Why You Should Teach ESL Abroad (& How To Do It) – Part 2

This post was last updated on November 10th, 2013

This is a two-part series about teaching ESL abroad. In case you missed it, read part 1 here.

Last week we talked about why you should (or perhaps shouldn’t) teach English abroad. This week we’re going to focus more on the details: where to go, how to do it, and what it looks like.

Teach English Abroad

The Destination

Perhaps the most daunting part of teaching ESL abroad is choosing where to go. With options virtually everywhere, you must decide what it is you want out of your teaching experience.  We have only taught in Taiwan and Italy, so we are by no means experts in teaching programs around the world. However, we have picked up a bit here and there from fellow travelers, bloggers, and our own job hunting. This is what we’ve learned:

If money is a consideration, than you are likely looking at China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, potentially Thailand, and the Middle East. These countries provide the highest salary with competitive benefits, and have a low cost of living. Other destinations in Southeast Asia and Latin America tend to be extremely popular, but not as lucrative—they might not even pay anything at all! Volunteer ESL teaching can be just as—if not more—rewarding; however, exercise caution before paying extortionate fees to volunteer recruiting agencies. Often this money is going to a select few at the top of the chain, not back to the community.

A few European countries also offer teaching programs and opportunities, such as Spain, the Czech Republic, Turkey and Russia. Unless you are going through a government-sponsored program, non-European Union citizens will likely have difficulty securing jobs in the EU for the simple fact that their EU counterparts already have necessary work visas.

Of course, money shouldn’t be the only determinate in choosing your destination; you also need to decide what types of teaching jobs appeal to you. For example: Do you want to spend minimal time in the classroom and maximum time learning the local language? Is flexibility important? Would you like to travel around neighboring countries? Do you prefer to teach kindergarten students or adults? Once you know the answers to these questions (and more!), you’ll have more success narrowing down where you would like to teach.

Tawianese English Students


So Why Did We Come To Taiwan?


We didn’t think through all the questions listed above. Rather, it was a good ol’ Google search that quite randomly introduced us to Taiwan. We got lucky. It wasn’t long before Taiwan had utterly captivated us. That said, other teachers have been less than fond of their teaching positions, and this negative energy has infiltrated the rest of their Taiwanese experience. The lesson? Do your homework.

We could go on and on about why we adore Taiwan so much. Our love for the small island is probably obvious at this point considering we wrote a whole (free) book to make it more accessible to foreigners (cough, cough). With dramatic scenery, genial people, unique eats, and the perfect mix of modernity and exoticness, it’s hard to resist Taiwan’s charm.  If you want to read more about why we recommend Taiwan (for teaching ESL, traveling, or both) check out this guest post we wrote for eTramping: 6 Reasons Why Taiwan Should Be On Your Travel Itinerary.


What Do You Need To Teach ESL In Taiwan?


While my first time teaching ESL abroad was via a brief summer camp stint in Italy, Dan signed up to teach ESL in Taiwan with practically no prior teaching experience. Neither of us had teaching degrees, TESOL certificates, or otherwise practical teaching knowledge.  We choose jobs with one of the largest cram schools in Taiwan. Again, we got lucky. Not everyone has a good experience when working with chain schools, as naturally each school placement varies greatly. We were placed at great schools with amazing co-workers and fantastic students. Obviously we enjoyed the first year enough to sign on for a second.

Competition for ESL jobs is rising, and there are many qualified teachers in Taiwan unable to find jobs. This is especially true for ESL teachers in Taipei. While it’s not impossible to find a teaching job upon your arrival in Taiwan, we recommend securing your teaching position before leaving your home country.

For all teaching positions, you will need an undergraduate degree in any subject. A 120-hour TEFL certificate is advised. Not only will it provide you with additional, useful training, it will make you a more competitive applicant for the better (and higher paying) jobs. To obtain a job in a public school you will need a teaching degree.

Many schools will help you find an apartment, provide you with teaching training and materials, and generally streamline the transition process. Unlike South Korea, China, or Japan, it is very difficult to find a school that will pay for your airfare or rent in Taiwan.

If you want to learn more about teaching ESL, it’s best to find local advice from fellow expats. Get on forums. Ask to get in touch with previous teachers to hear about their experiences. There are a lot of amazing teaching jobs out there, but there are also a lot of…well…not-so-good ones.

Finally, don’t pay outlandish fees to a recruiter to find you a job! We’ve heard some recruiters take NT 100 out of your hourly rate, indefinitely. While we didn’t use them personally, we can recommend Reach To Teach as an alternative. They are a free recruiting agency that matches teachers and jobs in Taiwan, as well as China, Korea, Thailand and Georgia. They’ll help you find a job and provide the support you need both prior to and throughout your time in Taiwan.


