The Land Of Smiles has much to offer English teachers, but you need to do your homework to ensure you get the best job and can deal with Thai bureaucracy, writes Lindy Sinka
Thailand seems enticingly exotic as a place to live and work, and the idea of picturesque beaches and a cheap lifestyle is terribly inviting. If you have ever thought about dropping life as you know it and hop-scotching around the globe with your university degree as your ticket to ride, Thailand has a lot of different options for you to explore. However, teaching English in Thailand is not completely straightforward.
The demand for English teachers is evident all across Asia. The easiest place to get an English teaching job without a TEFL Certificate is definitely Japan. When I say the “easiest”, I mean in terms of pay, quality of living, and the teaching work itself, but if you are looking for something a little different, Thailand has a lot to offer. I will take the opportunity to warn you now that things are not always as clear as they seem in Thailand. You really do have to be on your toes and ask the right questions when interviewing for teaching jobs and heed my words: take nothing for granted.
The TEFL/CELTA conundrum
As with many things in Thailand there is an official answer and an unofficial answer to this question – should you get a TEFL or a CELTA qualification?. It’s not necessary to have a qualification to teach in Thailand but it’s pretty desirable, as I’ll explain below.
There are a lot of back-packers working stints as teachers which floods the market with cheap labour. For the most part most of these people do not have any teaching experience or any qualifications but they are native English speakers and sometimes that is good enough.
To work in Thailand “officially” you should have a TEFL Certificate in order to get your Teachers License which you need in order to qualify for a Work Permit. Just as important, you will also get paid significantly more money if you do possess a TEFL or CELTA Certificate. If you want to spend some time here and earn a decent amount of money I would definitely recommend you get one of them. It will more than pay for itself. You can even take the course here in Thailand. Even if you decide to teach elsewhere, the certificate will earn you more money and hopefully help you develop your teaching skills.
You will have to wade though all of the offers and decide for yourself which course suits you. I wouldn’t recommend doing an online course as it is often viewed as inferior and not recognised by many schools.
Do you really need a work visa to work in Thailand? The answer to this question depends a lot on you. If you want to work legally and avoid the tedious and expensive border runs then I would suggest doing things legally. It saves you a lot of hassle in the long term even though the visa process can be less than straight-forward. When looking for jobs in Thailand make sure that your school will handle this gruesome process for you. Many schools do offer some help or guidance, but believe me, that isn’t enough. They must actually do it for you. Basically, they will ask you for loads of documents and they do need originals. You will need:
o Original University Transcripts
o Original University Diploma/Certificate
o Original TEFL/CELTA Certificate
o Lots of photos. Do yourself a favor and ask for the exact size. I had to get my mine done 5 times because they were never the right size. GRRR!
o A Health Certificate from a Thai Doctor (When I got mine they checked my blood pressure and asked if I was healthy and gave me the certificate.)
If possible ask your school for a checklist otherwise they will ask for one thing at a time and it gets a bit frustrating and time-consuming. There is some useful information on this website about the visa situation in Thailand www.ajarn.com/Banter/visaworkpermitfaq.htm
Once you find a suitable job your employeer will give you some paperwork and you will have to make a visa run to get a Non-immigrant B Visa. You have to have this type of visa in order to apply for a Work Permit and a one year visa. This is valid for three months. It seems like a long time but you will soon find out that the mass of tangled red-tape takes a while to unravel. The good thing is your school will handle it. I advise you to keep tabs of your visa expiry date and keep pestering them about the progress of your visa. Recently at my Bangkok school one of the teachers had their visa expire because…. well because someone wasn’t paying attention.
I think the easiest place to go on your visa run is Penang, Malaysia [see www.thaivisa.com/306.0.html for practical info on how to do this]. Cheap flights can be purchased online though budget air carrier www.airasia.com Believe me you don’t want to take a bus or a train. Pay the extra money (it isn’t much more expensive) and get there quickly and avoid the hassle of going by land. It is a nice place to hang out for a couple of days while your visa is being processed.
Important Questions to Ask
If you are new to Thailand and new to teaching – be careful. Things are not always straightforward here. Ask a lot of questions and if things seem a bit seedy or unclear than maybe it is best to look elsewhere. There are heaps of jobs in Thailand. You will notice that the general pay is about 30,000 baht. [That's roughly £420 or $730US]. Believe me it isn’t enough. You pay a premium for most things in Thailand just because you are a farang (foreigner). If you were Thai that money might seem like a windfall. Most Thais make about 6,000 baht a month and in Bangkok the average salary is about 15,000B a month.You can calculate this in your own currency at Travelhappy’s Currency Converter. This does create a little tension between you and your Thai co-workers so tread carefully and always be respectful. They work a lot harder and have many fewer benefits such as health insurance, bonuses, and longer working hours. Negotiate your salary and all benefits: everything is negotiable. Don’t be shy or you will be scrounging for change a week before you next paycheck is due to be paid. While you can get by on a little money now and then things are still expensive and add up quickly. Also, ask about bonuses and airfare reimbursement. Bonuses are not at all uncommon if you fulfill your one year contract and work full-time. At some international schools they will either pay you cash up to a certain capped amount for a ticket home. This is a lot of money when you are earning Thai Baht. Also, make sure they handle your visa, work-permit, and teacher’s license. These things cost money and you do not want to pay them yourself or have to deal with the government offices who issue these documents.
