Teaching English in Thailand – this sounds like living and working in a place where others spend their vacation. However, the job market is competitive and opportunities for newbie teachers are limited. In this post, you’ll learn how to get off to a good start to teach English in Thailand.
A tv documentary or your last all-inclusive holiday on Ko Samui might have seduced you into a fantasy about a paradise with white beaches and adventurous jungles that awaits you as an ESL teacher. It’s true, Thailand is a great place to live due to the hot weather, people, food, low cost of living and the amazing things to do in and around the country.
Thailand also remains one of the most popular places to teach English for expats, simply because it is Thailand. If you’ve ever been to the so-called ‘Land of Smiles’, you know what I am talking about. However, things have changed a bit for the Western English teacher in recent years. Cost of living is slowly increasing, and the job market has become more competitive, saturated and stagnant.
However, that doesn’t mean that you cannot still find a job. If you are just breaking into the Thai market, don’t expect to get rich or save much. While some of the established, experienced and long-term teachers are doing better, as a newbie you will have to take what you can get.
Anyway, I guess you have not chosen Thailand as your ‘place to teach’ just for the money, am I right? Before you teach English in Thailand and embark on your adventure there, there are very practical realities to consider. This post will guide you through everything you need to know to get off to a good start.
What are the qualifications to teach English in Thailand?
The minimum requirements for a job which provides you a visa, work permit are a BA/BS and 120-hour teaching certificate. Like in most other parts of the world, as a citizen from designated native-English-speaking countries, you will have a much easier time to find an ESL teaching job that comes with a legit work visa in Thailand.
Take your TEFL course in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and start teaching right after. Check course details here and download a free guide.
I would recommend strongly anyone that wants to teach in Thailand for more than two years to arrive with an education degree and a license to teach in your native country. Also, a significant amount of post-graduate work in education like the PGCEi (not to be confused with the real PGCE) would serve you well. Keep in my mind that the job market in Thailand has become more competitive in recent years.
Visa and work permits in Thailand
A legitimate job will come with a non-immigrant B visa and work permit. Once you have obtained your B visa, you can enter Thailand and apply for a work permit there. Your school will assist you in the application process and with the paperwork, which will make the sometimes lengthy process much easier for you.
My government high school had a retired teacher whose job it was to handle teachers’ documentation. She never made mistakes, and I took that for granted. Mistakes with documentation can be very costly in the bureaucracy. Remember, do not take a full-time job if the employer does not offer visa and work permit!
You would think that a valid visa which entitles you to work would come equipped with permission to leave and enter the country as you please when holidays come around. This is not the case: you need a re-entry permit.
Can I teach English in Thailand on a tourist visa?
While you’re in Thailand searching for a job, you are probably on a tourist visa or 30-day visa waiver. Both of those can be extended for another 30 days at immigration for an additional fee. No issue there.
But, do not overstay your visa! If you are stopped by police while overstaying just one day, you’re going to be detained, deported and banned. If you are not caught, you’ll have to pay฿500 per day of overstay upon departure at a land border or airport immigration.
There’s plenty of teachers working on tourist visas and lately, the government is cracking down on them. Teachers and genuine extended tourists alike have been liberally using the tourist visa and 30-day visa waiver for years in order to prolong stay in the Kingdom.
If you have a lot of consecutive tourist visas in your passport, you may be interrogated by immigration upon entry and possibly denied entry. Very recently, there were reports of foreign tourists denied entry because they could not show proof of funds for their trip in cash (the amount is 20,000THB or the equivalent) and had many Thai tourist visas.
How to get a job teaching English in Thailand
I have always gotten teaching jobs from online TEFL job postings, but you can use a recruiter but realize they take a cut of your salary. Still, a good recruiter will take time to place a quality new teacher in a good school. There are bad recruiters out there so beware. In Thailand, you can search online for jobs. Start with ajarn.com the leading English teacher site in Thailand.
Any teaching experience you have, put on your CV or resume and if you have special skills in the creative arts (video editing, screenwriting, web development, graphics design) by all means put it on your CV. My last employer noticed I had experience in film production (They didn’t ask if I was successful, thank god!) and realized I could direct students’ dramatic plays for the inter-school competitions.
The best time to apply for teaching jobs
The first semester of a school year for government schools is in mid-May and goes for about 19 weeks. So if you are applying for the first semester, April would be a hiring period, but is also school break and Songkran Water Festival holidays. The second semester starts end of October.
What kind of teaching opportunities are there?
