TEFL Courses

How to Get Your TEFL Certification: Step-by-Step Guide

If you've never taught abroad before, it can be hard to figure out where to start. Getting a TEFL certification is a necessary first step for becoming an ESL teacher. Here's everything you need to know when it comes to choosing a TEFL certification program.

Key Takeaways 🔑

  • Whether you choose an online or on-site certification, comes down to your personal goals and schedule.
  • Online courses tend to be more affordable, but on-site courses can help you build connections and become familiar with the country you want to teach in.
  • Make sure the course is accredited by a recognized, independent body within the field.
  • A professional-level TEFL certification for teaching English abroad must incorporate at least 100 hours of class time/training and 6 hours of teaching practice.

Looking to move overseas and experience the international adventure of a lifetime while getting paid to teach English abroad in a country like Italy, China or Argentina?

Virtually any English speaker can teach English abroad without prior teaching experience or a background in education, or even a college degree, but unless you hold a degree in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL, aka TESOL), earning a quality, accredited TEFL certification will be key to ensuring your success.

So, what do you need to look for, and how do you know if a TEFL certification course will provide you with the training and qualifications you need to get the best possible job teaching English abroad?

We’re here to help! Let's go over the main criteria you should consider when choosing a TEFL certification course!

What is a TEFL certification?

Not to be confused with TESOL or TESL, a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification is an internationally recognized credential designed to train teachers regardless of experience, to confidently teach English to non-native speakers, become a more effective teacher abroad and provide access to teaching opportunities around the world.

Note: Unsure what some of the acronyms in this article mean? Check out our guide to ESL and TEFL terminology.

Is a TEFL certification worth it?

A group of 7 people pose and smile

Yes! Whether you are a seasoned educator or just starting out, a TEFL certification is a valuable investment for any teacher looking to pursue a career teaching English as a foreign language. Although getting TEFL certified is not always required to teach English abroad, it will give you the necessary tools to ensure you are confident in the classroom and benefit you as a teacher and your students.

Benefits of getting TEFL certified

  • Better earning potential. In some countries, teachers are paid based on their experience and qualifications. Having a reputable TEFL certification could qualify you for better paying jobs teaching English abroad.
  • Competitive advantage. Like in many jobs, being certified in a program or software gives an edge over other candidates, and a TEFL provides the same for teachers. Thousands of schools and language institutes around the world prefer or require English teachers to be TEFL certified.
  • Prepares you for the classroom. One thing is to speak the language, and it's another thing to teach it. A high-quality TEFL certification will provide you with the skills and strategies you need to become an effective teacher and it will enable you to provide your students with the quality educational experience that they deserve.

If you came to this guide on the fence about pursuing this certification, these benefits make a solid case for why you should!

Read more: Why Should You Get TEFL Certified?

Pick your classroom: Online or In-Person

Person using laptop to video call with friends

There are plenty of quality online and in-person TEFL courses out there, and both can train you on the basic methods and theories of teaching English as a foreign language. The major difference is that online courses offer more flexibility and convenience, whereas on-site courses are typically more hands-on and intensive.

Whether you choose an online or on-site certification comes down to your personal goals and circumstances. Online courses tend to be more affordable and flexible, but on-site courses, especially those in the country you want to eventually teach in, can help you build connections, network for jobs, and stay focused.

Read more: Should I get TEFL Certified Online or In Person?

Online TEFL Courses

These courses are completed online and typically offer more convenience and flexibility in terms of completing your coursework, according to your own schedule and convenience. However, upper tier online courses are more structured and follow a set calendar to incorporate more interactive aspects of the course like peer-to-peer interaction and live virtual lectures and discussions.

Keep in mind that some online TEFL courses primarily cover the theory of teaching and don't always offer any hands-on classroom experience that is required for top level accredited certification required by many employers. Online courses are ideal for those looking to earn their TEFL certification from home while working or going to school full-time.

