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Teaching English in Thailand

Opportunities for ESL teaching jobs are plentiful throughout the beautiful country of Thailand in both urban and rural areas, with the majority located in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai. Jobs can be found at private, fee paying, and government schools, as well as at international corporations and universities. The cost of living in the cities is about the same, but the salaries often vary. The tradeoffs, however, for lower pay are less traffic, fewer crowds, and a more relaxed atmosphere. Although the pay scale is generally lower in comparison with most Asian countries, Thailand is certainly one of the most interesting in terms of culture, cuisine, adventure, a stress-free lifestyle, and quality of schools. ESL teachers will enjoy splendid Buddhist temples, beaches, and festivals in their leisure time while interacting with friendly locals.

Credentials/ Qualifications/ Documentation / Hiring process

Citizens of the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Ireland, and New Zealand can apply. At one time, non native speakers could be considered for ESL teaching jobs in Thailand, providing they demonstrated oral and written proficiency in English. A 4-year degree is required, a Master's even better, and any previous ESL teaching experience in Thailand or any Asian country is beneficial. Some schools accept Initial application by e-mail or phone before the requisite face-to-face interview.

Although you can enter the country on a short-term visa without a TEFL certificate, you will need this for a work permit to teach legally in Thailand. The contract with the school should state clearly that they will process and pay for all costs associated with obtaining the work permit. Of course, TEFL, CELTA, or equivalent certification guarantees more pay, better hours, and smaller classes.

Work Schedules & Salaries

Language schools, in general, have intensive work schedules with 1-2 hour classes from 8am-9pm, 7 days a week. Semesters run from May-March, with a 3-week break in October and a 2-month summer vacation. A few schools expect teachers to work weekends, but a total of 25 hours a week is the norm. This is why it is important that your contract with the school includes a specific work schedule, number of hours, and any paid or unpaid vacation time. Depending on the type of school, class size varies considerably from 10 -15 students to more than 30.

A full-time ESL teacher at a government high school in Bangkok reports a monthly income of $1,200, which is supplemented by another $100/month for 1-2 hours tutoring a week (it is quite possible to make even more by tutoring.)

A teacher from London is earning $2,600/month at an international school in Bangkok and is living quite well, paying $550/month rent and $50 in utilities for a nice condo. However, this may not be typical of ESL teaching jobs in Thailand.

Advantages

In general, housing costs are not covered by the school; however, some do provide assistance in locating. The average monthly rent (utilities not included) for a one bedroom apartment is around $300, $70 for utilities (air conditioning not always provided), and $55 for Internet and cable. It is possible to manage higher living expenses by sharing with a roommate.

When the school is not within walking distance, public transportation is cheap and readily available for about $30/month. The local songtaew (shared taxi) or the small 3-wheel tuk-tuk is convenient and inexpensive at $10-$15/month for travel in and out of town. Some teachers prefer to buy motorbikes for personal use.

You probably won't become wealthy teaching ESL in Thailand, but you should have enough left from your salary to save a little and to spend on travel during your vacation and off-duty time.

Possible disadvantages (or things to remember)

Thai food is healthy and delicious, but it may take time to get used to if you are not accustomed to spicy hot food. Learn to adapt and save on your food budget by purchasing products from local markets and small shopping mall stores like The Export Shop. An occasional evening out is a relatively inexpensive option, but should be considered in household budgeting.

Other expenses include costs of health insurance and medical, entertainment, and clothing, as well as relocation and airfare to Thailand. Books and classroom teaching aids may be your responsibility to furnish, as not all schools provide these.

The weather in Thailand is usually quite good, with a mild semitropical climate; however, there is a rainy season of frequent, brief showers from Jun-Sep and seasonal monsoons. The tsunami disaster in December 2004 is considered an extremely rare occurrence.

Job Outlook

There is a huge demand for ESL teachers in Thailand, especially for women to teach younger children. Kindergarten teachers have been hired with only a high school diploma. Bangkok is perhaps the most popular location for ESL teaching jobs, but other cities and rural towns have good opportunities, as well. For example, salaries at language schools and universities in Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Chiang Rai, and Ubon Ratchatchani average $800-$900 with small apartments renting for less than $100 a month. Phuket has jobs with similar pay, but the cost of living is higher. Nevertheless, the appeal of working on an island is often reason enough for many ESL teachers to relocate here.

Dave's ESL Cafe is an invaluable source for up-to-date worldwide ESL job opportunities. A number of jobs openings in Thailand paying between $800-$1,000 for 25-30 teaching hours in a 5-day week, class size 25-35, are currently listed. Ajarn.com, Thailand's TEFL website, has helpful information on living and working conditions. In addition, there is an excellent cost of living analysis at teachtotravel.co.uk.

Conclusion

Adaptability to a different way of life and respect for traditions and people go a long way toward successful employment and comfortable, pleasurable living in Thailand. Whether you have several years' experience or only a few, Thailand may be an ideal choice. Weigh the pros and cons of teaching ESL by researching, visiting forums, and reviewing opinions of current and former teachers before making your decision. You should be willing to accept a modest salary, perhaps less than you're used to earning, for the opportunity to teach in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The overall job satisfaction you receive from enthusiastic students while teaching ESL in Thailand should more than compensate for any apparent disadvantages.

Sharon L Slayton

June 2013

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