I have met so many people who talk about teaching ESL abroad someday. Maybe once they reach a certain place in their career where they can take a year off, maybe when they have more money saved up, maybe when they pay off their student loans.

Sure, sometimes the timing really isn’t right to move to another country. If someone is in the middle of medical treatments for a major disease, or just starting a family, or about to receive a major promotion at work, it makes sense to put traveling on hold (although, I know people who have traveled and lived their dreams despite having young children, major disabilities, or stage IV cancer, so even these excuses aren’t absolute).

But for the rest of us, our reasons for not doing what we really want to do ultimately come down to empty excuses. Here are the eight biggest excuses people use for not being able to teach abroad, and why they aren’t as prohibitive as people think.

Health Insurance while Abroad

This can be a huge one. Having health insurance offered to you through your current job can be a major factor in a person’s decision to stay at that job. The fear of not being able to have quality health insurance while you are traveling, and of having sub-standard medical facilities available to you can be paralyzing, even if you are generally healthy.  

Most countries in Europe, Asia, and South America have medical facilities that are at least on par with western standards, especially in the major cities. And most of these countries have out-of-pocket medical care costs that can be significantly cheaper than what you’ll pay in the US with insurance.

Also, nearly all of the major ESL destinations require employers to offer some form of medical insurance to full-time employees (which you will be if they are sponsoring your work visa). You’ll want to do a little bit of research into exactly what medical care in coverage is like in the country you want to go to, but rest assured that you are not going to end up without medical coverage or access to high quality medical care.

Start-Up Costs

While teaching abroad can be very lucrative, the costs to get yourself over to your destination and get set up before your first few paychecks land in your bank account can be prohibitive. You’ll need to pay for a TEFL course, pay for your passport and visas, buy a plane ticket, pay for rent, and support yourself for the first month or two entirely on savings.

If you are living paycheck to paycheck right now, or struggling with student loans, saving up for a plane ticket may seem like a distant dream. I could tell you to get a second job, fundraise, or hit up family for extra funds, but none of those are particularly appealing options.

Your best bet is going to be to look into programs such as EPIK in South Korea, or JET in Japan, that typically cover all or a portion of your flight and housing costs. Look for a TEFL course that will allow you to pay in installments instead of just one lump sum, and remember that you don’t need to fork out more than a couple hundred dollars for your certification.

Check out my article on funding your teaching abroad experience for more ideas.


Student loans and credit card debt can be pretty brutal. People spend decades of their lives with this debt hanging over their heads, preventing them from having the financial means to do the things they really want to do.

Teaching ESL definitely does not have to be one of those things. It’s not a myth at all that you can pay off most or all of your student loans through teaching ESL abroad. Especially in countries like South Korea and Japan, which are known for being two of the most lucrative ESL markets out there, it is entirely feasible to bank $20,000/year in savings.

So, instead of moving abroad being the thing you will do once you get out of debt, start thinking of teaching ESL abroad as the thing that will get you out of debt.

Lack of Support Network

It can be terrifying to think about traveling to a new country where you don’t know anyone. If something goes wrong, you have no support network to call on, and you have no idea what the people will be like. Will you find people that you can relate to? What if you can’t make any friends? Will there be enough people who speak the same language as you?

What you will find once you get abroad, though, is that every ESL teacher it in exactly the same boat – all of you are there on your own, a little scared and uncertain of what you’re doing, and all of you are looking for people to connect with.

Especially if you go to a popular ESL destination, you’ll practically have a built-in support network – you just have to go out and find it. If you choose to go through a recruiter, they will be able to help you through any rough patches as well, and put you in touch with other like-minded people in your area.

Fear of Landing in a Scam

I have a co-worker who, fresh out of college, paid thousands of dollars to a “TEFL” agency that promised him a TEFL certification and a guaranteed job placement in Africa. After sending them the full payment for the “course” and a “plane ticket,” he found couldn’t get in touch with this agency at all, nor did he ever receive a plane ticket, nor could he get any of his money back. They had just disappeared.

So, yeah, fear of landing in a scam is legit. But my co-worker now admits that he only fell for this because he was, at the time, incredibly naive and trusting. With just a little bit of research and discernment, he could have found out that this TEFL agency was a scam. And that’s exactly how scams operate – they prey on people who are too trusting, uninformed, or naive to know what’s going on.

With a little research on avoiding ESL scams, these sort of shady practices are very easy to spot and avoid.

Not Having Teaching Experience

This is not nearly as big a deal as you think. ESL jobs are entry level positions, so only the most competitive positions require extensive teaching experience. What you do need to have is a TEFL certification, with at least 6 hours of in person teaching experience (not mock teaching to classmates, but teaching with real ESL learners). If you choose a good TEFL program, they will have the resources to help arrange this.

You can also cite recent experience working with children in other settings on your resume. Did you work for a summer as a camp counselor, or volunteer to coach kids in soccer at the local YMCA? Combined with a TEFL, these sort of experience show you know how to work with kids and are committed to teaching, which is enough to land a good ESL job in most countries.  

Fear of The Unknown

More than anything else, it is a general fear of the unknown that keeps a lot of people stuck in jobs they can’t stand, putting their dreams off until next month or next year or next decade. Any change is going to require a little bit of a leap of faith, a little bit of a plunge into the unknown. There is really no way around this one. Every single person who has done something extraordinary with their life has had to face this fear and then plow right through it. And if you want to live your dreams, travel, see the world, and get out of the 9-5, then the only way to do it is to accept that it’s going to be scary, and start taking steps forward anyway.