It's Better Abroad

Teaching English in Istanbul, Turkey

By Leah Bostwick

Teaching English in a foreign country is oftentimes a great way to make money while traveling. When choosing a place to live and work for a while, it’s important to think about the quality of life you’ll have. Turkey is a country with tons of appeal- it has alluring history and culture, amazing cuisine, and a seemingly never-ending list of things to do. It’s also in a great central location, forming a physical bridge between Europe and Asia, which enables fairly easy travel around the region. However, as is the case with many countries, there are definite pros and cons to consider when making your decision to teach in Turkey.

Istanbul domes & peaks

Getting a job is obviously the first thing to think about, no matter where you’re thinking of relocating to. With this, one must first determine whether they are qualified or meet any prerequisites to teach. In Turkey, qualifications are generally not needed, unless you are aiming for a university or higher education job. Pre-K jobs are fairly prevalent and while some will request certification in Early Childhood Education, there are plenty who are happy to hire someone who is creative, ambitious, and has a positive attitude. Small language academies that offer small classes for adults are extremely prevalent in the big cities, and they usually just mainly care that a person is fluent. This means it doesn’t necessarily matter if you are a native speaker of English. As long as you are at a much higher level than the students you’ll be teaching, you can be considered acceptable. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have the formal education backing you up: attitude, willingness, and practical skills will go a long way in Turkey. However, getting a TEFL certification is a great way for those who do not possess any teaching skills or experience to get a feel for how to run a classroom and create an atmosphere conducive to learning a language.

The internet provides tons of resources for getting a position, from job boards and forums to recruitment agencies. While there are options for getting a position in Turkey through the internet, it is actually a lot more common to simply turn up and show your face door-to-door in the old-fashioned style. Here is where we get to the first pro and con trade-off: on the one hand, getting a job online should (in theory) guarantee more professional treatment. However, showing up in person allows you to see the actual school and meet real people. The unfortunate truth is that not all jobs in Turkey will be very secure, so it totally depends on your individual circumstances (and a bit of luck). For the safest route, hook up with a recruitment agency who will usually have your back confidently, especially when it comes to the visa paperwork.

This is a whole separate ball game that can turn into a true nightmare if you’re not careful. Here is another instance of when using an agent is particularly helpful. When arriving in Turkey without a job, you will enter on a tourist visa. Many people will be offered jobs that pay under the table- it’s very common in Turkey- and your employer will thus have no reason to help you get a residence or work permit. If you get into this situation, it can get very tricky, as permits are often obtained by paying an astronomical fee to a third party or by simply bribing the police at the station closest to your house. Working illegally in a country or even getting caught overstaying a tourist visa is not a situation to play around with, so finding a legit job with visa support ahead of time is definitely the way to go.

In many countries, English teachers are given a comprehensive package that includes either a free apartment or at least assistance with finding accommodation. While this can occasionally happen at some of the bigger schools and teacher agencies in Turkey, it’s more likely to be made available for top teachers with qualifications. More often than not, you will be on your own, which can either go terribly wrong or perfectly fine. If you have a friend or confidant that speaks fluent Turkish, seek their help with translating ads on housing websites or talking to realtors. As an expat, it doesn’t get much worse than signing a lease when you quite literally can’t read the fine print.

Once you get a job and sort out a house or apartment, your next largest concern will be getting paid. Across Turkey, it’s normal for teachers to be paid monthly. You will also more than likely be paid with cash in an envelope. While this may seem a little dodgy for those who are ‘legitimately’ employed, it’s probably not. The only thing you should be worried about is getting that cash home and budgeting like a professional, as ESL teacher pay is generally a lot lower than other Asian countries. The cost of living, in general, is pretty low, which makes it a livable place on a teacher’s salary, but unless you have no other financial commitments and get a massive steal of a house, you are probably not going to be in a situation that allows you to save. Again, this is a generalization, so be ambitious and go out there and try to snag the higher paying jobs that do exist, such as those at the universities or private schools. The most important thing to remember throughout the process, though, is to accept the bad with the good; if you can’t, there are plenty of other amazing places to try your luck.


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