If You Have a Criminal Record Can You Still Teach English Abroad?




Admittedly, this question worried me, given that I had a “past” and I’d committed a wrongdoing. Nothing particularly serious, but still, it was enough to taint my record, and also taint my excitement.


In fact, I’d already gained employment with a company in China whereby I was teaching English to middle and senior management in car companies in Beijing.


I’d already relocated from the Philippines, spent two weeks in the job, and then was asked to produce a document from the police in the United Kingdom pertaining to my record (or lack thereof).


Boy, I was on edge about that one!


I envisaged being fired in shame. Everyone in the office staring at me as I solemnly collected my goods and departed for the last time with my tail between my legs.


And, what made matters worse was that the process took around eight weeks to complete.


All the same, as it happens, I had sinned many years before and given that this particular record was a basic document, it did not display any sinful act after all. Depending on your level of “criminality,” you could well find that your record has been expunged, for a less serious issue, after about five years.






However, let’s say that in your scenario, your wrongful deed is not yet expunged, and it is still maintained in your own criminal record. How is this going to impact you in terms of achieving a job placement teaching English abroad?


The good news is that there are far more countries and schools that you can still work in than otherwise. That’s because they either do not undertake a criminal check on their employees, or, it’s because perhaps your wrongful act does not determine that you are unsuitable for the job.


I mean, simply because you’ve been lumped with three speeding tickets over a two-year period should not suggest that you are unable to teach kids with a high level of effectiveness. And in many other cases, a minor offense will not deem to be an obstacle to landing a job.



Europe and Latin America

Particularly so in Europe and Latin America, where English teachers are frequently hired locally and work as independent contractors that are paid on an hourly basis, it’s with all likelihood that there will be no call for a criminal background check.


Government Programs

There may be a request by major governmentally-operated teaching programs in the likes of Spain and France for a criminal background check. However, for the most part, there is no such thing.


 Middle East and Asia

To gain a visa to teach in Asian countries such as Vietnam and South Korea will call for a foreign national to undergo a basic criminal background check. And that is the same scenario in countries throughout the Middle East and for Persian Gulf states.



With respect to Japan and their Japan Exchange & Teaching Program (otherwise known as “JET”), you’ll have to endure a criminal background check. On the other hand, to gain a working visa for Japan and to teach English in Japan, no criminal background check is called for.

Nevertheless, many schools will ask for it. And that’s a similar scenario in the likes of China, in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and in Thailand. Though I found in China that the schools I worked for did not necessitate it. It was only a requirement for the Beijing establishment which was not a school.


South Korea

The regulations for teaching English in South Korea are stricter than in most other countries. Should you have a recent criminal record and your record reflects a misdemeanor that is over and above that of a traffic offense or two, you will not be able to avail of a work visa.

Thus, even if you have a DUI (drink-driving offense), and it is more recent than five years ago (it is not as yet expunged), this can prove to disqualify you from gaining a work placement in South Korea.



Vietnam poses a somewhat similar situation to that of South Korea, albeit that things are somewhat more relaxed in Vietnam. If you have a DUI or DWI (drink-driving infringement) or an MIP (possession of alcohol under legal age) etched upon your record, you can still obtain work as an English teacher.

For good reason, in Vietnam, they are far more concerned about those with more serious criminality infringements such as crimes against children or violence.




I’d advise that before you travel off in search of work to some far flung country, have a criminal background check carried out in advance and take the document along with you.


And, if you do have a criminal record that pertains to the recent past (five years if it is a minor issue, and longer if it is a more major incident), before you part with your money in terms of undertaking a TEFL course (or other form of teaching English course), get in touch with your prospective school of choice and discuss this matter with an advisor.


If you are intent on studying with the International TEFL Academy (and I do propose this school as they are one of the very best) then give them a call on 773-634-9900 (U.S.) and have a chat with one of their advisers about your situation. Either this, or pop over to their website and you can hop on a video call:


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