What TEFL qualification should you choose?

The range of TEFL qualifications available is huge and new teachers are often left with the question of what TEFL qualification to do. It’s all CELTA vs. TEFL? Online TEFL courses vs. onsite TEFL courses. ESL certification vs. TEFL certification. People claim to have accredited TEFL courses, but what does that mean? How long does a TEFL course take? How much is a TEFL course?

We’ve been teaching English abroad for a long time now. so here’s our advice and our answers to these questions.

Trying to demystify some of the key questions in TEFL qualifications like CELTA vs. TEFL, what accredited TEFL courses are there, how much is a TEFL course and what is the best ESL certification? We have taught English abroad for 12 years and give our opinion #TEFL #Teachenglish #TESOL

Disclaimer: A couple of the links to the online TEFL qualifications in this post are affiliate links and will pay us a small piece of commission if you book through them. There are lots of affiliate programs for online TEFL courses out there, and we chose these two specifically. You’ll notice, however, that most of our recommendations aren’t to direct courses. The advice is because we truely believe it.

Choosing the right TEFL qualification

You’ve made a decision to spend some time teaching English abroad. I can see you now, surfing the net, excited but totally overwhelmed by the range of options out there. Courses online or onsite, in your home country or abroad, including a placement or internship……companies with serious names with Oxford or Cambridge in the title…..companies with much more fun-sounding names like Hot TEFL or TESOL Prosecco (disclaimer – I totally made them up. I’m not naming names here). Should you pay them or should they pay you?

Oh and then there are the acronyms…..CELTA vs. TEFL vs. TESOL, IELTS, TOEFL, TOEIC…..oh the English teaching world really loves its acronyms. This isn’t the half of them. But what on earth do they mean and what is the difference? And more importantly, what is the best for you?

If you Google TEFL qualifications, you get pages and pages of companies offering you advice on this. Problem is, they are usually trying to sell you a course or a programme. And of course, their course or program is the one that is one of the only fully accredited TEFL courses and is the most accepted worldwide. Why would they be selling it if it wasn’t?

Thing is, a quick Google of those companies also include horror stories from people who have taken these courses and gone on these programmes and had terrible times. So what should you do?

Here is where we come in. After nearly twelve years of teaching English abroad in six different countries, and meeting and working with loads of people, we’ve got a lot of advice to give. And unlike a lot of the websites out there, ours is completely independent. We don’t run a TEFL school or programme. We don’t want you to take the ESL certification that we have created. This is just our opinion, from us to you.

You can read our story to decide if you want to trust us, or why not read the stories of our friends and colleagues who are already teaching abroad in our New Teacher Tales series?

Teachers at AIEN Shanghai, trust us with what TEFL qualifications you should take
With fellow teachers at AIEN in Shanghai, China

Do you need to take a TEFL qualification to teach English abroad?

There’s a difference between what you need and what you should do. To get a paid to teach English in a foreign country, you don’t have to take any kind of course. Plenty of people turn up, drop their c.v. off at some schools, or even meet the right person in a bar and start teaching right away.

And why not? How hard can it be? You speak English. You studied it at school and you probably have at least one GCSE in it, if not an A’level, or perhaps an SSCE or SATs. It must be easy to teach, right?

Ok, so how do you explain the difference between the present perfect and the past simple to someone with a pre-intermediate level of English?

  • What is a schwa and what is it for?
  • How do you keep a classroom of 8-year-olds engaged in learning their past tense irregular verbs?
  • What do you do if they start misbehaving? How do you stage a lesson so it is effective?
  • What is involved in improving students’ listening and reading skills?

All of these things can be learned on a TEFL course. Wouldn’t you feel more confident if you knew, at least some of these things (because of course, a lot of learning to be a teacher happens on the job) before you started teaching?

From the students’ point of view, in a private language school or private primary or secondary school, your students or their parents or perhaps even their companies have paid money for them to learn. If you were going to pay to learn a skill, wouldn’t you prefer a teacher who actually knew how to teach?

I mean, I’m assuming if you pay to get your mobile phone fixed, that you expect the person fixing it to actually know how to fix phones, rather than just have owned one for ten years. If you take your car to the garage, you expect the mechanic to know how to fix cars, not just know how to drive one. Even if you are teaching in a government school, you are being paid to do a job. Your students deserve someone who has some idea of what they are doing. And this starts with some training.

How long does a TEFL course take?

Full-time onsite TEFL courses

An initial TEFL qualification is a 120-hour course. If you study onsite, this is taken over an intensive 4 week period. You attend a centre every day where you attend input sessions and do practice teaching on real students.

