Teaching English in Asia
Where and How to Find ESL Jobs
|A garden in Shanghai, China.
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 South Korea,
Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and in immensely populated
China a high proportion of the population are eager for
education from English speakers. A university degree in any
subject is the main prerequisite, often a
4-6 week certificate in TEFL and CELTA, while 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, though more and more programs
protect their participants and insist upon higher 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
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 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 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. 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 for jobs teaching English in China are opening
up and are being advertised, especially via the web.
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 places U.S. nationals
in their Teach in China programs.
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. 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, has been rapidly recovering from the
political and economic instability that rocked the country
at the end of the 1990s, as well as natural disasters. 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, Yogyakarta,
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 ($800-$1200) 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. Consequently, competition for teaching jobs has become acute. Be prepared to
spend a sizable 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
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 university
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 chain to look out for is ECC (for these
and 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
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.
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
Jobs are easiest 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, 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, round-trip 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 sizable 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 forums of 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 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 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 Alien Resident Card (ARC). 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 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 China, Hong Kong, Korea,
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, though
for less pay than in South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan in general.
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 Ajarn Teaching in Thailand website for the some of best inside information about 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 travel
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 majority of EFL teachers in Thailand
do not have a work visa, and this seems to cause no serious
problems, though there has been a recent crackdown on that
practice, and "visa runs" are often necessary.
At present, foreigners mostly teach on a tourist visa or
(preferably) a non-immigrant visa. 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 B.A. 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 beginning monthly wage in Bangkok is only about 30,000 - 35,000 baht
(US$850-$1000), 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.
By the same token, living expenses
are also fairly low, though growing. Out of an average monthly salary of 35,000-45,000
baht ($1000-$1250) teachers can expect to pay ($300-$650) in rent, depending on location in and outside of Bangkok. Tasty food can
be had from street stalls for a few US dollars, 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 to find more detailed information. It is still possible for even part-time teachers are able to afford
to travel around the country, including to the islands,
where life is slow and the beaches are wonderful, though life in the city is more expensive all the time.
Jobs in Vietnam and Cambodia are Increasing Rapidly
Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei, which
are relatively wealthy, mainly turn to Britain for teachers,
and pay is good.
the many teaching opportunities continue to grow
as trade and tourism expand and the need for English speakers
increases. Searches for jobs in Vietnam turn up hundreds of options, many relatively well-paying. Cambodia is
also now offering many more paying opportunities as well.
South Asia: Fewer Paying
Jobs Due to 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 Philippines. Poverty
is the main reason for the small market for paid expatriate
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.
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.
Americans cultural exchange, educational programs, and provides paid teaching work in Asia, including Teach in China, Teach in South Korea, Teach in Thailand, and Teach in Vietnam.
Greenheart Travel offers paid teaching positions in China, South Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand.
International TEFL Academy provides TEFL certification classes and job placements in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
LanguageCorps provides TEFL certification and job placement in Cambodia, China, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.
to Teach recruits teachers for programs and paid positions in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Vietnam in Asia along with other countries worldwide.
a very well-regarded volunteer teaching organizations offering programs at language camps
in Asia. Check their website for this year's needs.
Teaching English in Japan
(Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program. Government
program described in this article, with thousands
of year-long well-paying positions.
Gaba operates over 40 schools in Tokyo, Yokahama, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Osaka.
branches recruiting ALTs, where you work in
elementary, junior high, and high schools throughout
Corporation 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.
See a daily selection
of the Top Jobs Teaching English in Japan on this site courtesy
of ESL Job Feed.
Teaching English in South Korea
Park English is Korean-American company that recruits students all over Korea. ESL Recruiters in Korea Park English Meta Education.
See a daily selection of the Top Jobs Teaching English in South Korea on this site courtesy
of ESL Job Feed.
for Teaching English in Taiwan
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.
See a number of daily selections
of the Top Jobs Teaching English in Taiwan on this site courtesy
of ESL Job Feed.
Teaching English in Thailand
AUA Language Center employs teachers in central
Bangkok and about 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.
TEFL and TESOL Training offers TEFL certificate courses and help with job placement in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
See a number of daily selections
of the Top Jobs Teaching English in Thailand on this site courtesy
of ESL Job Feed.
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.