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The world is a smaller place than it used to be, and a Ph.D. from the U.S. counts as the local equivalent in most countries. Those who have degrees in English or a foreign language are more likely to be highly desired abroad.

The demand for foreign language instructors with native or near-native ability in a language partially stems from the fact that there are many different Englishes used around the world today: Chinglish in China, Spanglish in Mexico, and Indlish in India. Students in China and India might start studying English as a foreign language as children, but learn it from local teachers that might be teaching a mixture of their native language and English, which leads to many grammatical, spelling, logical, and usage mistakes. Thus, learning pronunciation and writing from a native speaker is highly desirable.

India and China are two countries that frequently hire professors and secondary teachers from abroad, primarily from the U.S. On top of this, China is currently experiencing a shortage of professors as more and more of its population demands a higher education, but it does not produce enough Ph.D.s to meet this demand. Even recent college graduates who are native English speakers can easily find a job teaching English abroad.

The U.S. academic job market is strained enough today that some find better-paying jobs in Asia or the Middle East than in the U.S. or Europe. You should beware, though, of possible contractual scams. (I resigned from my most recent teaching position in China to protest the fact that the institution was paying me 25 percent less than was promised in my initial e-mailed contract.) It is more likely that a college that hires you to teach abroad would pay you less in U.S. dollars than you would make in the U.S. (Housing is provided for free for faculty, but utilities are subtracted from the salary.) So, it’s important to calculate in advance how far your promised salary would go in the local currency and in U.S. currency before accepting a contract. Also, keep in mind that the foreign government won’t subtract taxes from your paycheck, but the U.S. government might in some cases.

To understand the requirements that the majority of English teaching jobs abroad have and to calculate the percentage of jobs listed that are abroad, I conducted a survey through three major online job listings, Inside Higher Ed, HigherEdJobs, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, on December 13 and 16, 2012. I looked either through all of the available jobs in the field or through a significant portion of the most recent jobs to have a representative sample.  




Prior ESL Experience

Other Requirements

Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi

United Arab Emirates

English Lecturer


BA in TESOL or English

Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (KUSTAR)

United Arab Emirates

Assistant/ Associate Professor



Emily Carr University of Art + Design


Assistant Professor


Permanent Residents of Canada preferred

King Faisal University

Saudi Arabia

English Language Instructors


Native English speakers

College of the Bahamas


Assistant Professor of Comp/ Lit.


Ph.D. in English and publications

HKBU United International College


Prof./ Associate/ Assistant Prof. of Contemporary English/ Translation


Ph.D. in English

Qatar University


Assist./ Associate Prof. of Shakespeare


Ph.D. in English literature

I only looked at listings under the composition, literature and general English studies category. The survey showed that on Inside Higher Ed, out of the 125 reviewed jobs 11 were abroad, on HigherEdJobs out of the 100 reviewed jobs six were abroad, and on the Chronicle out of the 32 reviewed jobs four were abroad. Therefore, out of 257 studied jobs, 21 were abroad; this means that 8.2 percent of the advertised jobs in the survey were abroad. This is a very significant percentage for those who are eager to find academic employment. From the table above, one can conclude that experience teaching ESL, a degree in ESL or a willingness to teach ESL is essential to success in teaching English abroad. A Ph.D. is required in only about half of these higher education positions. In addition, four of these seven detailed jobs are at an assistant or higher academic rank, a great benefit for those who have difficulty hitting upon a tenure-track appointment in the U.S.   

To win one of these jobs, here are a few steps to review.

Step 1: Choosing the country that fits your identity

If you are female, religious, a member of the press, operate a business, or have a sexual orientation that’s something other than heterosexual, you might run into difficulties you aren’t used to in the U.S. when you work abroad. Here is a summary of the restrictions you might face if you move to one of the countries listed in the table above. Homosexuality is forbidden in the United Arab Emirates, and if you are caught you will be deported. China has restrictive freedom of speech and publication laws, which can lead to imprisonment. Women must have a male guardian in Saudi Arabia, which gives them the status of a minor. If you keep money in the Bahamas’s banks, you might be subject to U.S. IRS tax investigations, as it’s one of the 34 secrecy jurisdictions subject to the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act of 2011. Muslims can’t buy alcohol or pork in Qatar, but foreigners that get special permits might access these from designated sellers. (There are no major legal differences in Canada, but it is pretty cold up there.) So, do a bit of research on your intended country of residence before applying for given jobs.

Step 2: Fill out application forms and e-mail, mail or otherwise submit them to the colleges

Some schools in Asia and the Middle East require that you mail your materials, which can be relatively expensive, but most are likely to accept electronic submissions. If there is an application form to fill out, these can ask for some unusual items, such as photos, physical records and other documents that are necessary to obtain a visa. Usually these should only be required once you have been hired, so you should ask the department for clarification if you see these in the applications. You are also likely to be asked for a passport number and for other odd pieces of information. It’s more likely that you’ll see standard requirements for a letter, a C.V., and perhaps transcripts and recommendations.

Step 3: Complete a phone, Skype, Adobe Connect, local U.S. campus, or other type of interview

Nowadays many U.S. colleges also ask for Skype or Adobe Connect initial interviews from out-of-state candidates, so this medium shouldn’t be too foreign. You will probably be asked to send a connection request, or to approve a request that will be sent to you in advance, and sometimes the technician from the school asks for a brief connection-checking session in advance of the interview so you both can make sure that you are hearing the other clearly. If your interviewer is in a developing country like China, the connection on their end might be pretty bad, and you might not be able to hear most of what they are saying. Either way, you should make sure that they hear you clearly by purchasing a high-speed internet connection for your home, rather than using wifi or one of the cheaper Internet options. Online interviews are a cheaper option for those without an international calling plan. The online or phone interview isn’t likely to be longer than an hour, unlike campus interviews that can stretch out for many hours. This means that you should prepare careful notes on what you will say, including questions to ask, so that you will be sure to make a positive quick impression; you would have more time to talk about a wider variety of topics at a longer campus interview.

Step 4: Discuss questions, concerns and final points with the dean in a follow-up interview or orientation

Even if the chair or dean hires you after the initial interview, you should probably schedule a follow-up chat to ask them some additional questions about not only the position you are being offered, but also about the laws and traditions of the country you are about to enter. There might be pointers on what to avoid that they have encountered with previous international faculty that you can’t imagine in advance of entering their college.

Step 5: Obtain a visa, immunization shots, and otherwise prepare for the move

Don’t take on a contract for an international position that starts less than a month in advance. You will need at least a month to settle your affairs in the U.S. You will also need 1-2 months to obtain a traveler’s or a work visa without paying extra for expedited service. And some immunizations take months to complete, or at least 10 days to take effect. I rushed my move to China, completing everything in less than 10 days. In retrospect, if I had more time, I would have decided on staying in the U.S.

Do a lot of research before you decide on teaching abroad, and realize that no matter how much you read about the foreign country there will always be surprises that you can’t anticipate.

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