Teaching the English language does not have to be a boring job; you can make it exciting and even adventurous by choosing to travel overseas to teach. True, leaving behind your friends and family and your home country is not an easy decision but it can turn out to be an experience of a lifetime. With new people to meet and cultures to explore, you can learn and grow both personally and professionally. So the basic question is which country is the right choice?
In recent years one of the countries that has caught the attention of many teachers teaching English as a Foreign Language is Japan. The country has a booming market for English teachers and provides many benefits.
However, the decision to move all the way to Japan is not the one you can make on an impulse. Before you decide to go you need to look at a few very important factors, such as;
- Is the living condition there good?
- Is the weather too extreme or acceptable?
- Are school policies teacher friendly?
- Will you be able to afford traveling to and from home?
- Is the cost of living in Japan affordable?
- Is it easy to teach English in Japan?
To help clarify things and give you a clear picture this article will answer all the questions for you. It contains an in-depth analysis to help you decide if you should travel all the way to Japan to teach English.
Is teaching English in Japan a good career option?
Here are a few reasons why the English language teachers can make a good living by traveling to Japan or other non-native English speaking countries to teach English.
- The English language is in high demand – English is perhaps the most recognized language in the world; around more than 53 countries have declared it to be their official language. As a result of this, people living in non-native English speaking countries feel the need to learn the language to keep up with the rest of the world. Every learner has a different purpose to learn; some want to do it for academic purposes while others want to travel abroad in search of better job opportunities. No matter what the reason is most of them need to communicate in English to achieve their goals. Therefore, the market for English teachers is in good shape and promises to stay that way for a long time to come.
- Salary can be good – If you are an experienced native speaker then traveling to Japan can increase your chances of getting well paid jobs. Since there are not many native speakers in the country and the demand for teachers is high, it is highly likely that you will beat local candidates to get English language teaching jobs.
- A lot of job opportunities – A capable EFL teacher has many different options; you can travel abroad and teach in regular schools, universities, after-hours language schools, preschools and even online; there is no shortage of job opportunities.
- You get to travel and learn new things – One of the best things about moving abroad to countries like Japan is the traveling. You will get to see a new country, explore an entirely different culture, eat an amazingly delicious cuisine and communicate with people who have different ideas about life. The experience can help you grow as an individual.
- Most of Japan is a safe place to live – If you plan to teach in one of the bigger cities such as Tokyo or Osaka, it is a good decision. With an extremely low violence and petty crime rate, these cities are among the safest in the world. Moreover, contrary to the popular belief, the people in these cities are friendly and hospitable.
- A great transportation system – This is one of the biggest perks of teaching English in Japan, the public transportation system in the country, especially the main cities, is great, extremely well organized and affordable. You will not have to worry about buying a car or gas expenses, which will allow you to save more money.
How to become a teacher in Japan?
Once you make up your mind about becoming an EFL teacher in Japan you will have to start planning your big move. Here are a few major questions you need to ask yourself before getting on a plan.
Which city should I pick to start my ESL teaching career? You cannot just jump on a plane and figure out the details after you land in Japan. Before committing to anything you have to decide which city do you want to live in. You will then have to figure out details such as accommodation, living and traveling expenses.
Do I need a working visa? Initially, you may not need to apply for a working visa to start working in Japan. You will have to have your traveling passport and a landing permit, which could be in the form of tourist visa, to enter the country. Once you are there you will have only three months to find a teaching job otherwise your landing permit will expire.
Once you have the job you will require a working visa to continue. As an ESL teacher you can obtain two types of visas;
- Instructor visa – This type of visa allows you to work in public sector elementary and high schools.
- Specialist in humanities visas – This type of visa will allow you to work in private schools, language schools or companies.
- Requirements for getting a visa
- Here are the basic requirements for getting a visa:
- You need to have a bachelor’s degree. The degree does not have to be necessarily in the English language.
- You cannot qualify for a working visa unless you have a job offer. The school or institution that hires you will serve as your visa sponsor.
- You must be fluent in all forms of English – reading, writing, speaking, listening.
How much money do I need to have for my job hunt in Japan? If you already have a job then you do not need much to travel to Japan; you just need enough to survive the little time before your first paycheck. However, if you plan to find the job after settling in then you will have to plan your finances in advance. The local language schools or English conversation schools usually do not hire the local Japanese; therefore, it is quite likely you will not have to wait too long to find a job. But despite this advantage, you must travel with at least $3000 – the more the better – which should be enough to sustain you for a month or so until you find a job.
