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Will an online TEFL course be recognized when you go abroad? Based on my experience teaching in East Asia they often are accepted, but it depends on the school. 

This post was inspired from my experience teaching and living in Asia: China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan, from questions that I see around the web and this one on Yahoo Answers.

Can you get a job with an online TEFL course?

Here's a video where I answer this simple question...


Will this online TEFL course be recognised and accepted?

There are thousands of private language schools and public schools just in Eastern Asia. And there is only a very small percentage of schools in Asia that will care about the TEFL/TESOL/CELTA course that you took.

I know you may have seen statements like, "Schools want our certificate" or "online courses aren't worth the paper they are printed on".

But those are just opinions.

In my experience it's only a very small percentage of schools out there that will care about where you got your certificate from and if it was online or not.

Here are a small percentage of things that "might" matter in regards to the course you take

Now out of that small percentage here are some things that they will care about. This is based on my experience living and teaching in Eastern Asia. This refers to employers and ESL schools in China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan:

  • How many hours was it? According to some more hours are more valuable. My estimate in the big picture is that 10% of the total job pool will care about this factor. That's roughly 1 in 10 jobs.
  • Are online TEFL courses recognised? A few employers will not accept online courses. This is more common in the Middle East or in Western Europe. Those are usually some universities or more prestigious language schools. Again very small numbers and to work in these schools you'll usually need experience anyways, so that probably won't matter. My estimate in the big picture is that these are 5% of the total job pool.
  • Who did you take it with? This is about which company you used to take the course. A few schools will prefer more reputable names like CELTA, DELTA, or Trinity TESOL. My estimated number is 3% or less of the total job pool so in other words that's maybe 3 out of 100. A lot of the schools in Asia will not know the difference between TEFL/TESOL/CELTA. The ones that care about this so much as to reject you because of the course provider that you took it with are a very small number.

Again these are small numbers in a land where TEFL/TESOL qualifications are not legally required to teach English and reside in Eastern Asia.

Between 2004 and 2013 I have applied for hundreds of jobs in China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan. I have worked in more than 20 schools in those countries and have personally interviewed with an estimate of 50 or more. I have spent a lot of time online over the years looking at jobs in these countries.

Does accreditation matter?

Accreditation is when a business inspects a course, institute or university and deems it worthy or not. Has an employer ever asked you if your degree was accredited?

You can read more on whether or not TEFL accreditation matters.

There is no TEFL or TESOL certificate that is accepted at "every" school... not even CELTA

"Accepted" in the sense that it is a passport to any ESL teaching job. Regardless of what you have been told (maybe by another TEFL provider) there is no certificate that gives you permission to teach at any or every school.

Phrases such as "internationally recognized" or "accepted worldwide" are mostly marketing terms. The "F" in TEFL is for foreign, so a TEFL certificate is going to be recognized or accepted in many places, but remember it's not a passport to any or every TEFL job.

Think of it like this...

Is there any degree that guarantees a job with any employer?

It's usually more complex than that. Employers will look at your whole package which includes experience, degrees, certificates, personality and other preferences.

There is a vast number of schools out there and each school can have their own individual preferences and qualifications aside from what is legally required to teach English in that country. Just because you have a CELTA certificate (a reputable TEFL certificate) doesn't guarantee anything and it's almost always going to come secondary to experience.

There are also schools out there that will require you to be a licensed teacher in your home country.

Some examples of these schools are public schools in Taiwan, UAE, Dubai and most international schools across the globe. To teach English in these schools you need to be a licensed teacher. Aside from that each school has it's own requirements.

To legally teach (get a work visa) in Taiwan, China, Korea and Japan you do not need a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certificate. That being said some schools can require them and some employers can prefer them and almost all schools prefer experience.

The bottom line

The chances are whatever TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA certificate that you are going to get will be accepted in Asia. Most schools in China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan will accept whatever certificate you are going to get.

Every school is different.

  • Many schools want teachers with experience.
  • Some schools need teachers with teaching licenses.
  • Some schools require teachers to have master's degrees.
  • Some schools want teachers to have taken an in-class TEFL course.
  • Some schools want teachers to have taken at least an online course.
  • Some schools don't care about TEFL certification at all. They'll take teachers with a bachelor's as long as they are from a native English speaking country and then again there are some schools out there that don't even care about that.

One exception is the EPIK program in Korea. If I understand it correctly, if you do not have experience or a related degree then you will need a course that includes 20 hours of in-class instruction IF you want to teach in Busan.

In other places in Korea within the EPIK program an online TEFL is fine. It's the same with hagwons too.

Other than that sure you may find a school that may not accept your "weekend course" or that may want you to have 120 hours, or may want you to have a CELTA, but most schools in Eastern Asia will accept online courses like this one, "weekend courses" or accept you without any TEFL certification.

And if some school doesn't accept you then don't cry about it, just carry on to the next school.

Employers like employers in your country will look at your whole picture: degrees, experience, personality, your looks, etc. The only difference in Asia is that they may openly discriminate and say they want a female teacher or a caucasian teacher.

But again every school is different.

Also a CELTA doesn't guarantee you the best job.

In fact you could get a CELTA and be working a pretty mediocre job. TEFL courses are usually preferences, but you know experience typically goes a lot further.

If you are still concerned about whether your TEFL/TESOL certificate will be recognized then I would like to ask you a question.

What caused you to be concerned about it being accepted and recognized in the first place? Was it a TEFL course provider? An opinion? Some TEFL course providers have some poor tactics that they use to market their courses. I would be leery as I see some tell lies on a regular basis on Yahoo Answers and on other sites.


Lastly I would say to not be too focused on the carrot - which is the certificate or the job. Instead I would focus on the learning because getting a job is a short term win and then you have to work for at least a year and if you don't like your job you won't be happy abroad.

Not everyone is a natural teacher, but everybody can improve and everyone can learn.

"I took Ian's 120 hour (now called Advanced) course two years ago and it was one of the best investments I made. I had been teaching in Korea for six years up to that point and had to learn through trial and error on the jobs I worked which was not easy. Ian's course is practical and based on actual experience in the classroom, not just dry theory. The videos were extremely helpful in the process and I still refer to them every now and then when I need ideas for class." - George P.

"I am in China now, in the city of Yuyao. I teach in a kindergarten - apparently also thanks to the online TEFL certificate provided by you... Best regards, Stepan"

Here's how to feel more confident in that classroom and have a better experience abroad in Asia (teaching mostly children).