To the novice ESL teacher, packing up and moving to a foreign country may not seem too daunting a challenge. The problems of leaving home, along with language and cultural adjustment, are part of the excitement. If you have chosen to move overseas you probably have come to terms with uncertainties. There may be fear of the bad job or situation, yet that is part of the adventure. Right? Yes. However, the enthusiasm to simply plunge and accept a job should, even for the wary teacher, be exercised with caution. The fact teachers are ripped off or taken advantage of should not be a deterrent, most in the TESOL business are honest and up front, but being aware of ruses is always to the benefit. Do not lose an opportunity and see your dream turn sour, before you even begin, because of a scam. Do not be the exception.
Many scams happen in the process of finding the job. Although there is high demand for ESL teaching jobs suggesting an advantage to the job seeker, many novices jump at the first opportunity, and there are sharks preying on such people. Between ‘when you see a chance you take it' and ‘look before you leap', the latter might be the more prudent option. Unless you know, or have a direct relation to a potential employer, it is best to have options and ask the right questions.
Therefore, step one is to make certain the recruiter or job offer is legitimate. The oft-spoken wisdom ‘if it looks too good (or silly) to be true, it probably is', should be heeded. When you apply for a job you may receive absurd solicitations. They can be quasi-reasonable, to egregiously faux, almost as bad as the “Nigerian rich heir” email. For example, if you post on a job board seeking a specific job, you may receive an email from a rich doctor offering you living accommodation, twice the salary, and half the hours for the normal job in that country. Let's say you want to teach in Japan, jobs there for thirty hours a week may pay $3,000/month, and you receive this unsolicited query offering this:
All expenses, accommodation, for teaching a doctor's child English two hours every evening, Monday through Friday, salary, $6,000/month.
Does that sound reasonable? These types of scams abound. The pseudo-employer will then ask you to buy a ticket at a discount from his reputable travel friend, or pay a recruiter fee, or hand over a security deposit, and then disappear. Any job that aggressively looks for teachers is suspect. Although it must be stated that not all aggressive recruitments are practiced by shady players. When I posted on job boards I frequently got asked to come to work in South Korea (even when I specified that I wanted to live elsewhere) from legitimate companies.
But even if the job sounds fine, you still should be suspicious if asked to pay anything. Do not: buy a ticket through a selected travel agency, pay a deposit, pay for the processing of your documents, or pay a recruiter a finder's fee. Another clue of illegitimacy, along with very high salaries, is if they do not require the prerequisites: references, proof of experience, a degree, or TESOL certificate. It's true, there are jobs out there for anyone, and I knew a fellow in Taiwan who had not completed high school and found work. I've worked for people who demanded no proof of education or experience, but there were other factors that gave me security. It is also true that startup schools may not ask the right questions because they are green, it can be a two-way problem, and some mercenary teachers take advantage of schools by inventing diplomas and experience. There are also opportunities to teach illegally, but that's another subject. Also, high pay may not be a warning sign. Outrageously mad salaries are out there, and some teachers serendipitously end up teaching for, say, royalty in Saudi Arabia, or diplomats in Hong Kong, with great benefits, but usually they have had to show skill and qualifications. What's important is that the employer is transparent.
Whether the job is offered by a recruiter or school directly, questions of who pays what should be clear. The reason why you should not pay for certain necessities is that the employer or recruiter is usually responsible. Yes, it is true you will pay some expenses. Jobs will offer all, partial, or no travel reimbursement. Do not give anyone money so the school can ‘buy your ticket'. Buy your own ticket, and keep the receipt if they offer reimbursement at the completion of contract. Other expenses should be natural, passports, immunizations, visas, and other travel documents.
Once I applied to a job I found on an ESL website. I had taught in Asia for almost three years and wanted to find a job in Latin America. Brazil looked interesting, and there was an opportunity. The recruiter responded and told me that, to be hired, I would have to pay the company eight hundred dollars upfront, and this would cover a ticket and orientation upon arriving in Brazil, no experience necessary. It smelled from the first sniff. I contacted Dave Sperling at and he promptly removed the advertisement. I ended up finding a job in Brazil, and from the United States called the recruiter (my employer could not speak English very well). I had to buy my own ticket, but this is normal for most jobs in Brazil, and at the time the round trip ticket far less than eight hundred dollars. I'm not sure why English teachers would have to pay for ‘orientation', and I wonder how many people fell for it and what happened to them.
Another question you might want to ask is whether or not to use a recruiter. There were many teachers in Taiwan who had secured their job while in their home country by using a recruiter. The recruiter took a substantial cut, an initial finder's fee, and then about a hundred dollars a month. This was always paid by the school, and the recruiter acted as an agent between the school and employer. This is an acceptable practice. Recruiters also do the legwork, and some teachers were satisfied with their relationships. If the teacher finds the job on his or her own, of course, the employer saves a little money, and usually is willing to pass this on to the employee.
In summary, on top of watching out for jobs that are ‘too good to be true' or require fees that seem odd, to ensure getting a quality job apply for more than one. Arrange a phone interview, and if possible, correspond with other employees, current or past. If the employer, or recruiter, is transparent and open, then there should be nothing to worry about. With a little foresight before you accept a job your year should be exactly as adventurous and surprising as you expect it will be.