You have likely heard the term “digital nomad” used (and over-used) before. What comes to mind? Probably coders, digital media marketers, web developers, and successful entrepreneurs who don’t have to work on-site. But a digital nomad doesn’t necessarily have to be as tech-savvy as you might think.
People who have the desire to travel but who don’t have the skillsets for these particular jobs usually go the conventional route–they work their boring 9-5 job, save up enough money for their dream trip, go, and then inevitably come back to the same 9-5 routine with those travel goals taking a back-seat. But what if I told you there’s another way? What if I told you that you could quit that boring 9-5, travel for as long as you want, and make enough money along the way to fund it all? If you’re interested, then read on.
How to Travel and Teach
After I finished University, I quickly became employed at a conventional office job in my college town. I made enough money to pay rent, cover basic expenses, and that’s about it. I worked that mind-numbing job for less than six months when I decided that enough was enough, so I made the leap to moving abroad. I learned how to become an English teacher, and took off for Thailand.
I completed my teaching qualification in Bangkok but quickly realized that I wasn’t ready to settle into a teaching job. It was my first time in Asia, and I was filled with wanderlust. I also wanted to explore parts of the continent in order to figure out which country was right for me. At this point, I had friends who were working in the ESL industry and they let me in on the biggest not-secret secret of all time:
As long as you pack your laptop, headset (I use the simple earbud model that comes with an iPhone, but some companies will demand one of higher quality), and mouse, you’re good to go. It’s that simple.
The market for online teachers is rapidly expanding, and reputable companies are constantly on the lookout for new teachers. Most of the companies are based in China, meaning that you can make Chinese money (the rate of pay in China is much higher than many other Asian countries) without actually having to live in China. Some of the bigger companies include VIPKID, DadaABC, MagicEars, and Landi English. I recommend setting up an account on HiOffer as it allows you to apply for multiple positions without having to tailor your application to each individual company.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Do some homework and pick a reputable company who will offer you a support system and pay you on time.
- You need to be a native speaker for most of these positions (although I do have a few non-native speaking friends who work for lesser-known companies. The pay rate is not as competitive, but it is do-able)
- Some companies will require that you have a bachelors degree (VIPKID) while others won’t. The same goes for having a TEFL qualification. Many online teachers actually do not have either of these, but having one or both will usually increase your hourly rate.
- It is normal for the company to ask you to go through an interview and unpaid training process. This usually involves watching videos of other teachers and completing a mock class in which you ‘teach’ to an adult who is pretending to be a student, which can be a bit awkward but it’s worth it in the long run!
- Your students will likely be very young with low English speaking abilities, so you need to have a lot of enthusiasm and patience. Utilizing TPR and having relevant props on hand are both great ways to improve your online teaching.
The standard rate for an online English teacher varies. Depending on your qualifications, experience, and company you can make anywhere between $15-30 USD an hour.
I live in Vietnam now where the standard rate for an English teacher per hour is $20-25, but there’s the added work of waking up, getting dressed, commuting to work, unpaid breaks in between classes, etc. The ability to work from anywhere with nothing on but a collared shirt (as you will be live on video camera) is quite liberating.
Some destinations won’t be as accessible to you at this rate of pay, but there are plenty of amazing and cheap destinations that will be! Keep in mind that if you want to explore the Americas (central and south) you will need to work during Beijing peak hour times, so you might have to wake up quite early in the morning.
The benefit of traveling and teaching in Southeast Asia is that it’s cheap, and the time difference is only an hour from Beijing. I was working 3 days/week, about 4 hours per day (in the evenings, as that is when students are done with their normal school days) and managed to travel throughout Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia rather comfortably. I mostly ate cheap local food, stayed in hostels and guesthouses, flew budget airlines and took buses but was still occasionally able to splurge on a spa package, western meal, or nice hotel room when I wanted to. It’s all about balance.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you will need stable wifi while you are traveling and teaching. There were a few places I traveled to that were less than ideal, and for some companies, this can cost you your job. Island countries tend to have less infrastructure for the internet; I had a particularly difficult time in Bali and have heard that the Philippines can be equally as tricky. Vietnam and Thailand, on the other hand, have wonderfully stable wifi just about everywhere.
- Buy phone data in the countries you visit. You can always tether to your phone if your primary wifi gives out.
- Run a speed test on the wifi of your accommodation or workspace before you book it, or ask the owner to run one for you.
Remember that your travel dreams are not as far out of reach as you may think! We live in an amazing era in which there are plenty of opportunities for online teachers. So what are you waiting for? Go apply and hit the road!