If you haven’t read my article on avoiding ESL scams, check that out first for a description of the most common ESL scams out there.

Understanding how these scams operate and what they usually do puts you ahead of the game when it comes to avoiding them.

Even if you don’t spot a scam right away (some of them are pretty good at masquerading as legitimate job posts or recruiters at first), here are a few signs to be on the lookout for during every step of the job hunt, application, and contract signing.

ESL scams ask for money up front

You should never have to pay an application fee, processing fee, recruitment fee, or any other sort of fee to apply for a job. You should never fork over the money to pay for your flights or TEFL up front to a recruiter or a school. There will be things, such as your visa and health check, that you will pay for out of pocket, but you should pay for those things directly, never through a school or placement agency.

They offer benefits and wages that are significantly higher than other jobs in that area

If a job sounds too good to be true, it is probably too good to be true. There is bound to be a little variation in salaries and benefits from job to job within a particular city or country, but any job post that is offering free housing and flights when that is not the norm, or $40/hr when every other job is offering $20 should be a red flag.

They require no experience or certifications

Good schools want qualified, reliable and experienced teachers in their classrooms. You need, at the very minimum, a bachelor’s degree, plus at least a year of teaching experience or a TEFL. No respectable school would proudly advertise that no experience, bachelor’s degree, or TEFL certification is required – what they are really advertising is that they have very low standards and are not able to attract qualified applicants. Steer clear.

They ask for personal information up front

Somewhere in the job search process, you’ll have to send along a scan of your passport and diploma. If your school is sponsoring your visa, you will have to send them some other more detailed information as well, for tax and immigration purposes. But if they are asking for things like your driver’ license, social security number, birth certificate, or credit information up front, be cautious. Identity theft, while not terribly common in ESL, has happened. There is no reason a school needs this information from you up front, so avoid sending anything too personal unless you know they need it for a legitimate reason (to process your work visa), and have reason to trust the person receiving the information.

They use a fake email

In order to make themselves look legitimate, some ESL scams have taken to using the name of a real school in their email address and job postings. When you google them, it all looks legit, but they are in no way affiliated with that school. The easiest way to spot these is to compare the email in the job post with the contact email on that school’s website. It should at least have the same ending – info@ESLSchool.com, or recruiting@ESLSchool.com. If it is something like ESLSchool@gmail.com, there’s a good chance they are just trying to use that school’s name to look legitimate.

They are vague and unhelpful in their correspondence

A good school will have worked closely with a number of ESL teachers before, and will understand that you have a lot of questions and concerns. They know that there is a lot of paperwork to fill out and that this is a big move for you. As such, they will be available to answer your questions and assist you in the process of getting over to the country. If they are unavailable to answer simple questions, send you the information that you request, or help you get your documents and flights figured out, it’s a sign that they’re at worst trying to pull something on you, and at best are just a crappy school who doesn’t care about their teachers.

They have no screening process for applicants

If you apply to a job and are instantly accepted with no interview or follow-up questions, it’s probably not because your application was just so awesome. Any legitimate school would at least require a conversation on Skype to make sure your English really is fluent before they’d hire you.

They won’t put you in touch with a former teacher

One surefire way to know if a school is honest and lives up to its promises is to talk to someone who actually works there. A good school will have no qualms about putting you in touch with a current or recent teacher, and shouldn’t be in the least bit surprised or offended at your asking.

They try to take a cut of your salary

Scam recruiters will try to do this; they will find you a job for the low cost of only 10% of every month’s salary. Legitimate recruiters are paid by the schools to find quality candidates and would never take a percentage of a teacher’s salary.

If in doubt, always look up what is the normal practice for that country. Forums such as Dave’s ESL Cafe, http://www.eslbase.com/forum/, and http://www.eslhq.com/forums are great resources to ask if something sounds legit or shady. Most countries have very active ESL forums, as well.