While the prospects of travel to exotic lands and making fat stacks teaching your native language are very appealing, we thought we’d help you understand what you’re in for. Jason Naipaul from Culture Toronto spent a few years teaching abroad, so listen up because it’s not all kimonos and sushi. This is the Insider’s guide to teaching English overseas, Part One!

What "teaching English" is all about, right?

What "teaching English" is all about, right?

So I’ve got a degree, now what?

Whether its fantasies about foreign culture or just scrambling to repay student loans, more and more graduates are deciding to take their skills overseas and fill English teaching positions abroad. Fresh university graduates have carved out a place for themselves on Canada’s already lengthy list of exports and as you contemplate your own possibility of taking your talents abroad, get informed. There are few things worse than arriving in a new country completely unprepared for culture shock, language barriers and an altogether different work grind.

The Asian Options

Many options exist for the thrill-seeking fresh graduate and Asia has emerged as a popular choice for young Canadians looking to go abroad. More specifically, China, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea. All of these places have a great deal to offer, but there isn’t necessarily as much overlap as you’d expect. Choose wisely, as you’ll likely be sinking at least a year into the destination of your choice and even more than that if you want to get a full, well-rounded experience.


China has been dubbed the new land of opportunity. Despite its history as a politically volatile nation, China has been a model of stability in the wake of the recent economic crisis. Make no mistake, it is still a growing nation that needs to improve itself in many areas but there is no denying the opportunity that currently exists there, especially for Native English speakers.  As its economy grows in size and its business hubs continue to swell, the demand for quality English education has also risen. Applying from abroad, marketing your services over Skype or simply relocating to Beijing or Shanghai and then job hunting are all viable options for those looking to capitalize on the opportunities China’s growth has created. 

Bright Beijing

Bright Beijing

With a population of 1.36 billion, you can easily find someone in need of your services as an English teaching professional. That being said, not all clients are made equal. If safety is your concern, apply from your home country. Doing so affords you the opportunity to research and review others’ experiences with the company of your choice and you can always decide to decline the position at any time. When applying from within the country, you may feel pressured to accept a less appealing position to combat your dwindling savings or to secure the visa permissions to remain in the country without penalty. This isn’t to say that you can’t find a great job from within the country but I’d only recommend that route for those that have experience living abroad and adapting to new work cultures as well as job hunting in unfamiliar environments.

China has a lot to offer in terms of personal pursuits. China is home to some of the world’s oldest martial arts including Wing Chun, White Crane Boxing (also known as Fujian White Crane or Bai He Quan) and of course Kung Fu. The travel junky will be able to visit the great wall or see the Terracotta Warriors. The streets are also packed with massage parlours (both legitimate and “full service” exist), bars and snack stands for the traveler looking to just soak in the experience. 

Kung Fu Kids.jpg

Recommendation: China makes a fine first stop for fresh graduates looking to gain some experience abroad. That said,choose a reputable place of work. You won’t earn much more than enough to cover your living expenses and have a reasonable leisure budget but the earning potential is great if you’re willing to invest in learning some Mandarin.

The Big Picture (10-point scale)

Work Culture: 7.5/10

Food and Leisure: 7/10

Nightlife: 8/10

Ease of Adapting to Culture: 6.5/10

Overall (not an average): 7/10

Hong Kong

Hong Kong has been a major financial and business hub for the Asian-Pacific region for over three decades. Its culture has been gradually but consistently exported to the west over that time. It has become so prominent that what most people understand to be “Chinese” is actually the “Cantonese” dialect. What most associate with “Chinese Food” are the dishes most commonly found in Hong Kong and in the Guangzhou province of China. This makes Hong Kong a great first experience for westerners, as the adjustments and culture shock involved with relocating there are minimal.

Hong Kong natives often say that Hong Kong is a great place for visitors but a tough place for residents. This attitude stems from their borderline obsession with work, status and an occupational culture that mainly serves employers over employees. Bachelor’s Degree holders looking to get their start in teaching in Hong Kong must be willing to accept a meagre salary or wage. Experience and education are what every employer is looking for and they will nearly always choose the candidate that has more of both. They’ll often request you state your expected salary in your resume or in an e-mail. There will always be a negotiation between prospective employee and employer over salary. Be ready for that.

The "octopus" card makes spending easy.

The "octopus" card makes spending easy.


Overall, Hong Kong is a great place for experiencing new things. They have transportation systems that make the TTC/Viva look as dated as an ‘N Sync poster. The “octopus” cards they use for paying fares are accepted in vending machines, convenience stores, restaurants and even some taxis. Their food is cheap thanks to low labour costs and given their rich history and tradition, they have perfected some truly incredible dishes. Their nightlife scene doesn’t lag behind any of the other great world tourist destinations either as their party district, Lan Kwai Fong, boasts some of the most interesting, exciting and affordable bars and clubs I’ve ever seen. 

"Teaching English" in Hong Kong

"Teaching English" in Hong Kong


Recommendation: Hong Kong is best used as a second or third stop for language teachers. The accumulated experience will you give a leg up in contract negotiations and will really open up opportunities. Despite the heavy emphasis on working all the time, English teaching is one of the few fields that will afford you a pretty nice work-life balance.

The Big Picture (10-point scale)

Work Culture: 6.5/10

Food and Leisure: 8/10

Nightlife: 8.5/10

Ease of Adapting to Culture: 8/10

Overall (not an average): 7.5


Stay tuned for the next installation of my “Teaching Abroad” series which will feature Korea and Japan!

Jason Naipaul