7 Tips on Starting Your Journey to Becoming an ESL Teacher.


To become an ESL teacher, you will need to complete at a minimum a 120-hour TEFL/TESOL qualification. Some people choose to take courses in a different country with actual hands-on personable experience, but it costs a lot more. So, if you are strapped for cash like I was, have a look on Wowcher for online TEFL/TESOL courses that you can complete at home. I have linked below the course I bought 4 years ago. I did the 150-hour course because at the time it was cheaper at just £10. I was also a bit hesitant buying a course online in case it wasn’t legit, so that’s why I have linked this course by Global Language Training as I know it’s real and is all you need to become an English teacher abroad (plus a university degree in most cases).



Be very careful when searching for ESL jobs online, especially ones in China, they can be a complete scam. To find jobs you can search on Facebook groups in the country you want to travel to, or as I did, I just used teachaway.com to find a job.  

Here are some tips for checking the school is NOT legit:

  • They ask for payments (this can be for courses such as TEFL, which you should already have)
  • You can’t find much about them online.
  • Does it seem too good to be true? Then it probably is! Are they offering you double or triple the salary of other schools, and it’s your first teaching job, then it’s simply not real.
  • Is there an agent involved? Or a middleman? This may not be a scam, but it will certainly cripple you financially. Agents, so often found in China take a large percentage of your monthly salary!

I have worked in Vietnam and China. And although at the time of writing both borders are closed due to coronavirus here are the schools I worked at with their logos. I am not specifically recommending these schools now, but maybe I will write another blog post on my experience with 3 different schools.

Victoria Education & Training JSC

Hanoi, Vietnam

Field Education

A franchise across China, they have schools in a lot of cities.

i2 International Institute of Education

The biggest English school in China, with schools across most cities.


Make sure before you go you have the correct visa and that it is already prepared and issued before you land. ⚠️ THIS IS PARTICULARLY A WARNING IF YOUR GOING TO CHINA ⚠️ A private school in China cannot issue a visa to a foreigner if the school has been open for less than 2 years. So try and do a bit of digging to see when the school opened. Employees will often say they can finish the visa in China, but then have been known to keep pushing it back, meaning you will be teaching/working on a tourist visa or a business visa, whichever you used to enter the country. This is illegal and if you are caught you will be deported! On the face of it other countries such as Vietnam seem less strict about these matters, but technically they are not. Vietnam requires a business visa and a work permit, which your school should assist you with. It is my belief that after this COVID debacle countries such as China will become stricter on who they allow in the country. And there are constant rumours in China about the elimination of “unnecessary” foreigners in the country.


If you are applying for a job in China and you are not from one of the following countries, you WILL NOT be issued a legal work visa: USA, UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Although I have known many non-natives to teach in China, they did not have work visas and were only there on business, fake student visas or tourist visas.


Most job interviews in China, the employer will ask you what salary you want. For us Europeans this is a very bizarre concept. I actually remember once saying I’d like ¥1,000,000 (around US$150,000 a month). Obviously they said no, but you know if they ask… I’ll give you some guidance on salary for both Vietnam and China. I went to Vietnam, with a first class honours in BA Geography and a distinction in my Masters, I had experience with kids but not a lot, and this was to be my first ever teaching job. At Victoria Education in Vietnam, I was working Monday – Friday in public schools and if lessons were cancelled you were not paid. So my salary was anywhere between US$1500 (35,000,000 VND) and US$2000 (45,000,000). Work in centres, (i.e. after public school hour teaching) paid a little bit more and was more of a steady salary.

I went to China then with one year of experience and my starting salary in a training centre (Wednesday-Friday 2pm-9pm & Saturday-Sunday 9am-6pm) was ¥19,000 (US$2900) a month. My second year with that company it was raised to ¥19,500 (US$3012). With this company I also received free accommodation, where i just had to pay for electricity and water. It was a really insane deal, but the company was a little dodgy. My second school was far more legit, and my salary was ¥21,000 but I had to pay for my own apartment, so basically the same as the first job. Be warned though, you MUST negotiate well. Some teachers were more qualified than others earning less money just because they didn’t negotiate well enough.


I can only consciously promote Vietnam and China as places to teach English as thats where I was based. However the two were VERY different. Vietnam was more relaxed, touristy, lots of fellow wanderers looking to teach but more importantly travel. In China, people were more serious, usually had more experience, and were there in general more for the money than the traveller vibe, at least that was my experience with people anyway. If you’re not sure if ESL teaching is for you i would therefore without a doubt suggest you go to Vietnam, Thailand or South East Asian destinations first before potentially trying out China. Most of the work in China is in training centres, which holds more unsociable hours (Friday night/ weekend work) and in my opinion was a lot more demanding physically and teaching wise than teaching classes of 40 students in Vietnamese public schools.


As mentioned above I worked in public schools in Vietnam and training centres in China. It was easier in public schools as you do not have to come up with so many different ideas, whereas in training schools you have to constantly invent new material to keep each class of 4-10 children entertained. In China there are a few teaching options. Training schools, international schools, public schools and universities. Be sure to check the salary with the working hours and teaching hours to make your decision of what is best for you. Many jobs have teaching and non teaching hours, so look out for the difference. Non teaching hours are for lesson planning, marking etc, but an experience teaching doesn’t need to use up much of this time (so you can sneakily put your feet up for a couple of ours or enjoy some dumplings outside whilst you wait for class).

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