Thinking of teaching in Thailand? Here’s everything you need to know to get your first teaching job in Thailand and make it a good one!
Before I tell you how to become an English teacher in Thailand, let’s figure out IF it’s a good idea to become an English teacher in Thailand.
Disclaimer – much depends on the type of school you land your job at. What you read below is the summary of my own experiences after two years of working in a large, Thai public school in Bangkok. There are better schools out there, there are also worse but in most case,s your work in a Thai school will look something like that:
Pros and Cons of working in a Thai school
- An easy way to live long-term in Thailand.
- Long term visa and work permit – working in a Thai school is one of the easiest ways to land a long term visa and a permit to work in Thailand.
- Acceptable salary compared to the costs of living – a salary of 1000 USD a month is enough to get by, at least at the beginning of your stay in Thailand.
- Easy, stress-free job – much depends on your attitude, but in general, expectations set for foreign teachers are very low. And you never have to think about your work outside of the office hours.
- Lots of days off – Even 7 weeks of holidays per year plus numerous days off for festivals etc.
- Freedom – once you start teaching, you can do it in many countries around the world – Thailand is good for starters but Vietnam, China, Korea are all up for grabs!
- Satisfaction – teaching is doing something good, something of true value (but don’t get your hopes to hight, more about that later).
- Limited career growth options – It’s hard to get promoted in a Thai school, salaries rarely increase. Usually, the best way to progress in your job is to find work at a different school.
- No retirement benefits (that I know of)
- Lack of job satisfaction – based on my own experience, teachers suffer a very quick burnout in Thailand. Many come to Thailand with a deep-felt calling to teaching, an urge to make a difference, but a year or two later they leave – disillusioned and frustrated (in my time a Thai school, at least 20 different teachers came and went!). I believe the reason for this state of things are first and foremost cultural differences, Thai work ethics and way of thinking – often very different from the western way. But many teachers are to blame too, especially those who show a complete lack of responsibility for their student by leaving their jobs suddenly, halfway through the school year.
If you still feel Thailand is the right choice for you, here’s how to start looking for a job.
The Perfect Teacher
A perfect teacher for a Thai school? A well dressed 30-year-old English girl with blond hair and blue eyes, with a diploma in education and a few years of teaching experience in the West and in Thailand – a person with those “qualifications” can find jobs in the best international schools in Thailand. The further away you are from that ideal, the lower your chances of scoring a good job. If you’re over 50, don’t have a higher education degree, you dress like a backpacker, have zero experience and barely put together a few words in English – you’re unlikely to find a teaching job in Thailand.
I suppose that you’re somewhere in between those extremes. A non-native speaker who’s proficient in English has a university diploma and remembers to leave his “Chang” t-shirt at home when applying for jobs, shouldn’t have much trouble finding a teaching position in a Thailand.
Documents and other requirements
In most cases the only document required when applying for teaching jobs in Thailand is a university diploma. No matter the topic of your studies, just remember to have the original diploma with you, Thai officials require it. Naturally, a diploma in education is an advantage but it’s not required by the law.
Many, if not most schools in Thailand, don’t require an English language certification from potential teachers. If they do, it’s usually a TOEIC, and if you can’t pass a TOEIC, you shouldn’t be teaching English anyway. Still, for many schools, the fact that you come from a western country means that you speak English. I know Brazilians who were hired in a Thai school because they are “from America”.
TEFL – should you have it?
TEFL certificate is not officially required …but comes in handy. No, you won’t really learn how to teach at a TEFL course, the idea that you could do that during a 4-week course is absurd. Why make it then? For the diploma, of course! Maybe it’s not required but it doesn’t hurt to have one. It’s especially true in the case of non-native English speakers – there’s a chance that your potential employer will sooner hire a Sweed with good English and a TEFL diploma than an Irish guy without such qualifications.
Where to get your TEFL?
