What does someone heading out into the world to teach in a foreign country consider before leaving? How do they decide upon their first (and for many, their only) port of call?
There are a number of different factors. Many of them will depend on the type of person you are and what kind of experience you are seeking. But I believe there are a few considerations that are important to every English teacher looking for work abroad.
- Potential salary: relative to the local economy and how much you can save.
- Availability of jobs.
- Living conditions: is accommodation included and if not, what is available and how much are rents as a percentage of your salary?
- Bureaucracy and red tape: how many hoops are you expected to jump through before setting foot in a classroom?
- Education system and employer professionalism
- Free-time considerations.
- Fellow teachers and expat community.
- Safety and well-being: newbies spend too much time thinking about possible hassles and danger for most locations but still worth including.
This is mainly for newcomers to the world of TEFL. Obviously, a 15 year veteran with a Masters degree and a university job in Japan will have different considerations than a greenhorn.
I have not worked in most of these locations. My opinions are based on anecdotal accounts from friends and colleagues I have worked with and regular information from a wide variety of discussion boards and other online sources.
1. South Korea
South Korea in 2008 is what Japan was to English teaching in the 1980's. Plenty of well paid jobs, accommodation provided by employers, opportunity to save a bundle and local night-life and restaurants to keep you busy. OK, the analogy isn't perfect but when all the categories are tallied up, the land of kimchi weighs in with a solid score of 62 out of 80. Tales of dodgy employers and recent hassles over background checks brought the score down slightly.
Such a big place that any tale you could spin about working conditions, housing or relations with employers would be true somewhere in the country. Overall, there are so many positive teaching stories coming out of the world's most populous and economically surging nation, that it had to come in at number two. The size makes it hard to arrive at an acceptable number for many of the criteria but at the same time serves as a positive. For example, free-time considerations. If it's boring and conservative in one place there are a thousand better locations in the same country. 60 points.
Not the place it used to be in terms of potential for savings and availability of jobs but still a location that most teachers rave about for total experience. In comparison to most Asian countries, the red tape here isn't as involved or likely to leave you shaking your head due to its sheer idiocy. Salaries over the past 10 years seem to be stagnant at best or even declining in real terms and together with the high cost of living, the financial cushion necessary for some in those early "getting set up" months may be a bit off-putting. Still a great choice for many. 59 points.
This might strike some people as an odd pick for fourth in the world. However, I base the ranking on a few different aspects. Climate, relative ease of travel to and from the country (especially for Canadians and Americans) and a fairly welcoming and lively culture. Oh, and the jobs and wages seem to be improving with time as well. There are a pretty good range of varying experiences available, from the big city job postings to the more rural and "authentic" opportunities many are looking for. 53 points.
Decent wages and relative ease in getting sorted out regarding visas are offset somewhat by fewer options for spending free time. Smaller and less intimidating for some newbies, the lack of distractions may in fact be a bonus for those who want to get their head around the teaching game before moving on to greener pastures. 50 points.
6. United Arab Emirates
The Middle East isn't for everyone but when all factors are weighed, the UAE is probably one of the more moderate locations while still providing very good salaries and possibilities for doing activities in your free time. Another plus is that work for females isn't as restricted as in some other parts of the region. But it is harder to break into than Asian countries and the best employers will normally require you to hold a Master's degree. 48 points.
Many would rank Thailand higher, especially for novices who want to get that first teaching job under their belts. Some teachers are literally hired right off the streets here with no prior experience and that is also appealing to first-timers. Because of my intimate familiarity with this country I can't place it any higher in the list, however. Stagnant wages in 80% of the industry, unscrupulous employers, increasing paper-work hassles and the fact that arranged accommodation is almost non-existent here all bring down the total. On the up side, good infrastructure compared to the general region, great travel options, fantastic cuisine and numerous choices for spending your time and money make Thailand a logical choice for many. 45 points.
Quite a few teachers who have worked in both Thailand and Vietnam rate the latter as better in many categories. I'm guessing that that opinion may have a lot to do with simply being part of something that fewer have discovered. Still, wages can be higher and there are fewer foreigners, which appeals to some people. 42 points.
9. Saudi Arabia
Reputations often die hard, especially in the TEFL game. Long known as the country with the highest salaries for TEFLers anywhere in the world, the title may still hold but with fewer job options and less wage discrepancy compared to some other locations. A wave of terrorist attacks in the early oughties sent many people packing and with them at least some of the underground partying scene that served as an antidote for the hardships of life in the most conservative country in the Middle East. Word is that things have started to pick up again on that front (partying, not terrorist attacks.) A rare few opportunities in SA for women. For those teachers who do head there, some can't handle the restrictions on public entertainment, gender segregation and the strong contrast to western countries. For others it seems to have a calming effect and they stay for years on end. An MA is still almost essential for the best jobs. 38 points.
10. Czech Republic
The lone European country I have included on the list. The main reason there are no other entries is that most EU nations specifically want those already allowed by law to be employed there. In western European countries, this seems to be a fairly strict requirement. However, it appears as though there is at least some leeway in the Czech Republic for non-Europeans to teach English. The number of jobs is only moderate though and there are certainly few tales of teachers making big money. My bias here is that I spent a considerable amount of time there many years ago and it is simply an incredible location full of history, hospitality and great beer. 32 points.
And those are the top 10 countries in the world for teaching English.
As you can see, there are a disproportionate number of Asian countries. This is in line with the stated aim of the list, which is to give those first entering the English teaching industry an idea of the best places to begin their careers. With all factors considered, I believe that Asia still offers some of the most favourable conditions for those starting out.
There are of course gems in every country where TEFLing has some kind of foothold. And many may strongly disagree with a lot of what I have written here. Please feel free to add to or criticize anything already mentioned.
Above all, good luck in your job search and may your choice result in a positive and rewarding experience.