Teaching English in Asia
Where and How to Find ESL Jobs
A woman in dress in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
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 very profitable use in many Asian countries. In South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, and Taiwan (aiming to be bilingual by 2030), and in immensely populated China, a high proportion of the population is eager for education from English speakers, with a shortage of around 100,000 English teachers post peak pandemic. A university degree in any subject is the main prerequisite, often a 4-6 week certificate in TEFL or CELTA. In some progressively rare cases, just a degree of enthusiasm will suffice.
Most foreign teachers work as employees of privately-run language institutes whose owners are sometime more interested in maximizing profits than maintaining high educational standards. However, more and more agencies and programs protect teachers and participants while insisting on higher workplace standards, just as host countries insist on high-caliber teachers with qualifications. Both have their incentives, and the quality of instruction benefits all. Working as a self-employed private tutor is more lucrative than teaching at an institute but typically requires considerable experience in the market, even with remote teaching becoming the new norm for many due to the 2020 pandemic, which has yet to disappear entirely in any country.
Teachers must be prepared to face a range of challenges in some cases — from the high cost of housing in Japan to some remnants of ingrained racist attitudes in some quarters — and a resistance to innovation. However, with tact and perseverance, it is possible to overcome the obstacles encountered by teachers who are new arrivals.
Persuading shy or under-confident students to speak in class will be challenging in many Asian contexts. Like teachers worldwide, those who can make their lessons fun and 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
Important Note: There is currently a shortage of 100,000+ English teachers in China, but due to COVID, very few teachers wish to do so as yet, while few programs or agencies are actively recruiting.
The Chinese nation remains huge and hungry
for the English language. For decades, there has been a flow of native speakers from the West to teach at schools and academic institutions around the country. Before the pandemic of 2020, China saw 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, many opportunities for jobs teaching English in China are opening back up and being advertised, primarily via the web.
The eagerness to import English teachers
continues in provincial academic institutes. Many
middle schools and normal schools (teacher training colleges)
have trouble filling teaching posts. They turn to foreign
recruitment organizations like CIEE which places U.S. nationals
in their Teach in China programs.
Requirements for teaching posts in
China You must be between 18-60, have a university degree (B.A. in any subject), have TEFL certifications, and have over 100-120 hours of actual teaching in the classroom. Teachers often receive complimentary airfare, a local salary, and perks. Wages are best in the big cities (Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou), with scores of English schools. However, 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. As explained in the following article, the key is the steps involved in getting a valid z-visa. Ask
for help in obtaining a temporary residence so you can avoid
the tedious and expensive necessity of renewing your visa.
Indonesia: Foreign Teachers Receive
Ten Times the Local Wage
The world's fourth most populous nation, Indonesia (270 million), has been rapidly recovering from the political and economic instability that rocked the country at the end of the 1990s, natural disasters, and the pandemic. The primary language schools survived the crisis and continue to be staffed by foreign teachers. Big companies and wealthy 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 needing the appropriate background or training must confine their job search to locally-run back-street schools. The best teaching prospects in Indonesia are for those who have completed TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA training and have a B.A., preferably with some teaching experience. Most jobs are in Jakarta, though there are also schools in Bali, Surabaya, Bandung, and Yogyakarta (among others). Jobs are available at many private schools. Schools are willing to hire teachers with either a British or North American accent.
Getting a work permit and visa, is critical as with most countries. Visas are an issue, whatever the nationality. Work permit regulations are rigidly adhered to in Indonesia, with a KITAS necessary to be eligible to teach legally. Many established schools will apply for a visa permit on your behalf, but you must still get a visa to enter the country. English teachers must have English as their first language and be a citizen of the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or South Africa.
Most schools pay between six and eight
million rupiahs (net) per month (a mere $400-$500), with pay at international schools almost double. Some private schools offer convenient accommodations alongside your salary, which permits a more comfortable lifestyle, given the low cost of living, given the low cost of living.
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. Consequently, competition for teaching jobs has become acute. Be prepared to spend money while conducting the job hunt because of the high cost of living in Japanese cities. However, many people persevere because of their commitment to an extended stay in Japan and potential earnings. Once established, the financial rewards can be considerable.
Japanese people of all ages eagerly sign up for lessons, especially evening classes 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. However, they could pay better and be more satisfactory for serious English teachers.
The most common means of recruitment
after are internet job search sites such as Ohayosensei.com, GaijinPot Jobs, Job Listings | JALT Publications, JobsInJapan.com, and Job Center - ESL (eslcafe.com).
