TEFL in Russia: Q and A

This particular post about TEFL in Russia has been sitting in my draft box for quite some time, racking up questions as they come into my inbox. I decided to finally pull some of these questions into one handy post that could hopefully help someone else as they begin their (crazy) quest to become an ESL teacher in Russia.

I’ve never taught English before. Can I still just hop over to Russia? Yup. No problem. That’s exactly what I did. Russia for better or worse is a lot more lax about certification than in Europe, Asia, or anywhere else really. The fact that you’re a native speaker basically vouches for you and schools will TEFL train you before you start teaching. I came in with Language Link. (Other options are BKC and English First.) Like most large schools, there are some definite drawbacks but overall LL is pretty solid. There are inconveniences, certainly, but all of the horror stories I’ve heard are basically people doing dumb things and getting caught.

What’s the deal with the visa? The visa process isn’t really that difficult once you’ve been hired by a school. And FYI — don’t go with a school unless they arrange a visa for you! You’ll apply for a single-entry, three-month work visa which will be extended by your school after you’ve arrived in Russia. You’ll receive a packet of documents with some information and a letter of invitation. All you have to do is apply online, pay, and drop off your passport at the embassy. I’m on my seventh Russian visa; I’ve arranged three myself (some are extensions) and it’s really no trouble once you have a job set up.

Will I make a lot of money teaching English in Russia? The first year? Nope. TEFL in Russia is not a moneymaker. Money is pretty crap in the big schools, but they do provide housing which in Moscow is worth a lot. If you’re a certified teacher with experience, the money gets a lot better but it isn’t really comparable to the money in the Middle East or Asia. You’ve got to want to come to Russia.

So really — the money’s that bad? At most schools, yes. They offer totally livable wages but doesn’t really allow you to save any money. International schools can pay a lot, but they’re pretty competitive to get into and require several years of experience. The best way to make money is through private lessons. I’ll be bold and throw out my price: 1500 rubles per 45 minutes. (That’s about $50.) That’s way better than you’ll do in any school and there will be no shortage of clients. If you’re willing to travel outside of Moscow to some of the luxury villages, prices can start at 2000+ rubles.

So where do I find private students? Word-of-mouth. Speaking English on the streets (seriously, I’ve gotten several students this way). Also put up a resume on expat.ru and watch the requests roll in.

moscow kremlin

What about nannying? I don’t know much about this. The money’s great (I’ve seen salaries start at 800 GBP a week for mildly qualified candidates). Unfortunately, I don’t really know anyone who’s had a long term experience here so I can’t comment.

What does it take to be a good teacher in Russia? Your students will generally not be the problem. (OK, you’ll occasionally have a class full of the worst teenagers you’ve ever met, but most of them are good.) Being flexible and patient is key. Your schedule will change, your administration will screw you over, something in your flat will break and the landlord will disappear. The people who wash out here are not usually worn down by the teaching aspect, but rather Russian life itself. I love Russia, but life in Moscow can be unpredictable and depressing. Remember that this is not Europe. Don’t expect European standards.

I hate to end this on a depressing note so instead I’ll say: yes, sometimes life in Russia is a bit torturous but I’m actually excited to go back! Cute Russian dude, a new apartment, and restaurants open later than 9 PM! What’s not to love?

More questions? Grab a copy of my 34-page ebook, ESL Moscow, for the full process on how to become an ESL teacher in Moscow – and succeed!

  • Very good post! I really enjoyed it!

  • Very informative! I had planned to teach in Russia after I got my CTEFL in Spain but was a bit daunted by the visa process. (Plus I had just met my future husband and the weather in Spain was pretty close to perfect, so maybe that was just an excuse 🙂 )

    • The visa isn’t too hard, just a pain. While I’m sure the choice between Spain and Russia was suuuuper hard, I think you made a pretty solid choice!

  • This is great–I wish I’d seen something like this when I was starting out.

    I’d like to add a tip that I got from a couple of governesses I met in Moscow: the key, they said, to keeping work enjoyable was just being straight up with employers; Russians would be much happier if you stated your case–your higher salary, what you can and can’t deal with, whatever–right away, rather than faffing about and being secretly unhappy. I found this to be the case too. If you can be assertive about your needs and, crucially, not whiny, it’ll go far in Moscow. It definitely took some learning for me, coming from a more deferential place like Canada.

    • Great extra tip Sarah. Thanks!

