Your Path to Becoming a TEFL Digital Nomad 💻🌎
Why TEFL as a digital nomad?
For many digital nomads, the allure of coffee shop hustles, late night phone calls with potential investors (timezone math, #amiright?), the chance to meet creative, innovative, motivated, and interesting travelers, and the dream of earning money on their terms is tough to beat. But it’s not as easy as all of those fabulous Instagram updates and brief WhatsApp messages might lead us to believe.
Being a digital nomad, and securing steady income, can be really, really hard.
And while we applaud those who go off the beaten path to create their own definition of “work-life balance,” we know that having some incoming financial security—beyond the savings bank—can be a huge stress reliever, allowing said digital-nomad to dedicate the majority of their time to personal projects without losing their mind over making rent every month.
TA-DA! Teaching abroad online is *just* the antidote to a stressful life on the go as a digital nomad. And here’s how to do it.
5 steps to teaching English online as a digital nomad
1. Decide if you’re actually “in it” or not.
If you’re anything like me during my digital nomad stint, experiencing a bit of “What should I do ADD” was par for the course. New ideas, projects, experiments would pop up and catch my interest regularly, making the pursuit of a single task more and more difficult.
Your decision to teach abroad cannot suffer the same fate as that random URL you purchased on a whim or that one-off email outreach campaign you sent to dozens of potential / hopeful clients. It takes commitment—and money—and time—and energy—so if you’re going to do, decide to do it. (Note: the experience is really, really rewarding, so no worries on “wasting time.” This can be GREAT for you!).
2. Get TEFL certified.
I know what you’re thinking, “I can’t get TEFL certified and give up a month of my life—full time—to sit in a classroom and learn all day.” We get it, doing an in-person TEFL certificate program isn’t the right option for everyone as it does require a lot of time investment. But luckily for you, there are other, more convenient options to pursue if you want to work on your TEFL certification part-time.
Getting TEFL certified online can also be cheaper and since it’s completed according to your schedule, can be a great fit if you’re already on the road or maxing out your full-time work experience before you quit and begin your life of travel.
Since you are ultimately interested in teaching English online, this can also be a great opportunity for YOU, as a student, to start observing the differences in excellent vs. okay online lessons and how you can start incorporating best practices for teaching English online into your own future lesson planning. The empathy derived from this shared experience can only strengthen your ability to be an excellent distance ESL teacher!
The most comprehensive course available online is the 290 hour government regulated level 5 TEFL certificate. The course includes the 168 hour level 5 course as well as specialist courses in teaching young learners, teaching business English, and TOEIC and IELTS preparation courses. This means you’ll be attractive to prospective students.
Do I have to have a TEFL to teach English online?
No, you don’t technically need to have a TEFL to teach English online, and you will find some companies that are willing to hire you simply because you’re a native English speaker.
That being said, a TEFL certificate will prepare you to do the job well (wouldn’t you hate if you paid someone for their expertise just to later learn they were faking it all along?), it will improve your job prospects (because let’s face it—any school willing to hire you because you’re blonde is probably scammy and not trustworthy for students and teachers alike), and it will increase your potential earnings (more on that later… cha-ching!).
3. Commence your online teaching job hunt.
Now that you have a freshly minted TEFL certificate, we recommend finding a job with a reputable online company that coordinates introducing qualified English instructors to students around the world who want to practice their English online with formal lessons.
While you might ultimately make your own connections and diverge from corporate English teaching to do your own thing as a freelance teacher, working for an established organization will be a good learning experience overall (and you might find that you want to keep teaching with them, anyway!).
Since you’re likely wanting to TEFL online to supplement your income, you can easily find 10-20 hours of work with a few different jobs or picking up extra hours as a private online tutor. Job boards and expat websites (like The Beijinger), as well as worldwide TEFL job groups on Facebook, are great resources for one-off students or teaching opportunities.
If your goal is to be a full-time TEFL teacher and digital nomad, we definitely recommend applying to multiple jobs and stitching together a work week through as many avenues as possible.
The reality is, sometimes students flake and sometimes the hours can be odd (for example, you might have students in Chile and South Korea while you’re living in India—how’s that for timezone math), so it is important that you have leads/students coming from a variety of places. This will help you more-or-less cobble together the steady and reliable income that you desire.
4. Figure out your pay
Most salaries for online English teachers are impacted by the qualifications of the individual teacher. Companies are sensitive to pay scales and will modify your earnings based on your past teaching experiences, whether or not you have a TEFL certification (pro tip: get this), and the type of degree you have.
Most companies will ask for a minimum contract commitment, usually up to a year, with negotiable hours, rates, and types of students (don’t get stuck teaching online university-bound teenagers if you LOVE singing silly songs over video chat).
Once you know your hourly rate and the number of hours you’ll be working monthly, calculate your projected earnings and store that number in your budget/cost of living worksheet (you have one, right?).
Subtract at least 10% of those projected earnings to give yourself a more realistic picture of what your paycheck will look like at the end of the month (again, canceled classes are unfortunately somewhat the “norm”). Voila! You have your play money, your savings, your added income to help cover your street food fund, your seed money for your next big idea—whatever it is you are hoping to put your online English teaching earnings towards. This digital nomad thing isn’t as hard as they say, huh?
5. Actually do a good job
The best way to increase your earnings and your hours is to build trust with your clients, get great reviews and recommendations, and be proactive in sourcing new jobs or communicating with current supervisors.
I think this article from the British Council does a much better job of giving tips to online English teachers than I ever could—things from time management skill development to useful tools to facilitate interactive video lessons to online communities of teachers for you to network, get advice from, and rely on if a tough situation ever arises. Bookmark that bad boy and refer to it often!
Get out there and teach English online!
Earn up to $20 an hour while sitting in your pjs? Don’t mind if we do! Your path to becoming a TEFL digital nomad is glittering with opportunity and passport stamps. Seize the opportunity and enjoy working on your terms today!