If you are thinking of becoming a Digital Nomad, but you aren’t sure what kind of work you could do. The most common route, if English is your first language, is to online English teaching. Teaching online isn’t for everyone and there are big pros and cons. But I can safely say it has been one of my better career moves.
In this post I’m going to cover:
- The pros and cons of teaching English online
- What qualifications you need
- Where you can find online teaching jobs
- The different kind of companies and jobs you can find
- Information to help you through the interview process
The pros and cons of teaching English online
There are some obvious pros and cons to teaching English online if you want to be location independent. There are also some not so obvious ones! I can only talk from my personal experience so please keep that in mind.
The Time Difference
Right now I teach Chinese children under 12 online. They are in China, I am in Colombia… That’s a 13 hour time difference. Most of the better online teaching jobs are teaching children in China so you need to be mindful of the time difference. My hours are generally between 5 am and 8 am Monday to Sunday with extra hours on a Friday and Saturday evening. Now this works for me as I don’t mind getting up at 4:30 am a few days a week and I love that I have finished work by 8:10 so I have the rest of my day to myself.
If you aren’t a morning person though, this would be hell! I live in a warm country right now, but when I was living up in the (cold) mountains these early mornings were NOT fun!
Props and Planning
When I took this job I was already on the road and traveling in a Spanish speaking country. I have looked everywhere but I haven’t been able to find any decent flashcards or props! Then there is the problem of space. As any nomad will know space is gold. So the last thing I want to do is fill up my backpack with finger puppets and decks of flashcards!
Many of the companies, especially if you are teaching children will expect you to have props. At the very least you will need a whiteboard.
So how to get around this one? I have had to start collecting some very economic props. In my ‘teacher’s kit,’ I have an A4 size whiteboard plus a few pens. Some reusable stickers (to stick on the said whiteboard), a pack of flashcards (I made them myself and had them laminated for me so they travel well), and anything else I can find in my backpack (a fan, a cap, and some sunglasses normally do well haha). This stuff doesn’t take up much room at all and I use all of it every time I teach so it is well worth space in my backpack. I also have the obligatory headset and a backup webcam.
Internet Speed and Reliability
This is a huge one! Before I started teaching online I would just rock up to any old hostel and get the cheapest bed in a dorm room. Not anymore! Now I have to pre-book somewhere after checking out booking.com for any internet issues. Sometimes I will even email them to ask how their internet is. I also need a private room with a desk ideally… although the last place I stayed I had to make do with the bed!
The one good thing about my unsociable work hours is that not many people are streaming videos and using up all of the bandwidth at 5 am so I’m pretty safe! Teaching online means I have to plan my moves around my classes. The company I work for are very strict about time off and canceling classes. If I continued to have issues due to my moving around I wouldn’t have a job for long!
That said, it is thanks to this job that I can now afford to stay in a private room when I need to. Although, this really depends on where you are traveling. Here in Colombia, I can get a private room with breakfast for around $17 and I can make 3 times that working so it is all relative.
This can be a real issue working for most companies. I have been so lucky that I got a job with DaDaABC. From week 1 I had a full schedule! After 3 weeks I was fully booked for my contract hours AND working overtime. I average 20 hours per week right now and I could do more if I wanted to. What makes DaDaABC different is that you are under a contract.
If I don’t have a student as long as I am logged on and at my computer during my contract hours, they will pay me half pay!
It makes no sense for them to have you sat there earning money for nothing, so they make sure you have student’s booked in!
I also signed up for a few platforms where you set up a profile and then students contact you and arrange lessons… I got nothing but some creepy messages from guys. I know some people who have had success. But the pay isn’t that great and you have to do all of the planning yourself. You also have to spend a long time logged on to these platforms in hope of getting students.
Contracted hours v’s no contracted hours
I have touched on this above but I think it needs more detail.
With contracted hours you have set hours where you have to be online teaching each week. Companies do not like you taking time off or canceling. So if you commit to these hours you really do have to do them. They will book your students in all you have to do is be online in your contracted time slots.
You will get more or less a set wage each month and will have regular students from the start. This means decent money pretty quickly. You also know exactly where you are so you can plan everything else around it.
