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Can You Teach English Abroad Without a Degree?

The idea of teaching English abroad without a degree comes up often. This article looks at different aspects of this and ways in which teachers without a degree can find work.

For most countries the basic qualifications to teach English are a degree and a TEFL Certificate.

The degree is usually required for visa purposes and in many countries you can only find teaching work if you have a visa, and you can only get a visa if you have a degree.

If you don’t have a degree, however, there are still possibilities for teaching work – including in those countries which normally ask for a degree.

Note:
If you don’t have a degree, you are on a backfoot already, so doing a TEFL certification course first is likely to be essential. In fact, it may also be worth getting some teaching practice in order to make yourself a more competitive candidate.

The Downside to Teaching without a Degree

Unfortunately, you should bear in mind that teaching English abroad without a degree is harder. Finding work will be harder and you will tend to find work in the less prestigious schools or in places where the demand for teachers outstrips supply.

Never the less, you can do it if you are determined and you don’t mind starting at the bottom and working up.

Choosing the Right Country

Although there are people teaching English without a degree in pretty well every possible country (often because they’re expats or have been there for so long or because they have married a local) it is getting harder to circumvent the law.

If you want to teach English with no degree it’s probably best to start off looking at countries in this list: these are the countries that do not ask for a degree as a requirement for the visa.

  • Argentina‏‎
  • Colombia
  • the Czech Republic*
  • Ecuador‏‎
  • Indonesia‏‎
  • Mongolia‏‎
  • Russia‏‎
  • Sri Lanka
  • Venezuela

* Although you will need a passport from a European Union‏‎ member state to teach here.

Note that there are many other countries where you can teach English without a degree; this is just a list of the major countries most non-graduates head off to teach in.

Because demand for English teachers sometimes outstrips supply, you may be lucky and find work in a country which has a legal requirement for a degree. This happens a lot in places like China which is a fairly recent TEFL‏‎ destination where, at the moment, the laws are not fully applied.

We would reiterate, however, that although you may find work in almost any country if you are lucky and happen to be in the right place at the right time, you do stand a chance of being fined and/or deported if you are caught teaching without the proper credentials.

Finding Work With No Degree

Because a degree is pretty much a pre-requisite in most places, how do you go about finding work? Here are a few pointers:

Make Yourself Employable

The first step is to make yourself as employable as possible. This means:

  • Getting some sort of qualification to show the school. If you turn up without a single piece of paper then it won’t do you any good. At minimum you should have a TEFL Certificate to show that you have had some instruction and will know what you are doing in the classroom.
  • If possible, get some kind of experience be it volunteering‏‎ at a local community center or teaching private lessons to the children of a local family who have just moved to your country. Anything to put on your TEFL CV/Résumé is better than nothing; and of course maximize it!
  • It may sound very obvious, but you also need to look the part (and this applies to all job applicants, not only those who don’t have a degree). Teachers are often highly regarded overseas and turning up at a school wearing grubby jeans and a t-shirt will not do you any good; think about what to wear‏‎ when you turn up at a school.

Online Advertisements & Agents

By all means check out online advertisements, but bear in mind that whilst you’re free to send in your application, most will disregard you immediately without a degree. Don’t, therefore, pin your hopes on getting a job from an online advert.

Likewise, many agents‏‎ (recruiters) will often not consider applications without a degree. This is especially true of agents working in Western countries and sending teachers to other locations. In other words, large professional agencies will probably not consider a teacher without a degree as they are partly responsible for sorting out visa issues and so on and don’t want the hassle of teacher who doesn’t fulfill the basic requirements.

However, you may stand a better chance with agents based in the country where you’d like to go. If you contact an agency in China, for example, which is placing teachers there they may be willing to accept your application and find work for you. This is well worth considering and since it costs nothing to send an email to an agent, it may well be worth sending applications to all the agencies you can find and checking the results.

One word of warning:
NEVER pay an agent to find you work. They are paid by the school and not by the teacher.

