Is TEFL/TESOL certification worth it? If a TEFL course is worth it or not for you I don't know. There are definitely reasons why getting some training and taking a course is a great idea, but in this article I will be playing the role of devil's advocate and sharing a little of my experience.

This article was inspired from a couple of things:

  1. The B.S. I see some TEFL course providers tell to get you to buy. And...
  2. I spent a $1000 on a course, went abroad, started teaching and realized I wasted my money.

Know that you can teach English abroad without certification and if you're thinking of teaching English in Asia and taking a TEFL or TESOL course, you should be able to separate the facts from the fiction. 

Know these facts about TEFL/TESOL/CELTA courses:

  1. They are usually not a legal requirement to teach English in Eastern Asia and other places
  2. They are usually just a preference
  3. There are other preferences
  4. Experience and education degrees are more valuable
  5. They do not replace degrees
  6. They can't guarantee a better job
  7. They can't guarantee more money
  8. Pretty much everything that you would learn from one you can find online for FREE
  9. Conclusion - Why I wasted my money

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1. They are not a legal requirement to teach English in many places

Have you been told that you need to be TEFL/TESOL certified to teach in Northeast Asia? Well, that's lie number one and the person who told you that is probably working for a TEFL/TESOL certification provider or they are just misinformed.

Let's take for example Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan. Have you thought about teaching in any of these places? Well you should know that the basic requirement for teaching English in these places is:

  • Be a native English speaker
  • Hold a university degree in any discipline

I'd say in Taiwan, Korea and Japan that the schools that require one are less than 5% of the total job pool. So what about the 95%? Well the 95% or let's just say the majority doesn't care and is just looking for the basic qualifications.

"Wait! I thought you said the requirement to teach in Northeast Asia was a degree and...?" 

Yes, that's right it's a legal requirement. Without it the school cannot process your visa in order for you to stay and work in the country.

"But you just said that some schools require TEFL or TESOL certificates?" 

Yes, that's right, but they are not a legal requirement. An individual school can set its own requirements and those may be different from the national requirements. But know that these requirements are basically just a preference.

TEFL requirements are more commonly seen in China than the other countries. Different provinces can have slightly different requirements. In most situations a degree and native English speaking is required to get a Z visa.

2. They are just a preference

Some schools may prefer TESOL/TEFL/CELTA qualifications. However, it's just a preference and by the way if you encounter this you should still apply. Know that come time to process your paperwork for your visa for your new full time job that your TEFL/TESOL certificate will be left on some desk or in some folder (probably yours) because it is not essential.

3. There are other preferences

You should know that there are other ESL employer preferences as well. And that while some schools may prefer TEFL/TESOL certification, that preference usually takes a backseat to the preferences and biases below.

Like for example:

  • Likability - aside from the basic qualifications this is the single most important factor that determines who gets the job, pretty much anywhere
  • Age - they would prefer that you are young
  • Sex - some schools prefer females over males and a fewer percentage vice versa
  • Looks - they prefer that they find you attractive
  • Nationality - many will prefer US citizens or Canadians over other native English speakers
  • Race - many prefer Caucasians

For example, let's take a hypothetical situation. Amy is Canadian. She's 25 years old. She's tall thin and attractive and she has a degree in Biology. Jed is 35 years old. He's not especially attractive and he has a CELTA certificate and a year of teaching experience.

Jed's more qualified (from our standpoint), but who will get the job? Of course it depends on the school and situation, but unfortunately in many cases Amy will get the job. Many employers just care about how things appear. And it's not just them it's the culture. And western culture is not that different.

4. TEFL certificates do not replace degrees

Well, one might help you to get a job in China - if you don't have a degree, but they are not going to replace a degree and help you to find a job legally teaching in Taiwan, Korea or Japan.

5. Education degrees and experience are more valuable

Know that most schools value experience teaching (especially in their country) and education degrees more than TEFL/TESOL certificates.

For example in Taiwan, to teach in a public school you will need to be a certified teacher in your home country. Just a degree in any discipline won't cut it. A TEFL/TESOL certificate won't help. A degree and a TEFL/TESOL certificate won't suffice. Here you need to be a certified teacher to teach English in a public school. This is also the case for teaching in many international schools and in UAE.

As soon as you start looking for a job you will see that almost all schools prefer experienced teachers.

If you don't have your degree yet you might like to read more on advice for becoming an ESL teacher.

