Do I Need a TEFL to Teach English in Taiwan?

Plenty of companies out there are trying to sell people qualifications for teaching English abroad. But are the courses worth the asking price?

No, is the short answer. You don’t need any teaching qualifications whatsoever to teach English in Taiwan. With teaching gigs offering full time employment in an interesting profession and excellent pay compared to the price of living, it’s little wonder many English speakers are considering leaving their home country.

Candy the lion and her UK flat - Charlie on Travel

What Do I Need to Teach in Taiwan?

Before you pack your bags, there are some things that you do need however, namely:

  • A passport proving you are a native of an English speaking country, such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Australia or South Africa.
  • A degree (in any subject – seriously).
  • To be able to pass a fairly idiot-proof interview process.
  • A clean criminal record check and a clean bill of health.

If you have those five things, then Ni Hao and welcome to your new life in Taiwan as an English teacher! Get ready to discipline those five year olds and indulge in a newfound love of dumplings. Depending on the company that you choose to teach with, you may even be able to squeak by without the passport or the degree (or even the interview), but for the vast majority of schools the above five things are enough.

Needless to say, not everybody who has all those things makes a good teacher, or even a competent one. Many people probably realise that they don’t technically need the qualification, but would like to do the training anyway to make sure that they are made of the right stuff. I tell you now, if you are the kind of person who realises that educating people, and children in particular, is important enough to warrant doing a training course, then you have already taken a good step in the right direction.

Teaching English in Taiwan - Charlie on Travel - Leo - what a cute little troublemaker
This kid was the most delightful trouble maker.

Should I Get a CELTA Qualification?

When Charlie and I went to teach in Taiwan for a year, Charlie had no teaching qualification whereas I had already done my CELTA. Which one of us made the right decision?

For those of you that don’t know, CELTA is like a month-long nightmare where they give you an amplified dose of the kind of stress you can expect from a real teaching job. It’s horrible, and it’s horribly good at making you into a teacher. It’s also endorsed by Cambridge University so it costs an arm and a leg (I paid £1,100 for mine). Yes, that’s a lot of money for a qualification I didn’t technically need, but having just paid £3,000 a year for a degree that involved about four contact hours with a tutor each week, it actually felt like a good deal.

Angry Luke struggles with CELTA - Charlie on Travel
This is what Luke looked like when he was doing his CELTA.

I don’t regret getting my CELTA qualification and here’s why: it made me into a better teacher than I otherwise would have been in my first year. It was important to me that I did a good job because giving Taiwanese children the ability to speak English is vitally important to their chances of getting into their dream university and landing the job that they always wanted. It was important to me because some of the parents were putting in incredibly long hours in low-paid jobs to put their children through English school and I didn’t want to see their devotedness wasted. It was also important to me because I wanted to do well in my first job out of university.

Having said all that, financially it was a poor decision and I would be lying if Charlie wasn’t at least as good at teaching as I was by the six-month mark, if not before. Yes, I was less stressed than she was at the beginning of the year, but that’s only because I went through my stress during the CELTA course, not because the course enabled me to sidestep stress altogether. Yes, I also worked more hours as an English teacher than she did, which went some way to repaying the investment I put into the course, but typically the problem new teachers in Taiwan find is trying to lose hours not gain them and I’m sure any dedicated masochist could have got their fill of hours at my school, CELTA or no.

Charlie teaching in Taiwan - Charlie on Travel
Charlie’s kindy class.

Is a Cheaper TEFL Qualification a Better Idea?

Having not done a cheaper TEFL, (or TOEFL or TESL) I’m probably not the best person to ask, but I remain sceptical. Seeing as you don’t need a qualification to teach in Taiwan, the only reason to do a course would be to improve as a teacher, and from what I’ve heard from friends, I’m not sure cheaper TEFL courses always gives you that. There are plenty of cowboys out there looking to make a quick buck by promising employment and training after all.

I can only imagine that I would do a cheaper TEFL if I wanted to teach English in a country that required all new teachers to have a qualification and even then I would make doubly sure that the TEFL I was looking into was a widely accepted provider. Even after that, I would meet the teacher trainer in person before parting with any cash. Only if the teacher trainer struck me as one of the good ones and the course involved real teaching practise would I think about it.

Teaching English in Taiwan - Charlie on Travel -  My  incredibly bright class of 12 year olds
Charlie’s crazy class.

If you are thinking about becoming an English teacher in Taiwan…

Think again. Nearly two years later I still wake up from bad dreams about having classes that I’ve not prepared for. Though the hours are (relatively) short, it’s physically and emotionally demanding like no other profession. And that’s because it’s important. When you screw up in other professions, the worst that’s likely to happen is losing some company somewhere a heap of money. When you screw up in teaching, you mess with people’s hopes, dreams and futures – and when those people are children it’s even more vital that you get it right. But that’s also what makes it so rewarding and combined with giving me the ability to travel I can say without a drop of cliche that the experience was life changing.

