Teach Your Way to the Top: ESL companies by pay


ESL Companies

by Pay

To earn a livable wage, be careful and compare ESL companies by pay before you commit yourself to teaching English online. Be aware: there used to be many companies that paid over $20/hour, but since the new Chinese regulations, many of those companies are gone. Now, the rate has fallen dramatically and many teachers are still floundering.

Be sure you know the difference between the base pay and top pay of companies that hire online English teachers. Ask the interviewer to clarify the range of pay before your demo class, because it is likely that the company is advertising their top pay with incentives, while you will often be earning base pay without them.

Base Pay to Incentive Pay

Base Pay

Companies usually pay a base amount per class (for example, $8/hr) and then offer bonuses to incentivize teachers. Incentives are usually $1-4 per class. So, the pay can be from $15-21 an hour for some companies.

Incentive Pay

ESL companies pay a few extra dollars per class in order to encourage teachers to do certain things. Usually, incentive pay is very easy to get. You will likely get the extra dollars for each class. Companies vary in what they incentivize. Some pay you more for a class that a student rated highly. Others don’t base bonus pay on ratings but will pay bonuses if you teach at least a certain amount of classes a week.

Common factors that ESL companies will incentivize:

  • Teaching Peak Prime Hours
  • Teaching More Classes
  • Good Ratings
  • Good Finish Type
  • No Absences

In addition, many online English companies offer incentive pay seasonally. Sometimes, they include this incentive pay in their advertisements and people feel misled about their salary potential.

Be careful to ask current teachers what the realistic pay per hour for the company might be. Glassdoor is a good resource for finding out realistic pay ranges for online English companies. For example, here are some recent Glassdoor reviews for working at Palfish. Note the varied experiences that teachers have working for this company.

Also, Reddit groups and Facebook groups are great resources because teachers will often brag (if it is a good rate) or vent (if their pay rate suddenly dropped). The results are in real-time, whereas company recruitment videos and even recruitment videos from other teachers may not be. Indeed, keeping up to date on the ever-changing pay and requirements of ESL companies is one of the most difficult parts of writing this blog, too. I keep the comments open precisely so teachers can note any discrepancies between our posts and the actual on-the-ground situation at the ESL employer as they are experiencing it.

Ways to Boost Incentive Pay

Teach Peak Prime Hours

Most companies cater to students from a specific country. They often have a lot of demand for teachers during certain hours, and less during other hours. For example, most Beijing-based companies want you to be available in Beijing Evening Time so you can teach kids when they are done school (or adults when they are done work). They will pay you more per class you teach during these prime hot spots.

Teach More Classes

Companies want you to teach a lot of classes for them. It is costly for them to hire a teacher and deal with the administration of their account if the teacher only teaches one class a week. Some companies have minimum required hours, but others just incentivize you to teach more classes by offering more money. For example, Palfish classes pay about $14 an hour if you only teach a handful of classes a month. If you teach 10 classes a week, the pay goes up to $16 an hour. If you teach many classes and are a consistent teacher, you can make $19 an hour

Have Good Ratings

This speaks for itself. Some companies pay you more for classes that received a good rating. For example, Itutorgroup has a history of paying extra if you teach a group adult class and the adults rate you a 10 out of 10. For these companies, it is often important to encourage the students to rate you (because no ratings or neutral ratings will hurt you). If you think you are very personable and adults really enjoy your classes, then these companies can be extremely lucrative. At one point, I made $40/hour at itutorgroup because I had large classes of adults that all consistently rated me well. However, if you get bad ratings, your pay at itutorgroup during this time could have been very low. In fact, if students rated you very poorly (a 3 out of 10, for example) you basically taught that class for free.

If you don’t like the pressure of needing to get a top rating after each class, then I suggest finding a company that does not link pay to your rating. For example, Palfish pays you the same regardless of your rating.

Good Finish Type

This means that the class was finished correctly, with no technical problems on your end. For a good finish type, you might automatically get an extra dollar per class (which adds up to two dollars extra an hour). VIPKID offers this, for example.

No Absences

Companies do not want teachers that cancel on students, even if the teachers cancel ahead of time. Therefore, some companies offer bonuses and pay more for each class if the teacher has a great attendance record.

There are also many companies that offer a lot of flexibility and require far less commitments. You will be sacrificing pay to gain flexibility and a laid-back teaching environment.

Know The Base Pay of Teaching English Online

Ask “what is the LEAST amount I will ever earn per class?”

In order to recruit more teachers, current teachers will often advertise only the company’s highest pay possible and not their range of pay offerings. Be wary of this. Always ask any mentor or current teacher who is guiding you through the application very directly: what is the LEAST amount I will ever earn per class?

Compare ESL Companies by Pay and Referral Bonuses

Last but not least, many ESL companies offer teachers hefty bonuses for recruiting other teachers. If you are interested in working for a company that offers very high referral bonuses there are many ESL companies to choose from. Bonuses can range from $20 to $150 dollars per new teacher who uses your referral link or code and successfully gets hired.

I hope that helps break down some of the more confusing aspects of how ESL companies pay.

And, as always, happy teaching.


Know the base pay for the company you are applying to. Look them up on Glassdoor and on FB groups. Don’t be misled by incentive pay without understanding the likelihood of achieving it.

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