There is no better way to travel the world than to teach English in a foreign country. You get paid to travel, you get an apartment and health insurance all paid for, and you get to immerse yourself into the local culture like no other traveler can. The TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) industry is booming, and according to The British Council, there are nearly a quarter-million people teaching English in foreign countries every year!
Teaching English overseas allows you to travel cheaply throughout Europe or Asia. You get to live a life nobody back home could even begin to understand. Food is mostly cheap and delicious, and to top it all off you can sign a new contract in a new country every year!
That all sounds great, so what’s the catch?
The catch is that if you don’t do your research before signing a contract and setting out, you could end up having the worst experience of your life. While there are many amazing countries to teach English in, there are also some real doozies you’ll want to avoid. War, corrupt regimes, scheming employers and substandard living conditions await the unprepared English teacher.
Thankfully I’m here to guide you. I spent nearly a decade teaching English abroad in a dozen different countries, and I’ve compiled this handy list to help you have the greatest adventure of your life! Here are the 10 best countries to teach English in, followed by 10 countries you most definitely should avoid!
20 Great: Vietnam
Forget Rambo and Apocalypse Now; today Vietnam is a booming and welcoming southeast Asian nation you’ll want to consider teaching English in. The schools in Ho Chi Mihn City and Hanoi have a reputation for honoring their contracts, and although corruption is rampant throughout the institutions of the land, as a foreign teacher that won’t affect you too much.
Vietnam is home to hot, humid weather and spicy food, so you need to like both if you’re to survive here. Salaries are slightly above average for this part of the world: expect to make $1000 per month and have your apartment, health insurance and airfare paid too!
19 Great: Spain
Teaching in Spain not only puts you in the middle of the world’s party central, but it also means you’ll have cheap and easy access to the rest of Europe and the Mediterranean. This means that on your weekends and during the generous Spanish holidays you can hop on a train or a catamaran and zip off to visit any one of the amazing destinations nearby.
Teachers in Spain live a good life, with contracts protected by stable European Union laws and nice weather. Prices are affordable compared to other European countries, and teachers generally take home about €1000 - €1500 a month.
18 Great: Urban China
China has come a long way in offering decent conditions for visiting English teachers, especially for those teaching in cities and larger urban areas. China used to be the cheapest of nations to teach in, but prices are getting more expensive. China also offers amazing opportunities to immerse oneself in one of the world’s most ancient cultures.
Travel by rail cheaply all over the country and visit the Great Wall, the chaos of Beijing or the spicy foods of Macao. The average teacher in cities such as Shanghai or Guangzhou can expect to take home about $1200 USD per month.
17 Great: Russia
Russia today is a booming and energetic nation with 140 million people all hungry to learn English. If you look past the current political climate and tensions between the West and the Russian government, you’ll find a nation that respects academics and education, and English teachers in Russia are highly valued.
Your contract is protected by law in Russia, and although corruption is king when it comes to legal matters, you can expect most employers to treat you fairly. Apartments are spacious and comfortable and paid for by your employer, and you can make up to $1500 USD a month and work 20 hours a week!
16 Great: Indonesia
Indonesia is often overlooked on the TEFL circuit because of its developing-nation status and the fact that it is very much out of the way. Nevertheless, there are nearly 15,000 adventurous English teachers living and working in this friendly tropical paradise, and you won’t go wrong if you join them.
Salaries are lower in Indonesia; you can count on making less than $1000 USD a month, but the experience has no price tag. If you don’t mind being lodged with a roommate and taking your teaching duties seriously, you’ll be all set to enjoy awesome surfing, delicious food, incredibly friendly people and a happening nightlife!
15 Great: South Korea
South Korea produces nearly 10% of the world’s automobiles and electronics. This means there is an insatiable demand for English, the international language of business. Tens of thousands of teachers flock to the “land of morning calm” every year, and if you’re a first-time English teacher it is a great place to get your feet wet.
Korea pays well: over $2,000 USD a month. Accommodations are modern, and living is affordable, meaning you’ll be able to send money home. Life in Korea is busy, and employers expect a lot from their foreign teachers, but the food is delicious, the people are warm, and the experience is unforgettable!
14 Great: Slovakia
Slovakia is steeped in history and enjoys a unique and proud cultural heritage that will appeal to any globe-trotting English teacher. Although the nation is small, the demand for English teachers is stable as Slovakia integrates more and more into the EU every year.
English schools are private-for-profit, which means conditions vary from one employer to the next, but conditions in most Bratislava schools are comfortable and modern. Your apartment will be spacious and comfortable in true Eastern European fashion, and you can potentially make up to $1000 USD a month.
13 Great: Czech Republic
Right next door to Slovakia, the Czech Republic considers itself the cultural heart of Europe. Prague is the centerpiece of this beautiful nation, and with so much of the economy tied into the European Union, it’s no wonder that there is a great demand for English teachers here.
Schools in Prague pay decent, nearly $1800 USD per month, and teachers are usually housed with roommates in big, classical European apartments. With a stable political environment, delicious food, gorgeous locals and a cultural history second-to-none, you are guaranteed a life-changing experience if you choose to teach English here!
12 Great: Poland
If you can get grip on some incredibly complicated Polish, and if you enjoy history and modernism all mashed together, you’re sure to love teaching in Poland. Poland is a rising economic power in Europe, finally shedding its gloomy image. Whether you choose to teach in Warsaw or Krakow or Wroclaw, you can expect modern and comfortable accommodations and working conditions as well as fair treatment.
Poland has a lively nightlife scene, and public transportation in the major cities is fantastic and cheap. You’ll be a train ride away to any destination in Europe. English teachers take home upwards of $2000 USD a month.