Here are some of the best online TEFL certification programs recommended by the Go Overseas community:

  • International TEFL Academy: If you want options, International TEFL Academy is a great choice. With over 5,000 graduates per year who teach in over 80 countries, you can unlock the world with a TEFL certification from International TEFL Academy. The course includes 150 hours of coursework and 20 hours of practicum for a total of 170 hours.
  • TEFL Online from the University of Toronto OISE: The TEFL Certification from University of Toronto has an advantage in that it's affiliated with a top-ranked global university (the University of Toronto) -- and the program was designed by professors from the university.
  • UNI-Prep 120-hour Online TEFL Certification: The online TEFL from UNI-Prep is one of the most-reviewed TEFL courses on Go Overseas, and one affordable option if you have your heart set on online TEFL certification.

Read more: The 12 Best Online TEFL Courses


These courses are completed online and typically offer more convenience and flexibility in terms of completing your coursework, according to your own schedule and convenience. However, upper tier online courses are more structured and follow a set calendar to incorporate more interactive aspects of the course like peer-to-peer interaction and live virtual lectures and discussions.

Keep in mind that some online TEFL courses primarily cover the theory of teaching and don't always offer any hands-on classroom experience that is required for top level accredited certification required by many employers. Online courses are ideal for those looking to earn their TEFL certification from home while working or going to school full-time.

Here are some of the best in-person TEFL certification programs recommended by the Go Overseas community:

  • Maximo Nivel’s TEFL certification with guaranteed job placement: Get your TEFL certificate in one of the most biodiverse countries in the world—Costa Rica. This 4-week/150-hour certification program has 15 hours of teaching practice with real English learners while getting observed and feedback from experienced teachers.
  • TravelBud's program in Thailand: For those ready to start teaching abroad once certified, this program offers guaranteed paid jobs in Thailand with flexible contracts. They also provide pre-departure and in-country support to help sort out visas and adjust to life in Thailand once you arrive.
  • The Fewer Things 120-hr accredited course: Their teach English in Thailand program is for anyone looking to experience what working abroad is like. Their 120-hr fully accredited TEFL certificate course is completed pre-departure making it so you are ready to teach once arriving. You will be supported throughout your moving process and provided with placement and a housing stipend upon completion.

1. Decide which type of TEFL certification you need

Two travelers holding fans and wearing traditional South Korean dresses

A popular question we receive on a regular basis: what's the difference between TEFL, TESOL, and CELTA? On Go Overseas we have unique pages for each of these acronyms but here is a brief summary of each.

You can think of "TEFL" as the general acronym for training to teach English as a foreign language, "CELTA" a brand of TEFL certification, and "TESOL" as a slight variation that includes some other teaching opportunities.

It’s also worth noting that “TESOL” is the term typically used in the U.S. for training to teach English domestically to non-native speakers. For example, an ESL teacher in a public school in the U.S. typically holds a degree or certification in “TESOL," while TEFL is the more prominent term for teaching English abroad.

They're all essentially the same thing, but we have more details on the difference between CELTA and TEFL in another article for those of you who want to dive deeper into the question.

2. Check that it’s accredited

Photo by Maria P., TEFL Madrid Academy Alum

The vast majority of schools and language institutes around the world looking to hire you as an English teacher will not only look to see that you have a TEFL certification, but that it is accredited by a recognized, independent body within the field. This is to verify that your TEFL class meets certain quality standards with regards to its curriculum, hours of training, practice teaching and the level of instructions.

A website may claim that its self-taught, online class with no practicum is 120 hours, but unless it is accredited as such by a recognized independent body, that is virtually meaningless.

Here are three questions to ask yourself to determine if the TEFL program is reputable.

  1. Is the TEFL certification a brand name or affiliated with a recognizable university? (i.e. CELTA, Trinity)
  2. Is the company that provides your TEFL certification accredited through a reputable accreditation body?
  3. Does your TEFL certification prove you have received enough hours of instruction and practice to become a successful teacher? The international standard is typically 100 hours of coursework and instruction, and at least six hours of live practice teaching (practicum).

It is important to note that no one governing accreditation body exists but a few worldwide. To ensure your organization is well-recognized and accredited, or affiliated with a reputable university, explore this list of TEFL accreditation bodies.


You can check each of these websites to see if the TEFL provider you're considering is on their list(s) -- this will help you understand if your certification will be accredited by one of these bodies.

3. Make sure it meets the standard required hours

Person at a cafe studying and writing on a piece of paper

Yes, the length of your TEFL certification does matter. A short TEFL certification might sound great -- or seem more affordable -- but it may preclude you from landing a teaching job later.

According to international standards recognized by leading accrediting bodies and thousands of language schools around the globe, a professional-level TEFL certification for teaching English abroad must incorporate at least 100 hours of class time and academic coursework as accredited by a recognized independent body.

However, the industry standard is 120 hours of training. That 120-hour course typically includes 100 hours of training and 20 hours of teaching practice (six hours is the absolute minimum). In many cases, you must prove you have had a certain amount of teaching practice as part of your TEFL certification, so look for TEFL courses that offer the minimum for any job you're considering.

Anything less - including weekend courses, two week courses, etc. are not going to meet international standards for a professional level TEFL certification.

How long should a TEFL course last?

Typically, a fully accredited TEFL certification course will last anywhere from 4 weeks to 6 months. Shorter, 4-week long courses will generally run full-time (30-40 hours per week) and are very demanding.

However, a longer 3 to 6 month-long course will let you get certified part-time and is a more realistic option for students who need to work or take care of other obligations while getting their certificate.

4. Ensure the program has qualified instructors

Person sitting on desk in classroom while using laptop

If you seek to be trained, qualified, and paid as a professional English teacher, you owe it to yourself to receive professional-level training from highly-qualified instructors.

Typically that means that any professional level TEFL certification course that you take should be taught by a university-level instructor with at least a master’s degree in TESOL or a related field, and extensive experience both teaching English as a foreign language and training teachers.

Be wary of TEFL classes, especially self-taught online classes that only offer the services of a “tutor.” While some of these tutors may be qualified, (especially in the U.K.), they often do not lead classes or provide personalized feedback on assignments and they serve primarily in a support role. Also, very often they do not possess the credentials and experience of a university-level instructor.

5. Confirm live practice teaching is offered

Two teachers leading a classroom in Thailand

This is key! If you want to get qualified for top jobs and prepare yourself for managing an actual classroom you need to take a course that features live practice teaching (practicum).

Whether you opt for a TEFL program online or in-person, working with actual ESL students is critical to providing you with hands-on experience teaching English, and allows you to gain the level of comfort and confidence necessary for you to succeed as a professional English teacher when you first walk into a classroom in Tokyo, Madrid or Buenos Aires.

Most schools and language institutes around the world, seeking to hire English teachers, as well as recognized accrediting bodies, require that any professional level TEFL certification course incorporate at least 6-20 hours of live practice teaching with actual non-native speakers.

However, it's important not to assume that online classes do not incorporate real hands-on teaching practice -- some actually do and vice versa! You cannot assume every in-person class will offer opportunities for live practice teaching.

Be sure to check whether any TEFL class you look into incorporates a practicum, because it is a critical element for any top level course. Hybrid online TEFL courses are a great way to ensure you'll get enough time teaching.

6. Compare TEFL program costs

person holding pen and writing on desk

As you'll quickly discover, TEFL programs come in a wide range of prices -- the good news is that it is a buyers market, and most are very affordable. Just keep your career goals in mind to ensure you're not taking a course that offers little long-term value or overpaying for training you may not need.

A quality TEFL course will commonly cost between $1,000 - $2,500 USD, though not always. For CELTA, you're in a sense paying for the 'brand name,' and maybe that's worth it for you. For reference, a CELTA course in the U.S. can easily run about $2,500. Our advice is to research courses you are interested in and compare costs.

Cost of in-person TEFL courses

💰Average cost: $1,500-$2,000

Doing your TEFL certification through an on-site course (especially in the country where you want to end up teaching) is another cost-saving option. For example, you can save anywhere from $500 to $1,000 by completing your on-site TEFL in a different country than the United States (though you may pay more for other expenses like travel).

Cost of online TEFL courses

💰Average cost: $500-$2,000

Online courses tend to be less expensive, but as we've mentioned: be sure your online TEFL program includes practical teaching experience, or it may not be worth the money you've saved.

Read more: How Much Does a TEFL Certificate Cost?

7. Check for job placement assistance

Person studying outside on a laptop

While job placement assistance may not be featured in the actual curriculum and coursework of a quality TEFL class, if you are going to invest your time, money, and dreams in a TEFL certification course to teach English abroad, receiving quality job placement assistance is a critical element of any TEFL training program.

