cost of living is low like Thailand, but a country where you’ll be paid a good hourly rate, then look no further than Vietnam. In Vietnam, teaching positions are located in the countries two major cities – Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnam is one of the least expensive countries in the world. You can live comfortably in Vietnam on roughly $800-1200 USD a month depending on your spending habits. The food is good, the people are nice and you’ll have an opportunity to travel and socialize with locals and expats. Also, the majority of the teaching jobs are located in the two major cities instead of the country side like a lot of teaching jobs in Japan or Korea are.
Teachers in Vietnam are paid by the hour instead of a salary. As such, it can be difficult getting enough hours per week at first teaching English. Typically, it takes a teacher around a month to find 20+ hours of teaching. Working at two or more schools. Finally, Vietnam updated their laws so you’ll need a background in education, degree or previous verifiable classroom experience.
- Work in Saigon or Hanoi.
- Low cost of living and the ability to earn a decent salary.
- Beautiful, interesting country and culture.
- Like most countries, dealing with private business for pay and visas can be a headache.
- Private tutoring centers are easy to find work, jobs outside of this are possible but harder.
- You must now have a background in education. No exceptions.
6) Singapore – Modern SE Asian country
Singapore is a less popular option than other South East Asian countries, primarily due to the popularity of countries like Thailand and Japan for teaching English abroad. But Singapore can provide some excellent long term opportunities if you’re able to land a job here. Contracts in Singapore are for 2 years and you can expect to be paid $2800-$3500 USD a month. However, the cost of living matches the salary so it’s a break even at best country as a new teacher.
Singapore is radically different from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia. It’s clean, very modern and is like stepping an American city (except it’s quite humid). Singapore is a first world country with excellent food and mix of Chinese and Indian locals. The requirements for ESL teachers for Singapore are standard for the industry: 4 year degree, TEFL certificate and be a native speaker.
This country is an island city state. The country is quite small and has limited amount of things to do. To travel anywhere requires you to fly out of the country which could get annoying long term. Some teachers complain with being bored living in Singapore after the first year. Also, Singapore is very strict with cleanliness and the law imposes strict fines for even benign things like not flushing the toilet.
Lastly if you break your contract fines will be imposed on you and the competition for jobs is competitive as you’re paid a great salary and get to live in a first world country.
- All the qualities and standards of an American city.
- Excellent jobs at international schools are possible.
- Singapore is expensive and the current salaries barely keep up if you’re a new teacher.
- You’ll need to have save at least $4000 in startup costs when moving here.
- It is a city state that is quite small.
7) Spain – Low cost country with relaxed work environment
Want to live in an affordable European country where you can get paid a decent salary and not have to work crazy hours like in other countries? Teaching English in Spain through the auxiliares de conversacion may be for you.
If you teach through the auxiliares de conversacion program, your salary will be anywhere from 700 Euros to 1000 Euros depending on where you teach for 12 hours a week. It’s not a lot of money, but you have time to pick up extra hours each week teaching English part time as a tutor or you could supplement your income with online teaching.
You also get a work visa which allows you to travel Europe freely which is quite difficult if you’re North American.
Visas for Spain are difficult to obtain. Spain is also notorious for it’s bureaucracy, needing various forms and just things moving slowly. Because of this, teachers often work on visas other than a work visa.
#9 China – Difficult now, but still possible
The rapid growth of China is slowing down and it’s not the same country it was even 5 years ago, but there are still numerous options to teach English in China.
Chinese jobs pay well. This combined with a low cost of living (if you’re not based in a tier 1 city) make China a country where you can work and save money. You’ll also not be overwhelmed with classes like you are in Thailand. In China, you can expect to teach 3 class a day and you have the support and resources to focus on your job.
China is difficult for a foreigner to acclimate to. Outside of tier 1 cities, English is not spoken, signs are not in English and the internet is blocked. Making it extremely difficult for you as a non Chinese speaker to navigate China on your own. China is a country where teachers either love it or hate it.
10) Costa Rica – Close to America
Costa Rica is a beautiful country to live and work in. Rain forests, volcanoes, dense jungle combined with Spanish influence all make Coast Rica a must visit country for work or pleasure.
English is in high demand with the majority of the jobs located in the major metropolitan areas, including the capitol city of San José and the central valley. You’ll be able to live and work where all the action is instead of in some far flung country town.
Low pay and the work visa is time consuming and difficult to obtain. The average salary depends on how many hours you teach with most ESL teachers reporting a monthly salary of $500-1000 USD equivalent.
11) Italy – Perfect for EU citizens
Italy is an often dreamed about, but over looked country to find work as an English teacher in. It is possible to live and work in Italy as an English teacher. Amazing food, people and culture, it’s no surprise that Italy is the #1 country most Americans want to visit.
High demand for qualified teachers. Italy is a country that needs English teachers as Italians are not known for their English language abilities. Expect a monthly salary of around 2000 euros.
It’s an expensive and difficult process for non-EU citizens to obtain a work visa. So much so it’s usually just easier for most employers to hire a teacher from England or a qualified teacher from an EU country. Italy is also quite expensive if you end up living and working in a city.
12) Columbia – Exciting, developing country
Columbia has shed it’s infamous history and is now emerging as a South American tourist hotspot. In Columbia you’ll have an opportunity to learn Spanish and live and work in a dynamic, beautiful country.
Columbia is developing rapidly and overcoming it’s past. It’s a country that has a high demand for English teachers, provides an excellent social life and is easy for a native English speaker who has a TEFL certificate to find work.
