The main problem with TEFL is that the pay is usually low. This is true of teaching in general; and teaching English abroad usually pays at the lower end of this scale. Your pay may be quite good relative to other jobs locally, but on an international scale, it's low.
Despite this, it is possible to make money in the field of ELT. Here is a list of ten - mostly - serious ways of making money in TEFL. Some of them involve teaching, and some are related to teaching, but are in different areas of TEFL.
1 - Work hard
Not that any of the other options don't include hard work, they do, but teaching a lot of hours is the most obvious option. Choose a country which has a fair amount of teaching work, and where the pay is quite good (or better), and where the cost of living is relatively low. Then work all the hours you can.
I do not recommend this for the long term, but if you need to save a set amount of money in a short time, say, a year, then TEFL can provide a good route. Countries where this is possible are mostly in the Far East - I have a separate section for working in the Middle East. I've met many teachers who regularly teach 30+ hours a week (usually by holding a few different jobs) who save quite good money.2 - Freelance Teaching
A more intelligent approach, if you want to make more money - but only if you have a good business sense - is to make money by teaching freelance, although it is not open in every country, because of visa restrictions. You must have some self-discipline, and a certain amount of business sense to make this work. You'll need to factor in the inevitable cancellations, and the lack of work over summer, and other, vacations.
It helps a lot if you live in a larger city where you can sell your services to businesses, as well as to individuals. Setting up as a freelance teacher usually takes some time, and it helps to have some experience of teaching in language schools in the country or city first. In fact, you will need to be a good teacher to make this approach work for the long term.
If you want to be a freelance EFL teacher, you should learn the language, if you don't already know it. Without language skills you will be severely hampered when you try to find business. Often you will also need to obtain a license for teaching. You should also set up a website and have business cards printed.
Freelance teaching offers one of the best ways of making money by actually teaching, as opposed to taking one of the business options related to TEFL.
3 - Online freelance teaching
This is a relatively new area within TEFL, although there are now plenty of e-books being sold with all the secrets of success in this field. This one of the few areas of TEFL which I've not been personally involved in, but from speaking to EFL teachers in the field, a good way to start is to get experience from one of the better online teaching companies, then to set yourself up as a freelance online teacher.
Once you have mastered using the technology, the next step - and the most difficult step - is to find enough students to teach. If you already have a good network of local students, this would help.
You will need to set up your own website, and you will need to learn how to optimize pages for the search engines, how to use online social networking to help find potential students. However, if you only need enough students to fill your own timetable, then this should be possible after a year or less of promoting your website. Previous TEFL experience will help a lot, and I believe, is essential to being a good online English teacher.
4 - Teach English in the Middle East
In some ways this is another version No 1 (Work Hard). The Middle East offers the best salaries in the TEFL world. These are tax free, and accommodation and flights; as well as some other benefits, are usually given. The downside is the lack of freedom in countries like Saudi Arabia, where, for example, your passport will be confiscated on arrival. And where the list of prohibitions is long.
Nevertheless, many people do teach there, and the saving potential can be good; even though the wages have stagnated, and in some cases, dropped, over the past 10 years or so.
If you wish to work in the Middle East, see the country profiles listed at the bottom of teaching English overseas To work in the Middle East you will usually need experience and a TEFL diploma or MA TESOL. In some cases a PhD TESOL is asked for.
5 - Teacher Training
Teacher training is another alternative within the field of TEFL. The qualifications and experience needed to become a teacher trainer vary a lot.
In many parts of Asia, a couple of years experience in a chain school, teaching their method, will be enough to become a teacher trainer within the school. In Europe and the Middle East, you will usually need several years experience, at least, and a TEFL diploma or higher qualification.
If you are a good teacher, you could make a good teacher trainer, but remember that teacher training is still teaching. If you want to be a teacher trainer because you want to get out of the classroom, then you have the wrong reasons, which might lead to a lack of satisfaction with the job.
6 - Write TEFL Books
Write a series of coursebooks for students. This can be done for a large language school, where you will usually be paid a salary; or it can be done independently, in which case you need to sell your book to a publisher, and you will receive an initial payment, followed - hopefully - by regular royalties.
If your books become bestsellers, being adopted by schools around the world, you will probably be able to retire to the Caribbean and never have to teach a class again.
Of course, few authors are lucky enough to have bestsellers, but it's quite possible to earn a good income, or a good supplementary income from writing books.
This was my full time job for the year before I set up my first language school. I wrote books for a large chain school, and the books I wrote were, and are, sold throughout East Asia. I received a salary for writing, but no royalties. This was ok for the first time, but I told myself that I would never write for a salary again. Receiving royalties for a book is by far the better way to go. Providing what you write is good, useful to students and sells, of course.
Writing on a salary may be a good way of getting experience, as I did, but if you have a good idea, just do it yourself, and approach publishers directly with your ideas.
Of course, some EFL teachers - JK Rowling is one example - have done quite well by writing novels instead.
7 - Set up a Recruitment Agency
I've met two EFL teachers who have done this. It takes a lot of time and effort, but if you have - or can develop - strong business skills, it may be a good idea.
English is still being promoted as the international language around the world, and many schools find it hard to find good teachers, especially in Asia. This is not an easy choice, but for the right person there are possibilities.
8 - Set up your own school
This is another option that requires the development of skills beyond those of an English teacher, but a good teacher will have a head start, at least while the school is fairly small.
However, this is not an easy route either, and after having set up and running language schools myself, I know it would not be right for all teachers. A great many new language schools open every year, and a great many close their doors, too.
I set up a language school in northern Taiwan, with partners, and we slowly expanded. At one stage I hired about 20 staff. The schools didn't make me rich, but they did make money. If you want to set up a language school, and if you are the main teacher, and if you are a good teacher, you will be hard to beat.
However, once you begin hiring more teachers and other staff, then your management skills, your teacher training skills and your business skills will be tested. Even at this stage, if you are a good teacher, and if you find other good teachers, you will be hard to beat, but when you expand beyond a single school your advantages will decrease, and you will have to learn about business. I gained a lot of satisfaction out of running my own schools, but this is not a route every teacher will want to take.
If it does work, however, it can lead to a lot of money. To make good money with language schools you should begin thinking early about ways to set up franchises and expand beyond your local area. Expand at the right speed, do a good job, and in 20 or 30 years you could be rich.
Related to setting up your own language school is setting up your own center for training teachers by offering TEFL certificates and TEFL diplomas. As with language schools, you will be entering the tough world of high competition. Good luck!
9 - Marry a Rich Student
If your students are adults this is a possibility. I have no statistics for the success rate of this strategy. If you have any experience of this method, please contact me with your story :)
10 - Set up your own online business
Again, another business related option, and one that can take you out of TEFL altogether. In fact if you want to make money online in the field of TEFL, be aware that it's quite a difficult field to make money in, although some of the bigger ESL websites do make good money by selling direct advertising. If you are interested in expanding beyond TEFL, this could be a good way to go, and it's something you could begin part-time while you are still teaching English.