This is where you will pay much more than your Thai counter-part. You may pay double what a Thai would pay for the exact same accommodation. Look around and check different locations and prices before you decide on a place. You can stay in a cheap guest house while you are looking. Very few teaching jobs provide accommodation and if they do it is very likely because they are located in the country-read between the lines-in the middle of nowhere. I advise checking the rate on water and electricity. The Thais pay the utility company directly thus getting a much lower price then the farang. You can expect to pay between 4 and 5.5 baht per unit for electricity. Also water is usually a fixed rate of 300 to 500 baht which is 3 to 5 times more expensive then paying the utility company directly. It seems like extortion to me, but it is a common practice here in Thailand and completely legal (I think). The point is this adds up. Our first electricity bill was nearly 5,000 baht!!! That is more expensive than home and I am from Florida where we use a lot of A/C. So be careful. For living in Bangkok, anticipate spending up to 15,000B a month for an apartment of your own, and a further 3500B in utilities. [Here's a useful list of websites that feature Bangkok apartments for rent]. Outside the capital it should be a lot cheaper.
There are several options for actual teaching jobs. You can teach at an international school and the benefits of are higher income and sometimes they are better organized and are accustomed to working with foreigners. Typically, you will get longer paid holidays as they observe Thai and foreign holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and New Year. These are often Christian Schools- usually in name only as most Thais are Buddhist – but they generally offer higher educational standards than most Thai Schools. That also have better facilities. Many Thai schools are not air conditioned and are not the most comfortable places to work in. They just don’t have the same financial resources that the international schools do.
International schools don’t have the same calendar year as the regular government schools. Their school year begins in September and runs until October. This varies by school but that is a general guideline. A TEFL or CELTA would serve you well if you plan to work in an international school. The salary runs up to 80,000 baht per month. This is a lot of money in Thailand.
The second option is a bilingual or even a trilingual school. They too are fairly well-equipped but not quite as well as the international schools. Some people choose to work at these schools part-time for various reasons. The up side of that is less time working (hooray) but the downside is you have to pay for your own work-permit (if you decide to get it), teacher’s license, and visa. Usually, you will get about 6 weeks of paid holiday but I cannot stress enough to ask for the school calendar before the school year starts. It sounds like common sense but we weren’t given the calendar until 2 months after school started and it was less time off then we were initially told which led to some disgruntled teachers. The pay for this type of job is usually between 36-45,000 baht a month plus paid holidays and a bonus after contract completion. The bonus varies by school, but is typically close to one month’s salary.
The third option is a government school. Some of the schools pilot programs and are well-equipped. This means A/C, projectors, and sometimes even computers. These are the exception for government-run schools. Most are stuffy, hot environments with few resources and sometimes no books or very sub-standard books. The pay for working at a government school is much lower as expected. The salary range is 20,000 baht to 35,000 baht. The class size is also much larger than the other two types of schools. These schools are free to Thai nationals and they are crowded. An average class size is usually 50 students. It is not the easiest environment to teach a language in. Also, there are usually no bonuses at contract completion. There is not much incentive to work in government schools but many people choose to do it.
The last choice is to work for a Private English Institute. These are plentiful and by far the least appetizing. The working hours are more often than not much longer and usually only provide for one day off per week. They often have very poor resources and tend to be ill-organised and tend not to offer work permits. Many people work there illegally and are quite happy to do so. Whatever suits your fancy.
A great website for Thai jobs is www.ajarn.com. There is a lot of useful information there. Other jobs can be found on Dave’s ESL Cafe – www.eslcafe.com. I recommend having a good look around before deciding on a job. Thailand is extremely transient so people are always coming and going and jobs are always becoming available.
Thai people are lovely. A big smile will get you a long way here. It is important to always keep your temper under control. A temper flare-up will get you absolutely nowhere. Even if something is absolutely ridiculous it will work out better if you just work though the problem and pretend to be amiable even if you want to start shouting profanities and banging your fist. This is a predominately Buddhist country and it is evident in the number of temples and shrines that you will see everywhere. The concept of time in Thailand is not the same as other places. Thai people don’t seem to be in a hurry most of the time and it is definitely something that you just have to get used to. This is still a developing country so sometimes things are not up to Western standards and a vast majority of the people here are poor. If you decide to live and work in Thailand it is important to keep things in perspective and always be considerate to the customs and traditions of the Thai people.
While Thailand is a developing country, virtually every luxury you might want from home is available here. In general, you can buy almost anything your heart desires. It is an easy place to live and Thai people are genuinely helpful. They call it the land of smiles for a good reason, and if you want to live and teach here, you just have to do your homework and you will enjoy your time in this amazing country.
If you want some more detailed information about Thai people and culture, try these sites: