Do you want to travel the world, but aren’t sure how to make money while doing so? In this week’s article, we have an interview from Rachel and Sasha of Grateful Gypsies who share their experience working as online English teachers around the world! Wondering how much money you can make from being an online ESL teacher? How to find a job? What the job entails? What are the pros & cons? Read on!
Please Tell Us a Little Bit About Yourselves
We’re both 31 and have been living abroad / traveling since 2008. Both of us got liberal arts degrees – Sasha in Digital Media and Rachel in Music Business – and jobs were hard to come by at that time.
As such, we headed to China on one-way flights and haven’t looked back since. We’re passionate about live music and travel, and always strive to combine the two. Rather than just breezing through on quick trips, we prefer to spend a longer time in places. For example, we traveled for two months in Thailand, spent a year living in Bali, and are now temporarily settled in Puerto Vallarta.
Tell Us About Your Job as an Online English Teacher
We’ve been teaching ESL for quite a few years, but we only recently moved the jobs online. Our students are still in China, but now we get to live in Mexico and teach them online with VIPKID. The best part about teaching online is the freedom it allows us. We’re able to craft our own schedule on a week-to-week basis, so we can stack classes and make a bunch of money one week and then take a short trip the next.
It’s a fun gig, because it’s just one-on-one with little kids. That means we get to be silly, sing songs, make goofy voices, and even use a stuffed Yoda to assist in the class – “Learning are you!”
Why Did You Choose This Job?
We honestly got into teaching English abroad for lack of a better option. We wanted out of the United States and our dire situation and wanted to travel. Teaching ESL was the best way to achieve that. For those who want to travel and experience new cultures but don’t have money saved up or a remote job, teaching English for a year or two is a great choice.
We thought we’d do just that, but eight years later and we’re still going strong. We decided to move to online teaching so we could be more location independent and live in a few countries other than China. We’ve never had a 9-5, and we’d like to keep it that way.
Where Have You Worked?
We taught ESL on the ground in China for about five years total – four in Beijing and one in Kunming. Now we’re doing the online gigs from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Teaching and living in the Chinese capital was an unreal experience. We worked at just about every job imaginable – kindergarten, primary school, universities, private tutoring, voice recording, and finally settled into a training center where we worked for two years. Our colleagues were from all over the world – the US, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and even South Africa. We had a great life there, with a nice apartment in a fun part of the city. Even as part-time English teachers, we were able to go out multiple nights a week, hire a housekeeper, buy scooters, take day-trips on the weekend, and travel during holidays and a bit in the summer.
Now that we’re teaching online, we’re set up in Mexico for the time being. It’s interesting to log-in to our classroom and still teach Chinese kids, then go to Spanish class and eat tacos for lunch. What an amazing world we live in today! We had a great time living and working in China, but the world is too big to stay in one place forever. We’re loving Mexico thus far and also have our sights set on some Central / South American travels later this year.
Do You Need to Be Certified Or Have Any Qualifications?
When it comes to teaching ESL, the requirements vary drastically. It is totally possible to get a job without any degree or certification. We’ve even met people who weren’t native English speakers. That being said, the better and more stable jobs will require you to be a native speaker, have a degree of any sort, and a TEFL certificate of some kind.
Your options for getting certified are very far-ranging. There are simple online courses that cost as little as $300 and only take a month. That’s precisely how we got our certificates through Bridge TEFL.
For our online jobs with VIPKID, a TEFL certificate isn’t necessary. It helps, but it’s possible to get hired without one. That being said, we definitely recommend taking some training before diving in. It’s nice to get the basics down and feel like you’re not totally lost on Day One. VIPKID has its own training program that you’ll go through and they also recently started doing developmental workshops so you can hone your skills as you go.
A couple of specific things to note about VIPKID is that you must have a Bachelor’s Degree (in any subject), and that they only hire North Americans – sorry friends from across the pond and down under!
How Can People Find Online English Teaching Jobs?
We got introduced to VIPKID through a Facebook group (which has since been closed). If you just search “Teach English Online” in Facebook, you’ll see a few pages and groups pop up. As VIPKID has been growing rapidly over the past year, they’re now posting job ads all over the place. Dave’s ESL Cafe is really the go-to site for ESL jobs all over the world. If you’re interested in working with VIPKID, you can read all about it in our guide and apply through our referral link.
We’re also happy to help coach you through the application and interview process to ensure you knock it out of the park and get hired. They can’t hire enough teachers at the moment, and with the summer coming it’s a great chance to get in and make some good money in a few months.
For other online teaching jobs outside of VIPKID, check out these websites:
What is The Application Process Like?
As we mentioned, you can apply for VIPKID through our referral link. All teachers get a bonus for successful referrals, so you’d be helping us out as well. It’s good to have a current teacher as a reference anyways, and we’re more than ready to help you out.
