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My Journey to being an International English Teacher – and how TEFL opened new work abroad opportunities

Written By
By Munira Maricar
Travel Writer

My adventure into teaching English abroad started with a simple phone call from my friends in Japan. They were having the time of their lives, teaching English and exploring a new culture. As they shared their stories, I couldn’t help but feel the pull to join them. 

My background was in film and media, so teaching wasn’t something I’d ever considered. But their excitement was contagious. They assured me that I didn’t need to be a certified teacher to get started. All I needed was to be fluent in English and willing to learn on the job. So, I took the leap, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. 

That decision didn’t just lead me to teaching, though. It opened up a whole new world of opportunities. My journey so far is a testament to how TEFL certification isn’t just about teaching in a classroom; it’s a key to a world of diverse opportunities for anyone dreaming of living and working abroad.

Teaching English Abroad Without Formal Certification


Connecting with students - adults and kids - is possible as long as you bring the energy!

When I first decided to teach English in Japan, I didn’t have any formal teaching certification. My friends in Japan were working in an Eikaiwa, an informal English conversation school, which was more about engaging clients in conversation than traditional teaching. All I needed to get started was to prove my fluency in English, which the school tested during an online interview.

The Eikaiwa methodology was new to me, but I quickly adapted and grew to love the interaction with students from all walks of life. It was amazing to see my students improve their English, opening them up to more opportunities, and knowing I had a part in that.

After my enriching experience teaching in Japan, I felt ready for a new challenge – Latin America, and specifically, Mexico. With my background in teaching English in Japan, securing a position as an instructor in Mexico was quite straightforward. The company I joined was more focused on practical skills than formal qualifications, valuing my proficiency in English and my hands-on experience.

In Mexico, my teaching role shifted to focus more on business English, catering to corporate clients and professionals. This was new and exciting territory for me, and once again, after a brief training, I continued learning on the job. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and all my work moved online. While many around the world were unfortunately hit hard financially, I was still able to maintain my income through teaching online. 


Teaching both in-person and online allowed me to make personal connections with my students.

Furthermore, it was easy to connect on a personal level with clients and students in Mexico, and before I knew it I was receiving direct teaching opportunities purely through word-of-mouth.

I was able to leave the company and fully become a freelance English instructor, setting my own payment rates and having a bit more control over my working time.

I also ventured into a different role as an English editor for a local marketing agency that appreciated the skills and perspective I brought from my teaching background. Remarkably, all these opportunities unfolded while I was still teaching without a formal TEFL certification, a testament to the practical skills and adaptability developed while gaining hands-on English teaching experience. This just goes to show the possibilities you can have access to if you just dive into English teaching with nothing but enthusiasm and passion. 


With English teaching experience under my belt, I was able to venture into other fulfilling roles

For those looking to teach English abroad without formal certification, there are several options. If you’re not ready for the commitment of joining a company as an employee just yet, there are many ways to dip your toes into the world of English teaching and see if it may be right for you.

These providers usually provide some form of training and support, making it easier for newcomers to get started in teaching English. By diving into these experiences, you get to explore a new country and develop valuable skills that can open doors to many other opportunities – just like they did for me.

Volunteer Organizations to Teach English Abroad

Maximo Nivel

Everything you need to know about Maximo Nivel

Help take the skills of locals to the next level by volunteering to teach English

Maximo Nivel offers enriching opportunities to teach English in Latin America, specifically in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. These volunteer programs address the gap in high-quality English language education in public schools and communities.

Key features of Maximo Nivel’s programs include

  • Placement in a variety of educational settings such as public schools, community centers, and after-school programs.
  • An ESL Crash Course for volunteers to prepare them for effective teaching.
  • Support from an academic team for lesson planning and teaching resources.
  • A minimum commitment of one week, with recommended longer stays for greater impact.
  • Volunteer work for 3-4 hours per day, Monday to Friday.

The all-inclusive program fee starts from $685, covering accommodation, meals, and in-country support. Through these programs, volunteers not only help improve English language skills in underprivileged areas but also gain invaluable teaching experience and cultural insights.

International Volunteer HQ

Volunteer Forever - TEFL Certification

IVHQ opens the doors to teaching in a variety of countries

International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) offers a great way to teach English abroad, even for those without formal certification. This organization opens the doors to a variety of countries, allowing volunteers to immerse themselves in new cultures while contributing to the local communities’ education.

With IVHQ, you can start teaching in countries in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and Europe, with incredibly affordable program fees, starting as low as $275 for a week in India, making these opportunities accessible to a wide range of volunteers.

Here are just a few cool opportunities you can choose from:

These programs don’t just offer a chance to teach; they’re about building cross-cultural understanding and making a real difference in students’ lives. IVHQ ensures a fully supported experience with accommodation, meals, and in-country assistance, making it a safe and rewarding adventure for volunteers.


