How to teach online and travel the world

Working remotely is a worldwide trend, so much that a name appeared to describe these people : Digital Nomads. The advantages are numerous, especially for those of us who enjoy traveling and moving regularly. Imagine a job where on top of your skills, the only things you need are a decent computer and a solid internet connection. No office, no routine and a possible daily change of scenery depending on your workload. Personally, that’s all I’ve ever wanted!

My beginning as a Digital Nomad

After finishing my long hitchhiking journey and welcoming my first son to the family, I had to find a way to keep traveling (stopping was not an option!) while being able to pay for the increasing expenses. I already knew about the phenomenon of Digital Nomadism, and I really wanted to become one of them, so bad that I started to carefully examine the web in order to find resources, clues and opportunities to realize my objective. If they managed to do it, why couldn’t I? Everybody around seemed to be able to do it.

6 months later, I had earned about 9.000US$ only with location independent jobs.

For some, it might seem like a small amount but for us it was more than enough to keep us afloat and pursue our low-cost travels. To be honest I worked a lot in these 6 first months, sometimes more than 12 hours a day. That was a necessary start to save a bit for our Latin American trip.

Soon it will be my two-year anniversary as a Digital Nomad and in that time-lapse, I worked in about 15 different countries on 3 different continents.

Thanks to that lifestyle, I was able to support my family while having a lot of time to spend with my kid and explore the world. Nowhere on this blog will you find me claiming that being a Digital Nomad is a “perfect lifestyle”, it does come with a lot of cons as well. To my mind, the pros outweigh the cons.

Baby looking at Papa working
Daddy is preparing a lesson, baby is playing !

In this article I just want to share with you some tips, some pieces of advice that I wished people could tell me earlier in order to avoid wasting my time. Furthermore, I’m going to focus on one particular way to earn money online:

Teaching Online

Why teaching? Because that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 2 years and I’m closing on 2000 lessons taught. As a result these days I’m charging between 20 to 25US$ an hour. Besides, I sent my resume to about 50 companies with various outcomes. Therefore I feel knowledgeable enough to give you tips depending on your situation. When I meet people and tell them I’m teaching online, very often they ask me how to do the same? This article is the link I’ll send them the next time I get this question.

The truth is I was refused by countless companies, sent many emails without answers, had multiple interviews for the exact same result, being denied!

Here’s some of the mistakes I did:

  • First, because of my long-term travel in Asia I tended to think that everybody wants to learn only English. A big mistake! There’s a market for your native language, no matter what it is, believe it!
  • Secondly, many times I applied for jobs where I was not qualified enough or didn’t fit the requirements. I thought I would be smart enough to trick the interviewer, like hiding my thick French accent to sound like a English native speaker, but well, I guess I wasn’t smart enough. So don’t waste your time applying for native speaker jobs, unless your English is nearly flawless!
  • Thirdly, I wanted to find a full-time job so I targeted only online schools that would provide me students. In fact I had much more success setting up my own profile and let students come to me. Through my profile, I could show I was different and not just “one more teacher”.

Can I really teach online?

Yes! Everybody can! No matter where you come from or what your native language is, no matter if you have a PhD or you didn’t finish high school. Above all what’s important is having patience and a passion for teaching. You’ll need to have a genuine interest in teaching to make it work, because people will be able to feel it. Besides that, a bachelor’s degree in any field will help you to get a job. I don’t have a degree but I do teach, for almost 2 years now.

I’m not an English native speaker, can I still teach ?

If your English is pretty good you’ll find a job, but it might be underpaid. I’d recommend to teach at least your native language, and English if possible.

What tools do I need to teach online?

With most companies, you’ll need a computer to teach online. Some might let you teach with a smartphone or a tablet, but it’s not very convenient in my opinion. It could be a good investment to get yourself a headset from a trusted brand like Logitech, Meow or Jabra to better the experience of your students (That being said it took me about 5 months to get myself one). Mine costed me 20$ and it gets the job done. With most companies, you’ll also need a webcam, but the one integrated in your computer should do the job fine. Another thing that would help is to get yourself a grammar book about your own language to be able to explain to students how it works. 

But the most important is:

– A quiet environment without much background noise. For a student who tries to take online lessons and speaks a foreign language, nothing is more horrible than being disturbed by people shouting in the background or waiting for the teacher to concentrate from constant interruptions by external factors. You can already forget teaching in a café or a cybercafé (although I did both, it won’t get you very far and should be seen as an emergency solution).

