What is a TEFL and why is a 120 Certification Important?

By Editorial Staff •  Updated: 06/30/22 •  Teach Abroad

A TEFL certificate is a “teach English as a foreign language” certificate and can be obtained in about 2 to 4 weeks depending on the course you decide to enroll in. You can go abroad and do an in person TEFL course where you get job placement or you can do a quick and convenient online course which is what we recommend.

Getting a TEFL certificate is an important first step to becoming an ESL teacher. Regardless if you’re going to teach abroad or teach online, most employers now require you to have a degree and a TEFL certificate and potentially some experience (most will overlook the experience requirement if you have a TEFL).

We suggest you checkout My TEFL, an online TEFL course developed and run by Footprints Recruiting.

What does TEFL mean?

First, what does TEFL mean exactly? A TEFL is the abreviation for “teach English as a Foreign language” certificate. This certificate should be accredited by and educational body in Europe or the United States. TEFL certificates can be for varrying hours – 90, 120 or 150 hours.

Here at TeachandGo.co we suggest getting a 120 hour course. This is the standard requirement any school abroad will have upon employment as well as what is expected to meet the new Chinese regulations for online teachers.


TEFL and TESOL are simply competing certificate programs. TESOL stands for “teach English to speakers of other languages.” In hiring practice, schools and online teaching companies are not particular if you have one or the other.

So long as you have a 120 hour certificate to teach English that is what is typically required by most companies. If you’re curious about the technical difference between the two, this what they are in practice:


The TEFL certificate is designed for teaching English as a foreign language in other countries. So if you’re an English teacher in Japan for example, the native language is Japanese while English is a foreign language.

This is why in practice most websites, companies and organizations suggest getting a TEFL as the instruction you receive is specifically designed to teach English as a foreign language to non-native speakers.


The TESOL certificate is designed to teach English to people who don’t speak English as a native language. Ideally, this is more aimed at immigrants and foreign nationals on a long term visa from non-native English speaking country.

How to Get a TEFL Certificate

To get a TEFL certificate takes a bit of time and money. There are three main ways to obtain a TEFL certificate. You can now do an online course, an in-house course in your home country like Canada or America or you can do a program abroad:

Get a TEFL Online

The online option is the cheapest option and is perfect for teachers who have families, careers and are already teaching English online but just need to get a TEFL certificate so they can meet various legal requirements.

An online TEFL give you exactly the same certificate at the end of the program as doing a program in person but at a fraction of the cost. The downside is that doing the course online you lose out on interacting with other learners.

I found actually being in a class and doing mock lesson while in Chaing Mai to be very valuable in preparing me for teaching English as a second language (ESL). But again, it depends on your situation.

If you simply need a certificate for online teaching the online option is the cheapest, quickest and best. We suggest checking out My TEFL as they have a solid track record. If you’re on a budget, checkout our guide to free TEFL certificates.

Do a TEFL course in your home country

The worst option generally speaking. The price of a TEFL course in your home country costs the same as doing it abroad but without the job placement help. If you’re wanting to teach English abroad but have no experience teaching or traveling these sorts of courses help you get setup in a foreign country with ease.

But if you do it in person in your home country you simply miss out on all the aspects that make a TEFL course abroad so fun and helpful. Being around other travelers, in a new country and new culture and you get a job lined up for you so you can get setup in the country.

Complete a TEFL program abroad

The best option if you’re wanting to teach abroad for the first time. These course are fun, located somewhere interesting, you get job placement and you learn how to be an effective ESL teacher.

Lastly, these programs are also accredited. Again, if you just need a certificate for online teaching then do the online option. But if you’ve been wanting to teach English abroad it’s a great idea to get a TEFL certificate through a program run in a foreign country.

These programs offer both job placement and they help you get setup in a foreign country.

How long does a TEFL certification take

If you do an intensive program abroad where you meet 5 days a week you can complete a TEFL certification program in as little as 3 weeks.

For most online TEFL programs and programs in your home country expect a 120 hours TEFL certification program to take 6 weeks.

