Common TEFL Scams to avoid

I’ve been prompted into writing a post about TEFL scams for bad reasons. Since we write this blog and advise people on how to get into teaching English, teachers contact us for direct advice. We are happy to help and give support, and listen to stories. We hear stories about people out there being scammed and getting into bad situations.

TEFL scams are not a new thing. Experienced TEFL teachers all have stories, either personal or about someone they know, who fell for a TEFL scam or got stuck in a difficult job. We originally started this part of the blog because we wanted there to be a place where potential TEFL teachers could read real stories and advice from real teachers on decent jobs and legitimate TEFL programs, not just promotions on TEFL company websites and social media pages.

But as the internet grows, so, it seems do the TEFL scams. Or perhaps they are just becoming more visible. I’m not sure. Whichever it is, I decided to put together a blog with advice for all of you out there on the common TEFL scams and how to avoid them.

Common TEFL scams and how to avoid them

Paying someone to find you a TEFL job

A common story I hear from potential TEFL teachers online is ‘he said he could find me a job in Poland/China/insert country name here‘ if I paid him $200’. It seems these scam artists hang out on more country specific TEFL job pages, preying on people who post asking for advice.

The bottom line here is that you do NOT need to pay someone to find you a job abroad. There are bonafide agencies that can connect TEFL teachers with schools. These vary from reputable companies to freelancers finding teachers to hand over to schools or companies, but with both of these, the school pays them, not you.

If they are asking you for money, it’s for one of two reasons. Either they are trying to extort money from both you and the school, or they don’t actually have any real contacts with schools. They will take your money and disappear, leaving no trace of contact details. Social media is like that. Someone can be there one minute, and gone the next.

There are legitimate TEFL programs that charge a fee to participate. This is a different thing entirely. They sometimes provide the TEFL course, or assist with visas and housing. Language Assistant schemes in Spain are an example. This is fine. You can see the company and what they provide for the fee, and decide if you want to pay it. However, paying a random person online because they say they can get you a job is a common TEFL scam.

Find out more about language assistant schemes in Spain

Paying someone to arrange a visa

A related TEFL scam which is very common is for you to apply for a job, go through the application process and then for them to pass you on to a ‘visa agent’, who will process your visa. To do this, you need to pay a fee. It is not the payment for the visa, but for them to arrange it for you. This visa agent will claim to be some kind of lawyer who can do this.

I’ve heard of people who got to this stage, but not anyone who has actually paid it yet (or at least, not anyone who has admitted it). I don’t know what happens after this, but you don’t get a visa, or to leave the country. Again, these people will both disappear and your money is lost.

You do sometimes need to pay for a visa to work abroad yourself. Some schools pay for it in advance and arrange everything. Some reimburse you when you arrive. But that’s the visa cost. Not any kind of processing fee. If someone asks for money to arrange the visa for you, run.

Common TEFL Teacher Scams
Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

A school contacts you out of the blue to offer you a job

Professional schools do not just offer random people jobs. They want to know that you are properly qualified, and to talk to you and find out your personality, attitude and if you will be a good fit for their school. Schools that teach children need to be even more careful on who they trust their students with.

If you get an email or social media message from a school that you have never contacted, offering you a job, delete it.

Actually, if you even contact a school or agent and get offered a job without any interview or without them talking to you, avoid them too. You don’t want to work for someone who doesn’t feel that their students’ safety and their reputation are important.

Generally, this scheme becomes the previous one. If you reply, they eventually refer you to a visa agent who wants to charge you a processing fee.

Fake schools that impersonate actual schools

I heard about this one recently when a teacher told me that they had been offered a job at a legitimate international school in Rome, despite not having the correct qualifications to work in an international school. A bit of online digging revealed that it isn’t an uncommon TEFL scam. In fact, it’s also a scam that occurs in the international school world as well.

Scam artists online contact teachers, or post job adverts online, using the name and often website of a real school. They go through some kind of recruitment process (although in the situation I heard about, they said their camera was broken for the interview, so the teacher never saw their face). They send out a job offer, and then, low and beyond, there’s a fee for them to get the visa.

As I’ll discuss below, there are ways to determine if you are talking to someone from the actual school or not. You can find professional educators and school directors on LinkedIn and other online sourses. You can find photos online and talk to other teachers from the school to confirm that they are real.

Having said that, let’s be honest for moment. A real international school won’t ask for money to process a visa.

Jobs offering jobs as a ‘nanny’ in the USA/Australia/the UK/Canada

Ok, let me start by saying that there are legitimate governess jobs out there. People do work as nannies for families abroad. However, families who are rich enough to employ a live-in nanny or governess use private agencies to find their staff. They don’t post on social media.

