TEFL has this reputation of being a short-term pseudo-vacation. A gap year. A phase people go through before returning home and starting a “real career”. And sure, many are only in it for the travel and lifestyle when they’re young. But can TEFL provide long-term career opportunities?

The TEFL industry offers possibilities for a variety of long-term careers. With experience and qualifications, TEFL practitioners can progress to roles which earn competitive salaries and the power to create lasting, meaningful change. Opportunities vary from country to country.

Image by SnapwireSnaps from Pixabay

The answer, to me, is a clear yes. In fact, I’ve been in TEFL since 2015 and I absolutely intend to continue with it as my career until retirement. And I’m not alone. In this article, you can learn about 9 different career paths a TEFL teacher could take to carve their future in the industry.

For the best information on the internet about becoming a TEFL teacher, check out my Big Guide to Starting Out in TEFL: All you need to know.

First of all, it’s important to say that making a long-term career out of TEFL takes patience, skill, and hard work. While there are many entry-level teaching opportunities available, things get more competitive when you progress to higher ranks.

Fortunately, if you stick with it, you’ll already have an advantage over 90% of TEFL teachers who leave the industry and return home after a year or so.

So let’s get to the paths you can take!

1. International, private, or public school teacher

A natural progression for those who love being part of an education system is to get qualified and find a position in a traditional-style school.

Most TEFL teachers start out in a language academy where pay is often quite low, hours are variable, and classes are a mixture of different ages and abilities.

Photo by Yan Krukov: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-reading-a-book-to-the-children-8613089/

But with a few years of experience and certain qualifications, you can start looking towards the stability of the “big leagues”.

Salaries at these institutions are usually much better than language academies. There are also more options for rising up the ranks to head of department, head of year, or even head teacher where you can earn top wages.

Saying that, some countries, particularly in the Middle East, have better rates of pay in language academies than private/international schools.

To get the lowdown on how much you can earn in language academies compared to private, international or public schools, head to my article: How Much Do TEFL & TESL Teachers Make? Countries compared.

Private schools usually demand the least in terms of your CV. International schools tend to come with a strong reputation and thus only hire the best teachers. When it comes to public schools, it’s very country dependent. Some places only hire citizens of their country, while others will hire just about anyone.

In Europe, the Middle East and Asian countries like Japan and South Korea, you’ll likely need a degree-level teaching qualification and license (equivalent to PGCE/QTS in the UK) as an absolute minimum.

Where TEFL is in high demand, mostly in Latin America and South East Asia, you don’t need a weighty teaching degree to get this kind of position. Sometimes a 120-hour TEFL is enough. A CELTA is usually the minimum, though, and as a general rule, the lower the requirements, the lower the pay.

To learn about what qualification you might need for a TEFL career, read my article TEFL vs. CELTA: What’s the difference? Which is best?.

2. Management positions

Language academies are often on the lookout for teachers who have learned the trade and are willing to step up into a leadership role. This can be a great opportunity. If you like the industry but aren’t so keen on being in the trenches teaching every day, a management position could be for you.

With so many new and inexperienced young people joining the industry every year, there’s a need for skilled practitioners to handle recruitment, inductions, people-management and educational direction.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

These positions pay better than standard teaching, and have an element of progression up the ranks.

However, don’t get too carried away. You can’t move upwards indefinitely; there’s a ceiling in most language academies. Sure, there are some huge franchises out there, but they’ll be competitive, and you may have to move to a different country depending on where they have vacancies.

3. Private Tutoring

If you hate having a boss and want to teach your own way, private tutoring is a possible route to take. It’s the main source of income for me right now.

You may feel going freelance is a bit overwhelming. What if you don’t get any classes? How do you know how much to charge, make sure you get paid and know where to host the lesson? Well, I can tell you from experience it’s not as hard as it sounds.

In fact, I have a whole series of guides about becoming a private EFL/ESL tutor. Check out the big overview here: How to Get Started as an EFL/ESL Private Tutor: Full guide.

If you’re experienced and skilled, you can charge some whopping hourly rates for private tutoring. It’ll vary from location to location, though. For example, in rural areas of Colombia, you’ll be lucky to get $15 an hour. However, in wealthy cities, like Singapore, you can charge $60 or more.

The positives of private tutoring make it an attractive prospect. But it’s not all plain sailing. First, there’s the work permit situation. Most countries need you to be employed by a company in that nation to live and work legally. Freelancing is impossible without citizenship or permanent residence.

Second, there’s a limit to how many classes you can take each week. You’ll have to be flexible with your hours and often work evenings and weekends to fit the schedules of professionals and school children.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A good option is business classes. You can often get paid very well by corporations, and you can teach during the working day. There are plenty of opportunities like this in major cities.

Exam preparation is lucrative, too. Specialising and becoming the best quality teacher in your area is the key to getting those higher rates.

What about online tutoring? While it’s a viable job, there’s very little career progression. You can start charging more when you have experience, but if you charge too much, you’ll get undercut by the thousands of other online tutors you’re competing with. I wouldn’t recommend it for the long term

4. Start your own language school

Those with an entrepreneurial mindset can combine the benefits of management positions and private tutoring to start an independent language school.

Not only do you get a position of responsibility, but you also have the freedom of being your own boss. It can also help with work permit issues. Many countries will allow you to stay if you’re set up as an LLC or equivalent (make sure to check the rules for the country which applies to you).

Running your own business can be extremely rewarding. However, it’s far from easy. This is probably the most difficult career path on this list because you’ll have to spend every hour of every day on setting up the school’s location, hiring staff, dealing with accounts, navigating legal procedures, etc.

