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Am I too old (or too young) to teach English abroad?

Updated: Jan 18

Am I too old (or too young) to teach English abroad?
You're never too old!

Some people worry that moving abroad and teaching English is a young person's game and that they might have missed their chance by waiting until their fifties or sixties. Others might be worried that they're too young to be taken seriously as a teacher. In this post, we want to give a realistic overview of what is and isn't possible for people of different ages as they consider embarking on a life teaching English abroad.

Am I too old to teach English abroad?

No matter how old you are, there will always be some possibilities of finding teaching work as an English teacher abroad, so you shouldn't give up hope. That being said, there are definitely countries where it's less likely (or even impossible) to get work as a teacher after you've reached a certain age. As a general rule, countries in Europe and Latin America will be more open to hiring older people than countries in Asia and the Middle East, but there are exceptions to this, which we will discuss below.

Some countries have a maximum age limit for working visas. For example, you will only get a visa to work in Singapore until the age of fifty. However, very few countries have official policies as restrictive as this. While other Asian countries may specify 60 or 65 as the maximum age to work, in most cases, the decision will be down to the individual employer. There are anecdotal reports of age discrimination in hiring teachers in countries such as Japan and Saudi Arabia, but this is more due to cultural and individual preferences and is not a matter of law. It can be worthwhile researching legal retirement ages, as ages for working visas will often be linked to this. If you have your heart set on Asia, we would recommend searching for jobs in Cambodia or Thailand, as these countries tend to be more open to older applicants than other East Asian countries.

Age discrimination can happen anywhere, but luckily, there are some countries where it is relatively rare. A new teacher in their fifties or sixties can search for work in most European or Latin American countries on the same terms as someone in their twenties or thirties and can often be at an advantage over their younger peers. One area of English teaching that is growing rapidly is ESP - English for Specific Purposes. If an older teacher has had an extensive previous career in another area, they can use this to their advantage. There are now specialised classes in English for the military, or English for scientists, or English for HR executives and some teachers are finding their niche teaching specialised groups, making use of both their previous experience and their English teaching qualification. Companies that specialise in business English and universities with English language departments embedded are also likely to hire older applicants, regardless of the country.

Can I teach English under 18?

It is very rare for someone to get work teaching English under the age of 18. The minimum age to do a CELTA course is 18. If you are seventeen, then the only realistic recommendation would be to look for volunteer work with a charity organisation as paying work for teenagers as an English teacher in most parts of the world is going to be almost impossible at this age.

Am I too young to teach English abroad?

It is possible to get a CELTA qualification at 18 and find teaching work abroad without any other qualifications. However, there are many countries that require you to be 21 before you get a working visa. Much of the time, it will come down to individual preferences or cultural norms on a school-by-school basis as to what the minimum age of their teachers will be. There are very few barriers to 21 or 22 year olds moving abroad to teach and it's likely that in whichever country you travel to, you will find that the English language schools often have teachers from the US or the UK who are in their early twenties.

Can I teach abroad with no experience?

Yes. You do not need prior teaching experience to get a CELTA qualification or to teach English abroad. Job adverts will sometimes state that experience is needed, but if that were really the case for all jobs, no one would ever get a start in teaching English! Schools all over the world will hire new teachers without experience, on the basis of their qualifications and language skills, so a native or native-like speaker of English with a recognised qualification will be in a good position to find work anywhere in the world.

The Reality of Age Diversity in Teaching English Abroad

English language schools all over the world are diverse workplaces. You can expect to meet colleagues with a wide array of backgrounds and experiences. While many people will picture the typical English teacher abroad as a twenty-five year old backpacker in Thailand or Costa Rica, that's far from the norm. English language schools whether in Spain, in Vietnam, in Mexico and in Egypt will all have staff rooms peopled by teachers from 21 to 65 years of age, some of whom will only stay for a short time, and some who will settle down in their host country and make a life there.

Teaching English in Mazatlan
Julie's new home is just minutes from the beach in Mazatlan!

Julie's story of teaching abroad in her fifties

I was 54. I wasn't happy in my job, I was bored with my life and was barely making ends meet. I wanted a big change in my life. I also knew that I wasn't going to have much money for retirement and that I'd never be able to afford to retire in Canada.
So I quit my job, sold everything and off I went to Mexico. I did the CELTA in Mexico City, worked in various teaching jobs for 4 years, got permanent residence then started teaching only online. I've been in Mexico for 9 years and have no plans to leave.
I lead a very simple life, I'm single, kids are adults, no car and I rent a small apartment. I don't live too far from the beach. I can go have a few beers and dinner for cheap whenever I want.

Teaching English in Cambodia
Danny and his Cambodian students

Danny's story of teaching abroad in his 20s

After university I started working for a law firm, but quickly decided that sitting behind a computer wasn't for me. I did a CELTA course when I was 22 and was on a plane to Taiwan two weeks after the course had finished. I spent the next few years living out of a suitcase, working on short-term teaching contracts in 15 different countries in Europe and Asia.
I had colleagues of all ages, and made friends with fellow teachers, both people around my age and people in their 50s and 60s. As a young teacher, I sometimes felt a little intimidated when teaching groups of adults, but always had the support and training necessary to overcome my fears.

Teaching English abroad is open to adults of all ages, although there may be some prejudices to overcome with some employers and their may be some visa restrictions in a limited number of countries. Every CELTA course will include trainee teachers in their twenties, but will also have trainees who are older and sometimes as old as seventy-five. English language teaching is open to everyone!

Dr Connor O'Donoghue hails from Ireland and he started teaching English as a foreign language in Poland in 2003 and he became a CELTA trainer in 2008. He has taught and trained in Ireland, the UK, France, Italy, Slovenia, Macedonia, Poland, Russia, Kazakhstan and Vietnam. Connor also holds a Masters and a PhD in Education from Trinity College in Dublin. He has previously managed large teacher training centres in Vietnam and in London before founding DC Teacher Training.

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