Tag Archives: Teaching Abroad

Teaching Abroad Checklist, the Ultimate Guide

After I made the decision to teach abroad, there was so much to decide and so much to do. I felt overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start. Lucky for you I’ve made this ultimate teaching abroad checklist. Which includes everything, from where to start to all the things you need to think of/do before making the transition abroad. It includes my personal tips and advice (all of which are things I did myself that helped me transition smoothly.)

Still apprehensive about moving abroad? Check out my post “Nervous About Moving Abroad.”

Teaching abroad checklist

1. Choose the country you would like to teach in

You may have already done this, however if you haven’t, take the time to think of your priorities. Is money the top priority? Living by a beach? Living in a city or remote location?  Learning a certain language? These sort of questions will help you narrow your options. Obviously this is completely a personal decision but here are a few of my recommendations:

  • Go somewhere in Asia. The demand for English teachers is very high and it is easier than other places to land a job. Plus cost of living/traveling is very inexpensive. Win, win.
  • If money is a top priority, a great option is South Korea. It is one of the best paying countries in Asia.
  • If living by a beach or lifestyle is more important, I’d recommend Thailand. Obviously I’m biased since I taught in Thailand, but I loved it. I loved being able to go watch the sunset on the beach after work. In my opinion, it made up for the lack of money.

2. Choose the TEFL course you’d like to take

Even if you are going to a country that doesn’t require you have a TEFL certificate, I highly suggest getting one anyway. I was brand new to teaching and didn’t have the slightest clue about how to prepare or teach a lesson. My TEFL course was so incredibly helpful. I would have hated to stand in front of a classroom with no prior training.

Read: Choosing the Right TEFL Course for more information.

3. Buy a one way ticket

This is such an exciting step! You can officially say “I booked my one way ticket!”

The sites I use most when searching for airfare are Kayak and Momondo. Be sure to play with different dates if your dates are flexible. Flying out just one day later/earlier can make a big difference in price. Kayak has a +-/2days which searches fares for 2 days prior and 2 days after the date you select. Momondo has a lot of cheaper airlines that sometimes aren’t included in searches on bigger sites. It’s a great resource to find inexpensive flights.

4. Apply for your visa (if the country you go to requires it)

Be sure to check the visa requirements for the country you are visiting. You can go to the U.S. Embassy website and from there you can click on the region of the world you are going to and read the visa requirements/find out how to apply for the appropriate visa. I recommend going over on a tourist visa, as many jobs that you get will give you a working visa once you start, so you shouldn’t have to worry about that now.

**Note: Some immigrations offices may tell you in order to get the visa you require a return ticket home (which is conflicting with your one way ticket.) I had friends that booked a return flight home just to get the visa—don’t do this. Ok, maybe that is a bold claim, however I was able to get my visa with only a one way ticket so why shouldn’t you be able to as well? Honestly, as bad as this sounds, I think it just depends on who works your case. Try calling again and getting a different person before you jump on buying a return ticket that you may not end up using. Worth a try right?

5. Get your immunizations

It is important to do this 2-3 months prior to travel. I made the mistake of doing this right before I left and some shots had to be pre-ordered, as my health department didn’t have them on hand, so I had to go without them. Obviously I’m still alive, but hey, still probably not the smartest to skip out on certain immunizations.

To find what immunizations you need, check out the Center for Disease Control website here: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel

6.  If you have a car back home, figure out whether to sell it or keep it

I decided to keep my car since I had a place to keep it back home. However, if you sell your car it would give you extra cash for traveling. Either way would be fine, this is really more of a personal decision.

7. Figure out what to do with your current cell phone and decide what you will use to call while abroad

I put a hold on my cell phone for the time I would be gone. This allowed me to keep my same phone number when I returned home, but I didn’t have to pay a monthly cell phone bill while away. I highly recommend doing this. I have AT&T which allowed me to do this, but I can’t speak for other providers.

For calling while abroad, I purchased the cheapest brick phone I could find in Thailand for my “Thai phone” (my phone in which employers and friends living in Thailand could reach me at.) Then I just used the wifi from my Iphone to FaceTime and Imessage friends and family back home.