  • For people interesting in nannying, http://www.guvernior.ru/eng/ is a pretty legit company. People using their service really want experienced caregivers– it can be difficult jumping from teaching to nannying, but they are pretty willing to help you (and if it’s a direction you want to go, working in a kindergarten or boarding school is a great step). Also, if you’re under about 25, just forget about it. Most families are not interested. That same company also has tutoring jobs, which can be a good way to get to the wealthier clientele and their children. Sarah’s advice is great; I personally got myself into a situation where I was unhappy with the pay, but didn’t bother to speak up about it. It was short lived and ended up not being a big deal, but I could’ve been happier with the situation at the time. More advice for nannying is to communicate with other nannies! I had a trial for a job that lasted a few weeks and ended up meeting some other American/native English speaking nannies, and learned the offer the family gave me was a fraction of what others were making; I upped my price (to about half of what these ladies were making!) and the mom I’d been dealing with got really offended and basically told me I was completely wrong and that she had known it wouldn’t be a good fit from the beginning. Uh, ok. Anyway, there are also some sites that connect aupairs directly with families, such as http://newaupair.com/, which should obviously be approached with some caution, but I believe to be an easier process, overall.

    • To delve deeper into the nannying topic, it’s also important in such a situation (especially if you’re live-in, god forbid) to set clear boundaries on how much you’re expected to work and what roles you are expected to fulfill. Does the child have a regular nanny who takes care of their basic feeding/cleaning needs, or are you expected to be in charge of that? How much of the time will you be alone with the child? Another problem with the job I mentioned above with the low salary offer was that she was under the impression I would be working “part time,” when in reality she expected me to be available pretty much all day, every day; since I was to be living with them (out in middle-of-nowhere Rublevka), I didn’t have much freedom to go do things when I would theoretically have time off.

      • All excellent points — and precisely the reason I’ve never been interested in governess-ing, despite the outrageous pay some of them offer.

        Out of interest, have you ever actually gotten a job from guvernoir (is that where the Rublevka job was from?) because I’ve applied for several private teaching jobs through them and never heard back.

        • I did get one interview through them, but the other job I got was through an agent, who happens to work closely with that company. I definitely felt like I could have gotten more interviews/etc if I’d been more proactive in applying to positions and, like I said, I always felt like they were easy to communicate with and willing to help out. I never heard back from the woman regarding the interview, which was for the best because I felt she had been a bit deceptive– in her ad she said there was an option to live-out, but when I was there she was speaking as though it were obvious I’d be living “with” the family (actually in a sort of basement).

  • it’s funny to think that european standards are high. sheesh.

  • I work for English First, and I must say this – the big schools really put you to work. Your prep time does not count towards your hours for the month, and you don’t get any breaks between classes (other than a paltry 5-10 minutes to speedily set up the first lesson). If you (the reader) think TEFL is a lark, it is not – not at my company, anyway.

    • I’ve somehow only just seen this… Yes, big schools will usually treat you pretty harshly just because you’re so expendable. I had a lucky experience in a smaller town outside of Moscow, which may be a way to have a better experience.

      Overall, though, big schools are usually guaranteed pay, a flat, and a foot in the door!

  • Great post. Lots of goof information. I’ve taught English in Russia in 2009. My salary was too low to actually enjoy living there. Asia is a lot better I’d say.

  • Jack

    Hi, Polly fantastic blog and very insightful. You are really brave throwing yourself into Russia I bet you learnt an awful lot during your time there.

    A quick question in regards to this: “The fact that you’re a native speaker basically vouches for you and schools will TEFL train you before you start teaching”. Is this part of the overall job training, do you pay for it(if so is it expensive?)?) And if it is part of the training are you paid during it? Obviously, it differs from school to school but, do any offer it free,

    I am an English Language BA graduate so, this would hopefully be a good start.

  • alex

    I’d avoid teaching outside of Moscow as I’ve been doing it for over 6 months. The flats are poor and dirty and the cost of living is the same as Moscow. You will have to find money for visas as the school only refund if you rough it out for 9 months and even then its nkt guaranteed. You will also be left stranded on occasions without any help. I am married to a Russian and such jobs are only suitable for someone young or with no responsibilties Avoid Solnechnogorsk and Noginsk!

    • Interesting. I had a good experience in Korolev during my first year in Russia, but I was affiliated with a large school. Who are you working with? I know some smaller schools are totally sketchy and the affiliates of larger schools aren’t always much better once you get out of the city.

