Most of the time these limits are set nationally and employers would be acting illegally by employing a TEFL teacher who is considered either too old or too young by the relevant authorities. This is because they would not be able to obtain the proper work visa. However, some companies set restrictions themselves because they think that teachers of a certain age range fit in better with their business brand and image.
Bear in mind that it is sometimes possible for experienced teachers with local links to find work that they would be normally considered too old for. This happens either by certain rules being adapted or simply because the demand is far more than the supply of TEFL teachers in that particular country or province.
The standard minimum age of TEFL teachers is 21. However, there are many instances in which this can be both higher and lower. In many Latin American countries it is possible to teach from the age of 18. In some Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia and Malaysia, teachers of 25 or over are considered preferable.
The lower age limit tends to reflect the high status of teachers in a particular culture. In most countries, teachers are revered and respected members of society. Whereas it might be reasonable for an 18 year-old to be teaching young learners, it is not always seen as ideal for a teenager to be teaching Business English classes, for example. A teacher should have life experience and sufficient maturity especially in the case of teaching other adults language skills for use in a professional context.
The type of institution will also determine the ‘ideal’ age range of the perfect candidate for a teaching post. Language centres usually employ those in their 20s and 30s, whereas state schools and international schools (with the early starting times every morning!) prefer those who are settled and/or married and therefore are often keen to employ those in their 40s and 50s.
The average upper limit seems to be around 60-65, the standard compulsory retirement age range in most countries, although in some adverts you will undoubtedly come across seemingly arbitrary numbers such as 57! This is certainly the case in China where the age restrictions seem to vary widely across the country and between different schools. Additionally, it is tough for those aged over 50 to find work as a TEFL teacher in South Korea where it seems to be viewed as a younger person’s position.
However, if you are over 50 years of age, things are sometimes slightly different if you are already in the country where you have seen the vacancy advertised. In such a scenario, your knowledge and experience of the local culture and language, and ability to visit the school in person, will definitely increase your chances of being hired.
Cambodia, China, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos are all great options if you are a more mature teacher but do bear in mind that as stated above it will help enormously if you are already in the country. Also, be warned that the rules may need to be ‘bent a little’ in some cases. It is important to check what the penalties might be in such circumstances and then make your own decision as to whether the risk of being fined is worth it or not.