8. Cancel any monthly subscriptions or any automatic withdrawals out of your bank account

You don’t want to keep paying for your automatic withdrawals (i.e. gym memberships, Netflix, etc.) while abroad do you? Be sure to cancel any expenses like this that you pay for monthly. Also many services you use in the U.S like Netflix, Pandora, HBO go, etc. do not work outside of the U.S so probably best to cancel those too.

9. Notify your bank of where and how long you will be traveling so they don’t put a hold on your card when they see out of country transactions

*Also note: some ATMs abroad won’t give you the option of which account to withdraw from (i.e. checking, savings) Be sure to have funds in all of your accounts, so you don’t run into problems when withdrawing money.

10. Make 2 copies of any credit cards you will be taking with you (front and back) and leave one back home with someone trustworthy and take one with you 

If your cards or lost or stolen, this saves you a lot of hassle.

11. Make 2 copies of your passport (one for back home and one to take with you)

You could also scan your passport and e-mail it to yourself  in case your luggage gets stolen and you can’t reach anyone back home.

12. Get a criminal background check (important if you plan on teaching)

I didn’t do this before moving abroad, and it caused me a bit of grief when I was trying to find a job. Save yourself the hassle and get one done before you go. Many jobs require that you have it and trying to get one while abroad may pose more challenging than you think.

13. If you have a Bachelor’s Degree, take the original copy of your diploma with you (important if you plan on teaching)

You can always order another diploma online from your University if it gets damaged. It is important to have the real thing and not just a copy. Again, you will need this when applying for jobs.

14. Get copies of your University transcripts (important if you plan on teaching)

Some employers may ask for these when hiring you. It is better to be fully prepared and have them with you. They may hire one candidate over the other simply because they have transcripts, criminal background and their diploma all in order.

15. Check your passport expiration date

Assuming you already have your passport, be sure to check the expiration date as some countries require your passport to be valid at least 6 months beyond the departure date of your trip. Also, if you are buying a one way ticket you will want to be sure that your passport will last you the entire duration of your time abroad.

16. Get extra passport photos taken

You can get passport photos taken almost anywhere (Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, etc.) It is important to do this as you will need passport photos for lots of things on your travels. (i.e. applying for your visa, renewing visas, job applications, loss of passport, etc.) Save yourself the hassle of doing this abroad and get it done beforehand.

17. Think ahead: Tax season

Who will file your taxes since you won’t be around to do so? Make sure your W2s and other tax forms go to the right people and set this up before leaving abroad.

18. Purchase travelers insurance

Be sure to check your current health insurance as many insurances won’t cover you while you are abroad.  You never know what could happen while abroad and it’s important to be covered. I used World Nomads travelers insurance when I went abroad. Their site is very user friendly and they seem to have good coverage. I (knock on wood) never had an accident while living abroad and didn’t need to make any claims, so I can’t vouch for that aspect of the insurance company.

19. Insure any expensive items you will be traveling with (laptop, camera, etc.)

Some travelers insurance will cover both medical and expensive gear, some won’t. If you aren’t traveling with lots of expensive electronics then this probably won’t be necessary. However, if you are, it’s better to be on the safe side. I insured my laptop as it was the most expensive electronic I took with me. I just went to my local State Farm and got a personal article policy for my laptop. It cost me $40.00 for the year and it covered the cost of my laptop being stolen or damaged, definitely worth it in my book.

20. Fill your prescriptions

You never know what prescriptions the country you are going to will have. Do some research. I planned ahead and filled all my prescriptions for a year and took them with me.

I also had my doctor prescribe me a couple Zpacks. It’s good to take with you when traveling abroad, you never know what you will eat that will make you sick.

21. Enroll in the Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (U.S citizens only)

This is a small, easy step and it is completely free. Basically enrolling in STEP allows the embassy to send you important information about safety conditions in your destination country. When I was living in Thailand it was during the Thai Coup and I would receive e-mail updates from STEP keeping me updated with where protests were happening and updated news about the coup.

To enroll in STEP, visit their website here: https://step.state.gov/step/

21. Get all your check-ups and exams in order

Before I left I made sure to go to the dentist, get my yearly pap smear, eye exam etc. I know friends who went to the dentist and things like this while abroad, however, I preferred to get everything done beforehand (I like to be prepared, if you haven’t gathered from my list.)

