by Fatima Cacho
I withdrew from my college’s study abroad program before I even left the country. I wanted to see the world and did not want to do it while in a traditional school setting.
Although I had heard of TEFL as a way to live abroad, I didn’t really know how to get started. Eventually, I decided to take a TEFL certification course in Phuket, Thailand in late 2018 and now I’ve been living abroad ever since.
How’d that happen? Here’s a step-by-step guide of everything I did before getting on a plane. I hope it helps you better understand how to get TEFL certification and eventually start teaching English abroad.
Step 1: Be Introspective and Ask Yourself These Questions:
Why do you want to take a TEFL course? Maybe you just need a break from your daily 9-5 job or you’re transitioning from one career to another. Perhaps you are in a similar position that I was: freshly graduated and in search of a sustainable life abroad because you’ve never left your comfort zone. There isn’t a right or wrong reason for taking a TEFL course, but you should know why you want to take one.
Do you have any interest in teaching? Interest is defined as the state of wanting to know or learn about something or someone. A more specific question would be, “Do you want to know or learn more about teaching?” In my case, yes, I did (and still do). I have a background in mostly math and science education as well as the scientific study of languages; I figured a TEFL course could help bridge those two things together.
Step 2: Consider the Qualifications for TEFL Certification
The good news is you don’t need many qualifications for TEFL certification — after all, it’s considered an entry-level training course. When I took the course, I had just graduated from college and had about three years of teaching experience. Based on all the people in my own course, my qualifications and level of experience definitely aren’t the norm. I met people who didn’t have a degree and/or hadn’t been in school in over a decade. Specific requirements vary, but all you really need is a good attitude, willingness to learn, and an open mind.
Step 3: Choose a TEFL Course
A quick Google search of “TEFL course” will bring up over 8 million results, so I understand how choosing a course can be overwhelming. I had five requirements when choosing a course:
- Website Do they have their own website? In the age of the internet, it’s rare that a company or business doesn’t have a website, which is what makes having a website an entry-level requirement for me. Other questions I also consider are: Are prices and product laid out clearly? Is contact information easily accessible? Do they link their social media? Does it look well maintained?
- Reviews When I shop on Amazon, reviews are what ultimately get me to buy a product. Picking a TEFL course is no different. Unfortunately, there isn’t an Amazon for TEFL courses. There are actually several places to find reviews. The first place is on the TEFL course’s website itself. A good TEFL course will also showcase reviews from external websites, such as GoOverseas and TEFL Course Review. The more reviews you can find, the more accurate representation of the course you’ll get.
- Social Media A course not participating in social media was a deal breaker for me. If a course had an active social media presence, it showed me that there’s a human being managing their social media, which instantly makes them more real and personable. You can also now review businesses on Facebook. I went a step further with my social media requirement and messaged a graduate of TEFL Campus on Facebook.
- Accreditation/Validation Be sure the course you choose is accredited or validated by an outside source. There are several TEFL/TESOL accrediting bodies; be sure to do your research on which bodies are legitimate and internationally recognized. Believe it or not, many courses accredit themselves or have simply paid for the accreditation without the company doing any real due diligence.
- Job Support This is actually a requirement I added on after having looked at a few TEFL courses. Let’s face it: nothing in life is guaranteed, so “guaranteed job placement” seemed way too good to be true. What drew me to TEFL Campus was that they explicitly state, “We don’t guarantee placements.”
Step 4: Choose a Country for the Course and for Work
If you follow my guidelines above for choosing a course, it doesn’t really matter where you go for the course. Choosing where you want to work though is a bit more complicated. Besides personal requirements such as: beaches or mountains, city or small village, yearly weather, etc., some countries have strict professional requirements. For example, in order to teach in South Korea, you must have a bachelor’s degree and be a citizen of certain countries. But to teach in some countries like Cambodia and Russia, you don’t need a degree. Countries like Thailand and Vietnam list it as an official requirement, but employers commonly turn a blind eye to this. Do some research before hopping on a plane.
Step 5: Prepare to Leave Home for a TEFL Certificate
Have a savings and be financially responsible. Be sure you have enough for the course and to get you through one month after the course ends while you look for a job. The cost of living in some Asian countries are significantly lower. For instance, TEFL Campus suggests coming over with no less than $3,000 after having paid for your TEFL course and accommodation for it.
Check your passport’s expiration date. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months following your course. Getting a new passport can take a few weeks.
Check if you need additional travel documents to get into a country. Depending on your passport, you may need additional travel documents, such as a visa, to get into a country.
Get a criminal background check. Most schools will ask for a background check and it is significantly easier to get one while you’re home than while you’re abroad. Depending on what type of background check you get, it can take a few weeks to get results.
Find your original degree (if applicable). Most schools will ask to see your original degree and some countries may even ask for it to be certified.
Before Loading the Plane for You TEFL Certification
Buy your plane ticket ASAP. The earlier you buy a plane ticket, the cheaper it will be. It’s not like domestic travel where there’s a magic number of days for the cheapest price.
Notify your bank of travel plans. Trust me, you don’t want your card getting declined when you’re 13,000 km from home. Banks need advanced notice that you’re planning to make transactions from abroad — be sure they’re aware.
Start packing. Dig up or buy some suitcases and start sorting your things into, ‘take,’ ‘trash/donate,’ and ‘keep, but can’t take’ piles. Then go back and make that ‘take’ pile smaller and smaller. You’re looking to live abroad, not take your life abroad.
Spend time with friends and family. This is the most regretful step for me. I was so caught up with finishing school and preparing to move abroad, I didn’t spend as much time with my friends and family as I wanted. If you have the time, use it.
Packing your life up to do something you’ve probably never done before in a foreign country is scary when getting your TEFL certification. That is a perfectly normal thought and you aren’t alone in it. Hopefully, these steps have brought you some guidance, reassurance, and courage to follow through with it. Good luck!