Teach Abroad Myths Debunked

May 6, 2016


I remember when I first got the idea to teach English abroad in Costa Rica. I knew next to nothing about the process back then, but it seemed like plenty of people were eager to give me their advice on the subject—and it was mostly negative. People told me that there were no teaching jobs in Costa Rica (because “the market is flooded”), that I would need to speak Spanish to get by there, or even that I wouldn’t be able to drink the water!

Luckily, I was optimistic enough to ignore this advice, and I went to Costa Rica with my TEFL certificate in-hand, got a job within a few weeks AND drank the water! So for all of you who are thinking about TEFL and getting bogged down by your own doubts or those of others, I’m here to officially debunk them for you.

1. I can’t afford to get certified to teach abroad. 

The growing acceptance of online TEFL certificates has put teaching abroad into the hands of just about anyone. A TEFL certificate of at least 100 hours is required by most language schools abroad, and costs under $400. This certificate is accepted throughout Asia, Central and South America, and more. If you’re really on a budget, you can even get certified via our 40-hour Basic Certificate for around $200 and get hired as a teacher in China, where TEFL requirements are even more flexible (you’ll also need a degree there). Click for 5 places you can teach with an online TEFL certificate.

2. It’s not safe to teach abroad.

Of course, everyone wants to be safe abroad, and when I was preparing to teach in Morocco, friends and family expressed their feelings in this regard. While I appreciated the concern, the fact is most U.S. cities have far higher rates of violent crime than you’ll find in teaching locations overseas. In Morocco, for example, guns are rare, and my students were shocked that a person in the States could just go out and buy one!  Don’t let alarmists keep you from a great experience abroad. Just use common sense, stay out of any political activity and don’t break the law, and you should be just fine.

Read more about the safety of teaching abroad. 

3. I won’t make enough as a teacher to support myself.

Wherever you choose to teach, from the Czech Republic to Chile, you’ll make enough as a teacher to support yourself while abroad. I have taught in Costa Rica and Morocco, where incomes are by no means high, and I lived comfortably on my teaching salary, living in my own apartment and taking trips on school breaks. If you want to actually save some money while teaching abroad, consider teaching in Asian countries such as South Korea, Vietnam, China or Japan, where salaries are above average and benefits can include flight reimbursement, a free apartment or other perks. Get an overview of salary, teaching requirements and cost of living in different countries here. 

4. You need a college degree to teach abroad.

This is true of some but by no means all teaching locations. When I taught in Central America, for example, not all of my coworkers held bachelor’s degrees. Employers in Latin America are often flexible on this point, placing more emphasis on your TEFL certification, professionalism and an outgoing personality than on your university credentials. Often being there in person, ready and eager to start teaching, can go a long way, too. For those with an eye on teaching in Asia, a region where a degree is usually required, you still have possibilities. Teachers without degrees can get hired in an off-the-beaten-path country like Cambodia, for example. Here are 5 places you can teach without a college degree.


While there are obstacles to teaching abroad, you can work around them with research and preparation. Check out more tips for making sure that a TEFL job is a good choice for you.