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Living and Teaching English in Vietnam
Living a Day at a Time in Small-Town Vietnam

Opportunities in Vietnam

Demand for Learning English Means Ample Jobs for Teachers

Contemporary Vietnam combines an ancient, Chinese-derived peasant culture with surprising French, Russian, and even American influences. Despite accelerating modernization, the countryside remains staggeringly beautiful. One of the country’s most striking characteristics is the youthfulness of the population: well over half of Vietnam’s 90 million-plus people were born after 1975. This young population, combined with the overwhelming desirability of English as a job qualification, has created an enormous demand for learning English, and there are now plentiful opportunities for English teachers.

Teaching at Private Institutes

Most expatriate English teachers work for private schools. There are many of these, probably up to 200 in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) alone. Most classes are in general English, although specialized classes (e.g., TOEFL preparation and business English) are also common. The quality of these schools varies; however, a praiseworthy characteristic of schools here is that you will never encounter problems with receiving your agreed-upon pay.

Partly to evade Vietnamese income tax regulations, most schools will not give teachers as many hours as they would like. The universal solution to this dilemma is to work at two or more schools simultaneously; this allows a teacher to live comfortably while still remaining below the threshold where paying tax is required.

Working at a private institute will generally require a B.A. (in any subject) and a TEFL certificate (experience also helps). Most Vietnamese are socially conservative, making it important to have a neat, clean-cut appearance at your interview. Business dress is always required for teaching, except private tutoring. Finally, although employers will want to see original diplomas and certificates, I have found photocopies are usually acceptable.

Other Teaching Opportunities

Those with experience working with young children can consider kindergartens. Foreign teachers are employed to teach the children their ABCs and other basics. Usually, kindergartens require an early childhood credential of some kind, (e.g., a B.A. in education specializing in child development); however, this seems to be somewhat flexible.

While international school jobs are the creme-de-la-creme of Vietnamese teaching positions in terms of pay and benefits, they are also the most difficult to obtain. Generally, you need a B.Ed. and an official teaching credential (e.g., a California state teaching certificate). Also, the schools typically recruit overseas rather than hire locally. There are exceptions, though; for example, if a school needs a teacher on an emergency basis it may hire in-country.

Lastly, there is private tutoring, which I personally prefer. The number of potential students is huge, and the number of ways to find them equally so. Many teachers find that most of their clients are the children of expatriates. There are many Koreans and Japanese working in Vietnam, and they almost always want their children to learn English. Posting notices at the housing complexes where expatriates live is one effective way to find such students.

Living in Vietnam

Work visas are not a problem. Tourist visas can be converted to work visas without leaving the country. Temporary housing in a mini-hotel is easy to find in the tourist areas. For the long term, most teachers will want to rent a room or a house. Certain areas appear to be licensed to rent to foreigners (for example, the Le Thanh Ton/Thai Van Lung area in HCMC—the former Saigon), and teachers living elsewhere have found themselves abruptly asked to move by the police. This problem seems to have abated in recent years, but it is still advisable to ask around before you rent anywhere off the beaten track.

Transportation comes in many forms: the famous cyclos (bicycle taxis) are a slow, cheap way to see Vietnamese cities; taxis are inexpensive and easy to find; Hanoi has trolley cars; and HCMC is even building a subway system. The public buses, while greatly improved recently, are still not very useful compared to other Asian countries. The most popular option is the motorbike. “Honda om,” or “motorcycle taxis,” are available on every street corner. Most long-term residents will want to rent or purchase a motorbike. While “motos” are quite dangerous, they are so much more convenient than the other options that most teachers use them anyway.

Dining is one of the best aspects of living in Vietnam. Besides the healthy, delicious, and incredibly cheap Vietnamese food, HCMC and Hanoi offer an amazing plethora of ethnic dining options, and foreign cuisines are almost always authentically prepared. With dozens of restaurants that deliver at no extra charge, it is practically possible to go on a culinary adventure tour without ever leaving your apartment.

Which City?

The vast majority of teachers will want to work in either HCMC or the capital, Hanoi. Since 1975, Saigon has evolved into the business capital of Vietnam, whereas Hanoi is the political and cultural capital. While some people see the commercial frenzy of Saigon as overwhelming, I personally prefer it and find the Saigonese to be more open-minded and straightforward than their compatriots up north. Hanoi certainly has its virtues, though: it is a beautiful city, set around multiple lakes, with a thriving art scene. However, Saigon has become a much more attractive city since I first arrived, and—for reasons beyond the scope of this article—single teachers interested in dating Vietnamese nationals would be well advised to head south.

It is possible to find work in other towns; I am aware of teachers working in Danang, Hue and Vung Tau, and these days, one can probably find at least a handful of foreign teachers in all the major cities. Like everywhere else in the world, the smaller towns are quieter, safer, and less polluted; but there are also far fewer things to do when one isn’t teaching.

The EFL scene in Vietnam is in constant flux. Teachers heading for Vietnam should look at the Vietnam entries on Dave’s ESL Cafe (www.daveseslcafe.com) for current feedback and discussions on various Vietnamese schools and related questions.

Editor's note: Generally, salaries currently (2013) vary between $1000-$2000 a month when working for 2 schools, and sometimes more, for a 30-40 hour week, with many paying by hourly rate. Additional money can be made on the side teaching 1-on-1 should you have the time and energy. This is often the case with salaries in Southeast Asia in general, but as the author noted, the job scene for English teachers in Vietnam is in "constant flux." See our ESL job feed for Southeast Asia for Teaching options in Vietnam.

For More Info

Ho Chi Minh City (Visit websites and contact schools to confirm latest information)

School Name Type Website Qualifications
British Council HCMC UK gov't organization www.britishcouncil.org BA, Trinity CELTA or equivalent, 2 years experience
British International School International school www.bisvietnam.com B.Ed., teaching certificate, TEFL a plus
International School of Ho Chi Minh City International school www.ishcmc.com B.Ed., teaching certificate, experience
Kinder-World International Kindergarten www.kinderworld.net B.Ed. Specializing in early childhood
Saigon South International School International school www.ssis.edu.vn B.Ed., teaching certificate, experience a plus, TEFL a plus
Vietnam-USA Society English Training Service Center (many branches in HCMC) Private institute www.vus.edu.vn/en BA, TEFL, experience a plus

Hanoi (Visit websites and contact schools to confirm latest information)

School Name Type Website Qualifications
British Council UK gov't organization www.britishcouncil.org/ BA, Trinity CELTA or equivalent, 2 years experience
Kinderworld Kindergarten www.kinderworld.net Early childhood certificate, references
Language Link Center Private institute llv.edu.vn/en/ BA, TEFL/TESOL, native speaker, experience a plus
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