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Teaching English in Cambodia

Cambodia, known as the Kingdom of Wonder, is considered one of the best countries for ESL teachers to live and work in, although it is a relatively poor country in Southeast Asia. Despite its tumultuous history, however, the economy is rapidly growing with the increase in international trade, foreign investments, and global presence. Education is highly encouraged by the government, and with over 50% of the population being under the age of 22, ESL teachers are in high demand at private and international language schools, and some universities.

Credentials/ Qualifications/ Documentation / Hiring process

Minimum requirements include a Bachelor's degree, preferably in English or Education, as well as TEFL or CELTA certification. Citizens from most countries including the US, UK, Canada, NZ, and Australia are eligible to apply for ESL teaching positions in Cambodia.

Very competitive salaries and accommodations are provided in some cases, along with term breaks and 26-28 paid public holidays (more than most other countries in the world). In addition, teachers are given a specific number of holiday or sick leave hours in compliance with Cambodia's Labor Law.

A criminal background check will be made and your CV and resume will be required before the personal interview. Experience in teaching ESL in Southeast Asia will ensure some priority among your competitors.

Until recently, Cambodia was fairly lax about work permits and visas, but the rules frequently change. Once known as the Business visa, you can obtain the Ordinary visa for $35, valid for 30 days, and it can be extended up to a year at a cost of $45-$300 (some schools cover these costs). Although a visa can be obtained through the Cambodian embassy in your country, the easiest and simplest way is to get it upon your arrival at either the Phnom Penh or Siem Reap airports (paperwork will be provided on the plane). The visa simply allows you to be in the country, but occasionally you will need a work permit also. Employers who do require a work permit will initiate the process through the Ministry of the Interior. They will ask you to submit three application forms, a passport & valid visa, three 4x6 photos, a health certificate from a doctor in Cambodia, the written work contract, and an insurance policy. Keep in mind, however, the requirement for a work permit may or may not be strictly enforced.

Work Schedules & Salaries

The school term runs from January - December, with numerous paid holidays (26-28) and usually a 2-week vacation. Teachers can plan on spending 30 hours a week in classroom and preparation time. Few public schools hire foreign teachers, so most ESL teachers are employed by private schools in and around Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and other large cities. There are teaching opportunities from pre-school level to university level. Classes at primary and secondary schools are held from 8-11am and from 2-5pm, while adults usually attend night classes from 5:30-7-30pm. Students are eager to learn, but not used to discipline or following a schedule, so remember you will need patience and flexibility in your classroom teaching.

Contracts are usually for one year, although there are some teaching opportunities for shorter terms of six months.

Salaries range from $700 to $1,100/month, usually based on an hourly pay rate, and some institutions will pay as much as $2,000/month. The average salary may not sound like much, but with the cost of living extremely low, most ESL teachers can live comfortably on $500/month or so.


ESL teachers will find reasonable market food prices (dairy products being the exception). Dining out is inexpensive, about $15 for a 3-course meal for two people. You will find excellent cuisine in Cambodia, similar to Thailand and southern China, in high class restaurants and good, cheap food sold by street vendors.

A monthly pass on public transportation averages $27; however, bicycles are a popular option and can be rented for about $40/month. Tuk-tuks (a motorized rickshaw) can take you and your household goods, if any, anywhere in the city.

The average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in the city is about $400/month and half that outside the downtown area. Schools often provide housing assistance, and sharing living quarters with other ESL teachers is worth considering. Utilities average $80/month since the weather in Cambodia is favorable overall, with a semi-tropical climate and moderate temperatures. Of course, prices in Phnom Penh are considerably higher than those in Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), where the city has a more relaxed lifestyle and caters to the tourism industry.

Schools may cover airfare costs and provide housing assistance or an allowance.

Possible disadvantages (or things to remember)

The extreme poverty, illicit drug use, and substandard living conditions, which are still evident in many areas in Cambodia, may be unsettling. Health problems may arise because of an ineffective water supply system. Although free health care is provided and the school may cover some costs, it is limited and you should be prepared to pay extra for many services. Medications are expensive and not always available. It is always advisable to have your own private health insurance.

You can expect high humidity and occasional flooding during the rainy season from May to October. The monsoon season may cause transportation delays and considerable inconvenience.

Teachers' pay is usually taxed at around 15 percent.

Job Outlook

The demand for ESL teachers is ongoing, particularly in Phnom Penh, the largest city, and Siem Reap, the second largest. Dave's ESL Cafe maintains a comprehensive, up-to-date source for ESL teaching jobs in all parts of the world. Gooverseas, internationaltefl, cambodiatefl, teachaway, and huntesl are all good sources of information. Numbeo has detailed comparisons on the cost of living, crime, health care, and quality of life for most cities around the world.


Cambodia ranks high on the list for ESL teachers seeking a good paying job, favorable weather, and the opportunity to see splendid ancient temples at Angkor Wat, explore the countryside, and visit numerous other attractions, or relax on a weekend at the beautiful beaches in Sihanoukville. During vacation or holiday time, you can travel through the many provinces in the country or easily cross the borders into Thailand, Laos, or Vietnam. Adults and children are friendly in this "Land of Smiles" and highly motivated to secure a good education for their future success or enhance their career potential. If you've ever thought of teaching ESL in Southeast Asia, Cambodia should be among your top choices. It will be a rewarding, memorable adventure in a fascinating and different culture to add to your ESL teaching experience.

Sharon L Slayton

Feb 2016

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