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Who can teach English abroad

Degrees, certificates, qualifications, experience, what do you need to get into TEFL?

Pretty much anyone. Now while that’s technically correct, let’s move onto something more practical.

The TEFL industry is very large, with a lot of money floating about, a very high demand for teachers and a high teacher turnover. Put those together and you get the makings of a system which will take in almost anyone.

It’s this that also helps give the industry its bad reputation, of bad employers and equally bad teachers. Will it take in anyone, yes. Should anyone go in? No.

No Degree.

The first problem you’ll run into is actually being able to get a legal working visa. Many popular countries have a degree as requirement for their working visa.

Working illegally is a definite no. If you’re in the country illegally you have no power at all. Your employer knows it and can do pretty much whatever they like. The worst of the worst of TEFL horror stories come from those teachers who work illegally and get abused by an employer who they can’t fight.

So where can you work without a degree?


  • Bulgaria
  • Czech Republic
  • Italy
  • Russia
  • Spain
  • Turkey


  • Cambodia
  • Malaysia

South America

  • Argentina
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Chile
  • Columbia
  • Costa Rica
  • Ecuador
  • Mexico
  • Uruguay

Note: China has changed its Visa policy. Although it used to have no requirements they’re now usually asking for a bachelor’s degree and at least 2 years work experience. (More detail in the China section).

There are sometimes possible exceptions here if you have no degree, but plenty of experience. For example in Japan, 10 years experience can be a substitute for a degree and sometimes certain visa options open up for those with a lot of experience. But this is very country and individual specific. Check the country sections for more detail.

So can you get work without a degree? Yes but if it’s going to be legal it’ll need to be in one of the countries above.

TEFL Certificate and no degree

Sadly this puts you pretty much in the same boat as above when choosing countries. A TEFL certificate won't help you get through the visa requirements.

The difference is that any vaguely serious job will want some sort of qualifications and a certificate goes some way to assuring them you can teach and won't be completely hopeless.

Again self-explanatory, but the better the certificate, the better your chance is. The two most widely recognised are the CELTA and CertTESOL.

Although requirements for these two courses change between course providers, they’re usually:

  • Minimum age 18.
  • Excellent English (you don't have to be a native speaker, but your English should be almost as good as one.)
  • Educational qualifications to get you into higher education. (I.e. what you’d need to get into university. You don’t actually need a degree.)

Degree and no certificate

Simply having a degree opens up the countries you can choose.

Not all jobs require a TEFL certificate, although the you might find the salary and benefits adjusted accordingly. Roughly 40% of the jobs on this site haven’t needed a TEFL certificate.

A certificate is often not a hard requirement, teaching experience or a teaching certification in particular can sometimes be counted instead and a degree in education or English is also sometimes used.

You should be able to enter a large number of the entry level TEFL positions with just a degree.

Degree and TEFL Certificate

Right now things really begin to open up, you should have a good chance for most entry level TEFL positions across most countries.

The one thing that’s most likely to either open or close doors for you is the number of actual teaching hours on your TEFL certificate (i.e. did your certificate have actual teaching in a classroom?). As you move into the more serious jobs, many will request a CELTA, Cert TESOL or at least 120 hour certificate with minimum of 6 hours of classroom practice.

For example the British Council only employ people who are CELTA/Cert.TESOL qualified.

Degree and a Certified Teacher

There’s a lot less to say from this point onwards in terms of qualifications, because it starts to become very situational and personal.

The main point to recommend here is if you’ve got a degree and you’re a certified teacher, then international schools and IB schools will tend to offer far better positions than the equivalent private or public teaching English jobs.

Image Attribution:

"Towards Passport Control" by shankar s. is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
"Graduation" by robb3d is licensed under CC BY 2.0.