Preferably in Thailand. Why? For two reasons. Because it’s more affordable (which I think is the most important factor when selecting a course) and because….you’ll spend one more month in Thailand 🙂 This will give you a chance to acclimatize and begin your job search. Prices for courses in Bangkok start at around 1000 USD. How to chose the right school? In my opinion, it’s best to go for the cheapest option – if it’s only the diploma you’re after, there’s no point in paying a premium.
Just remember, it has to be in-class course, the cheaper online versions are much less desirable.
You’ll come to Thailand on a tourist visa, how to get one depends on your nationality, but the 30 days visa-free entrance available for some nations is not enough. Get a proper visa.
Now, you’re not allowed to legally work in Thailand on a tourist visa, but you certainly can look for a job. with one. And once you find it, your future employer should provide you with support in getting a Non-Immigrant B Visa and a Work Permit. Some schools even cover the costs of obtaining those papers – if you find one of there, consider yourself lucky. If, on the other hand, the school of your choice does not support your visa application process or asks you to work without a work permit, better find a different job.
In most cases, your visa will be extended annually, along with your contract. Unfortunately breaking the contract often means automatic visa cancellation – it’s not something you want to happen so even if you do leave your job, it’s best to do it in a civilised way.
Do you have to speak Thai?
Absolutely not. It’s not expected or necessary to work as an English teacher in Thailand. But it sure does help when you stay here longer.
Before you begin your job search
What to prepare?
- CV: Much has been written on the art of CV crafting. When applying for teaching jobs, remember to mention all your teaching experience (your stint as a scouts’ team leader, those private guitar classes you used to give etc.) as well as anything that further proves your language skills. A photo with your CV is a must – in Thailand your looks matter, a lot!
- Documents: Multiple copies of your passport, certificates and diplomas.
- Experience: It’s in demand. It’s one of the reasons why I think TEFL is worth your time and money – it gives you this tiny bit of experience.
- Looks: As mentioned, your looks are crucial! Don’t leave your house without elegant pants and a button up shirt (a skirt below the knee and an elegant shirt in case of female applicants). Hide your tattos, comb your hair. A well dressed, perfumed Dutchman with no teaching experience, has higher chances of landing a job than a British university professor wearing flipflops.
How to choose the right school?
Here are some of the details to pay attention to when scanning job offers and reading contracts:
- Address: The school should not be far off from the place where you’ll be staying, especially if it’s Bangkok (or Phuket) where you’ll be working. Commuting in those two places can be hell. In fact, it’s best to first find a job and only then rent accommodation somewhere nearby.
- Salary: I’d say 30.000 THB is the bare minimum, 35.000 THB seems to be the standard in Bangkok for the last couple of years, anything over 40.000 THB sounds like a good deal. I’m talking about Thai schools – government and some private. International schools pay much much better (in some cases over 100.000 THB) but are basically impossible to get into without proper qualifications.
- Teaching hours: I would never take a teaching job with more than 20 hours of teaching a week. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but believe me – it is! 20 hours a week are 4 hours a day and you have to be prepared for each of them. On those days when I had more than 4 teaching hours in my schedule, I’d come back home exhausted.
- Work hours: Typically somewhere between 8 AM and 4 PM. Classes begin at 8:30 but are preceded by a patriotic ceremony of raising flags, singing anthems etc. (not fun at all after the first 2-3 times). Some schools expect teachers to attend.
- Contract length: 12-month contracts are by far the best – you’ll get paid during the holidays too. Unfortunately, 11 and 10 months contracts are fairly common too.
- Sick leave: I don’t know what the Thai labour law dictates, but the school that I worked at granted teachers 5 sick leave days per semester and never expected a doctor’s certificate. Other school’s will, especially for sick leave taken on Fridays or Mondays.
- Visa and Work Permit: The school should take care of or, at the very least, help you take care of the formalities. If it doesn’t, look for another job.
- Bonuses: Some schools offer end of contract bonuses. Obviously – a great perk.
