Top countries ESL teachers should consider applying to as travel restrictions ease in 2021

woman in mask smiling and heading to an airplane

One of the main benefits of a career teaching ESL is the opportunity to live overseas and experience a different way of life.

Well, we have some exciting news for ESL teachers! 

There has been an increase in international job opportunities as countries are opening up to welcome overseas travelers. 

While this is great for teachers and schools alike, it’s still important to spend time researching the health and safety protocols new staff will need to follow throughout the onboarding process.  

At present, countries hiring English teachers will require a negative COVID-19 test before travel, and teachers will probably need to show proof they’ve been vaccinated against the virus before boarding a flight. 

Teachers should also verify the latest international and local travel advice regularly, as some countries have to update their border policies at short notice.

Travel restrictions will continue to ease and provide opportunities for ESL teachers to teach abroad.

So, if you're wondering where to begin, start here.

These are the top 5 countries ESL teachers should consider applying to as the world opens back up, based on salaries, safety, and quality of life:

  1. Spain
  2. Hong Kong
  3. Mainland China
  4. Japan
  5. Saudi Arabia 

1. Spain

From June 7, 2021, most travelers to Spain will be able to enter the country so long as they've been fully vaccinated at least 14 days before travel.

New staff will not need to self-quarantine in Spain unless otherwise directed. 

Famed for its relaxed siesta culture, warm weather, passionate people, and outstanding cuisine, it’s no surprise Spain was the second most visited country in the world in 2019

And it’s always been extremely popular with ESL teachers.  

Yes, you can find more attractive salaries on offer in China and some parts of the Middle East, but the Spanish lifestyle is hard to beat. 

Spain’s “work-to-live” vibe means it’s no surprise that the country recently announced plans to trial a 4-day working week, and with classes often having a less regimented feel, you might want to encourage your teachers to spend time developing new skills in your classrooms.

Harrison Fowler, founder of RVF International, one of Spain’s leading teaching English abroad programs believes that with restrictions easing, more people than ever will be planning to broaden their horizons.

“People are more excited and more eager than ever to travel,” said Fowler. Adding, “We had four times as many teachers join our program (Teach Abroad in Spain) during the pandemic than years past and we hope to double that number for this program year.” 

RVF International connects teachers with schools throughout Spain and assists new teachers throughout the entire recruitment process. 

This includes helping teachers secure Spanish visas, and Fowler is confident there will not be any major bureaucratic issues once borders fully reopen.

"All those in our program with a valid Spanish visa will have no issues entering Spain where they will safely teach at their school,” remarked Fowler. 

2. Hong Kong

So long as new teachers hold a valid entry visa to work, they should be exempt from Hong Kong’s tight border restrictions

But there’s still essential documentation they’ll need to gather before departure.

The regional government in Hong Kong is currently grouping countries according to their COVID-19 transmission rates. 

At present, travelers from the U.S. are classified as “high risk.” 

Here's what teachers will need to do to satisfy immigration officials in Hong Kong: 

  • Provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test, no older than 72 hours 
  • Show documented proof that the test was conducted by an approved health authority in the U.S.
  • Show evidence of a booking at an approved hotel in Hong Kong where arrivals must quarantine for a minimum of 14 nights
  • Submit to additional COVID-19 tests upon arrival in Hong Kong

With more than 130 million Americans now fully vaccinated against the virus, we’re hopeful that it will soon be easier for our teachers to travel and work overseas. 

And Hong Kong will remain a top destination for ESL instructors. 

With its futuristic city skyline, rich diversity and thriving economy, the island-state's considered one of the most forward-thinking places in the world. 

It’s standard for schools in Hong Kong to offer recruits starting salaries in the region of $3,000 p/m, and it’s not uncommon for experienced teachers to command higher wages.  

One of the most established English language center’s in Hong Kong is Monkey Tree English Learning Center

The center is busy hiring qualified foreign teachers, and the group’s Head of Recruitment, Zené Brink, is upbeat about the future: 

“We’re happy to say that with travel restrictions being lifted for some countries, our hiring needs are being met,” Brink told Teach Away. Adding, “It’s definitely looking much more positive for the ESL world.”

Monkey Tree Learning Centres offers full visa sponsorship and advice for teachers throughout the visa process. 

3. Mainland China

Schools in Mainland China often attract ESL teachers with the promise of high salaries and world-class employment packages. 

On March 15, 2021, COVID restrictions eased for travelers from 23 countries.

Here’s a useful article detailing the recent changes to China's border policies. 

The key takeaways are that teachers will need to be fully vaccinated before travel, and they’ll need to present two negative COVID tests, taken within 48 hours of scheduled flight departure. 

Beyond needing a valid visa for travel, teachers will have to quarantine upon arrival in Mainland China. 

