Vietnam is one of the rising stars in TEFL industry – rich culture, friendly people and low costs of living. Do you plan to teach English in Vietnam, want to learn the requirements and challenges? Read this report and get a head start for teaching English in Vietnam.
How cool would it be to live and teach English in Vietnam? The cost of living is cheap, the people are nice, the pay is relatively good, and the entire country is endowed with a majestic landscape which includes some of the best beaches in the world, luscious green mountains and mystic rivers.
Vietnam is a country of traditional life in the villages and bustling modernity in the cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. On top of that, Vietnam continues to have one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It is no wonder that there are plenty of English teaching opportunities throughout the country. Besides, for adventure-seeking Westerners, teaching English in Vietnam has a lot of surprises in store.
My boss described Vietnam perfectly on my first day of work; “it’s organized chaos, it looks like we’re doing whatever we want, but there are unwritten rules”. This stuck with me throughout my first few weeks of living here as I tried my best to learn the ropes. I just about managed to dodge the roads of suicide jockeys, make out money full of endless zeros and survive the dangerously strong coffee. I could hardly believe that such a crazy place could follow any structure at all.
However, as time went on, I began to realize that these unwritten rules exist everywhere, even ones when teaching English in Vietnam. At this moment in my life, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to live in Vietnam and teach as a way to support myself. It has been a great experience, and I would like to share some things that I’ve learned so far. If you are looking to teach English in Vietnam, here are a few tips to follow.
Teaching English in Vietnam – what qualifications do I need?
The essential qualification for teaching in Vietnam is a degree. It doesn’t matter what subject it’s in, it could be in Witchcraft and Wizardry for all your employers care, as long as you’ve got it. The second most important factor, which unfortunately is not a qualification at all, is being a native English speaker. This is not to say that if you are a non-native English speaker with perfect English you can’t find teaching work, but unfortunately, you will find it harder than others.
The consensus these days seems to be that you need at least a 120-hour TEFL or TESOL certificate to teach in Vietnam. This is not coming from the schools so much, but immigration, for the most part, is requiring teachers to show proof of a 120-hour TEFL course along with the other documents before they will process your visa. There are a couple of reputable companies that request these qualifications, such as ILA Vietnam and British Council, but there’s much more competition to secure these jobs.
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How to get a visa to teach English in Vietnam
To teach English in Vietnam legally, you have to enter the country on a business visa and, once you have your work contract, convert it into a work permit. You will need the following documents to obtain a work visa:
- college/university diploma (proof of your degree)
- TEFL certificate
- FBI background check
- three passport photos
Your employer will support these additional documents:
- Local health check
- Local police check
- Permit Stay
Please note, that the Vietnamese immigration office will require originals or notarized copies of all your documents. Before you sign a work contract, hash out with your school, whether they will support you in the process and which costs will be reimbursed. You can find more detailed instructions about the Vietnam visa application process here.
It’s up to you whether you want to prepare everything at home and apply for a business visa on arrival, or come to Vietnam as a tourist, bring all your documents to Vietnam, find a job and apply for a business visa from there. After approval of your business visa, you can simply st re-enter the country on your new visa.
Many, if not the majority of English teachers in Vietnam choose the latter option. What I would do is apply for jobs from your home country and have some interviews lined up for the first couple of weeks that you arrive in the country. Unless it seems like a really good gig, you might not want to take the first job thrown your way.
Keep in mind that acquiring your work permit regularly can take up to six months. I would advise having at least $3,000 to $5,000 to cover your expenses until you receive your first paycheck. To prolong your 90-day tourist visa or convert it into a business visa, you must do a visa run, leave and re-enter Vietnam. Depending on how frugal you are, the whole process can cost about $250 with flights to, e.g. Bangkok, overnight accommodation and the actual visa itself.
Is teaching English in Vietnam on a tourist visa possible?
Though technically illegal, many EFL teachers decide to take the unofficial route and work in Vietnam under the table. Some language centres even will not provide you with a work permit. It’s up to you to decide, if you can handle, do your job and enjoy life under that kind of uncertainty.
You will have to do a visa run every three months, which may eat up a pretty amount of your savings. On the bright side, it’s an excellent excuse to travel.
Can you teach in Vietnam without a four-year degree?
Yes, you can teach there without a degree, but you will have a harder time finding work and you will be locked out of many of the higher paying jobs. It will also be immensely harder if not impossible to get a proper work visa without a degree. You can take the tourist visa route and do regular visa runs, with all the mentioned downsides.
How do I find a job to teach English in Vietnam?
Teaching jobs are frequently advertised on Facebook groups such as Hanoi Massive and Expats in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). If you introduce yourself as an available teacher on one of these groups, then you’re likely to get at least three responses from schools by the end of the day. There are also a few websites devoted to job hunting including The New Hanoian and Vietnam Works, and a large number of TEFL job boards.