- Salary withholding: Some schools keep a percentage of teachers’ salaries until the contract expires. At least you won’t spend it all at once!
- Insurance: You should get Thai social security insurance with your job, you might have to pay at least part of the costs (it’s not expensive, a few hundred baht a month)
- Lesson Plans: Many schools expect teachers to prepare lessons plans, in writing. Those that don’t are a better deal – less paperwork = more joy in your life.
- Air conditioning in the classes: If you’re bothered by heat, you might want to make sure that the classes are air conditioned. But if you’re bothered by heat, what are you looking for in Thailand? 🙂
- Food: Some school offer free meals for the teachers. It’s a nice little perk, but considering how cheap food is in Thailand, it shouldn’t be a dealbreaker when looking for a job here. My school provided free meals, I still preffered to eat outside.
What school to choose?
Generally speaking, you can separate schools in Thailand into three categories: government schools, private international schools and universities. The all come with some pros and cons:
- Government Schools are a bit of a mess. If you don’t care about earning a lot, want to chill and get to know Thailand better, it’s the right choice for you. The work won’t be too hard, you’ll get paid on time and enjoy plenty of holidays. But you do have to prepare yourself for a culture shock and frustration. You can read about the reality of working at such school here. Some government schools have a so-called English Program, where there tend to be fewer students per class, there’s a Thai teacher who supports you in class, some school books to work with and students who tend to be more eager to learn English than those in the general program.
- International Schools are a holy grail for many teachers in Thailand – excellent salaries, fantastic amenities, international management and a higher level of education in general. Keep in mind though, that working at an international school is not as undemanding as a job in a government school. It’s a serious job for professionals. And then international school only hire qualified teachers, most likely native speakers.
- Universities – for some reason they offer salaries even lower than those in government schools (often under 30.000 THB) but also fewer teaching hours. I suppose working at a university, amongst more mature and brighter people might be more satisfying than squabbling with teenagers in a government secondary school
Of course, the schools can be divided further – into kindergartens, primary, secondary etc. It’s up to you what age group you like to teach.
Should you use a teachers agency?
The education market in Thailand is full of work agencies who help schools hire teachers. I’d recommend avoiding those, if possible. Why? Because problems with getting paid on time, having your visa sorted and the like, are the daily bread of teachers working with agencies. Some of them are nothing short of elaborate scams, taking advantage of teachers – I know that from my personal experience and from stories of my close friends. I think it’s always better to get a job directly with the school.
Searching for a job in Thailand
Where to look?
Obviously, online. There are many websites with job offers, but one stands out from the crowd – Ajarn.com . Other than that I recommend scanning through applicable Facebook groups.
When it’s a government school you’re aiming for, it’s much better to search for a job when you’re already in Thailand – you have to be available for interviews and presentation classes. Moreover, many schools need teachers ASAP.
It’s different with international schools – those often look for teachers abroad and for some reason often pay those teachers more than those they hire locally (for the same qualifications). Extra perks like free return flights to the teacher’s home country and house allowance are also fairly common.
When to look?
The Thai school year begins in May, so it seems logical to start your search before that, let’s say in early April. It’s an ok time…but not the best. In fact, many schools are closed in April and it might be challenging to deal with some of the formalities then. So we’re left with March or…May. The latter because many schools only realise they are short on teachers after the school year kicks off and start a desperate search for staff. The second best time to look for a teaching job in Thailand is in late October/early November, right after a semester break. Having said that, teaching jobs are available in Thailand all year round.
How to look?
- Be persistent – it took me one month to find a good enough teaching job in Bangkok. Out of around 100 CVs that I sent out, I received 10 replies, out of which two schools wanted to hire me.
- Be shameless – don’t be discouraged if the job ad calls for “Native Speakers Only” and you ain’t one. Many schools consider all westerners native speakers. I mentioned the Brazilians considered Americans,g right? So just keep trying. By the way, I got my job in a newspaper in Phuket by replying to a job ad for a ‘Thai Reporter” so there you have it…
How much can you earn?