– A stable internet connection. That’s probably the most important when it comes to online teaching. It’s very annoying when you pay for a lesson and you can barely hear the teacher. The need to resume calls that are cut every two minutes is even worse. I taught for a year in Latin America and overall it was pretty slow and unstable. Asia and Europe are usually much better in terms of internet speed and reliability. You’ll be fired quite fast if you’re working for a school company with a poor connection. There’s usually a minimum internet speed required by the school.

What’s the minimum Internet speed I need?

It depends of your company or the platform you’re using. I conduct about 95% of my lessons through Skype, and for me the lowest I can cope with is 3 mbps downloading and 1 mbps uploading. It’s very low and the call won’t be high-quality, but to me that’s the minimum of the minimum. If the uploading speed is under 0.80mbps, then don’t even think about it. Some companies will require you to run a speed test before or after conducting a lesson and they won’t be happy if they see these kinds of results. If you want to know how fast your connection is, I recommend this test http://www.speedtest.net/.

Be aware that telecommunication companies only advertise downloading speed in their packages, but the uploading speed matters as well!!

To get the best out of your internet connection, consider connecting your router to your computer via an Ethernet cable.

Speed test in Ecuador
The best speed test I’ve ever had in 14 months traveling Latin America. I had to take a screenshot to immortalize it !

Where do you usually teach?

I teach almost all my lessons from the accommodation I’m staying in, using Wi-Fi. If you don’t want to rely on the Wi-Fi, I’d strongly recommend buying yourself a Sim Card in every country you’re in. It’s a necessary backup for the moments where the Wi-Fi signal is either not strong or stable enough. Teaching with a Sim Card consumes a lot of data, so it can turn out to be expensive. In my experience you need around 300 megabytes for a one-hour video lesson.

What can impact the Wi-Fi speed?

If using Wi-Fi, be wary how far your room is from the router, because the signal impacts a lot the speed. In my travels, I found that the bigger the town is and the better the connection will be. The only exception is for very touristic places, even if it’s just a village the connection can be decent (The small village of Aguascalientes near the Machu Picchu comes to my mind).  That’s why I’m very careful when traveling in a remote location and take extra-precautions by asking more questions. More expensive accommodation doesn’t always mean faster internet. If more people are using the connection, it’ll usually mean a slower speed.

How do you find accommodations with reliable Wi-Fi?

The best situation for me is to teach in a local’s home. Normally less people would use the network, compared to hotels. I like to book a room on AirBnb or ask a local to host our family on Couchsurfing. I prefer AirBnb because I can ask a potential AirBnb host to run a speed test before booking, but Couchsurfing’s experiences are more genuine. One point for AirBnb is that I’m free to teach whenever I want, while on Couchsurfing you have generally a host that does expect you to spend time together.

Another option is to go on booking.com and check the reviews about the Wi-Fi in various hostels before making a decision. A desperate solution I sometimes had to do is to directly go to a hostel and run a speed test there, then pay for the room. It’s undoubtedly the most annoying part when I travel and work.

Maxime teaching
What ? A digital nomad without a Macbook ?

How to plan my working schedule according to my travel?

In almost every company, you will be asked to set your daily availability a few weeks in advance so that the students can book lessons. Therefore you can block the days on your working schedule where you know you’ll be busy or the Wi-Fi is not going to be good enough. It requires quite a lot of planning to know in advance where you will be, something I was not used to while hitchhiking and sleeping anywhere. If you’re traveling at a slower pace this should be easily doable. Usually online schools require a monthly minimum teaching hours.

If you’re teaching on a platform where you don’t have a fixed schedule, then you don’t have this problem, you can block a whole month if you need. Be aware that you might upset your current students though. On the platforms I’m working with, a student can book a lesson up to 12 or 24 hours before. They usually never book more than a week in advance, but if they do I can still kindly ask them to move the lesson if I realize that I won’t be around.

Where to find companies and platforms to teach?

I made a list, feel free to check it out. The complete list on how to get an online teaching job in 2019.

How much can I earn?

Your earnings will depend on your skills and experience of course. I used to work for a company where I earned around 3-4US$ an hour. I worked for them only for an afternoon. I’d say you can reasonably earn between 10 to 40US$ an hour. If you’re an English native speaker you could expect to earn at least 15$ an hour without experience or qualifications. After 2 years building my profile and reputation, I charge between 20 to 25US$ an hour to teach French. Lately I’ve been working less and less in order to focus on this blog.

Do you still have more questions? Feel free to let me know by commenting below.

I would also be very glad to know if this article did help you to teach online !

Maxime

A young father following his dream of travelling the world, now joined by HiuYing, his wife, and Darian, their first son.

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Christophe Ternay

Thank you for all that information! It is really very useful! I am now reading your whole website and I find some great informations!!!

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