Whenever I am asked to consider or compare the best countries to teach English abroad, I am always half tempted to respond with the infamous hypothetical question “How long is a piece of string?”. In this well-known ethical quandary, the answers range from the purely impossible (how would you even know where to begin on a topic like that), to the rhetorical (half as long, and twice again).
Such eventualities seem to run through my head whenever I am presented with such an open-ended query, so in reality what I often present to people is the following response: it depends on what is most important to you as an individual.
Thus, below I have personally compiled a brief list of some of the best countries for teaching English abroad right now, as well as the reasons for these countries being chosen. I will add the caveat that I have had the good fortune to live and work in each of these places, so the opinion is rather more qualified as a result, even if I do say so myself!
The Middle East
This region of the world is chock full of opportunities to teach English, with a large population of native people and migrant workers, all hungry to develop their working knowledge of the language. Let’s come to one of the primary positives of this specific area – namely, the perks.
Financially, places such as Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Saudi Arabia offer some of the largest English teaching salaries in the world, enough to survive and thrive with a high living standard while there, or sufficient to put some hard earned cash away for a rainy day.
In Doha especially, where I lived for a while, the expat community is thriving, with opportunities galore to mingle with fellow teachers, and enjoy a strong social life, whether at the hotels, on boats, or in the desert dune-buggying. Add in the fact that these salaries are often tax-free, and many schools offer rent and bills inclusive, and it is easy to see the appeal.
However, it should be noted that school learning expectations are high. The TEFL Org: Teach English Abroad Guide can give you more ideas on how to become an English teacher. Some cultural differences are present, and the weather can be challenging for a Westerner more used to a temperate climate. By not planning properly, I got sunburnt while on a school trip, so don’t forget to pack the sunscreen and lots of cold water to drink!
This might seem like a left-field choice, but there are actually lots of opportunities to teach English in North America. Beyond the obvious fact that Mexico and surrounding nations have a heavy Spanish influence, Canada also has the entire province of Quebec which caters strongly to the Francophone market.
In other words, despite the heavy dominance of English elsewhere, it is still possible to carve a niche in teaching English in these zones. On top of that, elsewhere in the continent, there are a plethora of chances for ESL teachers to make their mark, educating the progeny of newly arrived migrants or even providing adult education classes in the evening for those in need.
For instance, while I was living in Gatineau, QC, I had the chance to not only teach in a secondary school during the day, but also engage in community education based activities on the weekends, such as ice-fishing in the winter or going to the sugar shack in the autumn, which provided me with the option to integrate with local customs and help said locals to practice their skills.
Aside from the lack of language knowledge necessary to adapt to many aspects of life there, there is also the possibility to enjoy a high quality of living, whether it be living in a big city, a quiet suburb, or out in the countryside. No matter what your accommodation preference, The Pinnacle List is there to assist you in finding the perfect place to call home after a hard day on the job.
From many standpoints, Russia might not seem like an obvious choice to teach English abroad. The winters are notoriously long and cold (which in many places, they can be), the language is difficult (again, it can be), and the salary does not seem as enticing (do not let first impressions fool you).
In Saint-Petersburg and Moscow, especially, there is a large expat group who know their way around the city, and are happy to guide with the bedding-in process. Besides, in spite of the seeming lack of financial remuneration on the table, there is a massive interest in private lessons from the adults who reside in both cities. These lessons might more than make up for the relatively low pay check from the day job, and add some variety to your resume.
I lived in Saint Petersburg for a couple of years, and while the weather was not ideal in the winter, it was possible to get around and enjoy beautiful winter scenery all around a famous old city, often called the Venice of the North. Furthermore, as a result of the relatively low cost of living, it is possible to have a good standard of living without breaking the bank. When you’re new there and you have no place to stay there are tips to look for when you are booking a hotel.
China is considered by many to be one of the major capitals of teaching English abroad at this moment, and it is not difficult to see why. With a burgeoning economy, huge population, and tremendous investment into English language learning as a whole, all the ingredients are in place for a large amount of work to be available for teachers.
Naturally, the capital city Beijing is high on the list of places to go, and has an infrastructure that is welcoming for many first time teachers. Likewise, Shanghai has a culture for welcoming non-native teachers, and helping them to feel at home. In the city where I lived and worked, Jinan, I was especially fortunate to have a group of friends who assisted me with my every need, from bedding in comfortably to setting up a bank account, and even joining a 5-a-side football team on Friday evenings!
Despite this, it may be a huge culture shock to jump into this right away, so it could be advisable to move somewhere else first to dip your toe into the water before taking the plunge here.