A lot of people looking to get into teaching ESL assume the route is straightforward: get certified and then find a job overseas. So, where do TEFL internships fit into this pathway?

It doesn’t help that researching internships isn’t simple: some include teacher training, some don’t; some last for weeks and others months; some are paid, some aren’t, and others you have to pay for.

Should you do TEFL certification or look for an internship? What’s the difference between a TEFL internship and a TEFL job? And how do you work out if an internship is right for you?

Are TEFL internships worth it?

It really depends on what you’re looking for from a TEFL experience. As with all internships, their overall purpose is to give you entry-level professional experience you don’t already have.

If you do have TEFL certification or classroom experience, then looking for a job will probably be a better option for you than an internship. But if you don’t, there are plenty of reasons why applying for a TEFL internship, instead of a job, can be a great idea.

An internship might be the right move for you if you want to…

Try out teaching with no prior experience

If you’re looking to get some real world ESL teaching experience– either as a future career plan or as part of a travel experience– an internship could be the perfect solution. With so many different types of internship out there you can find positions that require no previous teaching experience, no teaching certification, and are open to candidates who don’t hold a bachelor’s degree. Finding the right internship is a great way to test out whether you enjoy teaching and living abroad in a low-pressure, short-term way.

Find a short-term, flexible contract

Internships are a convenient option for anyone who doesn’t have a full year to spend in one overseas location, but wants an experience that goes a little deeper than a two week vacay.If traveling is as much of a priority as teaching for you, then internships provide some of the most flexible options for working your way around the world. Want to spend a few weeks working all five continents next year? That’s totally possible through short-term internships. Well, okay, maybe not in Antarctica– but interning in Argentina will get you within reach of the South Pole.

TEFL internships normally last from a couple of weeks to over 6 months, making them a convenient option for anyone who doesn’t have a full year to spend in one overseas location, but wants an experience that goes a little deeper than a two week vacay. If you’re looking for a flexible way to dip into the TEFL world over summer, on a work break or during a gap year, then internships are a great choice.

Travel with a support network

Internships can be a great way to free up your travel time, reduce stress, and cut down on admin because of the support network they offer candidates.

Signing up for a TEFL internship normally means you’ll be guided through the visa process and other travel admin, your accommodation will be provided, you’ll get orientation on arrival, guaranteed working hours, and a ready-made social network of other interns to hang out with. In other words, everything is set up for you to make the most of your time abroad from the get go. Some internships even factor travel experiences into your timetable.

Choose your own location

While there are ESL teaching jobs all over the world, application criteria and competition for posts mean that not all destinations are equally accessible. TEFL internships, on the other hand, can also be found all over the world and are much less competitive than TEFL jobs.

This, along with visa support provided for interns, means that pretty much any destination you can think of is accessible through a TEFL internship. For US citizens trying to find a way to work in Europe or anyone determined to teach and live somewhere that doesn’t have an obvious route in, an internship could be your best bet.

Aren’t TEFL internships a waste of money?

The most strikingly obvious difference between TEFL internships and TEFL jobs is the upfront fees many internships charge. With costs running up to hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars, most of them don’t come cheap.

This in itself can instantly put a lot of people off doing an internship: if you compare Option 1 (paying to do a TEFL internship) with Option 2 (getting paid to do a TEFL job), the math seems kind of obvious.

Unpaid internships are often found in popular or remote destinations that people are drawn to out of pure enthusiasm for the location.But the calculation isn’t quite as straightforward as it sounds. Firstly, many internships offer a monthly stipend that, if not equal to a full salary, should at least cover your daily costs. Also, internship fees often cover other expenses such as accommodation, orientation, visas and airport transfers that, if you took a job, you’d have to pay for out of your own pocket. Not to mention the time you’d spend working out how to get everything done independently. Some travelers love the challenge of working everything out for themselves, but if you haven’t traveled before, or just aren’t into pouring over the finer details of travel, outsourcing these tasks could prove to be money well spent.

With some internships even including TEFL training in their programs, once you’ve crunched the numbers the extra services internships provide can mean that, realistically, they’re a pretty good deal.

What about unpaid teaching internships?

Where this argument falls down is unpaid internships. While many internships offer a monthly stipend, some internships don’t pay participants anything. These kinds of internships are often found in highly popular or very remote destinations that interns are drawn to out of pure enthusiasm for the location.

Deciding whether or not an unpaid ESL teaching internship is worth it is a personal choice. Taking one will obviously mean some financial losses as you’ll have to pay living expenses on top of initial program fees. But if your bank balance will allow it, and the internship matches your criteria, it’s still worth considering.

How do I choose a TEFL internship?

Most TEFL internships require native or fluent speakers, aged over 18. Some require participants to hold a bachelor’s degree and some request passport holders from specific countries (normally the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia or New Zealand). Beyond fulfilling these criteria, TEFL internships are generally much less competitive than TEFL jobs, so choosing one comes down to narrowing down your criteria and doing some online research.

Figuring out your budget, where you want to go, and for how long should help you pin down a few interesting programs. Beyond that, make sure to consider what kind of work/travel balance you’re looking for and what kind of classes you want to teach. (If you have no idea, thinking about the kind of social interactions you normally enjoy can help you decide if you’d be better suited to teaching large or small groups of kids, teenagers or adults.)

Finally, make sure you feel good about the company or school you’ll be interning at. Any reliable organisation should be easy to get in touch with, provide references from previous interns and make themselves available to answer any questions you might have.

I’ve got an internship! How do I prepare?

First off, congratulations!

But there is some health and safety to get out of the way: check your government’s travel website (here for US citizens) or consult a doctor to find out if there are any necessary health measures you need to take such as getting vaccinations, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance for the duration of your trip.

Make sure you ask the company you’ll be interning with for advice on any preparations you should undertake as well. They should be able to guide you through visa admin and flight booking, and have some practical packing suggestions. The company may also request you bring some basic teaching materials. Making sure you include some work-appropriate clothing will help your time in the classroom go smoothly. If in doubt, non-revealing clothes that don’t fit too tightly or too loosely will be considered culturally appropriate and professional in most places.

And that’s about it! Remember, one of the biggest benefits of taking on a TEFL internship is that most of the admin will be out of your hands. All that’s left for you to do is pack your bags and start looking forward to your first teaching experience.

Find a TEFL Internship

Written by Joanna York

Joanna is an English teacher and writer who has worked in classrooms all over the world. She is now based in Paris, France.

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