Guide to Work, Study, Travel and Living Abroad    

Teach English Online, from Anywhere

A Flexible Way to Earn Income at Home or On the Road

By John Clites

John teaching English online in Colombia
John teaching English online in Colombia.

If you were wealthy and didn't have to work, how would you spend your time?

Very likely you responded, without even thinking: “Traveling!”

If so, you're not alone. For many of us, travel is at the top of our list of dreams.

But conventional wisdom says that to travel, we need two things: time and money. When we're working, we don't have time. And when we have time, it's generally because we aren't working, and don't have money. So we are faced with a demoralizing Catch-22.

So we have to be content with the occasional trip abroad, maybe a week or two every few years. Perhaps one day we'll have a grand and memorable honeymoon. And one day, when we finally retire, hopefully we will finally have both the time and the money to really travel. Of course, in our golden years, we may no longer be game for bungee jumping, trekking, or partying all night in Ibiza...

A bit discouraging, isn't it?

A Realistic Way to Explore the World

Teaching English abroad provides a solution for many would-be world explorers who want to see the world now. Simply through your ability to speak English, you have a ticket to stay for an extended period in dozens of countries around the world. Spain, Thailand, Colombia, China, South Korea, and Costa Rica are but a few of the interesting countries which offer positions teaching English.

Teaching and living abroad can be a great experience, for a variety of reasons. When you spend an extended time abroad, you...

  • Can truly immerse yourself in another culture, instead of just hopping from one tourist spot to the next.

  • Can pick up another language yourself while teaching English.

  • Grow in confidence and self-reliance as you navigate through day-to-day life in your host country.

  • Gain a broader perspective, a better understanding of the world.

  • Become a more sophisticated, interesting person.

  • Forge new friendships, some of which may endure for years.

But what about the global pandemic?

Let's be totally frank: the current coronavirus pandemic has derailed the overwhelming majority of travel plans, more for some citizens of countries than for others depending upon the moment in time and willingness to accept risk and bureaucratic hassles. Recently I traded emails with a young Brit who had planned an extended stay in Brazil, funded by teaching English there. But the spread of the virus forced him to redeem his air ticket and postpone his plans indefinitely.

My situation is much different. I've taught mostly online for years now. I was living in Brazil when the pandemic rolled in, and I returned to the U.S. ahead of the wave. I'm staying with family now, riding out the storm. And my teaching schedule has remained largely unaffected.

The reality is that unique events can happen at any time which are out of our control. Of course, a completely unexpected event is just as possible while we are abroad. Another pandemic might arrive, the local economy might suffer a collapse, or a separatist movement might flare up. While such events are uncommon, you can't change what might come to pass.

But if you earn your income online, you can quickly pack up and relocate. As long as you have a solid internet connection — and connections everywhere are constantly improving — then you can keep working and earning.

You can't avoid change, but you can try to prepare for it. Teaching English online offers a resilient income in good as well as turbulent times.


But as great as teaching abroad is — and it truly is a wonderful experience — it does have its limitations.

The biggest hurdle often is obtaining a visa to stay and work in a country for an extended period. In some countries, it's relatively easy to work legally, either through a government-sponsored program or via a contract with a private school. You can then stay legally for nine months, 12 months, or possibly even longer, depending on the country and the nature of your contract.

But in many countries, it's more difficult to find work teaching legally. For example, with the current economic turmoil in Europe, it's become more difficult to find legal work teaching within the Schengen Area if you aren't a resident of a member country. And under-the-table teaching may get you deported if you do get caught.

Even if you were willing to risk teaching without a work visa, your stay as a tourist would usually be limited to three months. You've just built up a good client base when...boom! You have to leave the country. Sometimes it is possible to extend a tourist stay to six months, but this may require having to exit and re-enter the country. In any case, you'll still be working illegally, and when the six months are up, you'll have to leave and start over, looking for new students in your next port of call.

