What’s better; to get a TEFL job before you leave, or after you arrive?

 | Teaching House Nomads Blog

When I got my CELTA, I was thrilled and relieved (and a bit exhausted) and ready to start the daunting job search. I considered jobs in Vietnam and Russia, interviewed with a school in Kazakhstan, and received job offers from a couple of employers in Turkey. In the end, I walked into a school in New York and dropped off my resume – snagging a lucrative job that lasted two years. Since then, I’ve taught in Asia and Europe, and I’ve learned a lot about how to get an ESL job abroad.

Individuals who want to land an English teaching jobs can choose between getting the jobs before or after they arrive in the country
Teach in the Ukraine

There’s a lot of discussion about the best way to get an English teaching job, especially about when to apply. What’s better? To secure your job before you go or get on a plane and hope for the best? Both choices have pros and cons and both options work. It’s all about knowing what’s best for you. So while you’re figuring out the best way to get an ESL job abroad, here are some benefits of each path that you might want to consider.

Get an ESL Job Before You Arrive – The Pros

All the paperwork is in order. In the Wild West days of English teaching abroad, teachers would do border runs to make sure their immigration status was in compliance. Ethical concerns aside, regulations around the world are standardizing and border runs are becoming more difficult to do. Securing your job beforehand means getting informed about the immigration process and making sure your documents are in order. Even if you can enter on a tourist visa, some countries don’t allow you to procure your residence and work permits in their country. Whatever the visa requirements are, you’ll know before you go – and you’ll have a chance to work with your employer to make sure you’re completely comfortable with the process.

(See the end of the post for more information on how to get a visa to teach English overseas.)

Vietnam is one of the popular work destinations for CELTA-certified teachers
Teach in Vietnam

The school is more invested in you. The longer you work with a school to iron out all the details of hiring, the more invested they’ll be in making sure you come on over. They don’t want to start over from scratch with a new teacher anymore than you want to start over with a new school.

You have time to work through your contract beforehand. Of course you will make agreements and work on a contract before you start any job, but there’s a certain amount of security that comes with working out all the expectations and details before you step on a plane. If you look through your contract and something doesn’t seem right, it’s not as big of a deal because…

You’ve got more options. Equally interested in Turkey and Vietnam? Happy to ship off anywhere? Maybe location is less important to you than professional development, transition support, or opportunities for advancement. Locking down a job before buying a ticket allows you the flexibility to shop around a bit and pick the opportunity that’s right for you.

There are pros and cons to getting an ESL Job before you arrive in the destination country
Teach in Japan

Your new life starts as soon as you land. You have instant support when you arrive in a your new country. Your employer will help get you settled, you can start work right away, and you have a built-in group of contacts that will hopefully soon become friends.

Get an ESL Job Before You Arrive – The Cons

The Cons: It might take longer to snag the job of your dreams. You only have access to schools that advertise online, the visa process might take longer (and cost more than expected), and you might find the school is not a good fit when you arrive.

Get an ESL Job After You Arrive – The Pros

Some jobs you can only find offline and on the ground. I always thought just dropping off your resume was a pointless gesture of the desperate, but I’ve gotten two serious, long-term jobs that way. Sometimes employers can’t or don’t need to advertise to overseas candidates. They’re able to fill the positions with candidates around them. You could be missing out on a lot of lucrative positions by relying on online job boards alone.

You can sometimes start sooner rather than later. The process of relocation overseas can take a significant amount of time. Not only do you have personal logistics to work through, sometimes the paperwork side of things is slower than anticipated. On the other hand, if you’re already living at your destination, you can start the next week. Or even the next day.

You might have some leverage. Your CELTA is worth a lot. If you’re living in a destination that gets few CELTA-qualified or native English speakers, you might be able to leverage that for better benefits.

Teachers would have greater flexibility if they decide to look for jobs after they arrive in the destination country
Teach in Thailand

You can actually check out the school. It’s one thing to have a video or phone interview with one person and hear all about the school. It’s another to walk through the school yourself, meet with other teachers, look at resources, and get a feel for the atmosphere. You may find a school is an instant fit – or you may discover that you don’t gel with it at all.

Finding the country a hard fit? You can leave. If you’re not sure about living in a particular place, going first will help give you an idea if you’d like to commit long term to this culture and country. If you get there and you struggle with the language or you feel isolated, you can move on.

Get an ESL Job After You Arrive – The Cons

You don’t necessarily know what you’re getting into. You don’t know exactly what the market will be like, your immigration status might be more complicated, you might have to absorbed unexpected costs to get a visa, and you’re limited to that destination.

In the end, it depends on what you’re comfortable with. If you’re 100% sure you want to go to a specific destination and are fine with a little uncertainty, it might be best to just book your ticket and get to work on the ground. If you like a little more security or are more open with your location, doing online research and making sure all the details are ironed out before you go might be better.

Either way, it’s important to research the immigration rules of your destination. It’s crucial that you know work and residency requirements before you go and that you don’t just rely on what the school tells you. Sometimes schools will ask you to come in on a tourist visa and then sort out the rest of the paperwork when you arrive. On the flip side, some countries require you to have a work visa before you enter their country if you intend to work. Make sure you know what’s legal, and then make sure you’re comfortable with the arrangement. As your employer, the school should support you, but at the end of the day you are responsible for yourself.

In addition, because work permits are often tied to employers, make sure you know what happens if you quit or switch schools. The last thing you want to happen in a foreign country is be trapped in a bad work situation because you’re not sure how to legally leave your employer.

To get a work visa, you typically need to have an employer and a job lined up before you enter the country (or you might have to leave and procure your visa in a third country if you don’t want to go all the way home). Some countries allow you to transition from a tourist visa to a work visa, but this can be rare and complicated.

Here are some websites that are a good place to start researching visa requirements:

How to Get a Work Visa for Teaching English Abroad

Visa Information for Popular TEFL Destinations

Teach English Abroad Guides for TEFL Teachers

Requirements and Visa Information for (Teaching English) in China

Getting an E2 Teaching Visa for Korea

Work Permit and Visa FAQ for Thailand

Teaching English in Saudi Arabia (Visa Requirements)

The above websites are not government websites. All information should be double checked with official sources.

Hey Americans, interested in teaching in Europe? Your options are few and you’ll need a visa! Here are a few places where Americans can teach English in Europe legally.

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