After many travel jobs, we settled for the best: Teaching English Online
(if you just want to see the online school’s database click here)
We have been working and traveling for almost 8 years now, and we can say we have covered many of the physical and digital travel jobs options for a traveler. We worked as bartenders and servers in top-notch restaurants and bars in London and Cayman Islands; we taught English to local kids, worked in warehouse operations, doubled as translators, ghostwriters, and business consultants, managed an Air BnB business, volunteered for NGOs, and worked in a startup; and, most recently, we have been working as English Tutors, both in loco and online.
When we started to travel, back in 2010, and the Internet was not the booming industry it is today, there were three types of work you could do while traveling:
- Travel Writing – we started our first travel blog
- English Tutor – we got TEFL certified in London
- Hospitality – we did bartender courses and worked in the hospitality business
Want to learn more about our working experiences? Subscribe to our newsletter here
Why being an English tutor is the best option
Being an English tutor aka as English Teacher was not exactly a priority on our minds. When we left London we had all the knowledge and skills for different travel jobs and we went our way, convinced that they would provide us the necessary income for our travel lifestyle. For reasons that I explained in another article about our travel jobs, we realized working locally was not compatible with having a flexible life so we decided to switch to digital/remote work.
We tried several online jobs for a while and, based on that experience, we believe we can point out why, in our opinion, teaching English is the best online job you can get when traveling.
Reason no. 1: No overtime – get paid for what you work
How many online jobs can you find that require minimum preparation beforehand and that, when you finish, you close the computer and move on? Take translation, for example, how many hours does it take you to do a 500-words translation? Probably 2 hours? Maybe more, maybe less? Even the most experienced translator may sometimes take more time than planned, let alone less experienced translators. A web designer? A developer? A writer? All of them suffer from the same problem: you may get US$30 an hour, or US$20 depending on how much time you spend doing the work. Teaching English? As objective as it could be, we teach, we stop and we get paid, that’s it.
Reason no. 2: Flexibility – you almost feel you are your own boss
Some online schools want you to commit to a schedule, like being available on their peak hours. Luckily, many others don’t require that, allowing the schedule to be flexible and based on your needs. This means that, if you want, next week can be a free week or a busy teaching week. You can, to a certain extent, decide the number of classes you have on a weekly basis.
Some schools are like marketplaces: you create your profile and the students book you through the platform. Other schools validate your availability and book classes beforehand so that you know your schedule with some time in advance. Either case, you have some degree of control over your schedule which you don’t have in more conventional schools. For example, Topica Native, one of the schools we work for, we send them our availability less than a week in advance, they book the classes and we receive our schedule at the end of the week before next week begins. If we want to take a long weekend off, we just don’t give them availability on those specific days. An extreme example of flexibility is the mobile phone app schools, where you just open the app, say you are available, and, if any student online is interested, you can start a class right away.
By working online, we feel we are more in control of our lives, in a way that is not always possible when you have a location-dependent job. You can always say that any freelancer can work any hours he/she wants, but to achieve that you need to have enough work to refuse and adjust to your needs. Teaching English is way more flexible than that.
Reason no. 3: Good pay, even comparing with hard-skill jobs
If you are a native then your life as an English teacher is going to be amazing. With some teaching skills and the right school, you can make US$30 plus an hour, which is a decent pay anywhere in the world. For non-natives like us, things get a little trickier but it is more than possible to make a good income from it and live almost anywhere in the world. We currently live in Thailand and we teach between 15 to 20 hours a week to cover our living expenses.
Our average costs are around 1k a month and that’s because we decided to live in a bigger house with a garden. We could work much less, if we wanted, by living in a standard apartment, spending half than what we spend, but for us, it was important to have a garden. We still work around 15 hours a week, which is an awesome work-life balance.
Reason no. 4: Infinite online tutoring jobs from the never-ending list of schools
As you can see in our schools’ database, there is a large number of options and it is growing every week. This is due to the ever-growing demands of the Asian middle-class in terms of language skills, to match their ambitions to work and travel abroad.