These types of courses are perfect for people who want to qualify as a teacher quickly and there is an advantage that you can do it in the city you want to teach in. This will give you connections for finding work and you can experience living there before you start teaching.

Part-time onsite courses

Onsite TEFL courses can also be taken part-time over 12 weeks, attending a centre a couple of evenings per week, or over several weekends. This has the benefit of being accessible for people who want to train to be an English teacher while working. There are centres in many countries, including the main cities in the UK and the USA.

Online courses

The 120 hour TEFL qualifications can also be taken online. You can take it over several weeks or even months, working on it when you have time. Obviously, if you are busy with your job and can’t find the time to attend a centre either full-time or part-time. You can arrange your TEFL study around your work or studies. Online TEFL courses are generally cheaper than onsite courses.

Read about what you need to know before taking an online TEFL course, and which ones we recommend.

As I will discuss below, one disadvantage of this type of study is that there is no teaching practice. You don’t get any practical experience in the classroom, which is going to make starting in the classroom more daunting. If noone watches you teach while you are learning, you won’t have anyone to give you feedback on whether you are being effective or not.

Another issue will be with its acceptance. Many schools want teachers to have had teaching practice before they start working for them, so they may not accept an online only certificate.

Combined onsite/online courses

Blended learning is a big thing nowadays in education, and TEFL certification is no different. You can take part of a TEFL course online and then do a classroom component later. The CELTA course can be done this way, and you do your teaching practice onsite.

There are courses that offer an online component that you can take in your own time, and then a weekend onsite part. Unfortunately, these onsite parts are rarely assessed teaching practice of real students. There may be peer teaching, which will give you the opportunity to put some of the skills you have learned into practice, which can be helpful. Just be aware that this won’t make you any more employable than only having an online TEFL certification.

How much is a TEFL course?

The answer to the question ‘how much is a TEFL course?’ is like the answer to the question ‘how long is a piece of string?’. The price of a TEFL course ranges from $20 from Groupon, to $2000+ for a CELTA in some countries. What to remember is that you get what you pay for. The more expensive courses are more expensive because they pay for qualified trainers and materials writers, because they are highly controlled and thus more widely accepted.

How much your TEFL course is, depends on two factors: what you want to do with it and how much you can afford right now. If you can only afford a cheap TEFL course, then take one. If you can afford more, then invest in a course that will be more widely accepted.

If you want to teach online, read our interviews with online English teachers to see the pros and cons of different companies.

What ESL certification should I do?

In our opinion, (and not everyone will agree) there are five real options for you:

  • A CELTA or Trinity certificate – the only qualifications that are actually accepted worldwide.
  • A job with included, company-run training, but no certificate.
  • An online TEFL course.
  • A programme with a certificate and then a teaching placement that is much cheaper than a CELTA or Trinity.
  • A certificate that is not a CELTA or Trinity but is the same price


The big argument you will see banded around is CELTA vs. TEFL. Which one is the best? We’d argue the CELTA. This and its equivalent, the Trinity certTESOL.

Both the CELTA and the Trinity certTESOL include at least 120 hours of taught course, with teaching practice on real students. You will learn about classroom management, how to teach grammar, vocabulary, listening, reading, writing, speaking and pronunciation, how to plan and execute lessons and much more.

Cambridge CELTA

The CELTA is provided and moderated by Cambridge English Language Assessment – yes, that Cambridge. The British university with all the colleges that look a bit like Hogwarts. Cambridge English Language Assessment is linked to them.

Cambridge own both the main certificate in teaching English abroad, and the next stage diploma,the Delta, as well as the major exams for learners: the IELTS test, and the Cambridge main suite exams (FCE, CAE, CPE – more acronyms, don’t worry about them now) and are one of the main publishers of English language teaching materials. The CELTA was started by International House in the 1960s, when the need was seen for a course to train people going to teach English abroad.

The CELTA is usually taken either full-time or part-time onsite. There are centres all over the world offering the course throughout the year. There is also a blended option offered in a couple of centres, where you study the input online, and then attend a centre to do the teaching practice.

certificate for CELTA

Trinity certTESOL

The Trinity certTESOL is the other certificate that is seen as the equivalent to the CELTA. It is awarded by Trinity College, London, who, if you studied music in the UK, also award the Grades 1-8 music exams.

There isn’t a blended option for the Trinity certTESOL. You can take it onsite, both full-time and part-time, in centres all over the world. The Trinity website lists their courses.

Trinity certTESOL, one ESL certification you can take

So why are these the accredited TEFL courses we recommend?

They are accreditated TEFL courses

These two awarding bodies monitor the schools offering the qualifications, and these bodies, in turn, are monitored by Ofqual and the QCA – the organisations who regulate all qualifications in England, including GCSEs, A’ levels and NVQs.

