Before you head to the airport to start your TEFL journey it is important that you are aware of the paperwork required by the country you are planning to work in. The specific type of visa you need to gain entry to your destination country and how you gain the right to work legally there can vary enormously from one place to the next. To ensure everything runs as smoothly as possible, you should visit the relevant embassy website and do a bit of online research well before you plan to leave.
Table of Contents
Typically, anyone traveling to a foreign country requires a passport that is valid for at least six months. In some situations your passport must be valid for a full year, so the best advice is to ensure your passport has two years or more remaining to allow for an extended teaching contract or further travel once your initial contract is complete. In many cases you will also require some form of visa prior to entering your destination country. This is dependent on the laws of each individual country and should be confirmed during the interview process, or by visiting the relevant government's immigration website.
When applying for jobs there are certain documents that you will generally require whether you are in your home country or your destination country. In many cases you will need to provide your original TEFL certificate, although a copy might be sufficient in some cases. You will also need a copy of your CV/resume and a cover letter, both of which might need to be translated into the local language. Finally, it is always a good idea to have photos on hand as many employers will require them during the application process. Typically, two photos are often requested, one a standard headshot and another showing your whole body. Make sure you are well groomed and dressed professionally or your application could go straight into the waste bin without being considered.
It is increasingly common for employers to request a criminal background check when applying for jobs in Asia and the Middle East in particular. Although generally less common across Europe and Latin America, those applying for government-run recruitment programs might find they are required. Several countries also require background checks when applying for a work permit or entry visa. To find out the best way to obtain a background check for your specific nationality, simply complete an online search.
In countries where specific educational qualifications are required you may need to provide your university degree or diploma etc. Official transcripts of your qualifications might also be necessary. These should be in a sealed envelope and can be obtained for a small fee from your college or university. In some countries you might need to fill out a medical form when applying for visas or work permits. Specific medical tests may also be required such as TB in Japan and HIV-AIDS in Saudi Arabia. Employers may also require some form of physical examination or a drug test prior to completing the hiring process.
From within the U.S. you can apply via the State Department's web page. From outside the country, you should contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
British citizens should visit the U.K. Government's Services website for full details on applying for or renewing their passport.
Canadian citizens will find the relevant information on the Government of Canada website.
Passport information for Australians can be found on the Department of Foreign Affairs website.
New Zealand citizens should go to the passport page of the Department of Internal Affairs.
A simple web search for your own country's passport application procedures should give you all the information you need.
Yes, most countries require foreign visitors to possess some form of visa in order to enter for tourism, business, education, or employment purposes. The requirements vary greatly from one country to the next, so we recommend that you contact the relevant embassy or visit their website to ensure you have the most up-to-date information. Here we break down the most common forms of visa that you are likely to come across.
These are generally issued to short term visitors who do not plan to work or study during their stay. There are several categories of tourist visa depending on the destination and your own country of origin. The most common is the 'upon entry' tourist visa that is issued in the form of a passport stamp on arrival at the immigration desk. For example, US citizens heading to destinations such as Spain, Italy or France will receive a free stamp on entry that is valid for 90 days. In some cases you may also be charged a fee (typically $20-$30) on arrival, such as in Turkey or Cambodia. In certain circumstances you may have to apply in advance for a tourist visa. This is still common practice for many current or former communist countries such as China, Russia and Vietnam. Applications require you to fill out various forms and to supply passport photos and an application fee. For details including fees and processing times we recommend visiting the relevant embassy website.
Although it is not strictly legal, in many countries it is common practice for foreign teachers to enter and work on a tourist visa. Due to the complicated bureaucracy in many Latin American countries, it is normal for schools to overlook the time consuming process of applying for work permits in favor of employing teachers with a 90-day tourist visa. A hop across the border to gain a fresh visa in a neighboring country every few months is often seen as the best policy by teachers and employers. Similarly, many US citizens find work on a tourist visa in European countries such as Italy and Spain. This is also generally seen as common practice, although it is not so in other popular destinations such as Greece and France, so it is important that you do some research in advance.