Do I need some teaching experience to get a job in Japan? English teachers are in high demand in japan and in addition to regular private and public schools the country is swarming with English conversation schools. As a native-speaking teacher, you may not find it that difficult to find an entry level job with minimum or no experience at all. However, to land a more stable opportunity that pays well and can be turned into a career you will have to have some teaching experience under your belt.
Is it important to learn Japanese to teach in Japan? If you thought you could go to Japan without knowing a single word of Japanese, you were wrong! You will have to learn enough to know the most basic words and sentences that will allow you to convey your message to the local people. Moreover, your potential students may not know any English at all, therefore, you will have to communicate with them in Japanese, at the most basic level, to give them an idea about what is expected from them.
What is the salary for EFL or ESOL teachers in Japan? Japan is among the top 10 countries in the world that offer the best salary packages to its teachers.
Depending on your experience and the type of school you join your salary can fall anywhere between $1,700 to $5,000. The hourly rate is usually somewhere around $25 per hour. The starting salary of an elementary and high school teacher can be around or over $30,000 per year, which is quite good considering the teachers can start without any experience. If you are a TEFL/TESL or TESOL certified teacher your package may be slightly better than your colleagues.
Here is a breakdown of how your salary (depending on the institution) may vary:
- Private schools or Eikaiwa – These are private schools or English conversation schools and their salaries can vary from $1,800 to $2,250 per month.
- Public schools – The public school system in Japan is quite well established; therefore, the teachers are usually paid the same or sometimes more than private school teachers.
- University – Teaching at a university level may require experience. Your salary package can fall anywhere between $2,250 to $5,000.
- Tutoring – Tutoring charges in Japan range from anywhere between $9 to $15 per hour.
- Bonus on Salary – Japan is quite good when it comes to offering bonus to ESL teachers. A bonus is usually an additional one-month salary. However, schools may have other bonus policies too; these could be performance based, good behaviour, leave encashment etc.
- Travelling expenses – You must carefully negotiate traveling expenses because flights from and to Japan are not cheap. You must remember that not all schools will reimburse your airfare; therefore, you must ask them about their policy on traveling expenses before you sign any contract.
- Transportation expenses – If your school requires you to travel it is highly likely they will give you extra transportation expenses or reimburse you for each trip. However, travelling from your residence to the school may not be included in the package.
- Health Insurance – Most of the schools in Japan may give you health insurance. In most case you are given basic medical benefits free of cost; however, some in institutions a portion of your salary may go into your insurance plan each month.
Do I need to get TEFL, TESOL or TESL certification or a specific degree? As mentioned before, you will need to have a bachelor’s degrees to apply for a working visa without which you cannot keep your job in Japan. As for getting a TEFL/TESL or TESOL certification, you do not need it to qualify for a visa. However, getting these certificates will open up more and better teaching opportunities for you. Moreover, you may also get paid better as compared to ESL teachers who are not certified.
Where can I get started as an ESL teacher? Where can I get started as an ESL teacher? – There are different types of teaching jobs available in Japan and these include the following:
- Eikaiwa – The literal meaning of the work is “English Conversation”. These are English conversation schools that are owned by private companies. These schools hire native-English speakers to teach their students. Eikaiwa schools usually provide the teachers with their own material and have their own rules for teaching. These would require you to work around 8 hours per day and the salary is around $2,280 or more.
Two of the best Japanese companies that own conversation schools are:
- AEON – It is one of the best teaching companies in the country; their policies are quite employee friendly and they will help you settle down in your job by providing assistance with things like setting up your bank account and picking up you from the Airport. AEON usually offers its employees a fixed salary of around $2,445 per month, which is slightly higher than other companies. The company also has a great vacation policy that gives the teachers three one-week vacations throughout the year.
- Interact – The company hires teachers from all over the world and provides you with initial training and orientation after your hiring is confirmed. The salary offered by Interact is between $2,000 to $2,280 or more. The company also offers extra bonus to its employees.
- Universities – Universities teaching job in Japan are probably the best paid teaching jobs. However, the requirements for getting a teaching job at the university level are quite strict. You may require a Ph.D., research papers and other certifications and diplomas. The salary can go up to as much as $5,000 per month plus benefits and bonus. English programs of universities such as University of Tokyo, Hokkaido University and Sophia University are among the the most prestigious English programs in the country.
