Teaching internationally doesn’t always mean teaching in an international school

I have been teaching abroad for the last six years. During this time, I have worked at four different schools. It seems like a lot, but many teachers get into international teaching because it allows you to move around and try out different places. I am at a point now that I prefer to stay in one place at least two years (I am entering my third year in my current school), but I am happy that I have gotten to experience a variety of places.

When people think of teachers who are teaching abroad, they usually think of ESL teachers or teachers in international schools. International schools are schools that cater to an expat population in a particular country; often the students who attend them are children of diplomats, expats sent abroad by a company, entrepreneurs, or people who have married a local resident and have chosen to make a life with their spouse in that country. These schools tend to be made up of a diverse population of students, in addition to a small percentage of students from the local community who are accepted into the school.

However, there are many schools one can work at in a foreign country that are not “International schools.” Teachers with licenses from their home country, such as American teachers with a state credential or British teachers who have their PGCE can find a variety of teaching opportunities abroad that pay the equivalent of or more than what they would make at home, while allowing them to experience a foreign country.

Before I go on with identifying some of the various options out there, I will say that most licensed teachers who intend to teach internationally for the long-term aim to eventually work at a “top-tier” international school (international teachers tend to refer to the various international schools as “top-tier” and “lower” or “bottom tier” and some even give schools informal rankings such as “first-tier,” “second-tier” and “third-tier.”  However, everyone seems to have a different idea of what these “tier” categories actually mean.) For example, there are some excellent international schools in Asia that pay extremely well (especially when matched with the low cost of living in certain countries), such as Shanghai American School, Singapore American School, Jakarta International School, American School Japan, and International School Bangkok. Many international teachers hope to one day find their way to working at one of these great top-tier international schools.

However, we can’t all start our international-teaching career at a premier international school. For many of us, we must work our way up the ladder that consists of rungs which are private language schools, lower-tier schools and local schools in the local public or private system of a particular country.

Here are some of the options out there to get you started climbing up the ladder towards your dream job in an international teaching career:


Teach ESL in a private language school – There are thousands of private English language schools in countries all over the world. You could teach the basic communicative skills – speaking, listening, reading, writing – to any age group, from preschool to adults. This type of job does not usually require a teaching license, just the basic TEFL certificate to get you started (in my experience, if you have a teaching license, you do NOT need the TEFL on top of it just to get hired at a private language school). The quality of schools varies, and since these are for-profit institutions, you could find yourself working long hours for little pay. But it is always an easy option to get you abroad if you really want to go. And if you enjoy teaching ESL, you can go for more advanced degrees (Masters in TESOL, CELTA/DELTA certificates) and find the higher paying jobs, such as jobs in universities or jobs teaching specialized English (see next two options).

Teach ESL in a university/college – Some teachers go abroad to teach in universities. The hours can be really great, leaving you with lots of free time. These contracts usually supply you with housing and airfare to the country. ESL teachers with many years of experience or with good qualifications usually get these jobs (but not always – there are places that are desperate for English teachers that may hire people with less experience).

Teach ESL in a private company – With some  teaching experience or with specialized knowledge about a field (such as teachers with experience in the business world or people who have worked in or studied sciences/technology), you can get hired working at a company that needs a teacher to teach business English or specialized English to the staff. These jobs are out there, and they are usually better than the standard private language school job. Here is a link to one example of these types of jobs: IES (Japan).

Teach English in a public school – There are programs run by governments in certain countries that aim to bring in foreigners to teach English in public schools. You do not necessarily have to have a teaching license for this type of job. JET is a rather prestigious program in Japan. Other programs are the NET Scheme (Hong Kong) and EPIK in Korea.

Primary and Secondary Schools (all subjects)

Teach your subject in a “lower-tier” international school – There are many schools out there that are less established than the well-known international schools. Young schools take time to improve their academic quality, to build up their resources, and to hire good staff.  These schools are often eager to hire teachers from abroad to teach at the primary and secondary level. If you are just starting out as a teacher or just starting your international career, these can be excellent stepping stones. In countries with a high demand (such as China), you might not even be required to have a teaching license.

Teach in an international program in a local school – There are so many different types of programs out there where you can teach your subject in local schools abroad. (I am especially thinking of secondary school teachers.) For example, in China, local students are NOT allowed to attend international schools. Only those who have a foreign passport may attend international schools. However, many Chinese students would like to receive an education that prepares them for universities abroad rather than taking the gaokao path (an exam Chinese students take at the end of high school which basically determines which level of Chinese university they can apply to). For this reason, there are lots of new, alternative international programs being offered through public schools where the students take their high school courses in English. There are AP programs to prepare students who want to study in America (I worked in one). I have also heard that some Chinese schools are now offering the international baccalaureate (IB) program. These are great options because you can teach your subject, getting valuable experience yourself, and you also get to be truly connected to the community you are living in. By the way, these programs exist all over the world, not just in China.

Teach in a local private primary or secondary school – In addition to those unique programs that I mentioned in the previous example, there are also private local schools that look to hire teachers from abroad. Sometimes this is because they offer a bilingual program, where the students receive a certain percentage of instruction in the second language (English, in our case). Other times, these private schools bill themselves as “international schools” because they are for-profit schools that want to attract local students who are interested in receiving a more international education. While for-profit local schools often have bad reputations, they can be a great option if you find the right place that allows you the lifestyle you are looking for. They may not offer a rigorous standard of academics, but they often are lower-pressure teaching environments. These are also a great stepping stone option.

These are all types of schools I have encountered in my experience teaching abroad. Many of them are even examples of schools I have worked at. If you would like more specific information, such as names of specific schools within these categories, I am happy to share what information I have.

I know my recommendations are very Asia-focused. The fact is that most of my experience has been in Asia (although I did work at a private university in Mexico). If anyone can share other international teaching options found in other areas of the world, that would be very appreciated!


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