Other courses state that they are accredited TEFL courses, but often the bodies who accredit them have been set up by the company offering the course, and/or have no external regulation. Sometimes they even state the names (and acronyms again) for their accreditation, but if you look into it, it’s bodies like IATEFL – who are a teaching association who don’t accredit courses.

Qualified TEFL Trainers

Your trainers have to have a higher level qualification in teaching English, e.g. a Diploma, PGCE in TEFL, or Masters’ in TEFL with teaching practice. This means they have had much more training than the four-week certificate they are giving you. We’ve seen adverts for trainers for other TEFL courses which only ask for a certificate and one semester of teaching experience. That means they only have five months of experience in the classroom.

International acceptance

Lots of courses say that they are accredited TEFL courses and accepted worldwide, and this is true. You can get a job teaching English abroad with any qualification. You can get a job teaching English abroad without a TEFL qualification at all. So schools will accept your certificate.

The question is, how many schools and what quality will they be? The British Council, who accredit centres for teaching English in the UK and have language centres worldwide, only accept the CELTA or Trinity for teachers. This means you can’t work for them, or for any of the centres in the UK the accredit. Many other schools including International House, who also have language schools worldwide trust the British Council’s view and have the same requirements. There are so many other TEFL qualifications on the market now that many schools look for those on prospective teachers’ CVs.

I’m not saying this is right, or wrong, but this is the way it is. So if you do an alternative course, be aware that you may get rejected from jobs because those recruiting feel it is not what they are looking for/they haven’t heard of it before.

On the billboard for London School of English, Odessa, one school that accepts CELTA vs. TEFL
On the billboard for London School of English, Odessa

On the job training

Ok, we get it. You don’t have enough money to do a course. You don’t know if you want to be a teacher for a long time. You just want to take a year out and see the world. In that case, why not get a job that will train you? Schools in Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan have in-house training programs that train teachers in their method and have all the materials ready to use. You’ll get lessons in classroom management, and the ready-made materials will mean you won’t need to design your own lessons. Lots of teachers start like this, and if they like it, go on and do a TEFL qualification later.

However, the rise of online TEFL courses (see below) means that fewer schools want unqualified teachers. It’s cheap and quick to take an ESL certification so schools want teachers to have one.

Why not read our other advice for new TEFL teachers.

Online TEFL courses

You don’t have much money, but you don’t want to go into the classroom completely blind and you are not interested in one of the countries mentioned above. Lots of organisations run TEFL qualifications online, ranging in length from 50 hours to 160 hours and more. You’ll get information and training in teaching, language and classroom management. What you won’t get is any practical practice in teaching and feedback on that.

Online TEFLs are not as widely accepted, whatever the organisation offering them says, but as I said above, you can still get a job with one, just like you can if you don’t have a certificate at all.

If you don’t know if you want to teach abroad long-term, or you want to start working to save money to do a CELTA in future, then an online certificate would be great. Many people start with an online TEFL, and then upgrade to a better certificate later.

If this is your situation, then we have a couple of offers for you. First, you can get 15% off your online TEFL qualification with International TEFL and TESOL training using our link.

Another option is to try an online TEFL course for free, before you make a decision. TEFL Pros offer that option.

Programmes that train you and then allocate you a teaching placement

Our experience with TEFL qualifications

I’ll be honest with you. We didn’t start with a CELTA or Trinity certificate. We did one of the first of these programs, run by TEFL International, where we did their four-week course and then they placed us in a school to work for a semester. You can read more about this experience in our other blog Rat on the Road. Four weeks training in Ban Phe in Thailand, doing teaching practice with kids on a rubber plantation and novice Buddhist monks, and then we were sent to a trilingual primary school in Samut Prakarn, right on the outskirts of Bangkok, to teach for a semester.

Kris in our first class in Bangkok after our TEFL qualifications
Kris teaching, probably

The course was fine and we felt prepared to teach. We had some good trainers, one we are still friends with now, and we met some awesome people, again who we are still friends with now. The teaching was an experience and an incredibly steep learning curve.

All was good until we started applying for jobs at other schools in other countries, and for positions as examiners. We got a lot of blind rejections just based on the certificate, regardless of our experience and references. For this reason, we took Cambridge and Trinity Diplomas – higher level teaching qualifications which are fully accepted by the likes of the British Council and International House.