Find out more about working as a governor/governess in Russia.

Most of the adverts I’ve seen ask for a nanny for their children in an English-speaking country where they apparently live, with very dubious English used, and no requirement for what nationality can apply or what is required. The salary is huge, even though it seems they will accept anyone. When you click on their profile, there are some very stock photography pictures of a family, with no real information at all. They’ve been set up for only a few months. Most people who use Facebook regularly should be able to spot a real account and a fake one.

I bet you can guess what happens when people apply to these adverts…..yes, up pops the visa agent fee again! Generally before you have anything but a messenger chat, you’ve been asked to pay them for your visa and sometimes flights to fly over there.

Think about this carefully. If this family has enough money to pay that sort of salary for a nanny, they don’t need you to pay towards the visa, do they?

TEFL teachers working in a classroom
Photo by Marília Castelli on Unsplash

Bait and Switch agent TEFL scams

Ok, moving away from the range of TEFL scams that involve you paying someone for a visa or a position, a very common scam in the TEFL world is bait and switch. I’m sure you know what this means – you are sold one thing, but what you receive is something else. That’s also how it works here.

You apply to a job advert for a position in a named school. You have found it online, seen it’s social media page and there’s nothing to concern you. You may have even found blogs or posts by teachers working there. It all looks promising.

You go through the first interview, even getting to the job offer stage. Then, you are contacted because they no longer need you at that campus. But…..there is another school you can work at. Don’t worry, they will pass on your details and you can work there.

This sort of TEFL scam usually comes from agencies. Sometimes they wouldn’t see it as a scam, because they are still getting their fee for recruiting you, and they are providing you with a job. However, in many circumstances, the new school you are being sent to is not as good as the one you thought you were going to. It may not even have opened yet, it may have little or no online presense that you can research, or it may have a poor reputation, which is why they are using this strategy to get staff.

The worst examples of this are when it happens when you have already arrived in the country. It’s a common ‘scam’ in China and South Korea. You are flown to the country and collected by the representative from your agency or school. They tell you that the school you thought you were going to now doesn’t need you, but there is another one who does. It often happens that this school is in a totally different city to the one you thought you were going to. You have done your research on the school/city and now you are going somewhere totally different. Scary, eh?

Being told to teach on the wrong visa

Yeah, sorry, we are back to visas, but this is also a common TEFL scam, particularly in China. To teach English in China, you need to have a Z visa. The process for this is long, and the requirements are quite strict. There are only a couple of provinces that you can teach English in as a non-native speaker, for example, and it’s illegal to teach there without a Bachelor’s degree.

Schools need teachers, however. It’s a big country. Agencies want their fee for finding teachers. Some unscrupulous ones will tell teachers anything to get them over. They will tell you than it’s fine to teach on a tourist visa or a business visa (it isn’t). They will tell you that you can teach English on a visa that has been processed for you to teach Arabic (it isn’t).

Google teachers who have been arrested and deported from China and then decide if you want to risk this (don’t).

Being told you can teach in a country even though you don’t meet the visa requirements

Oh, visas again. This seems to come up a lot. Anyway, this is a common TEFL scam in countries where a Bachelor’s degree is a requirement for a work permit to teach English. Thailand is one such example. Some TEFL companies that run TEFL programs in Thailand, tell applicants that they don’t need a Bachelor’s degree to teach there. Then, after they have paid their money and flown there, they take you aside to sell you a fake degree. You can see these for sale in the main backpacker districts, so it isn’t like the authorities don’t know this happens.

What you need to ask is if you want to risk getting caught doing this. Again, Google teachers deported from Thailand and then decide.

Find out the requirements for teaching in Thailand in our post on how to get an English teaching job in Bangkok

Common scams in the TEFL world
Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash

‘Scam’ TEFL course companies

The last one I want to talk about is quite a grey area. The TEFL course industry is unregulated. There is no one accretiation organisation for TEFL courses, and noone policing what companies are claiming. This means that there are a lot of dodgy promotions going on out there.

To learn more about different types of TEFL certificates and what to look for in an online TEFL course, you can see our seperate blogs on this, but here are some things to consider:

Courses calling themselves a ‘CELTA equivalent’

This is a common claim these days on websites. The CELTA and its actual equivalents include 120 hours of taught course (usually done over a month but part-time ones exist too) and 6 hours of assessed teaching practice of real students where you are observed by your trainers and given feedback. A course that doesn’t have any teaching practice at all, where you practice on your peers, or where you do a ‘practicum’ teaching assignment where noone observes you, are NOT considered CELTA equivalents by schools that want CELTA.