11 Great: Japan
Japan is one of the most lively and energetic countries in the world where you can comfortably teach English. Demand for English teachers never ceases to slow down, and according to the British Council, nearly 100,000 English teachers travel to Japan every year!
Employers in Japan have big expectations for their English teachers, so expect to give your best in class and be ready and willing to work during your assigned shifts. Your apartment will be modern and clean and small, while your internet and mobile connection will be blazing fast and cheap. Japan pays very well: the average teacher salary is over $2,400 USD a month!
10 Avoid: Mexico
Sure, Mexico has lots of English teaching jobs, but living and working in Mexico as an English teacher is not for the faint of heart. From endemic corruption through all levels of the civil service, police included, to rampant violent crime including kidnapping and human trafficking, and this is one country you're better off avoiding.
If those reasons aren’t enough to keep you away, consider this: many employers in Mexico don’t think a contract is worth the paper its printed on, and you’ll have few protections if your school decides to mess around with you (they will). Save yourself the heartache and steer clear.
9 Avoid: Saudi Arabia
For many, The Kingdom is the holy grail of high-paying English-teaching jobs. Teachers can make over $100,000 USD per year, but there’s a reason it is so difficult for employers here to find teachers. Aside from the deadly heat of the Arabian desert, there are extremely strict laws that all visitors must abide by, and if you’re a woman then you won’t even be allowed outdoors by yourself unless you’re lucky enough to work on a specially enclosed compound!
There’s also the ethics of contributing to what Amnesty International calls the world’s worst regime for human rights violations. Just don’t.
8 Avoid: Brazil
Brazil is having a problem with crime and corruption lately, and it just isn’t safe for foreigners to be there. From kidnappings to blatant daylight robberies on the street, Brazil is a dangerous place for any visitor. As an English teacher, you won’t have the luxury of staying safely inside the walled paradise of the Rio beach, because you’ll only be earning about $800 USD a month. You’ll also have to pay your own rent, which means cheap housing, which means bad neighborhoods.
As if the crime wasn’t enough, many schools here shortchange their teachers or fail to pay them completely.
7 Avoid: Thailand
At first glance, it seems like Thailand is the perfect place to spend a year teaching English but looks can be deceiving. Thailand is currently under a military junta and civil tensions are boiling just under the surface. With few rights guaranteed, and a corrupt military police force, and a massive drug and human trafficking problem, foreign teachers can find themselves in trouble very quickly.
If the beaches of the south seem attractive, just remember that schools can barely pay their teachers about $500 USD a month, and often not on time. There are better tropical paradises to teach in.
6 Avoid: Ukraine
Ukraine is not only still suffering from an uneasy civil war, but it is ridiculously corrupt and unstable. Teachers in Ukraine are vulnerable to severe abuse if their employer decides to pocket their salary and ditch their employees. Some teachers have been arrested and thrown in prison on false charges because their employer paid the right cops!
Even if nothing bad happens at work, your living conditions will generally be awful. You’ll be expected to pay your own rent and buy your own medical insurance while making less than $500 USD a month. If you’re in expensive Kiev, then good luck with that!
5 Avoid: Rural China
China is already on the list of great countries to teach in, but only if you’re teaching in one of the bigger cities. If you’re not careful you could end up teaching in the countryside. Expect cockroaches and leaking ceilings in both your flat and your classroom, and don’t be surprised when your employer can’t seem to come up with your payments on time.
The fact of the matter is that rural China hasn’t kept pace with the great cities along the coast. The people are friendly, but corruption, poverty and a culture of not caring about anything make rural China hell to work in.
4 Avoid: Cambodia
Cambodia is a popular stop on the backpacker trek, but for those who try to work here as English teachers, it quickly turns into an unpleasant struggle. Cambodia is poor. According to the Asian Development Bank Cambodia has the highest poverty rate in Asia, which means teachers can’t expect to earn very much and can’t rely on stable jobs.
Cambodia has a big prostitution and drug problem, and although Cambodians are generally nice, if curious, neighbors, the fact of the matter is that you would need to basically fund your entire year yourself if you want to make sure you are safe, healthy and can leave when you need.
3 Avoid: Philippines
Living in Manila or any other large Filipino city is one of the most challenging things a person can do. Pollution and smog levels reach astounding heights on hot days, and even when the air is breathable you will quickly find yourself becoming frustrated with the never-ending traffic, the street vendors and tuk-tuk drivers who are out to rip you off, and corrupt police who see you as a walking money tree.
You’ll have to pay for your own insurance and apartment, which are immediately some red flags in any TEFL contract, and you can depend on having cockroaches and other bugs visit you in the night.
2 Avoid: Pakistan
Pakistan has lately been trying to copy India in the tech and contact-center industries, and demand for English teachers has been on the rise. Unfortunately, Pakistani employers and officials haven’t got the memo yet, because conditions here range from intolerable to horrible for most teachers. If you are a woman, you can expect very strict cultural expectations in this very conservative country.
Working conditions vary from employer to employer, but the clear majority are subpar when compared to better countries to teach in. To top it all off, you’re not guaranteed any legal protections and you can expect to take home less than $500 USD a month.
1 Avoid: Afghanistan
Afghanistan was once a tourist mecca for the hippy crowd, but since 1980 that’s all gone away. Brutal war, extremist terrorism daily, corruption on an insane level, and inhuman heat. What other reasons are there to avoid Afghanistan as an English teacher?
Well, there’s the fact that you will always be in danger of being kidnapped and showing up on a YouTube video, or that your employer will stiff you when it’s time to pay you, or that every step you take outdoors will be met with suspicion and sometimes outright hostility. You want to enjoy your travels, not worry about your life and your job.