Best Teach Abroad and TEFL Programs - GoEco

Help out with a Women’s English Literacy Program in Sri Lanka

GoEco offers a unique chance to teach English in various countries, providing valuable educational support in communities where English proficiency is key to future opportunities. GoEco volunteers play a crucial role in changing this by inspiring and encouraging their students to become confident and articulate in English.

GoEco’s approach to teaching English is dynamic and engaging. Volunteers get involved in various activities like conducting English classes, participating in group conversations, and making learning fun through games, songs, and movies. This method ensures that students not only learn English vocabulary, grammar, and spelling but also develop a genuine interest and love for the language.

The organization offers a range of destinations for volunteers interested in teaching English abroad, including:

Each of these programs is designed not only to educate but also to facilitate cultural exchange and understanding. Volunteers get to immerse themselves in the local community, experience new cultures, and contribute meaningfully to the educational development of students. With GoEco, volunteers are set to embark on a journey that’s as rewarding as it is transformative.

Projects Abroad


Volunteer in Argentina and help children or adults improve their English

Projects Abroad offers diverse teaching opportunities around the world, particularly in countries with limited resources. Volunteer teaching roles with Projects Abroad involve working with children and young adults in schools, assisting local teachers, contributing to lessons, and gaining firsthand classroom experience. The programs are designed to accommodate both short and long-term commitments and are ideal for those looking to gain teaching experience, develop a global mindset, and make a meaningful impact while teaching English overseas.

Projects Abroad’s teaching programs offer year-round opportunities, perfect for those looking to volunteer in summer or during the school year. These programs are accessible as they don’t require TEFL or CELTA qualifications, previous teaching experience, or knowledge of the local language. Emphasizing personal and professional growth, they help volunteers develop skills like teamwork, communication, leadership, and resilience.

Here are some specific Projects Abroad teaching programs for those seeking experience teaching English abroad:

Projects Abroad ensures ethical and well-supported teaching opportunities, with dedicated staff to assist volunteers. Their approach is guided by annual reviews and thorough needs assessments, ensuring that both the volunteers and the communities served benefit significantly. 

African Impact


Work in one of African Impact’s first volunteer projects, supporting education in Zambia

African Impact offers volunteer teaching programs in Africa, designed for individuals passionate about education, regardless of their teaching experience or degrees. These programs, available in locations around the African continent, focus on enhancing education in under-resourced communities. Volunteers have the opportunity to work in a variety of settings, including pre-schools, primary schools, and adult literacy classes.

Country highlights include:

Volunteers receive comprehensive training and orientation, preparing them for impactful roles in childcare and teaching. By participating in these programs, volunteers contribute to sustainable education initiatives that uplift communities across Africa.

Involvement Volunteers International


Make an impact in Fiji with IVI!

IVI offers a diverse range of teaching abroad programs in multiple countries, catering to volunteers of all backgrounds, regardless of their teaching experience. IVI is known for making a real impact in communities through focused projects in education, healthcare, childcare, and construction. They offer affordable placements and a wide range of project options in over 20 countries, with flexible start dates. As a non-profit organization, IVI emphasizes significant and lasting impacts in communities, making their programs an excellent choice for volunteers seeking meaningful experiences abroad.

Key Features of IVI’s Teaching Abroad Programs:

  • Open to anyone with a good standard of spoken English, with no previous teaching experience required.
  • Focus on English conversation and language teaching, with opportunities to teach other subjects like science, math, and sports.
  • Various teaching settings, including government primary schools, community teaching, after-school clubs, and special needs teaching.

Some of the destinations where IVI offers teaching programs include tranquil Bali, vibrant Costa Rica, and picturesque Fiji just to name a few. The Pacific beauty of Samoa, the safari spirit of Tanzania, and Vietnam‘s dynamic history all make for unique and enriching English teaching settings with IVI, turning each location into an adventure of cultural exploration and impactful teaching.

Volunteering Solutions

Volunteer Forever - Peru

Teach English to Spanish-speaking students in Peru

Volunteering Solutions offers a diverse range of volunteer teaching programs ideal for those looking to contribute to children’s education without needing formal teaching qualifications. These programs are designed for volunteers of all backgrounds, with a good command of written and conversational English being the primary requirement.

Key Opportunities with Volunteering Solutions:

These programs, available throughout the year with flexible start dates, typically involve improving students’ vocabulary and spoken English skills. Creativity and improvisation are often key, as teaching conditions can vary, with some classes being held in open-air environments. These programs offer more than just teaching experience; they are an opportunity to engage with local communities, understand different cultures, and make a lasting impact on the educational development of children in various parts of the world.

