A Guide to Teaching English as a Foreign Language for South Africans

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The Kruger National Park, shisanyama, First Thursdays. There are so many reasons to love South Africa. But at the same time, South Africans know that there is more to the world than the Drakensberg and Table Mountain, and it is such a privilege to be able to travel and explore the world. 

South African slip slops

Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) has been a popular career for many people all over the world for a number of years. And why not? It offers a doorway to a whole new way of living. Imagine: you are paid to travel the world! Who wouldn’t want to do that?

But South Africans might think that a TEFL career is not applicable to them. With the rand and the green mamba, you might think it’s impossible for South Africans to live the TEFL dream. But, thankfully, you’d be wrong!

Let’s look at the nitty-gritty of teaching English as a foreign language as a South African.

What do I need to teach English abroad?

To teach English as a foreign language, there are a few minimum requirements that you need. You need to:

  • be 18 years or older 
  • have a TEFL qualification
  • have a clear background check 
  • speak English at a native or Advanced level. 

The TEFL qualification can be a TEFL certificate, as long as the course is at least 120 hours. Ideally, you should do a course that is accredited and internationally recognised.  A TEFL course from The TEFL Academy costs around R10,000 – but often there are discounted prices! 

TEFL students

Read more: 5 Reasons to Avoid a Cheap TEFL Course

And yes, that is a lot of money but when you think about it, you’re paying for a qualification which allows you to get a job as a teacher. A TEFL qualification from The TEFL Academy teaches you about lesson planning, teaching grammar and vocabulary, understanding pronunciation, English as a foreign language (EFL) methodology, classroom management and so much more. Trust us (and our thousands of alumni), it’s enough to prepare you for the classroom!

Read more: Meet our Alumni 

Can I teach English abroad without a degree?

Absolutely. Notice the requirements above do not include a degree. It is true that many jobs require you to have a Bachelor’s degree (in any field). This is a requirement for the working visa of those particular countries. 

Read more: What’s the Deal with Visa Requirements for TEFL Jobs?

Popular countries which do not require a degree to teach in are Turkey, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and many European countries. Spain does not require a degree. It’s possible to teach in Spain even if you don’t have an EU passport through programmes such as ConversaSpain.

Spain is a popular choice for South Africans teaching abroad
Madrid, Spain

Read more: What are My TEFL Options Without a Degree?

How can I teach English abroad with a South African passport?

Ah yes, the green mamba: the source of so many tears and such anguish. 

We understand that having a South African passport can be frustrating, but don’t let it get you down. We have hundreds (if not thousands) of TTA alumni on South African passports who are living their best lives teaching and travelling all over the world.

How, you ask?

The first option is through visa-free travel. As of January 2022, South African-passport holders can travel to up to 104 countries without a visa. These countries include Thailand, Ireland and Brazil, some of the most popular teaching destinations for South African TEFL teachers. Bear in mind, there are visas for entry. You will still need to apply for a visa for work purposes too. However, you are able to enter the country without a visa but you will need to convert it to a working visa if necessary.

For those countries that require South Africans to have a working visa, this is not as challenging a task as many people think. You will need a job offer from a place of employment – a school, university or company – and this qualifies you for a working visa. Your future employer will get involved and help you with whatever paperwork you need to apply for the appropriate visa. 

More often than not, TEFL teachers find jobs abroad online before making a move to a foreign country. So even if you don’t need a visa it’s likely you’ll take this route anyway. 

Some countries offer the option of entering a country on a tourist visa, which can then be changed to a working visa when you find a job. However, this might mean you need to do a ‘visa run’ if your tourist visa expires before you get a working visa. 

A visa run is when you take a trip to the border of the country purely for the purpose of leaving the country and getting another tourist visa on your re-entry. This is not strictly legal and we do not condone this practice. 

Teaching English abroad with a digital nomad visa

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Costa Rica

We are happy to let you know that there is a new visa in town. The digital nomad visa is a visa which allows you to work in a country while working for yourself or for a company not in that country. These digital nomad visas vary in name and requirements but they are certainly worth looking into. They are an easy way for online English teachers to live in a country while teaching students online.

Read more: The Digital Nomad Visa: A Ticket to Your Best Life

Teaching English abroad during COVID-19

The pandemic surely put a spanner in the plans of many TEFL teachers. Happily, these days things are returning to normal in most countries. Bear in mind that there might be vaccination requirements you need to meet to enter a country. Skyscanner has a useful mapping tool which you can use to check the requirements for entry into a specific country.

 Popular destinations for South African TEFL teachers

Not surprisingly, it seems that no matter where you go you are likely to bump into a South African. And the same can be said for South African TEFL teachers. The most popular countries for South Africans to teach English in are China, Thailand, Spain, Vietnam and South Korea. You are also sure to find loads of Saffas in Taiwan, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Japan.

As a TEFL teacher, you can find a job independently or you can apply to join a programme. There are a number of programmes in different countries which are also popular with South Africans. This is presumably because these programmes are low-risk and convenient. They are a great way to start out your teaching career or to test the waters in a foreign country. These programmes include:

  • The Japan Exchange and Teaching programme (JET)
  • English Programme in Korea (EPIK)
  • Teach and Learn in Korea (TaLk)
  • Teaching Assistant Programme in France (TAPIF)
  • ConversaSpain
  • Language and Culture Assistant programme in Spain
  • Teach and Learn with Georgia
South Africans can teach English in Japan through the JET programme
Fushimi Inari temple in Kyoto, Japan

How much does it cost to teach English abroad?

As you can imagine, there are expenses involved in upping sticks and moving abroad. But our alumni have shown us that it’s possible, even on the rand. 

The costs that you need to consider are:

  • TEFL course
  • flights
  • visa
  • deposit and first months’ rent for accommodation
  • food and entertainment until you get your first paycheque
  • stationery, resource books
  • teaching materials and props
  • laptop and headset if teaching online

At the same time, when considering a job offer be mindful of what the salary includes. Some salaries might seem lower but they actually include more. For example, in South Korea, many jobs offer accommodation, reimbursement of your flights, health insurance and generous paid vacation. 

Bear in mind the cost of living when considering your salary too. In Thailand, for example, the average salary for a TEFL teacher is 35 000 – 40 000 baht, which is approximately R16 000 – R18 000. This doesn’t seem like a lot but when you calculate that rent for a studio apartment is about 20% of your salary, and a meal from a Thai restaurant is about 100 baht, then you realise how much you are able to save. 

Tax is another factor you need to consider. In some countries you will pay tax in that country. In this case you do not have to pay tax in South Africa as well. In other countries you won’t be taxed. If you live there under a certain amount of time, then you will be responsible for declaring your earnings and paying tax to SARS.

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Street food in Bangkok, Thailand

Read more: Your Budget for Going Abroad: A Short Guide about Money

Teaching English as a Foreign Language in South Africa

But there are options available to you if you don’t want to leave the country. It’s possible to teach English in South Africa. While you can’t teach in a mainstream school, there are a number of language schools in Cape Town, Joburg, Durban and Port Elizabeth which offer English lessons to foreigners. Some universities also offer EFL classes. 

Unfortunately, the demand for TEFL teachers in South Africa is not high because there aren’t that many students. This means that you might only be able to work for a few hours a day. TEFL teachers in South Africa are usually paid an hourly rate, from R70 – R150 an hour depending on your qualifications and experience. But if you are only working a few hours a day then it’s totally possible to teach privately or do something else entirely in your free time. 

Read more: Teaching English in South Africa

Teaching English online as a South African

Another option is to teach English online. This takes away all visa issues because you can work from anywhere. Eskom might give you a bit of a headache if you’re teaching from South Africa but there are ways you can get through loadshedding without any disturbances. 

You can buy a UPS which will give you lights, power and wifi even when there is no electricity. You can join a work space which has a generator. Or you can find a local restaurant or coffee shop with a generator which will allow you to work from there when necessary. 

Then you just need to be on top of the loadshedding calendar! (Just kidding – that’s impossible!)

Read more: What Internet Speed Do I Really Need to Teach English Online?

TTA top tips for South Africans wanting to teach English as a Foreign Language

  • Apply for your police clearance well in advance. It can take up to six weeks to be processed. You can apply for it at your local police station.
  • Bear in mind you might need to prove your English language ability for visa purposes. Some countries don’t recognise South Africa as an English-speaking country. You may be asked to take the IELTS exam to assess your English level. If your high school and university did not use English as its medium of instruction you may be asked to do it as well. In 2022, the IELTS test costs R4 600.
  • Don’t dismiss online teaching. South Africa is in a great time zone to be able to teach anywhere in Europe and also Asia. In other words, teaching online from South Africa will naturally be during office hours.
  • Trust your gut when applying for jobs. There are unfortunately a number of scammers out there. Red flags include being asked to pay anything upfront to the employer, and dodgy websites. Remember, it can sometimes be too good to be true.
  • Don’t forget to pack rooibos and niknaks!

Packing everything you need to teach English as a foreign language abroad
If reading this has got you excited, check out the stories from our South African alumni who are now teaching English as a foreign language. And if you have any more questions, drop us a comment and we’ll get back to you! 

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