30.000 THB and up. Standard salary begins at around 35.000 THB, Thai owned school calling itself international will pay maybe 50.0000 THB a proper international school even 100.000 THB plus perks. Salaries are the best in Bangkok (for some reason in Phuket they are amongst the lowest, even though the island is one of the most expensive places to live in the country.)
Also, don’t forget private classes etc. I know teachers who earn a whole second salary with those.
What to expect?
Disclaimer: There are as many stories as there are teachers in Thailand– the following is based on my personal experiences of working in a big public school in Bangkok.
- 40-50 students per class
- 50 minutes per class, no breaks between classes but many free periods + a lunch break.
- Lack of discipline – the students are often late, absent, they talk during class, refuse to follow instructions etc.
- Very low level of English – it’s a bit better in an English Program, but either way, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to show off your teaching skills 🙂
- No school books
- No grades, no exams or “pretend” exams – everyone passes.
- No expectations – the management doesn’t care what you teach so you can plan your classes as you please.
- Demotivating work environment – Any effort to make a difference, improve the system, change things around will be frowned upon. The fewer waves you make the better they like you. Maybe there are different schools out there, maybe…
- Lack of information – you won’t know about upcoming holidays, events etc. until the very last moment. I used to find out about most things from my students instead of my managers.
- Lots of cancelled classes and special days with no teaching hours (sports day, teachers day etc.)
How to survive in a Thai school
- Don’t make waves – Don’t criticize, don’t complain, don’t try to change things – harmony is one of the greatest values in Thailand, even if it’s superficial. Let me give you an example – I used to teach one very naughty class, I just couldn’t manage those kids! For the first couple of months, I would go and ask the management for support, drag the students to the director’s office etc. To no avail – not only I didn’t get any support, but some people were taking issue with my efforts to improve things. So I gave up, I focused on teaching those few kids in the front rows who were at least half interested in learning something and ignored the rest. Everybody happy, including my boss.
- Chill out – For many Thai schools, westerners aren’t proper teachers, they treat them more like mascots, someone who elevates the school’s prestige by being… foreign, western, native speaker, white…you name it. And yes, this applies to the way students treat teachers too – they tend to show much more respect for their Thai teachers than the foreign ones. What can you do about it? Nothing! Just chill out and enjoy the ride!
- Watch and learn – You’re in a foreign country with a different culture. Observe all that’s happening around you, treat it as a study in anthropology and culture, but don’t try to change things. Stop repeating that “Back home we do things differently” (many teachers do!), you’re a guest here, stop trying to remodel the place!
- Focus on the pros – So what that your efforts produce very little results, so what that your big dream of “making a change” dies right in front of your eyes; focus on what’s good – you have plenty of free time, lots of holidays, almost no stress and responsibilities at work and enough money to enjoy a bit of life in this beautiful tropical country. Make use of all this!
Teaching languages other than English
Can you teach French, or Spanish, or any other languages? Rather unlikely, except maybe for private classes. Some skills, such as in arts or music, can help you land a job or at least give you something fun to do with the students. Some schools don’t look for English teachers only but for example Art teachers with English.
I don’t have much good to say about volunteering in Thail schools. Firstly – most agencies ask volunteers to pay for the privilege. Secondly, even free work requires one to have a proper work permit and visa. Thirdly, there are plenty of schools who can afford to pay you a salary. There are, however, exceptions. Check out the Phuket Has Been Good Foundation for example.
You’ve read all the above? Then you know 5 times more about teaching in Thailand than I did when I moved to Bangkok. You’ve got the data, now time to find the courage and take the leap. Good luck!
*The author of this blog is not responsible for any damage to the reader’s physical or mental health resulting from the implementation of the above advice 😉
**Once again, the above is 100% based on my own experience and observations and should not be considered the general truth about teaching in Thailand.