To be or Not to be a Freelance Online English Teacher?

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There are a few different ways you can teach English as a foreign language online, all with the same result. Teaching online lessons to English language learners from all over the world from the comfort of your home. If you want to earn a few extra dollars to top up your income or if you’re thinking of starting a new career and are looking into teaching English as a foreign language then you might be wondering how exactly it works. In a nutshell, the question you should be asking is: to be or not to be a freelance online English teacher?

Just to clarify for those who might not be familiar with how the online teaching scenario: when you teach English online you can teach as a freelance online English teacher. You can also teach for an online company – known as an online school. There are, as with most things in life, a whole range of pros and cons both to teaching for a company and for being an independent online English teacher. Let’s look at the differences between the two so you can decide which route you want to go.

Equipment for teaching English online

Regardless of how, who, where or when you teach, if you are teaching online there are a few things which are non-negotiable in terms of equipment. It should go without saying that you need a good laptop (or smartphone), a stable internet connection and a quiet space away from distractions and interruptions. Also recommended are a good headset, props, and a good attitude. 

Essentially, there is no difference in your equipment if you are working as a freelance online English teacher or teaching with a company, except a company may require you to wear a specific colour shirt or use a particular branded backdrop.

Read more: Tips for Setting Up an Online Classroom

Finding online English students

This is probably the biggest drawcard of working for a company. You can’t teach English online if you don’t have students. If you sign up to work for a school, they will have the students for you. You will schedule the times you are available to teach and the school will place students in your classes. 

Alternatively, if you sign up with a teaching platform, students will book classes with you based on a video introduction you upload. Even though the company is not matching students with teachers, they are still finding students for you through the platform. In other words, you don’t need to do anything to find students because they’ll find you.

If you are a freelance online English teacher, you will need to find your students yourself. This means you will need to advertise and market yourself so that you can find students to teach. You can do this by setting up a webpage or Facebook page and advertising yourself on LinkedIn, Facebook, Gumtree and other relevant websites. 

This is not impossible, but it does take time. Word-of-mouth is an especially good way to find new students but it takes time to build up a reputation and to find those first few students. This is why many teachers work for a school first before going freelance. In this way they already know a few students they could teach or advertise with.

To be or Not to be a Freelance Online English Teacher?
To be or Not to Be a Freelance Online English Teacher?

Your online English students

Even though you have to put in more work to find students if you’re a freelance teacher, a major benefit is that you can choose your students. You can decide if you’d like to teach Young Learners or teens or adults or a mix. You can choose if you want to teach General English or Business English or English for Exams. You can choose if you want to teach only Chinese students or only European students or any nationalities. Plus, after your first trial lesson you can decide if you want to keep teaching your student, or if your personalities don’t match.

On the other hand, if you’re teaching for a company you don’t have the liberty of declining students for any reason. Of course you can be picky about which schools to work for and so you could potentially avoid any teaching situation you don’t want – for example, teaching Young Learners – but many schools teach a range of students and you don’t know what or who you’ll be asked to teach. 

Also, if you’re teaching Young Learners, you might also need to deal with parents who will want to be kept updated of their child’s progress and might want to talk to you from time to time in this regard.

Read more: Who Can I Teach Online?

Platforms to teach English online

If you work for a company, they will prescribe which platform you will use to teach your students. They might ask you to use Skype or Zoom, or they might have their own interactive classrooms you will need to learn to use. They will provide you with all the training necessary.

If you are freelance you can simply choose Skype or Zoom or any other similar platform which is freely available to you and your students. If you’re not familiar with it and all its functions, there are tons of tutorials available online to help you. 

Lesson Resources for teaching English online

Again, if you are working for a company, they will often provide you with lesson plans and materials. With some schools it is possible to look at your lessons the hour before your classes and still be fully prepared for your lessons. For others you may need to add your own personal touch to the materials.

If you are a freelance teacher, needless to say you will have to source your own materials. But don’t let that freak you out – there are so many amazing resources for you to try out online. From worksheets, videos and songs to entire lesson plans. Some of it is paid-for content but there is a surprising amount that’s available for free.  

Read more: From Zero to Hero: Cool (Free) Resources to Make Your Online Lessons Amazing

Rates for teaching English online

This is a tricky one. 

Online English schools generally set teacher’s rates. These can be hourly or per minute. Your rates can change according to your experience, or even according to ratings from your students. It’s usually possible to increase your hourly rate with bonuses and incentives, for anything from being punctual to teaching during certain times to teaching a certain number of lessons.  

Some platforms allow you to set your own rates, though they may recommend a certain rate based on other teachers on the platform. Bear in mind if there are teachers who are charging half your rate it will be more difficult to get students.

Read more: How Much Money Can I Really Make Teaching English Online?

The thing about teaching for a school is that they will take a cut of your earnings. This is not a secret and shouldn’t come as a surprise. It will always be very clear when you are signing up exactly what percentage they will take from your rate and if that is included in the advertised rate or not. 

For both options, you will need to pay your own taxes. Even teaching for a school you are classified as a freelancer so paying taxes is your responsibility. How much tax you pay will depend on your country of residence. 

So even though theoretically you could charge more if you are a freelance teacher and you won’t have to pay a cut to anyone. There are perks to working for a company. Most schools will still pay you for lessons which are cancelled within 24 hours or when students are no-shows. If you are a freelancer you will need to make sure your terms and conditions are included in your contract and you are responsible for chasing invoices, which can be tricky. As you can see, teaching English online with a company or as a freelancer are two very different scenarios. Each with its own pros and cons. Having said that, though, they are both ways for you to teach English online and earn some money. Basically, it’s a win whichever path you choose!


I would like to teach English online and achieved the TQUK Level 5 TEFL through you in 2018, however, I need your advice as to who accepts South African teachers like myself who dont have a degree but have 28 years teaching experience in various capacities. Thank you in advance for your guidance.

Tracy Mutch, 11th August 2020

I wanto. Receive a TEFL course_

Nicole, 9th July 2020

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