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How to Teach English Online and Get Paid

Online teaching is a field that is expanding at an ever-increasing rate; in 2016 it was worth $166.5 billion, and that number was expected to shoot up well past $200 billion in 2017. Two of the world’s top institutions, Harvard and MIT, have already thrown themselves into the mix by creating their own online teaching content, Harvard’s Online Learning, and MIT’s OpenCourseWare.

As globalization has spread its seeds through the world, English has found itself as the defacto international trade language. In 2014, the total number of people studying the English language was ~1.5 billion, and that number is expected to skyrocket past 2 billion by the year 2020. In accordance with growing demand, non-English speaking countries have begun incentivizing English teachers to teach English while traveling abroad.

While traveling and teaching in physical locations has become a more popular vocation, participating in it means that you’ll have to lock yourself down in one location for extended periods of time as most schools require you to sign a contract – usually 6 months to a full year at a time.

Thankfully, the internet has given people the ability to teach English online and get paid. China, in particular, has seen massive growth over the last decade, and as it continues to extend itself into Western markets, the demand for English teachers grows. In 2016, the business of teaching of English online was worth 30 billion yuan ($4.5 billion) and that number is expected to reach 52 billion yuan ($7.8 billion) by 2019.

If you’re looking to get into teaching English online, now is a perfect time.

What do you need to start teaching English online?

As the business is still young, there are no standards set in stone for what experience or certifications you need to get a job. Of course the more qualifications you have, the easier the process will be, but there are still positions out there for those of you that don’t have a background in teaching.

Just because you can speak English doesn’t make you a good English teacher. The bare minimum for prerequisites these days is acquiring your Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate. Once again, the business is young different employers will have different standards, but the TEFL is leading the pack as the most internationally accepted certification.

What is the TEFL?

TEFL is not a singular certificate or school. There are hundreds of schools, both online and physical, that offer TEFL courses of varying difficulty, quality, and expense. To make sure that you’re getting your money’s worth, look for an accredited TEFL certification course that will include:

  • 100 hours of course time.
  • 6 hours of ESL in-class teaching.
  • Experienced university-level instructors.
  • Monitoring by a credible organization.

The purpose of TEFL is to teach you how to plan your lesson plans, how to manage students, specifics to teaching English as a complementary language rather than a first language, where to find helpful resources, and it helps you get your hands dirty by getting you real teaching experience. Many of the better TEFL schools will even help you find a job abroad if that’s the road you choose to take rather than working online.

How to teach English online and get paid

Here’s where you have to make an important decision as to the future of your online teaching career:

  • Do you want to work for an agency and have them take care of finding you work and setting your hours?
  • Should you add your information to a teaching agency database and have potential students seek you out?
  • Maybe you should be finding your own students through creating your own website and reaching out to students looking to learn English?

The third bullet point should be every online teacher’s eventual goal. Why?

If you’re not working through an agency, you gain the ability dictate your own hours and rates and you’ll make more money. 

However, if you’re just starting out, you should be looking to build up some experience through working for an agency. Agencies are adept at finding you work so you can start building income right away, and by working with a professional agency, you’ll find yourself growing comfortable with interacting with students. The pay won’t be extraordinary, especially working as a new recruit, but you should be able to learn the ropes in the span of a few short months.

Working for an agency

If you want to teach English online and get paid, and you decide to work for an agency, here are 7 options that you should look at:


Targeted to students from Korea and Arab countries, Cambly sets you and your students in an informal setting where your job is to chat and fix grammar mistakes.

Salary: $10.20/hour



Directed towards Japanese students, you will be working 8-12 hours per week. Englishunt provides your curriculum.

Salary: $14/hr



With Funbulous, 8 hours is the minimum per week, and you can work up to 18. They do require that you have a university degree.

Salary: $16-$20/hr


Golden Voice English

Based in Toronto, Canada, Golden Voice is looking for North American applicants to teach students, ages 6-14, in China.

Salary: $16/hr


Topic Time

Students are given a topic to speak on, then you are tasked with typing out their speech and providing them a transcription with corrections. You need to have at least 10 available hours per week, and strong typing skills.

Salary: $12/hr


Western Wise

Tutoring for ages 5-14, Western Wise requires a language degree, TEFL or 3 years experience. They also require you to commit to their company for a minimum of one year.

Salary: $15-$22/hr


Teaching without an agency

As you may have noticed, the average salary when working for an agency is less than $20/hour which isn’t much when they don’t offer you full-time work. A large part of the reason is that the agency is acting as a middleman for your services; they put you – the teacher – in contact with the students, and they take a large cut of the pay for that relatively easy service. Using agencies to build up experience is a good step to take, but if you want to make a healthy living as an online English teacher, you need to strike out on your own. 

If you’re working as a freelance online English teacher, you can earn up to $50/hour and more depending on your expertise and the demographic that you’re teaching.

Find an online community where you can find (and give) help

If you’re teaching online for a living, it’s good to find a community of like-minded individuals that have a similar lifestyle to yours. By finding Facebook groups, Reddit subreddits, or other forums for online English teachers, you’ll be able to create a network of contacts that could help you in landing new students, and you’ll be able to glean important information that may be difficult to find elsewhere. 

Working online can be a lonely business, but surrounding yourself with others that are pursuing similar goals can fill some of the holes that are left by not working in a traditional office or school environment.

Find a good teaching platform

As you’re going to be teaching online, you need to find the appropriate software that will allow you to convey important concepts over the internet. You can’t organize arts and crafts, you can’t print out quizzes and hand them out, and you’re going to have troubles coming up with any hands-on activities for your students to participate in.

It’s important that you do some digging and find online teaching software that you can use to best help your students. Here are a few common tools that online teachers utilize on a daily basis:

  • Skype 
  • Google Hangouts – good for lessons with up to 10 students
  • WizIQ – customized learning portals
  • Educanon – add interactive questions to Youtube videos. 
  • Youtube

Do you teach English online and get paid and have any information you’d like to add? Do you have any questions that I haven’t addressed? Post a comment or find me on social media and let me know!

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Robert works part of the year as an international tour guide in Asia with Life Before Work Travel . When he's not getting paid to travel the world he's out in the field taking photos, on his laptop creating new sites, or sitting in the gutter petting stray dogs.