That is not to say that these courses are no good or that you aren’t going to learn anything from them. Having done some teaching, observed or not, is good practice. Even practicing on your fellow trainees is useful. And many schools out there will consider this enough to make you employable. But, as I said, a school that asks for CELTA will not accept you.

The ‘CELTA equivalent’ thing means that they are all Level 5 courses according to Ofqual, the UK qualifications agency. The length of the course, the staff etc. are what makes courses level 5. So courses can all be level 5, but don’t all have the required teaching practice element. If this matters to schools you want to work for, then think about what course you should take

Not sure what all these means? Read our post on different types of TEFL courses.

Websites with poor English

I don’t know about you, but if I’m applying to be trained to teach English, I expect their staff to speak good English, or at least have someone proofread it. TEFL schools with poor English on them are an alarmbell to a TEFL scam.

Websites/social media set up recently by companies claiming a long history

It’s not difficult to see when a website was set up and when Facebook/Instagram pages were started. If a school says they have a ten year history but have a website from 2020, that’s a red flag.

Websites with pages missing

Some of these scam TEFL course companies can’t even be bothered to complete their website. Website blocks still have the weird latin phrases that they come built with, and whole pages have no information. Is that amount of care what you want from your course provider?

No information about staff or tutors or the background to the course

Anyone can sell you an online TEFL course. Anyone can take TEFL course materials from another course and copy them. Real TEFL schools have information about their staff and tutors, their origin stories and lots of detail. They have blogs with advice about teaching and country guides.

Read our post on what to look for in an online TEFL course

Avoiding TEFL scams

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

How to avoid common TEFL Scams

So now you know more about the common scams in the TEFL world, how do you avoid getting trapped in one?

Check the laws, regulations and requirements for countries you want to work in

Do research. That’s the most important piece of advice we can give. Spend time to do research. Read blogs. Join TEFL groups on Facebook, contact people teaching where you want to work.

There are certain countries which don’t accept teachers without a Bachelor’s degree. Others won’t give visas to teach English to teachers from outside what they consider the six ‘native speaking’ countries. If you don’t have the right to work in Canada, the USA or Australia, you won’t be able to teach there. In some EU countries, is very hard to get a work permit without an EU passport. This is all information you need when deciding where to teach. Before you set your heart on teaching in a certain country, check you can. And then avoid people who tell you they can get around the laws.

Try to deal with schools directly

Agencies charge schools to recruit you, and then sometimes take a percentage of your salary each month. If you can make direct contact with a school, do that. There are some countries where using an agency is more common, like Taiwan and South Korea. If that’s your aim, use a big, well-known agency that deals with those countries.

Read our advice on teaching in Taiwan and how to get jobs there or our real teacher stories from South Korea with what agencies they recommend.

Research the school carefully

Look them up online. Find their website. Is it current and up to date? Are their teachers mentioned? Google them and find their LinkedIn profiles. Do they really work there? If you can’t find them, do a Google reverse image seach on some photos. Fake schools steal real photos from real schools. If you can find the teachers online, contact them and ask for information. Look up the school’s social media pages. Do they regularly post news about the school? Look them up on Googlemaps. Is there an actual school at the address they have listed?

If they have sent you an email, click on the email address they have sent it from. Is it actually that adddress or does it lead you to another address? It’s easy to fake the signature for an email, less so the real address.

Ask to speak to teachers at the school

A decent school will be happy to give you the contact details of teachers who work for them. Ask for these and ask them questions about what the company is like to work for.

Contact other teachers in the city/area

Teachers are generally happy to help other teachers. Reach out on social media or via LinkedIn and ask them if they have heard of the school you are considering working for. Teachers in the local area will know the horror stories, or, perhaps more importantly, be able to see if the school is real or not.

Be careful of recruiters with an online precense that can easily disappear

Gmail.com addresses, recent social media profiles with little information and people who only communicate on We-Chat are all things to question. It doesn’t mean that everyone who uses a Gmail account to recruit is a scam, but if they can disappear without a trace, get some other confirmation that they are real.

At the end of the day, the biggest piece of advice, apart from DO YOUR RESEARCH, is:

It is seems too good to be true, it is

If someone is offering you a very high salary for a position that you don’t actually qualify for, in a country where you can’t legally work, then it’s a TEFL scam, so run away. Very fast.

See all our posts on teaching English for real stories of people teaching English abroad and how they recommend you start out (and some horror stories of things to avoid!)

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