Teaching English in Asia
Where and How to Find ESL Jobs
Despite the rumors, a native’s
knowledge of the English language is not an automatic passport
to employment anywhere abroad. It can, however, be put to
profitable use in many Asian countries. In Korea, Taiwan,
Japan, Thailand and, increasingly, China a high proportion
of the population are eager for tuition from English speakers.
A university degree in any subject is the only prerequisite,
though in some cases just a degree of enthusiasm will suffice.
Most foreign teachers work as employees
of privately-run language institutes whose owners are often
much more interested in maximizing profits than in maintaining
high educational standards. Working as a self-employed private
tutor is more lucrative than teaching at an institute but
normally requires considerable experience of the market
and suitable premises from which to work.
Teachers must be prepared to face a
range of problems and disappointments—from the high
cost of housing in Japan to ingrained racist attitudes in
many quarters—and a resistance to innovation. However,
with tact and perseverance it is possible to overcome some
of the obstacles encountered by new arrivals.
Persuading shy or under-confident students
to speak in class will be a challenge in many Asian contexts.
Like teachers the world over, those who can make their classes
fun and can encourage students to use the English they already
know, however limited, get the best results and find the
job more rewarding.
China: An Explosion of Private
The Chinese nation is huge and hungry
for the English language. For two decades there has been
a flow of native speakers from the West to teach at schools
and academic institutions around the country. But the past
few years have seen a remarkable explosion in the number
of private language institutes and companies, something
that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. The
emerging middle class aspires to send their children for
private tuition just as in the capitalist countries of Taiwan,
Korea, and Japan. So a great many opportunities are opening
up and are being advertised abroad especially via the Internet.
For example, check en.chinatefl.com for
The eagerness to import English teachers
continues unabated in provincial academic institutes. Many
middle schools and normal schools (teacher training colleges)
have trouble filling teaching posts and turn to foreign
recruitment organizations like CIEE which
place U.S. nationals in their Teach
in China program. The Chinese Education Association
for International Exchange (CEAIE), en.ceaie.edu.cn recruits
for institutes of higher education. CEAIE cooperates with
Chinese embassies in the west.
Requirements for teaching posts in
China are not always stringent: a university degree is often
sufficient and teaching experience counts for more than
formal training. In many cases teachers receive free airfare,
a local salary, and perks. Wages are best in the big cities
(Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai) where there are scores
of English schools. But many teachers feel that the drawbacks
of Chinese city life are so great that they prefer to work
in the provinces for less money. The western provinces like
Yunnan are more pleasant and less money-mad than the east
coast cities. Once you get a job make sure the school sorts
out the various permits for which you are eligible, particularly
a teacher’s card that permits half-price rail travel.
Ask for help in obtaining a temporary residence so you can
avoid the tedious and expensive necessity of renewing your
Indonesia: Foreign Teachers Receive
Ten Times Local Wage
The world’s fifth most populous
nation, Indonesia, has been rapidly recovering from the
political and economic instability that rocked the country
at the end of the 1990s. The major language schools survived
the crisis and continue to be staffed by foreign teachers.
Big companies and rich individuals support about a dozen
large schools that can afford to hire trained foreign teachers
and pay them about ten times the local wage. Unlike in Thailand
and Korea, beginners lacking the appropriate background
or training will have to confine their job search to the
locally-run back-street schools. The best teaching prospects
in Indonesia are for those who have completed some TESL
training and are willing to sign a 12- or 18-month contract.
Contracts tend to start in July or October. Most jobs are
in Jakarta, though there are also schools in Surabaya, Bandung,
Yogayakarta, and Solo (among others). Jobs are occasionally
advertised in the Jakarta Post or Indonesian
Observer. Schools are willing to hire teachers
with either a British or North American accent.
Visas are an issue whatever the nationality.
Work permit regulations are rigidly adhered to in Indonesia,
and all the established schools will apply for a visa permit
on your behalf. You must submit your CV, teaching certificate,
and other documents to the Indonesian Ministry of
Education, the Cabinet Secretariat,
and the Immigration/Manpower Developments.
