China has been recruiting America’s best and brightest by offering English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers competitive pay and attractive work-from-home options that many US teachers dream of. If you are armed with a Bachelor’s Degree (in anything) and a tad bit of teaching experience, you can quickly land an interview with one of the many ESL companies vying for the American teacher’s commitment.
If you are just hearing of the craze, well, you might feel a little overwhelmed with all of your options. There are literally dozens of ESL companies sprouting up all over China, Europe, and America, most of which are targeted to the young Chinese learner.
In China, it is a part of the student curriculum to learn English in many schools. There are a handful of companies that have taken advantage of this (in a good way) and found a way for students to use ESL as an extracurricular activity while utilizing native English-speaking teachers — eager for freedom from the chains of the American education system.
I am not a teacher, well, not in the technical sense — I do not have a teaching certification. I have a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English. I worked in higher education for nearly 7 years before feeling ethically conflicted as an admissions counselor. I left my career in 2016 for freelance work and eventually stumbled upon ESL teaching. I’ve never thought of myself as a teacher, but ESL teaching has helped me see otherwise.
My Review of the Top 4 ESL Companies (in my opinion)
The following list is what I believe to be the Top 4 ESL companies that are actively recruiting teachers. I have direct experience with the application process, interview process, and the classroom environments. I am ready to give my take on the good, the bad, and the ugly.
If you are looking to make this your full-time gig, it will be challenging and exhausting, but there are plenty of teachers pulling it off for themselves. If you know what you are getting yourself into, and have the motivation to be an independent contractor, then this may be the gig for you!
ESL Teachers currently keep odd hours. China is about 12 hours ahead of us, so your morning is their after-school evening. Be prepared for early mornings or late nights. There is a small sample of companies that are reaching other areas of the world, but the fact is, the market currently resides with Chinese children in China. Some companies teach adults and the hours may be more available during the USA daytime; however, the pay tends to be lower, less reliable, and truth be told, there have been some horror stories about sleazy adults wanting more than just an English lesson.
Pay for each of the following companies is between $14 USD per hour and $21 an hour. This is entirely dependent upon which company you chose, your base pay, and any incentives offered.
With that being said, let’s break them down! If you are interested in applying to any of these companies, please feel free to use my referral link and drop me a private message. I will be happy to help you through the application process and add you to my Facebook Group for support throughout your journey!
Important Note: You must have a Bachelor’s Degree and some teaching experience to apply to the following companies.
4. SayABC [Best Scheduling]
If your concern is knowing far in advance what your schedule looks like, then this is the company for you! There are no minimum hours, but the more you can commit to, the better your odds are at getting booked. SayABC suggests providing 14 weeks of availability for increasing your odds of the system booking you out.
Classes are assigned in pairs and, in this manner, teachers remain with the same students for 9 weeks (these are called homerooms). Upon completion of the entire homeroom, a bonus is offered on top of your base pay.
SayABC training is extremely painful and boring, but it is provided nonetheless. You are given a series of videos that feature a very monotoned gentleman walking you through everything you need to know about working with SayABC.
The primary form of communication is through Skype; however, they are implementing a new teacher help platform which is much-needed. On a weekly basis, teachers are provided an email digest which, more often than not, pleads with teachers to open more spots. This seems to create an uproar on social media from teachers who have every possible slot open and zero bookings.
Within my first week of being hired, I was booked out for nearly five weeks; however, many veteran teachers are finding themselves without bookings at this time, despite having opened their entire schedule. It has been said that new teachers are given bookings before veteran teachers. I’m not sure if there is any truth to this, but that is the word on the street. There could be other variables at play that we are unaware of, but again, the communication is lacking.
It is unknown what the algorithm for deciding how classes are assigned is, and some form of communication on this matter would be most appreciated. Teachers are left in the dark wondering if they’ve done something wrong when their bookings start declining.
The classroom atmosphere is enjoyable and straight-forward. Teaching four students at once is a tad stressful and at times overwhelming. I found that the energy required was very exhausting, however, if you are an extrovert, it may suit you. What pushed me over the edge was the 40-minute class rather than 25 minutes.
