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Age Limits for TEFL Teachers

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Robert Donat in the title role of Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

This article looks at the age limits for TEFL or TESOL teachers around the world (Teachers of English as a Second or Foreign Language).

Unfortunately, as with almost any job, the older you get the more difficult it becomes to start a new career. However thanks to the nature of teaching where a degree of maturity, a certain level of responsibility, along with charisma and patience play a relevant part, older applicants will find opportunities if they know where to look.

But bear in mind that this is not to say that age is not a concern, and ageism is certainly an issue in some countries.

So how much does age count when it comes to finding an English teaching position abroad? And is ageism rife in TEFL‏‎?

There are two main aspects to this issue. One is to do with visa regulations and red tape. This is perhaps the easiest to tackle. Just check the visa regulations of the country where you intend to move to and see if you fall within the defined age limits. (See below for a list of countries and their regulations on age limits.)

The other aspect has to do with the attitude of a country towards its more mature citizens. This is not often obvious so it might require a little more time to research.

It is a fact that most schools prefer younger teachers in their twenties. This is perhaps because they can pay them less and manipulate them more easily; younger teachers with less experience will expect less than older, more experienced teachers. However, there are certainly many schools which prefer older teachers whom they feel can often bring authority to the classroom as well as greater experience and style to the lessons.

Although most jobs won’t specify an age limit, it is as well to let the school know when you apply how old you are to avoid them turning round and cancelling everything at the last minute.

Country Survey

Many teachers who start out in TEFL later in life come up against ageism in their 50s and 60s. A lot depends on the country. This section looks at age limits and expectations around the world. Obviously these are fairly general statements so you will find many exceptions.

Often you will find that there are older teachers working everywhere; the figures shown here are not always applied.

Generally there is no hiring limit in these countries:

Austria, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Croatia, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Georgia, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Latvia, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Senegal, South Africa, Switzerland, Taiwan, Togo, Uganda, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam

Other reported limits and stories are:

  • Africa – most state teachers retire at 55 and there is little work available after this but there can be ways around the limit if you know the right people!
  • Bahrain – 60
  • Burkina Faso – 60
  • China – regulations say that foreign teachers should retire in their early sixties while local teachers retire much earlier.; Z Visas are not issued to anyone over 60 – 65 however there are older teachers
  • Ethiopia – 60
  • France‏‎ – it is not uncommon to find schools where well over two thirds of the teaching staff is over 50s
  • Indonesia – you’d be pressed to find a school where there is one teacher over 30; 62 is official limit
  • Japan – the usual limit is 65 but some schools will stop at 60 (others, meanwhile, have 70 as a limit)
  • Kuwait – 60
  • Malaysia – 60
  • Middle East – more mature male teachers over 45 are generally welcomed
  • Mongolia – 60
  • Morocco‏‎ – foreign nationals over the age of 60 cannot be employed
  • New Zealand‏‎ – difficult for the over 60s
  • Philippines – 60
  • Peru – 70
  • Russia – likely to find many older teachers
  • Qatar – 60
  • Saudi Arabia‏‎ – the official limit is 65 (some reports say 62) but special dispensation can be sought for older teachers
  • South Korea – official age limit is 60 with private schools able to employ teachers to any age, but in practice age discrimination is quite prevalent and older teachers often find themselves losing out to younger teachers
  • Spain – 60
  • Taiwan‏‎ – a general preference for teachers aged 20 – 45 but if the school is desperate they will hire older teachers
  • Thailand – the vast majority of the TEFL teachers are over 40. Many are 50+
  • Uzbekistan – older teachers are preferred
  • Vietnam – difficult to find work if you are over 60; officially 65 is the limit

Missionary and volunteer work around the world offer opportunities to teachers of all ages and is often the choice of many older Americans who find it the perfect way to get started in a foreign country knowing that by offering their teaching skills they can always count on the Mission or volunteer organizations‏‎ to help out and support them in their new environment.

To Sum Up

It is true some employers do discriminate on the basis of age. However, that is not true for all TEFL employers.

It is often worth inquiring directly about schools in your chosen destination. There may be some schools which, because of a shortage of TEFL teachers, will forgo their “recommended age” requirement or unfounded prejudices.

Try and apply in person if at all possible. If you are physically in your country of choice and you personally visit a TEFL‏‎ school, your chances of getting hired increase significantly, as opposed to applying via mail or email. Remember, although you may, unfortunately, have to endure some ageism in certain job applications that you may make, there are plenty of countries and schools which will welcome a qualified, motivated teacher regardless of age.

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