Even if you have the soul of a gypsy and don't mind moving on every few months, it would be stressful to always be in rebuilding mode, with no continuity of students, and little financial security.

Getting Around the Visa Issue

But there is a way to have it all: teach English online.

I've taught online for more than five years, and love it!

In truth, I began teaching online out of necessity. I'd moved to Paraty, Brazil, a few hours south of Rio de Janeiro, thinking that it would be easy to find work teaching English in such a popular tourist town.

It wasn't. In fact, I found very few students and began to get nervous.

So I contacted my former students in Rio, asking if they'd like to try online classes. Some said yes. At about the same time, I met a couple of folks from São Paulo and began teaching them. Things just grew from there.

After I had made the switch to teaching online, I began to move around Brazil, as I was no longer tethered to any one place. Then I decided to try a stint in another country, and spent three months exploring Colombia. Last year, I taught classes while visiting Argetina, Portugal, and Spain. Currently, I'm back in the US, making plans to begin a world tour early next year. There is no longer any reason not to indulge my wanderlust, as I can globetrot and still make a consistent income.

Easy Logistics

Teaching English online isn't difficult. In fact, you need surprisingly little:

  • A decent and reliable internet connection. See the box for more information.

  • A laptop, preferably one with a built-in video camera.

  • Headphones with a microphone.

  • A VOIP (voice over internet Protocol) service, such as Skype or Google Hangouts.

  • PayPal or another way to receive payments.

Throw in some digital teaching materials, and you are ready to hang out your virtual shingle!

Teaching online requires an adequate and stable internet connection. To see required speeds for Skype, check out this easy-to-follow piece on the required internet speed to run Skype. While internet speeds are improving around the world, before renting in a developing country or small town, it is advisable to request a speed test from the landlord. A free speed test can be run in less than one minute on sites such as SPEEDTEST, and the results can be emailed directly to you.

Combine Teaching Online and Slow Travel

Teaching English online combines well with slow travel. Decide on a city you'd like to know, find a suitable place to rent, verify the connection speed, book it, and voila! Your adventure has begun.

The longer you stay in one place, as a rule, the less you'll pay per night. I often use Airbnb. As just one example, I found a gem in Cali on Airbnb: I paid only US$10 per night for a spacious room with a desk and good internet connection, and I had use of the kitchen. Sometimes hotels will give deeply discounted rates for stays of a week or more. Aparthotels can be another good option; often they offer services such as a gym and laundry on site.

I typically teach 20-22 hours per week and spend perhaps another 3-4 hours per week on lesson planning and administration. While my teaching schedule floats depending on which country I'm in, there is always plenty of time to write or to visit the park, museums, or other local sights. In Cali, I dusted off my Spanish and my salsa.

A street in Bogota, Colombia
A street in Colombia.

Other than ensuring that you have a solid internet connection, and managing the time zone differences, I can't think of any real drawbacks to teaching online. I truly enjoy this gypsy lifestyle. When I tell people what I do, and how I am free to travel, I often see envy in their eyes. And I understand the reasons since for many years I was part of the corporate grind.

If this all sounds good, but you aren't ready to buy an around-the-world ticket just yet, note that you can begin your online teaching career from wherever you currently are. You can start right at home to learn the ins and outs of teaching English online, to build a client base, and to bank some seed money for your travels.

Then, as you log off of Skype after your final class of the day, you can kick back, put your feet up, and begin planning your trip to Paris. Or Rio. Or Bangkok. Or...

* * *

John Clites is a US citizen who moved to Brazil in 2008, where he began teaching English. He started teaching online in 2012, and now teaches exclusively online, as it provides him great freedom to pick up and go when the urge overtakes him.

For readers who are interested in following in John's footsteps, he has created a comprehensive online course, “The Ultimate Guide to Teaching English Online!

Teach English Online

Related Topics
Teaching English Abroad
More Articles by John Clites for Transitions Abroad
Teach English and Living in Brazil: Now is the Time to Go
Living Abroad in Brazil as an Expat
Creating an International Resume

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