To gain full legal status to work as an ESL teacher in a foreign country, you will typically require some form of work visa. The procedure varies but in most cases a job offer is required to kick start the process. In many of the biggest markets such as China, South Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, you must secure a teaching position first and then apply for a work visa from within your home country. In contrast, when teaching in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, the Czech Republic and Germany, it is common to be employed locally following a face-to-face interview. In these countries you must first enter on a tourist visa and then apply for a work visa from within the host country. This will usually require proof of employment and a valid passport, as well as other documents including TEFL certification, university transcripts, medical forms and criminal background checks.
In countries where it is difficult to obtain a work visa, enrollment on a study program at a local university or other institute can sometimes allow you to work on the side. For example, in countries such as France, Italy and Spain, you can sign-up for a local language course that qualifies you for a student visa. During the course you will also be allowed to work up to a certain number of hours per week.
As a result of individual agreements between nations, certain passport holders may be eligible for a working holiday visa which allows them to travel and work in a specific foreign country. Australia, New Zealand and Canada have many such arrangements with other countries including European favorites such as Italy, France and Germany. Applications must be completed from within your home country and are restricted by age (usually 18 to 30/35 years). You may also require proof of financial resources and a homeward plane ticket. Unfortunately, options in this category are limited for US citizens as the only current agreement in place is with Australia.
In many countries there are visas available to the partners and children of those who have found employment and have secured a work visa in a foreign country. The details of these vary considerably but may allow the partner to work and gain access to health care, schooling and other social services.
In some countries there is a clear process for foreigners to obtain a work visa that provides full legal status to live and work. In others, the process can be expensive and time consuming or simply nonexistent. However, as the demand for English language teachers is so high in many parts of the world, the necessity of a work visa is sometimes ignored. The fact is that many thousands of people work as English language teachers in countries all over the world without a work visa.
In countries such as Spain and Italy, both extremely popular destinations, it is common for Americans and other nationalities to enter the country on a tourist visa and immediately start working as an English language teacher. A tourist visa in these countries is typically valid for 90 days and cannot be renewed so after three months many teachers simply overstay the visa and continue working. Elsewhere in Europe, countries such as Germany, Czech Republic, Turkey, and Russia all have a clear process for foreign teachers to obtain a work visa. Those who apply for government run placement programs in countries such as France or Spain will also receive full legal status via a work permit.
As schools in this region generally have a high demand for English language teachers but limited finances, it is very common for teachers to be employed without a work visa. The exceptions are Chile and Mexico where work visas are issued in the majority of cases. In Argentina and Costa Rica it is normal to work on a tourist visa that can be renewed by leaving and then re-entering the country before the original expires.
In the large and lucrative markets of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, it is standard practice for employers to provide their teachers with work visas. In smaller markets such as Jordan and Egypt, a small percentage of teachers may find jobs without a permit.
The vast majority of jobs across the region's teaching hotspots such as China, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and South Korea, will come with the necessary work permit. Elsewhere, teaching without a work permit it not uncommon.
For the employer, hiring a teacher without a work permit means they do not have to pay taxes or social security contributions, making it more affordable to hire the staff they need. For the teacher it also means no tax payments, however, you will consequently have no access to benefits such as national medical insurance or the safety of a legally binding contract. Although working illegally is not risk free, very few people ever have a problem with the local authorities. If for any reason you are caught without a visa the usual outcome is to be put on a flight back home, while the employer generally receives a small fine.
If you plan on heading to Europe to teach English it is important that you are aware of the regulations regarding visas and work permits in your chosen destination. The visa situation varies from one country to the next and may also depend on your own nationality. Because of this, we recommend that you visit the relevant embassy website to get the most up to date information before you make any final travel plans.
As Spain is a member of the European Union, teachers from other EU member states do not need a visa to live and work legally in Spain. However, you will still need to apply for a residency permit and a tax number on arrival in the country. The application process should be straightforward and you can usually expect your employer to help you through it.
For non-EU citizens, the most common option is a 90-day tourist visa that is issued on arrival at a Spanish airport. Once in the country many teachers simply find a job and work as normal even after the visa has expired. Although this is not technically legal, it is common practice and rarely causes any problems for teachers or employers. Every year thousands of Americans and other non-Europeans follow this route to teaching English in Spain.
