Travel and Make Money: How to plan a teaching break abroad

2017-01-20 18:45 - Anje Rautenbach
Post a comment 0

A decade or two ago gap years were still frowned upon and seen as a waste of money, time and valuable brain cells that were supposed to stay intact for your tertiary education and working environment. It was a year reserved for the young, a year with a backpacking-and-beer undertone, a hint of ashram chants and finding your purpose.

I still remember my mother’s words when I told her in 2009 that I wanted to teach in South Korea on a working gap year.

“You are crazy”, she said out of shock.

A month and a half later I was all alone on a plane to South Korea, on my first ever international flight, ready to start my first ever job.

Times have changed.

Today gap years wear a completely different face (with no frowns) and teaching English abroad is one of the most common positions gap year seekers find themselves in. Students, young adults and even those a bit older are seeking out gap year opportunities to take a break, experience different cultures, get a decent financial jump start (plus possibly free accommodation) and see the world; all at the same time. And with the World Wide Web at your fingertips, guidelines and warnings – from the good, to the bad, to the ugly – are readily available for you to make an informed choice of what to expect when you arrive at your new (foreign) home.

The majority of countries offering teaching positions to English speakers has a minimum requirement of a degree (in any field) from an accredited university; usually no previous teaching experience is necessary and doing an online TEFL or TESL certificate will be beneficial. Some countries prefer the more advanced CELTA or DELTA certificate plus a bachelor’s degree in any discipline.

The big question is, where do you want to go and where is the best to go, when there are so many gap year options waiting for you from Asia to South America.

The requirements and benefits are different from position to position and in most countries there is the option to work at a government school or at a kindergarten or afterschool institution offering extra classes that is commonly referred to as private schools, academies or cram classes.


When applying for these jobs recruiters are often used but you can often apply directly to the employer (or the agency handling the employer’s positions), or you can apply to government teaching programmes such as EPIK (English Programme in South Korea) or JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme) to cut out any recruitment costs. For South Africans who want to work in South Korea but still want to have the comfort and help of a recruiter, have a look at, who does not charge a recruitment fee. Another popular website to use is And if you want to take a gap year, have a possibly shorter contract, and don’t want to leave South Africa (or be location independent), have a look at the numerous online teaching positions available where all you’ll ever need is a headset, a quiet space and good internet.

Here is a list of the most common countries where South Africans with a degree in any field, plus a TESL or TEFL certificate, can be an ESL teacher, save money and travel without just breaking even (or breaking the bank).

South Korea

Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in any discipline (plus a TESL or TEFL certificate).

Usual contract length: 12 months.

Basic benefits: Free furnished housing, health insurance, return airfare reimbursement and a contract completion bonus.

Salary starting from: $2000 (R27 000) per month.

For more information visit South Korea also offers a TaLK programme (Teach and Learn in Korea) for students who have finished at least two years of their studies, There are also multiple private “school” jobs available in South Korea but the job security is not the same as with government schools.



Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in any discipline.

Usual contract length: 12 months.

Basic benefits: Health insurance, flight and housing reimbursement offered by some companies.

Salary starting from: $1500 (R20 000) per month.

There are many private companies operating in Taiwan and jobs can be found online, but a popular recognised institution in Taiwan is HESS,


Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in any discipline (higher salary offered to those with teaching degree or CELTA certificate).

Usual contract length: 6 to 12 months.

Basic benefits: Depending on agency or company used, teacher may be able to get free accommodation, bonus and health insurance support.

Salary starting from: $800-1200 per month.

There are many private companies operating in Taiwan and jobs can be found online at or visit


Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in any discipline.

Usual contract length: 6 to 12 months (3 month contract is available, especially when working through a recruiter who sells a package that includes a TEFL Certificate).

Benefits: Work permits are often covered but housing and flights are in most cases not included.

Salary starting from: $850 (R11 500) per month.


Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in any discipline.

Usual contract length: 12 months.

Basic benefits: Health insurance, housing often partially subsidized and fully furnished, return plane ticket (with the JET programme, not always with other programmes).

Salary starting from: $2400 (R33 000) per month.

For more information visit There are also private “school” jobs available in Japan. 



Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in any discipline (China also offers jobs to diploma holders).

Usual contract length: 6 to 12 months

Benefits: It differs from job to job but usually housing is included, there is a flight subsidy to full reimbursement and health insurance is covered.

Salary starting from: $1600 (R22 000) per month.

South America

If you want to experience the cultures of the countries in South America and saving money is not your main goal, you might be able to break even by working in some language schools. Salaries are starting from R7000 per month and housing and flights are not included. Qualified teachers can find placements at international schools with a more lucrative salary.

Middle East

Countries like Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Kuwait offers incredibly high-paying salaries to qualified teachers and it ranges from positions at international schools to university teaching jobs. In Saudi Arabia most positions are available only to men.


If you are looking for an island adventure and have teaching experience and a degree in either education, English or something related, you can find a placement in Maldives, plus accommodation, airfare funding, a work visa and permit covered by the school you’ll be working for and health insurance. Salaries start from R14 000 per month.


A few more things to keep in mind:

- There is no set standard when it comes to teaching positions, requirements and benefits; it does not only differ from country to country but also from job to job (even if it is two jobs offered by the same company).

- For most countries it is highly advisable to get a contract and a working visa before buying a plane ticket to your new home.

- It is possible to get private jobs outside of your regular job, but please keep in mind what your contract with your main employer stipulates about private work because it might be illegal.

- The office hours of a full time teaching job are usually 40 hours per week and 20-30 hours are teaching hours.

- Most countries will require a national criminal record check; this can take up to two months. It is advised to start with this check as soon as possible; you can go to your nearest police station, do the fingerprints, pay the R96 fee and send it off via snail mail to the Head of the South African Criminal Record Centre . A Police Clearance Certificate is valid for 6 months.

- Some countries will ask for an Apostilled Copy of your degree; you can visit the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) in Gauteng or make use of an agent, such as Docs 4 Expats.

- The main intake for Asian countries is usually around end February/beginning of March and end of August.

- Most jobs offer paid vacations, twice a year, and you can expect anything between 10 to 20 working days a year.

- Due to the diversity of our country’s languages South Africans are often not considered native English speakers and therefore we are not allowed to teach, legally, in some countries. An employer might require you to proof that you’ve received your education in English or ask you to take a TOEIC, TOEFL or IELTS test.

- If you have a Master’s Degree you will often qualify to teach English at a university (bigger salary, less classes and more vacation).

- Some countries will require future employees to attend orientation courses and programmes. Korea’s EPIK programme offers a 7-to-10 day orientation free of charge to new teachers.

- Where health insurance is included a medical check (plus a drug test) will be required. If you fail your drug test, you’ll be sent home on the first plane. Familiarise yourself with substances that can cause a false positive on a drug test such as over-the-counter nasal sprays, diet aids and even poppy seeds. 

What to read next on Traveller24: