How to Teach English Abroad as a South African

One of the questions we get asked is whether you can teach English abroad as a South African. Although the rules may be slightly more complex, it is certainly possible. You will need a few things to get sorted, including your costs, Visa, and language issues.

Prove Any Language Issues

This is a critical issue as many employers seeking English teachers will want native speakers only. South Africa has, as you probably know, 11 official languages. To find work, you must demonstrate that English is your first language, or if it was not spoken at home, it was used in your education as the primary language. Some roles will accept non-native English speakers from any country, providing they can evidence fluency and knowledge of the language. There are several exams you can do to prove this. Statistically, only nine. 6% of people from South Africa can genuinely classify themselves as native English speakers.

So, as long as you’re prepared to evidence your language skills in English, teaching and living abroad is undoubtedly possible. However, some employers may have an issue with a strong accent, not typically associated with native English speakers, i.e. those from the United States or the UK.

Smooth Out Visa Issues

In South Africa, the green leather-bound passport is called the green mamba. Unfortunately, it is often insufficient to enable you to travel to other countries to teach English abroad. Generally will require a Visa, and the type depends on the location you hope to travel to. Some countries do not require a Visa and will accept your passport. These include Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Hong Kong and Thailand. There are a lot of teaching opportunities in all of these countries. Almost anywhere in Central America or South America has fantastic options, and you will be welcome. 

Teaching English abroad in Europe can be tricky as you need a Schengen Visa. This is possible, but be warned that this and other special visas will include a lot of paperwork, red tape, and pretty hefty fees. If you want to go down this route, leave yourself at least 6 to 9 months before travelling to ensure all your paperwork is in order and legal.

You must also plan your flight and consider whether you need transit visas. One such example is Nicaragua. This will probably involve flying from South Africa to the United States and then connecting with a flight to Nicaragua itself. This change in the United States does require you to have a transit visa. Again this will add to your planning and potential costs.

Man standing on the edge of a cliff

Figure Your Finances 

Planning to move abroad and teach English as a foreign language can be expensive. You need to factor in many things, including the cost of your TFL qualification, but more on that later. The first thing is, of course, your flight and Visa costs. We have already mentioned that this may not be the cheapest thing to do. Some jobs offer extra benefits like subsidised housing, flight costs and health insurance. So knowing where you will be teaching makes planning your finances much more accessible. You will know exactly what you need to budget for and what might be covered already.

You will also need to consider your set-up cost. When you arrive in your destination country, you must look for somewhere to live unless your employer provides this and you have money for food and transport. This means converting the South African rand to various currencies to see how it compares to the country you hope to teach in.

For example, the cost of living and the value of money is pretty much on par in South Africa and Columbia, so this could be a good choice. Japan is often a trendy dream destination for English teachers abroad, but the cost of living could be crippling.  Various websites can help you understand the cost of living differences, including one that we use a lot called On this site, you can enter your current and proposed destination currency and see how much you will have to spend to live and work there. It shows you all sorts of fees, from rentals to a single cup of coffee. This sort of information will help you make an informed decision as to the best location for you.

Polish Your Qualifications 

The next thing to consider when living and working abroad as an English teacher is your qualifications and experience. Many countries require at least a bachelor’s degree, some even higher. Almost everywhere will be looking for a recognised and accredited TEFL certification. Securing a living wage job in any country will be practically impossible without this. The important word in your qualification is accredited. Hundreds of websites offer TEFL certification, but unless regulated and certified by a recognised governing body, they become virtually worthless in the real world. We always say if you see a cheap TEFL course on one of the money-saving websites like, it’s likely to be unregulated and not worth your time or money.

We mentioned your TEFL qualification because you need to ensure that you have this in place before you leave, which will cost money. Generally, regulated courses will save you much more money because they are valid. Fees will likely be quoted in American dollars or great British pounds, so pay attention to the currency conversion before signing up. At the other end of the scale, there is also no need to go over the top and spend hours and hours getting different qualifications. You are looking for something like our accredited, 120-hour TEFL certification. This is perfect for anyone starting a career teaching English abroad.

General Tips for Teaching English Abroad

The remaining tips apply to anyone planning to teach English abroad in a foreign country. Not just those of you who are from South Africa. But they are essential things that you need to consider and take into account before making decisions. Some of these will also impact your financial planning, so they are worth knowing about. You should allow yourself at least 6 to 8 months of preparation time, and depending on where you are planning to go to live and work as an English teacher abroad, you may need even longer.