For anyone still considering teaching, I’m convinced that the absolute best thing to do to see if you are cut out for it is to do some volunteering at either a local language school for recent immigrants or any kind of school that is in need of assistance. Schools for autistic and downs syndrome children are almost always in need of extra hands. Sign up for as many hours as you can, and if you can come out after a month smiling, then you might just make it through a year in Taiwan. Good luck!

Have you thought about teaching abroad? We’d love to hear from those who have already and are thinking about doing so. What’s your opinion on TEFL certificates?

Luke Nicholson

Luke is Charlie's partner and long-term travel companion. Though currently working as an online marketer, Luke is also a CELTA qualified ESL teacher, experienced house sitter and avid video gamer. He loves howler monkeys too.

17 thoughts to “Do I Need a TEFL to Teach English in Taiwan?”

  1. Didn’t think it’d be that easy to teach English; just being a native of any English speaking country gets you halfway there. I think it’s a good idea to volunteer first just to see if you’ll like it before getting any certification.

    1. I would say being from an native English speaking country gets you more than half way there! It’s pretty much all the employers are looking for. I also think that Luke and I both feel volunteering is a better way to understand what teaching is really all about and whether it’s something that suits you. Are you thinking of teaching English abroad, Matt?

    2. One thing that I didn’t mention is that Taiwanese schools typically make you pay for the airfare, so you’ll need some money in the bank to cover your start up costs too. Not a prohibitive amount, I left the UK with less than $1,500 to my name, but still more than some people have.

      Having said that, I was also offered a job by another school that would have paid my airfare once I had completed the school year, and the company I ended up working for gave me a generous interest free loan that was more than enough to get set up with an apartment.
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  2. Hi Charlie and Luke, thanks for this article. At one point recently I was thinking of doing a TEFL (or other) course, but quickly dropped the idea when I read over and over about people with no “credentials” teaching in other countries successfully. My fiancé has been a teacher before, and is now again in The Bahamas, but I don’t have a teaching certificate. I have, however, worked with many, many kids in other capacities, and am a parent myself. I am pretty confident that I could go ahead and teach in another country without too much stress- do you think a lot of it depends on personality or attitude? I love that you emphasize the importance of teaching, as so many people would say, “it’s easy!” and fail to grasp the responsibility of educating kids! Thanks again for your perspective.
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    1. Hi Sarah, if you have worked with kids before and you are a parent that thinks teaching kids is a big responsibility, then I would say that you’ll probably make an excellent teacher! I haven’t yet met a teacher who is ‘stress-free,’ but I would completely agree with you in saying that personality and attitude make all the difference in how you handle that stress. Some people feel stressed and put that into a great lesson plan, others feel stressed and decide not to show up for class.
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  3. I was s teacher in Taiwan for a few years, and I found that with being one you are not really respected in the community as much as you were before. Teaching in Taiwan has been tainted with many talentless teachers who spend most of their time at the bar and less about caring about kids. The life style is great to do for a year. But never think of it as a career because you will not be employable after the age of 35 or 40 as many schools always want young newbies who take a lesser salary then experiences teachers. It’s better to get a job at the American or European schools rather then schools like Hess who will pay you less and get you into binding contacts that they don’t respect most of the time.

    1. Hi Brendan – thanks for sharing your thoughts. Did you live in the community in Taiwan before you were a teacher? What was your profession before this? We actually found the Taiwanese people in our local community of LuoDong to be respectful, welcoming and genuinely lovely. You are right to say that there are many not so talented teachers, which is certainly a result of the lack of qualifications required to teach and not particularly good training on offer. It’s a difficult situation where Taiwan wants to recruit so many foreign teachers and therefore can’t be so choosy with who they recruit. I’m not saying that our experience with HESS was excellent, it was a difficult and stressful job with a lot of expectations, but overall we had a good experience there. We signed a year contract, completed our year, took the holiday time we were guaranteed, received our pay on time, and received our tax rebate too.

    2. Hi Brenden, I can only take about my personal experience, but I was treated with a huge amount of respect by the local community – more so than when I was a new language teacher in England. Parents went out of their way to thank me, and I received so many gifts that I had to give most of them away to friends.

