Getting an Online TEFL Certificate Versus a Classroom TEFL Certificate

Updated on November 7, 2016
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Shelby is a military wife who works from home in a variety of ways. She enjoys travel and outdoor activities as well as reading and fitness.

What Do You Want to Do?

So you've decided that you want to teach English as a second or foreign language. Or you think you might want to. Now you're looking into what kinds of certifications are out there. At first glance, it can be overwhelming the amount of choices that you have. There are online certificates, certificates from universities, degrees from universities, certificates in other countries. Which one should you take? How much money should you spend?

Well, it all really comes down to you and what you want to do with that certificate. You have options, and each of the different types of certificates and degrees will open up different doors to you. In this post, I'll outline a few questions you should ask yourself first, then give a general idea of what you can do with each kind of certificate. Lastly, I'll give some guidance and resources for finding quality certifications.

Questions to Ask Yourself First

Teaching English as a second or foreign language is a field that has expanded exponentially in recent years. There are so many different kinds of opportunities for teachers who want to teach ESL/EFL. So before you get a certification, ask yourself what you want to do with it. Don't waste time or money on a certification that won't qualify you for what you want to do.

  • Do you want to teach in the U.S. in a public school system?
  • Do you want to teach in the U.S. in higher education?
  • Do you want to teach in the U.S. freelance/tutoring?
  • Do you want to teach online (location independent)?
  • Do you want to teach abroad?
  • What area of the world do you want to teach abroad in?
  • Do you want to teach abroad for a school, university, or freelance?
  • Do you want to teach children, adults, or a specialization (medical, law, business, hospitality)?

Asking and answering these questions first will give you a better idea of what direction you should go as far as obtaining a certificate. Once you've narrowed down where and what you want to teach, you can start looking for certificates. Let's take a look at a few of the options and their pros and cons.

How Would You Like to Teach ESL?

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Different Kinds of Certifications

We'll start with the easiest certificates to obtain and work up from there. Remember, depending on what you want to do, you may have to invest more time or money into getting the credentials.

  1. No certificate: this one takes no time or money, but will limit your options for where you can teach. Some countries in South America or Southeast Asia will not mind if you don't have a certificate. As long as you are a native English speaker, you can work for them.
  2. Online certificate: These are typically marketed as comparable to a certificate earned in a classroom setting. They deal mainly with definitions, terms, and best practices for teaching ESL/EFL. There is usually some sort of lesson planning component, but no teaching practice involved. The main benefit to these is that it is usually much cheaper than an in classroom certificate, but some countries will not accept an online certification.
  3. Classroom certification: By classroom certification, I mean one that is earned in a classroom setting with a teacher and other students. There is also typically teaching practice involved as well. Common certificates are 120-140 classroom hours. There are options to take these classes in the U.S. as well as abroad if you'd like to earn your certificate and visit another country at the same time.
  4. Teaching licensure for U.S. public schools: These are the trickiest to get, in my opinion, because if you're not already a licensed teacher, you'll have a lot of requirements to fulfill. You must either have a bachelor's degree in teaching, or be able to qualify for licensure by taking extra classes on ESL and getting certified to teach by your particular state. Check your department of education for your state for more information on licensure.
  5. To teach in a university in the U.S. and some other countries (e.g. Saudi Arabia), you'll need at least a master's degree in ESL or an equivalent field. The exact requirements will vary depending on the university, but at minimum, you'll spend a few years earning extra education credits.

What You Can Do with Certifications

I outlined some of the different positions and which certifications you need when I was detailing the different certificates. What I haven't really talked about is freelance work or teaching online. If you freelance, your credentials are really up to you. Some students want a formally educated teacher, while most are happy to just practice speaking with a native English speaker. So if you decide to give private lessons on your own, you may not need a certificate, or you may just want to invest in a basic one. Some online teaching platforms will require a certificate, or at least prior teaching experience.

As mentioned before, some countries will hire you even if you don't have a certificate, but your chances of getting a job are much higher with one. That said, companies usually prefer an in classroom certificate to an online one. And as outlined above, teaching in the U.S. will also require more credentials, unless you're a private tutor or working online.

Resources for Earning a Certificate

If you're looking for a basic online certification, check out These are very basic online certifications, but that may be all you want or need.

If you're looking for a full certification with teaching practice, check out,, or These are in classroom certifications. They offer U.S. courses, as well as courses hosted all over the world.

For teaching degrees in the U.S. I'd recommend first checking with the Department of Education in your state before researching universities, just to make sure the program is accredited.

Please note, the websites listed here are just a few of the many providers of TEFL certificates. You can easily do a search for more, but these are here to help you get started.

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