These companies do not like you to change your hours or take any time off. So think very carefully before signing anything. I signed up for 3 days a week and I wish I had only signed up for 2. There is always the option for me to take on extra hours, but it is impossible for me to work less. This has really impacted me being able to do long excursions into the Amazon or traveling on certain days. That being said I get a pretty decent bonus for not taking any time off and not being late for my classes. The bonus is a big pull for me!
What qualifications you need
Some companies want you to have a TEFL or TESOL qualification as a minimum. Almost all require a degree in any subject. To give yourself the best chance you should have a TEFL qualification, a degree and be an English native speaker. If you also have experience teaching you should have no problem getting a job!
DaDaABC does not require you to have an ESL qualification. In fact, they will give you one after 6 months working for them!
What I would say though is that you will get a better rate of pay and be more likely to secure a decent job with a qualification. Plus if the company you end up working for doesn’t have a training program you are going to be on a very steep learning curve!
Where you can find online teaching jobs
The place I had the most success with is actually LinkedIn! Most of the reputable companies are on there and a few actually contacted me. TEFL also have a jobs board you can access here and Facebook has a ton of groups for ESL teachers:
Catagories of Online organizations
There are a lot! But they can fit into a few categories
1. Companies who will contact you and pay you a fixed wage
I have spoken about this type of company above. The company I work for DaDaABC does this and in my opinion, it is the best type of company to work for as you will be guaranteed a wage.
2. Companies who will ask you to set your hours but won’t contract you and will only pay you when you teach
This is the category many of the companies fall into. They will ask you to tell them what hours you can work and then you will be expected to be on standby for those hours but won’t necessarily get any students booked in. They do tend to be more flexible and may allow you to change your hours. So if you don’t need a steady wage and would prefer more flexibility then this would be the best way to go.
3. Companies who act as a 3rd party and ask you to create a profile but you are in charge of booking
I know people who do really well for these platforms. But they are all experienced teachers with a proven track record. You have to work pretty hard and plan all of your lessons, plus you will need to manage your own diary. For many, you will be able to fix your hourly rate. This can make it a very competitive market. If you are experienced in teaching online then this may be a good option for you. I wouldn’t recommend for new, or inexperienced teachers.
Information to help you through the interview process
My first interview was a total disaster! Many of the companies will interview over skype or zoom and it will be in 2 parts.
- Part 1- standard interview
- Part 2 – they will ask you to call back and they will pretend to be a child and you have to teach them… it really is as weird as it sounds…
The better companies will send you course material to teach before the interview so you can prep. Other companies will give you a spec with what they want you to teach. For example, a 37-year-old female who is A2 and needs English for business. You will then be expected to prep a lesson and fake teach it.
Whatever the process if you have no ESL experience and have never taught online before you are going to have to do some serious prep!
Here are a few YouTube videos to get you started:
My feedback from my first interview was that I could have used props, google translate, done a shared screen to show images and videos or sent links on the chat. So obvious! But I had no idea I was even allowed to do that. They didn’t tell me I could so I assumed I couldn’t.
The thing I loved about the DaDaABC interview what that once I had passed the interview part they gave me a trial class with an actual child! His name was Bob and he was 5. They made me watch some training videos first, and I was able to go in and see the courseware before so I felt well prepared. A member of their HR team watched the class and as long as you do well you will be offered a job. It was by far the best interview process I did. So much better than teaching a 43-year-old man pretending to be a 5-year-old girl…
In this article, I’ve tried to give as much information from my personal perspective as I can. I do work for DaDaABC and so yes I am biased haha. But they really are a great company to work for. As I have said though they aren’t right for everyone and if you need flexibility over a steady income you are better off with a different company.
If you don’t mind the rigidity and working fixed hours than I can’t recommend them enough. They have great bonuses and rewards for teachers, there is a really active Facebook group of over 2000 teachers around the world where you can turn for teaching advice or just to vent! If you would like to apply you can complete the application form here. You can also email me with any questions that you have and I will try to help if I can!
I hope you have found this article useful. Please feel free to share with your friends and networks!
If you are looking to find a teaching job abroad then check out these two articles: