If you’re eager to break into the international English as a second language (ESL) game – whether your preferred employment destination is South America, Asia, or Europe – you’ll want to read this comprehensive article with step-by-step instructions on how to get TEFL certification – a must-have for any up-and-coming teacher.
Let’s get into it.
What is a TEFL certificate?
“TEFL” stands for “teaching English as a foreign language.” It is a particular discipline under the broader English education umbrella, referencing English instruction provided to non-native-English-speaking students, usually in foreign countries.
Because most English teachers of non-native-English-speaking students don’t have degrees in education, earning a TEFL certification demonstrates to employers that job applicants have received specialized training in the ESL discipline.
An example of a TEFL Hero 120-hour TEFL Certification
*Important: Always, always look for proper accreditation in a TEFL program you are considering. Without such an endorsement from an internationally-recognized accrediting agency, your TEFL certificate will be essentially worthless.
In a later section, we’ll explain more about TEFL accrediting bodies and how to determine whether a course you’re considering is legit.
Get Certified to Teach Anywhere!
Requirements for getting a TEFL certificate
In order to gain acceptance into a TEFL certification program, here are the basic requirements you must meet (these might vary slightly from course to course):
- High school or GED
- 18 years old
- Bachelor’s degree (rarely required for some higher-end courses)
- High level of English proficiency (non-native speakers may be required to present proof of IELTS score)
As you can see, TEFL certification courses have relatively low entry bars. Most adults meet the basic standards. If you don’t, there are still places you could teach – see more in our post on teaching English abroad without a TEFL certification.
You can expect to invest a minimum of 100 hours into the program in total. Self-paced online courses such as TEFL Hero’s are flexible in this regard, as you can fit your study time into your personal schedule around work or school.
Why is getting TEFL certified a worthwhile investment?
One might wonder: why should I even bother with a TEFL certification? Here’s why:
- Competitiveness. Schools increasingly include TEFL certification in their job ads as a baseline requirement. It’s still possible to get hired out there without a TEFL certificate, but it’s getting harder. Earning a TEFL certificate makes you a more impressive job candidate, without question.
- Practical teacher training. Not all of us are naturally brilliant teachers – like any craft, it takes time and energy to master. A high-quality TEFL certification prepares you to thrive in the classroom with optimal teaching strategies, classroom management techniques, and lesson-planning best practices that you are sure to find beneficial when you’re actually in the classroom.
- English grammar refresher. Unless you’re a linguistics major, the last serious grammar training that you had was probably in high school. English is exceedingly complicated in its grammatical structure in comparison to many other languages out there, and we can all use a basic refresher on the ins and outs of the language, even if it is our mother tongue.
- Overcoming cultural hurdles. Most TEFL courses – the ones worth their salt, anyway – include some element dedicated to training you on what to expect in terms of “culture shock” that you’re destined to experience at some point in a foreign ESL classroom, especially if you don’t have a wealth of overseas experience already. I wrote a whole thing on this very topic that you should check out called How to Navigate Sticky Cultural Issues While Teaching English in Asia (the title’s about Asia but the general principles discussed apply universally).
How to get TEFL certification in 5 steps:
Let’s run down a step-by-step guide to get TEFL-certified. Follow these and you’ll have a brand-new highly marketable TEFL certification in your name to help you land your ESL dream job in no time.
Decide if you want to complete a TEFL course online or in-person
One of the biggest choices you face is whether to take an online or in-person course. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a massive proliferation of online courses due to social distancing requirements. A slew of big-name TEFL providers, accordingly, now exclusively offer their courses in online formats.
Here are some considerations to weigh when deciding upon which type of TEFL course to pursue:
- In-person courses have more rigid schedules; some online courses require attendance in digital classrooms at particular times but many are entirely self-paced. If you’ve got a busy schedule, chances are you’ll want to opt for an all-online class.
- Due to the need to utilize physical classrooms with all the associated costs and the teacher’s physical presence, in-person courses tend to be more expensive.
- Some students learn more effectively in in-person environments due to more personal interactions and greater accountability
- It’s easier to “burn out” in online courses – a phenomenon sometimes dubbed “Zoom fatigue” in reference to the popular online meeting application. As effective as curricula designs might be, online learning is often simply less stimulating than in-person learning. (Online support forums for ESL teachers to share their experiences and challenges can lend help prevent burnout.)
Read more about the respective pros and cons of online vs in-person learning.
Here are the unique benefits of TEFL Hero’s 120-hour self-paced online course:
- Extremely affordable (just $99)
- Covers all the essential aspects of a high-quality training course outlined above
- Fully accredited by industry standard-bearer ACCREDITAT
- Digital certification available immediately upon course completion
- Lifetime access to all course materials
- 9/10 rating on GoAbroad.com
- Awesome and relevant blog content written by me and TEFL Hero founder/instructor Kristine Thorndyke (shameless plug)
Get Certified to Teach Anywhere!
Here’s what a real-life teacher who completed TEFL Hero’s online course has to say about her experience:
Research accredited TEFL certification programs
There is no shortage of TEFL courses on the web, particularly of the online, self-paced variety. Here are the prime considerations to weigh when analyzing a prospective TEFL course:
Online TEFL courses are generally either live online or on-demand. Live online, as the term suggests, refers to live instruction delivered digitally. On-demand means that the instructional material comes pre-packaged which students can access at any time.
On-demand courses are more convenient because the schedule is flexible (which you will likely appreciate if you are currently enrolled in school or if you work). On the other hand, there is something to be said for the give-and-take element of live instruction.
Is it Accredited?
This should be an automatic non-negotiable. Any TEFL course that’s going to pay dividends in the long run will have to be accredited. Anything short of accreditation is a waste of your time and money.
Examples of recognized TEFL course accrediting bodies include:
- ACCET (Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training)
- Teacher Training Council
- IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language)
Bear in mind that the above is not an exhaustive list; check out a more comprehensive listing of accrediting bodies here.
Number of hours
TEFL courses are generally packaged in 100-hour, 120-hour, or 150-hour formats. The 120-hour format is the gold standard for most teachers, as 100-hour courses are sometimes insufficient to meet employer requirements while 150-hour courses are unnecessarily lengthy.
Some TEFL courses focus on teaching English to young learners while others are centered around adult ESL instruction. Also, some are region or country-specific (“teaching English to Korean learners,” for example) while others are more generic in their applications. If you’re not sure where you would like to teach English, or what your target audience age is, it’s probably best to select a TEFL course with universal applicability.
- Teach English Online TEFL. One such specialization, online ESL education, is a booming industry (check out our blog post, “22 Places To Teach English Online With No Degree,” for more info). Certain TEFL courses with a special focus on digital ESL instruction have popped up in recent years to meet the demand for training specific to this niche.
- Business English TEFL. Many ESL professionals specialize in business English. This sector of the industry primarily caters to working adults with established careers, a demographic that presents certain thorny challenges and opportunities for teachers that makes teaching these learners quite distinct from teaching children. If you know you want to teach business English, you might consider a TEFL course that targets this audience.
Narrow the list down to 3-5 TEFL programs and contact them
What you’ll notice once you begin searching is that the web is chock full of accredited TEFL programs of varying quality.
Here are some questions to ask to parse out the course best-suited to meet your needs:
- What requirements must students meet to pass the course (final assessment, demo class, etc.)?
- Is the course online, in-person, or hybrid?
- What kind of student support does the course offer? Will you get to talk to an actual person or a bot when an issue pops up, which is likely?
- How long does the content access period last?
- Are there hard deadlines or is the course self-paced?
- Which organization accredits the course?
- Do course developers/instructors have on-the-ground experience teaching ESL?
- Does the course provide job placement assistance and/or employment guarantee?
- What job search resources does the course provide post-graduation?
Reputable TEFL providers will provide timely, transparent answers to any questions you might have via their FAQs and/or contact pages.
In a hurry? You can start with this list of the 7 best online TEFL certification courses for 2024.
Apply or enroll in chosen TEFL program
Once you’ve selected the right TEFL course for you based on the above criteria, the next step is to enroll in your chosen TEFL course.
Students who enroll in online courses like TEFL Hero’s are usually able to start learning immediately, while in-person courses are often scheduled to begin months out from the time of registration – so if you want to get started, get certified, and start teaching ASAP, that’s just another reason to go digital.
Set aside time each week to progress through course material
Once you’re all registered, paid up, and ready to go, the next step is to set aside time each week to make steady progress through the material for timely graduation.
Pacing is one of the biggest challenges posed by self-paced online courses because making a schedule – and, just as importantly, sticking to it – is entirely on you, the student. No one is looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re on target time-wise, and there are no scheduled classes to force you to keep your commitments.
Studies show that writing down goals makes meeting them in the prescribed time more likely. In fact, “people who very vividly describe or picture their goals are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to successfully accomplish their goals.”
Accordingly, if you’re going the online course route, consider putting hard goals in writing – for example, completing one module per week. In the case of TEFL Hero’s 120-hour course, that would put you on a trajectory to complete the entire course in under three months.
Advice on Next Steps
After you’ve completed your program and gotten your certificate (either a physical copy in the mail or a digital one), what’s next? How can you set yourself up to get hired by the school of your choice and make your TEFL dreams a reality?
Here are a few tips.
Spruce up your resume
Aside from a headshot (if the recruiter requires one, which they often do, especially in Asia), your resume is the first document that your prospective employer will see. Lucky for you, free resume-building tools abound on the internet with a quick search.
Get a pro headshot, or make your own
If you’ve got a camera phone with a decent camera, you can probably avoid shelling out cash for a pro headshot and actually just create your own.
Start your job search
Once you’ve got your resume and headshot ducks in a row, it’s not time to get your name and face in front of the decision-makers that are going to onboard you into their schools.
I recommend the following job boards as excellent places to start:
- Eslcafe.com — the single largest reservoir of ESL jobs worldwide
- Craigslist.com (for specific countries and cities)
If you’re on the ground in the country you wish to teach in, of course, you can always do the pound-the-pavement method of physically showing up at schools with resume in hand to introduce yourself. Many schools, for obvious reasons, prefer to work with a teacher who’s already in close geographic proximity rather than importing one who’s coming from abroad.
Book demos and/or schedule interviews
Once you’ve sufficiently impressed a recruiter with your stunning headshot and glamorous resume, it’s time to move on to the interview and/or “demo.”
Let’s briefly touch on the dreaded “demo,” or “demonstration lesson.” This concept might be unfamiliar to the uninitiated, but it’s actually standard operating procedure in many corners of the ESL world.
Check out some hot tips to help you nail your demo lesson.
As for scheduling interviews, you might want to consider the potential time differences between regions of the world. For example, the Far East is literally on the opposite side of the world as North America, so if you’re interviewing for a position in South Korea you might have to compromise and do a late-night or early-morning interview to accommodate your prospective employer.
Sign Your Contract!
Of course, before you sign on the dotted line, read the provisions carefully to avoid future problems.
Some schools will offer employment without a contract, but I wouldn’t recommend going this route. While many employers are totally on the up-and-up and honorable, there is a sizable portion of schools that will take advantage of a foreign English teacher working without a contract by withholding pay, adding extra duties arbitrarily without added compensation, etc.
About TEFL Hero’s Online TEFL Certification Courses
TEFL Hero offers an array of online TEFL certification courses, all of which are fully accredited by ACCREDITAT.
- 40 hour TEFL Certification, consisting of four modules and 32 lessons, our 40-hour course isn’t as comprehensive as other courses, but it’s a solid intro to the field. You’ll learn lesson planning, classroom management, and more. Best of all, it’s totally free!
- 60-hour Teach English Online Certification. With its special focus on online ESL instruction, the 60-hour Teach English Online Certification course equips you with the skills to thrive in the digital sphere, including how to fix technical issues as they pop up. It costs $79.
- 120-hour TEFL Certification. At $99, this is the flagship, most popular TEFL course we offer. The majority of TEFL learners opt for the 120-hour course because it provides an industry-standard certification that will grant you entry to nearly all ESL positions worldwide.
- 180-hour Advanced TEFL Certification. To really dive deep into the weeds – for experienced teachers who want to further sharpen their skills – you get a whopping 138 lessons across 18 modules for $149.
Shop around on the web and compare our prices to other accredited (again, accreditation is key) TEFL courses. You’ll see how favorably we stack up in the cost category, all without sacrificing any quality or student support. All our students can access 24/7 tutor support.
How long does it take to get TEFL certified?
The answer depends largely on whether the course is online and self-paced or in-person:
- If it’s an in-person course or an online course with a live instruction element, the timeline is structured. The average length of an in-person course is about six months.
- If it’s a self-paced online course like TEFL Hero’s, the timeline is entirely up to you. Students who hit the digital books hard can reasonably expect to finish in as little as a month. Alternatively, those who have busy schedules can stretch the course out for six months or more. When you purchase TEFL Hero’s accredited 120-hour online course, you have lifetime access to the material, so you enjoy a great deal of flexibility.
How much does it cost to get a TEFL certificate?
TEFL course costs vary widely.
In-person courses tend to be more expensive for reasons enumerated previously – the cost of live instructors, utilities and rental costs for classrooms, etc. The average accredited in-person TEFL course cost is in the range of $1,000-$2,000.
Online courses have less such inherent overhead costs, and so can pass those savings onto students.
TEFL Hero’s price point of $99 is one of the lowest of any accredited course in the world – accredited being the operative word. You might find lower-cost TEFL courses out there, but chances are they’re not accredited and are therefore, again, essentially useless from an employment-seeking standpoint.
TEFL certification process FAQ
Let’s explore a few FAQs about the TEFL certification process.
Is it hard to get a TEFL certificate?
No. TEFL certification isn’t rocket science. There are no advanced mathematical formulas to memorize. If you’ve got a solid grasp on English, a good work ethic, and common sense, you’ll do fine.
Is a TEFL certificate worth it?
Yes. TEFL certification opens up employment opportunities that wouldn’t be available without one. It is increasingly a baseline, universal requirement of schools worldwide for ESL job applicants.
Do employers accept all TEFL certificates?
No. TEFL certificates are only universally accepted by employers if they are properly accredited and exceed 100 hours.
How long does it take to get TEFL certified online?
The average online TEFL course takes 6-8 weeks to complete, depending on the learning speed of the student. Some can finish much sooner, and some take longer than this estimate.
Are free online TEFL courses legit?
It depends. Many are not accredited (which is critical) but some are, including our 40 hour TEFL. That said, if your school requires a TEFL, it likely is going to require 120 hours or more.
The bottom line on getting TEFL certified
Here are the key points from our How to Get TEFL Certification post to keep in mind:
- If you are over the age of 18 and have a high school diploma or GED, you’ll qualify for enrollment in most TEFL certification programs
- Earning an accredited TEFL certification dramatically increases your attractiveness to ESL employers worldwide
- If you devote lots of time and energy, you can earn a TEFL certification through an online course in as little as a month.
- Always insist on verifying the accreditation status of any TEFL course you’re interested in.
- Accredited online courses are generally more affordable than, and equally valuable for career prospects as, in-person courses.