There are generally two routes an English teacher will take in the job department. They will either work at a language center (also known as institutes) like Berlitz, AUA, Inlingua, British Council, Wall Street or they will work in a regular government or private school with children from kindergarten on up to 18-year-olds. There are three levels called ‘Anuban’ for kindergarten, ‘Prathum’ for elementary and ‘Matayom’ for teens.
If you don’t like teaching kids, then you’re going to work at a language center and request to teach adults only, or you’ll look for a college job. These jobs can mean split shifts, working nights, weekends and a fluctuating schedule and monthly income. If you want to teach children or like the idea of regular working hours with nights and weekends off, then you’ll work at a private or government school English.
Be aware, that if you wish to work at a regular government school, you maybe get the job with a minimum qualification of a degree and a 120-hour TEFL certificate but to keep the job you’re going to need a Thai teaching license. The same goes for private schools. You can skate by for two years but will soon need to get that license. Usually, public schools jobs are reserved for certified teachers with years of teaching experience from Thailand or their home countries.
If you have been a licensed teacher in your home country, you’re in an entirely different ballpark and should apply to work at an international school with salaries and benefits that make English teachers drool. It’s beyond the scope of this article; however, it should be noted many English teachers soon realize they are going to need more than a degree and a TEFL or CELTA to advance up the food chain and either move on or become licensed teachers.
The salaries for ESL teachers in Thailand
Let’s talk about all the money you’re going to be raking in as an English teacher, or not. You’re going to be able to buy a round of drinks at 7-11 with your colleagues but getting rich solely on an English teacher’s salary won’t happen.
The following has ballpark figures for new teachers in Bangkok. It assumes you have the bare minimum degree and a 120-hour certificate for English teaching. If you are a licensed teacher you are qualified for much better jobs and salaries even within the same private school.
Conversion rate, May 2018: $1,000 = ฿32,000 (THB)
In a government school, you will make about ฿40,000, or less if you go through a recruiter. I’ve heard of private schools playing well and also of some paying the same as government schools. Also, private schools hiring licensed teachers for their bilingual programs pay much more, but those teachers are teaching subjects.
Expect to earn not more than ฿30,000 in colleges and vocational schools. If you were coming from a country like South Korea, the low pay of English teachers at the college level would be shocking. The job might be ok if you’re in the country, have a family and don’t need to do a lot of office hours.
In the case of the language center, you only get paid for hours worked and hourly wages across various schools vary. Your monthly salary will sum up to ฿50,000 and more. As well, if you are teaching highly specialized topics like exam prep, the rate can go up significantly. For the new English teacher, the rate is going to be about ฿300-฿400 per hour.
Possible side hustles
Everyone needs a little side hustle! Most English teachers at regular schools are supplementing their income by doing private tutors and working at language centers. That’s a no-brainer, and some teachers may even rent a room or office space to use as a classroom.
But there are other ways to supplement income including freelance writing and editing, photography and videography, music performance, and event promotion, acting, modeling, voice over work.
Health insurance in Thailand
The good thing about working legally in Thailand is that your full-time job will come with health insurance. Pray you never need to use it. As motorcycle accidents are a common occurrence in Thailand, it is important to know what exactly happens if and when you’re in an accident and are seriously injured. Who pays and how much?
Also note well, in that time you are a new arrival and still looking for a job, it’s wise to have insurance that covers illness and vehicular accidents. Plenty of tourists end up in emergency rooms in Asia for one reason or another, and it won’t necessarily be cheap.
Bangkok and Chiang Mai have great hospitals and outpatient clinics. If you need vision care go to Rutnin Eye Hospital on Asok and for major dental work Bangkok Hospital has an excellent reputation. I have been to both, and it’s a lot cheaper than the USA even with no insurance.
Vacation for teachers
Finally, a fun topic sandwiched in between the doom and gloom. Holiday time varies, but even at government high school, one gets 20 days holiday which could mean one holiday of two weeks per semester with the weekends. At AUA Language Centers there are 10 weeks of holiday a year! It’s probably best to not ask about holiday time as your first question to employers at an interview but everyone, including coordinators, likes a holiday. There are enough Thai national holidays to go around.
Finding accommodation in Thailand
There’s a range of living options for a teacher. On the low end, you can spend ฿2,500 a month for a small room in a mildly rustic village within Bangkok or blow ten times that amount on an apartment near a Bangkok Sky Train or Metro station complete with a swimming pool and gym. Find something in between that fits your budget and lifestyle. For me, the swimming pool was great in the beginning and then just became a place to drink beer.
Major factors to consider are your electricity cost (try to get government rate) and whether or not your condo unit can fit a washer machine. A washer machine will cost you ฿6,000 or more but save you a ton in the long run. Outside of electricity, your utilities including water and internet should be stable.
