Best Online Job for Working Nomads : Teaching English Online
After almost a decade as nomads and working around the world doing all sorts of local and digital jobs, we found the best of them all: Teaching English Online.
That’s why we want to share this with as many people as we can so you can save you from all the hard time doing other jobs.
For the last 4 years we have worked in 4 different schools, and on those schools we worked in several divisions, and all of them work differently.
We’ll tell you step by step how to start to teach English online and will give you access to our huge live database of hundreds of schools you can apply.
We don’t regret having those hardcore experiences as it also helped us to become hard workers and very mindful about money, so if you want to start the hard way go for it. If not, then just keep reading. 🙂
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Why it is so great to be an online English tutor
It took us a while to realise that online English tutor was the best option, we had to endure badly paid local jobs, and horrible working hours, until we finally decided to move to online work.
But even online work can be a real pain, you can have terrible working hours and get very low pay for your effort, just try to start your translation career and you’ll see.
Now, looking back, and after working as bartenders and servers in London and Cayman Islands, teaching English to local kids, managing warehouse operations, doubling as translators, ghostwriters, managing an AirBnB and volunteering for NGOs, we can safely say we found the best option for a nomadic life. Want to know why?
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 agree to get US$30 an hour, but at the end you get US$20 because of the extra time you spent doing the work.
While some employers are fair and compensate you for extra work, the majority will take advantage of you. Just like in office life, check out the video below about unpaid overtime.
Teaching English? As direct as it could be, we teach, we finish and we get paid, that’s it.
Although some online schools want you to commit to a schedule, like being available on their peak hours, the majority doesn’t require that, allowing the schedule to be flexible and based on your needs.
This means that, if you need extra classes in a certain week, you just book more slots. Or the other way around, you can book less slots if you want a lighter week.
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 online is way more flexible than that.
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. If you live in Southeast Asia you teach between 15 to 20 hours a week and cover living expenses.
Working 15 hours per week is an incredible work-life balance, allows you to travel and really enjoy your life.
In our schools database we have hundreds of schools and the number 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 job rotation 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.
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.
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.
What do you need to teach English online
Before we look at the requirements to teach English online, you should be aware that most of the schools focus more on conversation-style classes, which reduces the technical skills required, when compared with local teaching.
You should never consider yourself excluded in the first place, either because you have no experience or think you are not a good teacher.
We felt like that, but we applied we got accepted and eventually gained more confidence and experience.
Consider the next points as your requirements checklist:
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 based on our experience and database stats we have I would say half of the schools only accept native speakers. This leaves more than a hundred schools to apply too.
In our school’s database, we identify as far as we know the schools that have that requirement.
Nevertheless, unless is clear on the application process that only natives are accepted we recommend you apply anyway because schools are opening new branches with different requirements all the time.
The rationale for this is that students prefer native speakers, they think they will learn faster this way, besides getting the proper accent.
As much as I understand that, in my opinion, living in a world of Globish, where everyone speaks some kind of English but almost 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.
Many schools do not 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).
While most schools ask for a certain degree of experience, there are many schools out there who don’t. They will test you, normally with a demo class, and that will quickly show the degree of your experience.
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 deeper grammar teaching knowledge.
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 accepted by the bigger schools, which have more teachers to choose from.
If you already have a University degree then great, some schools ask for it, although in my case they did not request any evidence.
I’m not saying you should lie about this, but after 4 years teaching I don’t see the reason for that requirement.
There are plenty of schools who don’t require it so I suggest you focus on those.
This is by far the most important skill you should have to teach anything online, more important than any diploma and experience.
Unless the schools teach very basic English to students with no knowledge which requires you have some real teaching experience, then a great attitude will take you far.
Online interaction is very different from live interaction, and especially with kids classes can become deadly boring for them.
Our capacity to keep the class alive is critical for a good performance.
Good class evaluation can bring a bonus to your salary and access to promotions by better salaries or access to special departments of the school.
I’m not saying you need to be shouting and talking during the class, it’s actually a best practice to listen more than to talk during the class.
It’s more about creating some positive dynamic during the class and keep the students entertained.
This also requires experience so don’t worry if you feel some shyness at the beginning of your teaching career, it will improve quickly.
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 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.