The main con is the low salary. Like Thailand, you’ll want to also have online teaching or do private classes to make enough money to where you won’t worry about money.
13) Chile – A clear, streamlined process
Chile is the Vietnam of South America. Overlooked and under rated, Chile actually is one of the safest most diverse countries to teach English in. Chile has a government program (English Opens Doors) where most ESL teachers work at private schools with 1 paid month off.
The government program makes finding work in Chile an easy, streamlined process. You get a full month vacation every year and can apply for residency status after just 2 years of living and working in Chile.
The cost of living is higher in Chile than other south American countries, but so is the quality of life.
14) Jordan – Work as a private tutor
Most work in Jordan consist of finding work as a private tutor for a well off family or working at one of the numerous international schools in the capital city. For international schools you’ll need a background in education.
You will live and work in Jordan as a private tutor where you’ll live with a family. Being totally immersed in Jordanian culture. No degree or TEFL certificate required!
Jordan is not in the best of neighborhoods. Also as a Muslim county don’t expect beer and wine to be easy to get.
15) Lebanon – Work in schools and as a private tutor
Lebanon is multi-cultural and multi lingual, though not a money maker and like Jordan, not in the best neighborhood either. Teachers work as live in tutors or at private schools.
Want to learn French along with teaching English? Want to live in a diverse and different country than you’re used to? Want to find a country where you’ll get decent pay and teach just 15 hours a week? Lebanon may be for you.
It’s dangerous. Not too dangerous, but again it’s location is what scares off prospective teachers.
15) Brazil – Difficult to find full time work and low pay
Brazil is very welcoming to foreigners but life in Rio can be quite dangerous if you find yourself in the wrong part of the city. It’s also difficult to enough hours to make a full time go at it, it’s equally difficult to obtain the proper working visa due to corruption. Lastly, work is found only at private schools. Public schools currently do not employ ESL teachers.
Brazil is a large country that is as diverse as it’s people. Living in Brazil is a unique experience. One most foreigners never experience.
If you’re relying solely on your income from your ESL job, you’re going to find Brazil a tough country to make ends meet. It would best to work here as a teacher while also doing some side gig if possible. Getting the proper visa is also challenging. What a lot of teachers do is that they end up working illegally on tourist visas.
16) Russia – A unique experience
Russia is in need of ESL teachers and there are quite a few opportunities to be had in Russia’s major cities.
If you’ve been wanting to experience Russian culture or perhaps even learn Russian, becoming a teacher for a year or two is a great way to do this. Jobs are plentiful and they pay is high enough to where you can have a good standard of living.
Some ESL teachers simply did not enjoy the lifestyle in Russia as well as how expensive some items are and some cities are.
17) Turkey – Decent pay and a welcoming culture
Turkey is a unique choice to teach English abroad. Most jobs are located near the capital where you get a mix of cultures. Turkey has excellent food and Turkish people are quite welcoming.
Turkey is an interesting country to live and work in. The pay is also quite good compared to the cost of living and it’s a country where you can save money with ease.
It’s a Muslim country. As such, you’re going to have to adapt your behavior as appropriate. They are also on the front lines with ISIS and are dealing with political turmoil.
18) Indonesia – A great alternative to other SE Asian countries
Bali! No. Most Jobs are on the island of Java, located near Jakarta. Far away from Bali. Indonesia is strange country to teach English in. Asian, Muslim island country. Expect to be paid around $22-24 an hour.
Jakarta is an international city. Great clubs, food and activities. You can experience a new, interesting, less traveled place while making a good income. The cost of living is also quite low.
It’s an island nation. Like Singapore, if you want to travel it will cost a bit more due to the price of boats and planes.
19) Saudi Arabia – A less traveled country
A true adventure, live and work in Saudi Arabia as an ESL teacher.
You get to live in Saudi Arabia and experience a culture completely foreign to your own. Most people will never even get to visit Saudi Arabia due to their strict immigration policy. Your earnings are also 100% tax free. You keep everything you make.
Foreigners have to live together, women will be shocked by how oppressive it is for their personal freedoms, curfews and no bars or clubs (obviously). It’s not a country where you’re going to be partying and living it up.
20 – Teach English in Malaysia
Just south of Thailand and north of Indonesia lies Malaysia. Malaysia is a Muslim country that has a few exclusive and unique job opportunities.
Malaysia pays very well, particularly when compared to Thailand. This, combined with a similar cost of living enables a teacher to save a lot of money while working in Malaysia. It’s also not uncommon to receive a bonus upon completion of a contract.
Malaysia is boring and has numerous religious laws that make a social life difficult. Most teachers who work in Malaysia grew bored with living there. The high pay however made it easy to justify spending a year as a teacher there.
21) – Teach English in India
India is last on the list due to it’s low pay, but India is still a country where you could work as an ESL teacher if you’re feeling adventurous enough.
You get to live and work in India. Allowing you to experience Indian culture on a long term basis.
The cons of working in India are the low salary, a Queens English British accent being preferred and most work being found at various call centers as your average Indian can speak some English.
So those are the top 21 countries to consider teaching English. If you’ve not already done so, checkout our section on the best countries to teach abroad. Each country has it’s own dedicated guide explaining visas, salaries and how to go about finding work.
Editorial StaffThe editorial Staff at Teach and GO is a team of teachers with a broad range of experience led by David Unwin. We have been creating helpful advice, guides and tutorials for teachers since 2018.
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