Another reason why there are so many teaching jobs available has to do with the digital work culture. The flexibility to hire and to leave a company is higher with digital work, especially when a big chunk of digital workers are doing it for an extra income or as part-time jobs. You can’t avoid the feeling that the decision to leave a company where you have never met anyone in person is much easier than one where you meet your coworkers every day, making the market turnover to be much higher.
Reason no. 5: Great purpose – to empower people to travel and learn
One of the main reasons we like to teach English is because we are empowering people to travel, and we all know the life-changing moment when you step out of your cultural bubble. Most of the students we teach either want to get a better job in an international company or just want to travel and speak with foreigners. This is very important to us because we have reached a point in our lives where we need to have a greater purpose for anything we put our efforts in, and, to us, making money is not a purpose but a mean in itself. After some time teaching English, realized the greater impact we were having on the students’ lives and the alignment this has with our project. For us, Slow Travel has to have a purpose, a reason bigger than just sightseeing or doing some exotic activity. We see travel as a tool, a way to grow and develop as an individual, and, for that, speaking English is a key skill.
You need to Slow Travel to teach English online
If you decide that you will teach English online as your main income, then you need to adapt our traveling style to this type of job. On one hand, we have so much flexibility that even when we go on holidays, we can teach and work from the beach (we need to find an empty beach to do that, though!), and it is very amusing when you travel to a destination and everyone thinks you are on holidays when, in reality, it’s just another working day. But, on the other hand, the technical requirements for teaching online need careful planning.
As for planning, you need to think where you are staying: dorms and hostels, for example, are not a good idea, because you need some quiet space and stable internet connection. Instead, you will have to look for hotels or apartments where you can surely find better teaching conditions. There are some websites, like Hotel Wifi Test, that give you the internet speed, but nothing like Airbnb, where you can confirm directly with the host internet speed and teaching conditions.
Teaching online while traveling requires a different mindset, you need stability, and to be sure the places you choose are teaching friendly. Canceling classes due to bad internet connection or poor environmental conditions will surely result in hefty fines and possibly contract termination. For these reasons, our travel speed is much slower now, and, instead of visiting five cities in a week, we spend longer in a destination.
The 4-hour work week disclaimer
You can find schools which pay US$30 an hour, and you can get those jobs especially if you are a native speaker, mainly due to students’ preferences. Even if you get only US$20 an hour, and afford to live in a place where your cost of living is US$300/400 a month (typically, most south-east Asian cities, with some exceptions), then you just need to work 4 hours a week and have the rest of your time free.
Some schools work like a marketplace and let you set your own rate. You create your profile, students choose your classes and they pay whatever rate you proposed. One of these schools, Verbaplanet, for example, suggests you start with a rate of US$15 to US$20/class, but you can find teachers charging as much as US$45 per 45-minutes class. Other schools use the same style of marketplace business model but you conduct classes via a mobile app, so you can be in the middle of Lake Titicaca, in Bolivia, while teaching English and making money (yes, it’s possible to have internet connection in the middle of the lake!).
Bottom line is, yes, you could have a 4-hour work week, but you need to work your own way, otherwise, this article would be much better than Tim Ferriss’s best selling book. 🙂
The 3 types of online schools available
This kind of school has the highest potential of earning money, but the highest risk of making no money, too. You create your own profile and hope to attract students to book classes with you. The school does all the work to draw students to the platform, but then it’s up to you to convince the students to buy your classes. It’s the Amazon model of teaching English and, like all platform models, some people make loads of money, while others don’t. The beginning is always problematic, you have to start with low rates, most schools will force you to it anyway, and then build your reputation with good reviews.
We don’t recommend you to start your online teaching career with this type of school, as it’s harder to get a safe income to pay your bills. You could consider it as a part-time job that you can later switch to full- time, or as a side income outside your current job to prepare for the jump. Most of the app-only schools work with this model, which make things even more flexible and uncertain.
