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What is TEFL? Are There Any Alternatives?

For people researching jobs as an ESL teacher, the acronym TEFL will crop up on almost every job post, message board, article and website. This is because TEFL accreditation is one of the most sought after qualifications that employers look for in potential candidates. Indeed, for many countries having a TEFL certificate (or equivalent) is a mandatory visa requirement. So, what is a TEFL, how can you get one, and what are the alternatives?

What is TEFL?

TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Teachers who are TEFL certified are deemed to be appropriately qualified to teach English to non-native speakers in all parts of the globe Once you have received your accreditation a world of opportunity awaits, from teaching English in China to volunteering in Africa and from European cities to South Korean hogwans. 

How to get TEFL Accredited

There are countless different providers offering TEFL certificates of varying quality. In some respects, searching for a reputable TEFL provider can become a bit of a minefield. Unfortunately not all providers are of good repute and the certificates offered will not be accepted by embassies when you apply for a visa. 

Before you sign up for a visa you should already have researched what your ideal job would look like. Knowing your dream location will allow you to research visa requirements for that country and you can apply for a TEFL that meets that demand. For example, if you want to teach in China, a 20 hour certificate will be useless. This is because you will need at least a 120 hour TEFL certificate to qualify for a China Z-visa

You can find many reputable TEFL courses online, but do your proper due-diligence. Ensure the provider is legitimate, the course meets visa requirements and that any exams are included in the price quoted. We would recommend Premier TEFL as a great option for those starting out on their teaching career. TEFL certificates can be pricey, but most people believe that they are definitely worth it!


The TEFL certificate is the widely known accreditation available for ESL teachers. However, there are some alternatives for those wishing to teach English in China. The first is that if you are already a fully accredited teacher in your home country (PGCE in the UK for example) then you simply will not need a TEFL to meet the visa requirements. However, you may still want to take a TEFL course to introduce you to what may be a much different style of teaching and pupil. 

In addition to this, there are also the TESOL and CELTA certificates. TESOL is an acronym for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Originally it would be distinguished from a TEFL as being the certificate required to teach English to non-native speakers in native speaking countries. However, TESOL qualified teachers are by no means limited to teaching in these countries and the certificate is readily accepted in many Asian countries. 

CELTA stands for Certificate in Teaching English Language Teaching to Adults. This qualification is issued by the prestigious University of Cambridge, often taught in the International House schools across the world. Whilst the certificate is for teaching adults, employers look very favorably on candidates who achieve such a qualification. The course is considered to be more intense and demanding than the TEFL. However, it also has the potential to fast-track the ESL careers of those holding it. I gained the CELTA qualification in June 2016, so I know first hand how tough it can be. I also know how beneficial it can be for new teachers! If you want more information on CELTA v TEFL, I have examined it in more depth here.

Tom Bogues

Tom is the Director of ESL Job Center. He has been working in the TEFL industry in one form or another since 2016 and is now using that experience to match quality teachers with quality schools across China.