Students who have graduated from foreign colleges and universities can teach in the United States. As expected, there are specific qualifications and requirements to meet. These can differ by state. The requisite skills pertain to education and training. One essential element is the student’s ability to speak English fluently. English does not need to be your primary language; it can be a second language or ESL.

The U.S. Department of State has an exchange program through the Alliance Abroad Group, for example. In essence, you can qualify to teach in the U.S. as a non-citizen for up to three years at primary and secondary schools. A J-1 Visa grants international students the opportunity to teach in this exchange program.  Applicants for the Visa need the equivalent of an American bachelor’s degree and have at least two years of teaching or related professional experience in the country of legal residence. (Some sites state that three years is required).

Teacher Visa

As outlined above, there are certain obligations you must satisfy before leaving your home country abroad and heading to the United States. One of the preliminary steps involves the completion of Form DS-2019 or Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status ($340 application fees). The form identifies the applicant or exchange visitor and the designated sponsor. The U.S. Department of State provides a directory of designated sponsor organizations. The designated sponsor completes the DS-2019 form after a review with the participant. Once approved by the sponsor, the prospective exchange visitor applies to a U.S. embassy or consulate for an interview. The candidate also needs to supply proof of financial support for his/her future residency in the United States.

There will be a wait time before an embassy or consulate summons you for an interview. The wait times vary, depending on the city, around the world. The Bureau of Consular Affairs has a convenient means of checking on visa appointment times. For example, plug in the city of Paris, and the appointment wait time says ten calendar days. Despite the relatively short waiting periods for the interview, the subsequent administrative process can take several months. The Bureau of Consular Affairs advises waiting 180 days before inquiring about the status of your visa.


Most states require teachers educated outside the U.S. to pass teacher certification exams. Proficiency in mathematics, writing, and reading are also needed. According to the U.S. Department of Education, they nor any other federal agency has the authority to recognize foreign degrees. Instead, this Department delegates the recognition of qualifications to these three:

  1. The admitting school or higher education institution
  2. The employer who hires the prospective teacher
  3. State licensing boards, for example, a state board of education

The following is the four requirements to teach in California:

  1. Have at least a bachelor’s degree, and other prerequisite coursework could be required.
  2. Complete a state-approved teacher preparation program
  3. Pass required exams: Basic Educational Skills or Subject Examinations for Teachers
  4. Submit a California teaching credential application.

The four criteria above apply to most states. Readers can find the data on teacher certification at this site.

Most states use the terms certification and licensure interchangeably. Colorado, for example, refers to the teacher certification process to obtain the Initial Teacher License for first-time teachers. After completing an induction program, which includes performance evaluation, you can apply for the Professional Teacher License. It is valid for five years.

The requirements referenced above apply to international students with teaching experience. It is a long road for individuals with their education and teaching experience in a foreign country. The general advice is to plan a year ahead of time. There are the federal mandates, such as the appropriate visa, as well as having the requisite skills, exams, certification, as specified by the state where you plan to work.

Another critical component of the vetting process is a criminal background check. The U.S. Embassy may conduct a criminal background check. The state’s board of education may do a check as well. Pennsylvania, as an example, requires all public and private school employees to submit to these three:

  1. Department of Human Services Child Abuse History Clearance
  2. Pennsylvania State Police Request for Criminal Records Check
  3. Federal Criminal History Record Information (CHRI)


In answer to the captioned question, there are many things you need to do to become a certified teacher in the United States. In addition to the above information, you must maintain Medical Health Insurance and notify the authorities of a change of address or telephone number. Failure to comply with the terms of the J-i Visa may result in termination of your legal status to remain in the United States.

Additional Resources:

If I want to become a superintendent, is a Master’s Degree enough, or do I need a Ph.D.? 

Does becoming a Middle School principal have different requirements from a High School principal? 

Do Charter schools have different requirements for their teachers? 

What is usually done for a background check of teachers? 

What kind of Certification should I have if I want to teach ESL?