q&a: teaching english online

Updated: Aug 18, 2019

At least a few times each week, we get this exact message in our inbox: How do you afford to travel the world? Our answer is simple: we saved money prior to leaving by compromising on many things (like eating out, etc.), we sold our belongings, many of our loved ones contributed to our travel funds when we got married in lieu of material possessions, and we teach English online on the road. After mentioning teaching, we usually receive dozens more questions. It's no secret that many people want to travel the world, but they're worried about money. We were too. For us, teaching English online has given us the opportunity to travel further and longer than we would have been able to otherwise...and honestly, it is one of the easiest jobs we've ever had. We wanted to do a quick little Q&A with some frequently asked questions.

How much does teaching English pay? What percentage of your monthly travel expenses are covered through teaching?

We will be the first to admit that we're unable to save any money right now -- based on our limited income and the travel expenses from constantly changing countries. In addition, we're both paying off our student loans which takes a big chunk of money each month. Is it possible to save money? Yes, absolutely. We choose to only work about 9 hours (each) per week and we are mid-range budget travelers. We don't find ourselves sleeping in hostel dorm bunks or eating Ramen each night, but we are budget conscious. Teaching English online pays anywhere from $16-25/hour.

As for what percentage of our travel is covered by teaching, that really depends on what country we are traveling and how much moving we do in a month. Recently, we rented an apartment in the Philippines for a whole month and that really helped with the budget. We cooked at home, didn't go on too many adventures, and laid low. That month, our teaching paid for 100% of our living expenses. However, weeks later, we traveled quickly through Australia and New Zealand, which wasn't so friendly on our bank account. All that being said, we estimate on average that our teaching income covers anywhere from 70-80% of our monthly travel expenses. This doesn't include our student loans or any clothes, haircuts, etc. that we invest in.

How much money do I need to save before leaving to become TESOL certified in a foreign country?

We get this question all the time! We are not financial advisors, nor do we know how each individual travels, so this questions varies from person to person. We took a month break from our travels in Phuket, Thailand to become certified to teach English (read about it here) and loved our experience. Not only did we have the chance to live in Thailand for a month and make lifelong friends out of our classmates, but we learned so much valuable information that we use teaching English online daily. Before leaving for our travels, we researched becoming certified in the states or online but ultimately decided that since we didn't have any experience teaching, an in-person class would be best for us.

That being said, you really don't need to save an exorbitant amount of money to move to Thailand (for example) and take a TESOL course. As an individual, you could easily start with a few grand, take the month long course, and find a job right away. Many people want to experience living in a foreign country and teaching English abroad, while others choose to continue to travel and teach English online. We've gone through both of these mindsets. Remember when we almost took a 15 month teaching contract in Vietnam? We have no regrets not taking that one, by the way.

What are the qualifications to teach English online?

This can vary. Both of us have our bachelor's degrees (not in teaching) and then received our TESOL certification. Every company and job has different requirements, but I think all companies require at least a TESOL/TEFL certificate. We know people who have obtained jobs teaching online with a TESOL certification but no bachelor's degree. We know people that are overly qualified and have obtained mediocre-paying jobs. Whomever you become certified through should be able to assist you in obtaining jobs and answering these questions!

Where are your students from? What's the classroom setting like?

We work for a Chinese company, so all of our students are Chinese. Our students range from speaking English fairly fluently to not knowing how to say their name in English. Each of our classes are one-on-one via a platform similar to Skype. This means we can see and hear our student almost as if we're in a regular classroom. Our classes don't require any lesson planning, so when we're clocked out, we're not working. However, we are required to fill out student assessments after each class and occasionally complete student appraisals as well.

Do you have to speak Chinese or another foreign language to teach?

No. When teaching online, a translate button is included, but should be used as little as possible. They (the parents and the company we work for) want you speaking in your native tongue as much as possible and immersing the students completely in English. Many times, the parent and child will speak to one another in Chinese. We obviously don't have a clue what they're saying, but encourage them to focus on the class and only speak English.

What are the good and bad aspects of teaching English online?

The good - it provides income and allows us the freedom to travel the world. The hours are flexible and you can build your own schedule as long as it is within the allotted teaching hours. We have regular students too, so we have the opportunity to build relationships with our students.

The bad - we have some wonderful students and some very frustrating students. This would be the case regardless of whether we were teaching online or in person. Also, Internet has been our biggest hurdle teaching online. Some countries (India and The Philippines) have horrible Internet. This has created some stressful moments as we're scrambling to find a SIM card to use hotspot.

How many hours per week do you work?

The two of us combined work 18 hours currently. We shifted our hours recently when we headed to South America and decided to reduce our number of hours slightly.

What company do you teach English for and why?

We work for a Chinese company called DaDa ABC. When we started with DaDa, we personally knew a few people working for DaDa that loved having the freedom to travel and work simultaneously. This is a reputable company that is well-established, pays their teachers on time, and even pays you if your student cancels or you have an open time slot. While it may not be the highest paying online platform, we've found they're very accommodating, understanding if you have problems with your Internet, and approve all time-off requests.

What time of day do you teach?

This depends on where we are in the world. Our students take online English classes after their regular school day, so all of our classes are in evening (Beijing time) during the week. Saturday's and Sunday's offer classes all day. In South America, we're currently working 7-10 AM. In New Zealand, we had to work 11 PM-1AM. Classes are always in Beijing time, so it depends where we're at.

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