Teaching English Online Vs Teaching English Abroad

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Teaching English is a massive industry at the moment. If you’re not involved in it yet you have probably heard about it. Maybe you’re even thinking about doing it yourself! Or maybe you’re already an English teacher in a bricks-and-mortar school and you’re wondering how teaching English online compares. Whichever situation you’re in, let’s have a look at the similarities and differences between teaching English online and teaching English abroad.

Read more: Top Tips to be a Successful Online English Teacher


Teaching English Online Vs Teaching English Abroad


Qualifications: Online 1: In-class 0


Let’s get one thing clear: teaching English is not the same as speaking English. Just because you can speak English doesn’t necessarily mean you can teach English well (or at all). To be able to teach you need to have an understanding of theories of learning, principles of teaching, classroom management, and lesson planning, as well as a solid grasp of the fundamentals of English. This is why regardless of whether you are teaching face-to-face or online, a TEFL certificate is highly recommended. While it is possible to get a job in either capacity without a TEFL course under your belt, it’s not that easy.


At the same time, a Bachelor’s degree (in any field) is usually a requirement for teaching English in general. There are certainly countries where you can get a job teaching English without a degree, but it is considerably easier to get a job teaching English online without a degree. 

Read more: What Are My TEFL Options without a Degree


Money: Online 1: In-class 1


Not surprisingly, there is a big difference when it comes to finances. Teaching English in a school will mean that you are paid a monthly salary. You will get paid holidays and sick leave. Your salary probably won’t be dependent on how many hours you teach, but you might have extra obligations such as parent-teacher meetings, staff meetings or sports days. You will also be required to lesson plan and mark homework. Plus, even if you are only teaching four hours a day, you will have set hours that you will need to be at the school.


If you are teaching at a language school it’ll be slightly different. You will be paid an hourly wage dependent on your qualifications and experience. You won’t have set holidays but will need to apply for leave, as with a regular job. On the other hand, while you may have to be around for staff meetings, you only need to be at the school for your lessons.


Online teaching is a totally different ball game. You definitely won’t be getting a monthly salary. You are only paid for what you teach – or, in some cases, if the student is a no-show or cancellation. You are paid by the lesson, by the hour or even by the minute. These earnings accumulate and you can be paid weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Online companies vary greatly in their rates and some platforms let their teachers set their own rates. You can work as much or as little as you want, so you are totally in charge of your earnings. Plus you don’t need to worry about homework, marking or staff meetings and often lesson materials are provided so there is no lesson planning needed. 

Palfish: a company for teaching English online without a degree

Read more: Can You Reallly Make a Living Teaching English Online?


Convenience: Online 2: In-class 1


You can’t beat online teaching for convenience. You can teach from the comfort of your couch or the comfort of your AirBnb in Buenos Aires. Provided you have a computer and a solid internet connection, you really can teach from anywhere in the world. What’s more, you don’t need to commute to work!


Working in a physical school will mean commuting to work every day. If you’re lucky you will live relatively close to school but you might not. Either way commuting will mean extra money as well as time. If you’re working for a language school, you might need to commute between clients too. Every hour spent in traffic is an hour you could be earning money rather than spending money. 


Flexibility: Online 3: In-class 1


Once again, teaching online for the win. As an online teacher you can manage your schedule yourself. You decide how much you want to teach and when you want to make yourself available. You can tailor your worklife to suit your social life. Of course this might mean working odd hours if you are teaching students in a different time zone, but surely this is a small price to pay for the freedom you are allowed.


Working for a school means you have zero say in your work schedule. You will be told how many lessons you will be teaching, who you will be teaching, what you will be teaching and when you will be teaching it. In a sense this may seem restrictive but it can be nice to have a set structure and not have to worry about the details.

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Stability: Online 3: In-class 2


Let’s be real: nothing beats a set salary when it comes to stability. Working in a school means you will know exactly how much you are earning each month and what your schedule will look like, and you can plan accordingly. Working in a language school may be less stable than a mainstream school but you generally know at the beginning of the month what your schedule looks like and so what you can expect by way of a salary.


Working online is, understandably, not very stable in terms of income. Each week you won’t know how many students will schedule lessons with you or how many students will turn up for their scheduled lessons. Realistically this means that some months will be leaner than others. However, it’s totally possible – and common – to sign up with more than one online teaching company to try to guard against a month of very low earnings.


Students: Online 3: In-class 3


Many people decide to teach English abroad for the experience of working with students. There is nothing quite like forming relationships with students you see every day, or once a week. Being in a physical classroom allows you the opportunity to manage the class as you feel necessary, and so build relationships with your students which may well extend into the outside world (especially if you are teaching adults). 


Teaching online restricts your relationships somewhat. Teaching in a virtual space allows you to communicate with your students certainly, but it will be missing that extra “closeness” that being in the same physical space allows. You will definitely be able to build rapport with your students and get to know their personalities and have fun with them, but it’s the difference between meeting someone in person or meeting with them on Zoom. Then again, some people prefer that!



Travel: Online 4: In-class 4


It might seem like teaching English abroad is the only way to experience teaching and travelling abroad but you’d be totally wrong. Teaching English online means teaching English from anywhere. You don’t need to be at home to teach English online – you could be at your holiday house by the beach, in a hotel in Kuala Lumpur, at an AirBnb in Beijing. While teaching in a school may introduce you to more of the local community and you might be forced to immerse yourself more in the local culture, there is no reason that you can’t have the same experience teaching online living abroad as someone working locally and living abroad.

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


As you can see, it’s a close contest between teaching English online and teaching English abroad. Whichever works for you totally depends on your needs, your situation and your personality. Either way, we guarantee that you won’t regret teaching English as a foreign language!


Hi I would like to teach English online

Olwethu Masa, 3rd June 2020

Thank you for the article Teaching Online vs Teaching Abroad. It is very useful.

Does TEFL have a Job Board for Online Teaching Positions or is it only for Teaching Abroad?

I look forward to your reply, thanks!

Lisa Ellis
South Africa

Lisa, 27th April 2020

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