Equipment that you need:
- Windows PC
- or Mac with Windows emulator for some schools with reasonable performance (Chromebooks should be ok too, but not sure)
- if using a laptop, the camera included will probably be enough, otherwise, any cheap camera should suffice
- we recommend a gaming headset for two main reasons: first, you are going to spend many hours with them so you will be thankful for the comfort, second, the sound quality is normally very poor so the better the headset the better you will be able to understand the students better
- we recommend at least 6mb/s of constant reliable speed
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 are the phone rooms in co-working spaces, that allow you to speak with some noise reduction. We use Sharedesk website to find the best spaces.
This is another area that varies from school to school, we have three different cases: one school wires the money directly to our Portuguese account, another uses Payoneer, and the third uses Paypal.
This is rarely negotiable, you need to adapt to each school’s payment method.
They will probably charge you transfer fees, but again it’s nothing you can discuss, it will be on the contract.
Consider 20US$ as an average transfer fee deducted from your salary.
We already used Paypal and Transferwise or most of our money transfers anyway, we just had to add Payoneer to the mix. All are free anyway.
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 a stable internet connection.
Instead, you will have to look for hotels or apartments where you can surely find better teaching conditions, this means a bigger traveling budget.
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.
For us this was actually a blessing, we prefer slow traveling anyway, you can do it with a better purpose.
You don’t need to find beautiful apartments like this one to teach, but it is definitively a plus. We got this one while Couchsurfing in Miami
Wrapping up the requirements, what is the ultimate minimum you need:
- English Conversational level (need to feel comfortable with language)
- Any nationality / any accent
- Zero experience/diplomas
- Anywhere in the World
- 6 Mbs internet speed
If you have all of this or more you are good to go.
Just have in mind that most of the schools will not accept you, but this only means you will have to be more resilient while searching. Only certified natives get free lunches. 🙂
How much money can you make teaching English online?
On our schools database we have for some of them the salary they pay to give you an idea before applying.
As a rule of thumb, based on our personal experience of 4 years teaching we would say the following as starting figures:
- A non-native without experience or certificate will probably make less than 10US$ per hour
- A non-native with experience and/or certificate will probably make between 10 to 15US$ per hour
- A native without experience or certificate will probably make at least 14US$ per hour
- A native with experience and/or certificate will probably make at least 20US$ per hour
This is just to start, with more experience within the school you will have a chance to upgrade your pay.
We started with a very low 4 US$ per hour and we now make more than 14US$ per hour.
This does not mean you have hourly classes, you can have 20 min classes and be paid by minute, these numbers are the equivalent of one hour work.
If you are from North America or Canada you can also use this user friendly calculator to get monthly figures.
Also remember you can work in multiple schools at the same time if they have flexible schedules or if they are marketplaces (more about this in the types of schools chapter)
Do you know this book?
For many this is the bible for a digital nomad lifestyle, and although the message is quite different from teaching English while you travel, it is possible to have a four hour work week doing it.
You can find schools which pay US$30 an hour, and you can get those jobs especially if you are a native speaker.
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, I had a group Skype call there!).
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. 🙂
What types of online English schools exist?
Trying to define how schools work is quite difficult because they all have their own rules that will impact your life.
Number of hours before a class can be canceled, minimum hours per week, monthly commitments, evaluations, and so forth.
We have tried to group them in three main types of schools, at least as the main business model and teacher school relationship.
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
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.
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.
Online English schools we already have experience
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. We do not recommend this school unless it is a last desperate option because the pay is very low.
After that, we have joined Topica Native and now Hujiang and we are quite happy with both for different reasons.
The following table compares how the schools work:
None of the schools require great preparation, but with Topica it’s a group class, with Hujiang is one-on-one, which makes a big difference.
I personally prefer the group class because it is less intensive, they can do exercises chatting with each other, while one on one you need to be always zoomed on a person.
To apply to Topica or Hujiang with our recommendation send us an email.
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 educational videos or articles to go deeper on a subject.
We recently found this great resource of TED Talks adapted to English teaching that is just perfect for that.
Online English tutoring jobs agencies
Yes, I’m sure that if you have done some research already, you have probably found many job 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.
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. 😛 There are many more websites, this is just a small list of what I think are the main ones.
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Probably one of the biggest database, but not so sure about online options
The most famous job's board for English teaching
Another big database updated frequently
Great website with lots of good resources, besides the job board
A great website, you upload your CV and then apply for many jobs at the same time
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
You can find schools advertising jobs here
A recent website that is similar to ESL Jobs World
It may sound strange, but we've found people that got teaching jobs here
The new kid on the block
Want to make more money? Create your own online teaching website or 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 and become an independent online teacher.
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 could 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.
The future of online teaching
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.