English teachers must have English as their first language
and be nationals of the U.S., Canada, Britain, Australia,
or New Zealand. With more informal teaching positions it
is necessary to leave the country every two months (normally
a day trip to Singapore).
Most schools pay between six and eight
million rupiahs (net) per month ($600-$800) and some offer
free accommodation alongside the salary, which permits a
Japan: The Financial Rewards
Can Be Considerable
For decades, North Americans have been
tempted to spend a year or two working in the land where
English commands an almost reverential respect. The demand
for language tuition remains strong, although recession
in the late 1990s resulted in the closure of some major
companies when fewer Japanese people were willing to pay
for expensive English lessons. Consequently, competition
for teaching jobs has become more acute. Be prepared to
spend a sizeable sum of money while conducting the job hunt
because of the high cost of living in Japanese cities. But
many people persevere because of their commitment to an
extended stay in Japan and also because of the potential
earnings. Once established, the financial rewards can be
Japanese people of all ages eagerly
sign up for lessons, especially evening classes, held in
schools, town halls, and offices. “Conversation lounges” or “voice
rooms” are popular among young adults who simply want
to converse or socialize with a native speaker. These can
have a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere, though they do not
pay well and are probably unsatisfactory for serious English
The most common means of recruitment
after the internet—on websites such as www.ohayosensei.com—is
by advertising in English language newspapers, especially
the Japan Times on Mondays and, to a lesser
extent, Kansai Time Out magazine www.kto.co.jp and Metropolis metropolis.co.jp.
To shine over the competition, you
must be prepared when you present yourself to a potential
employer. Dress as impeccably and conservatively as possible.
Take along (preferably in a smart briefcase) your undergraduate
diplomas plus any other education certificates you have
earned and a well-produced resume that does not err on the
side of modesty. Be prepared at the interview to be tested
or to be asked to teach a demonstration lesson.
Anyone arriving in Tokyo to conduct
a speculative job hunt should go straight to one of the
dozens of “gaijin houses,” relatively
cheap long-stay hostels for foreigners, listed in guidebooks
or the glossy monthly The Tokyo Journal. Popular gaijin houses
will be full of new or nearly new arrivals chasing teaching
jobs. Because rents in Tokyo are virtually prohibitive,
some foreign teachers stay in gaijin houses throughout their
Most Americans enter Japan on a 90-day
tourist visa and then begin the job hunt. The best times
are late March and August. The key to obtaining a work visa
is to have a sponsoring full-time employer in Japan. If
you are hired by a school or company able to offer a full
timetable, your employer must take your documents to the
Immigration Office for processing within six weeks. Technically,
you are not supposed to work until this process is complete,
but most schools seem to get you working immediately. Once
your visa is confirmed, you must leave the country and apply
to a Japanese
embassy abroad for your tourist visa to be
changed. You can do this in 48 hours in Seoul. The government
of Japan will not give work permits to anyone without a
A third visa option is a “cultural
visa.” To qualify, you must be able to prove that
you are studying something Japanese like flower arranging,
Shiatsu massage, martial arts, or the Japanese language.
If you want to arrange a teaching job
in advance, the best bet is the government’s JET
(Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program. Each year, more
than 6,000 foreign language assistants from 40 countries
receive 1-year renewable contracts to work in private and
state junior and senior high schools. Anyone with a university
degree who is under 40 is eligible to apply. The program
is fairly competitive, partly because of the generous salary
of ¥3,600,000 (about $44,000) in addition to a free
return air ticket on completing a contract.
A number of large private organizations
recruit abroad. Most pay at least ¥250,000 ($3,000 per
month). A major chains to look out for is ECC (for these
and others see below).
