The most important things to pack when you teach English abroad

words Al Woods

You’re nearly there. You’ve accepted that English teaching job in a foreign country, you’ve got your plane tickets, and your accommodation has been sorted. Finally, the time has come to pack your bags. And now what? It can often be difficult to decide what to take with you when the purpose and the duration of your stay is different from and longer than your standard two-week holiday abroad. 

teach English abroad

Tip: Before you go, do your maths first. Some countries are more affordable than others, so do your research to find out the cost of living in the country of your choice.

The content of your luggage changes greatly depending on your destination, but you’ll hopefully find some useful advice here. When in doubt, always remember to follow the golden rule of all TEFL travellers: keep it light – aka ‘less is more’. 

  1. Documents. It might seem obvious, but you’ll need the original copy of your passport (you won’t go very far otherwise!) and school/university/TEFL certificates. It is also recommended that you scan them and save an electronic copy on a USB stick and/or on a cloud-based storage site, like Google Drive, Dropbox etc. Don’t forget to save emergency phone numbers that you might need in case of lost/stolen bank cards or illness abroad
  1. Electronic equipment. You’re likely to take your laptop and phone with you, so don’t forget to take a plug adaptor with you when you travel abroad. It’s always best to get one from your home country, so that you’re all set when you reach your destination. You might struggle to find one in your new country and it might be more expensive. If you are planning to document your travelling and teaching adventure, memory cards will allow you to save all your pictures and videos to enjoy (and share) in your own time.

And speaking of electronic equipment…

  1. Invest in an e-book or Kindle. As a teacher, you will probably require a range of different books, which would be otherwise impractical to carry. An electronic book is an inexpensive and convenient way to access as many books as you like, regardless of your location. It’s not always easy to find books in English in certain countries. 

Living abroad is extremely exciting, but anyone can occasionally get homesick.

  1. Photos and keepsakes from home. Decorate your room with objects that remind you of home and hang pictures of your loved ones. This will give your new home a cosy feel and help you overcome the challenges of missing home.
  1. A taste of home. Chances are you aren’t going to find your favourite snacks wherever you go, so take some with you! Having a stash of crisps, chocolate bars, or biscuits from your home country can comfort you when feeling homesick – or when fancying something familiar.

Saying that, don’t forget that there’s a new country with its unique cuisine and culture that is waiting to be explored!

  1. A guidebook and a phrasebook will improve your experience of living abroad. Nowadays, it’s easy to download anything you need to know about your new country off of the internet. However, a good guidebook is clearly organised and can give you practical advice on where to go, what to see and do. Phrasebooks are usually small and easy to carry and can help in tricky situations – especially when internet connection isn’t available. Remember that learning a few basic phrases beforehand can give you confidence and make you appear more approachable. 
  1. Teaching essentials are the last point on the list, but not the least important. There are certain things that a well-prepared TEFL teacher should never leave behind. However, it’s important to understand that what can be useful in your day-to-day teaching scenario depends on many factors, from the age, level, and socio-cultural background of your learners to the financial situation of the school you work at. 

Generally speaking, here’s the basic teaching equipment you should always have with you:

  • Whiteboard markers. Although you’d expect them to be provided by your employer, this is not always the case. Be prepared and carry a few markers of different colours with you.
  • Post-it notes. These can be used for many classroom activities, from pronunciation practice to question structure revision. Green, yellow, and red sticky notes can be used by students to indicate when they’re managing the task, or if they’re struggling, or if they’re completely stuck.
  • Blue tac is ideal for that last minute running dictation or to show off your students’ work with an improvised gallery.
  • Paper clips will help you keep your supplementary  materials tidy. You’ll be surprised how much cutting is involved when preparing for classroom activities! Tip: When selecting material that you’re likely to use several times, consider laminating the sheets of paper before cutting them up so that they can last longer! There’ll be less preparation time for you, less waste for the environment.

For those who always want to have a trick up their sleeve, here are some fancy props to take with you abroad:

  • A few sets of dice. They can be useful not only for educational board games, but also for grammar revision. Depending on the level of your learners, assign a number to different grammar aspects, for example 1-present perfect; 2-first conditional; 3-uncountable nouns etc. In small groups, each student rolls a die and creates a sentence using the grammar that matches the number on the die. The rest of the group checks if the sentence is correct.
  • Mini whiteboards. These are so versatile and practical that can be used in any setting and almost any activity. It empowers the learners to take responsibility for their own learning and encourages peer work.

To sum up, be very selective with what you pack in your bags when preparing to travel abroad as an English teacher. Although there’s a natural instinct to take as much as you can with you because of the ‘just in case’ situation, the general rule is to travel as light as possible.


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