I write this from my sunny balcony in Barcelona. The smell of tapas and the sea wafts through the air and I am looking forward to embarrassing my newfound Spanish friends with my salsa dancing skills. Despite the fact that I trained as a lawyer in the UK and have speak zero Spanish, I’m able to live and work in vibrant Barcelona because I teach English online.
Currently, the online tutoring market is a sector that continues to grow, with individuals who Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in high demand.
The barriers to entry are low. You don’t need to be a technology whiz or even have any experience, and you can earn up to $60USD per hour.
Since starting to teach online, I’ve been able to live and work everywhere from New Zealand, to Bosnia, Ireland, Malaysia and Hungary. My commuting costs are nonexistent; all I need to do is throw a smart shirt on and fire up my laptop and I start earning.
Apart from the flexibility it offered, I starting teaching online because the barriers to entry were low. You don’t need to be a technology whiz or even have any teaching experience or qualifications. A degree and a 120-hour TEFL certificate were all I needed to get started—and really, you don't even need those.
Your earning potential is dependent on few factors, including if you have a degree, whether you’re a native English speaker, and if you have any prior experience. If you have all three, you can expect to earn between $45USD and $60USD per hour.
Want to make this your own reality? Here’s how.
Where to find jobs
There are two main ways of teaching online:
First, flexible teaching platforms let you set up your teacher profile, where you list your qualifications, certifications and experience, and set your own hours and rates. You may also be asked to record a video introduction. Students can then book you if you like your profile.
Although free to join, you need to apply to the sites—and to be prepared to give up a chunk of your income to commissions. Popular flexible online teaching platforms include:
• italki takes a 15 per cent commission
• AmazingTalker. Dependent on the number of lessons completed, this site will take between 0 and 30 percent of your commission.
• Verbling takes a 15 per cent commission.
• Preply. For the first lesson with a new student, the site takes a 100 per cent commission. After that, it is between 18 and 33 per cent, dependent on the number of completed lessons with students.
The second option is virtual or online schools. These schools will ask you to commit to set hours and days, and will supply you with students. It’s a bit like being employed by an official school, but in a virtual classroom. If you work for online schools, your rate will range between $15USD and $30USD per hour. Teachaway and OETJobs list a number of online schools that are currently hiring, along with their respective requirements.
Don't have any experience? Don't worry. If you're a non-native speaker or a non-degree holder, you can find a list of schools hiring on my site, OutandBeyond.com. The key to landing these jobs is to demonstrate how you can improve a student’s language and making learning English a pleasure.
Improve your earning potential
The best way to increase your hourly rate is to niche down or to specialize. Instead of offering standard English lessons like thousands of other teachers, leverage your previous experience to teach students something that can add value to their language skills.
Personally, once I focused on IELTS (an English language test needed for international study, migration and work) and Business English, demand for my services grew. Students were willing to pay for my expertise and I was able to increase my rate significantly.
Taking an IELTS teaching course will increase your chances of being able to charge a much higher rate than a standard English teacher. Each IELTS test costs $225, which means students will pay good money to improve their chances of passing. There’s no sign of this demand slowing; in 2018, a record 3.5 million IELTS tests were taken.
My corporate experience also paid off. Teaching business English includes lessons as simple as how to write an appropriate work email and how to communicate effectively in a work meeting.
However, the best way to increase your hourly rate is to convert students from virtual schools or flexible platforms into your own private students. In doing so, there is no middle agency taking a chunk of commission out of your hourly rate. I recommend first building trust and a relationship with students through an online school or flexible teaching platform. After a while, you can suggest teaching them privately via Zoom or Skype.
Often, your students will be from all around the world so you can suggest they pay you via PayPal, Payoneer or Stripe. TransferWise and Revolut allow you to have multi-currency accounts if some students want to pay you via bank transfer in their own currency.
Teaching English online has been a true privilege, has it has allowed me to travel, earn and save on the road. I have more control over my schedule, and I get to learn from different cultures and share my experiences—all while being paid for it.
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