5. TEFL training

TEFL teachers need to learn how to teach. And who better to instruct them than those who have already done the job?

After a year or two of TEFL teaching, your language academy may ask you to help train new teachers. At that point, you’ll be one of the most experienced people there, and will know the place inside out.

Photo by fauxels from Pexels

But that’s not really a career. If you’re attracted by the idea of “teaching the teachers”, you can become a proper TEFL trainer. The kind of person who leads TEFL courses.

Online TEFL courses mean there aren’t as many of these positions. Still, lots of prospective TEFLers prefer to take classes in-person. And this requires a real life teacher.

For this work, you’ll need qualifications. The industry standard for TEFL trainers is having either a DELTA or Trinity DipTESOL. Expensive and time-consuming, yes, but worth it if this is the path you want to take.

If you’re looking for great value TEFL certificates, I recommend International TEFL and TESOL Training. Click the link for 15% off all courses (I receive compensation, so you’re supporting me, too). Not convinced? Read why I’d choose ITTT over other TEFL course providers.

6. Materials and content creator

Online, you can find tens of thousands of worksheets, puzzles, games and conversation topics. There are materials for everything.

They don’t appear out of nowhere. People design and produce them for a living, or at least as a second stream of income. It’s a creative and fulfilling thing to do. And it’s the second entry on this list which applies to me – this website is for providing guidance, ideas and materials for TEFL teachers.

Photo by Anna Shvets: https://www.pexels.com/photo/young-focused-artists-working-together-with-sketches-5641891/

If you’re the creative type and enjoy making unique and exciting materials, you can certainly go down this career path.

You can either work independently, like myself, creating things that use in your own lessons and sharing them with the world, or you can work for companies who provide materials to their own teachers. The latter is more stable, but comes with a little less freedom.

7. Examiner

English proficiency exams (such as Cambridge, TOEFL, IELTS, etc.) are some of the most important and prestigious qualifications in the world as they allow non-native English learners to get positions in companies and universities.

To maintain their high standards, these exam companies need quality examiners. This could be for marking writing tasks, performing speaking tests, or invigilating in exam centres.

Photo by RODNAE Productions: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-woman-talking-in-front-of-an-audience-at-a-business-conference-7648050/

The positives are that you get to travel a lot, meet new people, and there’s potential for rising into management positions or creative work in writing exams.

On the other hand, it can be lonely as you travel on your own to various schools and test centres around the place, and it might not be the most exciting work.

To learn more about English proficiency exams, read my articles: TEFL vs TOEFL: What’s the difference and which is better? and Getting EFL/ESL Exam Preparation Right: Tips for success

8. TEFL in your home country

For some people, the fun of travel wears off quickly and you want to return home. But that doesn’t mean your TEFL career is over.

Far from it. In fact, there’s a burgeoning English teaching industry in all anglophone countries. And if you’re not from an English-speaking country, then there are likely already plenty of opportunities for you to get employed at home.

Immigrants and foreign exchange students want to learn English to help them get a job and deal with daily life, or they’re in the country for a few months or years to develop their English skills, perhaps as part of an Erasmus program or other equivalent scheme.

Either way, there are plenty of language academies, universities and even private schools who are hiring TEFL teachers.

9. Keep on travelling

The assumption behind the entries in this list so far is that you’re looking for ways of earning more money as you progress through your TEFL career. That’s the goal for most people.

But it doesn’t have to be.

If you’re the kind of person who values lifestyle over money, or wants to explore every part of the world, who’s saying you have to be constantly striving to earn more?

Why not just enjoy a life of teaching? TEFL offers community, travel and enough money to sustain yourself, especially if you’re qualified and experienced.

Image by Lorri Lang from Pixabay

It could be your goal to live in a different country every year. Or, you may want to settle in one community and really embrace the joy of educating the people around you and watching them grow and develop.

Sure, you won’t get rich doing it. Although if you spend a few years in the Middle East, you can earn some frankly quite ridiculous salaries, with accommodation and travel paid, and no tax on any income. Just doing that for a couple of decades and you’ll have saved enough money to retire early!

To find out exactly how much you can earn around the world, read my article How Much Do TEFL & TESL Teachers Make? Countries compared.


I hope these 9 career paths have shown you there’s plenty more to TEFL than just a gap year abroad.

No, it’s not easy. You’ll have to work hard to get your qualifications and develop your skills, and at times, you might feel stressed and frustrated. But that’s the case in every career, right?

Family or friends may tell you it’s not realistic. They think it’s just a phase and you’ll be back home within a couple of years. That comes from ignorance. I’m certain they’re well-meaning and want the best for you, but thousands of people around the world are proving them wrong at this very moment. You could be one of them.

To learn more about becoming a TEFL teacher, you should definitely read my other articles:
Big Guide to Starting Out in TEFL: All you need to know
Is TEFL Teaching Hard? A guide to whether TEFL is right for you
What Are EFL/ESL Classes Like For Teachers?
Is TEFL Legit? Guide to trustworthy certificates and jobs
Do You Need a Degree to Work as a TEFL Teacher?
How to Pick the Right TEFL Destination: 5 steps to success
What Type of TEFL Teaching is For You? Jobs explained
What is the Best TEFL Certificate? Guide to choosing right
TEFL vs. CELTA: What’s the difference? Which is best?
10 Steps to Passing Your TEFL: Study and assignment tips
Is There an Exam for TEFL Courses? What you need to pass
Which TEFL Course Provider to Choose? Why my pick is ITTT
Is it Hard to Get a TEFL Job? Tips on finding employment

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