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esl teacher asking teach abroad interview questions in an online virtual interview
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Interviews may feel stressful, but they are the best way for both parties to get to know each other. They are also the perfect time to ask questions to understand your teaching abroad experience. 

We put together a list of ESL teacher interview questions you can ask in your teach abroad interview that will make your ESL journey a success. We put these questions into seven categories:

  1. At work
  2. Career
  3. Culture
  4. Getting There
  5. Housing
  6. Medical
  7. Money

At Work

What is the turnover rate?

A high staff turnover rate is not a great sign, but it is pretty standard. Many people teach abroad for just one year, whether or not they like the school. But a lower turnover rate means less chaos and disorder in dealing with staff transitions.

How many other teachers? Where are they from?

Workplace culture is affected by the size of the composition of the staff. Foreign teachers usually come from English-speaking countries, like the US, Canada, the UK, and South Africa, but don’t be surprised if you meet fellow English teachers from places like Zimbabwe and Russia.

Who else will you work with?

Schools are made up of more than just teachers. Other people you might work with include:

  • Sales staff
  • Customer service staff
  • Administrators / Managers
  • Janitors

When are your hours? How many are there?

Different types of schools have different hours, and you might not be working the standard 9 to 5.

Training or tutoring schools, for example, have hours that are opposite regular school hours. This means you will work in the evening during the week and during the day on Saturday and Sunday.


What kind of opportunities for advancement are there?

You might only stay for a year, or you might spend the rest of your life in your new country.

If you stay for more than a year or two, you should get a sense of what kind of opportunities for advancement there are. As a foreign worker, you may have a short ladder to climb, but you might be able to rise to the level of senior teacher or director of studies.

How much / what kind of on-the-job training is there?

Even if your ESL career is a quick 1-year stint, that time is valuable. Asking about the on-the-job training you receive is important because that will let you know what other opportunities will be available to you in the future.


What are some important dos and don’ts of the country?

Every country has its hidden customs, taboos, and idiosyncrasies. Of course, you don’t want to insult someone accidentally, so ask about what not to do.

What are some good phrases to learn?

In many places, you can get by quite well with just English and a little ingenuity with miming and hand gestures. But learning a few key phrases can go a long way, too. Your local coworkers can give you some insight about that.

Getting there

What kind of documents do you need? How do you get them?

Teaching abroad usually requires some form of documentation. At a minimum, you will need a TEFL certificate, which you can get online. But you may also need official documents like a work permit, a visa, or a residence permit.

A good school will help you through the documentation process. You will still have to secure items like a criminal background check or college diploma, but they will help you turn those into a work permit or visa.

Does the school provide a flight allowance?

Long-distance flights are expensive. Many schools will provide a flight allowance as part of their package- but ask about when you get that money. If they reimburse you after you arrive, then you will still need to put up money to buy the ticket in the first place.


Where will you be living (what part of the city)?

It makes a difference whether you live downtown or on the city’s fringes. You can also ask about what will be in your neighborhood, like grocery stores and restaurants.

What kind of apartment/living situation will you have?

It is not uncommon for schools to provide housing to teachers since it would be difficult to secure a place as soon as you arrive. Sometimes these are shared apartments, and sometimes they are singles. You can also ask specific questions, like the size of the apartment and the appliances that are built-in.

What transportation is there to/from work?

Having a short commute is great for your mental and physical health. You might be able to walk, but in other cases, you could have to take a bus or subway.


What is healthcare like?

Health is important.

Every country has a slightly different healthcare system. And schools will often provide you with some sort of healthcare that works in their country.

You can ask very specific questions, like if you can choose your doctor and what to do if you have a medical emergency.

Some developing countries like China have more expensive “Western” hospitals that you can go to if you get very sick or need surgery. These hospitals are usually located in major cities.

What insurance do you get?

In many parts of the world, healthcare is much cheaper than in the United States. This means you might just pay a few dollars to see a doctor and not even bother with the insurance. But it also means that many “international” healthcare plans are really international everywhere but the United States. Be sure to understand exactly where and when you can use your card.

What is the Covid situation like?

Although the Covid-19 pandemic is not as serious as it was in 2020, it is still a serious concern. Ask your interviewer what the pandemic situation is like in their country and whether or not you need additional documents to cross the border.


What is your starting salary?

Money isn’t everything, but it is crucial. You want to be sure that you are being compensated fairly. To that end, you should consider the exchange rate to your home currency, as well as the cost of living in your new country.

The exchange rate matters for figuring out how much things “really” cost, but also for dealing with transactions with your home currency. This can include everything from student loan payments to Netflix subscriptions.

The cost of living matters in your day-to-day life in your new country. In many developing East Asian countries, it is common for foreign ESL salaries to far exceed living expenses – meaning you can take home more of your paycheck. On the other hand, Western European countries are more expensive, so you will not be able to save as much.

To estimate the cost of living, you can use this tool.

How often / how much does salary increase?

It is normal and expected for salary to increase over time, especially if you receive a promotion. Be sure to have an idea of how your career and salary will interact in the long term.

Make the best of your teach abroad interview

In any case, remember that ESL teaching is an in-demand skill. Your interviewers want you to succeed as much as you do. That means the interview is a great time to ask questions about your future life abroad.

But besides these questions, do remember to maintain good interview etiquette. Show up on time, speak clearly, and be polite.

Thinking about teaching abroad? Take a look at Teach Away’s offerings, or check out other blog articles to get you started.

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