Scams to Watch for: Teaching English Abroad

The BIG THREE most common TEFL SCAMS

Okay, NOT this BiG Three!

You can read a LOT about scams in TEFL these days, but there really aren’t all that many and the ones that are common tend to be fairly obvious if you take an objective look at them.

Fair warning:  In 20+ years abroad, I’ve only personally run across one “scam”.  Other than – of course – the big email scams.

We’ll cover the BIG THREE  here and almost anything else will be a variation on the same theme.

#3:  Being offered a contract without an interview.  Or even having them contact you directly and you never contacted them.  How can they possibly know if you even speak passable English?

Now . . . this should not always be the kiss of death as only a few years ago it was not uncommon in China (for example) for a school to make you an offer based on a decent resume and scans of your documents.

You should at least wonder what is going on if there is no attempt to at least talk to you before an offer is made.

#2:  Being asked, usually at the last moment, to pay for your “work permit” or other expenses.  This scam usually entails a new teacher eager to get their first job and willing to fork over a large amount of money that was never discussed before.  After you pay, you will never hear from them again.   This is different from jobs where you have already been told – and agreed to pay – assorted visa/work permit fees.   Those are not unreasonable or uncommon.  But they aren’t usually huge sums either.  Legitimate fees also will almost always be paid directly to the embassy of the country where you are going to work – not to Mrs. Abumbo in Abuja Nigeria . . .

and the #1 most common scam, and the one I find most interesting . . .

#1:  An advertised job or email that offers you 4-5 to even ten times what the average teacher would earn for a similar job.   Now, this one is quite similar to Mrs. Abuja from Nigeria offering to give you a few million US$ for being her friend and laundering a bit of her ill-gotten gains.  Why would someone hire you for 4-5-10 times the going rate, offer you a free car, loads of paid time off, your own maid and villa, a 401k and much more – to teach his/her two little girls English every now and then?

Oh yeah, this is like #3 above – somewhere along the line, this exceedingly generous person is going to want you – IN GOOD FAITH – to send them some money.  And – just like in #3 – you’ll not be hearing from them again after you do.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Use you head.  Scams are usually obvious and often in a big hurry (to avoid giving you time to think).   The only scam I have ever run into was a #3 and even then it was a friend, not me.   But she was desperate to lock up the job and well . . . guess what?  She lost the $500 she sent the guy.

TED’s Tips™ #2:  The most frequent scam is a teacher scamming a school with false documents, degrees, experience.   But we almost never hear about that.  It is the reason why countries like Korea and Mexico and others require an apostille  on your documents.  And why more and more countries are requiring criminal background checks.

Teaching Internships in China


Jobs Market for Teaching English: Is it too Good to be True?

A reader over at TEFL Newbie wrote this comment:

I am a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of positions in S. Korea, China, and Japan. The job market situation appears to be the inverse of the market here in the USA. In the postings for positions in China I am surprised by the sheer volume of listings and by the often times scant requirements and sometimes the offers seem a little to good to be true.

Things are – in fact – booming in Asia.  The demand for teachers is as great as it has ever been.

While it can seem a bit “too good to be true”, it is only because the jobs market in the developed countries is terrible right now.  Has been for a couple years and probably will be for a couple more.

China and Korea continue to be the largest of the job markets for teaching English.  Korea requires a degree and no TEFL certification and China doesn’t require a degree but does require a TEFL cert, though some employers can get around the requirement.

While wages in China can seem modest, when you throw in free accommodation, airfare reimbursement, subsidized utilities (sometimes) and possibly even free lunch some days and a transportation payment – and all of a sudden you are doing okay.  Add in really low taxes (from zero to three to seven percent at most) and you can see that all of a sudden, your wages are basically for food (inexpensive) and fun (can be expensive!).

Teachers in China can often save US$200 and up.  Not a lot, but how much can you save working at Walmart or McDonald’s?

Korea too, offers what can seem to be a modest wage, but by the time you throw in all the perks – well – most people in Korea can save US$1000 a month without really trying.   If you can’t save that much, you need to take a break from the nightclubs and stay home every now and then . . .

Korea, for the above reasons, is a more competitive market than China.  Lots of fresh graduates from university head to Korea to pay off or at least put a dent in their student loans.

China is a better option for teachers who would prefer teaching at university, but don’t have the graduate degree required to do so in Korea.   Chinese universities pay modestly compared even to Chinese language schools, but you work less and there are often options for increasing your income — and the status of a university position helps a lot.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Don’t make yourself a victim of the “It’s too good to be true” syndrome.  The jobs market for teaching English overseas is alive and well.  High unemployment in the USA, UK and Ireland means that Korea is more competitive, but there are still more jobs than can find teachers in China.

TED’s Tips™ #2:  Try for a good sampling of what is available around the world.  You will truly be amazed.

Teaching Internships in China


TEFL Myth #324: If You Speak English, You Can Teach English

I actually saw this headline on the website of a TEFL Training course:

If You Speak English,
You Can Teach English

I guess – at one time – maybe many years ago – this might have been true.  But it is no longer true.

But these days competition in the EFL/ESL school business (your employers) means that the school is going to want someone who can deliver what their students (their customers) want.

As we’ve mentioned before, students/customers make or break a business.  They can walk down the street to a competitor or they can tell their friends what a good school they are going to and bring them on in to join up.  Even many colleges and universities are businesses these days and they have to pay attention to what their customers want.

What Does an EFL Student Want?

They want what all customers want: value for their money.  In many cases you will be teaching people in developing countries for whom the cost of the course is a lot of money.  Money they are investing for their future.   A better job, higher pay, a promotion – good English skills can bring all those things to your students.

Is it really fair to think that because you can speak English that you also have the skill required to help students improve  their English quickly and effectively?  Most new teachers don’t.  Most untrained teachers don’t.  Only some experienced, but untrained, teachers do, but many don’t.

What does an EFL Employer Want?

Happy customers.  Happy students.  How does she get that?  By delivering what the customers paid for.  Skills in English.

Schools get those skills delivered by skilled and trained teachers.   Teachers who take the time to improve their skills – not who assume they have those skills just because they can speak English.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  If you pay attention to the employer/school side of the equation in TEFL, you are much more likely to land a good job.  And one way to improve that possibility is to get some training, even if it is not a “requirement” of the position. 

Teaching Internships in China