An official work visa is not easy to come by in Spain as it requires a significant investment of time and money on the part of the employer. Exceptions can be found in international schools that typically only employ teachers with a high level of qualifications and experience. Work placements organized through the Ministry of Education's public school recruitment program also come with a work visa.
These are available to some nationalities whose governments have an individual agreement with Spain. The visa allows you to work in the country for a specific time (typically one year), with certain restrictions. Working holiday visas are generally only available to those aged 18 to 30, and you will also need to provide evidence of sufficient funds to last the length of your stay. Currently there are agreements in place for Australians, New Zealanders, and Canadians, although this can change at any time so you should contact your nearest Spanish Embassy to see if you are eligible.
A student visa might be a good option if you are planning to study at a Spanish language school or university, as it may also allow you to work legally for a certain number of hours per week. Unlike other visa options, the student visa needs to be applied for in advance from within your own country. Your nearest Spanish Embassy will be able to provide full details of eligible study programs and how to apply.
The Czech Republic is a very popular destination for teaching English abroad due to its' welcoming people, fascinating cultural heritage, and world famous beer. Another reason for its popularity is that unlike many other European countries such as Spain and Italy, it is possible for non-EU citizens to obtain a long-term work visa to teach legally in the country.
Most teachers enter the Czech Republic on a basic tourist visa that is valid for 90 days. Once in the country, you can then begin the process of applying for a work visa. The most common route for teachers is to apply for a Zivnostensky List (Zivno), which is essentially a business license that allows you to work for any school in the country. You can lodge your application at a government zivnostensky office, although most teachers use a visa agency to organize things for them. The documents required for your application include:
- Completed application form
- Bank or credit card statement showing access to a minimum of $8,000
- Housing contract as proof of long-term residency
- One year health insurance policy (can be bought in country)
- Criminal background check (contact your embassy in Prague for details on how to obtain this document)
The second option is a standard work permit that requires the employer to act as a sponsor and to lodge the application. As this can be expensive and requires extensive paperwork, many employers are reluctant to offer it. However, for those who are able to show a long-term commitment, it can still be a good option. To be eligible the teacher must be a university graduate who can supply an apostilled version of their diploma (obtained in home country), plus another translated into Czech.
There are plenty of employers in the Czech Republic who are happy to employ teachers without a work visa. Although this is technically illegal, it is common practice and rarely causes problems for the teacher. However, for teachers who want to live and work in the Czech Republic for more than just a short visit, one of the above options is highly recommended.
For EU citizens looking to teach English in Germany it is relatively straightforward as they are able to work freely without a visa, while others such as Australians, New Zealanders, and Canadians can apply for a working holiday visa. However, for Americans and other non-EU citizens, there are fewer options when looking to live and work in the country. That being said, if you are patient it is definitely possible to obtain a work visa that allows you to fulfill your dream of teaching English in Germany.
The application process can take up to two months and must be done from within Germany, so most teachers enter the country on a tourist visa. As the process is quite slow you will need to be able to support yourself financially while you wait for your application to be approved. It will also help considerably if you have a good knowledge of the German language or the help of a local contact who can guide you through the process. The requirements may vary from state to state but the basic process is as follows:
- Register at the local Standesamt-Einwohnermeldeamt (Registration Office) within a week of arriving in the country
- Find a permanent address such as a rented room or shared apartment (not hotel or guest house)
- Apply for teaching jobs
- Once a job is offered, obtain a 'letter of intent' from the employer
- Visit the Ausländerbehörde (Immigration Office) to apply for a residency permit and work visa
- Open a German bank account
- Visit the Finanzamt (Finance Office) and apply for a tax ID number
Once all the required steps have been completed and you have received your residency permit, work permit, and tax number, you will be free to legally teach English in Germany.
For non-EU citizens who want to teach English in Europe it can be a frustrating experience when it comes to getting a work visa. Due to this frustration, many teachers decide to work with only their initial tourist visa in their passport. Although this is technically illegal, it is a widespread practice in some of the most popular destinations such as France, Italy and Spain, and it rarely causes any problems. However, if this approach does not appeal to you, a student visa might be the answer. By enrolling in a local language course, you get to learn French, Italian or Spanish, while also being free to legally work as an EFL teacher for a certain number of hours each week.
