How to Choose the Right Country for a First-Time EFL Teacher Overseas

teaching thailand skills

When I chose Thailand as the place I wanted to teach English, most of that decision was because I’d already visited the country and loved what I saw. Most first-time EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teachers, however, don’t have that luxury so often end up choosing a destination blindly and hoping it turns out to be the right one.

Rather than doing that and ending up in completely the wrong place, here are a few suggestions on how to choose the right destination for a first-time EFL teacher, whether it is Thailand or somewhere else – specially if that English teacher is you.

Do you want a country similar to your own or something more exotic? Some first-time teachers want to experience teaching in a country whose culture is far more exotic than their own. Others prefer to teach in a place that seems a little more ‘familiar’, even if the people there do speak a different language.

This is why, before you make a decision as to which country you want to teach in, you should be honest with yourself. Are you the type of person that can handle living and working in a country where almost everything that happens on a daily basis is completely alien to what you’re used to? Or will you be more comfortable in somewhere a little less exotic?

If exotic? Choose somewhere like Thailand, Japan, Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Peru or Morocco. If a little more familiar, Spain, Italy or France might be a better fit for you.

chiang mai temple and buddha statue

How important is the money? – While you may be attracted to teaching somewhere like Thailand, Spain, or Ecuador, the salaries you can make there are low compared to places like China, Japan, Korea or Kuwait.

While, of course, you can make extra money by teaching private students no matter which country you teach in, if you don’t want to have to work two jobs to be able to make the money you need, you may want to consider teaching in a more high-paying country instead.

How important is the language? – One of the huge advantages of living and teaching abroad is the second language you will often pick up just because you spend time around people who speak it. That being said, how important to you is the language you will learn?

Do you want to learn something that might be quite difficult to master like Thai, Mandarin or Japanese with their complicated symbols and alphabets, or would you be happier picking up Spanish, Italian or French?

Think, as well, about what you plan to do in your career after you spend time teaching abroad and is there a language that will be more beneficial than others?

Sure, Spanish is a fabulous language to learn as it’s spoken by hundreds of millions of people overseas. if you plan on a career in international business or something similar, however, Thai, Japanese, Arabic or Mandarin could be far more in demand, simply because less non-native speakers speak them.

Is the weather going to be an issue? – Don’t forget, when you move to a foreign country to teach English, the weather will likely be far different than you’re used to. Do you want to live in a hot climate all year round, do you prefer colder climes, or is having four seasons important to you?

Places like Thailand, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia can sound enticing as the temperatures are hot all year round and it’s so incredibly sunny. When you’ve spent a few months sweltering in over 95 degree heat and 90 percent humidity, however, and you’ve realized it’s not going to get much cooler than this, it really can impact your happiness and well-being if you’re not that much of a lover of heat.

The same goes for places like China, Russia and Korea. While, yes, they do have definite seasons, the winter can be excrutiatingly cold in many areas of the country, and being frozen stiff before you even leave your apartment to head to work every day can soon have you feeling depressed.

Research the weather in any country you decide to go to as it can be one of the biggest impacts on how much you enjoy your stay.

How important is it for you to find a job before you go? – In some countries like Korea, Japan, Bahrain and Kuwait just about every English teacher that heads there already has a job lined up before they leave.

In other countries like Thailand, Chile and Italy, it’s highly unlikely you’ll find a teaching position unless you are already in the country and ready to interview.

If you don’t do well with uncertainty or couldn’t handle being in a foreign country and unemployed (even though, in most places, you’ll land a job by the end of your first week), a country that is more regimented in the way it hires its foreign teachers will definitely be a better choice for you.

These are just a few things that can help you decide which overseas destination is right for you when you start to look for a teaching job. There are, of course, more.

The most important thing, however, is not to listen to anyone else telling you which country would be the best, and ignore what any TEFL school says as they’re just trying to fill jobs and get their commission.

Instead, decide what type of country, culture, language and situation will make you the happiest and that will likely end up being the country for you.