Can You Still Teach Overseas Without a Degree?

It seems as though I get an email asking that question in an email almost every week. The answer is a ‘qualified’ yes… for now. More and more countries are not granting work/teaching visas to anyone unless they have a degree. Some countries are more bureaucratic than others. Here is an example:

In Thailand, where I taught for 14 years, three ministries are involved in the process: Education, Immigration and Labour. You can’t teach officially without all of their stamps of approval. Let’s say you receive a job offer from a school in Thailand. What you then do is go to the nearest Thai embassy or consulate and get 3-month Non-Immigrant B visa. The ‘B’ allows you to travel to Thailand and work while your documents are being verified and processed. You also have to get a letter from your local police department stating that you are a good person and not on anybody’s wanted list. Once you get to Thailand, your school should be able to do most of the legwork for you… if you are to be employed by a government, private or International school. Some employ so many foreign teachers that they have a specific department set up to process visas, renewals, etc. They send your papers to the Ministry of Education. Until that ministry approves them, you cannot get your work permit. Something for all aspiring teachers to note is that Thailand and some other countries are now demanding your original documents: Degree, transcripts, and diplomas. If you only bring over copies, you would face delays so always find out exactly what you need to bring. In South Korea, you can bring copies that have been certified by the nearest South Korean embassy or consulate.

BTW – the Ministries of Education are up to speed on diploma mill degrees so don’t even think about trying that route.

In some countries, there are still ways to teach without a degree.

Option 1: If you don’t have a degree and want to teach, there are opportunities in countries such as China, Vietnam and some Eastern European countries. I believe these will eventually tighten their requirements as well but for the moment, opportunities still exist though perhaps not in the larger centers. These change all the time so you would have to find out from the nearest embassy or consulate. Most of these would also be online. Having a TESOL or TEYL Certificate will help your cause.

Option 2: You can try to find a teaching position in a corporation. Almost all companies want their managers, supervisors and anyone who has to deal with overseas customers, suppliers, Head Office, branch offices, visiting dignitaries, etc., to be able to communicate in English. While many send their people to local English schools, some find it more cost-effective to hire in-house trainers. If you are lucky enough to fall into a corporate teaching job, you go a different route to get your government approvals, being added to their staff as a ‘specialist’ and a degree, while helpful, is not always a prerequisite. Having a TESOL Certificate (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) or TEFL Certificate (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) will definitely help. It shows that you have actual training that will benefit you in modern classrooms.

How would you find these opportunities? You could either search on the internet or take a trip over to the country and explore while there (presumably as a tourist). If you found a position while there, it might entail a trip out of the country and coming in on a different visa. Be prepared for that. Countries vary considerably in their requirements. If you happen to get an interview, be sure you ‘dress the part’. Look like a teacher. Have your resume ready, neat, grammatically correct and a photo on it (required overseas). Overseas teachers generally wear a suit and tie. Knee length skirt and a conservative blouse for ladies.

Option 3: Do you have specialized knowledge that a particular school might need? This might be as an aircraft technician, for example. If a company needed someone with your knowledge and skills, this would be another way that you could get hired as a ‘specialist’ with special dispensation for you to work/teach in the country.

Option 4: Contact organizations that are looking for volunteers to teach in certain countries. See what their education requirements are and ask for their advice. Maybe you can get on with them as and see what comes up while you are overseas. As a volunteer you would not usually get paid but accommodation and meals would be covered. Who knows what teaching opportunities might come up?

Non-Options: I mention these because some people try to skirt the law by coming in to a country on visas such as Tourist, Education or Retirement. None of these permit you to work/teach… at least not in Thailand. A few of these visa-holders want to stay longer than their visa allows, or than their budget permits, so they seek out schools where they can teach and earn money to allow them to stay longer. Some schools are less interested in the regulations than they are in teachers at a bargain price. These may be amenable to hiring teachers willing to work for less than the going rate as their qualifications are not enough or who is a friend of a friend. They would not be listed as teachers on the school’s payroll and would be paid in cash under the table. I know this happens but I do not advocate using this plan. Claiming ignorance of the law is not enough. You could end up being jailed or deported.

I highly recommend that you find a way to pursue your degree. If you are lucky enough to find employment, you can take your degree online over a period of time. Even many of the old, established brick and mortar institutions offer online degrees now. If you are serious about teaching, you should also be serious about advancing your education. I believe that. In my experience, the best teachers are lifelong learners and I hope you will become one.

In addition to your degree, I mentioned earlier that having a TESOL or TEFL Certificate is good. Many schools are asking for one of these now in addition to a degree. There are other valuable teaching certificates out there as well:

CELTA – Certificate in Language Teaching to Adults (British)

TEFLA – Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults. (similar to CELTA)

TEYL – Teaching English to Young Learners

These three are specific to one age group and so are great as add-on qualifications. Initially you need a broader certificate – TESOL or TEFL. Why do I say that? Many schools specifically ask for one of these two qualifications and even though your goal may be “to teach adults in Europe”, for example, the reality is that most schools will be looking for someone who can step into a position in primary or secondary classes. FYI – Western Europe is difficult to break into in for new teachers and schools there generally want British qualifications. Fine if you have them but I always suggest that you “fish where the fish are”. In other words, look for a teaching job where there are lots of openings. You have a much better chance of finding a position and if you don’t have all the qualifications that other places would require, you have a better chance where supply and demand are tilted in your favour. Look on it as an opportunity to a) find out if you like teaching, b) gain practical experience and c) work towards your degree. Once you get hired, you will find opportunities to teach adults being offered to you for evening or weekend work if you want it. Take it. It is more experience for you and a step towards your ultimate goal. Any moonlight money earned could be put in a special account towards that elusive degree.

Every week, I post new ESL job listing on my ESL job board and China leads the pack with 200 + jobs needing to be filled most weeks.

Final thoughts…

As a teacher, you will want your students to respect you. If you are teaching them and do not even have a bachelor’s degree, are you going to gain that respect? There are many reasons why people do not attend college/university right after high school. Many cannot afford it. Four years university studies can run as high as $100,000 + and leave you with a huge debt to repay. Not such a grand way to begin your working life, is it? I did not get my Bachelor’s degree until I was in my forties. While teaching overseas, I went on to complete my Master’s and then my Doctorate.

So, can you teach overseas without a degree? In some countries you still can but opportunities are becoming scarcer by the minute. My best advice is to first get your TESOL or TEFL Certificate. This is a qualification schools look for. Then, search for one of these teaching opportunities so you can find out quickly if teaching is for you. Once you have your certificate, go to Google, Yahoo or Bing and search for “Teaching jobs in ____”. (try China or Vietnam first). Send politely-worded inquiries to schools with a one-page Resume Extract. Be absolutely sure that you use proper English in your covering letter and resume/CV. Remember that you are applying for a position as someone who is qualified to teach English. Your inquiry letter and resume must reflect that! Spelling mistakes will get your application thrown out quickly. Tell schools that you are working on completing your degree. Once you get hired and start working you can do that – even if it takes a few years to complete as mine did. You will feel much better about yourself. You will set a good example for your students. Self respect is good to have and it will reflect on your students as you encourage them not to drop out of school or to be satisfied with a high school/secondary diploma. Your degree will also open many more doors to better jobs so I urge you to do yourself and your future students a favour and work towards a degree. Become an inspiring teacher and a lifelong learner. Thousands of students are waiting to learn from you.

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