Korea: Competition for Teaching
Jobs Less Acute Than in Japan
The demand for native speaker English
teachers in Korea far outstrips the supply, so competition
for jobs is much less acute in Korea than in Japan. More
than two-thirds of the work available is teaching young
children and adolescents so any native speaker with experience
of or just enthusiasm for working with children will have
a large choice of job offers. Language institutes advertise
for teachers on a host of websites and also in the English
language press, principally the Korean Times and Korean
Herald. The bias in favor of North American accents
helps in the job search and Canadian teachers are particularly
in demand, with several recruitment agencies based in Canada
actively looking for university graduates willing to give
teaching a go for a year, for example Asia-Pacific
A typical package available through
recruiters in exchange for signing a contract to teach a
minimum of 120 hours a month is a salary of 1,800,000-2,400,000
won ($1,650-$2,200), return airfare, free accommodations,
paid holidays, medical insurance, and a bonus on completion
of the contract. It is a requirement of the E2 visa that
teachers have a four-year degree or a 3-year degree plus
Jobs are easiest to find at hogwons
(language schools) in the Chongro district of Seoul, in
Pusan, and in the smaller cities. The minimum qualifications
are fluency in English, a bachelor’s degree, and a
positive attitude. Berlitz Korea hires
dozens of teachers at its schools, while Ding Ding
Dang Children’s English also hires 50 native
speaker teachers for 18 franchised schools throughout Korea.
The English in Korea Program (EPIK) is
a scheme run by the Ministry of Education to place more
than 1,500 native speakers in schools and education offices.
The monthly salary is between 1.7 and 2.1 million won plus
accommodations, roundtrip airfare, medical insurance, and
Some neophyte teachers who arrange
their jobs while still in North America wish they had waited
until arrival in Seoul before committing themselves to a
school. Often better wages and working conditions can be
negotiated in person. Twelve-month contracts normally include
a sizeable bonus, so it is in the teacher’s interest
to complete the contract. For new arrivals who have not
prearranged a job, a good place to pick up information is
from the formums of Dave’s
ESL Café .
Private tutoring normally requires
traveling to the clients, though in Seoul this is less stressful
than in Japan since the subway stops are announced in English.
Most people who have taught in Korea report that the students
are friendly and eager to learn but the hogwan owners are
more interested in profit than in honoring their promises
and even contracts with native speaker teachers. As a general
rule be suspicious of anything that sounds like a dream
contract. Lessons are not generally strenuous since the
emphasis is on conversation rather than grammar.
Taiwan: Requirement Is a
College Degree and a Certificate
It has been said that the only requirement
for being hired as an English teacher in Taiwan are a college
degree. Increasingly, there is a requirement for some form
of certificate such as a TEFL, CELTA or TESOL. Despite changes
in immigration legislation which have made it more difficult
for foreigners to undertake private tutoring, the demand
for college-educated native speaking teachers who are prepared
to stay for at least one year is huge. Many of the hundreds
of private children’s language institutes (as in Korea,
the children’s ESL market predominates), cram schools
(called buhsibans) and also some state secondary schools
are keen to sponsor foreign teachers for the necessary visas.
The requirements for a working permit
include the original of your university diploma, health
certificates issued in Taiwan (including an HIV test and
chest X-ray), and a 1-year contract signed by your employer.
This must be done within the 60-day validity of your Visitor
Visa. With the working permit you can obtain a resident
visa and ARC (Alience Resident Certificate). The American
accent is invariably preferred, especially in the capital
Taipei. Yet not everyone wants to stay in Taipei where the
air pollution is second only to that of Mexico City; the
traffic congestion is appalling, and the rents are high.
Jobs are plentiful in the other cities of Taiwan such as
Kaohsiung, Taichung, and Tainan. The majority of schools
pay at least NTD$550-600 ($18-$20) per hour, and quite a
few pay NTD$650-$700 or more after a teacher has proved
him or herself. Fees for private tuition are considerably
To see which schools are hiring, see
the tealit.com website.