The Good and the Bad

The way these programs work is that you pay a fee, ours cost about $500, which included the course and four weeks’ accommodation. With ours, you got placed in a school by an agency connected to the organisation, and paid 30,000 baht a month with free accommodation. With all of them, you get paid a monthly wage. To get your certificate, you have to complete your semester in the school. If you leave before the end, for whatever reason, you don’t get the TEFL qualification. So if your placement is good, it’s all fine.

However, there are reasons why the agencies are using these programs to staff these schools. These are usually schools that can’t get teachers the normal way. This may be the location, or the school, or something else. Some programs send teachers to the troubled areas of Thailand in the South, some to really rural areas. Some teachers are lucky and in an area, they like such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Phuket and have a fantastic time. The issue is, you don’t get a choice where you go. You are placed, and you do the semester, and you get the certificate. It can be a good place to start in a country like Thailand or Vietnam.

Fancy teaching in Vietnam? Read our bumper guide to teaching English in Vietnam.

Alternative TESOL and TEFL qualifications

The last option is to take a TEFL certificate run by another organisation, for the same price as the CELTA or Trinity certificate. This is last because we don’t recommend this at all. If it will cost you the same money for a less widely recognised and accredited certificate, then why do that one? These organisations can have dubious accreditation, and whatever they say, they are not accepted by schools that follow the British Council guidelines.

You can do a CELTA in Kiev or Odessa in Ukraine, Wroclaw, Poland for around $1200, or $1,600 in Thailand or $1750 in Vietnam.

Read more about teaching English in Ukraine.

You can do the Trinity TESOL in Barcelona, Prague, London or even Kerela, India for $1400.

There are similar prices all over the world.

It’s the same price to do a certificate with many of the other companies out there. Sometimes these courses are more expensive. It’s a no-brainer to us.

Hopefully, this has been useful, and hasn’t left you more confused than you started out. Whatever you decide, have a great time!

Find out more about teaching English abroad.

Disclaimer: This is all our personal opinion, based on our and others’ experiences. Many of you may disagree. That’s fine. Horses for courses and all that.

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Trying to demystify some of the key questions in TEFL qualifications like CELTA vs. TEFL, what accredited TEFL courses are there and what is the best ESL certification? We have taught English abroad for 12 years and give our opinion #TEFL #Teachenglish #TESOL

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16 Responses

  1. Ian says:

    I taught in China, Korea and Taiwan. Online TEFL courses are accepted in most of Asia. For the schools (more often in Europe/Middle East) that don’t accept them those schools are usually higher-end and have other preferences. So if you don’t have experience and you took an in-class course it’s probably not going to matter.

    I am not sure where you applied to, but your experience of being rejected probably had nothing to do with your certificate. It probably had to do with your “lack of experience”.

    Also most schools in Asia don’t know the difference between a CELTA, TESOL, TEFL, in-class or online certificate.

    CELTA is good for teaching adults and those in it for the long run. But if you don’t fall into that category then I don’t think it’s worth it. CELTA is intensive and expensive. If you fail you lose money and you don’t get a certificate.

    • KateandKris says:

      Thanks for your comment. As we said, this article is written from our, and friends’ experience. Other people have other experience and other opinions.

      We actually have emails from schools stating the reason for rejection, after extensive experience in several countries. As you said, those were the schools that have higher preferences, which in these cases, was a CELTA or Trinity cert.

      You are totally right, and we hope we also agreed in our article, you can get a job teaching English without a CELTA or equivalent. There are lots of options out there for anyone interested.

  2. Ellie says:

    A very useful article, thanks so much for sharing.

    I’m currently doing an MA in TESOL and starting to regret it as I’m sure I’ll probably have to tack on the CELTA or the Trinity after I’ve finished the course in September anyway.

    Do you have any anecdotes on how an MA is looked upon? I know it isn’t a teaching qualification in itself but I’d like to think I’m not completely wasting my time!

    Of course, it’s only the first step in my journey. I am trying not to get too disheartened amongst all the acronyms and initialisms.

    • KateandKris says:

      Does your MA have teaching practice included? If so, you should be ok without a CELTA or Trinity. If not, you might need to do one as an add-on at some point, to prove that you can put your knowledge into practice in the classroom. However, in some places, an MA is more desirable than a CELTA/Trinity. If you look at jobs in the Middle East, South Korea or Japan, you’ll probably be ok. Where do you want to work?

  3. Tracy says:

    I did a TEFL course at International House in Newcastle about 25 years ago – cost me £1000 and was the hardest course I have ever done! I qualified as a teacher a few years later (PGCE) but found the TEFL course good (taught English in Botswana for a while)

    • KateandKris says:

      Botswana? That sounds amazing. Do you have blogs on it? Will have to check it out. I’ve heard good things about IH Newcastle too. It’s a lot of money to do the CELTA, but can give you a higher salary.

