How to avoid a TEFL related disaster

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Doing a TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is a great gateway to travelling or moving abroad as there are endless opportunities to teach English, giving you a fun and rewarding way to earn some money. Be warned though – not all TEFL experiences are the same, and we are going to give you the account of one unfortunate student and advice on how to choose the right course for you.

The deal sounded fair enough. The student who got in touch with us signed up to a TEFL internship with a company called Hands On TEFL, where in exchange for teaching 32 hours of English a week, they received accommodation, bills, and 8 hours of Spanish classes.


Moving into accommodation without having previously seen it comes with a myriad of risks. The problem is that it is not always always possible to view it. In courses where accommodation is provided it is often allocated upon arrival, as is the case here. This may sound appealing as it cuts out a lot of the hassle involved in flat-hunting, but going it alone is not as hard it seems, as you can see for yourself here!

You must be warned that courses that offer accommodation also carry risks. Contrary to previous information, the shared house our student was allocated had no furniture in it whatsoever, other than a bed. This, however, was not only soiled but also “crawling with bed bugs” – it would have been better if it hadn’t been there at all.

At the time of corresponding with this student, more people have since been moved into the flat, mattress still soiled, with bed bugs still the only thing brave enough to spend a night on it.

In order to avoid this situation, our advice would be to request a visit to the accommodation provided prior to agreeing to a contract. Furthermore, you may end up in an expensive part of town, where you’re paying more than you really need to.

Ideally, we suggest finding a course that does not include accommodation, allowing you to find the perfect flat for yourself. Also take into account the fact that the “accommodation service” provided allows courses to charge more for the entire programme. Check out our housing portal for more information.

The Course

The deal Hands On TEFL offered seemed fair at first glance, however upon arrival things took quite a turn, with her teaching hours put up from 32 to 40 a week, in the form of split shifts.

Split shifts are, if you don’t already know, that awful timetable where you work two shifts in a day with a gap in the middle, dragging out your working day. Facing an hour commute each way as well, and suddenly you find yourself adding 4 hours of public transport to your already miserable day.

As well as the teaching hours going up, the Spanish classes offered were reduced from 8 to 2 hours a week, therefore working more hours for less reward. To compound the issue, the Spanish teacher was “a young girl who had no training in teaching”, despite being “very nice”. This inexperienced teacher was also on occasion asked to teach English classes when they company was short-staffed, having been “told to lie to students” about having an English mother.

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As aggravating as all these issues are, it might seem worthwhile to stick it out until you receive your qualification, seeing as you have already invested time and money into it. But then another, and possibly the worst, problem is discovered. The TEFL qualification that was offered by Hands On TEFL was not, as was originally stated, equal to a CELT qualification.

Our advice in choosing a course would be to do as much research into the company as possible prior to handing over any money or committing in any way. One great way to do this would be to get in contact with people who have previously done the course, which can be done through Facebook. For example, as a language assistant there are plenty of groups on Facebook where you can ask the members questions. Also, look into who accredits the company to find out if there qualification is reliable or not.


When you travel or move abroad, health insurance is one of the key things to have. I know this personally as I lost my EHIC card before moving to Spain, and had to pay for a private doctor on a couple of occasions. Depending on your contract, it may also be necessary when obtaining your residency card.

Hands On TEFL are said to have promised health insurance cards to their interns to protect them during their stay. However, what they were actually given were “illegal” private health cards which were not accepted in medical centres.

Even if you are promised health insurance when you go abroad, we suggest looking into what you are eligible for as an expat. For example, Europeans can receive the EHIC mentioned above, entitling them to equivalent medical care that they would receive in their home country. Check out the Just Landed health guide of your country for more information.

The best for you

Doing a TEFL course can be extremely rewarding, opening up a world of possibilities and experiences. Just remember our tips and you will be on the right track:

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  • View your accommodation before making any kind of agreement, and remember that going it alone could be your best bet.
  • Research your course and contact previous trainees for honest opinions.
  • Get health insurance and check what you are eligible from your home country.

And last but not least, take advantage of everything that your new home has to offer!


[Images: PixabayJ Aaron Farr, Pixabay]

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