The length of time varies between regions, but a 14-day minimum is to be expected. 

Ever since COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan in January 2020, Mainland China has implemented some of the world's strictest border policies, which means schools have prioritized domestic recruitment. 

Commenting on the difficulties recruiters in China have faced, Grace Liu, HR Manager with Beijing-based Aston Education Group, pointed out that “with over 140 schools in China, they've been forced to think outside the box to make sure schools have teachers in place."

Throughout the pandemic, the company has placed much more emphasis on promoting its innovative teacher referral program. 

Aston has also integrated new online teaching platforms for both its staff and students and has done its utmost to ensure existing teachers are well cared for. 

The center has recently started advertising for overseas teachers as things begin to return to normal, and Liu is thankful that “platforms like Teach Away have continued to provide them with quality candidates.”

Other leading language centers are following suit, with the i2 Institute of Education and Imagine Education Group now advertising for overseas teachers. 

This suggests that recovery is soon to be in full swing in the world’s biggest ESL territory. 

4. Japan

Japan was lauded for its first wave response to the pandemic, and for a while last fall, schools could recruit teachers on business visas. 

Sadly, since January 2021, the border has been closed to almost all travelers, excluding Japanese citizens and current residents. 

The country is now battling a severe second wave of COVID-19, which is even threatening the upcoming Olympic games. 

However, this has not prevented some schools from hiring ESL teachers, in the belief the country will soon be able to turn the situation around and once again welcome foreign teachers. 

Branda Leary and Shiho Kawano work as part of the recruitment team for Amity Corporation, a school franchise that opened in 1994 and now has more than 85 branches throughout Japan. 

Working together, they recruited more than 20 overseas teachers for Amity last year, despite the challenging circumstances. 

The school currently has another 30 teachers on stand-by and is still hiring more teachers.

Speaking recently to Teach Away, Leary and Kawano said they are delighted that Amity has "been able to maintain a positive candidate experience throughout the recruitment process.” 

The company’s success has stemmed from its ability to communicate clearly with future employees. 

This includes "periodic updates on government and company protocol related to the coronavirus, check-in calls,” and when borders were open last fall Amity even helped teachers “to purchase Japanese lessons taught during the required two-week quarantine period in Japan.” 

Amity also provides remote training and offers extensive ESL resources for teachers connected to its programs. 

Although the team is currently providing English lessons to more than 20,000 students across the country, the school is looking forward to welcoming new teachers soon. 

We’re sure that Japan’s distinctive culture, defined by its deep traditions and well-earned status as one of the world’s most technologically advanced nations, means teachers will return to the land of the rising sun sooner rather than later.  

5. Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has been a popular destination with ESL teachers for many years. 

One of the main attractions is the incredible financial incentives that are often available. 

Salaries in Saudi will often allow teachers to earn two or three times what they can make in their native countries, and that’s not even the best part. 

Wages here are tax-free, which allows expats to make enormous savings. And it’s also common practice for schools to offer generous housing allowances too. 

But, at present, the country still has strict entry and exit laws due to its ongoing battle to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

If you’re planning to advise teachers on potential travel obstacles they may encounter before arrival in Saudi Arabia, here's what they need to know: 

  • Right now, visitors traveling to Saudi from 20 countries, are banned from entering the country if they've been in one of the blacklisted countries within 14-days before seeking entry to Saudi Arabia
  • All non-citizens permitted to enter the country must be fully vaccinated and need to provide a negative COVID-19 test at the airport, no older than 72 hours
  • It’s also worth noting that non-citizens currently have to complete a mandatory 7-day quarantine period at a government-approved location and at their own expense

Hala Khaled-Ayash, the General Manager for Projects at Al Khaleej Training & Education in Riyadh, accepts that recruiting new teachers has been particularly difficult since the onset of COVID-19. 

"Hiring has been challenging, and we've had to focus on a higher number of in-country candidates,” said Khaled-Ayash. 

Indeed, Al Khaleej Education, which offers training in several sectors, including the English language, is already looking for qualified ESL instructors.

“We’re very happy that we can now look forward to teachers residing in Saudi,” observed Khaled-Ayash. 

“The only real challenge now is obtaining a vaccination certificate to secure a work visa for our teachers.” 

Looking Ahead

Countries are adjusting to the difficulties posed by COVID-19, but restrictions for international travel are beginning to ease. 

But options for ESL teachers looking to travel and international schools looking to recruit are, of course, still limited. 

That is unlikely to change significantly in 2021. 

This is partly because emerging strains of the virus are forcing some governments to rapidly adopt strict new border policies. 

All parties must work together to keep on top of local and international travel updates. 

Contact Teach Away and discover how our decades of experience in international recruitment can help you safely secure outstanding teachers for your school.