Thailand is a beautiful, tropical country situated in the heart of Southeast Asia. The friendly demeanor of its citizens, mild weather, and central location have made this country a transportation and economic hub for the region.
There truly is something for every visitor to the country, whether you are searching for an economical tourist destination, an endless maze of entertainment options, or awe-inspiring scenery and wildlife. Thailand attracts a variety of travelers, from solitary backpackers to honeymoon couples.
It is no wonder why Thailand is such a popular destination for ESL teachers; the country has something to offer for every personality type.
FINDING A JOB
Thailand is one of the most popular destinations for ESL teachers, partly due to the fact that there is always a high demand for teachers.
Most teaching positions you find online will be concentrated in large cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai, but there are also teaching opportunities in smaller, rural areas. Since the school year begins in May and ends in March, the best times to find jobs will in February/March in preparation for the next semester.
On the Ground
Some teachers who end up teaching in Thailand choose to go to the country first and find a job “on the ground.” This may increase the number of options you have; however, you should really look into the details of doing this.
For example, if you don’t have a return portion of a round-trip ticket when you arrive in the country, it may cause problems. Also, while it’s possible to get a work visa in the country, some people have problems doing so. Others don’t. The Thai system of bureaucracy, as in many countries, seems to work differently for different people at different times.
As well, if you just show up, you should bring your original diploma and college transcripts. In addition, it would probably be a good idea to bring criminal background check documents.
Once you’re actually in the country, you will find that information about jobs spreads quickly by word-of-mouth, especially in locations that are accustomed to travelers. Simply speaking with members of the expat communities and locals that work in guesthouses or restaurants can provide valuable leads.
There are also publications in English which feature classifieds for teaching and private tutoring. The most obvious option is to visit schools to set an appointment; if you choose this route it is best to have a resume on hand and be dressed in a professional manner for an interview.
TYPES OF TEACHING POSITIONS
There are a number of options for the TEFL teacher in Thailand. The length of your contract will vary between schools, but you can expect a minimum of one year. Your salary will greatly depend on your qualifications and where you teach, but it will generally range from B25,000-40,000. This does not always include accommodations and airfare, but it will usually include basic health and medical care. You can also expect a three week semester break in mid-October and a two month summer vacation.
Many volunteer agencies place teachers in the government operated system of vocational colleges. These schools offer a close relationship and contact with the Thai faculty and administrators, but they tend to have a lower salary than other options.
Many teachers and students welcome the opportunity to practice and improve their English, especially since these types of schools only provide funding for a single English teacher. This will allow for more immersion into the Thai culture.
These types of positions will pay less than other options (about B5,000 – 6,000 per month), but they often include free housing and utilities to offset the cost of living, which can be a huge benefit in large cities where the cost of living in much higher. They may also offer the chance to teach additional hours to supplement your income.
Commercial schools are another great option, especially for new teachers that will need the support of other foreign teachers and are seeking a higher salary. Many chains such as ECC Thailand and ELS International frequently hire English language teachers.
These types of jobs usually have a standardized curriculum, higher salaries (starting at about B150 per hour), and a range of hours to cater to all their students. Since many students are adults who are seeking to improve their English to advance in the business world, you may be required to work part time hours on nights and weekends.
Commercial schools are generally located in large cities, which means you should be prepared to cope with large crowds and a higher cost of living.
Universities and International Schools
For more experienced teachers, there are more prestigious posts at local universities and international schools. These tend to pay quite well. But of course these types of jobs will require more experience and credentials than those previously discussed.
Private tutoring provides the best wages for English teachers in Thailand, ranging from B250-500 per hour, depending on the client and your qualifications. These types of positions require the teacher to travel to the student’s home and develop a specialized curriculum customized to the needs of the student. It is important to negotiate rates prior to the first lesson, especially if other family members choose to join your sessions.
Do You Need a Degree to Teach English in Thailand?
In order to teach English in Thailand, you must at least hold a bachelor’s degree. That’s “officially.” It seems there may be some perfectly legal ways around this, but as with the visa situation above, it also seems that the system doesn’t always work the same way for everyone. Much will depend on your employer (and possibly even what type of relationship they have with the powers that be). It also may depend on the school’s situation. If you’re willing to teach somewhere out in the boonies where few would be willing to go, you may get an exception easier than otherwise.