  • lovely post, thanks Polly.
    helpful, informative and definitely what I and many newbies need.
    a couple of questions, please:
    * what are the school calendar dates?
    * have you heard of any warnings about untrustworthy agents, or dodgy job sites?
    * any warnings about salaries not being paid?
    * are there any sites or agencies you’d recommend, to get a foot in the door?
    * are short contracts – 6months – common?
    * what’s a realistic expectation for a starting salary?

    thanks again!

    • Hey, glad I can help.

      School calendar: classes start in September and end in May (maybe June or July if it’s a private school).

      If you’re looking for a job, I’d recommend Dave’s ESL Cafe or expat.ru. Both have decent job sections and if you go to the firm’s, reviews of schools.

      In Russia, companies (well, non-russian) are pretty good about paying salaries. I’d say there’s very little to worry about there.

      Short contracts are not common. Like anywhere, places want you for at least the 9 month school year.

      And about salary: at a big school, expect around 30-35k per month ($1000) with housing and airfare. You can make a lot more at small schools which require experience. That can run anywhere from 45 to high 100k, but without any visa/airfare/apartment help.

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  • Hi all,
    I work for EF English First, and just thought that you all might want to know that we’re still looking for teachers, despite all the recent events in the news regarding Crimea and the Ukraine.

    As long as you have a degree, a TEFL certificate and come from a native speaking country, we’re able to start your application. We offer a competitive salary with great support and training.

    If you’re interested in finding out more, check out http://www.englishfirst.com/apply


    • chrisevangelista

      Hi David Weller! I’m interested in applying for English First and have checked two of three of your requirements except for the “native speaking country” part. I may not officially hail from the seven native speaking countries but where I’m from (The Philippines), English is a commercially used language in how we teach and do business on a daily basis. If you think I still fit the bill even with that small discrepancy, please do let me know. Thanks!

      • Sorry, I’ve deleted his post as I don’t allow companies to promote on here without speaking to me. Non-native speakers are often hired, but native speakers are always preferred. You’ll need to speak directly with the company you want to work with to see what they’re looking for!

        • chrisevangelista

          No worries, Polly! Appreciate your feedback. Will look into some of the schools you mentioned here. 🙂

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  • Alejandro

    I spent three months in SPB, which is where I got my TEFL Certificate; I love ❤ Russia, but I’m debating whether to teach in Moscow or Asia. Do you know of any schools in Moscow specializing in Conversational English? Thanks for your feedback!

    • Not really. Well, let me clarify: there are a lot of ‘conversation schools’ but they’re more like clubs that (usually illegally, paid under-the-table) hire foreigners. I’ve never heard of a school like that which would sponsor your visa. Conversation classes just aren’t where the money’s at for schools – or in terms of what Russians want for English lessons – so it’s a bit hard to find.

      Once you have a visa, though, you can pick up some side classes for sure. The money isn’t good but it’s not terrible.

      Good luck!

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  • Michael Libis

    Hi there, thanks for the amazing article – very helpful! I wanted to ask – during the visa process are you required to submit copies of your diploma and transcripts? Thanks for any info!

    • Hey Michael. Well, yes and no. You’ll need to send your diploma by mail to the hiring company. What they’ll then do is use that to confirm with the government that you’re legit – then the government will create the invitation letter, send it to your company and they’lol pass it on to you). You’ll submit that letter with your visa application.

      Hope that helps!

      • Michael Libis

        Thanks Polly! Did you send your actual diploma in the mail, or a copy? I ask because mine is currently professionally framed

        • I’d double-check with your school but for those who wanted one in the past, I had to send the real deal. I just ordered one from my university.

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  • chrisevangelista

    Hi Polly! Thanks for this particular blog post. I now have an idea what to expect should I get that opportunity teaching in Russia. By the way, would you know if the schools or language academies there are also hiring non-native English speaking teachers. I’m a Filipino just in case you’re wondering. Thanks!

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  • naftali

    Hi poly. Thank you so much for the information. I recently got an offer to teach in a private school for children for $2000.00 per month in moscow. Is this a livable wage. They don’t provide housing, and they are saying that I can rent a small one bedroom in moscow for about $500.. does this sound right to you? Thank you.

    • That sounds like a pretty standard agreement for an entry-level job in a smaller company. Not sure where the company is, but be aware that a price like that for rent would be at the very end of the metro system so depending on where your work is, you might be in for a long commute.
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