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Wondering whether a conviction is a barrier to teaching abroad? Keep reading to find out!

Can I teach English abroad with a criminal record?

No one is perfect. In fact, as humans, we’re all fundamentally flawed. We all make mistakes.

If you’re reading this, it’s likely you made a mistake in the past that has, unfortunately, resulted in a criminal record. If you do find yourself in this position, you might be concerned about how this could affect your prospects as a teacher overseas.

It’s definitely not all doom and gloom, so there’s no need to stress.

Where you’ll run into trouble are visa restrictions imposed by countries barring anyone with a criminal record from obtaining a work permit. Although blanket exclusions are relatively few and far between, some countries and employers may always be off limits to you unless you can get the offense expunged from your record (more on that below).

Despite this, there should still be more than enough options open to you to travel and teach abroad.

The first thing to bear in mind is that, nowadays, most government programs, international schools and ESL companies will check your personal information against national criminal databases.

Popular countries to teach in Asia, like JapanChinaSouth KoreaThailandTaiwan and Vietnam, for example, all conduct background checks on anyone looking to obtain a visa to teach there. Criminal record checks are also common practice for both certified and ESL teaching jobs throughout the Middle East.

However, this doesn’t mean that having a criminal record automatically disqualifies you from any teaching jobs in these places.

More often than not, it’s not so much a question of whether you’ve committed a criminal offense in the past, but which kind of criminal offense.

The guidelines for which crimes will prevent you from teaching will vary from country to country, as well as from employer to employer. Minor or non-serious offenses such as misdemeanors probably won’t keep you from landing that teaching position. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that you will likely in the running alongside other candidates with similar credentials who do have a clean record.

In these cases, it really comes down to your potential employer’s personal judgment and that’s ultimately something that’s out of your control.

In general, however, there tends to be a higher level of understanding for bad choices made when you were a teenager or in college. Most of us can remember the questionable decisions we made in our younger years. As a result, some employers are more likely to look past something that can be chalked up to youthful indiscretions, such as underage drinking, marijuana possession or shoplifting, if their perception of you is otherwise positive.

But serious felonies (like murder, sexual offenses and domestic violence) are likely to be hard-and-fast dealbreakers.

Teaching in Asia with a criminal record.

One salient point to bear in mind is that popular English teaching government programs like EPIK in Korea and JET in Japan will typically screen out applicants with a criminal record.

Similarly, HESS, the largest private language institution in Taiwan, do not employ applicants without a clean criminal record.

Maybe you’ve heard anecdotes of a friend of a friend who was able to land a job teaching at a hagwon in Japan or at an ESL language center in China in the past with a criminal history.

However, as competition for English teaching jobs in Asia continues to heat up, even smaller ESL schools are setting more rigorous background check policies that prospective candidates will need to abide by.

What about teaching in Japan with a criminal record?

It really depends on whether your offense was a felony or misdemeanor. The JET program website states the following:

”A criminal record will not necessarily disqualify you [from teaching with the JET program]. However, the seriousness of the crime will be taken into consideration and a final decision will be made whether or not you will be offered a position on the program.” A little vague, but a teaching job with JET is not necessarily out of bounds.

And while the Specialist in Humanities visa (the work permit of choice for English teachers in Japan) does not require applicants to undergo a criminal background check, hiring schools in Japan may still ask for it and reject your application, depending on the severity of the offense committed.

Can I teach in Korea with a criminal record?

A national criminal record check is required as part of the E-2 visa for teaching in Korea. At present, the country has adopted a zero tolerance policy when it comes to applicants with a criminal conviction.

This means, more than likely, Korea is off the cards as a potential teaching destination.

Can I teach in China with a criminal record?

While you might still be able to teach English in China with a misdemeanor charge on your record, having been convicted of a severe crime (especially against a child) is a surefire bar to obtaining a Z visa.

Getting a visa to teach in China with a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) or Driving under the Influence (DUI) conviction is also highly unlikely. And as much as we hate to break it to you, a DUI will also prevent you from getting a visa to teach in Asian countries such as Japan and Thailand, as well as throughout the Middle East.

Which brings is to your next point:

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Where can I teach English abroad with a DUI?

A DUI shouldn’t count against you when it comes to getting a work permit Europe or Latin America. With the exception of international schools in the region, criminal background checks aren’t requested as frequently here – especially for ESL teachers hired as independent contractors within private tutoring centers.

I have a criminal history but I still want to teach abroad. What should I do?

Your first step should be to request a national or federal criminal record check. If a past conviction does show up, then it may be worth checking with a lawyer on whether it’s possible to have the charge expunged from your record. This may be a possibility if you committed a relatively minor offense many years ago, although there are no guarantees with this route.


Quick word of warning: You will be required to get your background check authenticated or Apostille-certified. For obvious reasons, we don’t recommend any attempts to forge your criminal record check (or using a fake identity) in an attempt to game the system.

Embarking on an international job search isn’t easy, and it can be especially intimidating if you have a background that is less than favorable. But a criminal record doesn’t necessarily have to stop you from pursuing your dream job teaching abroad.

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