How to Avoid TEFL Scams and Bad Employers

Unfortunately, there are people out there who are looking to take advantage of newly qualified EFL teachers who are excited to start their first teaching job. It is always important to exercise caution when sharing details online, regardless of industry. While it’s understandable to be concerned about TEFL scams, the reality is that there are few in comparison to the thousands of legitimate jobs available. Nonetheless, it’s critical to be aware of the warning signs of a scam or a bad employer, so we’ve compiled a list of tips to ensure you avoid these TEFL scams.

Online TEFL scams to watch out for

While the online teaching industry has been growing year after year, it is currently experiencing unprecedented growth. With more students and teachers moving online, some unscrupulous characters are looking to take advantage of teachers looking for online work.

When applying for online teaching jobs, keep the following things in mind:

There is no online presence. What online tutoring service does not have a website? There are no reviews. If you are still looking for Glassdoor reviews from other teachers or reviews from students, it’s a good indication that the company isn’t legitimate.

Penalties and fines are excessive. Understandably, several legitimate companies will penalise teachers who miss scheduled lessons. However, please pay close attention to the terms because there are some out there with penalty rules that are so unreasonable that you’ll almost certainly lose a chunk of your pay to them regularly.

There is no charge for the first lesson with a student. Some businesses will provide students with a free first lesson. However, this offer to entice students should not come at the expense of you as a teacher. We’ve heard reports of some companies using this to avoid paying teachers entirely, leaving them with no lessons after the initial “free” speech.

The interviewer asks for remote access. This is a scam that a recent course graduate alerted us to. If you are interviewing for a job and are told that there is a “technical fault” and that they need to access your computer to fix it remotely, you should terminate the interview immediately. A legitimate interviewer would never do something like this. Be cautious.

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When to immediately walk away – TEFL scam alert!

Whether you’re looking for an online job or a position abroad, the following are almost always red flags of a TEFL scam or a bad employer/recruiter.

You are asked to pay money upfront. It should never be necessary to pay to get a job. Often, the “employer” will request that it be sent via Western Union or a similar service that cannot be traced back to them. While some costs may be associated with working abroad, such as visas, background checks, and flights, you should not pay an individual any of these.

The contract’s terms have changed. Avoid signing a contract that differs significantly from the advertised terms when applying. Only sign an agreement if you are delighted with it!

There is no digital footprint. Need help to find information about the employer/recruiter online besides job advertisements? That is usually a dead giveaway of a TEFL scam. Warnings and negative reviews. If all you can find when you Google the employer are negative reviews and people warning others that it’s either a scam or the employer is exploitative, you should avoid it. There will be no interview. Legitimate employers will not hire you based solely on your CV and without conducting an interview.

You are not permitted to speak with any current employees. If the employer has nothing to hide, they will gladly put you in touch with a current or former employee. There is no address. You need help finding the employer’s address, or it’s just a PO Box.

When to exercise caution

If you come across any of the following, we strongly advise you to conduct additional research or avoid them entirely. You’re offered a job in a country where you don’t qualify for a work visa. Working illegally in a country puts you at risk of being exploited by an employer. Only do this if you want to gain TEFL experience. Despite your lack of qualifications and experience, you are offered a job. While this is common, it is becoming increasingly rare for employers not to require teachers to have a TEFL qualification. The pay appears to be too good to be true. Is the offered salary and benefits significantly higher than comparable jobs in the same country? Proceed with caution if this is the case; TEFL scams frequently offer above-average pay to entice you.

Ineffective online presence. If a school needs a more online presence and relies heavily on stock images rather than photos of actual students and teachers, this can cause concern. You’ve been offered a job in a country where finding work is typically tricky. This is especially important for non-EU citizens looking for full-time employment in Europe. Working in Europe as a non-EU citizen can be difficult, so ensure everything is in order—poor communication skills.

You are told that your working visa will be provided when you arrive. While arranging a visa in-country is common in South America, it is illegal in many other countries, so do your homework. If you need clarification, don’t just trust what an employer/recruiter tells you; double-check it elsewhere.

How can you do further research if you’re feeling unsure?


First and foremost, use Google to investigate the employer’s or recruiter’s online presence. Find out if there are any reviews, but be cautious because these can be faked. Someone may have posted about it online to warn others if it’s a TEFL scam or if the employer is terrible to work for.

Use quotation marks to get more accurate search results from Google. 

Check out the email address.

You’ve been getting emails from “[email protected],” but when you look up the school on Google, the email listed is “[email protected]” – something doesn’t seem right.

To find out if there is a job or if you’ve been emailing someone posing as a legitimate school, email the address listed on the website. A Gmail or Yahoo email address is not always suspect, as some schools use them, but you should double-check that it matches what’s on their website.

woman on virtual job interview

Ask to speak to a current employee.

This will never be an issue for a legitimate employer who treats their employees well. If they refuse, it means they either don’t have any employees to connect you with or they don’t want you talking to their current – likely disgruntled – employees—a significant red flag.

Look up other job adverts.

Examine a variety of job postings in the same country to get an idea of what to expect in terms of salary and benefits. If you come across a job offering a salary and benefits significantly higher than anything else you’ve seen, it’s almost certainly too good to be true.

When a degree is a visa requirement for legally working in a country, job advertisements will state that a degree is required. If you encounter an employer who says it isn’t necessary, proceed with caution. Ask yourself: is someone willing to employ teachers illegally going to be good to work for? What else are they up to?

What else are they up to? If you’re working illegally, your employer can easily exploit you and change the terms of your contract whenever they want.

Similarly, you should be wary if the employer doesn’t care whether you have a TEFL qualification. Finding a teaching position for someone utterly unqualified a few years ago was relatively easy, but it’s much more difficult now. If you see a job advertised that requires no TEFL certification (and does not include training), it is almost certainly a scam or a sign of a bad employer. Avoid!

Trust your instincts

Trust your instincts if you’ve tried everything above, and it still feels wrong. Take your time when making decisions. You can always contact us, and we’ll review the job and offer our opinion, or you can ask for advice from our Facebook student community.

While TEFL scams should be avoided, many excellent, legitimate TEFL jobs are available! Continue applying for positions on reputable job boards, and you’ll find the ideal place!

The industry standard required by TEFL employers is 120 hours of training. Any additional training, including specialist courses like teaching business English, is always a bonus. Employers will also look for transferable skills and a personality that’s suited to moving abroad, overcoming challenging and jumping into a new career with both feet.

A reputable TEFL company should have an approved licence number from an independent regulatory body. It should also be a registered company in the country where its offices operate. The TEFL Institute of Ireland is accredited by the ACDL (Accreditation Council for Distance Learning). All our course materials have been externally and independently approved by Highfield, endorsing our brand as one of high standards and excellence. 

If your teaching qualification (such as a degree) is in English teaching then TEFL is not essential. However, TEFL courses give you the skills and knowledge to transfer your teaching expertise to non-native English speakers. There are also specialist courses that may cover topics you haven’t previously studied. 

TEFL is a lifetime qualification, which does not expire. If you gained your TEFL qualification a few years ago, you might want to take a new TEFL course to refresh your training. If you already have the core TEFL certification, you can take a specialist TEFL course to boost your CV and show your commitment to teaching. 

A regulated TEFL qualification means that it is officially recognised by the government and sits on the Ofqual Register of Regulated Qualifications.

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