      Yes, there are bad teachers out there (as there are bad apples in every profession), but in my experience this made parents even more happy when they had someone who cared deeply about their children. Hess respected my contract, and they made it very easy for me to start work in the country without jumping through complicated legal hoops. When it comes to choosing a language school to teach at, I would say that Hess makes for a (relatively) easy ‘first school,’ but by all means do your own research and make an informed decision!
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  4. Well said, Luke. I especially agree with you about the nightmare of the CELTA course! I actually did a Trinity Cert. TESOL, but the format is much the same. Even after all the years of education I’d passed through, those five weeks were the most intensive, stressful and sleepless of my entire life! I do agree that it’s an important qualification to get even if the country you’re planning on working in doesn’t technically require it, because, as you said, you’re messing up people’s futures if you do it wrong.
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  5. I did a part time CELTA which takes 3 months and covers the same material and you end up with the same qualification… the price was the same and I didn’t find it so stressful… while it’s not a requirement for teaching, some employers in Taiwan do know what it is… it enabled me to get a job at a bilingual high school in Taiwan without starting off at a cram school…

  6. I taught English in Spain for eight months and would definitely agree with you – very few employers or private students requested any kind of certification. For them, being a native was more than enough. If anything, they would ask about previous teaching experience. I am, however, toying with the idea of taking a TEFL/TESOL course (with practicum) because I think it would improve my confidence and quality of instruction. Thanks for sharing :)

  7. It’s good to read that my choice not to do a CELTA course has been somewhat affirmed by this post, and had I wanted to you’ve just well and truly scared me away from the idea! ;-)

    Super tip about doing some volunteering first or another kind of work experience before jumping into the deep end.

    Ultimately the most important thing about being a successful teacher is having passion and an engaging personality, eh? The course can help you prepare and understand what to expect but it can’t give you a personality transplant. I lived with a girl in China who had a CELTA qualification and a degree from a top UK university, and when she told me all this I felt quite intimidated by her experience but then in the first week during our induction we had to watch each other take some classes and she really struggled to get a rapport with the kids. After that I realise that teaching is less about someone’s qualifications but more about someone’s ability to adapt to situations and other people.

    Saying that, although I had a rapport with my students I was a lousy teacher – a really lousy teacher! All the girls at the college I taught at in China just wanted to talk about clothes and nail vanish with me, and sometimes I just let them :s
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  8. Thanks for this very informative article. I’m looking into TEFL and teaching overseas and reading this is preparing me for the reality of what’s to come and what to expect.
    I have one question about the stress you mention. While I can understand it to some extent, like any stress you get when starting a new job, what do you mean exactly by ‘stress’? Would it be the fact that you have to stand there in front of so many kids and not sure if you’ll bond; is it the stress of managing a class; stress of getting tired and not completing your contract and this breaching it; etc. would appreciate your clarification please! I currently teach frenchc classes to adults and enjoy it. I teach one-on-one though so maybe in front of a class is where the stress will begin!

    1. Hi Beatrice, Where are you considering ESL teaching? Very good luck with it!

      When I say stress, I mean all of those things. Actually, just standing up in front of a class full of kids is stressful for me. The thought that I’m responsible for their learning. Trying to manage behaviour is another stressful thing, and I don’t only mean difficult classroom behaviour. More challenging for me was when a child would confide something about their home life or their ‘friendships’/being bullied in their public school where you are in a position of helplessness most of the time. Work days were tiring and often you would be expected to do much more than was initially said; my workplace also had issues that I would morally object to including racism towards other foreign teachers, discipline from Taiwanese teaching assistants that I did not agree with, and managerial decisions that were senseless to Western staff.

      I think that teaching adults is very different from teaching children, and actually had a house mate who changed jobs to teach adults during evening classes instead of working with children. She took a pay cut to do it but said it was more than worth it.

      All of this very much depends on the country, school, staff, environment and your own personality of course. Everyone is different and ESL teaching is a very broad thing to be discussed. I’m speaking from my own experience in this article, but I’ve heard many different stories from different teachers.

  9. I taught in Taiwan for a few years as well as in Korea and China…

    Doing some volunteer teaching prior to starting is a pretty good idea. You could also substitute wherever you are now or show up in Taiwan on a tourist visa and find some sub gigs. It’s a good way to get your feet wet and test things out before signing a contract.

    True you do not need a TEFL certificate to usually teach in Taiwan. The only circumstance I have heard from is if you only have an associates degree or 2 years and then a TEFL is required to get a visa. But all schools do not offer that normally you need as mentioned the 4 year degree.

    I spent a $1000 on a TESOL qualification that I don’t think prepared me well for what I encountered in Taiwan. I thought it was a waste of money. Years later I created a site with a lot of resources like how-to videos and then later a practical online course. I don’t mean to toot my own horn or anything but that was the course that I needed to prepare me and help me in the classroom.

    I would judge a course merely by money either.

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