It was nice not to have to worry about getting booked for 8 25-minute lessons with VIPKID when I could be booked for 4 with SayABC for a tad more pay. There are 10 minutes between classes, but they require you to enter the “classroom prep” screen at least 5 minutes prior, or risk being tardy. Back-to-back, 40-minute lessons can be an energy drainer, but for some, this will be a very nice stream of income with a lot less stressing about getting bookings from parents with 40,000+ teachers to chose from.
Most of the class focuses on games and competition between students, which is fun for the students; however, I found that at times, the students were more distracted and not retaining as much information as students enrolled with other companies I teach for. You are provided with notes on each “slide” however, I found that I wasn’t teaching as much as I was hosting games.
For me, it was exhausting managing 4 students, and due to my financial needs, I had to take back-to-back classes. If you are like me, an introvert, and feel that filling 40 minutes of time may be a bit overwhelming, SayABC may not be the best fit for you. I enjoyed the platform, but when it came down to it, I was just too worn out after the classes. I loved the idea of knowing I was booked so far out, and I do wish this was the case for many other ESL companies.
Apply Today: SayABC Application
3. Gogokid [Ground Floor]
You may have seen teachers vying for referrals for Gogokids with the promise of a $300 sign on bonus. This new company is entering the ESL scene in full force boasting flexibility, higher pay, and a similar platform to VIPKID.
They also promise subsidy pay for open peak-time slots that do not get booked as long as you maintain what they call “good credit.” Instead of some of the harsher cancellation policies (where you are financially penalized), Gogokid assigns you credit based on your performance, and attendance and rewards you for good credit and takes away credit for things like Teacher No-Shows or Cancellations.
Gogokid is currently gearing up for an extensive marketing campaign (this is what I was told during my interview), and new hires are not to expect many bookings until that time, which makes it difficult to get that $300 sign-on bonus. Ah yes, there was a catch, you have to teach three classes to get it within a specific timeframe. I’ve been on the team for a few weeks and have yet to be booked by a student.
Classes are 1-on-1 with students, which is right up my alley, and they are booked by parents. This is all very similar to VIPKID, and in fact, most of the company is spot-on exactly the same. Hey if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Or just fix the things that are making the VIPKID teachers unhappy and recruit them. Oh yes, they sure want those teachers. In fact, I was asked what I am paid at VIPKID, and then offered more with Gogokid. Very cool.
The initial training is excellent, but try finding it again after you have gone through the videos once. They are non-existent if you’ve lost the email.
Support and communication is extremely lacking; however, this is a brand new company, and there has to be some forgiveness as they get started.
I think I will hang in here with this one because being on the ground floor can only be a good thing! Maybe I will hang back until the bugs are all worked out.
2. VIPKID [Most Bookings]
VIPKID is by far the largest ESL company of its kind, and there are currently 40,000+ teachers. When I began this journey, I had my sights set on Magic Ears, but I applied to all four of these companies, and VIPKID hired me the fastest and got me the quickest paycheck.
Classes are 1-on-1, and I cannot express how easy it is to form a bond with the children you are teaching in this kind of format. I am very attached to my regular students, who chose me on a weekly basis. I enjoy this kind of booking, but it can also be a pain. Parents can rate you and just like any customer service role, there will be unavoidable, nasty, ratings that can have lasting effects.
On that note, VIPKID has come through for me on many things that others have indicated they lack compassion on. In each situation, they have been considerate, professional, and forgiving. However, it is a lot of running around to prove to a company that hired you (meaning they should trust you) that you really were sick. And lets face it, you don’t have a doctor’s note for every flu bug or migraine you get. Each teacher gets 6 cancellations per contract (6 months). If you cancel outside of the 24-hour window to the class, you are not monetarily penalized; within 24 hours they charge you $2, and within 2 hours they taking a whopping $10 per class. If you sleep in on accident, you are out of luck.