Unless you are seeking a job at the university level, a bachelor’s degree in any field will suffice. It is important to bring copies of your diploma and transcripts as proof for potential employers. Language certifications, such as TEFL and CELTA are not required, but will guarantee higher salaries at the commercial language schools. The chain commercial language schools will usually require teachers to pass a grammar test prior to any job placement, so it would be wise to brush up on your basic grammar skills before applying.
Upon arrival to Thailand, most westerners are granted a 30 day visa and are able to extend this a maximum of 10 days. You can also apply for a tourist visa before your departure for $15, which allows you to stay 60 days. This can also be extended for 30 more days. However, you cannot work on a tourist visa.
The best option will be to apply for a non-immigrant visa which costs $20 and grants you 90 days in country, and then ask for assistance from your employer to obtain a work permit. You must hold a non-immigrant visa to qualify for the work permit, and your employer must initiate the application process on your behalf.
On average, it seems to take about 4-6 months to receive your work visa. Ideally, this should be done prior to your arrival, but you can still enter the country if the work permit has not been granted. One draw-back of this option is that a non-immigrant visa cannot be extended, and the work permit can take longer to process than your visa, meaning that you will have to leave the country to renew your legal status. If this occurs, it is easy to take the train to Penang, Malaysia to renew your non-immigrant visa.
Schools that hire English teachers are familiar with this process and must request the permit on your behalf. There are also legal agencies that can take care of the paperwork for you. The following website outlines the process and required documentation to obtain a work permit which is valid for one year – see Siam-Legal.com.
COST OF LIVING
The currency of Thailand is the Thai baht. The exchange rate is approximately 1 USD to 30.65 Thai baht as of June 2013.
As mentioned previously, some positions provide living accommodations, but if you are seeking your own housing, the pricing can vary widely. A one-bedroom apartment in the city center will be significantly higher, with a median price of 15,000B, while apartments further from central locations have a median price of 8,000B. If you expect to pay utilities, it is estimated to cost approximately 2,000B per month for basic utilities, including electricity, heating, water, and garbage service.
Transportation options are readily available and affordable: a one way ticket will cost about B20 and a monthly pass about B725. For a list of median market prices, leisure activities and other amenities, you can visit Numbeo – Thailand.
Overall, Thailand is a relatively safe country to travel in with a low rate of violent attacks when compared to more “developed” countries. As always, it is best to be cautious and aware of your surroundings at all times. Theft will be the biggest concern. Here are few tips you might want to keep in mind, especially when you first arrive and are getting acclimated to your surroundings:
- Do not leave valuables in your luggage. If your room does not provide a room safe, ask the hotel reception to hold your valuables in the main hotel safety box.
- Keep bags close to your person and carry only the amount of cash that is needed. Avoid flashing large amounts of cash and credit cards in public.
- Do not frequent deserted beaches, especially at night.
- Be mindful of the way you dress. Avoid flashy clothing and jewelry in order to discourage any unwanted attention, especially for female travelers. Nude and topless bathing are also frowned upon.
- Always negotiate rates for taxis or request they use a meter prior to getting into the vehicle. Taxi and tuk-tuk drivers are part of a close-knit collective. They will often band together if there is an incident, so the numbers are never on your side.
- Be wary of anyone approaching you with “offers” of any kind. That includes fellow western travelers.
- When partying, never leave your drink unattended or accept drinks from someone you don’t know. There have been several incidents over the years of people having their drinks spiked. This advice is not only for women. Men have also had their drinks spiked and then their valuables stolen.
The U.S. State Department has been on high alert for terrorism in Southeast Asia in recent years, including Thailand. There are deep-seated political divisions in the country which have erupted in violence and demonstrations in the past. Political protests can escalate quickly, and they do occur frequently, both on anniversaries of political events and also somewhat randomly. Explosive devices have been discovered during such events in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, so it is best to avoid such events if possible.
Separatists groups are still active in the southern provinces of Narathiwat, Patanni, and Yala. There have also been reports of artillery and gunfire exchange near the Cambodian and Burmese borders since there are still disputes over political boundaries. It is best to be informed and aware of large gatherings in the areas where you’re living or traveling. For the most up-to-date information, you should track social media and visit the U.S. State Department’s website.
As previously mentioned, Thailand attracts several types of tourists, ranging from lone backpackers to honeymoon couples sparing no expense. Exact numbers of foreign residents in Thailand are difficult to locate and are often inaccurate due to the inconsistencies in government reporting agencies. This number is further skewed by the number of individuals that do not obtain official work permits or apply for residency.