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, any other education certificates you have earned, and a well-produced resume that does not err on modesty. Be prepared to be tested or asked to teach a demonstration lesson at the interview.
Anyone arriving in Tokyo for 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 stay.
Most Americans enter Japan on a 90-day
tourist visa and then begin the Teaching 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. Suppose you are hired by a school or company able to offer a full timetable. In that case, 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. Still, most schools 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 university
A third visa option is a "cultural visa." To qualify, you must 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. 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 each year. Anyone with a university degree who is under 40 is eligible to apply. The program is reasonably competitive, partly because of the generous salary of ¥3,600,000 (about $44,000) and a free return air ticket on completing a contract.
Several large private organizations recruit abroad. Most pay at least ¥250,000 ($3,000 per month). A major chain to look out for is ECC (for these and for others, see below).
South 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 or enthusiasm for working with children will have a wide 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. 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.
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 2,000,000-2,600,000 won ($1,700-$2,300) and sometimes more, 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 a TEFL Certificate.
Jobs are most straightforward to find at hogwons (language schools) in the Chongro district of Seoul, in Busan, 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. At the same time, Ding Ding Dang Children's English also employs 50 native-speaker teachers for 18 franchised schools throughout Korea. The English in Korea Program (EPIK) is a scheme the Ministry of Education runs 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, round-trip airfare, medical insurance, and visa sponsorship.
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 usually include a sizable bonus, so completing the contract is in the teacher's interest. For new arrivals who have not prearranged a job, an excellent place to pick up information is from the job postings and forums of Dave's ESL Café.
Private tutoring typically requires traveling to the clients. However, in Seoul, the experience 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. Still, the hogwan owners are more interested in profit than in honoring their promises and even contracts with native-speaker teachers. Generally, be suspicious of anything that sounds like a dream contract. Lessons are not usually trying 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 is 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 some state secondary schools are keen to sponsor foreign teachers for the necessary visas. The American accent is invariably preferred, especially in the capital, Taipei
Without going too deep into the details of the paperwork trail, it is best to see the requirements for a working permit, which can be granted following various paths and requirements, depending upon whether you apply in and outside of the country, and other factors regarding how and where you apply.
Not not everyone wants to stay in the capital where the air pollution can be an issue, largely due to the traffic congestion which is appalling, and according to cost of rent and living are relatively high in Taipei according to Numbeo.
Jobs are also plentiful
in the other cities in Taiwan such as Kaohsiung, Taichung,
and Tainan. The majority of schools pay at least ($20-$25) per hour or $1800-$3000 a month, and pay may increase after teachers have proved themself. Fees for
private tuition are considerably higher.
To see which schools are hiring, see
the tealit.com website.
Recruiting agents can be found, such as Reach to Teach,
which has also recruits for jobs in Taiwan and South Korea.
Thailand: Teaching Jobs Are
Still Virtually Guaranteed
While Bangkok absorbs an enormous number of English teachers, 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. A decade ago, not much teacher recruitment took place outside Thailand. Even Thai universities, teachers' colleges, and private business colleges with EFL departments depended on finding native-speaking teachers locally. Recently, several agencies have advertised and recruited teaching jobs on the web.
the Ajarn Teaching in Thailand website for the some of best inside information about potential employers.
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, though for less pay than in South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan in general). Finding private language schools to approach is not a problem.
First impressions are important throughout Asia. Dress smartly for interviews. A professional-looking resume and references help. University graduates 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 travel in the awful traffic conditions of Bangkok (smog masks are a cheap and 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. Still, tutoring jobs are only feasible to set up once you have settled in one place for a while and learned 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.
Some EFL teachers in Thailand do not have a work visa, though that is not strictly speaking legal. You now do so at your own risk, as there have been crackdowns on that practice. A few foreigners teach on a tourist visa. Still, it is far preferable to seek the legal route of a non-immigrant B visa for peace of mind and as required by private and public schools. To be eligible for a work permit, you must have a minimum of a B.A. and a relevant teaching certificate, among other standard requirements for a non-immigrant B visa.
In a country where teaching jobs are easy to come by, given the enormous demand, there has to be a catch—low wages. The basic beginning monthly salary in Bangkok is only about 30,000-40,000 baht (US$850-$1100) and approximately $25-$80 (1000-3000 baht) if teaching on an hourly basis, with a few schools paying less and some considerably more if you have experience—especially when travel to outside locations is required. Rates outside Bangkok are often lower.