Arriving On Spec

Arguably the most common way to find work teaching English with no degree is being in the right place at the right time. Many teachers without a degree have found work simply by turning up on a school doorstep when the school is in need of a teacher.

To pull this off, you will need to fly to the country of your choice and make a planned assault on every single school you can find. It will often turn out that sooner or later a school will be in need of a teacher either part or full time and will be happy to employ someone there and then.

In this instance, although lacking a degree will make you less valuable, being there and ready to start will trump those who are better qualified. Your eagerness combined with the school’s need will create an ideal opportunity for you.

A few useful ideas here:

  • Make sure you have enough money to tide you over in your country of choice for a few months in case work doesn’t come through.
  • Make sure you have a return ticket or the airfare home so you can get home if the worst comes to the worst.
  • Fly in to the country at the start of the school year; this is when demand for teachers is at its greatest. If you can’t be there then, you may be able to pick up work after Christmas which is when teachers sometimes “go home” and don’t come back.

Plan it well:

  1. Go to the largest city and get a cheap room in a hostel, for example.
  2. Get the local equivalent of the Yellow Pages and get the address of every single school.
  3. Mark them out on a map.
  4. Start walking and take the first job that is offered you!

In other words, you go round to every single school in town and see if they need a teacher. Make sure you have your resume to leave and contact details (your email and a phone number if you have one there).

Possible Problems:

Because there’s a chance that you will be employed on the black as it were, you will not necessarily have the same benefits and safeguards as other teachers.

Firstly the school may well pay you less than the legal minimum (they may not, of course, but this is a possibility). There is not a lot you can do about this except to take the job for now but keep looking round for work and seeing if you can get a better offer elsewhere.

Then you may not have the legal safeguards if something goes wrong. If your school owner decides not to pay you for some reason, there is little you can do about it except leave.

Again, once you have got the hang of the new country you will be in a better position to know what is a good school and a bad school and make your employment choices based on that.

Finally there is a slim possibility that you will have to pretend to be something other than you are. Cases of teachers slipping out of the country to get their tourist visa stamped are common. Likewise having to pretend you are not a teacher in case the inspectors call also happens!

However, there is very little chance that there will be any serious consequences to working illegally. Only in the most extreme cases will you have to leave the country.

Conclusion

So the answer is yes, you can teach English abroad without a degree. There are many, many cases of TEFL teachers without degrees working in great jobs in big schools in top capital cities all over the world but generally they have got to those jobs after many years of good, solid work.

Don’t expect to step off the airplane into the greatest job in the world; it will take effort and some luck at the start to find work but plenty of people have done it before you and you won’t be alone – there are plenty more teachers out there to come!

Finally, bear in mind that whilst unqualified teachers were common 20 or 30 years ago, standards have risen since then and there are fewer backpacker teachers‏‎ working now. This means that competition for jobs is increasing, so it is always best to have qualifications.

If you are fortunate enough to find work without qualifications, while you are teaching think about at least doing some online courses in order to learn more and be a more effective teacher. It is the least you can do for your students and will also mean finding work in the future will be easier!

Useful Links

Essential Qualifications to Teach English – an overview of TEFL qualifications

Which Degree to Teach English Abroad? – the kind of degree you need to teach English

Where Can I Teach? – locations for teachers to work in

How to Find Teaching Jobs Abroad – the best way to find work

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2 Responses to Can You Teach English Abroad Without a Degree?

  1. debbie says:

    Hello. When you say you need a degree, does it have to be an educational degree? I have a masters degree in science but no experience teaching. I am curious if some countries will look at a masters degree and not what the degree is for? Thank you

    • Jenny Scott says:

      Personally speaking I’ve met many teachers who have degrees totally unrelated to teaching or English. A lot of countries and schools will ask for a degree – any degree – only to see proof you’ve been through a college education. I wouldn’t let your degree put you off trying for work, especially if you’ve got a TEFL qualification as well. Send off for a few jobs and see how it goes! Good luck!

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