It is recommended that you allow a minimum of four weeks for the application to be processed. You should also ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months after your trip to France is completed. Documented proof that you have enrolled on a study course that is recognized by the French government (typically a French language course) will be crucial to your application. The first step is to register with Campus France, a French Government program that can be found here: www.usa.campusfrance.org/en. A registration fee of $70 is required to obtain an 'attestation'. Next you must visit your nearest French Consulate in person to lodge your application. The exact requirements are subject to change, but are typically:
- Completed application form
- Valid passport
- Additional passport photo
- Photocopy of passport ID page
- Documentation regarding your study course in France
- Proof of available finances (bank statement showing funds of $1,000 for every month of your stay, or notarized document from parent or similar declaring they will guarantee the funds)
- An 'attestation' from Campus France
- Completed French immigration form
- Airline reservations showing date of departure
- 50 euro processing fee
It is recommended that you visit the consulate website for the current documentation requirements before submitting your application.
If you plan to stay in France for more than six months, you need to register with l'office français de l'immigration et de l'intégration (OFII) within three months of your arrival. To complete your registration you will need to provide the following:
- Valid passport, plus copy of ID pages
- A passport size photo
- Proof of residence in France (utility bill etc)
- 55 euro tax fee
Although it is not guaranteed that your student visa application will be accepted, if you supply all the required documentation throughout the application process, you should find you are able to head to France to begin your adventure teaching English abroad.
To start the process you should visit your nearest Spanish Consulate at least three months before you plan to leave. At this visit you should verify the exact requirements, collect an application form, and make an appointment to submit your application. You also need to enroll in a government recognized study program in the area where you wish to live in Spain. The documentation required may vary, but typically includes:
- Completed application form
- Valid passport
- Four extra passport photos
- Private health insurance policy
- Police criminal background check in English and Spanish
- Medical certificate in English and Spanish showing negative test results for yellow fever, cholera, the plague, mental illness, and drug dependency
- Proof of enrollment on study course in Spain
- Proof of accommodation
- Proof of finances (bank statement showing funds of $1,000 for every month of your stay, or notarized document from parent or similar declaring they will guarantee the funds)
Once your student visa has been approved and you have arrived in Spain, you then need to apply for a Número de Identificación (NIE) within 30 days. To do so you must visit a police station or immigration office with the following documents at hand:
- Completed application form
- Valid passport
- Copy of passport ID page
- Two additional passport photos
- Your Spanish address
As long as you follow the exact requirements laid out by the Spanish Consulate, you have an excellent chance of receiving a student visa that allows you to live and work in Spain. Whether you prefer Madrid or Barcelona, Seville or Valencia, a student visa could be the key to an unforgettable trip.
The process of applying for a student visa can take up to a month to be processed. You will need to visit your nearest Italian Consulate in person to submit the required documents. Before applying you should ensure that your passport is valid for a minimum of six months after your stay in Italy is completed. You also need to enroll in a study program such as an Italian language course that is recognized by the Italian government. The required documentation may vary, but the typical requirements are:
- Completed application form
- Valid passport
- Additional passport photo
- Photocopies of passport ID pages
- Documentation regarding the study course in Italy
- Proof of finances (either a bank statement showing access to $1,000 per month during your stay, or notarized document from parent or similar declaring responsibility for providing the funds)
- Health insurance documentation
- Proof of round-trip flights
- Proof of accommodation during your stay
To ensure you have everything in place it is recommended that you visit the website of your nearest consulate to check the exact details of any documentation required.
Once you have received your student visa and are on the ground in Italy, you then need to apply for a Residence Permit (Permesso di Soggiorno). Your application should be made at a local post office within eight days of your arrival in the country. Processing time can be up to three months and requires the following documents:
- Completed application form (obtained from post office)
- Valid passport, plus copies of ID and visa page
- Four passport photos
- Tax stamp (obtained from post office)
- Acceptance letter from study program
- Public health insurance (49 euros for six months, 98 euros for twelve months. Obtained from post office)
- Once your application is sent, you also need to apply for a tax number through the government tax department
If you supply all the necessary documentation throughout the visa application process, things should run smoothly. However, it is by no means certain that every application will be approved so it is important that you follow the instructions supplied by the Italian Consulate to the letter.