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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.

12 Responses to Age Limits for TEFL Teachers

  1. Brett says:

    I have to disagree with your account of Thailand. Thailand is a very ageist country, the vast majority of foreign teachers are in their twenties. I would say that the forty/fifty age bracket are very much in the minority.

  2. Brett says:

    Why has my reply been deleted? Why have this facility if you only cherry pick the answers? rest assured I will be spreading the news about this site

    • Jenny Scott says:

      Not true, Brett. Your comment was not deleted at all. Comments are queued for approval and spam taken out only. Useful comments are ALWAYS left in and we appreciate hearing different points of view from teachers working around the world.

  3. Adine Le Roux says:

    So at 65 I wouldn’t even be considered?

    • icaltefl says:

      It depends where, Adine. There are certainly teachers of your age still working around the world but it will likely be slightly harder to find work. If you are actually living in the country where you want to teach and you have the right qualifications and experience then there’s a good chance you will find work even if you’re theoretically above the hiring age.

      I wouldn’t let your age stop you from looking for work and teaching!

  4. Ana says:

    I have three teaching gigs in Japan behind me, all in my maturity (46-54). I’d love to go back. Problem? I’m 61 now. Anyone know more about Japan’s formal restrictions? I can find out, of course, but I thought I’d put it out there. 🙂 Thank you.

    • icaltefl says:

      Some reports talk of teachers up to 70 working in Japan. Are you there right now? If you were it would be far easier to get work I think. With the right credentials it is worth applying from outside the country as well.

  5. Andrew says:

    I am 39 years old and considering teaching English overseas. I already have a university degree, two diplomas for graduates and a diploma in journalism from a polytechnic (vocational school) in addition to this I am planning on completing a CELTA. Anyway I am starting to worry about age discrimination as I am starting to go bald which could be a turn off in a lot of countries like South Korea. However I am leaning in favor of Vietnam as there seems to be the greater earning opportunities, lower living costs and more freedom in turn of visas and contracts.

    • Jenny Scott says:

      To be honest, at 39 I wouldn’t worry about age discrimination. From my experience and what others have told me, it it very unlikely for schools to consider you too old. Just apply and go for it! 🙂

  6. Chris Lock says:

    Most universities in Japan hire until 65. Some have a retirement age of 70. I am 66 and still working at two universities in Japan.
    There are private schools too. I will be looking to work at one of those, I suppose, once I hit 70. Hopefully with an excellent teaching record and CV I will be looked upon favourably since I am also in very good physical and mental health. Full-time tenure in Japan is not usually offered at universities to anyone over 40-45, but part-time positions which provide a livable salary are available. Contracts are only for one year, but usually renewed if there have been no problems. Many full-time positions at university are not really full-time as they officially only last 4 years. Also as a full-timer you will almost certainly be asked to leave at 65; only under exceptional circumstances are full-timers allowed to teach until 70. I am actually in the opposite position to many here: I am trying in vain to get back to Australia where my family live (naturalised). I lost my Aussie permanent residence many years ago when sick and now that I am married to a wonderful Japanese lady and over 55 I am not welcome back in Australia because my wife is not Australian. Something to think about when you put on your walking boots. There is a staunch anti-international movement among governments around the English speaking world which also makes it practically impossible for my wife and I (and other colleagues here) to live in England, the country of my birth.

    • Jenny Scott says:

      That’s very interesting to hear, Chris. Thanks for your comments; definitely worth thinking about, especially for teachers not in the first flush of youth.

      As for me, I think the idea of physical age being a barrier to certain jobs is ridiculous; who says that at 60 you can’t teach but can still be a political leader (the heads of both Ecuador and the Netherlands are both over 100!)? It should be about the person, not the age!

  7. Ana says:

    I’m not currently in Japan, unfortunately. I’m the 61-year-old who taught there 3 times and wants to go back. And, also unfortunately, I never got around to getting a proper TEFL credential when I could have, and now I don’t have the money. So I know I’ll have an uphill battle. Also, I had no idea Spain’s opportunities ended at 60.

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