Retire Earlier by Teaching English Online

Do you long to find a way to escape the rat-race? Maybe you’d just like to escape your current job a few years earlier? Or perhaps you’re currently retired, but looking for a way to supplement your income?

If you aren’t already in the fortunate position to earn some form of income by working online from a location of your choosing, then building a remote income can seem like a daunting task.

In the modern digital world there are many options for creating an online income, but most involve building a new skill set, or starting a business from scratch. This can take months, if not years, and is just too overwhelming for many.

But what if you already had an ability that could start earning you a remote income almost immediately, with just a little effort to learn some new skills?

The good news, if you are a native English speaker (or fully fluent in English), is that you already have such a skill, and within a few short weeks you could be using that skill to earn an income, either in a new location pretty-much anywhere in the world, or even online.

Getting started with TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)

My name is Ian Usher, and at the age of 51, I started a new career. I signed up for an online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course, investing around $200 to develop this new skill.

Five weeks later – after around 120 hours of online study – I was ready for a weekend of intensive training and practice at a workshop location. This is where you get thrown in at the deep end, and have to create some lesson plans, and deliver some short classes to your fellow classmates.

Once qualified as a TEFL teacher you can begin to apply for jobs. If you want to combine travel and teaching you can look for appointments in dozens of countries around the world – your new teaching skills are in high demand as the world grows ever smaller, and our lives become more international.

Or you can look for a position working online. Again, there are many choices and possibilities.

Teaching in China

4 years ago, once qualified, my partner Vanessa and I headed for China armed with business visas and our TEFL qualifications. Through a contact there we managed to secure an interview with a private language school that was desperate to recruit new teachers. Within 72 hours we had managed to rent an apartment, open a local bank account and secure well-paid casual jobs.

We were teaching mainly adult learners – some business people and lots of university students. We were able to pick and choose the hours we worked, and as our network of contacts grew we started to contract out to other businesses at higher hourly rates. Because we were teaching students learning in their free time, it did mean we taught some evenings and weekends, but we had plenty of time off in between.

Transitioning from the classroom to ONLINE teaching

We stayed in China for a year because we loved it there, but could have left much earlier, as we had also secured very flexible contracts as online teachers. This paid less than in-person classroom teaching, but offered a much more versatile way of working.

We could see that this would allow us to continue our travels, and still earn an income, no matter where we were.

We have now been teaching online for 3 years, and during that time have travelled the world as full-time house sitters. We’ve taught lessons from Panama, Nicaragua and Mexico, and worked while in Australia, Fiji and the UK. At the moment we are living in the Caribbean, and over the top of my laptop screen, as I teach, I can see the beautiful island of Bequia, part of St Vincent & The Grenadines.

The amazing flexibility of working online, coupled with the very low-cost living option of being a house sitter means that I am more than semi-retired before the age of 55. My working week is about 10 hours, spread over three mornings, and the rest of the time is mine to do whatever I want.

We have other plans for our part-time income, but as I mentioned, creating a new business takes time and money, and we’ve enjoyed having the reassurance of this monthly income to supplement our income.

Perhaps teaching English online might just be the answer you have been looking for to put your plans into action.

I’m sure you have many questions.

The most common one we get is, “Aren’t I too old to be a teacher?”
Well, actually, in many countries older teachers are more valued for their wisdom, experience and knowledge. This is especially true in China and many other Asian countries. We are seen as being more reliable too, so age doesn’t necessarily need to be a barrier.

What other qualifications will I need?

That depends on the school or language centre you are working with. But more commonly it’s expected that you will have a degree (in any subject). This is still a highly rated qualification in China and Asia, over and above years of more relevant experience! Of course, you’ll also need the TEFL or equivalent qualification I’ve been talking about. There are shorter courses, but we found that most businesses we spoke to, wanted 120 hours minimum.

Other than that, it’s about the ability to make learning fun and interesting, especially if teaching children. And to be creative with the material that’s provided. While it¡¦s a huge benefit to have lesson plans provided, they can be a little “sketchy” to say the least, and it sometimes requires some imagination to turn this information into a worthwhile lesson!

How much can I expect to earn?