Recruiting agents can be tracked down, such as Reach
Thailand: Teaching Jobs Are
While Bangkok absorbs an enormous number
of English teachers, both trained and untrained, there is
also demand in the other cities such as Hat Yai, Chiang
Mai in the north, and Songkhla in the south, where there
is less competition for work. Not much teacher recruitment
takes place outside Thailand. Even Thai universities and
teachers’ colleges, as well as private business colleges,
all of which have EFL departments, depend on finding native-speaking
In short, anyone who is determined
to teach in Thailand and prepared to go there to look for
work is virtually guaranteed to find opportunities. Finding
language schools to approach is not a problem. Most new
arrivals in Bangkok start with the English language yellow
pages. Job vacancy notices appear in the English language
press: The Bangkok Post and The Nation. Popular hostels
often have bulletin boards with job notices and other information
for foreigners. The best place to start the actual job hunting
is around Siam Square and the Victory Monument where language
schools and institutes abound. Check the Teaching in Thailand
website www.ajarn.com for
the best inside information on potential employers.
First impressions are important throughout
Asia. Dress smartly for interviews. A professional-looking
resume and references help. University graduates (ajarn)
are highly respected in Thailand and are expected to look
respectable. At your interviews, be prepared to undergo
a grammar test. As usual, it may be necessary to start with
part-time and occasional work with several employers, aiming
to build up 20-30 hours in the same area to minimize traveling
in the appalling traffic conditions of Bangkok (smog masks
are cheap and a wise investment).
The busiest season for English schools
is mid-March to mid-May during the school holidays, when
many secondary school and university students take extra
tuition in English. This coincides with the hot season.
The next best time to look for work in private schools is
October. The worst time is January and February.
Working as a self-employed private
tutor pays better than working for a commercial school,
but tutoring jobs are hard to set up until you have been
settled in one place for a while and found out how to tap
into the local elite community. Placing an ad for private
pupils in English language papers often works. Possible
venues for would-be teachers include hotels where a native
speaker is needed to organize conversation classes for staff.
The vast majority of EFL teachers in
Thailand do not have a work visa, and this seems to cause
no serious problems. At present, foreigners mostly teach
on a tourist visa or (preferably) a non-immigrant visa.
So far a crackdown, threatened by the authorities, has not
happened. Universities and established language schools
may be willing to apply for a work permit on behalf of teachers
who have proved themselves successful in the classroom and
who are willing to sign a 1-year contract. To be eligible
for a work permit you must have a minimum of a BA and, in
most cases, a relevant teaching certificate. However, most
teachers simply cross the border into Malaysia every three
months where a new visa can quickly and easily be obtained
from the Thai consulate.
In a country where teaching jobs are
so easy to come by, there has to be a catch—low wages.
The basic hourly rate in Bangkok is only about 250-300 baht
(less than $10), with a few schools paying less and some
promising considerably more, especially if travel to outside
locations is required. Rates outside Bangkok are lower.
By the same token, living expenses
are also low. Out of an average monthly salary of 25,000
baht ($815) teachers can expect to pay 4,000-5,000 baht
($130-$160) in rent, even in Bangkok. Tasty food can be
had from street stalls for a few baht, and more substantial
and exciting meals exploiting the area’s marvelous
fresh fish and fruit cost about $2-3. There is no reason
why even part-time teachers should not be able to afford
to travel around the country, including to the islands,
where life is slow and the beaches are wonderful.
South Asia: Paying Teaching
Jobs Scarce Because of Poverty
In contrast to Thailand and Indonesia,
it is generally not easy to find work as an English teacher
in countries between Pakistan and the Phillipines. Poverty
is the main reason for the small market for expatriate teachers.
Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei, which are relatively wealthy,
mainly turn to Britain for teachers.
However, those foreigners prepared
to finance themselves and volunteer their time can find
eager students simply by asking around in Sri Lanka, India,
and (especially) Nepal. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and even
the pariah state of Myanmar are developing a range of commercial
institutes devoted to English language teaching. In Vietnam,
the many teaching opportunities continue to grow in quantity
as trade and tourism expands and the need for English speakers
increases. Cambodia is
also now offering many opportunities.
Nepal is a more promising destination
than India for short-term English teachers willing to work
for low wages. Insight
Nepal has a Placement for Volunteer Service Work program
in which volunteers are allocated to primary and secondary
schools in different areas of the country for between three
and four months to teach English, science, and sports. Starting
dates are in February, August, and October. The participation
fee covers pre-orientation and a one-week village or trekking
excursion; the host village provides food and accommodations.
for Teaching English in China
| Amity Foundation
Christian organization which places native speaker
teachers in schools and colleges.
