We can start with two sayings:
1) These is no such thing as a free lunch
2) You get what you pay for
With these two things in mind let us explore what free TEFL certificates are available and the problems that may be associated with them.
Marketing tool: The course is free but you pay for certification
This is becoming more common with online courses in all subjects across the curriculum. You are able to take a course for free (or at a minimal cost) but there is no certificate issued with the course. You are then offered certificate options from a PDF emailed version to full hard copy certificate with postage. When you add the certification cost you find it is similar to buying a regular course which has the certificate and regular postage already paid for in the price.
Hours: Most free courses don’t give enough hours
There are some legitimate free TEFL courses available as well as many not so useful. The legitimate ones tend to be only for a few hours of study, for example, Introduction to TEFL, TEFL weekend course and so on. Whilst these courses are free and some even give a certification of sorts, you would not be able to present them to an employer. The standard minimum requirement for most legitimate English teaching jobs is 120-hours of study.
Accreditation: Most free courses do not give a recognized qualification
The next thing to check with any free certificate TEFL course is what accreditation comes with the certification. Employers worldwide accept certificates from a very wide range of TEFL companies. However, your certificate would need to be recognized by the authorities within the country you wish to teach in as you are most likely going to need a visa and work permit to work there. Check which organization accredits the course you are taking and find out where the certificate is recognized.
You get what you pay for: This adage has lasted for a few hundred years at least
The idiom, supposedly coined in England around 1800 is as true today as it was then. Most of us have visited the dollar store (USA) or pound land (UK) and received an item well worthy of the price. Post general education in general is no different. A quality, well designed and operated course, giving a good quality accredited certificate will cost money. In general you will get what you pay for.
A simple checklist of course features: Does your chosen course have……..?
1) Is the certificate internationally recognized?
2) Does the course come with a hardcopy certificate for work permit uses?
3) Does the course have at least 120-hours of study?
4) Does the course cover teaching skills and language awareness?
5) Does the course have continued job guidance and support?
6) Does the course lead to higher possible certificate levels and specialisms?
It is highly unlikely you will be able to obtain all of the above items with a free course.
In terms of employment prospects, all of them are very important and you should not opt for anything less.