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CELTA vs TEFL: Costs, Requirements, & Career Options

Confusion over two common types of English-teaching certification — CELTA vs TEFL — is common and entirely understandable. The rapidly evolving industry of the specialized type of language instruction known as “English as a second language” – itself often acronymized as “ESL” – is full of jargon and terminologies that are likely to be intimidating to newcomers.

In this post, we will explore the nuanced (but important) distinctions between “Teaching English as a Foreign Language” (TEFL) certification and “Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults” (CELTA) certification.

Which should you get to suit your career goals? Let’s get into it in this CELTA vs TEFL breakdown.

What Is ‘TEFL’?

TEFL, which stands for “Teaching English as a Foreign Language,” is the basic, most common industry-standard certification for English teachers around the world.

This type of certification is issued following the completion of a TEFL course in which prospective teachers learn the essentials of providing English-language instruction to foreign learners. The best programs, such as TEFL Hero’s 120-hour online TEFL course, cover:

  • Best practices for managing classrooms (even large groups)
  • Effective lesson planning
  • The four fundamental English proficiencies for non-native learners (reading, writing, listening, speaking)

TEFL courses are most often broken up by the projected time commitment (even when they are online and self-paced). Industry-standard formats for TEFL certification are:

  • 100 hours
  • 120 hours
  • 150+ hours

Ideally, most teachers should look for a 120-hour course in the “sweet spot” — 100-hour certificates are not considered legitimate by some employers while 150+-hour courses are unnecessary to land most jobs.

A handful of international accrediting bodies legitimize TEFL courses by lending their seal of approval. In order to avoid scams and wasted time and money, it’s imperative that you always look for appropriate accreditation when browsing through TEFL course options. The most-recognized TEFL-accrediting bodies are:

  •  ACCREDITAT
  •  IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language)
  • Teacher Training Council
  •  ACCET (Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training)

What Is ‘CELTA’?

CELTA, which stands for “Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults,” is a higher echelon of English-instruction certification than TEFL.

A CELTA certificate will unlock access to nearly every job in the global ESL market – even those with the most stringent requirements like international schools and higher education.

Cambridge University, an elite institution of notoriety in Great Britain, accredits CELTA courses. Accordingly, gaining the proper permissions to conduct CELTA courses is a more arduous process than that of TEFL accreditation.

Per the official CELTA website, the topics covered in a CELTA course generally include:

  • Learners and teachers, and the teaching and learning context
  •  Language analysis and awareness
  • Language skills: reading, listening, speaking and writing
  • Planning and resources for different teaching contexts
  •  Developing teaching skills and professionalism

Given CELTA’s higher-tier status, CELTA courses are typically more involved than their TEFL counterparts. Standard CELTA course features include:

  • 120 hours of class time
  • Written assignments demonstrating absorption of the lesson contents
  •  6 hours of real-world, supervised teaching practice (called “teaching practicum” in the industry”)

Historically, CELTA courses were performed as full-time, 4-week courses in-person at accredited learning centers around the world. However, due to digitalization trends that have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, CELTA is now available partly online.

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CELTA vs TEFL: Finding the Best Option for You

There are several factors that you should consider when selecting the right type of course in terms of CELTA vs TEFL. These two types of ESL training are different in critical aspects.

Let’s get into each of them here.

CELTA vs TEFL: Career Path

While the image of a dedicated, lifelong teacher with a committed and passionate attachment to ESL work is the archetype of the “ideal teacher,” the reality is that teachers in the ESL industry do not always fit this mold.

Many, many teachers who enter the global ESL market are not, in fact, looking for a career path; teaching English to foreign learners is simply an exciting way to make traveling the world financially feasible, fill a year after university, or save a bit of money.

There is nothing wrong with this and most employers understand and accept this reality. They see teachers come and go on an annual (or sometimes even more frequent) basis.

At one school where I taught in Southern Thailand (for a very brief time myself), one of the only long-term foreign teachers there informed me that I was the 7th new teacher to enter the school in the past year.  

If you fit into this category of ESL teacher that is more or less “getting your feet wet,” then TEFL certification is likely your best option because of its relatively lower cost (on average), its less-intense curriculum, and its shorter time commitment.

However, if you plan to make a career out of teaching English to foreign learners – and particularly if you plan to do so in elite schools at the highest levels of the pay scale – then you should probably consider biting the bullet and becoming CELTA-certified.

CELTA vs TEFL: Cost

On average, CELTA certification is significantly more expensive than TEFL certification. The chart below features a side-by-side comparison of the typical costs associated with each.

TEFL vs CELTA Cost Comparison
Average CELTA CostAverage TEFL Cost
$2,795$300-$600

The reasons for this disparity in cost are varied and include:

  • CELTA’s higher-tier status as a teaching credential
  • The more rigorous accreditation process for developing CELTA courses that Cambridge University is willing to approve
  • The longer duration of CELTA courses
  • The in-person nature of most CELTA courses compared to the online or hybrid format featured in many TEFL programs

CELTA vs TEFL: Course Requirements

The thresholds for qualifying for a TEFL course are generally laxer than those to qualify for acceptance into a CELTA course. For most TEFL courses, anyone who meets the following basic requirements is eligible for enrollment:

  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • 18 years old
  • English proficiency

Occasionally, some upper-tier (and pricier) TEFL courses, particularly those hosted by universities (see our list of TEFL courses in Atlanta for examples), have more stringent admissions standards. However, if your goal is to find gainful ESL employment, you need not worry about this because a high-quality, accredited 120-hour online course will suffice.

The typical requirements to gain entry into a CELTA course are:

  • At least 18 years old
  • Proficient English language user (CEFR Level high C1 or above)
  • Eligible for entry into higher education

In practice, due to the career-oriented candidates that CELTA attracts, the vast majority of enrollees into CELTA programs are working professionals with at least a bachelor’s degree – and often other teaching certifications such as a previously earned TEFL – under their belts.

On the other hand, TEFL program participants tend to be younger, less sure of their long-term career goals, and newer to the ESL field.

CELTA vs TEFL: Course Duration & Intensity

Course duration and intensity is an important consideration for those who are pressed for time – which is almost everyone in the modern world. This is the dealbreaker for many who are weighing the relative costs and benefits of TEFL vs CELTA.

More and more fully accredited, 100%-legitimate TEFL courses are offered entirely online and, even better, are self-paced – allowing for flexibility for workers and full-time students who benefit from the ability to work around their schedules.

Juggling a full-time job or full-time school with an intensive 4-week, in-person CELTA course (the historical standard) is impossible for many due to scheduling conflicts and the demanding curricula of these types of training programs.

Most, but not all, CELTA courses still operate on the full-time, in-person model. Trends in digitalization and COVID-19 social distancing guidelines are slowly changing the structure and design of CELTA courses. Part-time, hybrid (mix of in-person and online learning) CELTA courses that last 3 months are increasingly available.

CELTA vs TEFL: Which Is Right for You?

Based on the critical differences between CELTA and TEFL courses that we discussed above, the most important differentiating factors to weigh carefully in the final analysis are:

  • Long-term career goals: CELTA is best-suited for teachers who want to make a career out of teaching and/or aim to reach the highest levels of the industry such as international schools, business training centers, and higher education.
  • Budget: On balance, the vast majority of TEFL courses are significantly cheaper than their CELTA counterparts.
  • Course requirements. While similar, CELTA courses generally have higher qualification thresholds for enrollees and are geared toward professionals already in the ESL field.
  • Time commitment. CELTA courses are more intense both in the required time commitment inside the classroom as well as the work required to produce essays and teaching practice (teaching practicum). On the other hand, many online TEFL courses are entirely self-paced, allowing for greater flexibility in terms of working coursework into your schedule.

CELTA vs TEFL: FAQs

Let’s review a handful of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding the benefits of each type of certification, their utility in terms of accessing high-paying jobs in the global ESL industry, and their relative advantages and drawbacks.

Do I Need a CELTA or TEFL to Teach Abroad?

The short answer here is: no, not in every circumstance.

The more involved answer to this question depends on a number of factors: the requirements of the host country/destination you hope to teach in, your other personal qualifications such as advanced degrees or experience, your speaking status (native vs non-native), and the type of educational institution where you would like to work.

Some countries, for example, require foreign teachers to have either a TEFL or CELTA certification to obtain a visa/work permit required to legally teach in the country – with potentially hefty fines for those who skirt the rules and get caught.

To gain access to higher institutes of learning and elite schools that pay the highest salaries, you may need a CELTA certificate to get your foot in the door.

The bottom line is that, in the long run, having a TEFL or CELTA certification is an enormous asset that makes you much more attractive to employers by demonstrating your commitment to teaching. In terms of a cost-benefit analysis, these certifications nearly always pay off over time.

Do I Need a CELTA or TEFL to Teach Online?

In most cases, you will not need a TEFL, and certainly not a CELTA, to land an online teaching job. To attract the most candidates in order to compensate for high turnover rates, most online ESL companies have relatively lax policies regarding requirements.

The standard requirements for online teaching gigs are typically a 4-year degree of any type and native English-speaking status. A small (and increasing) percentage of online ESL platforms do require TEFL certification (like Magic Ears), so it certainly won’t hurt to get one.

An important consideration is that, in addition to making you more attractive to a hiring manager, having proper certification also gives you an advantage when you negotiate your salary. TEFL-certified teachers can demand higher pay than their non-certified peers.

Is a CELTA Certificate the Same as a TEFL Certificate?

No. Both are certifications to teach English as a foreign language (ESL) that demonstrate professionalism and commitment to language instruction. However, Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is a more common and standard form of certification in the ESL industry, while Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) is a higher-tier qualification designed for long-term teaching professionals.

What Are the Main Differences Between a CELTA and TEFL?

While CELTA and TEFL are both certification courses that train teachers in best practices to effectively teach English as a secondary language (ESL), they are not the same and have important differences:

  • TEFL is better suited for newcomers to the ESL field and teachers who want to “get their feet” wet while earning a marketable, affordable certification. CELTA, on the other hand, is ideal for committed, long-term teachers.
  • TEFL courses generally require less time commitment and offer greater flexibility schedule-wise than CELTA courses.
  • TEFL programs have slightly less rigorous standards for acceptance into their programs compared to CELTA courses.
  • TEFL courses are nearly always more affordable than CELTA courses. 
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