Abroad Teach in China Program, Marshall
Univ., Center for International
Programs, 1 John Marshall Drive, Huntington,
WV 25755; 304-696-6265, fax 304-696-6353; firstname.lastname@example.org, www.marshall.edu/gochina.
Thirty graduates per year teach English at
public and private K-12 schools and higher
education institutions mainly in Shanghai
Education Group, Buckland ESL Hostel,
P.O. Box 555, Yanshuo Guilin, China 541900;
011-86-13307732755; email@example.com, www.bucklandgroup.org.
Recruits native speakers of English to offer
conversation teaching for five or 11 months
in different areas of China.
Council, 4556 Apple Way, Boulder,
CO 80301; 303-443-1108; www.asiacouncil.org.
Graduates and others from the U.S. are placed
as teachers at institutes throughout summer
and year-rount in China.
EF English First China, www.englishfirst.com/trt/,
offers training and contract to work in many locations
Ready to Learn, www.readytolearn.com.hk in
Hong Kong. Employs native speakers with college
Brattle Square, Suite 550, Cambridge, MA
02138, USA; tel. 857.259.6646 ext. 201, fax
857.259.6638, www.worldteach.org. Volunteer
teaching program at language camps for Chinese
high school students both summer and year-long.
See the website for costs.
for Teaching English in Indonesia
| EF English First
Number of teachers: nearly 500 for 50 schools throughout
Indonesia. Preference of nationality: British,
Canadian, Australian, American or New Zealanders
only (due to work visa restrictions). Qualifications:
TEFL/ TESL certificate indicating 120 hours of
classwork and observed, evaluated practice teaching.
Experience, documentation and references may be
submitted in lieu of the certificate. Conditions
of employment: 12-month contracts.
Executive English Programs
for Teaching English in Japan
| AEON International
Local branches hire native speaker teachers
Language Institute, www.ecc.co.jp.
Offices in Osaka and Nagoya also. Over 300
teachers recruited in Japan only.
Interac Co Ltd, www.interacnetwork.com/recruit/.
Branches recruit most of their 280 teachers
Westgate Corporation, firstname.lastname@example.org; www.westgate.co.jp.
Provides native English instructors mostly to its
client universities in the Kanto area (including
Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba and other prefectures)
as well as some other areas in Japan.
for Teaching English in Korea
in Korea (EPIK), www.epik.go.kr.
North American applicants for teaching posts
in schools and education offices through
the Ministry of Education should contact
their nearest Korean Consulate for information.
Scheme is not usually over-subscribed.
Consulting Canada, www.iloveesl.com.
Recruits teachers on behalf of some of the
90 Wonderland Language Institutes.
Division for children’s language schools
is called YBM/Sisa or YBM/ECC; www.ybmsisa.com.
for Teaching English in Taiwan
| Kojen English Language
From 200-300 teachers in 3 main cities.
Hess Educational Organization, www.hess.com.tw.
Website gives email addresses of overseas recruiters.
Specializes in teaching children including kindergarten-age.
400 Native Speaking Teachers (NSTs) must be college
graduates. Very structured teaching program and
Consulting Company, www.iacc.com.tw.
Currently expanding number of teachers.
for Teaching English in Thailand
| American University
Employs 80 plus teachers in central Bangkok
and about 100 at other branches in 11 provinces,
mainly at universities. Applicants should have
a BA and be able to commit themselves to a six-week
stint. You can find more information about
other AUA branches all around Thailand also
available from the website.
ECC (Thailand), email@example.com, www.eccthai.com/jobs.asp.
Chain of language schools with 50 branches employing
native speaker teachers, who must have a
degree and at least six months teaching experience
or a CELTA entry level qualification.
SUSAN GRIFFITH is
co-editor of Work
Abroad and author of the book Teaching
English Abroad. See Susan's bio for
more information about her extensive bibliography or
to purchase her books.
Articles on Teaching English in Asia