Ultimate guide to becoming a Foreign Teacher to KEEP TRAVELLING!

I constantly receive emails from friends, family and readers asking about our experience teaching English in China. How did we find a job? How did we get certfified? Where did we teach? Rather than reply to everyone in detail (although we will still answer questions!) we are going to use this post to walk you through how to start teaching English to keep travelling! In 2014 we were living and working in Canada and we decided we needed a way to continue our travels somehow. That’s the token traveller’s dilemma, there is never enough time or money to see everything you want to. We thought, as many do, that teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) could be the perfect solution for us!
We commenced our TEFL training with the International Teacher Training Organization (ITTO). Our course with ITTO was completely online, and included 140 hours of work. You will read time and time again that you must complete a minimum of 100 hours in order to be not only sufficiently prepared, but also to be considered for a role. Now, lets be clear here that 140 hours is never going to be enough to prepare you for every scenario you will encounter as a new English teacher. But I can recommend the ITTO course for its thoroughness and superb tutor support. Our tutor gave us great feedback and was always on hand to answer questions; she did this within 12 hours in most cases.

ITTO gives you 12 months to complete your course (you can pay a fee if you need to extend this), and they impose a 6 month minimum time frame. This means that if you are looking for a quick fix- this might not be the right choice for you! It also means that you will have enough time to really take in all of the information. Shabir and I finished the course in 9 months, whilst working full time and still enjoying the Rocky Mountains where we were living at the time.

Will you learn more from an in-class course than an online one?

This is a question that we also asked ourselves. And I can say yes, you probably will be more prepared for your new career if you were to take a classroom based course. Not only will you have class-mates to bounce ideas off, you will have immediate access to a tutor. Add to that the fact that most in class courses are the equivalent of many more than 140 hours, you can see that it is a more thorough option.

The problem for us was the price tag of an in class option. Not only the course fees but the fact that it would involve taking time off work or perhaps working part time until you become certified. For us this just wasn’t an option. We took a gamble on the online course and we were happy with the content and support provided.

As a brand new teacher, you’d be wise to take on a teaching position that provides support from the outset. This can be trickier than it sounds, so be sure to research any job offers properly. I will post more on this in a future post!

Why China?

We chose China for a number of reasons. The largest deciding factor came down to our education levels and potential wages. We did not have university degrees and this ruled out locations like the Middle-East and Vietnam or Indonesia. The governments of these countries don’t provide work visa’s to people without tertiary education. There are also other countries (South and Central America) that advertise for foreign teachers, but often can not or will not provide a working visa. So although you may find a job in those places, you would end up working illegally. This means you would have fewer rights, would have to do boarder runs to neighbouring countries to get a new tourist visa every few months, and you would probably be paid less. When we found out that we could get a job in China without a degree and still earn a respectable wage, we knew teaching English in China was the option for us.

Finding the Job

Once we had our certification, we headed south of the boarder, to Mexico! This is where we created a resume especially written for a teaching position. Yes you do need to rewrite it to play to the strengths and skills that will assist you whilst teaching! The jobs we applied for were all found on Daves ESL Café. This is an absolute Gem of a website and can put you in touch with hundreds of potential employers. We sent off about 20 emails and quickly began to see the replies rolling in.

We set up Skype interviews and we conducted all of these from a Mexican Internet café in Puerto Escondido. We were actually offered the very first job that we interviewed for- win! This was a well-paid role in a small school in Shanghai. We then interviewed with a few schools that told us no immediately because of our lack of experience. This was disheartening, but we honestly were complete rookies!

Within two days we received another job offer in Tianjin. We had two job offers that seemed quite appealing, so we had a difficult decision ahead of us. This was a great score for us as we had many worries that we may not be able to even land one job offer! Add to these worries the fact that we actually missed one interview after a city-wide power outage. We were so stoked to have a few options after all our stress.

If you are worried about job prospects after taking the plunge to become an EFL teacher, don’t be! The market in China between 2014 and 2015 was definitely favouring the English teachers. Our company constantly needed new teachers, and our friends have easily changed schools since we left too.

So with our two options, we weighed up the slight differences in wages, how well we got along with our interviewers, and the differences between living in a big and a slightly smaller city. We ended up taking the job with a bigger chain of schools, with a slightly smaller wage, in a slightly smaller city. We figured the cost of living may be lower in Tianjin than Shanghai, therefore removing the difference in wages. We also wanted the support and extra training that would come with working in a large and well established chain of schools.

When interviewing for your new jobs, make sure you are prepared to ask questions. You want to find a school that is a correct fit for you, not just the first one that offers you a job! Ask about the size of the classes, how many foreign teachers there are, the class schedule and times, and the age of the students. There are so many things that you should know to help make a good decision that I may need to write another post about that one day!


Job offers aside we also began to look into the process of applying for a Chinese visa. We needed a Z visa for employment, and we quickly found out that it would be impossible to process this visa before our planned arrival. We read mixed reports about applying for this visa whilst abroad. We read that because we were temporary residents of Canada and had  work visa’s we would be able to apply for the Z visa in Canada. Our school however, told us that we would need to fly home to our native Australia in order to make the application. OK….

The problem was that we had already booked our flights to China! Oops! Another lesson learnt about over planning- that’s a whole other post for another day too!

The solution for us was to apply for a Chinese Tourist visa, visit China on the tourist visa and commence our “training” whilst the paperwork was prepared. In a couple of weeks we flew home to Perth for a week to have our Z visa processed.

We read horror stories about the visa paperwork (both tourist and Z visa’s) being really difficult to complete. But honestly, we found the tourist visa so simple to fill out. It is very self-explanatory and we didn’t notice any thing that was easy to slip up on. The Z visa was largely taken care of for us by our company, but again seemed pretty straight forward! Of course this doesn’t mean you should be half-assed when it comes to filling out your visa paperwork. We always recommend reading through the questions before you start filling things out. Then you can be sure you know what’s required of you.

Is it all worth it?

Yes! The experience of living and working overseas is something i can’t recommend enough! Whether you love it or hate it- you will have learned so much and definitely grown as a person. I know, thats pretty cliche, right? But there’s a reason there’s so many of those meme’s floating around on the Internet!

If you are thinking about taking the plunge to become a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, don’t be disheartened by the process! It is an adventure of a life time and if you can get through a little bit of part time study, some job interviews and some paper work then the rewards will be well worth it. And if it’s not worth it: you’ll at least have a few stories to laugh about when you get home!

For more information on taking the plunge into TEFL, check out Aiden’s recap on teaching in Colombia.

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Ultimate China TEFL guide: Teaching English in China
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