Video Introduction for CafeTalk, a good example of a marketplace, and in this case for more than teaching languages
2. Fixed Classes
These are schools that operate almost the same way as a conventional school but do everything online. This means you will have a salary, a fixed schedule and a permanent commitment to the school. Some schools may have different degrees of flexibility, but, at the end of the day, you will feel you have a real teaching job, which nullifies part of the advantages I wrote above. This is totally fine, and I guess it is more applicable to the experienced teachers out there. These schools normally have higher requirements, demand more from the teachers, but also pay much better.
3. Flexible Classes
I call these schools the “flexible classes” type because the schedule is pre-arranged but can change every week. This is how Topica Native, one of the schools we work for, works: we give our availability, the school decides which classes we will have and, hopefully, the students will be there. If, for some reason, we have a no-show, meaning no student attends that class, the school can pay you full rate or give you a percentage. This is just an example of how a flexible school might work, do your own research and make sure you ask all the details when in an interview to see if the school arrangements fit your needs.
Our experience teaching English online
It was back in 2013, while backpacking in Nicaragua, that we joined the NGO The Peace Project Nicaragua and started our teaching careers. In the beginning, we were really scared, as we had no experience, but, luckily, with the guidance of other teachers, we learned by following them and we haven’t stopped ever since.
After finishing our backpacking trip in São Paulo, Brazil, we started to teach in several different schools, mostly to professionals in big corporations. São Paulo has attracted many multinationals over the last decade, but the English level is so low that they desperately need teachers. After 3 years in São Paulo, we felt we needed to continue teaching but in a way that allowed us more freedom, so we decided to try online classes. We are so glad we took that decision because now we can live almost anywhere in the world and teach while on the road.
Our first online school was DMM Eikaiwa/Engoo after hearing about them from the staff working at the same co-working space as I did. They told me how to apply and we both started teaching right away. After that, we have joined Topica Native and now Hujiang but we have applied for many online tutoring jobs. The following table compares how the schools work;
Engoo was our first Online School and had the great disadvantage of very low pay (around 2$ per 25 min) which despite its flexibility as really low to how much we could do with other schools. We then moved to Topica on which we still teach and more recently we started with Hujiang. None of them require great preparation, but while with Topica it’s a group class, with Hujiang is one-on-one, which makes a big difference. Overall we are happy with both and will continue teaching with them, especially because it gives us extra safety to work for more than one school.
These schools really appreciate (but do not require) that you share extra resources with your students, so we frequently use videos or articles to go deeper on a subject. We always choose videos with some educational content, at least to recommend for watching later. We recently found this great resource of TED Talks adapted to English teaching that is just perfect for that.
The ultimate online English schools list
While looking for schools, we started to make a database so we can follow the market. We decided to do a comprehensive database and share it with you so you can use it for your job searches. We use Airtable for all our databases and we couldn’t be happier with it: you can see the database embedded here on the post but you can also open it on your browser and save it to your favorites. We will keep the database updated, so every time you open it, you will have the latest version. Remember this is a work in progress, a lot of information is still not filled in, so if you have any information that is missing, outdated or wrong, please add a comment or contact us to update, as this will help everyone.
Requirements to Teach Online English
Some of you may think that you don’t have the pre-requisites to teach English online, which in some cases may be true. Nevertheless, you should be aware that some of the schools focus more on conversation-style classes and that’s why you have a good chance of landing a job in most of them if you are a native speaker. But, even if you are a non-native speaker, having a good level of English and a teaching diploma, like TEFL, will open up the doors of online teaching.
TEFL (Teaching English as Foreign Language) can be obtained online for around 100 hours and US$200. You can also opt for TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), a more comprehensive diploma. Both certifications will give you access to the majority of online English teaching jobs.
Bear in mind that your teaching skills will be tested and schools will continuously evaluate you, so make sure you know your game. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t consider yourself excluded in the first place. We had the same problem, in the beginning, we had little experience but we applied to many schools and eventually gained more confidence and experience. Consider the next points as your requirements checklist:
This may sound silly when talking about online teaching, but when you live in Europe or the United States and you teach students in China or Vietnam, the time difference may be a concern or an advantage, depending on your lifestyle. If the school’s required teaching hours are in the middle of your night or during working hours, then it would mean interfering with your sleep or your other day job. Always confirm if the school does not require you to live in a certain country and that the teaching hours are compatible with your life.