- Public and private schools – In order to get teaching jobs in public and private schools you will need at least a year of experience in the Japanese education system. You will also need to have to clear at least N3 level of JLPT or Japanese Language Proficiency Test.
- ALT or Assistant Language Teacher through JET Program – An ALT gets the responsibility to assist with different activities related to language education. This could give you valuable experience if you wish to travel to other countries or stay in Japan to become an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher.
- What is the JET Program?
Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program is a great initiative taken by the government of Japan. The program is a reliable way for young and aspiring ESL teachers to travel to Japan to teach English.
This exchange program invites people from other participating nations to come to Japan and work as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs), Pre-Service Student Teacher Exchange in Southeast Asia (SEA) and Coordinators for International Relations CIR for a year in Japan. The participants work in private schools or local government bodies. The main purpose of the program is to promote the concept of internationalization in the country by improving and promoting Foreign Language Education.
- What do I need to become an ALT through the JET program?
Here are the requirements for qualifying for the JET program:
- You must be in excellent mental and physical health.
- You must have a bachelor’s degree to be appointed as an ALT through the program.
- You must be a national of the country from where you apply.
- Must have an excellent knowledge of the language you want to teach.
- You must demonstrate a functional command of either the Japanese or English language.
- Must show an interest in working with children.
- Experience in the field of teaching is not mandatory but will help you get better opportunities.
- Do I need a teaching diploma or certificate to qualify for JET?
No, you you do not need any diploma or certificates such as TEFL or TESOL to qualify for JET; however, these certificates can help your cause during the entire selection process.
Challenges of becoming an English teacher in Japan
Teaching English in a foreign country like Japan may sound like an adventure but it has its share of difficulties. These could include the following:
- Language barrier – English is not a very common language in Japan, therefore, you may face communication problems with the locals and even with your students. That is why it is highly recommended that you learn the basic Japanese language before shifting there.
- Travelling expenses – If your salary package does not include your travelling expenses then flying back home once or twice a year may prove to be quite expensive.
- Planning lessons that include activities and games can be time-consuming – Since you may face a language barrier with your students, therefore, you will have to be extra creative to plan your lessons that can communicate the message effectively. This can prove to be quite time consuming and may not leave you much time to socialize frequently.
- Cost of living can be higher – One downside of teaching in Japan is that the schools, both private and public, do not offer any separate accommodation expenses. The total salary package given to you will include your accommodation, transportation and training expenses. On average, it takes somewhere between $1,700 to $2,600 per month to afford a comfortable living in Japan, which could make things relatively difficult if your salary is on the lower side.
What are other alternatives to becoming an ESL teacher?
Not everyone can afford or want to travel to other countries to teach so, if that is the case then how do you become and English as a Second language teacher? The answer is VIPKID!
It is one of the biggest online language schools for ESL learning. The platform has more than 500,000 Chinese students and over 60,000 ESL teachers. The requirements to become a teacher on VIPKID are not too difficult to meet. Here is what you need:
- Fluency in English
- Bachelor’s degree
- A year of teaching or mentoring or similar experience
VIPKID can help you earn anywhere between $7 to $22 plus incentives by teaching English as a second language. If you are TEFL/TESL or TESOL certified, your salary can vary and you can get more teaching jobs.
Benefits of becoming an online teacher
Becoming an online ESL teacher has its own set of advantages, which include the following:
- Flexible hours – If you already have a job and are looking for something to supplement your income then teaching online is a great option. Online teaching allows you to choose your own working hours, which makes it easier for you to manage your day job.
- More experience – To become an online teacher you may not need any major teaching experience but it can be a great way to get some experience.
- Great way to save money – Online teaching is a great way to save money; if you already have a day job then you can use online teaching as a secondary source of income. As you continue to gain online experience your salary is likely to increase as well. Many online teachers who started at a smaller scale eventually turned online teaching into their primary source of income.
- No hassle of travel documentation and visa – VIPKID solves your problem of not wanting to leave your country. You can teach non-native students from the comfort of your home.
From preschools to universities, students and learners in Japan are looking to improve their English language skills, which has created a great and thriving market for ESL teachers in the country. Moreover, in addition to private and public schools, the country is full of language schools that prefer to hire native speakers to teach English. This has created even more job opportunities for ESL teachers who want to travel abroad to teach. However, how well you do in Japan depends on the kind of job you find. You must take your time to look for the right job that offers you enough income and benefits to justify your big move to an entirely different country.