Dear GoMad Nomad,

My fiancé and I are looking into trying to teach English in Asia –our short list at the moment is Japan, China, and Korea. This is a new and exciting idea that just popped up a few days ago, so I don’t know a lot. I know that we would want to leave this summer or fall. We would like to go for a year. We want to live in a big city.

esl tefl mongolia ulaanbaatar

My students and I at school in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia


What are your experiences – where have you gone? How did you set them up? Would you recommend them?

I found a couple programs online that help you get the TEFL certification; they set up a job for you, set up your housing, visa, and provide insurance. They have an upfront program fee, but then you also get paid through the contract they set up with the school. It kind of seems like it might be an easy option, but I wonder if it’s easy enough to set up by yourself.

Also, what do you think about getting the TEFL or CELTA certification? Is it necessary to get a job?

-Carolyn in Arizona


Dear Carolyn,

I’ve taught at a private academy in Spain, short-term contracts in Korea, a school year in Mongolia, in Palestine, and as a Peace Corps volunteer in Uzbekistan.

I never got any certification because I came out of the Peace Corps with two years experience and got my following jobs based on that experience.

Some jobs require you to have a TEFL or CELTA certificate, but many do not. Often you might get a few hundred dollars more each month if you have the certificate, but basic requirement for teaching English in Asia are simply to be a native speaker and hold a bachelor’s degree. Any education or work experience beyond this and you just increase the quality of your working conditions and salary.

As far as looking for job openings, Dave Sperling’s ESL Café is my goto site.

I have organized all my teaching contracts myself—either directly with the school or through a recruiter.  So I don’t have experience with any programs that help you get the TEFL certification, set up a job for you and handle all the logistics. I don’t think it’s especially difficult to set everything up independently, but it is more work than going through a program. You just need to know what the norms are for pay, teaching hours, and work conditions so you aren’t taken advantage of.

I’ll try to sum up and generalize theses Asian countries for teaching:

Japan: Good salary, but high cost of living = not much money saved up. I’ve never been to Japan, but nearly everyone I’ve talk to loves it there.

South Korea: Decent working conditions, good pay, reasonable cost of living, fun place to live = happy ESL teachers with money in their pocket after contract finishes. And there is an abundance of jobs.

China:  Lower salaries but low cost of living (outside Beijing and Shanghai anyway). Teach in China for the experience of living in China and a chance to learn some Chinese. Lots of job opportunities.

Taiwan: I’ve never been to Taiwan, but from what I hear, it falls somewhere in middle between China and Korea in terms of earnings and cost of living.

If you want to teach this fall, it’s a good idea to get started because South Korea, I know, has new requirements for their visa. Now you need a federal criminal background check which takes up to three months to complete. So you might want to get started in the process earlier, rather than later, no matter where you are planning to teach.


Have you taught English in Asia? Please comment below to add to the discussion.