Guide to Work, Study, Travel and Living Abroad    

A Guide to Jobs Teaching English in Asia

Teaching English in Asia

Where and How to Find ESL Jobs

A garden in Shanghai, China
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 to work.

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 Language Schools

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 comfortable lifestyle.

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 considerable.

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 teachers.

The most common means of recruitment after the internet—on websites such as—is by advertising in English language newspapers, especially the Japan Times on Mondays and, to a lesser extent, Metropolis.

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 stay.

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 degree.

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 TEFL Certificate.

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 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 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 website. Recruiting agents can be found, such as Reach to Teach, which has also recruits for jobs in China, Hong Kong, Korea, and Vietnam.

Thailand: Teaching Jobs Are Virtually Guaranteed

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 teachers locally.

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 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.

In Vietnam, 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 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 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.

CIEE places 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.

Reach to Teach recruits teachers for programs and paid positions in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Vietnam in Asia along with other countries worldwide.

WorldTeach is 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 China

EF English First China offers visa services and jobs throughout the country.

Amity Foundation is a Christian organization that places native speaker teachers in schools and colleges.

Appalachians Abroad Teach in China Program, Marshall University. 50 graduates per year teach English at public and private K-12 schools and higher education institutions mainly in Shanghai and Beijing.

Colorado China Council has been in business for 35 years. Graduates and others from the U.S. are placed as teachers at institutes throughout summer and year-round in China.

Gold Star TEFL Recruitment offers high paying teaching positions at professional schools across China, based on your preferences for location, student age and school type.

International TEFL and TESOL Training offers TEFL certificate courses and help with job placement in Chongqing, across China, and worldwide.

Teach in Hong Kong with Teachaway

See a daily selection of the Top Jobs Teaching English in China on this site.

Teaching English in Indonesia
EF English First, Teaching English in Indonesia offers visa services and jobs throughout the country.

Teaching English in Japan

JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program. Government program described in this article, with thousands of year-long well-paying positions.

AEON recruits teachers year-round.

Gaba operates over 40 schools in Tokyo, Yokahama, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Osaka.

Interac has branches recruiting ALTs, where you work in elementary, junior high, and high schools throughout Japan.

Westgate 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.

Resources for Teaching English in Taiwan

Hess 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.

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.

International TEFL and TESOL Training offers TEFL certificate courses and help with job placement in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

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.

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