Make any appointments you would like to and be sure to clear all the bills before you leave.

22. Get a power of attorney

Basically this is a legal documentation that allows someone to act on your behalf (so make sure it is someone you would trust with your life.) I chose my mom to be my power of attorney which allowed her access to do anything for me that needed to be done back home (i.e. transfer funds in my bank accounts, write checks, sign documents for me etc.)

23. Decide what type of luggage to take (backpack vs. rolling luggage)

Ah the great backpack vs. luggage debate. I waffled back and forth on which to take for a while. Ultimately, I decided on taking a large rolling suitcase with me instead of a backpack. My reasoning for this was that I was going to be moving abroad not just traveling. I was going to be living in one place. Having a larger suitcase allowed me to bring more and I didn’t have to haul it around everywhere, it just got stored in my apartment.

However, later on I ended up purchasing a travel backpack as well. Because after I was done teaching I backpacked through Southeast Asia (which I would never recommend doing with a large rolling bag. No, just no.) It’s also a good idea to bring a small backpack for weekend trips and things.

24. Decide what to pack

Deciding what to pack can be overwhelming. Obviously what to pack depends on where in the world you will be going, how long you intend to be there for and of course your own personal style.

*One important thing to remember is that you will be teaching. Be sure to bring modest, professional clothes to teach in. 

Still feeling overwhelmed with what to pack? I’m currently writing my favorite tactic to use while packing for a big move (IT IS AMAZING.) Be sure to come back and check it out!

25. Check your mindset and attitude

This is my last teaching abroad checklist item, yet one of the most important and essential ones. You can be the most prepared traveler in the world, but if you aren’t mentally prepared none of these previous preparations will matter. Making a big transition abroad you will run into problems/issues. I’m not saying this to scare you but rather to prepare you mentally. It’s okay to run into setbacks and issues—it’s part of traveling, it’s part of the process. It’s how you handle them that matters. Remember to always keep a positive outlook and mindset.
Teaching abroad checklist quote

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Demo Lessons: The Dos and Don’ts

Demo lessons, ah sweet, sweet demo lessons. I hate you. I hate demo lessons.

For those of you who are wondering, what the hell is a demo lesson? Let me break it down for you.

Finding a job as an ESL/TEFL teacher will typically consist of a demo lesson. Basically it is part of the interview process where you teach a class and your interviewee is watching you and seeing your skills as a teacher. Talk about intimidating.

My First Demo Lesson, the Lesson from Hell
After taking my 4 week intensive training course to get certified as a TEFL teacher, I was ready to start job hunting.

I had secured myself an apartment in Thailand, got myself a motorbike and scrambled up my best interview attire from my backpack. Now all that was left was to secure a job as a teacher.

I was smart enough to start my job hunt right in the middle of rainy season in Thailand. Doesn’t sound like a big deal right? Wrong. There is that one tiny detail that an umbrella cant help you with—driving a motorbike.
Demo Lesson Interview in the rain
At least we got to rock awesome panchos and look incredibly cool.

But really, driving on a motorbike when it is raining SUCKS. It sucks so bad. Especially when you are in interview attire and trying to stay looking nice. While also sitting on a manila envelope with your resume enclosed, trying to not let it get wet. Not fun.

Anyway, I had lined myself up with one of my first interviews requiring a demo lesson. I spent the entire evening beforehand preparing for my demo lesson and praying that it wouldn’t rain the next day.

The next day was clear skies, hallelujah. Now I just needed to nail my interview and demo lesson.

First was the interview, which went well. I feel that I’ve gotten better at interviewing over the years. I somehow was able to relate my un-related previous work to make it sound like I’m a kick ass teacher. I was feeling proud and happy with how the interview had gone.

Then came the demo lesson. This is where they get to put your skills to the real test. Instead of just answering how you’d react to a stressful situation, you are put in one. Instead of answering how you’d handle if a student did this or that, you have to handle it, right then and there in front of your interviewee.

