Teaching Opportunities In Southeast Asia
People who want to live abroad but lack the funds to support themselves have a wide variety of choice in Southeast Asia. The growth of the middle class, the progressive development of virtually every ASEAN member country, and a region-wide push for English fluency make Southeast Asia a destination ripe with opportunity.
Teaching English is probably the most common way for an expat to earn a living wage throughout this region, and there is a high demand for English teachers. The requirements vary from one country to another, but most people can qualify for a reasonably high-paying job with a little preparation.
Officially, a bachelor’s degree or higher is required for teaching anywhere in Southeast Asia. Unofficially, the requirement may be waived by schools in rural areas where demand is high and teacher recruitment is difficult. Teaching in a remote village can be extremely rewarding but will probably not pay well—many places will offer a room or house, utilities, and food, but they can’t afford to pay a salary.
Teaching in the cities is different. The most important consideration is the type of degree or certification you have under your belt.
Most English teachers have a TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA certification in addition to a college degree. The TEFL certification is the easiest and least expensive to obtain. Courses ranging from 40 to 120 hours are offered online and may or may not require actual student interaction before graduation.
Teachers with a TEFL certification can find work, but the pay offered and employment opportunities will be less than for those who have earned a more prestigious certification.
A TESOL certification requires 120 hours of training and in-class teaching is part of the curriculum. A CELTA degree requires a similar amount of training, but the coursework is more intensive and the cost of the course is higher.
Classes in TEFL, TESOL, and CELTA are offered in major cities in the United States and abroad. Schools offer courses that range in price, from practically free up to around US$2,800, depending on the number of hours and intensity of the program. Dave’s ESL Café is a good resource for learning about the certification process and the experience of teaching English abroad.
In Hanoi, teachers with a college degree and a TEFL or TESOL certification can expect to make between US$17 to US$25 per hour of classroom instruction. CELTA instructors will be able to earn US$30 or more per hour working at consulates, international schools, and embassies. Some employers will hire teachers who lack top credentials, but the pay and benefits may not be as attractive. In a city where an individual can live very comfortably for less than US$1,000 per month, this translates into a very good wage that will more than cover living expenses.
In addition to an hourly wage, many reputable schools in Vietnam offer benefits. We spoke at length with our American friend David P. about his teaching experiences in Vietnam and Thailand. He told us that his Vietnamese employer pays for an excellent health insurance plan, provides his work permit, has helped him set up a direct deposit bank account, and provides 16 paid vacation days and 19 paid holiday days per year.
David earns US$24 per hour as a TESOL-certified instructor. His employer guarantees him a minimum of 70 hours per month and has also guaranteed that his hours will never exceed 100 hours per month. David is paid only for his actual teaching hours and says that he spends an average of four extra hours per week reviewing lesson plans and other related activities for which he does not receive compensation. On the upside, he will receive a US$500 bonus at the end of his teaching contract.
Exercising due diligence is important when looking for a good job in Vietnam. Some employers, for example, will fine employees who show up late for work, leave the air conditioner on after class, or forget to turn off the lights. It’s also fairly common for a school to withhold a portion of the salary until the teacher completes the agreed-upon contract, at which point the remainder of salary is paid in a lump sum. If the contract is not completed, then the employee loses out on that portion of their salary.
David suggests that unless you have already secured a job with a well-regarded employer, it’s best to come to your chosen country and start your job hunt. This allows you to interview prospective employers and get a sense of whether you’d find the work enjoyable. Some schools will say that salaries are paid on the first of the month. Others may be less clear, saying they’ll pay during the first week of the month or, worse yet, when they’ve received payment from their students.
Schools in Vietnam rarely object to their instructors working as private tutors during their off-hours. This is an excellent way to supplement your teaching income. However, some schools prohibit private tutoring, so you may want to clarify this before accepting a position.
The New Hanoian has an entire section of its website devoted to teaching jobs. The site is also a good resource for learning if people have had any experiences—good or bad—with a particular employer. You’ll find job listings throughout the country, with employers recruiting for Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, Halong Bay, and other prime locations. Many employers will request that applicants have a passport from a particular country—usually the United States, Canada, the UK, or Australia—as they want to teach a specific dialect. Native English speakers from other countries may have a more difficult time getting a job.
Although the requirements are similar in Thailand, the benefits tend to be fewer than in Vietnam, and the pay is generally lower. Most TESOL-certified teachers in Bangkok, for example, will earn around US$1,300 to US$1,500 per month, which provides a living wage, but you won’t have much left come the end of the month. CELTA teachers may earn up to around US$2,000 per month in Bangkok. Wages are a bit higher in Chiang Mai, and the cost of living is less than in Bangkok, but competition makes it harder to get a job there. The go-to website for finding a teaching job in Thailand is Ajarn.
Many employers give hiring preference to those who have two or more years of teaching experience. All applicants will need to provide a background check from the police local to where they have lived for the past six months. This, as well as your university degree and teaching certification, will need to be notarized at your embassy prior to obtaining employment. For Americans, notarization costs about US$50 per document.
If you lack a college degree or don’t have the certifications or experience to get a good teaching job elsewhere in Southeast Asia, David suggests taking a look at Cambodia, where it’s relatively easy to find work and requirements tend to be lax. The pay isn’t great, but it’s a way to get a one-year visa and start building your resume.
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