The Unexpected Turn – TEFL Certification for Non-Teaching Roles


A TEFL certification can open so many opportunities beyond just teaching

My journey took an unexpected turn when I met a fellow expat in Mexico. He was living a dream life, working flexibly as an online English test proctor. This job offered him the freedom to travel and work on his own terms. He suggested that with my background in English teaching, I’d be a perfect fit for the same job. However, there was a catch – the job preferred candidates with a TEFL certification.

This revelation was a game-changer for me. Until then, I had associated TEFL exclusively with classroom teaching. But here was an opportunity in a field that valued this certification for entirely different reasons. So, I decided to pursue a TEFL certification, not just as a formal credential for teaching but as a stepping stone to broader professional possibilities.

Finding the right TEFL course involved balancing cost, the flexibility of online learning, and a well-structured 120-hour program. Budget was key; I needed a course that was affordable yet comprehensive. The flexibility to learn online at my own pace was crucial due to my working schedule. I aimed for a 120-hour program, which many companies seemed to prefer.

Equally important was the reputation of the provider. I wanted a course from an organization known for its quality and effectiveness in TEFL training. This would ensure that the certification I received would be recognized and respected wherever my career took me.

In the end, I chose a course that ticked all these boxes – affordable, flexible, reputable, and 120 hours long. This decision allowed me to enhance my teaching skills while fitting seamlessly into my existing commitments.

Here are a few providers that have a great reputation in TEFL certifications. These institutions provide a range of courses, both online and in-person, catering to different learning styles and schedules. Their certifications are globally recognized, making them a great choice for anyone looking to enhance their credentials in the English teaching field.

Maximo Nivel’s TEFL Program

Best Teach Abroad and TEFL Programs - Maximo Nivel

In-person sessions allow you to quickly and easily gain the knowledge you need to learn how to be an ESL Instructor

Since 2003, Maximo Nivel has been offering diverse educational and volunteer programs in Latin America and is acclaimed for its global accreditations. As an English as a Second Language (ESL) institute with 20+ years of experience, they have expertly built an effective TEFL program to help people start their journey in teaching English abroad.

Along with in-person or hybrid TEFL certification courses based in Latin America, Maximo Nivel provides an interactive online TEFL course for those who need more flexibility. This program is designed for those seeking a more intensive and hands-on approach to TEFL training, with a course structure that allows for teaching practice and feedback from experienced TEFL instructors. The course creatively blends theory with practice. What sets it apart is the inclusion of 5 hours of live teaching with English students, supplemented by 10 hours of tutoring and coaching. The certification you will receive is accredited and recognized worldwide.

Additionally, Maximo Nivel offers help with job placement guarantee and lifetime job-finding support providing continuous support for a successful teaching abroad career. 

International TEFL Academy’s Accredited Courses

Earn your TEFL certificate and teach English abroad with ITA

Founded in 2010, the International TEFL Academy (ITA) is renowned for offering globally recognized TEFL certification courses in over 20 locations around the world. Renowned for its Level 5 Ofqual accreditation from TQUK, ITA has established a vast network of partner schools throughout Asia, Europe, and Latin America. The academy has garnered media attention from prestigious outlets like Forbes and CNBC, highlighting its significant presence in the field of English language education.

A key feature of ITA’s offerings is the ITA Jobs Program, which ensures guaranteed job placements for teaching English in countries such as Thailand, Korea, and Japan. ITA’s program is bolstered by partnerships with over 2,500 vetted schools across Asia, ensuring a diverse array of teaching opportunities. The academy focuses on personalized job matching, aligning teacher preferences with suitable placements.

ITA does not gain commissions from schools, which means it prioritizes teacher satisfaction and well-being from pre-departure to post-employment. Cultural training is also a key component, featuring 40 hours dedicated to the host country’s culture, history, and language, along with social activities

While ITA charges a small processing fee for its courses and programs, periodic discount offers for bundling TEFL courses with job placement programs are also available.

Besides providing certification courses in over 20 worldwide locations, ITA also offers online courses. These online courses, designed for both full-time and part-time learners, blend theoretical instruction with live practice teaching, providing a rigorous and comprehensive learning experience. Beyond the standard TEFL certification, ITA offers specialty courses in teaching English online, business English, and young learners, enhancing career prospects. Supported by highly qualified instructors, ITA’s online courses ensure flexibility, accessibility, and quality education, backed by lifetime job search guidance for diverse international and online teaching opportunities.

IVHQ’s TEFL HQ Online Certification

TEFL HQ offers a specialized 100-hour online TEFL course, internationally recognized and developed by second language acquisition experts. This course is a comprehensive introduction to teaching English, covering aspects like grammar simplification, lesson planning, and classroom management. TEFL HQ’s course is particularly beneficial for those looking to volunteer abroad or enhance their teaching credentials.

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The beauty of online courses is that you can take them from anywhere, at any time!