As a side note: I ended up using up all of my cancellations, it’s pretty easy to do if you teach often. My contract recently went under review and I have been unable to book classes until they make a decision. They caution you not to cancel your remaining classes while they decide if they would like to keep you on (because that would look bad on their part). I have yet to hear back on this. My senses tell me that I will not be forgiven, even though I have 95 5-apple ratings from parents and have taught nearly 300 classes. Luckily, I work with three other ESL companies that are much more forgiving and compassionate. I cancelled my remaining classes and began focusing on Magic Ears (see below) bookings.
And as for those nasty parent reviews? They will review them if you believe them to be unfair, and yes, they remove the low rating if they agree with you (this has happened to me). However, if you forgot to have a secondary rating system, or made another type of error, chances are you will be stuck with that review. Even if they invalidate low “apples,” the comment remains. This is a sticky situation when your bookings depend on the customer reading your profile and reviews.
The VIPKID support is very good. I send in a ticket, and receive a response within 24–48 hours and I have yet to be disappointed in any response I have gotten from VIPKID. They are right there in the classroom if there are IT issues or student behavior problems. You “call” them, they show up, and work hard to fix the problem so you can teach without distractions.
I cannot say enough about the amount of quality training that is provided. It is non-stop, and I always feel like there is something I can be doing through VIPKID to become a better teacher. If you are like me and have come to the realization that ESL teaching is your passion, you know that continuing education and community is priceless.
The community atmosphere is so fun! There are organized meet-ups in the US, and other countries, and there is a forum called “The Hutong” where teachers can chat and ask questions. Social media can get a bit catty, so be careful what you read out there. When you have such a large company, you will most likely hear the negatives before the positives.
I love that VIPKID finds the perfect balance between the helicopter parent and hands-off. I first became interested in ESL teaching because I wanted the freedom and flexibility to chose my hours and not have a boss looking over my shoulder every day. The smaller, newer, companies keep a very close eye on their teachers while VIPKID just leaves them alone unless we reach out or participate in the community activities. They provide weekly teacher updates, fun incentives, and just recently they announced the option to receive paychecks bi-weekly, rather than monthly (also unheard of in ESL industry).
VIPKID is far from perfect, its cancellation guidelines are extremely rigid and cold. I myself, would love to stay on with them, however, I sense that my time with them is up. I do love my regular students and as I transition away from VIPKID, I will miss them dearly.
To Apply: VIPKid Application
1. Magic Ears [The BEST and Sweetest ESL Company]
This little sweetheart of a company has my heart. I’m a huge cheerleader for them and hope to see this company grow and develop. They certainly have their kinks, but they are quick to communicate, apologize, and forgive which are all signs of a successful company in the making.
I’ve taught my first ten classes with them, and cannot wait to be able to open my schedule more (they only allow new teachers to teach during a particular timeframe until they are confident you will be successful). Classes can facilitate from 1 to 4 students and teachers are required to provide extremely high energy. Again, this is not easy for me, however, in 25-minute spurts, I can handle it just fine. I do believe the students taking courses 1-on-1 with teachers are getting way more value than the multiple-student classes.
Magic Ears communicates through Skype and will call you if you are not in class at least 5 minutes early, which can be an issue if you are teaching for another company right before a Magic Ears class. If you are not in the classroom early, you miss out on a $1 bonus per class. This makes it next to impossible to teach VIPKID and Magic Ears back-to-back without some finagling of cameras/computers — it can be done by the way. When I first started this made me panicky, VIPKID was my bread and butter so moving between two platforms was chaotic, but it does seem like they’ve loosened the grip on this requirement.
I WISH Magic Ears had a better bookings system for new teachers. They place favor on veteran teachers by giving them a higher percentage of bookings (which is done by a computer algorithm based on what level the teacher is rated). They request that you open your classes far in advance, but you are not locked into a schedule until 24 hours before a class starts. This wouldn’t be so bad except you cannot plan to teach any other ESL companies around Magic Ears unless you are able to get short notice bookings for your other companies. This causes teachers, who want to make the transition to Magic Ears, lose income.
