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Teaching English in Vietnam

The careful preservation of the natural beauty in the environment and the industrious people of Vietnam changed a country of incredible devastation to one with a growing global presence and international appeal. Experienced ESL teachers and those who are newly certified will find numerous opportunities in big cities and smaller towns to teach students of all age groups, residents, entrepreneurs, and business professionals.

Credentials/ Qualifications/ Documentation / Hiring process

Citizens from the U.S., UK, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, and South Africa are eligible to apply, as well as from a few bilingual countries. Since the demand for ESL teachers is high in Vietnam, it seems possible that EU citizens might be considered also depending on the school.

A Bachelor's degree and CELTA/TESOL certification are the usual requirements to teach ESL in Vietnam. Familiarity with the Vietnamese language is recommended, and some schools offer free language classes to their teachers.

A few employers will accept initial contact by e-mail or telephone, but the hiring process is completed at the school with a personal interview (frequently conducted by a panel). You will need to bring copies of your CV, degrees, passport page and photo, and a police background check, as well as the results of a health exam, which can be done at one of the public hospitals. ESL teachers enter Vietnam on a tourist visa, usually valid for one month, or with a business visa, which is valid for three to six months and sponsored by your employer. After that time, the school will assist in getting the necessary legal work permit, which is good for three years. The costs involved are generally paid for by the school, or you are reimbursed. These details should be covered in your contract.

Work Schedules & Salaries

Jobs are available at primary and secondary schools, international language institutes, and universities. Language schools and universities usually pay the most and offer more benefits such as housing, health care, and tax-free salaries. Jobs for ESL teachers are primarily in the major cities of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, and Can Tho in the Mekong Delta. Salaries, sometimes based on an hourly rate, have increased remarkably in the past 10 years to an average $1,000-$2,000/month. You can expect a work schedule of 20-25 hours, with another 10 or so in preparation time and participation in school workshops and events. Holidays and annual vacation time (a month or more) are paid by the school.

Private tutoring at $10-$14/hour, or teaching part-time conversational classes in the evening are other options to supplement your income. Get the word out about your services through personal contacts, expat groups, and by posting ads in popular gathering places and in the classified sections of forums and newspapers.

Advantages

A big plus for teaching ESL in Vietnam is the low cost of living, as compared to other countries in Europe and Asia. Of course, everyone's lifestyle is different, but you should be able to live comfortably, afford the extras of spa and gym memberships, and have enough for entertainment and travel. The average small apartment rents for $500 in the city, with higher costs in the best neighborhoods. Utilities are about $50/month and the Internet $13. ESL teachers often choose the suburbs for a more familiar environment with other expats.

Food is cheap, especially when bought from street vendors, and restaurants offer a variety of cuisine at reasonable prices. Many provide the convenience of home delivery which is common for people living in the city.

The cost for public transportation is minimal; however, it is slow and often not reliable. You might do as the locals do, and rent or buy a moped or bicycle, an economical way to maneuver crowded streets. You'll see many people riding behind the driver, a popular means of getting around town known as the "xe om" or bike hug.

The opportunities for travel within the country and to neighboring countries to visit World Heritage sites and explore exciting new discoveries such as the Son Doong cave are other real advantages to teaching ESL in Vietnam.

Possible disadvantages (or things to remember)

Airfare, housing, and health care are not usually included, so you should have money up front for relocation expenses.

There are good public hospitals in the major cities for emergency care and work-required exams, but you will need to purchase private health insurance if not provided by your employer. Vietnam is working on a universal health care system, which they expect to implement by 2014.

Job Outlook

A majority of ESL teaching jobs are advertised from May-August, with fewer opportunities in January, but hiring is often year round at some schools. Some recommended sources for job openings and other information on Vietnam include eslcafe, cactustefl, eslemployment, and gooverseas. Many of these are through online recruitment agencies, which are also selling TEFL courses along with job placement. However, schools do not always accept online certification, so you may do as well or better by contacting the school directly.

Conclusion

Vietnam is listed among the top 10 choices for ESL teachers in terms of salary and living conditions. The pleasant climate, safe environment, and the friendly people contribute to a rewarding teaching experience. Students are polite, intelligent, and highly motivated to learn English and achieve success.

It may take some time to adjust to the local customs such as drinking Bia Hoi beer at all hours, even for breakfast. Culture shock is inevitable, but it will be minimal in cities such as Hanoi and the more modern Ho Chi Minh City, where Western trends have been adopted. Vietnam is a land of festivals with at least one or two every month; Tet and the Moon Festival are the largest. Vietnamese people are socially conservative, and respect and courtesy is expected in your interactions on a personal or professional level with other teachers and staff, the elderly, and local people.

If you are ready for adventure and adaptable to the challenges of a diversified culture of more than 50 ethnic groups, you may want to explore the various job openings and research more information on teaching ESL in Vietnam.

Sharon L Slayton

September 2013

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