It’s one thing to take a great class and learn the fundamentals of running a classroom, but gaining guidance for navigating job markets, interviews, and recruiters is also crucial to making sure you land a great job teaching English abroad.

You'll greatly enhance your opportunities to land a teaching job abroad if you receive training from an organization that can provide expertise and personal assistance with the interview process.

Many quality organizations even offer their students valuable resources such as contacts for schools and recruiters, and referrals to top-level recruiters.

8. Look at additional support offered

Cheerful woman waving and looking at laptop

In addition to job placement assistance, as mentioned above, consider what kind of support and personalization TEFL providers offer. Here's what to keep an eye out for:

  • Alumni Networks: These networks can provide valuable mentors or even job opportunities. ITA is one of the more well-known organizations offering access to over 40,000 of their previous graduates.
  • Level of support: Some self-paced courses with pre-recorded video modules could have a limited level of support, while live classes can provide office hours and tutoring throughout. Additionally, this could be logistical support regarding visas and cultural preparation after completing the program.
  • Specialty courses: Providers might already include or offer the opportunity to add specialty courses like business English or teaching young learners. These are great if you want to complement your TEFL certification or boost your teaching credentials.

It's important to remember that not every program offers these bonuses, and that is okay. Each course is developed differently, and the lack of these perks doesn't necessarily reflect the program's quality. However, if you are looking at a long-term career as an English teacher or know what kind of students you want to teach, factor these points into your decision making process.

What to avoid: TEFL program red flags

Person looking at water with backpack on

Unfortunately, the TEFL industry is not without pitfalls when providing quality courses.$1000 is a lot of money to spend on a course that doesn't give you the skills you need or give you the qualifications to apply for a great job. Here’s what you should avoid when picking a TEFL certification program:

🚩 Not accredited: Any program worth your investment will be accredited or recognized. No accreditation? Find another!

🚩 Missing an about me page: Is it easy to identify and contact specific people from the organization when browsing their website? If not, you should ask yourself why they would want to hide their identities.

🚩 No alumni network: One of the first things you should do is try and get in touch with alumni from the program in which you are interested. Ask them about the pros and cons of the program and how it prepared them to teach English abroad. An important question to ask— did this program help them get the job they wanted?

🚩 Cheap courses: Although appealing in the short-term, extremely cheap programs might not be worth your time and energy, and you could risk the course failing to meet industry standards. It is essential to think about your investment in the long-term if this is a career you want to thrive in.

Quick tips for choosing a TEFL certification program

Teacher gluing classroom materials and making flash cards

Before you start exploring courses, here are some final tips from Go Overseas to keep in mind:

  • Do your research & speak with any TEFL certification program before enrolling: Thoroughly check out their website and reach out! Ask them about accreditation, practicum, and job placement assistance. Do you have to pay for a job placement? If they can’t answer basic questions about hiring requirements for South Korea or what the deal is with visas for teaching English in Spain, then you shouldn’t waste your time getting certified through such an organization.
  • Tap into resources and articles: We live in a digital age where everyone shares their experience, and information is easily accessible. Hearing first-hand accounts, like reading unbiased program reviews from alums or watching educational videos or even vlogs on YouTube related to TEFL, can give you the confidence and reassurance you need to make your decision.
  • Revel in your excitement: Finding the right TEFL course for you will take a bit of research but it is all part of the journey that will land you abroad for the adventure of a lifetime. Keep the end goal in mind (your students and their needs, especially!), and enjoy the process from start to finish.
  • Consider your teaching goals: Everyone has different objectives. It is always helpful to write down your short and long-term goals for your career as an English teacher. Think about your dream teaching destination and what is required regarding teaching qualifications. What type of students do you want to teach, and what is your budget and time frame to get certified.

Start your TEFL certification journey

Certainly taking a high quality TEFL certification class will require an investment of time and money. But when you consider that you are planning to move to another country to live and work, and that you will receive a certification that will qualify you for tens of thousands of jobs worldwide and enable you to live and work overseas at virtually any point in the future, it may be the best investment you ever make.

Ready to find that perfect TEFL program? Compare program ratings, read reviews from past alumni, and use your new knowledge to find the course that best fits your goals!

Good luck!

Begin your TEFL journey: