South Africa is known for its multiculturalism, friendly people, and beautiful tourist spots. So, why would the locals ever want to leave their beloved “rainbow nation” to teach English to foreigners abroad? This article seeks to give some insight into the South African ESL teacher trend.

Why do South Africans pursue TEFL?

Understanding the reason why South Africans pursue TEFL certification is not simplistic. Young South Africans have the same desire to see the world as many young adults all over the world. That valuable piece of paper is like a passport to the world. What makes TEFL even more attractive to South Africans, in particular, can be linked to the South African diaspora.

Surveys have shown that concerns about unemployment, finances, personal safety, and crime were major factors in the decision to head abroad, with unemployment and finance topping the list. South Africa is a country with an unemployment rate of 29.1% at the end of 2019. Emigration is an expensive exercise that young adults simply cannot afford. One way to make the move abroad is through teaching English.

Furthermore, South Africa is a country boasting 11 official languages, English being one of them. There are teaching opportunities locally but these roles are limited and generally not well paid or unpaid. This is another reason why South Africans who pursue TEFL do so abroad. Not many are prepared to teach in rural areas for a number of reasons and those who do are most likely driven by factors other than money.

Teaching English is also a popular gap year alternative when high school graduates are still figuring out what to do with their lives. Instead of sitting around at home or working at a meaningless job, they can enjoy a competitive salary while exploring the world and gain transferable skills that serve as helpful building blocks to kickstart a successful career when they return to South Africa.

Where can South Africans teach?

Although English is a primary language in South Africa, you’ll find that it is omitted from the list of accepted countries by certain schools and institutions. Some countries will require South Africans to produce proof of schooling in English as part of the job application process.

Also, some places simply prefer the UK/US accent over the more flat sounding South African one, which some foreigners may struggle to understand. Despite pesky pronunciation worries, South Africans have a great reputation as teachers abroad, particularly in countries like the UK. This makes them sought after by countries such as Oman, Bahrain, China, Japan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. According to EduConnect, “South African teachers are some of the most passionate workers in their field… who uphold their profession” and are “… known as great heroes who are dedicated to helping their students succeed.

Currently, South Africans can travel to as many 100 countries visa-free. Unfortunately, the passport is falling down the ranks of the Henley Passport Index. Its limitations become obvious when compared to, say, the American passport. However, it does grant visa-free access to countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Singapore, Kenya, Israel, and Russia for 90 days, and as long as 180 days in Peru! Popular TEFL destinations such as Indonesia and Thailand are only visa-free for 30 days. Therefore, it is best to do your homework, find out what visa you need, and budget for visa costs. According to Business Insider SA, amongst South Africans, the five most common countries to teach English are China, Spain, Thailand, Vietnam and South Korea. China is said to have the lowest living costs, making it a top choice for many South Africans.

South Africa is at the bottom of the list when considering where to teach due to limited opportunities, lower wages, and uncertain working hours.  There are however many volunteering opportunities, which is great for those with humanitarian motivations.

How much can South Africans earn teaching ESL/EFL?

The average monthly salary of a qualified teacher in South Africa is R22,164 ($1163,71)—depending on which grade you teach and whether it’s public or private school—versus the average salary of a Foreign English Language teacher in South Africa which is R17,420 ($914,63). Compare this to the monthly salaries South Africans earn teaching in countries like Norway (R47,000: $2467,71) and Oman (R45,000: $2362,70) and it becomes clear why TEFL is an undeniably attractive alternative.

Below are the salaries South African TEFL teachers can expect to earn, according to IOL (2020):

– Spain: an average of R22,500 per month  ($1181,35)

– South Korea: an average of R23 000 per month ($1207,60)

– Hong Kong: R26 000 – R70 000 per month ($1365,12 – $3675,32)

– China: up to R41,000 per month ($2152,69)

– The Gulf: R50,000 – R78,000 ($2625,23 – $4095,35) (qualified teachers only)

How much you save will depend on your location, living costs, spending habits, and so forth. As one can expect, higher paying jobs generally require more qualifications and/or relevant experience.

How do South Africans find opportunities to teach abroad?

Finding a teaching job has never been easier as various recruitment agencies regularly  advertise teaching positions on popular job search sites such as Indeed. Also, most TEFL providers have international job boards and offer assistance with job hunting. Some have had their interest sparked through word of mouth, having heard adventurous stories and seen attractive photographs of friends or relatives who have been abroad and wanting a piece of the action.

Recommendations also often come via word of mouth as to where the best places are to teach and which companies are legitimate. People have grown more weary of which agents to trust after a number of South Africans have been scammed in China. Scams have been well-publicised in the South African media, making many locals more weary of recruiters and agents than in the past.

How do South Africans find opportunities to teach online?

Finding an online teaching opportunity is easy because of the boom in online teaching in recent years. One problem that many South Africans face is that online teaching positions have strict internet speed requirements. In some cases, Internet speeds of over 10mbps are required. This could present a challenge as South Africa’s internet speeds average a mere 6.38Mbp, which is well below the basic internet requirements compared to the rest of the world.

Therefore, buying a decent laptop and having a stable connection (preferably uncapped fiber) is of utmost importance for those eager to join the world of online teaching. A decent laptop, good pair of headphones and a good-quality webcam are further requirements.

Another pitfall prospective online South African ESL teachers face is that many online teaching companies advertise the need for native English speakers, but don’t include South Africa in that group. With a little research you can overcome this problem. The following are some well-known companies that hire South Africans:

– iTutorGroup

– DadaABC

– Micro Language

– Palfish

– Hujiang

– ABC360

A basic requirement for most online teaching positions, regardless of what country you’re from, is a Bachelor’s degree plus a TEFL or TESOL. PalFish is a flexible platform in that it allows you to teach from a mobile phone or tablet, which is great for South Africans who don’t own a laptop.  Various companies have a set number of minimum hours that you must commit to. Pay is generally in dollars, which is great for South Africans, particularly with the exchange rate being what it is.

South Africa works on Central African Time (CAT) or South African Standard Time (SAST), which is 2 hours ahead of UTC. Therefore, South Africans will have to find ways of working around time zones that are very different. For example, you may need to teach very early or very late at night if you’re teaching students on the opposite side of the globe.

– Cambodia

– Spain

– Mexico

– Argentina

– Russia

– Costa Rica

– Columbia

– Egypt

– Indonesia

In a nutshell, the reasons behind the mass exodus of South Africans to TEFL abroad are multifaceted and complex and is mostly likely a trend that will persist as long as it remains a lucrative and viable option. Clearly, the ESL industry is booming, so why not kickstart your ESL journey now?

The TEFL Org is a leading TEFL provider in South Africa and worldwide, offering an assortment of externally accredited and internationally recognised qualifications with lifetime access to both their global Jobs Centre and expert advice, which is an incredible resource to have at your disposal. No matter where you are located, courses are easily accessible online, giving you the flexibility to incorporate your studies into your life as you see fit. Go to The TEFL Org and take control of your future now.

Pictures: Supplied

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