Another part of the location requirement is the physical place where you are teaching, which has to be quiet and neutral (if teaching with camera). Teaching in cafes of public places is definitely not an option. Either you can teach at home in a quiet environment, or you have to find a public space that provides you with the same conditions. An alternative is conference rooms in co-working spaces, that allow you to speak with some noise reduction.
Unfortunately for us, non-native speakers, speaking English as a mother tongue is a huge advantage for this kind of work. Probably not as much as teaching in loco, but I would say that at least half of the schools require you to be a native speaker. The rationale for this is that students prefer native speakers, but, as much as I understand that, living in a world of Globish, where everyone speaks English but nobody speaks with the right accent or grammar, it’s actually an advantage to interact with non-native speakers. I still remember, working as a bartender in London and feeling confident about my English, only to realize that I hardly had any British customer. There were so many different accents and slang spoken to me that I felt I was in a parallel universe.
I strongly believe that, when learning English, you should be exposed to different accents, and that is why I like the way our schools work because the students have different teachers from all over the world. Nevertheless, the reality is that many schools hire native-speakers only so double check their requirements and don’t lie about your upbringing. Experience living in English-speaking countries is obviously an advantage.
3. Teaching Experience
While most schools ask for a certain degree of experience, there are many schools out there who don’t. I guess that this has pretty much to do with the style of classes being more focused on the conversational side, thus requiring less experience than hardcore grammar teaching. On the other hand, if you have plenty of teaching experience, then you should look for the best-paid jobs and higher requirement schools. You have an advantage that is very well recognized by the bigger schools, which have more teachers to choose from.
4. Teaching Certification
In the same line as experience, many schools don’t require certification or will help you to get it in the first months of working with them. Nevertheless, you should consider obtaining some sort of certification because it is not that hard and it will highly increase your chances of obtaining a teaching job. There are some options to choose from, depending on your budget and time:
- TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language
- This is the simplest certification you can have and the easiest to obtain. It will give you the minimum requirements accepted by most schools. It is not a comprehensive course and, because it is not an official certification, many schools have different approaches to it.
- When looking for options be aware of what is included in the course because there is a lot of fake or bad quality courses out there. International Tefl Academy has some guidelines to help anyone looking for this kind of certification
- TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
- It is a more comprehensive certification, which was originally created to teach English to non-natives in English-speaking countries like Australia, US, and Canada. Nonetheless, it is accepted worldwide and it includes TEFL certification within it.
- CELTA/Trinity – Certificate in English Language Teaching Adults
- Celta is considered the highest level you can achieve to get access to teaching abroad, any school will accept it. CELTA is a branded certification given by the University of Cambridge, and it can be obtained in many institutions around the world. Trinity Cert Tesol is the equivalent given by the Trinity College of London (the oldest language board in the world). These two are the only worldwide accredited certifications to teach English, all the others, including TEFL and TESOL, are accepted in only some schools. This explains the cost of more than US$2000 for a Celta course.
There are more Teaching English certifications available, but these three are the most common and asked for by schools. We did a 100-hours TEFL diploma back in the U.K. at I-to-I (they don’t offer it anymore). They have different packages, including Business English on their high-end option (check them here).
5. Computer requirements
Technical requirements are obviously important when we want to teach online, and they will vary from school to school. They are important for you to choose the place where you are going to teach and also the type of computer you have to use.
If you are a Mac user like us then it can be a problem. Some schools only operate with Windows software but you can overcome this limitation with a software like Parallels Desktop.
A few schools use their own software or website platform, others use free call apps like Skype or QQ Messenger to teach. In our experience, we have always been fine with our 3-to-4-year-old computers. I would say that if you run Windows 8 or above and your computer is not too slow to open stuff then you should be alright.