African Impact’s Online TEFL Course and In-Person Teaching Internship

This unique TEFL Teaching Internship by African Impact combines online coursework with a hands-on practicum in Zanzibar or Zambia. Tailored for those enrolled in African Impact’s TEFL course, this program requires a minimum of 28 hours of practical teaching over two weeks, which is a requirement for participants to graduate with their TEFL Certification. Interns teach in nursery schools and at an Education Centre, engaging with children, adults, and women’s groups. This experience not only involves lesson planning and classroom support but also immerses participants in local culture. The program promises a comprehensive, fulfilling experience with accommodation, meals, and support, empowering local communities through education and providing interns with diverse teaching skills as they complete their TEFL Certification.

Volunteering SolutionsTEFL UK Course

The Online TEFL Course by Volunteering Solutions, in collaboration with TEFL UK, offers a flexible and comprehensive program for those eager to teach English globally. Catering to a wide audience, including high school graduates, gap year travelers, and experienced educators, this 120-hour course is ideal for developing essential teaching skills. It opens doors to international teaching opportunities, allowing you to learn at your own pace and even from home.


Your journey to teaching English globally begins here!

The Reality of a TEFL Program: A True Commitment

Embarking on a TEFL course is often perceived as a straightforward path to certification, especially for those with some teaching experience. However, my journey through the TEFL program was truly a humbling experience, because – full disclosure – I didn’t manage to complete my TEFL Certification on the first attempt. 

Juggling personal and professional commitments, I initially underestimated the course’s demands. It was more than just a series of online lectures and quizzes; it was a comprehensive educational commitment requiring dedicated time and effort.

Despite having prior teaching experience, which helped me navigate through some modules with relative ease, I encountered significant challenges. Modules about classroom management and the technicalities of English grammar were particularly demanding. These modules required not just understanding but a deep integration of theory into practical skills – something that can’t be breezed through without proper attention.

I reached a point where I had to request an extension to complete the course. Thankfully, the provider was accommodating, although this came at an additional cost. This experience was a stark reminder that a TEFL course is a serious educational undertaking, not just a box-ticking exercise.

But do not be deterred! Take this as a reminder to set realistic expectations for your prospective TEFL journey. While parts of the course might align well with your existing skills, other segments can present real challenges. This program demands a genuine commitment and an understanding that, like any substantial educational endeavor, it may not always be straightforward. My journey through the TEFL course taught me the importance of dedicating adequate time and resources to fully grasp and internalize the comprehensive content of the program.

Volunteer Forever - 2019 Best Teach Abroad and TEFL Programs

Your TEFL Certification is sure to get you the jobs you want

Working Abroad with a TEFL Certification

Finally, with my TEFL certification in hand, I landed a role as an online English test proctor. This job involves overseeing English proficiency tests, ensuring that they are conducted fairly and efficiently. It’s a role that requires a deep understanding of the English language and the ability to communicate effectively, skills that my TEFL course helped me refine. The job also requires a keen eye for spotting body language cues, which my hands-on teaching and classroom experience has given me.

Furthermore, I was still teaching English on a freelance basis, and having a TEFL Certification was instrumental in helping me negotiate higher rates with my clients. The earning potential I gained with this TEFL Certification exceeded my expectations. 

The versatility of a TEFL certification is truly remarkable. It’s not just for teaching English in a traditional classroom setting. It equips you with skills that are valuable in various roles where English proficiency is key; here are a few examples:

  • Creating and Selling EFL Resources: With a TEFL certification, you can create high-quality English teaching resources for both online and in-person teachers. These can include reading resources, writing worksheets, listening to podcasts, speaking flashcards, and even digital resources like interactive games or apps.
  • Technology Development: For those with a tech background, a TEFL qualification can lead to building technology and tools related to English teaching. This could involve creating interactive online games for learners, apps for teachers or programs to monitor student progress.
  • Designing Courses: Utilize your TEFL qualification to create online video and audio courses for learning English, or downloadable courses for classroom use. You can specialize in courses for specific age groups, skill sets, or topics.
  • Consultancy: With enough experience, you can offer consultancy services to schools, businesses, and other organizations that employ people who speak English as a foreign language. This role involves advising on teaching English to employees.
  • Administrative Roles in Language Schools: Positions like Director of Studies or Assistant Director of Studies in language schools are more administrative, focusing on curriculum development, teacher recruitment, and continuous professional development.
  • Au Pair: Working abroad as an au pair, you can help families and their children by exposing them to the English language daily. A TEFL certification can give you an advantage in this field, potentially leading to better job opportunities and higher salaries​

 The TEFL certification can open doors to careers you might never have considered, making it an invaluable asset for those looking to work abroad in diverse fields – not just teaching! 

So if you’re looking for that sign – this is it! 


A quick breakfast before getting started with my day