Rates vary tremendously, and can depend on many factors in China, around the world, and online, as follows:

  • Location and demand.
  • Qualifications and prior experience.
  • Your negotiating skills!
  • Whether you work for yourself or offer private lessons.
  • Government schools, private language centres, universities or businesses.
  • Your ability to specialise, accountancy or medical vocabulary etc., or TOEFL examination teaching.

In China back in 2015 we could earn 300 yuan an hour working privately for middle-class households, teaching teenagers. We heard of people achieving up to 500 yuan in the wealthiest households. By teaching business English, where all our teaching materials and lesson plans were provided, we could also achieve similar hourly rates of pay.

In the private commercial language schools we earned 200 yuan an hour on part-time contracts (we chose not to do full-time). So at today’s conversion rates, we were earning between $30 and $75 USD per hour.

I can’t stress enough how important networking is in terms of achieving the higher rates. We worked hard to get ourselves known as excellent, hard-working teachers willing to take on private and business lessons. Wechat was an invaluable tool as part of this success. We also socialized with our students, who recommended us to other parents looking for additional teaching for their kids.

What about those online rates?

Online rates are very different. The maximum we’ve achieved since is between $20 and $30 USD an hour. This has been acceptable until now as we’ve been able to travel, house sit and teach hours that suit us, with no lesson planning to consider. Again, this is variable depending on monthly bonuses (tied to hours worked), and “tips” received from students.

The online market is now extremely competitive and we’ve seen hourly rates diminish rather alarmingly in some cases. We negotiated our rate while in China, and have heard that more common rates these days for online teaching with language companies, ranges only from $10 to $20 USD.

Now, you’ll need to work to find the better schools, where they value their teachers and pay accordingly. They are still around, it just might take a bit more time and effort to find them! Get your CV spruced up with all the most relevant skills from your work experiences – we found that helped immensely.
As an alternative, you could set up your own courses on platforms like, where you add your profile and offer your own lessons or conversational teaching rates.

Is TEFL worthwhile?

We think the TEFL qualification is an extremely worthwhile certification to gain, as it provides the means to teach anywhere in the world. What a great fall-back that is. Best of all, you don’t need any knowledge of the language for the country you are teaching in.

We speak about 10 words of Chinese! The whole idea behind TEFL is that you don’t use any language other than English – it’s immersion learning at its best.

It’s said that if every English teacher in the world went to China, there still wouldn’t be enough to meet the demand! This makes teaching English as a Foreign language a viable option for anyone looking to supplement their income. Or, it could help you achieve retirement or semi-retirement a few years earlier – especially when combined with the savings of house sitting!

If you want to know more about TEFL and working online you can download our free TEFL guide. We’ve answered all of the most frequently asked questions in this comprehensive document:

Meet the Author

Ian and Vanessa have been house sitting and traveling the world full-time since 2013. They pursue their lifestyle dream as nomads, working online as English teachers and publishing House Sitting Magazine. Ian has also been instrumental in connecting hundreds of travellers around the globe though

3 comments… add one
  • Cheri Oct 29, 2018, 8:22 am

    I don’t see a date on this article. I’m wondering now, in late 2018 what the independent English teaching rates are like online. Now that VIP Kids is around and marketing so aggressively. I’d rather work independently and I’m about to launch a nomad lifestyle this winter. Thank you.

    • Ian Usher Dec 29, 2018, 12:03 pm

      Hi Cheri,
      This article was published at the end of August 2018. At this time Vanessa and I were both teaching online for a Chinese company, earning around USD $20 per hour. This was just for teaching basic English to all levels of student.
      If you want to teach independently rates can vary significantly, depending on many factors.
      One of the best ways to raise your rates is to offer something unique and specialized.
      For example, you can charge a premium rate if you can teach business English. Further specialization in a niche such as medical terminology, or legal English, would mean you could charge even more.
      If you want to be fully independent the biggest challenge will be sourcing your students, but once you have a portfolio of regular clients you are in a great position. Word-of-mouth will then usually keep you busy if you provide a good service.
      Best wishes,

      • Michael Bauche Dec 30, 2018, 12:35 pm

        Thank you for your feedback Ian.

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