6. They can't guarantee a better job

Have you been told that being TESOL/TEFL certified will help you to get a better or more prestigious job? Well, that's probably lie number two. Know that the most prestigious schools (e.g. international schools and some universities) will require higher qualifications and experience.

A reputable CELTA course might help you here, although there's more competition for these kinds of jobs. Competition that has years of teaching experience and/or that may have a background in teaching. A background in teaching means that they probably studied education and that they are likely a certified teacher in their home country.

In all honestly for these schools with or without a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA and no experience, you could get lucky, but you probably won't stand a chance. But don't worry because they are less than 10% of the job pool.

But will a TEFL course help you to get a job? Here's a hypothetical situation. Let's say you and the next guy have nearly identical qualifications for the job. You are both 29 years old, have a degree in a unrelated field and are not especially attractive. And let's say you have a TEFL certificate then you'll probably get the job. 

Check this link out and "The Best Answer". Here's someone who took a CELTA course and taught in Korea. If you didn't know, CELTA courses are considered one of the best when it comes to English language teaching qualifications. Basically he says that he felt that it only made him "slightly" more marketable and that "you" might be paid only "very slightly" more.

7. They can't guarantee more money or a higher salary

Have you been told that you will make a higher salary if you are TESOL/TEFL certified? Possibly, but that's probably lie number three. You're probably not going to make more money just because you have a TEFL certificate. There are exceptions to the rule, like for example EPIK in Korea, but many schools won't care about your certificate or offer you any more money because of it.

I have worked in a total of at least 20 (documented) private and public schools as either a full-time, part-time, temporary, or substitute teacher in China, Korea and Taiwan. I have also applied to an estimated 200+ positions and interviewed at about 40 schools. And only one of those distinctly offered me more money because of my certification.

So it's not a guarantee, but I guess you could use it as a negotiating point. Experience is usually the best point for negotiation. Read more about money and TEFL/TESOL certification.

8. You can get most of this information for FREE online

Are there any other reasons why you might want to take one? Well, of course, you might want to take one for the teacher training. Well you should know that the information that they would teach in one including the usually pseudo classroom training is already available online for FREE.

It will probably take you time, to find what you're looking for and to sift through all the info available. And you probably don't know what to look for. So that's what a course is for - to teach you, but don't assume that they will explicitly train you for your job. The course I took was just general, had a lot of grammar study and lacked practical applications.


I wasted my money on that TEFL course, but that's because I took one that didn't prepare me to teach who I taught.

I taught mostly kids in Asia aged 6-13 which is a huge part of the job market in East Asia. You need practical tools to teach this age group. You need to know how to organize them, have fun, educate them AND deal with classroom management problems.

If you are reading this article and if you made it this far then I'd say that you are considering or at least wondering whether you should take a course and get certified. Since you are probably just on the fence then my advice is this:

Don't spend much (like a $1000 or more) if you are going to get one. You can always take another more intensive course like CELTA in the future if you decide this is something you want to do long term.

On the other hand you might not want to waste your money on an "underpriced" course such as those that you find on Groupon.

Is getting TEFL/TESOL certified for the training worth it?

You are going to be spending a lot of time in the classroom (not on a beach like those TEFL courses know you like to see).

If you are savvy then you can teach yourself online, with books, video, etc. but that is probably going to take you more time

Either way they are probably just going to throw you into a classroom and tell you to teach. Few employers provide sufficient training.

Teaching was not easy for me.

If you are not sure about how and where to start then I created some streamlined courses that are way more practical and engaging than the course that I spent a $1000 on. I probably started off like you with ZERO experience teaching in a classroom.

He thought this course was "worth it".

"The ESL TEFL online course was worth it to me and it made a huge difference in my application to teach in China. The program itself was very informative and rewarding. I can't complain because It was money well spent. I will be teaching in Beijing this September, so I would recommend it to anyone who is looking to get certified. Thanks Ian!" - Sens 


This course is especially targeted at teaching mostly kids (a large part of the job market in Asia).

Learn how to:

  • create lessons that are fun and educational
  • find a good job and avoid the horror stories/scams
  • be the one in charge and run your class like the boss
  • crush classroom management problems and difficult students
  • make it a better experience abroad and work towards your future

Or read this...

Are online TEFL courses any good?

Or this...

What kind of teachers employers actually want in East Asia