I was so nervous. The only previous teaching experience I’d ever had was in my 4 week intensive course. In this 4 week intensive course I taught class sizes of no more than 8 students, all of which were adults. Now, for my demo lesson, I found myself for the first time EVER teaching children. Forty children to be exact.
Demo Lesson TEFL Teacher
If you are thinking to yourself, “so what?” My guess is that you’ve never taught children before. Let me reiterate, I WAS TEACHING 40 CHILDREN AGE 9 FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER.

I was so, so nervous. Not to mention, the lesson I had worked so hard to prepare was almost identical to a lesson that I taught to adults. What was I thinking?

I started in with a quick engagement activity, asking the students to roll a dice and tell me something about themselves depending on the number on the dice. Simple things like, “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” etc..

This engage activity had worked for me previously when there were 8 students in my classroom. When there were 40 students in the classroom, um, didn’t work quite as well. This warm up activity also worked well with adults who chose and wanted to learn English. These kids were being forced to learn and I was the only thing holding them back from their lunch hour.

The very first student I called on rolled the dice, then just sat there in silence. I kept repeating the question and giving personal examples but the child sat there in complete silence. Classroom laughter and chatter started.

This was about 1 minute into my lesson.

I watched my interviewee in the back of the classroom jot something down on his notebook. The sweat started forming on my forehead. “Ok, quiet down everyone,” I said nervously. I asked the student again and nothing, so I called on someone else. However, by this point the students had sensed my nerves and captivated on them immediately.

I lost classroom control about 90 seconds into my lesson.

Losing classroom control happens when you teach, this I’m now well aware of. The key is learning to gain it back or key moves to not lose it in the first place. During my demo lesson I had absolutely no idea how to gain classroom control back. I had one of those “please stop crying little baby” moments. You know, the one where you’re holding someone else’s baby and they start crying and you bounce them sort of awkwardly while hoping they magically stop crying.
Yeah, one of those moments, except I couldn’t just hand them back to their mother.

After a few more VERY LONG minutes, my interviewee waved at me from the back of the classroom. He had seen enough. I clearly needed more experience. It was incredibly embarrassing. I felt like going and hiding in a closet and crying.

I had a lot of improvement to be done and now that I have some experience doing demo lessons, I’d like to think I’m much better at them. Here are a few of my key dos and don’ts:


1. Prepare yourself, physically and mentally.

  • Make sure to plan a good, well thought out lesson. Make sure to ask how many students you will be teaching, their age group and their English level. Know these things beforehand and plan your lesson accordingly.

2. Set ground rules at the beginning of your demo lesson.

  • Typically on the first day of class as a teacher you would set rules for your classroom. Just because you are only doing a demo doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lay down some rules. The next demo lesson I did, I started with a “game” a.k.a. a way to gain classroom control back when it gets out of hand.  It wasn’t even really a game, but since I titled it that, it grabbed the students attention and they were more than willing to participate. It is called “Quiet Coyote.” (Which is a hand gesture that the kids follow when they see me doing it and it means “mouths closed and ears listening.”)Demo Lesson quiet coyote

3. Be silly, quirky and fun.

  • Just because you’re in an interview doesn’t mean you have to stay so strict. Especially if you are teaching kids. They are kids for goodness sake! Be silly, entertaining and fun while you teach them. It will help you maintain better classroom control. If the kids think what you’re doing is silly, their attention will be focused on you.


1. [Don’t] Create a boring lesson plan.

  • The demo lesson is more to show how you teach, not what concepts you know. Keep your topic simple and fun. The more entertaining it is, the more it will keep the students interested. It is still important to show you know English concepts but don’t make it your only focus.

2.  [Don’t] Have a lot of board-work.

  • I prepared how my entire board would look beforehand, color coordinated and all. However, in a lot of cases you won’t have prep time to write things on your board beforehand. When you start your lesson, you don’t want to start by turning your back on the class to write.

3. [Don’t] Act like you are someone applying for the position.  [Do] Act as if you are their new teacher already.

  • You need to act like you’re boss. They will have more respect for you. Don’t show fear, as hard as that may seem, try your very best to at least hide your fear.

Have fun, try not to be so nervous and good luck! You can do it!

Demo Lesson Teaching English
Image Credit