Based upon existing numbers, Japan records the greatest number of tourists, while Americans have the highest residency rate. Other countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Korea, France, Australia, Sweden, and Holland also have a significant number of tourist and residents who now call Thailand home. This represents a wide demographic of ages and interests, including business entrepreneurs, teachers, foreign spouses, and retirees.
If you are flying into Thailand, you will most likely be landing in Bangkok. If you are traveling beyond Bangkok, you can utilize the bus and train system. The following link provides a comprehensive schedule for both options: Sawadee.com.
Thailand is as varied as the people who visit the country; Bangkok alone could keep you occupied for your entire visit. The Chatuchak Weekend Market is one of the largest in the world, where you can find just about anything. It’s a great place to pick up souvenirs to bring home, try the local food, and experience the chaos that is Bangkok.
For shoppers, the Night Bazaar of Chiang Mai is a must-see since it attracts foreign importers that provide designer goods at discounted prices.
There are dozens of temples and ruins to visit across the country, some located in Bangkok and others in more remote regions. The ancient city of Sukhothai is located just north of Bangkok and stands as a testament to the Thai golden age, with a magnificent collection of buildings that have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Nakhon Ratchasima province in northeast Thailand is a treasure trove of Khmer-era temple ruins located amid the pristine lands of Khao Yai National Park.
Those seeking beautiful beaches and famous diving locales should venture south to destinations such as Phuket, Ko Samui, Ko Phangan, or Ko Tao. These areas attract many tourists seeking white, sandy beaches and opportunities to dive and snorkel. There are a variety of resorts and a nightlife scene for those looking to let loose.
As stated above, there are a number of sites where you can experience the rich culture and heritage of Thailand. The nightlife of Bangkok has become a thing of legend, with a wide range of options — from world-class bars and nightclubs to the infamous red-light districts.
There are many stereotypes about Thailand. And this may be the part where you expect to hear that they are exaggerated, but it’s hard to downplay the country’s designation as the number one sex-tourism destination in the world. The “girlie bar” scene is in fact big business and attracts men of all ages. Partaking in this business opens the buyer up to a whole new world of risks ranging from theft to disease. It is best to use common sense and avoid risks when possible.
That said, there is absolutely much more to the country than sex tourism. MUCH more.
For example, the National Museum was created by the Royal Institute of Art, Literature, and Archaeology to celebrate Thai history and culture. The main museum is located in Bangkok, but there are 38 branches located across the country. There are also a large number of national parks, such as the Baan Chang Elephant Park in Chiang Mai that teaches about the local wildlife and preservation of resources in a fun and interactive environment.
Thai is the official national language of Thailand. There are a number of regional dialects and minority languages, but most speak Central Thai since it is the language used in schools and universities across the kingdom. Near the borders of Laos and Burma, you may encounter ethnic minority groups that speak Hmong-Mien, Karen, or Lisu; near Cambodia, there are communities that still speak Khmer.
While it is not required that ESL teachers learn Thai, there are many schools and online courses available to those who are interested. Most schools prefer that you don’t speak any Thai to ensure that only English is spoken in the classroom. Many of the staff members you work with will have some level of English competency, but it is a good idea to learn some Thai to improve your relationships and your ability to navigate everyday life.
The Thai people are known for their warm dispositions and hospitality; however, this can cause some confusion for westerners since they are also non-confrontational. For this reason, it is important to listen for underlying content since the Thai culture is not as direct as most western cultures. It is important to clarify and ask questions about concerns and expectations to avoid causing stress in your professional relationships. It is best to discuss these issues in private and maintain a calm, patient attitude so that no one “loses face.”
Clothing may also become a problem for foreigners since sizes come in a significantly smaller range. If you need to purchase clothes and cannot find your size in the local stores, you may need to seek a tailor.
It also should be noted that certain colors of clothing have political significance: gold or yellow shows support for the king while red can show strong alternative political ties. It is also wise not to invest too much money in footwear since you are often required to leave shoes at the door, and at times they disappear.
The most important thing to remember is that a smile truly does go a long way in the “land of the smiles.” With patience and a good attitude, your entire experience will be much more positive and less stressful. Life moves at a slower pace in Thailand, so it is best to adapt and learn to “go with the flow.”
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