What is it like teaching ESL in Taiwan?


Teach ESL Abroad in Taiwan

Teaching hours are often after-school, 4–9 p.m. Teachers also work at kindergartens or private schools, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Hourly wages range from NT$ 580 to NT$ 700.  If you are on an hourly wage, you’ll likely work 20-25 paid hours a week (not including planning and grading), though we often averaged 30 paid hours a week. Most schools will provide you with extensive materials to use in the classroom. While you will still have to lesson plan, you will probably have the resources you need on hand. If provided teaching material is important to you, be sure to clarify with the school before signing a contract. Also, note that some schools want you to teach ‘their way’, following their teaching steps and formulas. We often have a Taiwanese co-teacher with us in the classroom to assist us and also discipline the students.

From a foreign standpoint, the schooling appears extremely rigorous with a heavy emphasis on memorization rather than creativity. Don’t be surprised by the pressure placed on students in Taiwan. Many teachers are extremely strict with their students, and what might be perceived by a Western eye as berating is quite accepted in Taiwan (though corporal punishment is banned). We have found that the teachers truly love and care about their students even if they appear harsh.


The best part about teaching ESL?


Your days are spent with these guys!!

English Students in Taiwan

Watergun Fight Teach English Abroad


Although we wish we could give more specific details about teaching ESL in other countries around the world, we just don’t have the first-hand knowledge…yet! Did we answer most of your questions about teaching ESL abroad? Do you have points you can add about teaching English in other countries? As always, please share in the comments below!


    • It really is! We still don’t have our TEFOL certificates, but if we decide to teach again we will definitely get them, both for the training and higher paying jobs.

  1. Hi, this is some great information, I’ve been teaching in the UK for the last 4 years before we left on our trip, and am thinking about teaching in Taiwan next year. We’ll download the ebook and have a look through it. Will you write more about the taxes or is it in more detail in the ebook?
    Andrew recently posted…Changing Travel Plans and Leaving IndonesiaMy Profile

    • Thanks Andrew! Glad to hear it is helpful. Let us know your thoughts on the eBook, and don’t hesitate to ask any questions! There’s a bit more about the taxes in the book, but basically all foreigners are taxed at 18% for the first 183 days. After that, your tax rate drops to 5%. If you are in the country longer than 183 days, you are eligible to get back 12% of the initial 18% taken out of your paycheck. So, if you time your arrival in Taiwan around the start of the year, you’ll receive a nice refund the following year. However, if you are in Taiwan for 182 days or less, you will still be taxed at 18% but you won’t get any of it back. We arrived in Taiwan in the end of July, which meant from July to December we were taxed at 18% and there was no refund. Hope that helps!

  2. Seems like you had a lot of fun teaching (and playing?) with kids over there. Teaching English abroad is really the best job for people who like traveling.
    Freya Renders recently posted…The Quintessential Guide to JaipurMy Profile

    • It was a great experience, although I must say there wasn’t as much playing as I would have liked. Those kids start studying quite intensely from a very young age, and there is much less emphasis on creativity than memorization. Luckily teaching kindy it is easier to play lots of games :)

  3. I think your article paints a really good picture of what it’s like to live in Taiwan. I’ve lived in Taiwan for nearly a decade and have also traveled all over the world. While other places might be more fun to go on vacation, I think Taiwan is one of the top places to teach English and live for a few different reasons.

    1. In terms of salary, you can make more than enough money get by, especially if you stay beyond your first year and don’t have the normal set up costs.
    2. Living in Taiwan is much cheaper in the West. You can get by fine on $2000 a month and can certainly spend less (or more) depending on your lifestyle and where you live.
    3. The food can be very good and cheap. There are so many different things you can eat for $3-5 that are tasty and reasonably priced.
    4. Taiwan is the safest country I’ve ever been to by far. You can be almost anywhere on the island at any time of day or night and not have to worry about personal safety. Of course it’s not perfect, but as far as safety goes it’s very good.
    5. If you like nature then there is so much to do once you get outside the cities. I highly recommend a scooter to go exploring.
    Nick recently posted…My Beautiful View of Taiwan – From a Hospital BedMy Profile

    • Thanks Nick! Have to agree with all your points above as well. Actually we go over a lot of similar ideas in our eBook. You might enjoy it if you are in Taiwan! Have you had a chance to check it out? Thanks for leaving so much great advice in your comment!

  4. Korea is definitely a potential country for ESl teachers. I’ve taught here for more than 10 years already and it’s paid me well. But more than the compensation, it’s so fulfilling to teach children regardless of the country you’re in.



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