Renting an apartment is ridiculously easy: you show up, sign a 1-year contract, hand over a month’s rent and security deposit equaling two month’s rent and you can move in as soon as you want. If your unit is equal to $300, you need $900 at the signing. You can pay utilities at the front office usually and pay the internet at the ubiquitous 7-11s or set up automatic billing.
Transportation and commuting
If you’re in Bangkok, there’s mass transit galore, the BTS Skytrain and the MRT being incredibly convenient although cramped at peak hours. You can save money by buying the monthly passes. There’s also cheap and even free buses which I often utilized.
If you want to beat the traffic and catch a breeze, take a riverboat on the Chaopraya. And there’s no shortage of taxis, tuk-tuks, minivans, trucks, motorcycle taxi; but one of the best ways to get around Bangkok is on foot. Still, lots of teachers buy motorcycles.
Your unlocked smartphone will work with a Thai SIM and be getting connected is easy and cheap. You can find Thai phone carrier shops at the airport and the electronics malls around town. Prepaid refill cards are available at 7-11s, Family Marts, and Tesco Lotus. Refills can be as low as ฿5THB. Major phone carriers include AIS, True, and DTAC.
In my opinion, if you want to have some genuine fun in Thailand, try to go for a week or even a couple of months without a phone.
Set up a bank account in Thailand
You may have questions about setting up a bank account so you can start stashing away that Thai Baht! Your school will assist you in opening a bank account and you’ll get an ATM debit card. ATMs are all over the city and fees to use the ATMs of other banks are usually 10 baht or free.
Even if your school won’t assist you, it is pretty easy to set up a Thai bank account and shouldn’t take more than an hour. SCB, Bangkok Bank, and Kasikorn are three of the larger banks. The menu of services is in Thai and English. There are also three Citibank branches located in Bangkok.
If you need to transfer from the USA to Thailand keep in mind that Bangkok Bank does have a bank branch in New York that can facilitate this transfer cheaper than an American bank.
Can you save money while teaching in Thailand?
Despite recent inflation hikes, Thailand is still quite cheap compared to the rest of the world. One can live quite comfortably in Thailand on only $1,000 per month. Thailand is not a place where one is going to save a ton of money, but it’s more than possible to save at least a few hundred per month.
If you can live on Thai food, go without a luxurious residence, avoid the temptation of western meals every night of the week and make use of the mass transit system, you can save half of your take home salary a month. It’s not easy, will take discipline, but not impossible if you take advantage of cheap street food and meals in the school cafeteria. I know teachers who lived on $5 or less a day without a problem.
Security in Thailand
In my decade here, I have lived through two military coups, a major flood, numerous protests, terrorist bombings, and airport closures. I have also been robbed, spent a week in the hospital and gotten to know a great many people here at the time. I feel generally safe here but as I am older I don’t go looking for trouble. There is a seedy underbelly to the city which includes all kinds of criminals, and I generally shun all that drama and those who bring it.
If you are coming to work in Thailand, make sure you have savings in the event of an emergency situation like a flood where you may need to relocate for a few weeks; water shortage and political unrest where you may want to leave the city.
You can live in Thailand and probably exist without incident. Hopefully, you will never have to deal with the police or the justice system. I live in a working-class neighborhood and feel safe here. One of my neighbors collects garbage recyclables to support herself. She sometimes gives me fruit to eat.
I have walked the 3 kilometers home at night from the BTS station without incident. While taxi drivers seem to be an endless source of complaints from people, I have rarely had any issue with a taxi driver. Living in the United States was much more dangerous than Thailand. I would take Bangkok over Philadelphia where I went to university any day of the week.
Cultural Challenges for English Teachers in Thailand
Teaching English in Thailand will likely be the best decision of your life, but the move doesn’t come without challenges. There are many cultural differences between the West and Southeast Asia, some that you’ll have to embrace immediately…like not drinking water from the tap.
As a foreign teacher, you will have to abide by cultural norms so as to never disrespect the Thai people or lifestyle. Check out these three important things new ESL teachers must know before moving to Thailand to teach English.
Polite behavior is part of the classroom
While there are certain ways Americans show politeness in our daily lives, Thai people have a few customs that you should learn in advance. The most important one is the wai. This is a small bow with hands placed together in a praying-type pose that people do when they greet, thank or say goodbye to people. However, there are a handful of rules about when you wai and how deeply you bow, that are dictated by seniority and religion.
Thais place utmost importance on the eldest people in any group. Because of that, you should be the first one to wai when you approach someone who is your senior. This holds true even if they’re only slightly older than you. Being aware of your responsibility to initiate the wai-ing and greeting is especially important when you start teaching because you should wai to all of the Thai teachers upon arrival.
