Teaching English in Shanghai

ESL Exit Strategies Explained

Teaching English overseas, whether you do so in Asia, Europe or the Middle East, is a great way to save some money or take a break from your life “back home.” If you’re passionate about education, it can even be the start of a rewarding, lucrative career.

But what if you don’t want to teach English for the rest of your life?

I can relate. After eight months teaching English to adults in Shanghai, I’d had enough. To be fair, this has almost nothing to do with my students, and nearly everything to do with EF China, the school I worked for. But no matter!

Whether you’re nearing the end of your teaching contract or are just about to hop on the plane, it’s important to have an exit strategy ready so you can effectively build on the momentum you gain while teaching English overseas — you don’t want to simply “go home” and live the life you had before, do you?

Need help finding an ESL job abroad? Let me help.

Overseas Jobs and Internships

For English teachers who love the expat lifestyle (but not so much the actual task of teaching English), it’s possible to procure non-teaching jobs and internships overseas. In Asia especially, demand is high for educated native English speakers, particularly if you have some experience in the industry in which you want to work.

Your teaching can even bolster your qualifications. My former Senior Teacher Lilian, for example, has gone on to work in language training with Cathay Pacific Airlines in Hong Kong.

Of course, some people will want to stay in the English instruction field, perhaps just not at their school or in their current country. After I finished at EF (but before I procured the location-independent income that allowed me to travel basically at-will), I gave private English lessons to high school students through an agency in town.

Likewise, many English teachers in a particular country simply seek out employment in a different one. It’s popular, for example, to teach English in Korea for a year, then move to China or Japan.

Freelance Work Opportunities

Procuring freelance work is another great way to build on the economic momentum you gain teaching English. Freelance work is particularly awesome if your post-ESL goals include traveling, as accepting freelance gigs and positons enables you to work –and, thus, make money — while you travel. For me, freelancing has obviously comprised writing — and not only about travel, but about topics as diverse at electronics, retail and the law.

To learn more about how to find freelance, location-independent gigs you can work from anywhere in the world, read my article about how to become location independent.

Travel the World With Savings

The greatest potential benefit of teaching English overseas is that you generally earn significantly more than your local cost of living. As a result, you can save several thousand dollars over the course of a year if you play your cards right — most people don’t.

If you finish your contract and don’t have any specific desires or inclinations, traveling for a few months can clear your head and allow you to formulate a “next step” that advances you forward. A word of caution, however: I wouldn’t advise returning “home” until you’ve figured out what you ultimately want to do, lest you regress into the life you fled when you went overseas in the first place.

When and How to Quit Your Job

The majority of English teaching contracts are for one year, although some may have shorter terms, usually six months. Regardless of how long your contract lasts, there is a chance that you might not want or be able to fulfill it.

In this instance, you need to read the document carefully to see if you can terminate the contract prior to its completion and, if so, what regulations and/or penalties apply in the event that you do.

At EF China, for example, I needed only to give 30 days written notice and allow the company to cancel the Chinese residence permit it gave me. Although canceling a contract outside the agreed-upon terms and conditions will only rarely result in a severe legal penalty, you probably don’t want to carry around that sort of bad karma with you the rest of your life.

About The Author

is the author of 1088 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!


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Jason October 3, 2012 at 9:00 pm

rob, this is the first resource that i found regarding career choices after teaching english in Korea. I am planning getting my certification this month to teach in Korea, terminate my contract in 6 months, then teach in Argentina for 5 months and be home by Christmas 2013.

i’m not exactly sure what my career options are in the states after a year of teaching english.

Robert Schrader October 4, 2012 at 8:54 am

Your career options will be a lot, if you return — I didn’t (really). But in addition to teaching, you will have experience living and working abroad, a tremendous amount of follow-through and motivation and perhaps even a new language (or two)! I don’t think you should worry.

Katherine November 17, 2012 at 12:34 am

I worked at EF Kids! I had a great experience with it but my fiancee agrees with you. I think your DoS sets the tone for your center and mine happened to be great. 🙂

Robert Schrader November 17, 2012 at 8:08 am

That’s for sure! In which city did you work for EF kids?

Vladmir July 16, 2013 at 4:16 am

Rob, you are a quite good looking man 😉 … I have a question, do you ever see Asian English teachers teaching in Asia? For example a Chinese Australian teaching in China. I have read or researched and found out that a lot of Chinese schools don’t accept native English teachers if they are NOT white. Is this true, man?

Robert Schrader July 16, 2013 at 8:31 am

Vladimir, that is a very nice thing to say! In terms of your question, this is not true in all cases. There were many Asians working at EF with me, be they Korean or Chinese or other Asian. While some smaller schools may employ discriminatory hiring practices, you will generally not be denied employment if you are educated and a native speaker of English.

Hunter Brookshier October 22, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Hey Jason, what was your experience like teaching in Argentina? I’m going to BA to teach english in January.

SHABNAM December 3, 2013 at 10:12 am

What if I don’t want to end contract! Can be renewed? Does it happens? Why only Teaching English? As a Computer Science graduate I will also like to teach Computer to students. Will TEFL certificate can help me? Any suggestion? SHABNAM

Shan Rose January 27, 2014 at 11:40 pm

the plan is very good

IELTS Strategy

Eloisa August 9, 2017 at 7:31 pm

Out and understand this side of your story.

Tim January 18, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Nice article. I’ve just recently passed the fifth year mark of my English teaching adventure in China, and also my 30th birthday. I spent the majority of my journey in an extremely remote and isolated location where the expat population at any given time can be counted on one hand.

There have been a few positive take-aways: I’ve honed my teaching style and my lesson planning skills, which have gone from zero to intuitive, and my Mandarin ability has likewise built up from nothing to fairly competent in speaking, writing, reading, and typing (everything except handwriting). I’d also like to think I’ve become a much more independent, resilient, adaptable person.

On the other hand, I feel I’ve stagnated. I’ve become too comfortable in a working environment with no opportunities for career advancement, living in an environment in which I can never truly “settle down” securely. Aside from a growing proficiency in a second language, I feel I haven’t added any real competitive edge that I didn’t already have on my resume the day I graduated college.

So here I am, ready to move on, with a BA in anthropology that’s still as useless today as the day I first acquired it, an indifference toward ESL, and a reluctance to leave China, the strange land that has become my home. Wish me luck!

Robert Schrader January 21, 2018 at 4:38 pm

I do wish you luck! Here’s to hoping—and knowing—that the broader horizon this career change has helped you see will play itself out in terms of opportunity and ambition.

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