Want to travel the world but still need to work? Here's how to become an online teacher – and where to find online jobs for teachers. In this post by Quincy Smith (bio) you'll also learn about requirements, earnings, and the pros/cons of teaching online abroad.
How to Become an Online Teacher (and Travel Indefinitely)
Working remotely has always been a way to fund your travels indefinitely, but it wasn’t until the emergence of the online teaching industry that the option was available to the masses.
Before online teaching heavyweights like Dada and MagicEars started raising millions of dollars (or even billions), remote work was typically reserved for those with technical skills like programming or graphic design.
Now, any native speaker with a laptop and internet connection and indulge their fantasy to teach and travel and hit the road while still making a livable wage.
In this guide, we’ll look at what it takes to teach from your computer and how you can get started if this lifestyle appeals to you!
The State of Online Teaching
Over the past 5 years teaching online has migrated from the fringes to a well-known option for everyone from college graduates to perpetual travelers.
While the glory days of being able to get a top job without a degree have mostly passed, there are still countless opportunities for native and non-native speakers to make a living from their computer.
Where to Find Online Jobs for Teachers
The industry is broken into 3 main parts:
- Well known companies like MagicEars, Dada, and VIPKid – they are the most established, employ the most teachers, and have the strictest requirements.
- Up and coming platforms like Bibo and Preply – they aren’t as well known and typically have more relaxed hiring standards.
- Small and usually app-based companies like Zanys which are very niche and less reliable when it comes to being able to earn enough money to teach and travel.
As these companies have grown and more have entered the industry, the number of online teachers has skyrocketed. VIPKid boasts more than 60,000 teachers and a quick search on LinkedIn reveals there are 40,000 members with the “online teacher” job title.
In short, online teaching isn’t going anywhere and while it’s not as easy to get one of the top jobs as it was a year ago, there are still plenty of opportunities out there for people looking to give it a try.
Becoming an Online Teacher
Starting your online teaching career is quite painless – most established companies will allow you to apply on their website and navigate an online process to verify your credentials and potentially do a demo class.
What Are the Most Common Requirements?
While every company is different, there are 3 core requirements you should expect to meet when considering jobs from the well-known companies listed above:
- Native speaker: yes, you can get a job as a non-native speaker but the pay won’t be as good and the company won’t be as reputable.
- Degree: again, some companies don’t care and MagicEars even hired non-degree holders last year, but if you want to land a top job you will need at least a 2-year degree.
- Good equipment & internet: this should be obvious but you’re not going to be able to teach a class with dial-up internet and a laptop from 2005 – every respectable company out there will have technical requirements and they are often the biggest impediment for those looking to teach and travel.
What Can Online Teachers Expect to Earn?
The going rate for online teachers is between $14-$22/hr but before you go popping champagne and counting your unearned money it’s important to know:
- To get to $22/hr you need to hit all your bonuses and often get a promotion or two
- Classes are typically 30min and it’s difficult to teach full time at first as you need to prove both your skills and reliability
Still, it’s quite easy for established teachers to pull in at least $1k a month and there are even some super hardcore educators making $75k a year teaching online.
Watch on YouTube
What is Teaching Online Like?
Working online is heavily romanticized but it’s often not as easy as some bloggers and influencers make it out to be. When it comes to teaching online, the general schedule and your sanity are dependant on a few things:
- Waking up super early or staying up late to teach students in Asia (the biggest market). If you’re already in Asia then this is a bit easier, but you’ll still be doing most of your work in the evening as most students take these classes after their normal school day.
- Filling out class and student reviews after every lesson, often with only 5 minutes to complete before your next class. These reviews are super important as they can influence your teaching reviews but it can get stressful trying to fit them in.
- Opening up your teaching schedule (so you can be given classes) only to find out you don’t have any classes booked – this is a big issue for new teachers as you have to prove yourself before you can teach (and earn money) regularly.
Here's a great interview with Jason, who has been teaching online and traveling for two years. Sorry, but you'll have to turn up the volume on this one – it's a little muffled.
Watch on YouTube
Teaching and Traveling: The Good, The Bad, and Where to Start
Now that you have a better understanding of the online teaching industry as a whole and what it takes to become a teacher, let’s explore the ins and outs of teaching online while traveling.
An obvious caveat is that this lifestyle is not for everyone – it’s still awesome to be able to work from home and there can be serious challenges (and rewards) for people looking to pursue this from the road.
Let’s start with the good:
- Unlimited flexibility: as long as you have reliable internet you can teach and make money. Cynthia & Niko have been teaching while traveling for over 5 years!
- Geo Arbitrage: being able to live in lower cost of living cities can help you save more and retire earlier.
- Escape from the rat race: there is nothing traditional about teaching from the road and there are plenty of teachers out there who started their online teaching career as a way to break free of their 9-5.
- Inconsistent income: there is no guarantee that your schedule will fill up and this can create pressure and anxiety if you’re traveling on a set budget.
- Variable working conditions: online teaching makes you become very picky about where you travel and where you stay. Good internet is your north star and having the connection drop or not be as strong as advertised can impact both how much you earn and how long you stay in one place.
- A young and changing industry: the online teaching industry is new and there are always new rules and regulations popping up. Changes like needing a degree to Chinese companies requiring a TEFL can impact where you can work or even jobs you already have.
Where to Start: Becoming an Online Teacher
If you’re still interested in pursuing a life of teaching and traveling, here are a few tips to help you get started as easily as possible:
- Don’t quit your job before trying it: I understand the appeal of the phrase “burn the boats” but it’s just not worth quitting your job without trying a few classes first. Instead, try and do a test run of a few weeks where you teach while also doing your main job – then decide if you can do it for longer.
- Don’t start traveling immediately: build a routine in the comfort of your own home before you decide to go on the road. It’s much easier to build good habits in a familiar environment than to try and piece it together when you’re abroad.
- Have an emergency fund: plan for the times when you can’t teach as often as you like by having some extra money, I suggest at least 3 months of savings for peace of mind.
- Pick digital nomad friendly locations for your first few trips: Use a site like Nomad List to find and evaluate potential cities from which to work.
- Embrace slow travel: Remember, you’re not on vacation now – this is your life and there is no need to hop to a new city every 3 days. Learn to love slow travel and don’t hesitate to extend stays when you find a place you love!
In the end, there are plenty of appealing reasons to give this a try and as long as you are smart with your approach the worst that can happen is that you’re able to make some extra money from your home! Have fun!
Here's a taste of what it's like to teach English in person (in Poland, South Korea, and Myanmar).
Bio: Quincy Smith is the founder of ESL Authority and currently lives in Shanghai. He’s passionate about strong coffee, solo travel, and IPAs.