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Teaching ESL in Indonesia

The islands of Indonesia including Java, Sumatra, and Bali are featured on travel websites, in brochures and tourist guides, and promoted by airlines and hotels as romantic vacation destinations for travelers worldwide. Who can resist the lure of beautiful white sand beaches, a gentle breeze through towering coconut palms, the sounds of the rainforest, or the aroma of jasmine from coffee trees on the mountain slopes? If teaching ESL in Indonesia sounds interesting and feasible, you can find jobs at private schools (sometimes called national plus schools) for K-12. Since English is a required second language here, ESL teachers are needed at international language schools with classes for primary through university level taught after regular school hours or in the evenings. ESL teaching jobs are available at public schools; however, government funding is limited for native English speakers, so there are fewer opportunities and competition is high.

Credentials/Qualifications/Documentation/Hiring Process

Indonesia only accepts native English speakers with citizenship from the U.S., UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and South Africa. Applicants must have TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA certification and a B.S. or B.A. degree. A health certificate stating you are free from HIV and drugs must be submitted before employment. One to two years’ experience is usually required; the more experienced get the better jobs.

Hiring is done year round for the two semesters in the school year, Jul-Dec and Jan-Jun. Initial contact with most schools is by phone or e-mail, but an in-person interview will be required.

Contracts are usually based on a one-year commitment, often renewable, and include two weeks’ vacation, approximately 10 paid public holidays, one week in December, and four days for the Muslim EID ending the month of Ramadan. Some schools offer a substantial end-of-contract bonus equivalent to one month’s salary and another $800 or so if your contract is renewed. After the contract is signed, the school will issue a “Kitas” identity card for foreigners and begin processing the work visa, which may take 30 days or more to obtain.

Work Schedules & Salaries

Salaries average $1500-$1700/month and income tax from 5-15%, which should accommodate the average budget. You can always advertise your services and supplement your income by tutoring, earning from $8-$25/hour. The typical work schedule consists of 20-25 classroom hours plus time needed for preparation and mandatory school functions. Students, in general, are well mannered and eager to learn English. As one ESL teacher reports on transitionsabroad, it’s “cool” to know English in Indonesia where it’s considered a real cultural status symbol. Although some students have adopted Western fads and clothing, teachers are expected to dress conservatively both in school and in public.


The big advantage of teaching ESL in Indonesia is the cheap “murah” cost of living. Improve your bartering skills; it’s common practice here. Shop at local markets where there are no fixed prices and learn to prepare Indonesian food at home. If you avoid Western restaurants, large chain stores, and supermarkets, you’ll find Indonesia is certainly one of the least expensive places to live in Asia.

Of course, the cost of living, which averages $400-$600/month, will vary according to the location and lifestyle of the individual. Bali, for example, has reasonable housing with rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in the city about $400/month and a 3-bedroom around $1,000/month. Rent outside the city limits will be about half. On the other hand, utilities can run as high as $145/month for a very small apartment. ESL teachers often economize by sharing a house and utilities.

Transportation is also inexpensive, with monthly bus passes around $7. The “bajaj” or “bajaj BBG,” the Indonesian version of a rickshaw, is convenient for short distances and cheap (the fare is negotiable). If you have your own vehicle, you’ll find gasoline prices are less than half of what you would pay in the U.S., for example.

Disadvantages (or things to remember)

Airfare is not always paid for or reimbursed, and housing may not be covered either in full or with an allowance, so this might be a problem. You will need money upfront, at least $2,000-$2,500, to cover these expenses and get started in your new job.

Since there are many volcanoes in Indonesia, about 76 considered active, you are probably aware that eruptions can and do occur at any time. The media is quick to report news of these natural disasters, often causing unnecessary alarm and panic when in reality they may be only minor occurrences with minimal damage. ESL teachers should not be overly concerned about these eruptions, however, since most are historically small and infrequent events. (Not to minimize the damage to property and loss of lives caused by a major eruption or tsunami.) Consider the fact too that the U.S. is ranked third behind Indonesia and Japan in the number of volcanic eruptions.

Schools usually include enrollment in the national health care system in your contract, but you may have to buy additional health care insurance to supplement the government’s basic program.

Job Outlook

The majority of jobs, especially at universities, can be found in Jakarta, the capital of Java with the largest population. There are other opportunities for teaching ESL in Bandung, Yogyakarta, and Surabaya, as well as in Singarajah, Bali. Job openings and other information on Indonesia can be found online including, eslcafe, teachaway,, eslemployment, and oxfordseminars. The job market for ESL teachers in Indonesia continues to grow along with the economy and its international presence.


Teaching ESL and living among friendly people in a tropical island paradise may be just what you’re looking for at this stage in your career. You will have a wonderful opportunity to make new friends of students and peers, socialize with other expats and local residents, visit splendid Buddhist temples, and enjoy a variety of colorful performing arts and festivals in the diverse culture of Indonesia. Indonesians are enthusiastic about new ideas and learning English, but ESL teachers should be able to adapt to a different way of life, unfamiliar customs, traditions, and possible differences in religious beliefs. You will earn enough money for a pleasurable, comfortable lifestyle with good potential to save and have enough leisure time for outdoor activities and travel to nearby islands. Whether you decide to teach ESL on Bali, Java, or elsewhere, you will be inspired by the natural beauty of your surroundings and rewarded with a unique teaching experience in the Indonesian islands.

Sharon L Slayton

April 2014

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