  4. Some really sound advice. You often forget when it’s your first language how much of gift it actually is.

  5. Adam says:

    Hi – very interesting. I have a full PGCE (Primary) but have taught right from the ages of 7 up to adults including SEN/BESD/SEMH at quite extreme levels over the last 12 years. I am looking to move to Spain (maybe…) in the next few years but want to position myself so that I am employable. I have been told not to do the CELTA/Trinity as I have the teaching experience, but to do “something else” instead. I know I’m not alone in this, but nobody seems to really be able to put their finger on what my best course of action should be!

    • KateandKris says:

      Hi, with a PGCE etc. you can look at International Schools in Spain as they will give you the best packages. If you don’t want to do that, then honestly, I’m also not sure what this ‘something else’ is! Teaching English to children and adults who don’t understand you is a different thing to teaching English speakers, so I would do some sort of course to help you adapt though.

  6. Ryan Phelan says:

    Hi, guys!

    Interesting article. So, here in Australia, it may be a little different. I did a bachelor’s degree at my University here. After this, I had the decision of continuing with the University to do a TESOL Cert IV or leave the University and do a CELTA. Both courses cost the same amount, with the same type of syllabus and contact/praticum hours. As I like my University (it is within the top 50 rankings in the world…if this matters) I decided to do the Cert IV. This was in 2014. I’ve been teaching for 4 years (2 years as a head teacher). As it’s a CELTA equivalent here in Aus, I didn’t have a problem finding a job. I love my job, and have recently returned to my University to do a Masters in App. Linguistics. Now, due to family circumstances I will be moving to Europe (I have a EU passport). Do you think my credentials will be dismissed at institutions such as British Council etc? For the first time in my career I’ve been filled with anxiety.

    • KateandKris says:

      I honestly couldn’t say. The British Council rate the courses based on several factors: are the tutors Diploma or Masters’ level qualified in TEFL or linguistics, does the course have assessed teaching practice of real students and is it independently accredited. I’m assuming since it’s from a university that you are ok on the last point. You could try contacting the BC or International House and asking. That’s how we found out that they didn’t accept the initial teaching qualification that we did.

  7. Dwyn says:

    Are you able to tell me what school in Prague would teach TESL?
    Thank you

    • KateandKris says:

      Hi, As you can see from my post, TESL isn’t really a thing. You need to decide what kind of course you want to do. For Prague, I would recommend doing the CELTA. Try International House. There is also Language House Prague and TEFL Worldwide who run good courses.

  8. Kim Dammers says:

    Your post is very UK-oriented. Your discounting non-CELTA/Trinity programs reflects that. Based on the experience of colleagues who have taken and taught CELTA and Trinity, I don’t think it is the best program option for many people. CELTA is rigid, employs locals whose English is questionable, and is picayune. The program is stressful for almost all who take it, and apparently a not tiny percent do not pass. I would definitely look more favorably on a person who has passed the SIT-TESOL than someone who has passed CELTA. Both are adult-oriented, and both are many decades old and widely recognized by schools that are knowledgeable in TEFL. SIT bases its program on John Dewey’s philosophy of education and seems to have more practice-teaching observation. The price is higher for SIT than for most CELTA courses: SIT costs $2,200 plus an application fee of ?$100. (I have no affiliation with SIT.)

    When I interview applicants for teaching EFL, I do ask about their certification. But rather than dwelling on which program they took, I ask content questions that are designed to tell whether they have gotten anything out of the program. I will accept people without any kind of certification or TEFL degree if I am especially impressed, but then I want them to take a TEFL course while working.

    My bottom line is that for most people, taking a basic or beginners’ TEFL course is the best best bet. There are decent ones that are free, included in a work program, or not very expensive (i.e., under $300). These do not take too much time and will provide basics in terms of tools and something of an idea of what to expect in the class-room. Then, either after some class-room experience and/or soul-searching on whether you really want to be an EFL/ESL teacher, go ahead and take a full-fledged course like Trinity (for teaching young learners), SIT, or a less-expensive but fairly comprehensive course such as ICAL online. After that, don’t quit learning. Read books, read online fora on teaching, and take refresher courses. Also, encourage your school to provide continuing education for teachers.

  9. Kim Dammers says:

    Addendum: I forgot to mention how important observation of your teaching is. This is missing from most online courses. Some inline courses critique video-tapes of your teaching to try to overcome this lacunae. There are also combination courses that are mostly online but then have an onsite part that focuses on practice teaching.

    • KateandKris says:

      Thanks for your input. I have only heard of SIT programs recently and I intend to add it to the post when I update it next.

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