Funny thing about gathering the documents you’ll need to teach English abroad. As you are going through the process it can feel complicated and daunting. But once you’re settled into your new job, in whichever country you decide to call home, you’ll look back and think, actually that wasn’t so bad.
The list of required documents varies from country to country. But don’t stress about that. After hours of research, what you’re going to find is that you can take care of the basics now and everything else will happen post-hire. So, let’s break this down into tiers:
TIER ONE: Things You Need Yesterday
A Well Crafted TEFL CV
It doesn’t matter how good your current CV is; you need to start over. Focus on your TEFL Certification and spin any relevant job experience you have to showcase your readiness to teach English. Volunteer work, management, working in a team environment; get creative about connecting the dots. Click here to learn more about crafting the perfect TEFL CV.
A Cover Letter with Soul
Templates won’t work. Employers take a big gamble hiring English teachers from abroad. They have to rely on web-based interviews. They have to trust that you’ll be able to adjust to living in their country. And they have to use valuable visas to give you the opportunity to teach. Use the cover letter to give them some insight into who you are. Why have you chosen to teach English abroad? What is it about their country that appeals to you? And of course, what is it about their programme that appeals to you. You can be wordier than you normally would be in a cover letter. Just be sure to give it soul.
Letters of Reference
Much like your CV, letters of reference should be focused on education. Call on former teachers, managers, etc. Ideally, you want to have 2-3 high-quality letters of reference. Don’t feel like you’re being a burden. People love writing letters of reference. It makes them feel special that you chose them. Your favourite primary school teacher will write you a cracking letter. Guaranteed. And don’t be afraid to bullet point what you want them to stay. They’ll appreciate the guidance. “Ideally, I would like something along these lines. Your own words, your own thoughts of course, but in the spirit. By the way, you were my favourite teacher growing up. You really inspired me to become a teacher myself.” What? Flattery works.
A Passport Valid for at Least Two Years
This may seem like a no-brainer but you’d be amazed at how many people try to move abroad with mere months left on their passport. A passport isn’t something you can run down to the final day. Most countries won’t let you in with less than six months validity and visa regulations are often stricter than that. Teaching English abroad is in itself a passport. It gives you easy access the region you’ll be living in. Do the easy, obvious thing. Get your passport in order.
TIER TWO: There Is No Harm in Being Prepared
Criminal Record Background Check
There are different names for these things depending on your country of origin; Disclosure and Barring Service in the UK, FBI Background Check in the United States. The point is, obtain proof that you don’t have a checkered past. For some destinations like South Korea, a background check is imperative. For other countries, it is a non-issue. But it never hurts to have. If the country you decide to teach in suddenly decides that a background check is required, you don’t want to have to arrange that from abroad.
Extra Passport Photos
These are easy to get anywhere in the world. But if you want to be prepared, always travel with a small stack of passport size photos. They are always required for visa processing. They are sometimes required at border crossings. And occasionally, national parks even ask for them. Make sure that the photos have a white background. And dress professionally.
South Korea and most countries in the Middle East require sealed university transcripts. You probably won’t need them anywhere else, but again, it doesn’t hurt to have them on hand.
University Degree Apostille Authenticated and Notarised
This process is exponentially easier to do at home. Contact apostille providers in your home country and allow time for processing. Same as above, this applies to South Korea and the Middle East at the moment. However, the TEFL world suffers from the copycat syndrome, so don’t be surprised if other countries start adding it as a requirement.
TIER THREE: Just Wait. Your Employer Will Handle It.
Obtaining a Visa/Work Permit
Here is how it works. Every English language programme, university, etc. is a business, and as a business, they are allotted a certain number of work permits each year. You cannot obtain these visas/work permits on your own. You need a formal invitation from that organization. The application process involves a mountain of paperwork, none of which is translated into English, and often a bit of sweet talking the local immigration reps. That is why every English language programme has a dedicated visa handler.
Do your research. Find out if you are going to need a background check or university transcripts. But stay away from the embassy. That is not your job.
Generally, medical tests aren’t an issue. In Thailand, you have to get tested for Syphilis. Yes, Syphilis. But you can do that after you arrive. It is part of the visa application process. In the Middle East, the medical tests are labyrinthine. Don’t get lost in that mess unless you have a signed contract and guarantee of being reimbursed.
The only exception would be travel vaccines. If you are planning to teach in Africa or deep in Amazonia you’ll want to get properly vaccinated before you leave home.
That’s it. There is no need to stress. Do what you can now, cover the obvious contingencies, then trust the system. It always works out in the end.