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Guide to Teaching English in Chiang Mai, Thailand

By Wayne Johnson

One of many temples in Chiang Mai.

"Don't point your feet, touch their heads, criticize the Royal Family and most importantly don't lose your temper" These were the instructions given to me on my final day of training before I started work at the AUA Language Center school in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.

One year later and the initial instructions have mostly been adhered to although there have been occasional lapses. But the truth is that teaching Thai students is a fun and rewarding experience provided you remember to smile and keep the lessons fun at all times. Thai culture is built on the principle of sanoook, or fun, and woe betide the teacher who is deemed serious or who is labeled boring.

I had decided to embark on a career in teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) after quitting my Internet job in London. Chiang Mai was my preferred choice to work as I had spent a lot of time there and had fallen in love with the slow pace of life, tranquil temples, spicy food and friendly people. Fortunately Chiang Mai also has the Text and Talk Academy which allows you to undergo a 6-week teacher training course at the end of which you receive a TEFL (teach English as a foreign language) certificate. There were numerous courses to choose from in England but I thought my chances of finding a job in Chiang Mai would be easier if I based myself there. The course was intense and demanding but without it I would have felt ill-prepared to plunge into a classroom.

Unlike other countries in Asia, some schools in Thailand will accept teachers without a recognized certificate and often without a degree, but to secure a job at the more reputable and better paid schools the two qualifications are a must.

English teaching jobs in Thailand vary from public schools to language institutions to private one to one tuition. They all have their plus and minus points with language schools paying a little bit more but public schools offering paid holidays. In terms of class sizes the state schools will often have up to 50 students in a class, but this can be lessened with the help of a Thai assistant in the classroom. Language schools usually have no more than 20 students to a class but often have longer lessons.

Public schools are also more likely to help you with work permit and visa applications as their contracts tend to be fixed for twelve months, whereas many language schools have part-time or hourly contracts. My school is an exception to this and I have a year contract and a one-year visa and contract. In order for a school to apply for your work permit you need to have a 12-month multi-entry non-immigrant B visa which has to be applied for outside of Thailand and requires a letter from your school or TEFL training college. Many teachers in Chiang Mai work without a permit, but this requires leaving the country every month to go to Mai Sai on the Burmese border, where a new 30-day visa is granted and cheap cds can be purchased. The visa run is a well-worn route for many of Thailand’s expats and despite the inconvenience it can be completed in less than a day.

In my school I have to teach no less than two students at a time and no more than ten. I am also fortunate in that the students are tested before they are allowed to study so even the intro students have some English knowledge. My role varies from teaching elementary students colors and numbers to conducting debates on political issues with my advanced students. But again you must always heed the warning to make lessons fun, as Level 15 pupils are just as likely to want to play games and be entertained as Level 1.

As fun as it is playing games to teach the language, it can become a stressful activity to constantly think of new activities. All those welcoming smiles are quickly replaced by groans when the same games are played over and over again. Often I find myself desperately trawling western game shows to find ideas for English language games.

Despite making classes as fun as possible every school will have a textbook to follow which requires students to learn certain things in order to pass different levels, with tests on the material being common. Therefore, if you only play Wheel of Fortune it will be apparent when everybody flunks the test. The trick is to laugh off the yawns and groans when you are teaching them particularly tedious points off grammar and quickly win them back onside with a fun activity when it is finished.

Teaching English as a Foreign Language is a rewarding and fun job which allows you to see the world in a capacity other than a tourist. You actually become a part of the community and a respected one at that, as teachers are still looked up to in Thailand. It is also heartening when you see visible improvements in their English and know that much of it is do to your teaching. And for those who view the job as more than a gap year activity there are legitimate paths open to those who want pursue this varied and interesting job as a long-term career. I recommend Thailand and in particular Chiang Mai to any perspective teachers as Thai learners are enthusiastic and polite and a great introduction to a TEFL career.

For More Info


AUA Language Center


Language schools pay from 300 to 550 baht per hour (US$9-US$15), depending on the school's reputation and your qualifications. It is unusual to get a job which is salaried and not paid by the hour. Also hours vary by the school, but AUA pays 550 baht an hour for roughly an 18-hour week. Chiang Mai does not pay well but the cost of living is low enough that if you earn between 20,000 to 30,000 you have enough to live on, go out, and buy clothes, albeit modestly, etc. And anything over 30,000 baht (US$900) means that you may actually be able to save money


Most schools will expect you to cover the initial outlay for your work permit and extended visa which can cost around 7,000 baht. Often you will be reimbursed if you complete one or two years with the same school. For those not on a work permit a monthly visa run to Burma is about 1,500 baht for the day trip.


Good-sized one-room apartments start around US$200 and two-bedroom houses can be had for US$500 a month. However, the more the places are designed for expatriates the more expensive they are, with an apartment in a block complete with gym, cable tv, and swimming pool costing 10,000 baht.

Food and Drink

Eat like the locals do and you will spend no more than US$15, but frequent the many places catering to tourists and your costs will spiral. You should spend no more than $125 baht per week even if you drink a lot of alcohol and eat every day in western establishments.


Search for the costs of mopeds. However, if you are reluctant to risk life and limb on the roads then songthaews will take you anywhere inside Chiang Mai is about 20 baht (50 cents) and tuk tuks will take you in and around the city for between 40 and 100 baht (US$1-US$2.85) depending upon the distance.

Note: To find the exact current value of the Thai baht see your favorite currency converter.

Related Topics
Teaching English in Thailand
Living in Thailand: Articles and Resources
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Living and Teaching in Chiang Mai
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