When you wai in response to someone younger than you, like a student, your hands can remain at chest level when you dip your head. If you’re greeting someone older than you, your thumbs should be chin level as you bow. The deepest wai is reserved for Buddha. You should wai to Buddha statues when you visit temples with your thumbs up to your nose.
Language tips when teaching English in Thailand
The best way to become fluent in another language is by immersing yourself in the country, so you might plan on studying Thai while you’re abroad. Unless you set a significant amount of time aside to learn the ins and outs of Thai and practice, you might not pick up as much as you anticipate.
The Thai language is super difficult to learn because it involves tones that determine the meaning of each word. As if it needed more complication, Thai also uses an alphabet that’s totally different from ours. It has 44 consonants and 15 vowel symbols that are combined to create 28 vowel sounds.
The tones are really what challenges me because even if I’m using the right word, I’m probably not using the correct tone. In English, the tone of our words is mostly determined by which ones we want to emphasize to convey a more precise meaning. Therefore, I still have no idea how Thai people even understand each other’s tones while they’re also emotive, and I only know enough Thai to get by!
There isn’t really a way to say “please” in Thai. Instead, there’s a word you add to the end of phrases to make your statements, questions, and requests polite. If you’re female, you add the word “ka” (pronounced “kah”) after your thought, and if you’re male, you say “krap” (pronounced “klahp”) at the ends of your sentences. Krap is sometimes pronounced with an “r” and other times with more of an “l” sound. It’s really a mixture of the two for the correct sound.
There are four phrases that I think everyone should know. Disclaimer: There aren’t really official spellings for Thai words in English so you might see these written other ways during your time in Thailand.
- Hello = sawasdee ka/krap = suh-waa-dee-kah/klahp
- Thank you = kap khun ka/krap.= cop-koon-kah/klahp
- Don’t want = mai ow ka/krap = my-ow-kah/klahp
- Foreigner = farang = fuh-lahng or fuh-rahng
I include “don’t want” because popular cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai have big markets that are awesome to browse but full of annoying vendors who are desperate to make sales. I’ve found that if you say the equivalent of “no, thank you” in Thai, they stop hawking their merchandise to laugh about how a foreigner or farang knows that phrase long enough for you to walk past. “Farang” is useful to know because Thai people almost always refer to Westerners as such.
Appropriate dress for teaching in Thailand
Like in America, teachers in Thailand are expected to dress a certain way. Generally, you will be required to wear high-necked blouses that cover your shoulders and knee-length skirts. Many schools also ask teachers to wear closed-toed shoes, like ballet flats or slip-ons. Some ESL teachers go overseas with maxi skirts, which do fit the dress code, but most Thai teachers opt for pencil skirts. Male teachers should wear dress pants or khakis and polos or collared shirts.
Before I departed for Thailand, I bought a few pencil skirts and blouses at thrift stores for less than $10 each. I didn’t want to bring my nice business-like clothes because I knew I’d be traveling with them, sweating in them and washing them often. Additionally, I was hoping to leave my teaching clothes behind when I set off for my post-semester backpacking trip, so I wasn’t interested in bringing high-quality and expensive teaching outfits.
You can also find teaching clothes once you’re in Thailand that will be pretty cheap compared to clothing prices in the U.S. However, they’re not usually well-made garments so they will pill and look worn out pretty quickly, especially if you do laundry often. If you’re curvy or tall, you might have a harder time finding clothes in Thailand because they’re usually quite tiny.
Those who live in a small town where it’s common to encounter your students and their families outside of school, you should wear modest clothes around town during evenings and weekends, as well. Teachers are well respected in Thai society and should demonstrate professionalism. I personally lived in a larger city where people embraced Western style with short skirts, tank tops, and other summery outfits.
When you’re traveling on weekends, feel free to dress however you’d like, as long as you’re away from where you teach. The best way to determine your Thai wardrobe is by taking fashion cues from the locals when you arrive in your new town.
A great place to teach English
While Thailand is more commonly thought of as a place to visit, there are thousands of Westerners living throughout the country, and a good portion of them teach English. As measured by job opportunities and work conditions, Thailand is not the easiest or most attractive TEFL market, but there remain plenty of opportunities to teach English in Thailand. However, I know hardly anybody who regrets having stayed there on a “paid vacation”.
It is a beautiful piece of the earth that has something to offer for everyone. There is an abundance of affordable luxuries that make the Land of Smiles impossible to forget: sun, sand, beer and great dining, not to mention a host of other cliches. When you board the plane home, wherever it may be, you leave a part of you in Thailand.