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TEFL as a couple?

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  • kelliso
    23 November, 2015 at 16:46
    • Total posts: 2

    Hi everyone, my fiance and I may be interested in pursuing TEFL jobs together but we have some concerns. We are both 30 years old, native speakers of American English, and have both spent our twenties working various part-time education jobs (I currently work in an after-school program while he teaches music lessons). I spent one summer in my 20s as an au pair in Sweden so I’m somewhat familiar with working abroad, plus I have several friends who have worked in English schools abroad. My fiance and I both love traveling and love the idea of living abroad and continuing to work as educators.

    Unfortunately, although I have my BA, my fiance never finished his degree. I know that some countries require a 4-year degree in order to teach, but not all of them, so hopefully that isn’t too much of a barrier.

    We also do not have a lot of money between us, so we can’t afford an expensive certification like the CELTA, which my research tells me that many of the best schools require. I think our budget is around $1000. I haven’t seen any CELTA courses for under $2000, plus it seems many of them would require us to quit our jobs and relocate, which we can’t afford either (we live in Oregon).

    And on top of all that, we’d of course like to stay together, and I don’t know how difficult it would be for us to find jobs in the same city.

    Here are my questions:
    What is the most highly regarded but affordable TEFL course out there? or is it simply not worth it to get certified at all if we can’t afford the CELTA?
    How common is it for couples to find work in the same city?
    Would our prior experiences working in education be considered relevant at all to potential TEFL employers? (Perhaps even somewhat outweighing the lack of a bachelor’s degree or fancy certificate?)

    Thanks in advance for any thoughts or advice you may have!

    24 November, 2015 at 11:37
    • Total posts: 52

    Hi there,

    Well, I won’t sugar-coat this. The bad news is that without a degree, there are very few places your boyfriend can legally work. If you want to travel together, that limits your options as well since your visa will only cover you and not your boyfriend.

    In short, the Middle East is an absolute no-go due to the lack of relevant qualifications and experience; South East Asia is off the table due to your boyfriend’s lack of a degree; and Western Europe is off the table due to the lack of an EU passport. Parts of Eastern Europe may be an option, although the lack of a degree is likely to be a hindrance since third-level education is highly valued in that area. Note that even if you could find work, salaries are little more than subsistence level for inexperienced newbies. So basically that leaves South America. Jobs tend not to be found from abroad. You really need to be on the ground at the right time handing out CVs (resumes). It’s worth noting that wages are low and that your chances of being provided with a work visa are slim to none (meaning that border runs will be a frequent occurrence).

    As depressing as the above may sound, it’s important to realise that the world of TEFL has changed dramatically over the past few years. While demand is higher than ever, so too are standards. The days of unqualified natives being able to walk into a job simply because they are native English-speakers are long gone. If you are serious about wanting to work in this industry, you need to invest in the right qualifications. Nowadays that means a degree, which can be in anything, and a decent TEFL qualification.


    13 December, 2015 at 6:25
    • Total posts: 2

    Briona – thank you for your detailed and informative response. I do wish it were more encouraging but I appreciate your honesty! I’d have replied sooner but I was expecting to get any responses emailed to me and this never showed up in my inbox.

    Anyway, we’re both interested in South America (I speak some Spanish) but we’re not in any financial position to take a chance on flying somewhere without a job already lined up. Do you happen to know anything about teaching in Spain? From what I’ve read they don’t require teachers to have 4-year degrees, but perhaps that’s outdated information.

    I’m worried now that teaching abroad just isn’t possible for people in our financial bracket, even if my fiance were able to finish his degree (he is considering going back to school). One option we’ve considered is moving someplace where I can work and he can finish his degree (since some universities abroad are cheap or free to attend) but I doubt I could support both of us on a teacher’s salary.

    I’d welcome any further advice, even if it’s not the most encouraging! Have at it.

    13 December, 2015 at 23:46
    • Total posts: 52

    Hi again,

    I know a fair bit about teaching in Spain as I’ve been living and working here for the past three-and-a-half years.

    While a degree isn’t required for teaching jobs, many schools will insist on you having one. The degree (or lack thereof), however, is the least of your problems. You will need a visa to work here, a visa that must be applied for in your country of origin. Unfortunately, you can’t get a work visa without having a job offer, and you are unlikely to get a job offer without first having a visa. It’s very much a catch-22 situation, but EU hiring law has been designed to favour EU citizens. Employers cannot just hire a non-EU citizen, they first have to prove that there were no suitably-qualified EU citizens who could do the job. As you might imagine, when it comes to English teaching, this is not a very likely proposition.

    Matters are further complicated by the fact that jobs tend not to be found from abroad. With so many teachers on the ground already, there is simply no need for employers to hire sight-unseen. Moreover, the vast number of teachers available has turned it into an employer’s market. Most will ask for a CELTA or equivalent and a minimum of a year’s experience, ideally with European learners. Many will ask for a lot more. Spain is not somewhere I’d recommend to under-qualified, inexperienced newbies, and certainly not those without the legal right to work here.

    As far as I see it, you’ve really only got a couple of options – going to one of the few places you can both work; you working somewhere and supporting him while he finishes his degree; or shelving the idea entirely until he has a degree.

    If you choose the first option, with limited funds, I think it’s got to be Mexico or South America. I imagine that they are the cheapest places in the world for you to get to, and with an academic year that starts in March/April (at least in the case of South America), peak hiring season is approaching. I’d recommend picking a country, doing some research, making some tentative enquiries via email/phone and then flying out there in time for the new academic year. There’s plenty of work in Ecuador, Costa Rica and Argentina. I’m almost certain you’d both find something. Salaries are definitely on the low side, but a lower cost of living should help balance the books.

    If you’re prepared to work while your partner finishes his degree, I’d tentatively recommend going to China. Demand for teachers far outstrips supply. Your degree (plus an online TEFL certificate) would be enough to get you work; your boyfriend wouldn’t be able to work but could enter the country on a long-stay tourist visa, which I believe could be renewed by taking a trip to Hong Kong. A friend of mine and her boyfriend are doing just that. However, their situation is a little different in that she is a qualified primary (elementary) school teacher who is working in an international school, so her salary is more than enough to support the pair of them while he finishes his degree. You’d need to do some serious maths to work out whether the salary on offer would do the same.

    Note that whatever option you choose, you will need to have a certain amount of money behind you to pay for flights, rent accommodation, pay for essentials, and live on until your first month’s paycheck comes through.

    No doubt the above isn’t really what you want to hear, but I think it’s better to be informed.


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