Although teachers are in high demand and finding work is easy, finding reliable employers is not quite as simple. Most people I know have had fantastic experiences teaching Vietnam, but there is also a healthy supply of stories from nightmare jobs. I recommend researching companies online, speaking to other teachers who work there and taking your time to test-drive employment before signing a contract.
What is teaching English like in Vietnam?
Teaching hours vary vastly, depending on what kind of job you take. Full-time work at a language centre is usually 10-15 hours a week on evenings and weekends. Whereas, full-time work at a school is generally 20-25 hours a week during the day, Monday to Friday. Though, it’s worth remembering that you will often spend a considerable amount of time planning your lessons outside of classroom hours.
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There is a broad range of ages available to teach, but adult classes are a little harder to come by. Class sizes can be anywhere between 5 and 40 students, and classrooms usually have plenty of facilities, such as touch-screen boards, games and books. You will also have a Vietnamese teaching assistant to help you in almost all your lessons.
I have found the students here are incredibly energetic, loving and competitive. They have a great sense of humour but take a little prompting to think creatively. There will be days when they can’t keep focus, but this is usually because the students are worked very hard here, with hours of homework and extra classes after school.
The main down-side of teaching English in Vietnam is that communication and organisation are not great. In fact, it’s pretty horrendous. You will often be sent lesson plans the night before, or not at all, and your schedule can change without any notice.
The salaries for ESL teachers in Vietnam
Rates vary depending on where you work and what you teach. The average wage for teachers in large cities like Hanoi or HCMC is $20 per hour, though payment can be less in smaller towns. A private school may pay a bit more, and if you teach a specialised subject, like Math or Science (English), then you can earn up to $25.
Wages are even higher for university teachers, but you will be expected to have more qualifications and experience. Some schools will offer a monthly salary, rather than a rate per hour. Whether this is worth your while is purely down to the school and how much they choose to use you.
In general, most teachers earn $1000-$2000 per month which leads to an extremely comfortable lifestyle in Vietnam. It is possible to eat out regularly, take weekends away and save a significant amount of money on this salary. If you are just starting off and teaching at a typical language school, you can probably expect to earn a salary of $1,000 per month. It might just take a little more networking and experience to get better-paying positions.
Also, keep in mind that there are plenty of private teaching gigs available on the side that pay anywhere from $10 to $20 per hour. You could also teach English online a few extra hours per week to subsidise your income or do other non-teaching online work.
Cost of living in Vietnam
Compared to back home, the cost of living is significantly lower. Even though you won’t be earning a huge salary, many teachers can live comfortably and save anywhere from $500 to $1,000per month.
It just depends on your lifestyle, eating and drinking habits and being able to work a side gig into your schedule. Best of all, you have the chance to do all that while having the experience of living in Vietnam, which is a really cool thing in itself.
We all know that money is essential, and you want to have savings to be able to visit home and travel every so often, but also don’t let that get in the way of experiencing the country and travelling to different places throughout Vietnam and Southeast Asia while you are there.
Below are some samples to give you a better idea of the cost of living in Vietnam.
- One-bedroom apartment: $250 to $400 per month
- Fitness club: $25 per month
- Domestic beer at a bar: $1.50
- Internet service: $12 per month
- Inexpensive meal: $1.50 to $2.00
- One-way local bus: 35 cents
As you can see, it is fairly inexpensive to live in Vietnam. If you are making $1,500 a month, then you are doing a lot better most of the Vietnamese. However, I would advise having at least a couple of thousand dollars in savings when you first start teaching just for some walking around money and in case of an emergency.
Accommodation in Vietnam
It’s relatively easy to find accommodation in Vietnam. Once again, Facebook groups are the best place to find apartments. A room will usually cost $250-$400 per month, as mentioned above, depending on whether you rent an apartment, house or a room in shared accommodation. Utilities are generally not included in the price but will usually be between $50-$100 per month, depending on usage.
Estate agents will almost always show you things out of your price range, but it is not unusual to haggle for a lower price. You will often be required to pay one month rent as a deposit and, if you are renting short term, you may be asked to pay three months´ rent up-front.
Start your adventure teaching English in Vietnam!
At the beginning of this article, I said there are a lot of unwritten rules in Vietnam, as well as within the teaching world itself. This article should have informed you about a few of the basics, though, as with any foreign country, the learning curve is never ending here. Vietnam is relatively new in the world of TEFL and therefore constantly changing and adapting. You have to take things as they come here and use your judgment carefully.
Overall, I’d say Vietnam is not the easiest country to teach in, but it’s one of the most rewarding, fun and surprising options out there. If you are an open-minded, flexible and confident person, Vietnam is a fantastic place to teach.