Required Documents for Teaching Abroad:
For today’s post, I have a lot of important information for you as you start your path to becoming an English teacher abroad. Before you can start applying for all of those open positions in your dream location, you have a whole mess of papers to get together first. So here’s my step-by-step guide on how to get all of your “document ducks” in a neat little row.
Note: The following steps are based off of my experience getting my documents ready to work in South Korea. As such, it is not a complete guide for working in every country in the world. Make sure you do your research and find out the specific documents you will need for your country of choice.
Step 1: Do you have a Passport?
First things first, if you want to teach in a foreign country, you are going to need a passport. And if you already have one, you will need to make sure that it is going to be valid throughout the time you want to be abroad. Here’s a link explaining how to get a United States passport, and here’s one that tells you all about the renewal process.
Step 2: Order a Criminal Background Check and get an apostille for it.
This is the part that realistically takes the longest, because you will have to send your papers out twice. In order to work overseas you will need to get an FBI Background Check to prove you have a clean criminal record, which you will also have to have apostille for. An apostille is an internationally recognized form of notarization, and is often needed to verify important documents that you are sending to another country.
The first thing you will have to do is go and get a copy of your fingerprints. I had mine taken at my local sheriff’s office, but I would suggest you do a little Googling to see where the best place to get them done in your area is. I recommend that you get two copies, because sometimes the FBI can decide that your first copy isn’t high quality enough. After you have your fingerprint cards, all you have to do is fill out the paperwork and send it off. It will come back a while later (see below for more information on that) and then you fill out some more paperwork and send it off to the State Department in Washington, D.C. to get an apostille for your background check.
When it comes to this step you have two main options: you can either mail your documents directly to the agencies or you can use an expediter (the secret third option being taking them in person if you live close enough). I personally used National Background Check, Inc. to expedite my background check and US Authentication Services to speed up the apostille. The length of time this process can vary wildly depending on how many applications the FBI or State Dept. has to process, but having the expediter cuts the processing time way down. So unless you really don’t care that it could take several months to for the FBI to get you your Background Check, I personally found the expediters to be worth every penny.
Step 3: Create your resume and other typical job-hunting papers.
While you wait for your background check to be created, you’ll have plenty of time to get all of your other paperwork together. This includes creating or updating all of the papers you would usually need for job hunting.
You’ll have to do some research into how your country of choice likes your resume to be formatted. Also, some countries want cover letters and references, while others probably won’t care at all. It might even be possible that perspective employers could want to see a prepared lesson plan, it really just depends on the country and the school.
For example, when I was applying to work in Korea I found that two-page resumes were accepted (which is always a nice way to highlight all of your experience and skills) and that I wouldn’t need a cover letter. I have heard that some positions might want you to come up with a cover letter during the interview process, but I don’t personally know anyone who has had to do that. The other unique thing to Korea (compared to applying to jobs in America) was that they wanted professional looking pictures of me submitted with my resume.
Step 4: Notorize your BA Diploma and get it apostilled.
As you get your resume all dusted off and formatted to perfection, you can get a copy of your diploma ready. Like I’ve said before (and will say countless times in the future), always do your research. The country you want to work in may or may not need this step, or might need it done differently than what I had to do for working in Korea.
Start by making a high quality, color copy of your Bachelor’s degree. You’ll then want to go and have it notarized, verifying that it is your diploma. After you have the notary stamp, you will then need to get an apostille for it. I was able to find a Secretary of State in Michigan that was capable of doing it, but I had to drive a ways to get it done. Use the old Google machine to research (told you I would say it again) how the process is done in your particular state.
Step 5: Order sealed copies of your college transcripts.
One last thing that you will probably need is a few sealed copies of your college transcripts. Like everything else I’ve listed, this may not be applicable to the country you’re applying in, but I saw that it was generally listed in the “required documents” on several job postings for South Korea. I ordered two copies of my transcript, though my school never asked to see them. But I’m a big believer in “better safe than sorry,” so I’m still glad I ordered them.
One thing of note: DO NOT OPEN YOUR TRANSCRIPTS!! When they arrive in the mail (or you pick them up in person if you live close enough to your old college), do NOT open them. They need to remain sealed so that your potential employer can see you unaltered and official transcript.
Other possible documents:
Those are the bulk of the standard documents you will probably need as you begin to apply for ESL jobs abroad. However, depending on where you are applying, you might need a few other things.
- As I mentioned above, I needed professional-looking photos to submit along with my resume. You could go out and have professional head shots taken, but I chose the free route. I just got gussied up at home and had my mom use her really nice camera to take my picture against a white wall in our house. Then my sister, who is in art school and therefore already had Photoshop on her computer, touched them up a little to make them look resume worthy. Ask around to your friends and family to see if any of them can help you with this step.
- It is also possible that as part of your visa application process, you might need passport-style photos. I’ll write a post in the future about the Korean visa process to explain this in more detail, but I found it helpful to go get them taken at a local Walgreens Pharmacy the same afternoon where I was already dolled up for taking my professional pictures.
- There were also times when I was asked to submit more photos of myself where I was smiling. These didn’t need to be professional pictures (I literally just used some from my Facebook profile), because the schools just wanted to see pictures of me being “natural.” So it might be handy to have a few choice photos already saved with your other documents in case a recruiter or interviewer asks for them.
- If you plan on working for the Korean public school system, you will need to get a medical pre-check to prove that you have all of your shots and don’t have any health conditions. The form for this should be provided to you during the application processes, along with instructions. Private Korean schools typically don’t require this step, but other countries might. As always, do your research.
- It probably goes without saying, but you will 99.9% of the time (my own made up statistic, not an actual fact) need to have your completed TEFL certificate. Some places might interview you while you’re still completing it, but your probably better off just finishing it first.
One last thing of note: MAKE. COPIES. Of everything! Seriously, have copies saved on your computer, a separate flash drive, hard copies for yourself, and hard copies to leave with a trusted family member. Especially of your passport! You never know what might happen as you travel to your new country, and you really do not want to be without at least a copy of these important documents.
Phew! That is a lot of info about a rather dull topic! I know paperwork isn’t the most exciting thing in the world to talk about, but getting it all squared away before you start your job hunting process will make everything go a lot smoother for you. And hopefully this guide can work as a handy checklist for you as you get on your way to being an ESL teacher in the country of your dreams!
Did you find this guide informative? Did you find you needed completely different documents when you were job hunting? Have any other document related questions? Let me know in the comments below!