You can also go to vipkidteachers.com to get started. First up, you create a profile on their site and upload all your documents. You’ll need your resume, any degrees / certificates, and a copy of your passport. If you meet the criteria, you do an interview online with a short demo class. Once you’ve passed this stage, you teach a full mock class. If all goes well, you get hired and get started on the trainings yourself and then begin opening time slots for classes.
What About a Working Visa? Do You Need One?
Usually, you need a working visa to teach ESL abroad. In China, this meant doing a medical check, background check, all sorts of paperwork, stamps, and lots of other fun times. Now that we’re teaching online, a visa is only necessary if that country requires it to visit.
For example, Americans get six months visa-free in Mexico, so we don’t need to worry about jumping through bureaucratic hoops here. If we wanted to go live in Brazil for a few months, we’d need to get tourist visas simply because that’s required of Americans.
Since we’re getting paid in USD into our American bank account, we’re not technically working here and thus are not breaking any laws. This is one of the major benefits of teaching ESL online – dealing with visas is a giant pain!
What Does an Online English Teaching Job Entail?
Now that we’re in Mexico and our students are still in China, our day begins super early. Our alarm goes off at 5:00am, we have a quick bite to eat, chug some coffee, and sit down at our computers. Usually, we teach 6-7 classes in a row each morning. Classes are 25 minutes each with 5 minutes to leave feedback and get ready for the next one.
Most weeks, we teach about 15-20 hours. Some people teach more – masochists who wake up at 3:00am and teach for 6 hours straight – but we like to keep our sanity. Some months the company offers incentives, so we end up teaching more.
For example, this month the incentive is very easy to get by teaching all seven days. So, we just trimmed some classes out of each day and spread them out over the entire week. That will allow us to make an extra $60 – $70 each week we do that, so it’s worth it.
On the weekends and in the summer months, we also have the opportunity to teach a few extra hours at night if we want. When we do that, we’ll spend the day doing other things – hitting the gym, going for a hike, lounging on the beach, working on our website – and then get back in the classroom for another hour or two before going to bed.
Usually we’ll replace the coffee with a beer – or maybe a little tequila now that we’re in Mexico – but we keep it in the coffee cup. Can’t be a bad influence on the kids!
The best part about these jobs is that we control the schedule. For example, we could decide to absolutely crush Monday-Wednesday one week – teaching the maximum amount of hours in the morning and spending the rest of the day doing other things like writing / editing. We could then take off on a 4-day weekend and leave the work behind if we wanted to, or just have a few relaxing days around town.
We could also go nuts and work 14 days in a row (in the middle of doing just that at the moment) in order to get a fat paycheck and fund some big adventures. We’re trying to get home to see our favorite bands and visit family this summer then pop down to Peru for two weeks, so we don’t mind working a lot now to pull that off.
How Much Does An Online English Teacher Get Paid?
VIPKID offers a base pay of $7 – $9 per class. Your initial offer is based on your qualifications and experience. We get a base pay of $8 per 25-minute class. There’s a potential $2 bonus per class that’s very easy to get which bumps it up to $10. At that rate, we earn $20 / hour.
After a year, you get a $0.50 raise per class. It doesn’t seem like much, but that will mean an extra $75 – $80 a month depending on how many classes we teach. In a very slow month – where we’re only doing the bare minimum – we get about $600. In a busy month, or one where we get successful referrals or there are good incentives – we can make $1,500 or more.
We’re paid once a month by direct deposit into our American bank accounts. This is an independent contractor position, so that means we’re responsible for our own taxes. As Americans, that means 15.3% of our income to self-employment tax. We can write-off expenses like our internet, teaching props, and so on, which helps reduce the blow a little.
There are no added benefits to this job, really. However, they do run contests from time to time. Teachers have won free trips to Beijing, iPads, and more.
What Are The Hours Of Work?
Typically, we each teach around 15 – 20 hours a week. During the summer months when our students are out of school and there’s more potential for classes, we’ll probably try to teach around 25 – 30 hours whenever possible to save some money. There isn’t overtime pay, but the company is always running incentives where you get paid extra.
You can also open classes within 24 hours notice and get an extra $2 / class if they get booked. That’s a trick some teachers use to get a little extra money each month.
Are There Any Contract Jobs Available?
There are always side jobs available for English teachers! We don’t really need them at the moment, but we could easily find a few other students online or sign up for a different company that has different hours than VIPKID. There might be potential to do some tutoring here in Mexico, but we’d rather not mess around with working under the table. Better to just do our online jobs and remain tourists here!
What Are The Working Conditions Like?
Our working conditions are really up to us. At the moment we’re just working out of our little apartment here in Puerto Vallarta. Sasha has a desk set up in the bedroom while Rachel teaches out in the living room. We just need our computers, the reward slides, a whiteboard, some markers, and a little puppet and we’re ready to go.
As far as dealing with the company goes, it’s good for the most part. They have a team on hand when issues arise in the classroom, such as a student having IT problems. Sometimes this can be a pain, though. Dealing with issues can often take a while, and they tend to just copy & paste from an HR manual when it comes to handling problems. We haven’t had any major issues, though. It really is nice working at a job where you basically never have to deal with a boss!
