Despite the warnings that were circulating amongst those in the know towards the end of last year, Coronavirus still caught the world napping.

Plenty of people were working abroad when the drawbridges were pulled up and they either couldn’t get back to their country of origin or chose to stay put if they were uncertain when they may be able to get back to work or even back to that country.

For many TEFL teachers, much of the decision was based upon how long their visa had left to run and how comfortable or safe they felt in their work and living environment.  Even if they were reasonably secure and settled, most countries in the world closed educational institutions be it private language schools, Universities or mainstream schools so most TEFL teachers have found themselves with plenty of time on their hands and something of an income crisis.

Not commonly protected government schemes, some TEFL teachers were already teaching students privately and have shifted this element of their work online.  Teaching online is a great side activity for many TEFL teachers wherever they are based and this type of remote working has undergone a huge transformation since the world closed down face to face teaching.  Many educational institutions across the globe have, where possible, continued to teach groups and classes within the public sector on an online basis and so some TEFL teachers are finding now that teaching is slowly increasing again as different countries adapt to new regimes.  However, this does depend on where you are based in the world as in the poorer nations, there is not the easy access to laptops and the internet as in some more developed counties.

If you have chosen to teach in a location where the scenery is stunning then it is tough to have your life curtailed but quarantine won’t last forever.  There are plenty of stories in the media about couples or sole TEFL teachers from the UK who have found themselves in lockdown far from home.  The quarantine can be difficult in an unfamiliar country where you may not have much understanding of the main language spoken and find that in an emergency, their way of doing things is far different from how it would be back in the UK.  Resourceful teachers have reached out to other isolated ex-pats via forums and blogs, able to share their experiences and dispense advice which is making them feel less isolated as well as being a good source of information to solve immediate problems you don’t know the answer to.

Many TEFL teachers are stuck in their current location without a car, not a priority if you are teaching your way around the world but if there is suddenly no public transport in your city of residency then even just shopping can prove a challenge.  Depending on where you are in the world, certain countries are setting up free testing for everyone regardless of their status or whether they are in a high-risk group and so some TEFL teachers have already had access to a Covid-19 test for which they would not currently be eligible back home.

Not being able to teach or earn if you are unable to set up some online teaching has left some teachers in a very difficult situation, unable to pay their way with no salary and unable to fly home.  Being trapped in a foreign country with no money and no way out is very frightening especially if you are having to adapt to things you might take for granted back home, like clean water.  Some nations are experiencing an escalation in crime and gang culture, for example, Honduras in Central America as more unstable societies see criminal elements taking advantage of lockdown to exploit the situation to their own advantage and vying for control of the streets with the police.

How to protect yourself when working as an English teacher abroad?

The Coronavirus is unique and most people would like to think, a once in one hundred years event.  But it has really flagged up the challenges of living abroad if something goes wrong with your work; it could be some other form of disaster which prevents you from working or travelling home like an environmental problem or some form of political instability or coup.  So, if you are planning to head off abroad to teach English when the world resumes some degree of normality, how can you best prepare for the unexpected?

  • Make sure you have a safety net of savings, don’t just earn as you go, you might need to support yourself without being able to work for several weeks or arrange flights home at short notice which could be more expensive than usual. Keep a nest egg of a months’ worth of living expenses at least and the cost of your flights home plus a bit extra on top of that
  • Keep a stash of local currency that you don’t spend for emergencies. Some TEFL teachers are stuck in locations where they are running out of money and are unable to access any more local currency to buy
  • If you need regular medication, make sure you have enough to last yourself in a crisis and also keep an emergency first aid kit which you don’t touch. This should include things like basic pain relief tablets, plasters and bottled water
  • Contact your travel health insurance provider who should be able to advise you on how to obtain safe medical supplies in your current location. The International Society of Travel Medicine provides a searchable Global (Travel) Clinic Directory
  • If you are from the UK, make sure you have the contact details for the British Embassy or Consulate in your destination country. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office also called the Foreign Office provide the latest official up-to-date information for travellers on their website

If you do intend to either commence or resume teaching duties abroad once the Coronavirus is under control then use this epidemic to stress test your travel plans.  There are plenty of informative blogs for those who have been caught and stranded in the country that you are planning to visit which should give you the detail you need to prepare a safe and successful trip.