Starting out as an EFL/ESL tutor, in-person or online, is a viable job opportunity for many people. But lots of people ask, “What qualifications do I need? And do I need to be a native speaker, or have teaching experience?” Here, I answer all those questions.

On the whole, there is no minimum requirement or qualification needed to become an EFL/ESL tutor. However, a TEFL/TESL certificate is strongly recommended. Both being a native English speaker and having a bachelor’s degree in any subject will help attract higher paying students.

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In theory, everyone who speaks English to a reasonable level can become an EFL/ESL tutor. But there are some things which will boost your prospects and may make the difference between success and failure.

This article is part of my guide How to Get Started as an EFL/ESL Private Tutor, so make sure you check that out for the full picture.

Requirements and qualifications for EFL/ESL tutoring

When you give private classes to individuals or small groups, you don’t enter a formal employment contract. There is no hiring process. The prospective student approaches you (or vice versa) and requests a class.

As a result, it’s up to the student to decide if you have the necessary requirements to teach them. Sometimes, they may not worry about what teaching certificates you have, instead caring whether or not you’re a native speaker. Others may demand a high level of teaching qualifications regardless of your first language.

So, in theory, you can give private EFL/ESL classes with no formal qualifications. In practice, having nothing to show you’re a quality teacher will put off a large amount of prospective students.

Your location and situation have an impact, too.

I work as a full-time EFL/ESL tutor, giving private classes in a town in Spain. None of my students (or their parents) have ever asked what qualifications I have. The most important thing for them is that I’m a native speaker, and I have built a reputation for quality classes.

On the other hand, if I were starting in a new town, I would advertise the qualifications and experience I have in order to attract more students.

What qualifications are helpful – TEFL? CELTA? PGCE?

In short, qualifications help, but aren’t all necessary.

The more acronyms you can put next to your name, the more you can charge for classes. Someone with a teaching license can justify charging $30 an hour, where someone who doesn’t even have a TEFL can’t.

TEFL is the basic level. Next, is the CELTA (or TEFL level 5), and a full teaching degree, like a PGCE, is about as high as you can get, barring a master’s or doctorate.

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So, it makes sense to get a teaching degree, right? I wouldn’t bother. It’ll take years to earn back the money you spend on tuition fees, and while you’re studying, you won’t be earning.

Instead, if you worked at a lower rate for a year or two, you’d gain valuable experience, which you can use to justify an increase in your fees.

Perhaps consider a TEFL certificate. They’re relatively inexpensive (a few hundred dollars) and don’t take too much time (you can often get them finished in a couple of months). You’ll also learn some basic teaching techniques.

To learn more about the value of TEFL certificates, read my article Is TEFL Legit? Guide to trustworthy certificates and jobs.

Also, if you’re planning on teaching ESL in an English-speaking country, the market might be more competitive than in some countries abroad. It’s possible you’ll need stronger qualifications. Research other tutors in your area and see if you need to boost your CV to compete.

For a wide range of quality TEFL qualifications, I recommend you head to 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.

How much experience do you need?

Like qualifications, the more you have, the higher rates you can charge.

But if you don’t have any, that’s fine. You have to accept you’re less valuable in the market, so you’ll have to charge lower fees, but once you’ve got a year or two under your belt and some reputation in the local area, you can raise those prices.

With no experience, you can justifiably charge at least $15 an hour in most countries. In some places, you’ll have to lower that amount, while in others, you can go even higher.

Check out my resource How Much Do TEFL & TESL Teachers Make? Countries compared to see the average income for private classes around the world.

Do you need a bachelor’s degree?

It can help to have a bachelor’s degree (in any subject – it doesn’t have to be education). There are two reasons for this:

  1. Prospective students know you have a good understanding of your own language, as well as organisation skills and academic rigour, since you need all this to get your degree.
  2. Bachelor’s degrees are required to get visas in many countries. This allows you to work in the country legally, although you’ll likely need to be employed there, too.

If you don’t have a degree, don’t fret. You can still become a private EFL/ESL teacher, just be aware some doors may not open as easily.

To learn more about the role of bachelor’s degrees in getting TEFL jobs, read my article explaining everything Do You Need a Degree to Work as a TEFL Teacher?

Do you need to be a native English speaker?

No. But it helps.

In an ideal world, private teachers would be hired and paid based on the quality of their teaching, regardless of their nationality or accent.

The reality is, being a native English speaker gives you a massive advantage. Even more if you have a British or American accent.

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There are plenty of wonderful EFL/ESL tutors who aren’t native English speakers, and there are a sizeable number of native speakers who have very little idea how to teach.

But imagine you’re a prospective student. Given the option of two teachers who are equal in every aspect except one is a native speaker and the other is not, it’s obvious who you’re going to pick.

In fact, I’d say being a native speaker is worth more than qualifications and experience in many situations.

In my experience in Spain, there are some people who won’t even consider an EFL tutor who isn’t a native speaker.

I think it’s wholly unfair, but unfortunately, that’s how it is.

Got what you need?

Whether you’re planning on EFL tutoring abroad or giving private ESL classes in an English-speaking country, there’s not much stopping you in terms of requirements and qualifications.

As long as you’re legally able to work, you’re good to go.

Just remember, the more qualifications and experience you have, the more students you’ll get and the higher rates you can charge.

I recommend getting a TEFL/TESL certificate, then gaining as much experience as you can. It won’t be long before you’ve built up a good base of students and can start demanding higher fees.

Catch up on all the articles in the Getting Started as a Private EFL/ESL Tutor guide:
How to Get Started as an EFL/ESL Private Tutor: Full guide
Requirements and Qualifications to Become an EFL/ESL Tutor
How to Get Private EFL/ESL Classes: Quickly find students
How Long Should Private EFL/ESL Classes Be: Tips included
How Much Should You Charge for Private EFL/ESL Classes?
Where Should In-Person Private EFL/ESL Classes Take Place?
Make Sure You Get Paid for Private EFL/ESL Classes
9 Items Every EFL/ESL Teacher Needs for Brilliant Classes

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