How can you avoid bad employers and TEFL scams when you are looking for a job?

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One of the biggest challenges when you are looking for your first TEFL job is knowing where to look and how to avoid bad employers and online scams.  You can be more vulnerable as a newby as you simply know less about the industry and are not so familiar with it.  This is a handy guide about how to stay safe whilst you are searching for TEFL work not just from digital scammers and fraudsters but also bad quality teaching work and dodgy employers.

In which situations should you exercise caution?


  • You are offered a job in a country where you know you don’t meet the visa requirements, for instance, you need to be a graduate.  Working illegally in a country is a big no-no as your status and legal rights will be non-existent and you could leave yourself open to exploitation by your employer
  • You are offered a job even though your experience is voluntary or unverified and you don’t have a TEFL qualification – this is unusual but not unheard of, be wary
  • The deal – the pay and the benefits – is too good to be true and the moral always is that if something sounds too good to be true, then it usually is.  Always benchmark the package against comparable jobs in the same country; alarm bells should ring if you are offered something significantly superior to the average position
  • Poor online presence – always be suspicious of a school that doesn’t have much detail on its website or which is using stock images rather than real pictures of students, does it even exist?
  • Be wary of job advertisements which are poorly written in bad English, it ‘s a small thing but it can be rather telling
  • You are told that your working visa will be provided when you arrive, this is common in South America but illegal in many other countries so make sure you know the exact visa requirements of the country you are interested in before you start looking for TEFL posts,  verify any information you are told by an employer or recruitment agency with a bona fide third-party source


When should you immediately walk away?

There are some telltale hallmarks which you should treat as a red flag whether the job is abroad or an online teaching post and these include:-

  • You are asked for money upfront, often the sign of a scam and if the transfer is requested via Western Union, then it is almost 100% certain that you are dealing with fraudsters because you cannot trace back payments made via Western Union so you will never be able to find out where the money has gone
  • You are presented with a contract which is very different or sufficiently different to the advertised terms or the terms discussed during an interview
  • You can’t find a digital footprint for the employer or the recruitment agency away from the advert
  • If you find negative reviews and warnings on a Google search then this is a clear indication that you should walk away – it’s either a scam or the employer is dishonest or unreputable 
  • You are offered a job based on your CV only and without an interview – no reputable employer will offer a good English language teaching job to anyone they have not interviewed
  • You request to speak to a past employee and this access is denied
  • You cannot find a genuine address for the employer, there is only a PO Box number

Are there more specific scams just related to online teaching roles or TEFL jobs within this sector?

The problem with online work is that it can be very difficult to get a real handle on the employer because there is no real face to face engagement.  And it is much easier for a fraudster to scam a potential TEFL teacher in a purely online encounter than in a more ‘real-time’ situation.  Here are some specific pointers relating to online TEFL teaching:-

  • You can’t find a website for the company you are talking to, any genuine and reputable company will have a website
  • You can’t find any reviews about them from either other teachers or pupils
  • Penalties and fines for missed teaching sessions which are unreasonable and punitive – most TEFL contracts for online work will contain penalty clauses if a teacher misses a planned session with a student but some companies have super ridiculous penalty charges hidden away in the small print so do always take the time to read your contract very carefully before you sign
  • You are not paid for your first lesson with a new student.  Whilst it is quite common to offer the first lesson free for the student as an incentive and to see if they get on well with the teacher, you as the teacher should still be paid regardless.  This can naturally develop into a situation where the teacher is never offered any work beyond that first lesson so every lesson is a first lesson and they end up not getting paid at all
  • The interviewer requests remote access to your computer, this has genuinely been flagged as a recent scam during a TEFL interview for online teaching work.  It is of course just a ruse to gain access to your device and you should terminate the call immediately

Some golden rules to stay safe

  • Use Google to check out the employer or recruiter, for their online presence and reviews, use quotation marks on your search phrase as this helps narrow down the result to a reasonable amount without diluting any you need to see
  • Check out the email address, it could be a fake and a variation of the genuine address for a real language school.  The school’s email address should match the one you have been given
  • Ask to speak to a current employee
  • Look up other job adverts and make sure this one is on a par in terms of salary and benefits, if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is
  • Listen to your instincts