Teaching English in Kazakhstan
Teaching English in Kazakhstan isn’t something you hear a lot about. As the 9th largest country in the world, Kazakhstan is a huge, diverse country with deserts, mountains, forests and the Central Asian steppe. It provides a fascinating location to teach, and there are opportunities for non-native as well as native speakers.
Jonathan as been an English teacher in Kazakhstan for many years, in the city of Karaganda, in the north-east of the country. He kindly allowed us to interview him so we could give you the lowdown on teaching English in Kazakhstan.
Why should you teach English in Kazakhstan?
This depends deeply on each person. For me, Kazakhstan is the only country that feels like home (despite not being born there). As for any place, you should go where you are drawn and feel inspires the best version of you.
Do know, the weather can get extremely cold, especially in the central and the northern areas (down to -30 and -40), as winters are lengthy. However, if you enjoy cold weather, it is perfect. In the southern areas both the spring and summer are warm (sometimes hot) and green.
The nation itself is the ninth-largest in the world, mostly Asian steppe, but also with mountains, desert, seaside, and lakes, and the Caspian Sea. This provides a wide range of activities for an English teacher to do during weekends and holidays. As well as this, according to the US Department of State, Kazakhstan has a Level 1 category for safety-(the safest).
Food quality is mostly organic, coffee culture has massively emerged, and the night life is spectacular-whether you want to spend your time in a hookah lounge, night club or gastro-pub, you will find the highest quality of these lengths with excellent service. Additionally, fashion lovers will adore Kazakhstan, as one is expected to ALWAYS look their best!
Where can you teach English in Kazakhstan?
As I said, Kazakhstan is a huge country and while the ELT industry isn’t huge, there are job opportunities for English teachers in Kazakhstan in many of the cities. Most advertised jobs are in Nur Sultan and Almaty though.
Teaching English in Astana
This city has quite the history of name changes, having been most recently called Nur Sultan until early this year. A relatively new city, founded in the 1800s, it was called Akmoly, and then renamed several times, before being called Astana, meaning, creatively, ‘capital’. In 2019 is was renamed again Nur Sultan, after the departing President, before reverting back to Astana.
The capital of Kazakhstan is in the north of the country, a modern, futuristic city towering out of the flat steppe. It’s safe to say that it’s cold. It has long, cold winters, going down around -30, but hot summers.
If you are a bit afraid of really really cold winters, then Almaty might be for you. Winters are relatively mild, falling to only around -5. Close to the mountains, there is hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. The city is close to the Caspian Sea so you have beaches in summer. It also has a low cost of living compared to other cities so your money will go further.
This is where I live and work. It’s more expensive than Almaty but not as expensive as Astana. Interestingly, Karagandy was home to many of Stalin’s gulags during the Soviet Union and many a political prisoner ended up there. Apart from those attracted by dark tourism, not many tourists visit so it’s quiet and laid back. The winters are cold but not as cold as Astana, going down to around -20.
Aktau, Aktobe and Atyrau
Much of Kazakhstan’s money is made from oil and these cities, in the west of the country, are in the main oil regions. Expats from all over the world work in these cities in the oil industry which means a demand for teachers for international schools. While international schools require teachers with BEd, PGCE or similar qualifications, there are also language schools catering to locals and other expats who need to improve their English as the language of international communication.
The downsides of these cities are that they are very expensive to live in. Cost of living is high, so you need a very well-paid job to live well there.
What kinds of English teaching jobs in Kazakhstan are there?
There are a range of jobs for English teachers in Kazakhstan, although the most common jobs are primary/secondary schools as well as language schools, which cater to both kids and adults.
Good language schools to work for include Interpress International House in Almaty, Astana, Karagandy and Shymkent, Study Innovations and Language Link. All of these are international ELT chains offering classes to young learners and adults, as well as exam preparation classes.
If you have an MA degree in TESOL, linguistics or a related subject, Nazarbayev University in Astana offers a great salary and package including free accommodation and good holidays. We (Kate and Kris) know several teachers working there who are very happy.
Read more about one of these teachers, Rheanne, in her interview where she talks about her English teaching career.
How do you usually find jobs as English teachers in Kazakhstan?
This can honestly vary-however, it is best and easiest to get a job before going (a job that will provide airfare, visa support, etc.). Jobs in the language schools mentioned above are advertised on TEFL.com and eslcafe.
After being in the country and towards the end of your contract, you can look around for other places of work which may sponsor you and for your needs better if not satisfied with your workplace.
Read our advice on where to look for TEFL jobs, including recommended websites.
What is the salary for teaching English in Kazakhstan?
Salary on average will depend on qualifications and experience, as well as your specific position. However, language schools will pay generally between $800-$1,500 a month.
In general, these salaries are fine for living a fun life, but do not expect to save anything. Higher prices go to more expensive cities, so the lifestyle will remain relatively similar. Schools and Universities will either take volunteers (free stay but that is it) or they can pay between $2,000-$5,000 a month. (the $ is worth it-you can party like a rock star and save, too.
Jobs also generally come with packages. Jobs at Interpress International House, for example. come with shared accommodation – so a private room with shared kitchen and bathroom. All bills are covered by the school
If the company does not agree to cover your stay and at least a portion of your airfare, do not agree to work for them.
What are the requirements for teaching English in Kazakhstan?
For ALL TEFL positions, new applicants who have not had a previous work visa in the nation MUST have a relevant degree (Teaching English, TESOL, Education, Linguistics) or they will be denied permission to work. Additionally, the degree must be apostilled from the country of completion for proof of validity-a copy alone does not suffice and there are no exceptions.
Language schools will expect a CELTA or Trinity College TESOL (exceptions can happen). You can take the CELTA at Interpress International House in Almaty and Astana, and at Language Link in Atyrau. The course takes a month to complete and if you are successful, there is a chance of being employed by them after the course.
Find out more about different types of TEFL qualification
Age preferences seems to generally range from 22-55 (I’m not sure what the legal restrictions on work regarding age is)
Can you teach English in Kazakhstan as a non-native speaker?
There is an overwhelming preference for native speakers to be English teachers in Kazakhstan, but this exists within the schools themselves. There are plenty of non-native English speakers who get jobs as the field is in super high demand. If you’re a NNES and you have found a company that will sponsor you, then you should have no problem, as there are no laws prohibiting NNES from working in the TEFL sphere. If you are a qualified teacher with CEFR C2 English, then apply for jobs and see what happens.
Read our post with more places you can teach as a non-native English speaking teacher.
What is the paperwork like?
To teach English in Kazakhstan, you need a work permit and visa. This is best done by the company that hires you. Generally, the workplace which will sponsor you hires a specialist who knows how to navigate these waters.
After your degree is apostilled, they will have it translated and apostilled through Kazakhstan from a special government agency, then they will apply for you to get a work permit. After you receive a work permit and LOI (Letter of Invitation), you can go to the nearest Kazakh embassy to you and apply for the work visa-process is usually five business days.
Overall, the process from the beginning to end takes a month given that no public holidays happen during the application.
Do not let any company try to get you to work illegally (on an extended tourist visa, for example)-this can have you arrested and jailed for around two months. It is serious and it is happened many times.
So, are you interested in teaching English in Kazakhstan? It sounds like a fascinating country with some great jobs teaching English. Thanks to Jonathan for telling us the lowdown.
Have you been an English teacher in Kazakhstan? How was it? Let us know in the comments.
For more country guides and advice on getting into TEFL, see our other posts on teaching English.