Travelling girl on her moped

Understand Health Care

Considering your health while living and working in another country would be best. Some countries have a universal health care system, but many do not. You need to determine the status of the country you are moving to and ensure you have the correct health insurance before travelling. Some jobs offer this as a benefit, but make sure you’re clear before deciding not to take out any policies. The same applies to dental care in some countries; although universal healthcare includes dental, the wait time can be incredibly long, and places are scarce. So you need to ensure that this is included in your health insurance costs to get help when needed most, as a toothache can be miserable.

Finally, consider your mental health when you are travelling abroad. Although the challenge of moving to another country and teaching English is very appealing, some people underestimate the mental toll it can take being in a strange land where you don’t speak the native language and do not have your friends and family close at hand. If you plan to move to a developed area like the UAE, Japan, or China, communication with your loved ones won’t be too difficult. But in some underdeveloped regions, particularly South America, you might find very sparse Internet signals and contact with those still at home may prove tricky. It’s essential to consider this because it’s vital that you remain happy and healthy while you are teaching English abroad.

Making Friends

Remember that you are not reinventing the wheel here. Someone has been there before, and these people are a great source of help and advice. You will find plenty of Facebook groups for TEFL teachers where you can ask questions and find others in the same position. Once you arrive at your chosen destination, one of your first missions should be to locate any ex-pat communities. Many people are unaware that these groups exist almost everywhere in the world.

Whether you need help with your utility bills or finding a place to live, ex-pat groups are welcoming and friendly and will do their best to support you. Depending on where you teach, you may also find that other teachers are simultaneously moving into the area. House sharing or socialising can be a great way to feel less isolated when you are far from home in a strange land. It’s also good to understand any potentially unsafe areas, for example, where you should not travel at night.

Secure a Job 

Finding a job before heading out to your chosen country is always good, if possible. Some visas will require a career before granting you access to the country. Many businesses are happy to accept online applications and conduct virtual interviews. The type of job you can apply for will depend on your qualifications and experience.

Language schools are found in every single country and operate on the basis that their students will be adults who cannot attend school during standard hours. This is usually a great place to find work, but you will be working evenings and weekends to fit in with the needs of your students. It also means that, more often than not, you will be teaching adult learners. Another great reason to apply to language schools it’s a very often do not need a bachelor’s degree. As mentioned, TfL qualifications are generally nonnegotiable, so you must have your accredited certificate. 

In Conclusion

Suppose you have previous teaching experience in your home country and hold a teaching qualification and TEFL certification. In that case, you may be well placed to apply for work in language schools. These cater to the children of other ex-pats and are considered elite private education, so the standards must be high. Teaching at the university level is generally reserved for those who have a Master’s degree. Some countries have English teachers from abroad teaching in public schools, where you can find work at any level from kindergarten to secondary.

You may also earn extra income by teaching one-to-one on a tutor basis. However, if you decide to do any freelance work while contracted to another institution, you should check with them that they are happy with this. You also need to ensure that you abide by any tax rules in the country. If you’re employed, your employer will be taking care of this. Where is if you are self-employed, you will be responsible. 

In general, you don’t need a degree to teach English abroad or online. Our certification stands alone, and you can get employment without pairing it with a degree. However, some TEFL employers do prefer their teachers to have a degree. More importantly, for some countries, it’s a visa requirement. You can’t obtain a work permit without a bachelor’s degree or higher. Some of these countries include China, Japan, UAE and Vietnam. 

Our advice is if you have your sights set on a certain country, look into the visa requirements first before putting time and effort into finding a job there. This will save you time and disappointment. If it’s a school preferability and not a visa requirement, there’s sometimes some leeway. 

You do not need any prior teaching degrees or experience to teach abroad. Once you have your TEFL certificate, you can secure work as a TEFL teacher. A BA in Education would enhance your CV, but it’s not a necessity. Completing a TEFL course that includes teaching practice, like our Hybrid TEFL Courses, will also help your CV.

If you want to experience different cultures and see the world, teaching English abroad is for you. Not only will you get to explore new places, you’ll also meet new people and get the chance to make a difference to the lives of language learners. A TEFL certification lasts a lifetime. So, you can dip in and out of teaching abroad whenever you feel like it. 

It is not necessary to speak any other languages. You’ll be able to find a job and work comfortably without knowing the language spoken in your chosen country. Of course, it is always an advantage, even if it’s just the basics. We recommend learning a few phrases before you move abroad like hi, thank you, goodbye and sorry.

You’re never too old to gain new qualifications! Some TEFL employers do have age restrictions, but there are ample opportunities for more mature teachers. There are also the options to teach English from home as a private tutor or online tutor.

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