Speaking of bookings, Magic Ears guarantees that you will teach! AND they book you, not parents. This helps when it comes to picky parents who are concerned with looks, skin color, tattoos, age, and other discriminatory factors.
When I first started with Magic Ears, I was thrilled to see my slots being booked almost instantly, but when I checked in later, the booked slots jumped and danced all over. Nothing is certain until 24 hours prior to class.
Training for Magic Ears is excellent! There is a constant flow of workshops and seminars, and from time to time, Magic Ears will pay you for professional development (attending their webinars). This is unheard of in the ESL industry. Also, during your first ten classes, you receive constructive feedback from Magic Ears on things you did well and can improve on. Take their advice, they genuinely want to see you succeed.
Did I mention they provide you with a T-Shirt? Yup, just order it and show them your receipt. They reimburse you!
Courses are extremely fun. They are the perfect mix of entertainment and education. I felt I was actually teaching and the students were having a blast. Fun songs give the teacher a moment to catch her breath, and a catchy tune to hum the rest of the day.
The Magic Ears support is fantastic, and the staff is terrific. Sick? It’s ok, it happens. Emergency, just let them know via Skype. They are totally ok with it and have standby teachers available (who also get paid to standby). Guess what else? If you have a family emergency or god forbid a death, they will check in on you just to see if you are ok!
Some people like the hands-on approach, but I typically prefer to be left alone. However, I do appreciate Magic Ears’s sincerity in their concern for their teachers. I think they are learning when to back off and when to coddle us. Some teachers bleed purple (the color of the company), and at first I found this odd, but to be honest, over time, Magic Ears has won me over as well. Magic Ears is my favorite company to work with, due to their compassion (they know we are humans over here in the US with families) and flexibility. I love how they book us, and hope to continue to “rank” up and recieve an even higher booking rate. Having a variety of students for each class keeps the classes entertaining and it seems to help students remain engaged. I know some of my VIPKID students were getting bored with my sense of humor. So a new audience every day is a nice change.
To Apply: Magic Ears Application
I’m happy to help you through the application process!
What about the other companies?
In my opinion, and take it for what it is worth, other companies are not worth mentioning (or I do not feel comfortable recommending them based on varying factors). For example, I have heard very good things about Qkids, but due to my internet connection speed, I was not eligible to work with them.
I have the most experience with the above-mentioned companies, and I have researched them more thoroughly than others.
Referral Bonus Disclosure
I have included my referral links for each company, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I will receive a bonus for successful referrals. This means that if you sign up, teach a certain number of classes, I will get a kick-back for helping these companies find quality teachers. It is in my best interest to help you through the entire application process, answer your questions, and give you tips so I can recieve the bonus. So, trust that I will help you the best I can, and I will help you decide which companies fit you best. Go ahead, pick my brain! You can reach me through Medium, emailing me below, or you can connect with me on Facebook.
Last Words of Advice: Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
This is very important if you are looking to bring in as close to a full-time income as possible. While the ESL industry is not new, it is growing very rapidly, and as an independent contractor, I believe it is in your best interest to work with more than one company. You may not be guaranteed bookings with your favorite, a company might go under, or your contract may not be renewed for whatever reason (see my experience with VIPKID above). There is no guarantee in this field, so protect yourself and pick your top 2 (at least) and take the plunge.
The Future of ESL
We don’t know what the future of ESL online looks like; however, the world has become a smaller place due to the internet, and language is essential to the development of the future of our world. While I cannot make any guarantees, it only makes sense that ESL teaching will continue to blossom. Personally, I don’t think it is a bad industry to jump into. The fact that over 500,000 students have registered with VIPKID alone is enough to tell you that parents value English as a Second Language in their child’s education.
This has been the most rewarding job I have had in my entire life, and I have struggled in the corporate world, and education. Every morning, I travel to China to spend time with the sweetest kids I know and I hope to be doing it for a very long time.
Have questions? Want to chat about teaching ESL online? Book a call!
I do not automatically receive your contact information when you apply, so make sure to reach out with your questions! I’m here to help!