How to Teach English Online as a Digital Nomad

By Maricela Breedlove
January 19, 2021

The coronavirus crisis has redefined the TEFL landscape as we know it, with a global shift from traditional classrooms to virtual learning. What does that mean for the future of teaching English abroad? Consider another way to work and travel the world – as a digital nomad. Globe-trotting online teacher, Mari, tells you how. 

If you dream of traveling the world full-time, your social media feed is probably full of pictures of fun, adventurous people who seem to have your ideal job. Chances are, you’ve wondered how they’re doing it. While there are many ways to go about making this lifestyle a reality, one of the most reliable and fulfilling ways to do so is to teach English online as a digital nomad. 

What is a digital nomad?

A digital nomad is someone whose work is location-independent – they can do it anywhere with an Internet connection – leaving them free to roam the world. This type of work/lifestyle has become very coveted, especially during these, dare I say it, very weird times.

I wrote about my own experience teaching English online as a digital nomad during coronavirus and that’s a good representation of what your digital nomad lifestyle could look like at the moment.

Another New York native, Jay, who teaches online from Portugal, exemplifies the digital nomad lifestyle. He transitioned from teaching abroad in the classroom in locations like South Korea and Indonesia to teaching online from Europe, where he has settled.

There are many reasons to become a digital nomad and no limit to where this career choice can take you as an English teacher.

Why should you teach English online as a digital nomad?

Flexible schedule


Online English teachers typically have the flexibility to set their own hours and workdays. This is especially helpful when traveling, or staying home with children! Many people will teach for one or more platforms at once so they can have a full-time schedule, but it will be entirely up to you if you have a part-time schedule or a full-time one.  This also gives you more time to focus on those passion projects that seem impossible to get to with a regular 9-5.

Work from anywhere


You don’t need a lot of equipment or a dedicated office to teach English online as a digital nomad. You’ll mainly need a laptop, good lighting, and of course, a stable Internet connection. 

With so many portable classroom backdrop options, you can pack your “classroom” up and go! I have taught classes on beaches, hotel rooms, and even in an airport lounge once. Keep in mind, there are some basic rules of etiquette for teaching English online that may be helpful to know before you take your classroom on the road. 

Experience other cultures


This is one of the most alluring parts of teaching English online as a digital nomad. When teaching children and adults from different parts of the world, you get a bird’s eye view into what life is like for them. Often you will see your student’s family cooking dinner in the background, see them out and about in their city, or even on public transport!

While being a digital nomad, you can also spend substantial periods of time in parts of the world you might only visit for a short vacation if you were tied to a regular 9-5 job – all while earning money and doing fulfilling work.   

Security


One of the biggest reasons why people don’t take the leap and become digital nomads, or give up on the digital nomad lifestyle early on their journey, is the lack of security that can accompany working exclusively online. But with teaching English online for a company, you have the security of working under contract, having your schedule planned ahead of time, and not worrying about the ups and downs of running your own online business.

Teaching English online is one of the most secure and dependable ways to earn money online and have the freedom of being a digital nomad. 

Excitement


Maybe the most appealing reason to teach online as a digital nomad is the excitement this lifestyle brings. Travel is limited at the moment, but when things open up in the future, being a digital nomad means you can hop from city to city or country to country on a whim. For example, I’ve spent time as a digital nomad in Italy, France, Iceland, and Scotland.

How can you become a digital nomad teaching English online?

Possibly the most common question I am asked when people find out I’m a digital nomad is how exactly how I embarked on this journey. With that in mind, here are my top tips to follow to become a digital nomad teaching English online:

Know your options.


Do as much research as you can when deciding to take your life on the road while teaching English. Think about what you want your digital nomad lifestyle to look like. Do you want to travel nationally or internationally? What type of English teaching job will best suit your plans –working for a company or becoming a freelance teacher? 

  • Working for a companyMost first-time online English teachers start out tutoring with a company, such as VIPKid, Open English, or GoGoKid. This is because these companies offer training and support, plenty of students to teach, a set pay rate, and performance-based incentive and bonus programs.
  • Freelance teaching: Another option is to become a freelance online English teacher. This offers more freedom to set your own rates, choose your students, and design your own curriculum, but as you can imagine, being your own boss also comes with added responsibilities, such as marketing your services and handling business operations.

Should you teach English online with a company or work for yourself?

Be realistic and make a budget.


This will also require research and planning. Once you have decided on which kind of job you prefer and/or which online tutoring company you want to teach for, be very clear on what you will be making and how you will be using that money. 

Will you be based in a certain location or will you have to account for travel expenses? Be realistic and avoid any pitfalls such as overextending yourself with too much too soon. It is very possible to make a great living doing this, just be sure you know how you will be spending the fruits of your labor!

Get certified to teach English online.


Earning a Professional TEFL/TESOL certificate (of 120 hours or more) is essential in your journey to becoming a digital nomad. Not only will this affect which companies you will be able to apply with, but it will greatly impact your potential earning power. To really stand out to employers and fully prepare yourself to teach English in the virtual classroom, follow your initial training with Specialized Certification in Teaching English Online.

  • Top online tutoring companies require TEFL/TESOL certification.
  • If you decide to teach as a freelancer, having certification and/or specialization will make you more marketable.
  • Most companies have pay scales that are sensitive to your experience and your qualifications.
  • You will have many useful tools under your belt before you even enter the virtual classroom for the very first time.

Digital nomad, Olivia, who teaches online with VIPKid shares her experience in getting TEFL/TESOL certified and how that has made her a better more prepared teacher.

Make sure you meet other requirements to teach English online


While each platform has its own requirements to teach English online with them, there are some very basic things you should know and be prepared for if this is something you want to pursue. 

  • A university degree: Some (not all) online teaching companies will require that you hold a degree. The good news is that this does not necessarily have to be in education or English, your degree can be in any subject.
  • Teaching experience: This will differ depending on the company; some may request that you have a minimum number of years of experience teaching in a classroom or online.
  • Proper equipment: This is a MUST when teaching English online as a digital nomad. You’ll have to meet certain Internet speeds (these will vary by company) and you’ll also need a headset with a microphone and a good quality webcam if your computer doesn’t have one built-in.
  • Proper environment: This usually entails having a clean and appropriate background (or an engaging, relevant teaching background if you’re teaching young learners) and a quiet space in which to teach.

Find your ideal job.


Congrats! You’ve done your research and you have a plan. If, like most new online teachers, you’re hoping to teach with a company, you’ve got lots of options. Check out online tutoring companies that are currently hiring or browse online teaching jobs on the Bridge Job Board. You can look for a position that fits your time zone requirements, desired pay rate, and student type (such as one-to-one teaching vs. group lessons, teaching children adults.

Learn about the hiring process to teach English online with a company.


Becoming a digital nomad is not the impossibly unattainable dream that it once was. Get certified to teach English online to make your travel and teaching fantasies a reality!