Fund Your House Sitting Travels by Teaching English Online

Teach English online

How to become an online English TEFL teacher

Like many others we've tried a number of different ways to create a successful remote income, and found that in reality, this isn't always easy.

If you have a job that's easily transportable and you can work from anywhere, then you may be among the lucky digital nomads who have quickly transitioned to working remotely. But when we first hit the road almost 10 years ago now, we found ourselves experimenting with various options... until we discovered we could teach English online as TEFL teachers, in our case, to Chinese students.

Now in our 50's and semi-retired, our pensions are still a way off, and so it's important we have the options available to earn some additional part-time income.

We used online teaching as a stable income to pay our way. This helped support us while we also worked on our other projects that would provide a residual income for the future, but didn't initially pay a regular enough income to support our travel lifestyle.

How house sitting reduces our monthly outgoings

Our house sitting lifestyle really does make the difference between needing a full-time career and a part-time job!

Don't underestimate the savings made on accommodation and utilities like electricity, gas, water and WiFi. Quite often the provision of a car represents a further saving against our annual expenditure.

We do have to factor in the costs of flights, visas, car hire, contingencies and living expenses, but the savings on property rentals certainly makes a huge difference. We estimate we save around $30,000 dollars US per year!

Take a look at this article, by experienced house sitters, to learn more about house sitting savings, expenses and budgeting.

How we've earned a remote income while house sitting

Here are some of the different methods we've tried to make a remote income over the years. Some have had reasonable success, but none of these income streams was enough on it's own to fund our global travels.

  • paid travel blogging
  • self publishing books and helping others self-publish
  • a house sitting video course
  • website design
  • copy writing
  • editing books

We earned a reasonable income by combining all of these services, and still offer most on an ongoing basis. But while they add ongoing incremental amounts to our income stream, none had the consistency of teaching English online.

It was actually possible to SAVE money through our remote online teaching, while working just a few hours each week!

Update 2019 - We have now stopped online teaching as we have a successful website where we earn our income through affiliate marketing. Interestingly though, we work more hours than we did teaching, to create the same income! We do expect this to swing the other way as we gain more and more affiliate success.

Further update 2021 - With the Covid-19 pandemic devastating the tourism industry and significantly reducing our residual income, we were quickly able to transition back to teaching with our Chinese language school, who were happy to renew our contracts. This has been a lifesaver during a lean time.

The shift to online learning

Teaching English online is a fast growing industry and options are springing up all around the world. In China alone, where the population is fast approaching 1.4 billion, 7 million students are said to have enrolled in online lessons during 2015.

Native English speakers with a North American or British accent are in high demand, especially for these Chinese language learners. But If you are articulate in English, with a neutral accent, have a degree and a TEFL qualification, there are still many options available to teach students online from countries around the world.

What is TEFL - what does it mean?

You can qualify to teach English online by taking one of any number of different courses, either online or in a classroom. But an initial search on the internet may have you wondering what the difference is between TEFL, TESOL and CELTA for instance, and which of the many hundreds of courses advertised are best for you.

Let's start by understanding the terminology:

  • TEFL - Teaching English as a Foreign Language
  • TESL - Teaching English as a Second Language
  • TESOL - Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • CELTA - Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults
  • DELTA - Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

How we got started teaching English online

Back in 2015, we took a break from house sitting and hot-footed it to China to top-up our travel funds. We were off to teach English to Chinese students in Shenzhen, a sprawling modern city of 23 million people, conveniently located just across from Hong Kong on the Chinese mainland.

We took a slightly "unconventional" approach, arriving on a six month business visa with no firm offer of employment, or place to live. But we did have a friend with "connections". Within 10 days we had an apartment. This was our view, across to Hong Kong:

Teaching English in Shenzhen - view from our balcomy

It really is all about who you know in China when it comes to teaching English. Networking is key and having that initial contact who had already established himself in Shenzhen, made all the difference to the speed with which we were able to integrate ourselves into the teaching community, especially as a "mature" couple. 

We also had bank accounts, WiFi, and an all important WeChat account - a Chinese app which is like a combined WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. Absolutely everybody uses WeChat in China - over 700 million users and growing.

Most crucially, we had also secured teaching jobs in a super-modern, well equipped, Chinese-run language school.

But apart from knowing someone their on the ground as it were, there are lots of ways you can make connections online on forums and in Facebook groups. While it's much more competitive these days than when we first started with online teaching, there are now far more resources and schools and online teaching organisations to whom you can apply.

Ian teaching English in China

Is age a problem when teaching English?

As it happened we were in great demand as a couple in our 50's. Teachers in China are very highly respected, as is maturity, and there are some excellent opportunities for older, native speakers interested in teaching English in both public and private educational establishments.

With 1.4 billion people, China is now the most populated country in the world and this has resulted in a large number of teaching positions. The Chinese people currently have an insatiable demand for improving their English language skills. Fulfilling this desire has also become a major priority for the Ministry of Education.

Schools are constantly seeking good teachers and offer competitive salaries. Of course 1st tier cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen pay most, but equally living costs are high and continually rising. Buying a property in Shenzhen is now as expensive as in places such as London or New York!

Second and third tier cities like Chengdu, Wuhan, and Ningbo can make great alternatives, with lower living costs and less stringent teaching requirements if you want a work visa.

What if I want to be "legal"?

It isn’t always easy to find work legally (yes you read that correctly), as it seems the government is making it harder, not easier, for full-time teachers to access the coveted Z working visa.

But, with any type of degree and a minimum of 120-150 hours TEFL certificate, you can pretty-much guarantee a job somewhere in this vast country. You just need to be aware of unscrupulous agents and scams.

While in Shenzhen, I wrote a comprehensive guide to teaching English in China for a popular blog site. Here's a link to everything you would need to know about how and where to apply for legitimate work.

Time is money in China

Transitioning to online English teaching

After 8 months of teaching in classrooms, we were asked if we'd like to do some online English teaching for the same school. At first we rejected the idea because the pay was a little less, but then a light bulb flashed on!

Teaching online could be done from ANYWHERE in the world!

We decided to get on-board quickly and took the time to negotiate higher salaries while still in China - we had become popular teachers within the company among staff and students, and wanted this to be rewarded.

We knew from experience that the chances of securing pay increases once leaving China would be minimal!

Everything was finally coming together. After a number of years experimenting with remote income streams, we now had a way to continue our world travel adventure. We could teach English online, and earn a regular remote income.

For the final piece of the puzzle, we could combine online teaching with house sitting to create our version of a perfect lifestyle!

We only ever worked between 30 and 70 hours a month, and we scheduled our hours to suit our free time. We were even able to take a month off whenever we chose to travel more extensively, or if we didn't have access to good internet.

Working for a Chinese company presents a number of frustrating niggles. As a Westerner it's virtually impossible to make changes to the system (the cultural gap is still too wide) and we've now learned to accept these subtle nuances of Chinese business etiquette. "Losing face" means that it's difficult to effect change, as someone would always need to "lose face" in the process!

Apart from this, the work is easy, all lessons are prepared by the school, the platform works efficiently and the students are amazing! Most of them speak very good English - it's simply a process of making improvements.

As long as we had an internet connection we could earn our income anywhere in the world. If we were in a property with two separate areas we could both teach at the same time, and then enjoy our time off together. Sometimes this was more difficult in smaller homes, but we improvise. Ian once ended up teaching with an ironing board as a table!

This worked out wonderfully for us. We were able to save all the money we earned while in China and simply use our new monthly income to fund our continuing travels.

How to begin online teaching with TEFL

We've put together a useful PDF with all the information we've accumulated since starting out on our teaching path. You can check this out here:

How to begin teaching English online with TEFL

If you want to get started teaching in another country, or you want to teach English online, you will almost certainly need a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification, (or an equivalent such as CELTA).

There are many options available online, but if you want to learn how to teach English online, we have negotiated a special 35% discount with a highly respected international TEFL training company  - the school where we took our courses.

Simply click the image below and use the HSM35 code at checkout. (It may be necessary to enter the code twice, once on the first page where prompted, and again on the second checkout page).

TEFL course 35% off

Invest the time now to get your TEFL qualification, learn how to teach English online, and you'll find that there are many different opportunities available for using your new skill teaching English as a foreign language!

If you'd like to know more about teaching English to kids with Chinese company VIPKid then take a read of this House Sitting Magazine article written by teacher and house sitter, Donna Carvell.

Last updated on March 22nd, 2021

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