Living expenses are also relatively low, though rising. Out of an average monthly salary of 30,000-40,000 baht ($850-$1100), teachers can expect to pay ($300-$650) rent, depending on location outside or central Bangkok. Tasty food can be had from street stalls for a few U.S. dollars (video), and more substantial and exciting meals enjoying the area's marvelous fresh fish and fruit cost very little. See Numbeo.com for the cost of living in Bangkok for more detailed cost of living information. It is still possible for even part-time teachers to afford to travel around the country, including to the islands, where life is slow. The beaches are notoriously beautiful — even though over-tourism has truthfully had its effects — though life in the city is always more expensive.
Jobs in Vietnam and Cambodia are Increasing Rapidly
Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei, which
are relatively wealthy, mainly turn to Britain for teachers,
and the pay is good.
many teaching opportunities have evolved over the last two decades as trade and tourism expand. The demand for English speakers steadily increases (like all Asian countries, there was understandably a slowdown during the peak COVID-19 years). Searches for jobs in Vietnam turn up hundreds of options, many relatively well-paying. Cambodia is a great place to live and teach. The country has also been steadily offering many more opportunities as well. However, the pay could be better.
South Asia: Fewer Paying
Jobs Due to Poverty
In contrast to Thailand and Indonesia, it is generally challenging to find work as an English teacher in countries between Pakistan and the Philippines. Poverty is the main reason for the small market for paid expatriate teachers.
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 a Volunteer Service Work program. Volunteers are allocated to primary and secondary schools in different country areas for three to 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.
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. Laos and even Myanmar are developing a range of commercial institutes devoted to English language teaching.
Teaching English in Asia Organizations Operated out of North America
Footprints Recruiting, a very large recruiter operated out of Canada, offers paid positions in China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam in Asia as well as other countries worldwide.
CIEE places Americans in cultural exchange educational programs and provides paid teaching work in Asia, Teach in China, Teach in South Korea, and Teach in Thailand.
International TEFL Academy provides optional TEFL certification classes and guaranteed job placements in Korea, Myanmar, Thailand, and Japan.
to Teach recruits teachers for programs and paid positions in Taiwan and South Korea in Asia.
Teaching English in Japan
(Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program. The government program described in this article has thousands of year-long, well-paying positions.
Gaba operates over 40 schools in Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Fukuoka, and Osaka.
Greenheart Travel offers paid teaching positions in Japan.
branches recruiting ALTs, where you work in
elementary, junior high, and high schools throughout
International TEFL Academy Teach Abroad Program in Japan offers guaranteed 12-month job placements year-round in public schools as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) and at private English schools (Eikawas), with pay of $1,600 to $1,900 per month, visa and work permit support, Japanese cultural and language lessons, and the option to bundle a TEFL course, along with many other perks and guidance in
Corporation provides native English instructors primarily to its client universities in the Kanto area (including Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, and other prefectures) and some other regions in Japan.
Teaching English in Korea
Adventure Teaching: Teach English in Korea is an agency that places you with pre-school and high school age students across South Korea. You work with other English teachers with a starting salary of $1,700 a month for 22-30 teaching hours a week, and recieve 25 days of paid vacation and holidays. They offer free housing and paid airfare.
CIEE: Teach in South Korea in cultural exchange educational programs and provides paid teaching work in South Korea.
International TEFL Academy Teach Abroad Program in Korea offers guaranteed 12-month job placement earning $1,700 to $2,000 per month (with a contract completion bonus of $1,700 to $2000), visa and work permit support, Korean cultural and language lessons, $1,000 flight reimbursement, and the option to bundle a TEFL course, a free furnished studio apartment, along with many other perks and guidance in
Teaching Jobs in Korea with Teach Away is an agency that facilitates job placements in public and private schools for those with TEFL certificates, as well as the option to teach part-time online.
for Teaching English in Taiwan
Dave's ESL (eslcafe.com) has many job listings for Japan on its international job board.
International Educational Group provides training and jobs in Taiwan. Specializes in teaching children, including kindergarten-age. Native Speaking Teachers (NSTs) must be college graduates. Very structured teaching program and curriculum.
tealit.com provides many online job listings.
Teaching English in Thailand
AUA Language Center employs teachers in central
Bangkok and many at other branches in the
provinces, mainly at universities. Applicants
should have a B.A. You can find more information
about other AUA branches all around Thailand
also available from the website.
International TEFL Academy Teach Abroad Program in Thailand offers guaranteed job placement with preference matching for location and school type, visa and work permit support, Thai cultural and language lessons, and the option to bundle a TEFL course, along with many other perks and guidance in
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.