A Guide To Getting Your TEFL Certificate and Working Abroad

Before travelling I had a secure, well paid job in an investment bank.


But I wanted more.


I craved adventure and excitement, something new. 


I began to think of ways i could work overseas but with no foreign language skills, nothing was immediately apparent. I started researching potentials jobs and looked at everything from working on cruise ships to volunteering in Thailand, and then I stumbled upon TEFL. For those that don't know, TEFL is a globally recognised certificate which enables you to teach English all over the world.


I didn't know it then, but from the moment I booked my TEFL course, my life changed. I completed my TEFL course and taught English in Spain. It took me down a path I had never planned nor expected, but I am so glad that it did. I understand living on the road isn't for everyone, and it can get pretty exhausting for even the most experienced backpackers. Living abroad is a completely different but just as satisfying experience. it enables you to peel back the layers of a country and see more than just the highlights quoted from between the glossy pages of the latest Lonely Planet.


I think it's only when you move away from home, the people and places you know that you really learn how to stand on your own two feet. Whether it's moving away to study, for work or just for the experience, I think everyone who has done it would agree they learned more about themselves in that time away than they had in all the years leading up to it.


The first time I left home was at the age of 20 when I secured this teaching job in Madrid, shortly after obtaining my TEFL certificate. The city of Madrid is the most incredible place to visit, let alone live in! I fell head over heels in love with Madrid, and it's a city which will always remain very close to my heart. The year I spent teaching English in Spain was one of the best of my life, and I'm going to show you how you can do it too!

Me at Retiro, Madrid
Me at Retiro, Madrid

First things first, getting your qualification.


If you want to work abroad, then firstly you need to get certified to do so. There are various types of English Teaching certifications. The most popular of these are TEFL and CELTA.


So what's the difference between TEFL and CELTA?


TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is a qualification which many different providers can certify you in. There are two ways in which you gain your TEFL, the first is via online modules where you have to dedicate between 120 and 140 hours of online learning. The second option is an intensive weekend course where you are taught by a TEFL instructor over a 2 day period. TEFL qualifications are the most commonly held qualification by teachers working overseas. Prices vary but on average the online course will cost between 150 and 400, whereas the weekend intensive courses cost between 100 and 300.


Although both options give you the same certificate, in my experience, most employers do not like the online course as it gives you no real classroom experience. I would recommend the intensive course, it's cheaper, quicker and it actually involves standing in front of a room of people and teaching - invaluable practice!



CELTA ( Certificate in English Language Teaching Adults) CELTA is a specialised certificate affiliated with Cambridge University, and it is sometimes seen as the more prestigious qualification. The CELTA course is very intensive, usually lasting 4 to 5 weeks and costs anywhere between 1500 and 4000. There is also an age restriction, you need to be over 20 years old and have a degree.


Some language schools are very particular and will only accept CELTA qualified teachers however the majority accept both TEFL and CELTA qualifications. If you know who or where you want to work, then it would be best to double check before enrolling for either course. If there is no mention of needing a CELTA then a TEFL should be more than enough.


You have your certificate, now what?


Now that you are qualified, it is time to apply for jobs!


This is the exciting part as the world really is your oyster, when I started applying for teaching positions I applied for posts everywhere from Croatia to Thailand. I initially done this through the company's website I had obtained my certificate from (In my case www.tefl.org.uk). Every TEFL provider advertises jobs on their website, so once you have your certificate you can apply this way, however i never had much luck as most employers on these website will be saturated with offers. So I decided to contact language schools directly in the countries I wanted to work. My ideal location for teaching was Spain, therefore I sent out hundreds of emails to various schools in Madrid and Barcelona. Most of them advised me to visit them in person, but that was a huge risk to leave everything behind in Scotland in the hope of getting a job once I arrived. One school did get back to me though and asked me to attend an interview in London. This was a company called Vaughan Systems. Thankfully I passed the interview and was offered a place on their 2 week long training course a few weeks later. I passed the training course and was offered a 1 year contact with them, and well the rest is history.


Whether it is Europe, South America or Timbuktu, I would highly recommend you do the research yourself and get in touch with schools directly. Most will be happy to conduct a skype interview and some will even offer to pay for your flights provided you agree to a fixed term contract with them. For example, most employers in China will cover the cost of your flights provided you stay for the minimum of 1 year. If you fancy Spain then a great website for picking up teaching jobs is www.lingobongo.com. Although I started teaching with Vaughan Systems, I left that company after a couple of months as I didn't really agree with their teaching style (you can learn more on their website) but I found more than enough work through Lingo Bongo and I worked as a self employed teacher (autonomo) which gave me the freedom to pick and chose my classes so I could have the perfect balance between working and experiencing the Spanish way of life.


Wherever you chose to teach abroad, it is a once in a lifetime experience that will teach you invaluable skills, enable you to experience another culture and give you the opportunity to learn a second language yourself. Looking back on my year in Madrid, it was one of the best things I ever done and it gave me a taste of what the rest of the world had to offer.


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