What Are The Pros & Cons Of Working As An English Teacher Online?
Here are the pros with teaching online for VIPKID:
- Set your own schedule
- Flexible schedule
- Work from home (or the road)
- Travel without taking time off
- Supportive company
- Many options for support
- Easy and fun
- Great intro to the world of ESL
- Kids are adorable
There tons of pros associated with this job. We really love the flexibility it allows us and the fact that we can work anywhere there’s a decent internet connection. It’s easy and fun, and the pay is pretty great considering what we do. It’s awesome that we can basically craft our schedule to take time off whenever we want. Two weeks of travel per year just isn’t enough for us! The VIPKIDs themselves are pretty awesome, too.
- Time difference (depending on where you live)
- Student cancellations / No Shows
- Strict Teacher Cancellation Policy
- No potential to be a full-time job with normal working hours
- Must be done at specific time and place
- Extremely dependent on the internet
- Hours are not guaranteed
- Can be tiring/repetitive
- Can be difficult to deal with problems
Right now, the biggest con is definitely the time difference. We’re very much night owls, so we have a really hard time winding down and getting to bed by 10:00pm. That means we’re always miserable when the alarm goes off at 4:30 – 5:00am. It’s even worse when you drag yourself out of bed only to find you have a trial class that’s a no-show, which means you only get paid half and you have to keep yourself awake until the next class.
The reliance on the internet can suck, too. If it cuts out for even a few minutes, you can get charged with a teacher cancellation and actually lose money. It doesn’t happen often but it’s always a risk. Since we’re teaching super young kids, we have to be really active and encouraging. That can be exhausting, not to mention repetitive. It’s hard to get excited about phonics chants and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” day after day.
One more huge con we need to mention is that we have to pay taxes. It doesn’t matter that we’re getting paid by a Chinese company and living in Mexico – Uncle Sam still insists on taking 15% of our paycheck. That means paying quarterly and doing it all ourselves, as we really can’t afford to hire an accountant on our meager earnings.
Why Do You Love This Job?
Although we both thought that teaching ESL was going to be something we just did for a few years, we’ve found that we really enjoy it. Personally, we both prefer teaching adults, but we’ll take the newfound freedom and our location independent lifestyle in exchange for teaching kids now. Teaching one-on-one for just 25 minutes is easy, anyways. The company even has their own lessons that you load up into the classroom so you have zero planning to do.
Now that we’ve been at it for a while, we both have regular students who we see a few times a week. They absolutely love having our class and speaking English. Waking up at the crack of dawn isn’t so bad when you’re greeted with a very enthusiastic little kid and their stuffed animals, super geeked about talking to you for half an hour. They’re so dang cute, and it really brings a smile to our faces every day. Sometimes they say the most hilarious things, too! There’s never a dull moment when you’re teaching ESL to little kids.
Now that we’re working online, we love the fact that we can bounce around and have much more freedom. Teaching in China was great, but that meant signing one year contracts, dealing with bosses and landlords, visa headaches, etc. We also got vacation time with the rest of the 1.4 billion people there, which was always fun!
Now we can live in places for a few days or a few months, use Air BNB and other similar sites to rent short-term, live on free tourist visas, and travel whenever we feel like it. We’re in Mexico now and loving it, but we might move to Colombia or Chile for a few months later this year. That’s not before we head home for a few of our favorite things – the 4th of July, baseball games, and Phish concerts.
We’re also thinking about getting into House Sitting and would love to finally visit Europe next summer. None of this would be possible with a traditional job, let alone our teaching jobs we had in China. Teaching online allows us to have just the kind of lifestyle that we want, and that’s more important to us than any other factors.
We don’t see ourselves quitting this job anytime soon. Ideally, we’d like to transition into doing more blogging / content creation, but even if we hit it big doing that we’ll still teach for a few hours a week. It’s fun, easy, flexible, the kids are great, and even at part-time levels it’s a nice wad of cash every month.
Any Final Advice For Someone Wanting to Be An Online English Teacher?
We couldn’t say enough good things about teaching ESL. It’s allowed us to live in other countries and travel extensively after we were down and out and on food stamps. Our lifestyle would not be possible without this job. For people interested in the world of ESL, there’s no better intro than teaching online. You don’t have to buy a plane ticket and move to the other side of the world right off the bat. Teaching online will give you experience and an insight into what it’s like, making a potential future move abroad even easier.
Or you could just do what we’re doing and move to a country you already know you like, but teach students who are in China! Technology allows for that, so take advantage of it. As we’ve already mentioned, it definitely doesn’t hurt to get a TEFL certificate, even the most basic one online.
Our best word of advice is not to rush into something too soon, and to be very cautious of any teaching program where you actually have to pay to get in. You don’t need to pay anyone to be able to find a job teaching English in Asia. We can vouch for working with VIPKID specifically and wouldn’t recommend them if we didn’t think it was a great position.
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