This is an actual certification process so do expect a small time commitment in order to learn how to be an ESL teacher.

TEFL Certification Requirements

TEFL certification courses do have a few minimum requirements you must meet in order to complete the course.

First you must be at least 18 years old with a high school diploma or equivalent. If you happen to be a non native English speaker you must have a language proficency level of B1 according to the Common European Framework.

120 Hour vs 150 Hour TEFL Course

TEFL courses come in 100 hour, 120 hour and 150 hour programs. The standard is 120 hours. This is what is expected for online teaching companies as well as schools abroad. Most ESL teachers have a 120 TEFL certificate as it’s the standard laid out in the ESL industry.

If you decided to go the 150 hour route that of course is a more compehensive course but don’t register for a 100 hour course as you don’t want to take the time to obtain a certificate that potentially not be valid to meet the legal requirements for being an ESL teacher.

TEFL Accreditation explained

The goal of a any TEFL program is to in part help you be a better teacher but to also give you actual accreditation so you can meet the various legal standards foreign countries set for ESL teachers.

For TEFL certificates their are a few recognized accrediting bodies for TEFL certification courses:

ACCET – The standard for global TEFL certification programs

Programs outside the United Kingdom should be ACCET certified. ACCET was founded in 1974 and is recognized by the United States department of Education as a “reliable authority” in the area of teaching English as a foreign language.


The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation is the UK’s governing body that recognizes the legitimicy of a TEFL course. You want your course to be either recognized by ACCET or OFQUAL as these two governing bodies have the highest standards.

Other TEFL Accreditation providers

In practice most employers are not concerned with the accrediting body behind your TEFL course. But if you’re going to be spending the money and time to get a TEFL certificate you might as well get a certificate that is recognized by the United States or the United Kingdom.

Best TEFL Certification

At TeachandGo.co we’ve partnered with two TEFL providers. One is ACCET certified the other is certified by OFQUAL. The two providers are:

My TEFL – The Best Online Option

My TEFL is run by Footprints Recruiting, an ESL company that places teachers abroad. What we like about My TEFL is that their course can be quickly and easily completed online at a reasonable price.

Drew Binsky, an American travel vlogger and blogger with millions of subscribers used My TEFL for his certificate before going to teach English in Korea. They are a trusted, name brand in the industry.


ACCET certified online courses. Upon completion you’ll be give a TEFL certificate. You need the 120 hour course or more for online teaching companies.

The TEFL Academy – Online or Abroad

The TEFL Academy is another highly rated ESL company providing accredited TEFL certificates. They offer online courses similar to My TEFL as well as the opportunities to study abroad with job placement.

If you’ve been wanting to go abroad and study for a few weeks in Spain or Thailand with job placement included, the TEFL Academy is a great start.

TEFL Academy

Offering both online TEFL courses as well as in person courses abroad in countries like Spain, Thailand and Indonesia.

Premier TEFL – The My TEFL Alternative

Premier is a for profit online learning company based out of Ireland. With a strong focus on TEFL education, internships abroad as well as helpful free resources for online teachers, Premier is fast growing play in the online education space.

Premier TEFL

Online TEFL certification as well as resources and internships to help you go abroad and become an ESL teacher.

Is a TEFL Worth It?

A TEFL is an essential component of becoming an online English teacher or an international ESL teacher. Regardless if you want to work at an international school or online, getting a TEFL helps set you apart from employers, is a hiring requirement Chinese based online teaching companies and the education makes you a better teacher. It’s worth spending the time and money to get this certificate.

TEFL Certificate Conclusion

Hopefully by now you have a strong understanding as to what TEFL certificates are, why they are important and what specific company is right for you. You have a lot of budget options on Groupon, but we do strongly suggest you go with an accredited and regulated company like My TEFL.

Editorial Staff

I'm David Unwin and I head the editorial staff here at Teach and GO. I've taught as an ESL teacher in Thailand for 5+ years at all levels of education, from elementary to University. I was also one of the first 1000 VIPKID teachers. I and my team now share my extensive experience as a teacher here at Teach and GO. Learn more.

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