The internet speed is the critical requirement for anything you want to do online, especially schools that use video and platforms with slides and whiteboards. Again, the requirements will vary from school to school and, at the end of the day, you will have to test to see if you have the right conditions. You may think you have a 10Mb/s download line, but when you want to work it’s down to 1 or 2 Mb/s which will most probably not suffice for teaching.
What you need:
- Windows PC (or Mac with Windows emulator for some schools) with reasonable performance
- Webcam (if using a laptop, the camera included will probably be enough)
- Headset (we taught for some time without it, but it does make a difference for your classes)
- Internet (we recommend at least 6mb/s of constant reliable speed)
6. Online Payment
You need to be aware that some schools will only pay through a certain method, most commonly Paypal or Payoneer, while others prefer to pay you via international bank transfers. Because it’s easy and free to open Paypal and Payoneer accounts, I suggest you do it anyway, in case you need it for the schools or something else down the line.
Creating your own online teaching website/course
Another alternative for teaching English online, which takes a lot more effort but pays off in the long run, is to create your own website promoting your teaching services. It’s like creating your own school where you are the only teacher. This requires a lot more work, time and money invested and a whole different set of skills. If you have decided to pursue English teaching as a career, or if you already are a teacher and want to transfer yourself to the digital market, then you can pursue this path.
I cannot talk in detail about this option, we haven’t done this ourselves, but I think I had to talk about it as it has so much to do with the new digital age. You basically need to consider:
- Creating a website from scratch (or using templates from famous platforms like WordPress)
- Create a strategy to attract traffic to the website and potential students (here you can focus on niches, like teaching Chinese who want to do an MBA for example)
- Create online materials to use on a platform
- Set up your payment systems and register your company
These are all hard work steps, but, if successful, you have your own brand and you can charge what you think it’s a fair wage. There are many resources to help you implement your own online teaching business, but we recommend Jack’s comprehensive course. We haven’t done it ourselves, but we heard many good reviews from people we trust.
If you want to consider creating an online English course on pre-existing platforms, that again means a lot of hard work, but it has an amazing advantage of being a type of passive income. As soon as it is all set up and you managed to get some traction on your course, it will run by itself. Maybe you need to answer some comments or questions for the students but most of the time it is on cruise control. Platforms like Udemy and Skillshare, have plenty of tools to help you get started and create your own course, or you can learn it online at CourseMinded.
Online English tutoring job boards/agencies
Yes, I’m sure that if you have done some research already, you have probably found many boards and agencies that will help you find online English tutoring jobs. We have no experience using them, we preferred contacting the schools directly, but they can be a complementary tool to find job options.
- Probably one of the biggest database, but not so sure about online options
- Dave ESL’s Cafe
- The oldest jobs board, as far as I can remember
- ESL Jobs
- Also updated frequently
- ESL Authority
- Great website with lots of good resources, besides the job board
- ESL Jobs World
- A great website where you upload your CV and then apply for many jobs at the same time
- TEFL Search
- Similar to the other ESL job boards, many options but not so many online
- One of the biggest online job boards with a comprehensive teaching section
- We have used Upwork for freelance work and one of the schools we currently teach in was through this platform
- A recent website that is similar to ESL Jobs World
- It may sound strange, but we’ve found people that landed online teaching jobs here
There are many more websites, this is just a small list of what I think are the main ones. With this list and the database we shared with you, you have so many options that the only reason you for not getting a job is if you don’t look for it.
The future of travel jobs is online, I think no one has any doubt about this. In a world where smartphones are reaching all social classes, where internet is omnipresent and online business costs are much lower allowing access to lower fee classes, the online teaching market is booming. Schools are growing like mushrooms, emerging markets and populations are growing in ambition and a parade of Westerners are finding online teaching as an easy money-making strategy to support their traveling dreams.
But we can see more coming, and I’m not only talking about English, many other languages and skills are being taught, and even tutoring. Consider for example Chegg Tutors where parents look for online tutors for the subjects kids have in school. Yes, you can teach math, physics or simply answer any homework question a young student may have with Socratic.
The world is now online, so any skill you may have can be taught online. In the meantime, teaching English is a mature but ever-growing market, so take the plunge and start today your online career.