An Expat’s Advice on Teaching English in Japan

An Expat’s Advice on Teaching English in Japan

From preparing for the move abroad and choosing the right type of visa to becoming a qualified language teacher and applying for jobs, Shaun, a British expat working as an Assistant Language Teacher, offers his advice and useful tips to help us decide which route is best for becoming a language teacher in Japan:

On 7th January 2017, my partner and I moved from a small coastal town in the UK to a town called Tokiwadai in Itabashi, Tokyo. We’ve always loved Japan and wanted to see if we could make a living out there. We used to go on holidays to Japan regularly, and we grew to love the people, history and culture. After a lot of thinking, planning and researching, we decided to take the plunge and move there!

Because we didn’t have jobs lined up, our families and friends questioned us on the move. Because there were more opportunities in Japan than there were back in the UK, it seemed like the right option for us. Luckily – and with a lot of job hunting! – we were able to find jobs as assistant language teachers within the first two months of living in Japan.

For expats thinking of moving here – whether it’s for the rich culture, job opportunities, or because they want a fresh start in a country so different to their own – there are a few things they may want to consider before making the move. From becoming a qualified language teacher and applying for jobs, to preparing for their move abroad, here are a few tips to help expats decide which route is best for them when becoming a language teacher in Japan.

Take a TEFL

Before we moved to Japan, we started a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course because we had always wanted to teach, but had no previous teaching experience. TEFL is a great way to get into teaching because the qualification does not require previous experience, which suited us. As such, it seemed to be the easiest way to work here and now that I’m an assistant language teacher, I couldn’t be happier with how it all worked out for me.

(TEFL is one of the most popular means of employment for native English speakers in Japan, with more than 1,000 language schools employing up to 15,000 foreign English teachers.)

There are also plenty of opportunities for TEFL teachers in Japan, especially now the Japanese Government are pushing for more time to be spent on teaching English in schools. This is because Tokyo is scheduled to host the Summer Olympics in 2020, which may mean that more jobs will become available.

Teaching English in Japan

To TEFL or not to TEFL

We initially believed that taking a TEFL course was the only way we could teach in Japan, but after more research we realized we were wrong.

While doing a TEFL clearly helped me to get the job, it was clear that it wasn’t essential. All that was required was a Bachelor’s degree and confirmation that I’ve been in English education for 12 years or more.

I’ve put my TEFL course on hold for the time being, choosing to concentrate on mastering my school’s curriculum and becoming a good teacher.“If you want to become an English language teacher – as opposed to an assistant language teacher -many schools and institutions, both public and private, do require you to have an internationally accredited TEFL certification. You don’t need to have a bachelor’s degree or previous teaching experience to receive a TEFL qualification, but it can help when applying for higher paying teaching jobs abroad.

Apply, apply, apply!

Some people choose to apply for jobs before they move abroad to help them feel more prepared. Others find it more beneficial to apply for jobs after arriving, especially if they are thinking of living there for a long-period of time. This is what we chose to do because we wanted to experience the lifestyle before making any concrete decisions – to make sure this was the place we wanted to be. Some first-time TEFL teachers find that the country simply isn’t for them, which is another reason living in a country before applying for jobs can be a great advantage. Even though we had visited the country before and had prepared ourselves to live there by doing mass amounts of research, sometimes it’s not enough. To truly get a feel for a country’s way of life, you need to live there.

We were able to start networking and searching in-country, as well as contacting nearby language schools, checking local advertisements and online expat resources and forums. Searching and applying for jobs via online platforms seems to be a popular way to get a job here. We found that Gajin Pot in particular was a great platform to use when job hunting. Other useful platforms include Jobs in Japan, and Japan English Teacher for those looking for teaching jobs, and even Craigslist which many people over here use to find jobs.

Teaching English in Japan

Be prepared

Depending on which type of school you wish to teach at and how long you’re planning on teaching for, you’ll need to apply for the right kind of visa. Many people who want to teach in Japan, apply for a humanities visa [one of the broadest types of visa and is usually used by language teachers]. Some companies require you to apply for an instructor visa. This visa is usually for applicants who want to teach at public educational institutes including elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, handicapped children’s schools and vocational schools.

Some companies may sponsor you and help you with changing visas. Many expats who choose to apply for jobs after moving to Japan usually begin with a working holiday visa because it can be easier for them to find a job if they’re already living there. Plus, you’re unable to apply for a working visa until you have some form of employment. Once you’ve found a job, your company may offer to sponsor you and help change your working holiday visa to a working visa. Luckily, we’re currently in the process of changing our visas thanks to the company we work for.

Before moving to Japan, we realized that all expats planning on living here for more than three months have to enroll in Japanese health insurance. We have to pay 30% of our healthcare costs while the government covers the remaining 70% which includes hospital, primary, specialty, and mental health care, approved prescription drugs, home care services, hospice care, physiotherapy, and most dental care. Because there are several forms of public health insurance available, it can be useful to have international health insurance to cover costs until you figure out what type of public health insurance you need.

Before you move to Japan, do as much research as possible. Stay informed about the correct type of visa and health insurance you need because both are compulsory elements of living in Japan. Moving to Japan before getting a job can open more opportunities and can give you a real sense of the country’s way of life before you make any concrete decisions. Be sure to use as many job resources as you can and don’t be afraid of applying for jobs in areas outside of what you know. I for one didn’t have any teaching experience when I moved here, but now, I take pride in my job, I’ve learnt a lot, and I find my job truly rewarding.

Teaching English in Japan

Images courtesy shornb


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